On Choosing NOT to Travel [Girls Go Abroad Episode 006]

Unfortunately, now just isn't the time to travel. Here's my story.
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If you’ve been paying much attention at all–which I doubt considering how absolutely crazy the last few weeks has been–you might have noticed that an episode of this podcast didn’t come out last week when it should have.

Well, that was because the past few weeks have been absolutely crazy, and I’ve been really struggling with wrapping my mind around it all, and especially about the sort of content I should be putting out there when the world isn’t–and shouldn’t be–traveling.

In the end, I think I’ve decided that a mix of inspirational travel content–for after this is all over–and more useful content for things to do with yourself while you’re waiting to travel–is the way to go. But before I get started with all of that, I just wanted to share a little bit about what my life has been like the past few weeks, and about the decision I’ve made not to travel.

My Story

Alright, so flashback to a few weeks ago. March 12th, to be exact. My spring break was starting in a few days, and I had every intention of getting on a plane to Koh Tao, Thailand to go on an amazing scuba diving and yoga retreat I had been dreaming about since I booked it more than 9 months ago.

I wasn’t scared about catching coronavirus. Not because I’m young and healthy, but because the situation in Thailand, after their experience with SARS, was largely under control. And I went off on several rants about just how Asia-phobic people were being when they asked if it was really smart for me to be going there.

But then, I woke up to the announcement that President Trump was banning all travel from Europe. And suddenly, shit got real real.

Sure, my flight from Scotland to Thailand wasn’t affected by this news at all. But what this news told me was that it was very likely that more travel restrictions were going to follow, and soon.

And I got scared.

I spent that day really not knowing what to do. Should I go to Thailand anyway? Should I stay in Scotland in case I couldn’t get back into the country and not attend class after the break? Should I do something else entirely?

What really made my decision for me was a few things:

  1. Although Thailand probably isn’t the worst place in the world to get stuck, the thought of getting stuck there all on my own wasn’t really one I wanted to entertain
  2. My boyfriend Daniel was going home for spring break, and the thought of him getting stuck there and me being in our apartment in Scotland alone was also not one that I wanted to entertain

So I called up KLM and I rebooked my ticket to Thailand to take me to Washington DC instead. I also booked the return flight for the end of spring break, working under the assumption that this craziness was probably going to blow over soon and we would be going back.

Boy, was I wrong.

silhouettes in an airport at sunset
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That Saturday, I got on a plane (on my own, because Daniel and I had booked our tickets separately and were on different flights) back to DC.

The flight was almost completely empty. We all had a row to ourselves. But other than that, things seemed mostly normal in the air–aside from a few people in masks.

About half an hour before we landed, the pilot made an announcement that we should all stay seated after we got to the gate because the CDC would be boarding the plane to do a health check.

So when we landed, we all stayed seated.

But the CDC didn’t come.

Eventually, the pilot got back on the intercom to say that apparently we could get off the plane. Weird.

Getting off the plane, we were all herded into these little buggy-like things which Dulles uses to transport passengers between the far-away terminal where a lot of international flights land and customs.

They were handing out health forms but didn’t have enough for our (almost empty) plane. And instead of going to customs, we went to another building in a different part of the airport I’ve never seen before.

There, we were once again crowded into a small space – this time a room, where we waited in line to be asked questions by the CDC. I was able to secure one of the health forms, which was so out of date that it only asked if you have been to Wuhan Province or Mainland China.

When I got to the interview portion, I was presented with a handwritten list of European countries (at this time the UK & Ireland hadn’t been banned yet) and asked if I had been to any of them in the last 14 days.

“I spent an hour in the Amsterdam airport,” I replied.

She handed me a piece of paper instructing me to self-isolate for the next 14 days and to monitor my symptoms.

Then, it was back into the buggy (again, an enclosed space), where we waited for it to fill up before heading to customs.

I went on over to the Global Entry area, expecting to be done with all of the hullabaloo.

Nope.

Instead, I got a giant black X on my receipt. And so did every single other person who had Global Entry.

And then we, the people who expect not to wait in line, waited for half an hour in an unmoving line.

When I finally got up to the desk, the border agent asked where I was coming from.

“Scotland with a layover in Amsterdam” I replied.

He immediately stuck my passport and customs form into a clear box with a red top that I couldn’t open myself, and directed me to yet another line for yet another health check.

I waited there for probably an hour, only to get to the desk and be told that I had already done a health check (indicated by the sticker on my customs form) and I could go.

Why I got sent to the second line, I don’t know.

Why there were two different health checks set up, I really don’t know.

But I left the customs hall and grabbed my bag from the side of the baggage belt–because yes, it had been that long, and went outside to be greeted by Daniel’s parents.

Daniel’s flight got in a half-hour after that, so we just waited. He flew through Dublin, so didn’t get a self-isolation order, and then we drove home.

And so I hunkered down for my 14 days of self-isolation, which is what I’m doing right now.

I was shortly joined by Isabel, Daniel’s sister after she was evacuated from Guatemala when the entire Peace Corps got shut down.

So now it’s me, Daniel, Isabel, and his parents just chilling and social distancing.

A few days after we got back, we got the notice that our classes were moving online for the rest of the semester. A few days after that, they announced that our graduation was canceled. So I still have an apartment in Scotland, but besides going back to pack up my stuff, I don’t have plans to use it again. Not the end of my university experience that I imagined at all, and I’m definitely in the process of mourning that right now.

Over the past two weeks or so, I’ve come to the slow realization that all of this probably isn’t going to be over anytime soon. And that means that I’m not going to be traveling anytime soon. For me, a person who is literally always planning her next trip, this is a hard pill to swallow. But it’s what needs to happen right now.

What do we do?

a globe with a sticky note that says "stay home" on it
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I’m not an expert. And I’m not going to pretend to be one. When it comes to what to do, you should be listening to the WHO, the CDC, and other official bodies.

But I can tell you what I think. And what I think is that right now we shouldn’t be traveling.

If you’re out there right now, I think you should get home while you still can, because more and more borders are being closed every day, and there might come a time when going home is no longer an option.

And once you’re home? Stay put.

It is so strange to be saying, as a travel blogger, that you shouldn’t travel. But it’s true. Now just isn’t the time.

Things to do when you can’t travel

a woman sitting in bed with a fuzzy blanket, wearing a cozy sweater and holding a book and starbucks cup
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So what can you do when you can’t travel? Well, thankfully there are a few different ways to still get that travel fix without leaving your home.

1. Read a book

There truly is no better form of escapism than reading a book, and if you really want to get into the spirit then reading a travel memoir or a book set in another country is a really great way to do that.

I absolutely love the blog Tale Away for book recommendations. They do a World Reading Challenge each year where the goal is to read a book set in a different country each week.

I’m also hoping to get an episode up in the next couple of weeks with solo female travel-specific book recommendations, so keep an eye out for that!

2. Subscribe to a travel magazine

Another great way to get your daily dose of escapism is with a travel magazine. A few of my favorites are Wanderlust and the Airbnb Magazine.

3. Watch a travel documentary

Of course, if you’re looking for a more visual way to get your travel fix in, then a travel documentary or movie is a great way to go. Of course, you can’t go wrong with Wild or Eat, Pray, Love, and for documentaries try National Parks Adventure, Planet Earth, Jack Whitehall: Travels with my Father, or Parts Unknown.

4. Plan a future trip

Did you know that you get almost as much joy out of simply planning a trip as you do out of taking that trip? So one of the best ways to keep yourself optimistic right now is to plan a trip for when this all blows over. Personally, I’m starting to think about a big backpacking trip through Central America and it’s getting me so excited.

5. Learn a new language

While you’re planning that future trip, why not take the time to learn the language of the place you’ll be going to? There are some amazing online resources out there, like Duolingo, and you can even take like video lessons on platforms like iTalki.

Personally, I’m working on my Spanish.

6. Start teaching English online

Want to start your day greeted by the cutest faces ever? Start teaching English online.

The demand for online English teachers right now is absolutely crazy, and all you need is a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate for most places.

I’m currently going through the hiring process for Qkids, an online English platform that accepts students with last semester senior standing and I’m super excited to get started. I was actually planning on doing this before this all got crazy, but now I’m so glad that I did.

Plus, once this all blows over, teaching English online will allow you to work online and travel at the same time, or take your experience to teach English abroad in person!

7. Take a virtual tour

There are a ton of museums, castles, and other monuments and amazing places that have virtual tours available for free right now. My friend Heather from Raulerson Girls Travel put together an amazing list of the 25 best virtual tours around the world.

Another of my favorite bloggers, Lia from Practical Wanderlust, just published a virtual day at Disneyworld which you could literally spend a whole day on–love it!

8. Cook a meal from a country you love

If you’re missing the food part of travel, then bring it to your own home by cooking a meal that you love from one of the countries that you’ve traveled to in the past! You can find great, authentic recipes online, or maybe you took a cooking class but just haven’t gotten around to making those meals at home before now. Either way, it’s sure to be delicious.

9. Read your favorite travel blogs

It’s no surprise that travel blogs are experiencing a crazy dip in traffic right now because, well, people aren’t traveling. This means that a lot of people are experiencing a drop in income right now too. One of the best things you can do right now to support your favorite bloggers is just to go and read their posts!

10. Go for a (socially distant) walk/hike

Thankfully one thing we can do while we’re socially distancing ourselves is go outside. And honestly, this is so important for maintaining your mental health when you’re all locked up. Try to walk around your neighborhood or head to a nearby hiking path that isn’t too popular (so you can still stay socially distant) and get a little bit of adventure in that way!

11. Make a scrapbook

Finally, one of the best ways to get a little bit of adventure in is to relive your old ones! If there’s a trip that you’ve been meaning to make a scrapbook of for ages, now is the time to do it.

Alright guys, there you go: 11 things to do when you can’t travel. I hope you and your friends are healthy, safe, and keeping yourselves entertained in this unprecedented time, and that you have plenty of amazing travels in your future.

Unfortunately, now just isn't the time to travel. Here's my story.
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MY FAVORITE TRAVEL TIPS & RESOURCES

Booking Flights: The first place I turn when I’m searching for flights is actually just Google Flights - it’s great to figure out what sort of routes are available. Then, I check Skyscanner and Kiwi for deals. I also love Kiwi for its destination: anywhere feature!

Transportation: I love Omio for figuring out the cheapest way to get from one place to another, and Trainline for booking train tickets within Europe.

Accommodations: I absolutely love Booking.com for finding great hotel deals. After you stay a certain number of nights, you get Genius discounts! For hostels, Hostelworld is my go-to, and I use Airbnb occasionally as well (click here for $40 off your first booking!)

Travel Insurance: I knew that I shouldn’t travel without insurance for the longest time, but I really learned my lesson when I got an infected cut in Bali. Thank goodness I had travel insurance! I use and love World Nomads for their extremely comprehensive coverage.

Travel Insurance: I knew that I shouldn’t travel without insurance for the longest time, but I really learned my lesson when I got an infected cut in Bali. Thank goodness I had travel insurance! I use and love World Nomads for their extremely comprehensive coverage.

Tours: I always check Urban Adventures for great day tours of cities first–I’m obsessed with them! GetYourGuide and Viator are also great options. For multi-day tours, I highly recommend Intrepid.

Camera Gear: I use a Sony Alpha A6300 camera with an 18-105 mm lens and a 35 mm lens. My tripod is the MeFoto Backpacker Air and I loooooove it! I also use a DJI Mavic Air and a GoPro and which allow me to capture everything my regular camera can’t.

2 thoughts on “On Choosing NOT to Travel [Girls Go Abroad Episode 006]”

  1. This is such an awesome post! Thanks for sharing your raw experience and giving us a glimpse into what it was like to travel in the midst of a travel band unfolding. And I love the recommendations. All very practical. I’m hoping to do some travel inspired cooking soon!

    1. It was definitely crazy! Travel-themed cooking has been a great escape though – I did a Bali-themed night a little while ago and it was so nice 🙂

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