- How the Pandemic Almost Ruined My LDR Reunion: Pandemic Travel Tips - October 27, 2020
If you wondered what it would be like traveling during COVID-19’s reign, here’s my experience. I made it out of Malaysia somehow, and through problem after problem, finally arrived in Scotland.
Table of Contents
We begin the story in Malaysia…
To set the scene picture Malaysia in June 2020. Sunny, sweltering—and completely shut down. The country was plunged into the movement control order because of the pandemic.
I wanted to leave for various reasons, the biggest being that I wanted to see my boyfriend. We’ve been doing long-distance for 9 out of the 12 months that we’ve been together.
Problem #1: Cancellation
A month before leaving, I found out my flight had been canceled. I was offered new flights that were identical to the old ones, except for a 12-hour layover in Singapore. I took them up on their offer and everything seemed fine.
Another problem cropped up, however. What if I couldn’t transit in Changi? Singapore is notoriously strict with who they let in.
On the 3rd of June, it seemed I was on my way. I said goodbye to my parents for the first time ever. I watched my parents grow smaller as I looked behind me, carried away from them on a travellator.
Checking my bags in was surprisingly easy, I had impressed myself by packing 6-months-worth of belongings into two bags and a handbag that perfectly met the size and weight restrictions.
Problem #2: Stopped by immigration
Then I was stopped by immigration. As I was leaving Malaysia, when they saw my completely blank new passport the officer said, “When did you enter the country?” I explained my situation, told her everything, and how I was told it would be okay.
This was met with a discussion between her and the other colleagues, and then with her boss. After a few tense minutes in which I could hear them discussing the situation as if I wasn’t there, they let me through.
Problem #3: Transiting through Singapore
I may have had a problem getting out of Malaysia, but the real nightmare was in Singapore. On arrival, I asked four people if I had to fill in the health declaration for the virus that the government required for all arriving into Singapore as I was only transiting, and was told no each time.
An hour before my layover flight to Amsterdam, an airline employee walked up to me and said, “Audene? We’ve been looking for you all day. You shouldn’t be here. I don’t know what’s going on and we’ll have to figure this out, but I’m very sorry, one thing is for certain, you are not getting on that plane…“
First, she was saying I hadn’t cleared immigration so I couldn’t get on this flight. I told her I was transiting and that I shouldn’t clear immigration. She insisted, but ICA (the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority) agreed with me. If I had cleared immigration I would have to serve the mandatory 14-day quarantine that the Singapore government had put in place—you can see why this was a big problem.
After some time they figured out that during the pandemic certain airlines were not accepting transit passengers from Singapore only passengers whose journeys began in Singapore.
Finally, a travel solution
Obviously, the best option was to buy another ticket straight to London with another airline…. but buying a ticket for the same day for such a long flight costs about 4,000€.
I couldn’t afford that, so I asked if the airline transiting me from Singapore to London would takeover the flights and allow me to fly with them. They organized for me to fly from Singapore to London and then onto Aberdeen, and as a bonus they let me stay in Changi’s swanky passenger lounge. But it was an uneasy night—I had so much anxiety I couldn’t get to sleep until around 3 AM.
But as it turns out, the next day passed quicker than the first. I painted, ate what I wished, and wandered even more. Changi Airport is truly beautiful and has many sights/amusements in it. After 36 hours, I finally left Singapore.
Layover in London and then: Aberdeen
I had no problems in London (save for having to throw away quite a few liquids out of my bag), but I stayed prepared to put on another crying scene worthy of a daytime soap opera if they had even the slightest hesitation on letting me in the country.
But the immigration officer barely looked at me and she waved me through lazily.
Upon landing I found myself the most excited I’d been in my life. Navigating the tiny airport was easy I was at the baggage carousel far quicker than I thought possible in an airport. I gather my bags and began walking, and as I turn a corner—there my he was!
The virus impacted every single part of my journey in ways I’d never imagined. From my flights being canceled to me being unable to transfer my visa and more.
But the kindness, humanity, and dedication of the airport staff pulled me through. I didn’t give up and more importantly, the airport staff didn’t give up on me. I was shown little acts of kindness everywhere, like when a passing staff member helped me get the handle of my bag up in London. I couldn’t even see his face because my blasted face mask had fogged up my glasses.
I’d anticipated how nervous I would be to be out during the pandemic, but it was fine honestly. I sanitized and washed my hands often, kept my mask on at all times, especially during flights, and tried my best not to touch things.
My boyfriend and I quarantined for 14 days once in Aberdeen, even though it wasn’t made mandatory by the government, and now we’re with his parents.
My advice for anyone traveling during the pandemic
If it is safe to travel, do it. But do not ever be selfish. When I say ‘safe to travel’ I don’t just mean for you.
If you’ve been doing things like not social-distancing and seeing all your friends, don’t be that person that goes to another country and makes people sick. Or, if you’re leaving home and traveling puts your family at risk, perhaps because they rely on you to get their groceries, don’t travel.
But if you can travel safely, my advice is to do all the research you possibly can. Find out:
- If you can transit in the countries you are passing through
- Whether the country you’re visiting allows your nationality in
- Whether a quarantine or something equivalent is mandatory
- Whether any required quarantining would take up too large a chunk of your stay
- How would you get food in the country you’re visiting? Would you be able to see people?
Think carefully through every step of your journey. Once traveling, be kind to those in the service sector, as you always should. Be ready for whatever—these are unprecedented times and everyone is still figuring life out.
Be mindful of your hygiene, as you always should. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with airport staff—I did, and made friends with the people at the currency exchange and cafe. Support small businesses when you’re abroad.
Be patient, prepared for delays, and pack light!
Above all, don’t ever give up or lose hope, and be kind. I wish you all the best and hope if you are planning on traveling during these times that you stay safe.
Have you experienced traveling during COVID? Drop a comment below.