As vaccination gets more widespread worldwide and more countries such as Singapore and Australia are pondering the possibility of relaxing border controls to allow for travel corridors, travellers around the world are cautiously hopeful that leisure travel is on the horizon.
This is especially so in the Asia Pacific region, where many nations had imposed severe lockdown measures during the height of the pandemic and have since kept transmission figures largely controlled.
For experienced traveller Isabel Leong, the positive signs could not have come any faster. The 27-year-old full-time travel writer and self-professed digital nomad was stranded for eight months in Singapore when Covid-19 hit, leaving her unable to earn a living by writing about her travel experiences. Before the pandemic, Leong was living and working in Japan for eight months before returning to Singapore. She had already travelled to 38 countries by the time she was 26, and she had quit her full-time job in 2018 to focus on her travel blog.
In October 2020, the solo traveller – who connects with fellow digital nomads she met around the world for trip recommendations – decided to fly to Seattle in the United States. She endured strict border checks and a series of interviews before the US border control officers let her through. She met up with a friend who has his own recreational vehicle (RV), and began embarking on road trips around the country, trekking through scenic national parks and rock climbing.
Over the last five months, Leong has traversed the US and Costa Rica, and is now based in Oaxaca, Mexico. She has rented her own apartment there for two months and currently provides digital marketing services for clients around the globe, while preparing for her next journey. One thing’s for sure, she can’t wait until the world opens up again and she can travel more freely.
Now that leisure travel might be a possibility, other solo travellers who have been raring to go can start planning their dream vacation. Below, Leong shares her tips on what aspiring solo travellers need to take note of when going on the road, especially during these times.
1. Be prepared for more stringent procedures
Travelling in this current climate requires tons of considerations, Leong shares, such as being prepared for longer waiting times. For instance, boarding and getting off the plane are now organised in segments, so that aisles aren’t jam-packed with people during boarding and disembarking time.
There are also more stringent medical checks and certain criteria, restrictions and safety measures imposed by certain cities and countries. Costa Rica, for one, mandates all incoming travellers to fill in a form pre-arrival that includes a health declaration and a confirmation that the traveller possesses health insurance. Leong says while some might be apprehensive or feel inconvenienced by this “new normal”, it’s an obstacle that should be taken in one’s stride and with utmost patience, as these are necessary to ensure safety for everyone.
2. Be conscious about health and safety
Leong keeps herself safe by choosing to visit countries where the situation is more or less under control and avoiding cities that are populated. She takes the necessary precautions such as keeping a respectful distance from others in supermarkets, queues and other public places, wearing a mask when outdoors or around people, sanitising her hands regularly and choosing to stay in private apartments over shared accommodation. She also bases herself in one location for a longer period each time.
3. Pack minimally
Space, naturally, becomes a huge deal when you are living in an RV on the road. Leong shares that travellers have to really decide what one requires and leave out any excess. “Chances are, you’ll be wearing the same clothes over and over to minimise any unnecessary packing and unpacking of clothing in a tight space,” she says. Being on the road means you’d want to be carrying light, as much as possible, to reduce backaches and potential baggage loss.
4. Stay safe by sharing your location
There is a Location Sharing function on Google Maps where Leong shares her real-time location with her family. “This is a way to not only ensure your safety, but also reassure your family back home when you go off-the-grid and are uncontactable,” she says. Of course where possible, travellers should also try to check in with loved ones regularly.
5. Plan for zero-signal times
There will be times when the places you’re at are so remote that you can’t get internet connection. Leong always makes sure to download Google maps offline before she enters any unknown territory. If you’re plotting an itinerary beforehand, you can easily do that with Google maps; you can check off all your bookmarked attractions, share it with a friend and even download your itinerary offline. “I’ve found this process to be really helpful when planning my itineraries in advance, so I don’t miss out on any important attractions I’ve bookmarked.”
6. Keep an open mind
“The social network around parks and campgrounds is very friendly and supportive. As long as you keep your smile on and the conversation going, you’ll find interesting ways to know new people and appreciate life more. Who knows, you may even discover hyper-local attractions to check out thanks to their recommendations,” Leong shares. She adds that she carries this positive social demeanour with her everywhere she goes, and that has led her to making friends from all around the world who’d open their doors to her whenever she’s in town.
7. Make sure you’re insured
If not for travel insurance, Leong says she would have had to bear hefty costs after her accident in Japan two years ago when she tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) while skiing. “Whether it’s a bi-annual insurance or an ongoing one, you never know when accidents may happen, so always protect yourself with travel insurance.” Make sure you read the fine print and choose one that caters most to your needs, she adds.
Photos courtesy of Isabel Leong.
For updated information on the Covid-19 situation, please refer to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website.
To learn more about Singapore Airlines flights, visit singaporeair.com.