(Note: This series is written by Nate based on Joy’s pandemic travel experience.)
COVID put a stop to everyone’s wanderlust including mine, but as I savoured semblances of normalcy with the recent loosened restrictions, I was ready to put another stamp in my passport.
I reckon that anyone who travels amidst our pandemic climate would feel nervous. The numerous regulations that change faster than we can flip a page in a book. How many tests am I supposed to take before I leave? Can I get a booking at the clinic in time? What about at the airport? And how am I going to find a clinic that provides PCR testing when I can’t read their language? Of course we can’t forget; what if I get COVID when I’m there??
Imagine that dose of panic for someone with ADHD (attention deficiency hyperactive disorder). That’s me.
However, my desire for a recharge abroad supersedes the fears. My yearning to be back in Barcelona again invaded my dreams and arrested my soul. I want to be there so badly. My past two trips there left nothing but marvellous memories (or maybe my brain chose to omit the not-so-pleasant ones). Genial Spanish people appeared in my mind and conversations I had with played back uncontrollably. I remember being so riveted with how they celebrated individually and were yet inclusive.
And the humidity in Singapore was driving me nuts.
So I started planning months in advance. This would be a trip that might last for months, because I wanted to experience living there.
You might ask, so why would having ADHD be a problem? Unbeknownst to many, it’s very much an internal warfare, just like other mental struggles. Like Dr Jekll and Mr Hyde, I have a propensity to fluctuate in emotions that are at extreme ends of each other. I have a love-hate relationship with travelling. The adventure and novelty thrills me, but the disruption to my daily routine upsets me. Despite being said to be spontaneous and impulsive, I do take a long time to warm up to places and people. Brain fog would be one of my daily complaints when I try to plan for a trip. It induces anxiety and frustration.
The impulsion often comes with a cost, and it is often monetary. Even before the trip, I busted a hole in my pocket. From buying overpriced packing cubes to stocking up on toiletries, there was a fine line between being well-prepared and fretting too much. I was even worried that I would forget to pack something so I had bought a few of the very same item and placed them in visible corners of my room.
The result is usually over- or under-packing. This time round, I did the former, and woe-be-to-me because I had overpacked for the wrong season! It doesn’t help that Barcelona is at the brink of spring, and it was not summer yet. I brought nothing but tee shirts and most of the time I am found freezing my *** off.
However, there’s a constructive aspect to my condition. One of the defining aspects of ADHD is that when I set my eyes on a task, I develop complete tunnel vision. It becomes a hyper-fixation. I was obsessed with my research on getting plane tickets. My trip was all I could think about. My extroverted side of me urged me to look for meetups and events that I could attend. I spent hours at the computer shutting everything out to concentrate on preparing for my trip. I’ve spent so much time and effort searching for the best that I was convinced I had the best deal and that I scoured through the net for all activities that I would hate to miss.
In the midst of planning, Joey, a friend of 20 years, expressed interest in tagging along. Sure! Who doesn’t like a companion and some familiarity? But plans went south. Joey was tagging me along in the wrong way – in her indecision and unresponsiveness. I had already made plans to have her around so my schedule was changed. However she was uncontactable and that launched a series of anxiety attacks and of course depression. Everyone else told me to just go ahead with my plans. I was hesitant in case she would suddenly appear and say that she was still in this with me. So I waited and she ‘rose from the dead’ eventually and purchased tickets, to my joy and nervous laughter.
I had thought that my pretty picture of travelling with a friend to Barcelona for an adventure was in place again, but life likes to spin me around like a fool. A couple of days before the flight, Joey exclaimed that she needed to change dates and came up with a bunch of excuses that didn’t add up. I felt too tired to be angry, I was just severely disappointed.
Having started rockily, I thought that the universe would sympathise with me and let things get better, but what laid ahead was just more distress. My transit was in Turkey and the flight from Istanbul to Barcelona was cancelled – when I was already there. I was officially stranded. Trying to keep myself calm and level-headed, I spent more than 6 hours trying to look for more information and another 3+ hours queuing for the offered free hotel accommodation.
Who knew that I was going to be out of the airport in Turkey? It was winter and I had nothing more than one sweater. Nobody made me feel better as everyone was just rude. I just had to bear with the unpleasantry of the situation and the people around me. When I finally got on to the flight the next day, one of the flight attendants was displaying racist attitude and the trip just wasn’t smooth in general. I had to look at the watch to countdown the hours because being in the plane felt unbearable.
Finally, I have reached the Catalan capital – Barcelona. The beautiful city eased the negativity and I busked in the sol to rid myself of the ‘bad luck’ I have been experiencing, and began the adventure of a lifetime.
Well, the optimist in me gets interrupted very often, and soon enough, problems started to surface. Sasha, the person I had planned to bunk in with was very obviously dealing with her own problems and that didn’t make the stay very welcoming. Joey finally arrived from Malaysia and Sasha’s enthusiasm to host quickly evaporated. Joey volunteered to sleep on the couch, but being in that shared and ‘public’ space encroached in Sasha’s privacy and made her feel uncomfortable. The next best move was to move out, so my friend and I did.
We headed to a hostel. Our experience there wasn’t the best. My solace and solution was to spend time outside my accommodation. Meeting friendly people at meetups and gatherings helped balanced the negative chakra I have been doused with so far.
Each day I wonder what lies ahead of me because I realised that even though my ADHD self has tried to cover everything through obsessive planning, I have been surprised thus far with how things can turn about quite quickly…
(To be continued)
Known as Nate, I am someone who cannot quit wielding the pen or punching the QWERTY, no matter where life brings me. Writing has always been the most effective conduit for channeling my wanted or unwanted opinions since I was an undergraduate at NUS. Naturally, I used this skill as a means of sustenance after working as a writer and editor for many years until I decided to start a business in music. That did not put a halt to my marriage with the vernacular.
In October 2016, I graduated with my Masters in Visual and Media Anthropology, which is the study of cultures through films and photography, at Freie Universität Berlin. This transitory period of residing in two cities has pushed the boundaries of my creativity and my battles with word count have not ceased.
Now a new mode of writing, the academic one, has been added to my existing smorgasbord of corporate and lifestyle collaterals, articles, advertisements, annual reports and books. At the moment, my learning curve is an uphill journey as I attempt to grasp the camera for stills and motion clips, while I juggle that with developing my love affair with my other mode of expression – electronic music.