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By Caitlin Lim December 30, 2021 • 5 min read

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Call it a stroke of madness, but on the first of November, I found myself at a place I would have not imagined visiting during a pandemic-stricken world: Changi Airport. While Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTL) are currently suspended, I was lucky enough to be able to make use of it before this madness descended upon us all.

Changi Airport Departure Hall
Changi Airport Departure Hall | © Caitlin Lim

Perhaps it was the burnout, the fatigue, or the boredom, but I booked my tickets to a country I have never visited without much thought. All I knew was that I needed a break — an escape if you will.

The opening of new VTLs brought along great news — not everyone will have to fork out a hefty fee for quarantine. All it takes is to be fully-vaccinated, with the occasional negative COVID-19 test here and there. Currently, Singapore has VTLs opened with some parts of Europe, USA, with South Korea, Australia, and Malaysia, among others (though they are currently suspended due to the outbreak of the Omicron variant).

A round trip to John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport cost me around SGD1,800 for a premium economy ticket. When booking your flight, do ensure you meet the entry requirements for the country you are travelling to. I was considering a connecting flight so I wouldn’t have to endure a tedious 18-hour journey, but as most of the transits go through Germany, I wouldn't be able to enter the USA. Do check up the specific requirements as different countries have different rules.

Preparing for the Trip

Even if you’re vaccinated, there are still lots of boxes to check-off on your travel checklist.

Unlike pre-pandemic days, administrative matters had only increased in number. Many countries require a viral test before your departure, so be prepared to fork out an additional $30–$200 depending on the test type and the location you do your test at before boarding your flight.

Thankfully, the USA accepted Antigen Rapid Tests (ART), which was far cheaper and far less painful than the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test. Be sure to get official documentation of your test from a doctor, if not you may be denied travel.

The window for the viral test varies from place to place, so be sure to check and take your test within the stipulated time frame. I took my test on Saturday morning, two days before I was due to fly.

Insurance is also another hassle. While some companies have now included COVID-19 related delays and inconveniences under their policies, some don’t. Be sure to check the terms and conditions of your travel insurance before setting off to ensure it covers claims relating to the pandemic.

Arriving at the Airport

It was a little sad to see the once bustling Changi Airport a shell of its former self, and somewhat of a ghost town. In fact, only a handful of people filled the space, a far contrast to the days before COVID-19 was our normal. However, thanks to this emptiness, the check-in was a seamless process and proceeded at a much faster pace than my last trip in 2019. 

Transit Area Changi Airport
Transit Area | © Caitlin Lim

There weren’t many travellers, and it was apparent from the very empty passenger area. Many shops were shuttered, likely due to the low footfall in the airport.

Sitting down inside a Singapore Airlines flight
Finally getting to walk down the aisle | © Caitlin Lim

The COVID-19 Situation in New York City

Unlike Singapore, the situation in New York City was much more relaxed when I visited. At time of writing, Omicron has unfortunately caused cases to skyrocket, with hospitalisations increasing greatly.

New York City Times Square
Times Square | © Caitlin Lim

Times Square looked very much like its pre-pandemic self, with throngs of people going about their day maskless. For vaccinated individuals, masks need not be worn when outdoors; it is optional but of course, highly recommended. However, when entering covered premises such as supermarkets, shopping malls, and retail shops, masks are mandatory. This includes public transportation like the subway and food establishments as well.

Central Park New York City
Central Park | © Caitlin Lim

Thankfully, unlike the uncomfortable humidity of Singapore, the Autumn air in New York was much drier, meaning less perspiration and that icky, sticky feeling of your mask rubbing against your damp skin was virtually nonexistent. Being a typical Singaporean, I opted to wear my mask as much as possible, though I must admit it was nice to take a breather (mask-free) in the big open space of Central Park.

Los Tacos No.1 New York City
Los Tacos No.1 | © Caitlin Lim

Also, despite the less strict regulations on mask-wearing compared to Singapore, food establishment workers, whether they are cashiers or dealing with food prep, are required to mask up. At the same time, if you would like to dine-in at the establishment, you need to have proof of vaccination on hand. I downloaded the NYC COVID SAFE app to make the process as seamless as possible — just upload your vaccination proof and any form of identification, and you’re good to go.

Best Tacos New York City
Taco time! | © Caitlin Lim
Staten Island Ferry New York City
Me living my best (maskless) life in NYC | © Caitlin Lim

Heading home

After about a month of living my best life, it was time to head home.

To board a VTL flight, you need to take either an ART or PCR test. Thankfully, unlike Singapore, most places in New York offer these services completely free-of-charge. The process is a simple one: just head to one of the mobile testing vans located throughout the city, register, and get your test done. Upon my friend’s recommendation, I took mine at Q Lab. Just as promised, I got my results in under 24 hours — it’s also rather painless as compared to the PCR tests I’ve taken in Singapore.

Remember to get official documentation for your test once again (Q Lab does it automatically, so I went with them just to be safe). 

For entry into Singapore, an on-arrival PCR test is mandatory — the damage comes up to $125. 

Unfortunately, because my arrival coincided with the tightening of travel measures, I had to take an additional two supervised self-administered ARTs on the third and seventh day after returning. These will cost an additional $15 for each round.

Pro-tip: Pre-book your on-arrival PCR test to facilitate a more seamless process.

Testing centre Changi Airport
Testing centre | © Caitlin Lim

Thankfully, when I arrived at 4AM on Friday morning, there was no queue, and I was in and out of the testing centre in about 10-minutes. From there, you’re not allowed to head anywhere else until your results come back negative, so it was straight home for me.

While the average time to receive your results is within a 24-hour window, I got mine in just 5-hours, and then I was cleared to go about our little red dot. While I had to take two additional ARTs on the third and seventh day (don’t fret — Ministry of Health WILL send reminders), it was self-administered under supervision and very quick.

Would I do it again?

Despite the additional costs incurred and the hassle of additional administrative tasks, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. As someone who always lusts for travel, this trip gave me a much needed break from the hustle and bustle of life in Singapore.

Singapore is small — unlike other countries, domestic travel is non-existent. Being able to step out and away gave me a breather after this tough and draining year. I’d highly recommend it to anyone feeling trapped in Singapore and in need of respite. Perhaps not now, but when the VTLs resume, it’s a yes from me to whip out my passport again.

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Caitlin Lim


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