I find it funny that only last year, after a series of turbulence that eventually landed me somewhere where I could say, oh look, life is on my side for once – I finally had the confidence to think to myself, “This is it. I can now manage my resources and time independently towards my utmost craving for travels. There’s no stopping me now.” Then all of sudden, the coronavirus came out of nowhere – sort of. Leaving the world shattered in so many ways, in a blink of an eye. A personal long-term goal of mine included.
Until two months ago, I seemed to still have my 2020 plans (and beyond, to some extent) mapped out pretty well. I would spend weekends making a list of places I would’ve loved to visit this year, along with the corresponding dates to get the cheapest flight ticket. I had budgeted the spending for this year’s vacation and estimated how much I need to save each month to afford those. Earlier at the beginning of the year, obviously I had marked the calendar on my office desk with long weekend dates and some additional days where I planned to take my vacation as well. Those who have known me for quite some time might know that these are just the tips of the iceberg on how meticulously irritating I could get when planning something I am genuinely ecstatic about.
Even last year when I decided to sign with my current employer after long and thorough consideration, I thought at the very least that this was going to be the job that could take me to (literal) places and meet a whole bunch of new colleagues from all over the globe.* I had imagined all the mandatory trainings in Abu Dhabi and/or Melun that I, as a new hire, would be doing. Among all equally promising reasons, this was a pivotal one for me. This sort of opportunity was such a routine, a standard normal, a fact that has been going on in the company for literally decades that I didn’t stop to think if there was a remote possibility that for once, this might not be the case.
*In case any of my work colleagues or bosses is reading this by any chance, I can assure you there is not the tiniest drop of regret in making the decision to come to work here. Not even the simultaneous worst oil price downturn ever recorded by history would make me do. I came to this decision from a long way, and every up and down I ever weighed in are still valid despite all this unanticipated madness. 🙂
I still remember that in January and even up until February when media had begun to be flooded with newsflash about coronavirus and Covid-19, I was still very hopeful and optimistic that I could still imagine the concert I would attend in Singapore the following month, and the solo trip to the Philippines I would do a couple of months after – like there could possibly be nothing that prevents those from happening. I would still think of Turkey and Morocco, where I planned to go to right after my trainings in UAE in supposedly June and October. The flight ticket would be considerably much cheaper due to the starting point being in UAE, so naturally I thought it was a nice, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
I was so heavily invested in those “daydreams” that I didn’t even bother to consider that the presence of the virus would intersect with any aspect of my life, these plans included – and especially not a life-changing one.
I don’t understand either what made me sort of think that I might be immune to whatever direct and indirect effects this soon-to-be-declared global pandemic would cause. I was perhaps just being ignorant. (Yeah, I think I really was). I went on with life as usual until I realized that this virus could, and definitely would, actually mess with the very reason that keeps me going to work every day, i.e. one of the most paramount goals that keeps me excited about life – among every single aspect in life there ever is.
If you’ve read my blog for quite some time, or actually been friends with me for a while, you’ll know how important being able to travel is to me ever since I got a taste of it through some quite intrepid travels I took back in a couple of years. This wanderlust is one of the major reasons that keeps me looking forward to tomorrow, that keeps me sane while at work. Not a dream to have a fancy house in the middle of bustling Jakarta, nor a dream to have a family with two kids who play harps and piano and are horse-riding athletes that some people might dream about would remotely do. Just as simple as seeing the world more often (though really not so simple financially). And thinking that all of sudden, this personal goal I created for myself may not be attainable because of things that are beyond me, quite frankly is such a huge bummer.
And it’s not even as simple as visiting new places as a tourist. Travelling is basically the door to a lot of other activities that make up the core of the most pleasurable things in life from my perspective. From photo-hunting, finding inspiration for my writings in the form of new people and places, to having conversations with strangers in a language that I will never become 100% comfortable with. I wanted to volunteer in every new country I visit, couch surf more often, and be immersed in the wholeness of this diverse earth.
On top of that, to think about how frugal I’ve been trying to live since last year because I have set this goal of seeing the world more often. I’ve spent so much less to be splurged on lifestyle, clothing, food, and so forth compared to how I did until circa 2018, because for once I finally knew what considerably matters to my actual well-being. I’ve been quite committed that I don’t even have a Netflix subscription nor do I own any gym membership because I wanted to save those extra cents towards this long-term plan.
But now, nobody knows when we can all start travelling again. I don’t even know if we can ever go back to travel pretty seamlessly the way it used to be before. I don’t know if I will still have a shot at making this plan that I hold dearly to me come true.
All my anticipated solo travels are long overdue. My first-year training from the company is transformed into a virtual class, meaning au revoir to hanging out with new international friends while sketching outcrops of sabkha deposits amidst the middle eastern heat. Quite frankly, I’m bummed. But then again, what else can I or anybody do?
At this point, some of you might be annoyed enough already that it seems to me that the worst problem this pandemic could cause is my cancelled trip plans. While people are actually dying and suffering from these, I’m out here writing a long-ass narrative on how I won’t get to travel as much as I expected to be. Oof, what a brat, you might think. But know that there’s more to the whole other reasons that I’m not willing to share publicly to strangers passing by for some entertaining reads. This is the scope in which I feel comfortable sharing, and beyond this point is my personal story that very few people would probably ever earn enough privilege to hear from me.
And while I’m tremendously grateful that at the very least this pandemic does not seem to affect me and my loved ones in a life-and-death situation, I guess we can all spare each other some judgment and give each other a safe space to whine about significant plans that might never see the light of day, no matter how trivial that might seem to some of us.
All in all, I find it funny how “lucky” we are to live in such a strange period where the entire world is in a brink of shifting to a new normal. When John Paulos said, “Uncertainty is the only thing certain there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security,” I guess it couldn’t be more relevant than today.
But what’s there to be surprised of, right?
Perhaps this whole pandemic situation is a not-so-gentle reminder that no matter how impeccable you think you and your effort are, things could still abruptly change in a split second before you could even imagine. And there are way too many controlling variables that are just way beyond our measures. I guess we are slapped once again by the truth that we really are nothing but tiny specks of stardust in this mighty universe, and our perfectly laid-out plans can never exclude us from His bigger, more important schemes.
And while I try to find some new motivations to get through the day, and those after, I can be rest assured that not in a million years I would ever expect things to unfold without some last-minute changes here and there. Not like I didn’t know it before, but this strange time just hits differently. I guess I’d need to learn how to make peace and feel fulfilled with living a life where the only new standard of utmost joy is seeing your loved ones healthy and alive, and not about making some daydream on freedom and passion that we used to be able to afford come true.
(Photos were taken during some trips to Banff, AB, Montréal, QC, and Chéticamp, NS, Summer 2017 to Winter 2018).