What happens when on-the-move travel bloggers and digital nomads are told to “shelter at home?” What if they are location independent and they don’t have a home?
Right now there are a lot of travel bloggers stuck abroad.
When Aleah Taboclaon of Solitary Wanderer left her home in the Philippines in February, she let her former apartment go since she wasn’t planning to return for the rest of the year. She headed to Europe, went to see a friend in Belgium, and planned on moving on when her EU visa expired on April 24. Now she’s in lockdown mode at her friend’s place and has no idea what happens next. She’s supposed to return to her homeland, but can she?
“Will there be a flight?” she asks. “Qatar hasn’t canceled yet but they may, closer to the date. Plus the Philippines is in lockdown and may extend until May. I won’t have a way to leave the airport and I will have no place to go.”
It’s a story you hear a lot these days. We checked in with some well-known travel bloggers who went on lockdown in a foreign land. Instead of leading their normal nomadic life, they’re self-isolating where they were standing when the orders came to get inside and stay there.
Bloggers Stuck Abroad in Europe
Sarah and Nathan of Live Dream Discover are stuck in Europe, riding it all out in Budapest, Hungary.
“We left North America for the UK in mid-January with plans to go to Germany, Italy, Georgia, and Greece. We had an awesome mix of work and play planned but we didn’t get far.
On February 27th we arrived in Sicily, Italy excited to explore the region for several weeks and attend a TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) conference. For the first week, things were pretty normal as the crisis appeared to be contained to the far north of the country, far away from Sicily. But things escalated quickly. Shortly after our arrival, the conference was canceled and on March 9th the announcement was made that the entire country was about to go into lockdown. After some searching, we opted for a late afternoon flight the following day to Budapest.
The Airbnb we’d pre-booked was in the heart of the city, close to the famous ruin bar, Szimpla Kert, which was in full swing. Apparently the city was not yet under restrictions. This all changed three days later. We went into a self-imposed quarantine. It just seemed like the right thing to do even though we could hear the parties going on in the streets below. At that time our plans were to quarantine for 14 days and then fly to Tbilisi, Georgia where we had originally planned to spend a couple of months. But once again, that wasn’t to be.
A few days in, it became apparent that we had some big decisions to make. Nathan is American, I’m Canadian, so if we returned to North America we’d have to split up. Plus, being nomadic we had no home to return to which meant relying on family or friends to put us up after traveling on planes, trains, and automobiles. Would you want us in your home after all that exposure?
We decided to ride it out in Budapest. Our initial Airbnb was too small for long-term and after having a second choice cancel on us last minute we found an apartment that would work. Our 2-bedroom “home” is large, bright, safe and is on the 7th floor with lots of big windows to let in fresh air. There are only 2 apartments on each floor. Our hosts have been amazing! They even offered to go to the pharmacy or grocery store for us if we needed anything.
We negotiated a monthly rent of $600 USD which included all utilities. This is probably a bit high for Budapest but we’re grateful to have a comfortable place to stay with such caring landlords. There’s definitely anxiety about our decision to stay in a foreign country so far from our families. Also, we have a limited amount of time allowed within the Schengen Zone.
However, we’re trying to maintain a positive attitude that we made the best choice given the circumstances and that we’ll get through this. For now, we’re healthy, we feel safe and we have the support of our families in our decision. The whole world is in crisis and there are many much worse off than us.”
Nick and Dariece of Goats on the Road are currently self-isolated in Portugal. Dariece explains, “After traveling around Paris, Barcelona and Rome, Nick and I found ourselves in Lisbon, Portugal. We had planned to spend 3 weeks here indulging in the nightlife and restaurant scene, exploring the narrow alleyways with mosaic tiled buildings, and spending copious amounts of time at the waterfront. We did have about a week of fun here in the city, but that soon took a turn and we now find ourselves inside for the most part.
The rent here is $80 per day, so there are cheaper countries to be, but that’s not what drives us to visit or live places. It’s a very comfortable place, and groceries and wine are affordable, with a bottle of red coming in at around $3.
While governments were calling all of their citizens to return home, we decided to remain in Portugal. There are a few reasons for this. The main one being that we didn’t want to travel during this hectic time — we’d either pass on this virus or contract it. We’re not residents of Canada anymore, and our “base” in Grenada had closed its borders to flights both in and out, so we decided that Portugal seemed like a good place to wait it out.
The country is in a State of Emergency, which means that we are limited to what we can do, and which businesses are open. Basically, only essential shops are open, we’re allowed to go out for walks, and we can go grocery shopping.
I’m hopeful that Europe will open up soon, or at least Portugal, and we can head out and explore some more.”
Consumer advocate Christopher Elliott is currently holed up in in Nice, France, in the Jean-Médecin part of town.
“I’ve lived in Europe since January with my three teenagers. This was supposed to be our last trip together before my oldest son leaves for college. We spent a month in Lisbon and Porto and one memorable weekend on the island of Madeira and were headed to Italy in March. Then in late February, Italy turned into a red zone and we detoured to France.
Within a few days, stores closed and the streets drained of people. The U.S. embassy in Paris sent me an urgent email advising me to leave while I still could. But returning to the States would have taken several days, almost certainly exposing us to the virus. And if we’d gone back home to Arizona, we would have come into contact with relatives in the high-risk age group.
My kids and I are also curious, and we saw an opportunity to witness history. Nice hasn’t had a curfew like this since World War II. Regular police checkpoints haven’t been seen here in years, perhaps not since the 1940s. I wanted to see how this played out. We are paying $1,650 in rent for the month. It’s a coronavirus special.
Some parts of Nice look completely abandoned. People have described life under the lockdown as a waking nightmare. In Nice, I prefer a cinematic analogy. This is like watching a low-budget movie about the end of the world, except that it never ends.”
See the rest of Chris’s story here.
Anne and Mike Howard of HoneyTrek, the authors of Comfortably Wild, are self-isolating in a whole different way, in a campervan in Poland.
In early March, well before COVID-19 hit the global fan, we left the idyllic Baja, Mexico to fly to Europe for two travel conferences and two months of exploring. On the way to the airport, one event got canceled and the second was called by the time we landed in Berlin. We sparked up Plan B and an adventure we’d long been dreaming about…a camper trip around Eastern Europe! We found the perfect Indie Campers RV and plotted a journey through Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, and Croatia.
The first week in Poland was blissful, retracing Mike’s family roots, wandering medieval streets, and connecting with locals (before “social distancing” was a thing). We continued to the Czech Republic, and while celebrating our 9th wedding anniversary at a vegan-friendly restaurant, we heard whispers of the borders closing. We weighed our fate, “Do we cross into Slovakia or go back to Poland where we have a few friends and can live off pierogies?” Some Americans were scrambling to return to the States, but for us, that meant thousands in flights, quarantine in our camper storage facility in Texas, and resurfacing in a place with even higher rates of Coronavirus. So here we are in Poland, indefinitely. While each day’s news poses more uncertainty, positivity will always be our game plan.
The 2019 Atlas is Indie Camper’s deluxe four-person model, normally making it 160 euros a night, but the company has been very gracious to give us a better rate since the border closure has forced us to keep the camper much longer than expected. With campgrounds and hotels all closed, Park4Night has been our lifeblood. Using this mobile app, we’ve been able to find free camping spots all over Poland. Our camper has all the necessary amenities (kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, heat and more) so all we need is a quiet little spot by a lake, river, or forest.
Turns out, Poland is a fantastic place to be self-quarantined. Even though our German license plates and American accents cause some confused looks, no one has bothered us and those we’ve met have been extremely kind. When we were out of water and all the typical fill-up stations were closed, our only hope was a family farm listed as “friendly to RVers.” When we shared our story of getting stuck in Poland, this adorable and badass farmer lady invited us to stay on her land as long as we needed. Furthermore, she made sure we were well fed! She gave us various kinds of homemade dumplings, fresh goat’s milk, and even quince vodka homebrew (or as she calls it, the “anti-virus.”)
To keep our house batteries charged (so we have heat and lights), we have to drive every few days and while that makes it impossible to fully shelter in place, it has given us the opportunity to see more of the country. It’s crazy to see tourist havens and gorgeous medieval cities like Krakow completely devoid of humans. One one hand it’s incredibly sad to see Europe this way…and on the other, it feels like a rare gift to see these beautiful places frozen in time.
Travel Bloggers Stuck in Latin America
Marco Ferrarese of Penang Insider and Monkey Rock World is isolated in Cabanaconde, Peru—at the mouth of the Colca Canyon, hours from Arequipa.
“I was working on a freelance assignment for Fodor’s updating their new guidebook to Peru,” he explains, “when President Martin Vizcarra declared a national emergency and a full lock-down in the next 40 hours. Lima was 20 hours away by bus, Arequipa 6 hours, and all the neighboring countries like Bolivia and Chile were about to enforce similar restrictions.
My home country is Italy, which by then was the place with the highest COVID-19 infestation in the world after China, so returning there wasn’t an option. My parents—who would both die because of the virus a week later (RIP) while I was stranded in Cabanaconde—also told me not to go back and wait it out, so I didn’t think of flying out as an option. I actually live in Malaysia, which is on the opposite side of the world, and I and my photographer wife Kit Yeng Chan had planned to go home via Italy only after a few more months traveling in South and Central America, so we decided to stay.
On March 15th, instead of backtracking to Arequipa (a city with more police control and coronavirus cases), we traveled west to 3,280-meters-high Cabanaconde. It seemed to have decent accommodation, internet connection to keep in touch with the world (and my parents, who were hospitalized on that day), plenty of farmland to support potential weeks of isolation with fresh produce, and is far enough to be perfect for self-isolation. I don’t regret the choice in terms of safety, but getting out of here is now proving pretty challenging under this strict lock-down.
We stay at Mirko’s Home Backpackers, the only accommodation that’s still open in Cabanaconde, and really just to keep us safe. Mirko is a funny, generous man and we struck a deal: we pay US$7 a night for the both of us and are allowed to cook our own food. A bag full of fresh vegetables rarely costs more than $3 and lasts for half a week. There’s amazing fresh mountain cheese for $2 per piece, and meat and fish can be bought for $4-5 per kilo. So let’s say, we pay $200 a month for rent plus less than $50 for food, which in this awkward situation is pretty awesome.
Besides the tragic loss of half of my family I have experienced here through just a mobile phone hotspot (I wouldn’t wish a similar fate to my worst enemy, trust me), I feel fortunate to be here. Rural Peruvians are simple, good-hearted and spirited people, and we have been treated quite well by most. I certainly wouldn’t like to be in Lima at this time and appreciate the quiet days, local hospitality, and support. There’s beautiful surrounding mountain scenery I can look at…but not hike, unfortunately.
Embassies tried to help by offering ludicrously expensive repatriation flights we turned down. With the mess Italy is in right now, I don’t think it now makes a difference if I’ll get there sooner or later. I miss my adopted home of Malaysia for sure, but in this tragicomedy, I feel that in this village we are all just humans, no flags nor colors, trying our best to stay put and survive. See Marco’s full story here.
Stefania Guglielmi of Every Steph travel and lifestyle blog is currently riding out the crisis in Brasilia, Brazil.
“My partner and I have been here for the past 3 weeks. We had just started what was supposed to be a two-month trip around Brazil, and we were north of Rio de Janeiro when we understood the situation was becoming critical and we had to stop moving around. My boyfriend and I at this point were already not allowed in each other’s country, and honestly, I wouldn’t have wanted to go back to my native Italy in the middle of a very scary situation, so staying where we were seemed like the most sensible option.
We chose to stop in Brasilia, even if it meant taking an extra plane, because in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo there were already way more cases and rent was higher, which was something we needed to factor in since we might be stuck in here for months. We also thought that Brasilia was a good choice as all the embassies are here and with so many foreign diplomats, it’s easy to find good health care in case we ever needed it.
We are paying $500 a month for a one-bedroom, small but modern Airbnb apartment.
Being self-isolated here is not very different from doing it anywhere else. It was difficult at first to understand what was happening and what we were supposed to do regarding the quarantine (nothing–there are still no quarantine measures in place as of April 6), but we do understand a bit of Portuguese and read the news every morning to be updated. I’m also in contact with the Italian embassy in case things change. It’s hard to be away from our families, but we talk frequently with them. We’re honestly just using this time to be as productive as possible and work on our businesses.”
Bloggers Stuck Abroad in Asia
Josh Bender of Travel With Bender and Forever Break may have the best “stuck in paradise” story as he lounges around on a tropical island: Langkawi, Malaysia.
“We had planned a short 5-day trip to this island with the intent to fly back to Kuala Lumpur. During our stay, the Movement Control Order came into effect and on the day of our return flight, the airline canceled the flight just a few hours before takeoff. All other outgoing flights were canceled so we were ‘stranded’ on the island. However, if I had to pick somewhere to wait out the isolation period, I really can’t think of anywhere better! It’s certainly not like an episode of Lost.
This photo above was taken at the 4-star seaside resort where we were staying at the time. After our initial stay had to get extended due to the no movement order, the resort offered a special 50% discount for us bringing the nightly rate below US$60. I’ve stayed in 1-star roadside motels in the US for more than that! We have been the only people in the entire resort—how many people can say they’ve had an entire resort to themselves?
Even though our stay in Langkawi didn’t go to plan, when we chose to be flexible and adopt a positive frame of mind, we found there are always things we can be grateful for… things that we might have taken for granted before. We’ve got a low cost of living, relative ease of food deliveries, gorgeous scenery, and the sounds of birds singing in the trees. The locals here are pretty chilled compared to other countries—they just get on with their lives.
My wife and I are both introverts, so staying indoors for extended periods doesn’t really bother us, and it gives us more time to focus on growing our new website, foreverbreak.com. We can knuckle down and make the most of this productive time while supporting those in need around us. We are giving food to the less fortunate and those worst affected by their loss of income. This time of crisis is an opportunity to demonstrate love and kindness, something our world desperately needs.”
Richelle Gamlan of Adventures Around Asia is in a city between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea: Tbilisi, Georgia.
“My husband Chris and I are from two different countries (the US and Australia) and have chosen to live abroad together rather than applying for Spousal Visas in each other’s countries. While we planned on being back in the US in May for a wedding, it didn’t make sense to drop everything and fly back to the US right now when the COVID-19 outbreak there is so much worse than it is here in Georgia.
The two of us considered flying to Australia before they closed the border, especially since Chris’ family is from rural Australia in a village of 50. However, it was going to cost almost $3,000 in flights (unless we wanted 4 layovers) and there was no guarantee we’d actually get there. Once there we worried that the government may have us quarantine in Sydney, which would be obscenely expensive if we had to pay for it ourselves. Overall, the most reasonable and economical choice was to stay in Tbilisi. Pretty much all of our friends and acquaintances that were already around have stayed here too.
Our rent is $500 USD/month for a 1-bedroom apartment with a nice balcony! I’ve been able to sit out there in the sun when the weather is nice. The photo above is our view.
Overall, being isolated in Tbilisi really hasn’t been so bad. We live right above two small grocery stores, so we’ve been able to pop downstairs anytime we need anything. Our grocery stores are still fully stocked (we still have toilet paper!), there has only been one reported death, and the majority of Georgians seem to be very careful about social distancing. To be honest, it seems much safer here than on the West Coast of the US where my family is from.
The hardest parts about being isolated actually have nothing to do with what country we’re in! While it would be nice to be stuck in a slightly larger apartment or house, it’s mainly feeling stir crazy and the lack of income that’s really getting to us.
Kimmie Conner of Adventures & Sunsets had some elaborate travel plans in place, but ended up choosing Bali, Indonesia as the place to stay put.
“Well, I would say we didn’t necessarily ‘pick’ Bali. What happened was this: my partner (Australian) and I (American) had been living in Melbourne for the past year. My work visa expired in December and I came back in January on a tourist visa. Both he and I were planning, from last year, to leave Australia permanently in March 2020 and spend the year ‘on the road.’
We organized everything to leave Australia–he set a date to quit his job in mid-March–so we bought three different international flights, we moved out of our apartment and were staying with his parents. Those parents were selling (and have since sold) their house.
We planned travel insurance to start mid-March and booked quite a lot of flights and activities. And what’s more, my tourist visa was going to expire in Australia within weeks–and they were not giving extensions. Essentially, what made the most sense was for us to board our first (of three) flights that we had planned, and that flight was to Bali.
We had originally planned to stay in Bali for a month, but now since our flights to what would have been Thailand and Egypt have been canceled, we are here for the foreseeable future. Which we are happy with for now. Luckily, Indonesia has issued an ‘automatic emergency stay permit’ to anyone whose visa would expire, including us, until further notice. We have been isolating in a great Airbnb here with a rooftop (which took us FOREVER to pick as we wanted something we wouldn’t mind barricading ourselves inside). The goal is not to have to go to a hospital here of course, so we have been extra careful to only go out for supplies, wearing masks, and showering and sanitizing everything when we get back.
The rent prices in Bali have understandably dropped substantially since we arrived here. We are currently paying about $30USD/night here in a small 3-story house (one room on each floor/rooftop) so $15 each. For what it is we think it’s really fair–having a rooftop makes it feel far less confined.
See more shots from Bali (and before) on Kim’s Instagram account.
Are you a travel blogger stuck in place somewhere that you were just passing through? Where are you?