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Cannot Travel: How One Globe-Trotting Mum Is Dealing With Feeling Stuck In SG

American mum Alexandra Karplus shares how she has made her peace with not being able to travel... for now.

On the first weekend after arriving in Singapore 13 years ago, my new boss took my husband, David, and me out for dinner.

We met at East Coast Seafood Centre, where we sipped cold Tiger beer, compared the flavours of fried baby squid to popcorn, and devoured what she declared to be “the best black pepper crab in town”. While she shared many useful tips that night on how to best enjoy living in Singapore, there was one that I have continued passing on to other newbies year after year:
“Make it a point to travel at least once a month, otherwise the island can feel small.”
At the time, this sounded incredibly unrealistic. For one thing, I had moved over from New York City. Despite having had three airports there within a 20-kilometre radius, the traffic and snail-paced security checks made travelling feel exhausting. In addition to this, my husband and I were both starting out in our careers, and I couldn’t imagine that we would have the budget for that amount of travel.

Seeing is believing

Alexandra with her then-3-month-old daughter, Sky, on a flight to the US. (photo provided)
Luckily, I was soon introduced to budget airlines and fell madly in love with the efficiency of Changi Airport. Then, over the next 11-plus years of my life in Singapore, my love affair with travel involved spotting orangutans in Sabah, getting lost at sea in Palawan, hiking up a volcano in East Java and whale-watching in Mirissa, Sri Lanka – just a few highlights from a list of more than 100 adventures. When family came to visit, I would always suggest spending just a few days in Singapore before we set off exploring. The wanderlust of my mother, in-laws, siblings and friends from around the world led us to new cities and, oftentimes, took us back to places we were just as eager to rediscover.
Without fail, Bali would be requested at least once a year.
And all these adventures didn’t slow down when we welcomed our daughter, Sky, into the family in 2015. She was on her first flight to Phuket at six weeks old, joined me for a business meeting in Manila at 16 months and journeyed back to the US and UK to meet our families in between. The same took place with her little brother, Ryder, although his glory days of travel – along with those of the rest of the world! – were grounded when he was just 1 and a half years old.

On being grounded

Alexandra’s daughter and son enjoy a trip to Merlion Park since they’ve been unable to travel due to Covid. (photo provided)
Since the pandemic started, we’ve had more time to explore Singapore in the same way we would have other destinations: camping on Pulau Ubin, crocodile hunting in Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, stand-up paddle boarding on Sentosa, and macaque-spotting at MacRitchie Reservoir. While I had made it to these places over the years, seeing them through the kids’ eyes added something new and wondrous to the experience. The lack of visitors or trips back home have not been as easy to replace. While grateful for technology, family reunions via Zoom don’t quite cut it.
Nothing can replace watching my daughter dash down the arrivals lobby into one of her grandparents’ arms.
Over the past year, I’ve listened in on my daughter reminding her little brother about what planes are like and reassuring him that we would get back on one soon. (I hope this is not just for the sweets we would always pack for them, nor the unlimited screen time they were allowed while onboard.) I hope that, like me, she craves the excitement that is sparked when you first set foot in a new and as-yet-undiscovered destination.

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