I never intended on Bali being a destination. Traveling throughout the pandemic wore on me. Restriction after restriction, QR codes along with unnecessary and excessive paperwork, lots of waiting, long lines, PCRs, vaccines, boosters, health forms, quarantines, masks, fees, COVID insurance, all on top of the normal stresses of travel. I was done. I needed a place to relax for several months with decent WiFi, where I could work with little interruption, and find a gym to focus on getting back in shape until all these rules and regulations began to wane so I could continue exploring Asia. Bali was it. A private villa with a pool for an incredible price, just outside the city of Ubud in the countryside, surrounded by many of the local warung (local restaurants).
Now, just three months later, I stand in line at immigration in Hanoi, Vietnam. My rucksack filled with every item I own and my guitar growing heavier by the minute, forcing me to switch hands holding my hard case. These are all I travel with. No suitcases to wait for at baggage claim. Sweat drips down the side of my forehead and my lower back, either from the lack of adequate A/C or from the nearly compulsive worry I hold every time I have to deal with security or immigration. I feel like George Jung played by Johnny Depp in Blow when he’s about to get his cocaine-filled suitcase checked by a customs officer. The anticipation of the stern looks and interrogative questioning is nearly too much for me to handle. I obviously packed every last innocuous item in my possession and recognize how innocent my motive for travel is, so I’m fully aware of how inane it is for me to worry. But I can’t fully shake the feeling.
“Here you go” I say with a forced smile as I hand it over.
“Welcome to Vietnam.”
Stamped in seconds! The officer didn’t ask for my vaccine certificate, my pre-approved visa, nor my destination or length of stay, which I had FULLY prepared to present both digital and physical copies of all documents. I realize, now, how COVID travel has only exacerbated my anxiety.
When I walk out of the airport the heat blasts me in the face like a giant hair dryer on full blast. I had gotten used to Bali, but this heat was different. It’s nearly midnight and I’m drained. I’m ready for a shower and sleep at the hotel I booked for the month, and looking forward to the included breakfast in the morning. It was worth the extra couple bucks per day. I arrive at the front desk of the Gia Thinh hotel in the Old Quarter and can’t resist asking the time for breakfast. I love my coffee first thing in the morning. The front desk informs me that since COVID their kitchen has “not been in operation.” Luckily, they apologize and upgrade my room to the suite. So not a total loss. I suppose the effects of COVID are still going to linger for some time and has probably caused a permanent shift in the world. As a remote worker, I am very grateful for the opportunities presented and the grit I developed in the past two years because of the pandemic. However, I am aware that complete ecstasy isn’t exactly the way most people would describe their experience. And although inconveniences may not fully elude me once COVID restrictions are entirely eliminated, travel is hardly ever about convenience.