With the Thai Songkran holiday fast approaching, this is normally the time of year when people are making travel plans.
But with the Covid-19 virus sweeping across the world (to use one of the media's favourite expressions) everything is up in the air (except many of the airplanes that is). Almost everyone you talk to is going through their own personal travel nightmare and having to make painful decisions on whether to cancel or take the risk.
First world problems? maybe. But that doesn't make them any less stressful.
We're in this together!
The April Songkran holiday is when thousands of Thais head off for short breaks to popular Asian destinations such as Korea, Japan and China (now designated as high-risk areas). If reports are to be believed, most of those Thai holidaymakers have cancelled. Fear of having to self-quarantine for at least 14 days upon return is just one good reason.
What about all the foreign teachers here? - all those that have not only planned trips abroad but are using the break as an opportunity to visit their families in Europe or The Philippines. Will flights be cancelled? Will connecting flights still be operating? Are relatives worried about a virus-spreading family member flying in from SE Asia?
Will teachers also have to stay in isolation once they get back to Thailand for fear of passing the virus on to students? Will their employer be angry because they defied the school's advice not to travel? Will teachers go unpaid for the down time?
The whole situation is a mess.
Actually, I feel selfish detailing my own travel woes because there are so many of us in the same boat. We're all having to deal with crushing disappointments. Many of us are worried about losing money if travel insurance doesn't cover the costs of anything virus-associated.
My wife and I were planning to spend 13 days in Turkey. Istanbul had never been on my bucket list but after an underwhelming vacation in Sapporo last April (my choice I might add) I felt it only fair to let my wife decide on this year's destination, and Turkey has long been a dream of hers.
We booked and paid for the trip as long ago as August. In a case of right place, right time, we were fortunate to purchase business class tickets on a direct Turkish Airlines flight from Bangkok to Istanbul for half of what the usual fare would be. In addition, Istanbul is teeming with great value Air BnB deals, and we secured an apartment with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, enough space to lose each other in, and a balcony / terrace from which we could sit and enjoy magnificent views over The Bosphorous.
I started doing my usual meticulous research. I compiled a list of things to see, studied how to get around by public transport and planned where to go on day trips if city life all got too much - and as often happens, the more knowledgeable you become about a place, the more you look forward to it.
But we decided to cancel. In fact, my wife was adamant that we should cancel. So there will be no haggling in The Grand Bazaar and there will be no sunsets over The Blue Mosque. Istanbul will have to wait for another time.
If it were completely up to me, we would be going. Cancelling at this late stage would be out of the question. When it comes to travel, I've always been a risk-taker with a foolish measure of bugger-the-consequences thrown in. I can go anywhere in the world I want until a stern-looking immigration official blocks my path and says I can't. That's the way I look at the situation.
But I don't want to drag an unwilling partner around with me.
My wife's chief concern is the increased chance of catching the virus at airports and on board the plane. She's always been the woman you see furiously wiping the tray table, TV monitor and handset with an anti-bacterial wet wipe within seconds of taking her seat. And to be fair, I should be worried about this too. I often seem to come down with some annoying bug after a long haul flight.
And then once we're in Istanbul, there's the question of perception. She's been mistaken for a Chinese national a number of times on our travels in the past. Are the whispered conversations in coffee shops and the realization that people are swapping seats purely because you look Asian going to become subconsciously more and more upsetting? And we've all seen far worse examples of this ignorance on social media where Asians have been verbally abused in the street just because of their physical appearance. I can certainly see her point?
What about if the virus situation in either Turkey or Thailand escalates while we're away and return flights get cancelled or Thailand updates its entry rules? We could find ourselves stranded in a strange land with dwindling funds. Not a nice scenario.
Last but certainly not least, we know from medical reports and health articles, that the virus is particularly harmful to the elderly and those with underlying health issues. Could my wife become infected, not even be aware of it, and in turn pass it on to her elderly mother and put her at grave risk?
All of the above are legitimate concerns.
The very best of luck to you!
Whatever your travel plans are, I wish you luck. May your journeys be unimpeded and may any financial losses be minor.
A good friend and ex-colleague of mine who lives in Northern Thailand is taking his two teenage daughters home to Scotland to see his Mother. He told me there was no way he was cancelling the trip and I don't blame him for a moment. Virus or no virus, how many times is there going to be an opportunity for his Mother to see her beloved grand-daughters from Thailand?
If you're one of those forced to cancel your trip, then you have my sympathy. However, I think you go through three distinct stages when you do.
First comes the overwhelming disappointment. All that planning and excited anticipation for nothing.
This gives way to the acceptance stage. It's during this stage that you make a mental list of all the supporting reasons why you've made the right decision.
And finally there's what I call the indifferent stage, where frankly you couldn't give a f*** whether you go or not. And when you reach the top level, when you couldn't feel more indifferent if you tried, you might start doing what I'm currently doing - trawling through Booking.com for hotels in Pattaya.