So this is the story of how I went traveling during the coronavirus outbreak and was stranded abroad for two months with hardly any money and no means to return home.
First of all, I wouldn’t advice traveling at all during these difficult times. I doubt you could anyway. Just stay home and stay safe… Or I’ll come find you oiiiiiiii O.o
Secondly, I’m writing this article as a warning to not do as I did during this time; traveling when planned right should be an encouraging and enjoyable experience, my first month was bliss, but the second and third quickly became stressful and awkward. But I’m telling this story to show you that no matter how bad things may get, there’s always a way out and the worst case scenario you’re thinking of is never as bad as you make it out to be.
So here’s my story…
It all started when I went to visit my girlfriend in Indonesia to spend a month with her; island hopping and enjoying quality time together on the beaches, traveling around the country and looking for adventure. After all it’s been a long time coming and I seriously needed a release from all the stresses at work and home.
‘Twas the night before Christmas and I was sat in the airport ready to board my flight to China. I know right? The coronavirus had just about broken loose and I was totally oblivious to what would soon become an ordeal that would bring the world to a standstill, and I had no clue.
I would only be there for a few days however so it wasn’t that bad, or so I thought; my final destination was Lombok, Indonesia, where I would meet with my beautiful girlfriend. But I had to go to Shanghai first, sleep the night, then fly to Beijing where I stayed a full day before arriving in Jakarta where I had to wait AGAIN and eventually fly over to Lombok.
Missions right? Man did I need a good massage and rest after all that. But for the next few weeks we were able to roam around, wondering at waterfalls and bathing in the sun on golden beaches and indulging in the frantic nightlife, drowning in the sounds and alcohol. The local foods especially were a surprise to my palate and I was eager to try all the new and tasty dishes to be found.
Everyday was a different vibe and I wasted no time sitting at home. We rented a bike and dipped, we didn’t care how far we had to drive, if there was something to be seen, we’d chase it. We explored up and down Lombok including its islands and even ended up visiting Bali as a last second decision where we would stay for a week.
We’d continue to travel through Indonesia by car and bus and sought out thrills in the neighboring cities that had something to offer.
The place was so cheap that with whatever money I was earning at home that would’ve barely been enough for a living, I’d be living like a king over there. Affordable luxury hotels and resorts, renting vehicles cost less than dining at a 5* restaurant in the UK and activities cost pennies.
Being abroad made me realise just how much I could be missing had I stayed home and I was already obsessed with my new lifestyle, such a contrast from the dull routine of my everyday life before this.
This eventually led to me becoming reckless and I ended up overspending on a lot of things, clothes, things to do, but most importantly: food. I’d be paying £50 for food where I could easily settle for a £5 meal per day and be happy. Budgeting was out of my vocabulary and I’d already lost too much within the month, money I could’ve easily saved and used to help keep me traveling for much longer. Instead I went and bought clothes, wasted it on weed, alcohol and other unecessary niceties.
Cheap places tend to have a trap surrounding them where you’re easily tricked into buying more than you need just because you can afford it, you’ll end up spending the same amount of money you would anywhere else for things like food and miscellaneous items and thus going to cheaper places makes hardly any difference except that you’d have more for less resulting in less for more.
This is why budgeting becomes very important and keeping an eye on your finances will really make you think twice about overspending. I, alas, did not follow this advice and suffered gratly because of it.
A month had passed and eventually came the time where I had to do visa runs. Indonesia allowed tourists like me to stay for free for 30 days, 30 days more for a small fee provided I had a return ticket, which I didn’t. So I had to escape for a few days and return to reset my visa and avoid having to pay fines. I risked another couple weeks in Indonesia despite me running out of money but I just didn’t reaaally feel like going home.
So I went to Malaysia…
This was towards the end of January and by then people were already beginning to panic as the Coronavirus was doing numbers on the world. Kuala Lumpur seemed unfazed at the time and was still brimming with tourists and locals alike, and in light of Chinese new year the streets became an endless ocean of people as everyone was trying to celebrate and enjoy the markets and festivals taking place.
We were amazed by all the red lights from lanterns that illuminated the night sky and the smell of food that wafted through the air as vendors offer up all sorts of delish dishes, and since things were cheaper I once again showed no restraint in trying out the different foods, my belly was bloated and my soul has been fed.
We visited the KL Tower and took pictures in the skybox 300 meters above the ground, saw some amazing street art at Buking Bintang and browsed the busy malls beneath the Petronas towers.
This however would put me back a ways and my money was still leaking out of my bank despite me being a little more careful with what I spent it on. But I was getting poorer by the day.
I was back in Indonesia; I had another month to sort things out and I tried my hand at businesses and trying out for work, I even tried to use free bets on the Premier League games in the hopes to gamble in some money. Nada. My money was running away faster than I can catch it; even with the help of friends I couldn’t keep this up for long.
And then Singapore… And then disasters…
Before I knew it another month had passed and I was ready to accept the fact that I couldn’t come home. I had just about enough money for another visa run and had to go to Singapore for a day by plane which actually costed me less than a one-night room in London.
I had no money for a flight back home and whatever reserve mullah I did have left would be used to keep me afloat for a while: food, accommodation, transport and all. Initially I’d reserved enough dosh for me to book a ticket home but I was dumb enough to burn through it with little regard, I have a habit of laughing off bad situations and pretending not to worry.
Eventually I was thrown into my overdraft and was getting charged by the day for the money I’ve borrowed. Thankfully it wasn’t a lot and thanks to the overdraft I had a little more money and a bit more hope that things will be alright; but I knew that once I’m back on home grounds I’m gonna have to bounce back from it. I was broke, I couldn’t do business and I had no way of earning any money. So I’m literally effed for the time being.
The spreading pandemic didn’t help with anything either; borders were being closed rapidly, flights were getting cancelled and stranded tourists were scrambling, trying to find their way back home. This caused panic and airports were getting ram-packed, no way was I getting through that. The risk of infection rose through the roof and drastic measures were being taken to battle this and make people’s journey safer, this resulted in serious overcrowding and people were unable to move anywhere as the halls were so densely packed, everyone was waiting to be tested before they could continue their journey.
Furthermore villages and towns were getting locked down and people were urged to stay home. The sickness was rampant, and the shops were getting rinsed of their sanitary products. It was chaos, it really was the end of the world and I was there, without a care in the world, on a crash course to my demise; stranded and peniless.
Now of course I had my girlfriend with me, and I was able to lodge with her at her family’s house so not all was bad; I had a roof over my head and people to look after me. I didn’t expect her to help me get back home as I knew she wouldn’t have the money and I wasn’t gonna ask, she’s done enough for me and thanks to her I was still breathing, I didn’t smell and had fresh clothes to wear. Sometimes relying on the kindness of others goes a long way.
But I didn’t like asking for help, and I especially wasn’t comfortable asking people for money mainly due to the fact that I’ve brought this problem upon myself. I got into some disagreements at home and left without telling my parents my plan so there’s no way I could ask them for anything after such discourtesy. Noob move, but I learn from my mistakes. I left my parents worried and I’m now left without a paddle up crap’s creek. My family would’ve been the only people I didn’t dare ask, but they were ultimately the ones that got me home (God bless them) after they discovered my situation.
Needless to say, they were severely disappointed with me and gave me a good, well deserved scolding. But they were understanding and took pity on me. We talked things through and made up our differences. They found a cheap ticket for me and booked me my flight. I was to return home by the end of March. By that time the airports should be a bit quieter and the streets empty, it’ll take me an hour to get to the airport but all should go smoothly. Time to say goodbye to my girlfriend.
A one month holiday was all I expected, but I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to my girl back then, foolishly enough of me. Life abroad was too good to let go of, I didn’t want to give up on the sun and good food, the motives we were on, everyday a new adventure, a new story. One month turned into two, and two to three. But everyone is going to have to face their realities and stop running from their problems, I was no exception and I knew I had to return eventually.
The journey home was just a long loading screen. Get to the airport early enough and you’ll flow through everything like a breeze. Thankfully the coronavirus panic has passed a bit and the place was much less crowded. Check-in and check-out. Flew through security and customs and I was onboard the aircraft. From yogja to jakarta where I’d spend a few hours before taking an ass-numbing 14 hour flight to Amsterdam and then Birmingham, UK.
I was lucky enough to pass through immigration however despite my visa having been expired for nearly a week. The price for overstaying is hefty and I had no way of paying such a fine, traveling in Indonesia illegally can also be punishable by imprisonment for up to five years and I had worried that I’d run into some similar problem. Thankfully no one batted an eye and the last obstacle was overcome.
And there I was, home sweet home. Everything felt different, yet things had been the same for the duration I’ve been away. You realise that as you’ve changed, people remained the same; living their lives as they usually do while you were out creating a story for yourself, it felt surreal. Only this time everyone was at home, quarantining. It felt like a ghost town, empty and desolate; and I slowly felt the same.
There’s no mistaking it, “post-travel-depression”; the one thing I’d feared the most was the thought of coming home and slowly returning to my old, bad habits again; becoming lazy, having no inspiration or motivation to do anything, bickering with my family and just working the same job day in and out.
What once was such a pretty reality soon turned into a memory, it turned into another dream I had to chase. But I wanted more, and such is a life for me that I couldn’t see it any other way. Back on the grind it is, maybe this time I’ll think about making themoney to move instead. Maybe this time I’ll find a way to get paid for traveling. Maybe this time I won’t be as stupid…
For now, at least I was home, I was safe and sound and that’s all that mattered.
If you’ve read this far, I’d like to say a big thank you and I hope you’ve found some enjoyment out of it. Traveling is an everchanging lifestyle with so much to look forward to, and so many surprises.
I know I messed up and this isn’t even my first trip, but despite what I’ve been through I definitely wouldn’t call it my last. Hardships prove to be valuable teachers so here’s a few things you might want to take away from this story:
Always plan your journey: Have a return date arranged and pinpoint all the things you want to do and the things you want to avoid. It’s better to have a clear vision for the long term than to just live by the day.
Always budget and track any spendings: This requires discipline as I know it can be very tempting to go out and buy things you don’t need. Limit your spending on certain items like food and put a cap on how much you spend a day. If you can do with a cheaper hotel or restaurant and keep it lowkey, you’ll be saving that money to spend on other things. Tracking your finances will really make you think twice about overspending too.
Have emergency money ready: You do not touch this money, ever, lest you want your hands burned. This money is only as a last resort, when you know you’re going to be completely effed without it. It is the money you need to keep you floating, or to help you get home, or even to get you out of sticky situations.
Always tell someone of your plans: Especially tell your family or someone close to you, they deserve to know. They’ll also be the first people to come to your aid as
Do not travel through pandemics: This goes without saying, but traveling while a pandemic is set loose is very unpredictable and you obviously run the risk of getting infected, and infecting others. Borders will be closed, people will panic and try to rush home, airports will overcrowd and you risk not being able to go home.