Traveling Through the Eye of the COVID-19 Storm

The Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020 has changed our lives this year, and all indicators show that we are not clear of the dangers yet. My tale is a personal one as we were very close to Ground Zero when it hit the airwaves at the beginning of the year. What started as a few cases in Wuhan, China quickly spread to other parts of Asia. The media picked up on it, and the rumors started flying.

02-03-2020 Airline billboard showing cancelled and no status due to pandemic

Cambodia flights cancelled © Norm Bour

Flights and cruises canceled!

Cover up and lack of disclosure reported!

As a full time Traveling Nomad, I don’t pay much attention to the news from my native America nor the rest of the world, but this was pretty hard to avoid. Add to that the fact that we arrived in Singapore on New Year’s Day, 2020, and we were committed to being in this part of the world until March 4, there was not much to do but pray, be careful, and hope for the best.

When we arrived in Thailand on January 4, I was astounded by the usage of breathing masks. Of course, I have seen their usage in China and other Asian countries, but this was the first time I walked the streets with my fellow pedestrians in masks. I had thought they wore for germ protection due to high density, but after being in Bangkok for a few days and not seeing the sun due to smog, I realized that these masks are for air quality protection, too.

Because the air quality was so poor in Bangkok, we decided we had to get out of town, which we did. Our 60 days rental commitment could not be broken, but that did not force us to stay there or stop us from going elsewhere.

Quiet Chumphon, Thailand © Norm Bour

Quiet Chumphon, Thailand © Norm Bour

The first stop was Chiang Mai, about a one-hour flight north of Bangkok and a favorite location for ex-pats. It is also known for elephant sanctuaries, so we did that along with taking a two-hour hike to the tallest peak in Thailand. That took its toll on Kathleen, my girlfriend, who traveled with me, and ended up with an adverse reaction to the “burning season” in Thailand. I’d never heard of this, but it is a common practice for farmers and everyday people to burn whatever they want to get rid of. Due to this practice, Chiang Mai has become less desirable and is considered to be one of the smoggiest cities in the country.

Meanwhile, the Coronavirus news was becoming more prevalent and dire. Every day new Google feeds were reporting new outbreaks, and among the theories and conjectures were many ideas of “how bad it can get.”

We found out firsthand as one of our side trips included a visit to Hai Long Bay, Vietnam, and while staying at our guest room, we met another American couple who lived in China. Their vacation to Vietnam was intended to last just 14 days, but when they tried to get home, they discovered that quarantine was mandatory at their airport for up to 14 (more) days.

Very quiet boarding gates © Norm Bour

Very quiet boarding gates © Norm Bour

We found this out just days after departing Vietnam and realized that we missed being stuck there by just way too close!

Meanwhile, in Chumphon, Thailand, a pleasant sea proximate town an hour’s flight south of Bangkok, the news coverage continued to expand, and now the reality of having the virus affect our travel plans were too real.

For the next 45 days, it was cat and mouse as we, the mice, were trying to stay ahead of the virus.

We visited Cambodia for a few days, which was sparse with tourists, and made it back to Bangkok for our final exit out of Southeast Asia.

But our adventure was not over yet!

 Vietnam Water © Norm Bour

Vietnam Water © Norm Bour

Our flight from Thailand took us back to Singapore for just a day, and then only one more flight back to the US—via Taiwan… Though not mainland China, we still had concerns about getting back to California. A six-hour layover in a very, very chilly airport in Taipei, did not ease our concerns, but although several flights to the US were canceled, ours was not.

The story ends happily ever after as we breezed through customs and immigration at Los Angeles without a thermal scan or too many questions.

After 14 months on the road and watching the storm over our shoulders, it was good to be home.


About Norm Bour, a Traveling Nomad

Norm Bour avatarNorm Bour became a Traveling Nomad after leaving the US permanently in February 2019 at the age of 64. His goal was to Travel the World Six Weeks at a Time, which he did and wrote a book about his experiences. Over 14 months, he visited 23 countries and over 400 cities by taking 36 plane trips. Norm was motivated by the Millennial generation who make travel look so easy, and so teaches fellow Boomers how to “travel like a Millennial.” You can follow his journey at www.TravelYounger.com along with his Facebook blog by the same name.

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