Illustration of a person sitting in living room but through a airplane window

International Borders Are Reopening—Should We Start Travelling Again?

Recently, Singapore’s government announced that Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs) to up to 11 countries will be opened this month, reviving hopes that we’ll be able to travel leisurely again. Reactions from friends and family inundated my family group chat and social media, with talks of visiting South Korea, the Netherlands, the UK, and of course, our beloved neighbour Malaysia. Many were particularly excited at the prospect of finally being able to shop “next door” again.

Shortly after the announcement, media outlets reported that the Singapore Airlines website experienced “technical difficulties”—most likely due to greater traffic and demand. It’s not surprising, as many of us have been looking forward to travelling again since national borders closed in early 2020. Back then, my family and I had been hoping to visit family in Hong Kong and perhaps explore Israel, but those plans were indefinitely postponed.

When we think of leisure travel, it’s usually about taking a break and getting some rest. However, if we’re honest, most of us want to travel simply because:

  1. We’re tired of doing the same old things day after day and just want to escape from it all
  2. We see others doing exciting things while travelling and we want the same for ourselves
  3. We’re not able to emotionally disengage from the “daily grind” and can only depend on physical boundaries (like going overseas) to help us do so

What I’ve seen on my social media feeds and heard from conversations with friends certainly attest to these. However, most of our travels rarely seem to provide the kind of rest and soul restoration we’re looking for. I remember how I had gone on a trip to Taiwan, and upon returning to Singapore, I ended up needing another holiday just to recover from the first holiday.

All of this got me thinking about our underlying reasons for travelling, and it’s led me to this thought: If we can’t take breaks well where we are, then travelling won’t help our restless hearts. We would remain in the same state as we were pre-break.

So, what does it mean to rest or take breaks well, and how can we do so while travelling? Here are three things to consider when we do travel again:

 

1. Travel for new perspectives—live as the locals do

Think about it. Don’t we tend to scoff when tourists come to our country and spend all their time at the touristy spots doing touristy things? That’s because we feel that they’re not really experiencing the best parts of our homeland and getting to know life the way we know it. Yet when we go overseas, we find ourselves doing the same thing.

Of course, the best thing is to have a local friend who can bring you around and do the same for them when they visit you. Thankfully, I got to try that when I went to the UK—to live as my friends did, and from there, saw how they had fun, worked, ran errands, relaxed, and worshipped.

Aside from this, there were also times when I found it helpful to try and adapt to the culture of the place I’m visiting, such as:

  • in the UK
    • engaging in small talk at a bus stop and with service staff in restaurants
    • letting myself be served in a British family’s home (instead of trying to serve myself)
  • in Southeast Asia
    • offering my food to my tablemates before eating
    • always bringing a small gift or some food when visiting someone’s home for the first time

Through these encounters, I saw how these small gestures helped me connect better with the locals, and thus recognise and appreciate our cultural differences—in the way we express hospitality, our differing emphasis on the individual versus the communal, etc.

 

2. Travel to rest—disengage from the pressure to impress others

While I enjoy seeing my friends and family share their picturesque vacation snaps on social media, it’s healthy to remember that there’s no obligation to post anything. Sometimes, it can be distracting (and tiring) to spend a lot of time taking “perfect” shots just so we can post them, and then constantly check if our friends like our posts.

Instead of doing that, why not spend that time enjoying where you are—breathing in the air and taking in the scenery of your holiday destination? This could mean taking time to do a prayer walk around a scenic spot or the city centre, choosing a slower travel itinerary (or one with fewer pit stops), or simply sitting in a local café to take in the local scene.

The One who took regular retreats from normal life also invites us to come to Him for rest: “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

By intentionally allowing ourselves to rest with (and in) Jesus, we remember that we don’t have to impress and try to “outdo” others because we already have God’s approval (Ephesians 1:3-5).

 

3. Travel to be restored—reconnect with God and realign our goals

Think of how we sometimes reset our phones to offload all the unnecessary apps. When we travel, are we giving ourselves such restorative spaces (i.e., time and headspace to think about things outside of work, to listen to our thoughts and reflect on where we are in life)? Or are we trying to cram more tourist spots and food places into our schedule?

I’m again reminded of Jesus’s example—how He often withdrew to connect with His Father and think of His life mission. Though Jesus probably did not travel far physically, I believe that His retreats allowed him to distance Himself internally and so address the needs of His soul.

When we let the Lord lead us into restorative spaces, our souls can disengage from the daily grind, and we can recalibrate our life mission and our relationship with God, no matter where we are physically.

If soul restoration is one of our holiday priorities, it would be wise to carve out opportunities (set a pace of travel) for it. When I went to Cambodia for missions, instead of looking for new events to attend, I tagged along after my local friends on their pre-planned ministry events. Their slower pace of life gave me lots of space to meditate on the blessings and recall the purpose for the season of life I was in. And that time with the Lord truly restored my soul.

 

As much as I’ve missed travelling and seeing my loved ones overseas, I realised that there were other ways for my soul to be fed and for me to have quality rest. I’ve connected with family and friends overseas through phone calls and text messages. I have also physically met (in small groups) and prayed with friends in Singapore. I also took short breaks from work to exercise, spend time with family, write songs, and read books.

It felt refreshing to rest at home, to have deep conversation with friends and to visit local nature spots. Even while being “grounded” in Singapore, my heart and soul still got to experience a holiday.

As the borders open (when they actually do), before we rush to book our travel tickets, let us first pause and think—Why do I want to travel? What am I traveling for? Could some of my needs be met, even as I remain where I am now?

Think about the break you might need, how your holiday time may be well used, and have a great and restful holiday!

1 reply
  1. Meng
    Meng says:

    Thanks, Sarah for the good thoughts. I like the idea you shared that travel can be rest to reconnect with the Lord.

    Reply

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