Tips from someone who’s been doing it from the start.
One needs to have a certain amount of tenacity to travel.
Now, this is even more apparent.
I hit the road in early January when Corona was supposedly still in Wuhan.
Covid aside, it’s still been quite a journey.
I travelled down through France in the middle of the longest transport strike ever.
I crossed to Tunisia by ferry and then flew to Senegal, backpacked across the country to Mali where my options were limited to staying in Bamako, due to the escalation in insurgency attacks, and on to Côte d’Ivoire, where I ate some tainted food. It didn’t stop me though. I just went to the pharmacy and explained in my bad French that I was shitting blood, popped a few pills, et voila.
Having had my fill of West Africa for a few more years, I flew to Kenya. Two weeks after I arrived, he airport closed and the land borders were shut down. I was Trevor’ed!
I was ‘stuck’ in the small town of Naivasha.
Every day I contemplated about how long I was prepared to wait it out (After a while there were evac flights; about 1 every 10 days). I gave it more than 100 days and then took a flight to Amsterdam and onto Belgrade.
To travel now, almost all countries require you to take a Covid test within 72 hours before arrival and/or quarantine on arrival.
This is where you can come unstuck. You might be asymptomatic. You might be a non-believer, but a test will still return a +ve result. You will then be required by law to isolate. It is not like visiting a private clinic for an AIDS test where you are anonymous.
In most countries, people who come back +ve are told to isolate at home. You only need to be hospitalised if you are in a bad way.
But for those who are not in their own country you are likely going to be in a whole heap of shit. You will most likely get sent to a state organised quarantine hotel at great expense to yourself.
I’ve just spent two weeks in isolation in a small room with a private bathroom, having unwittingly shared a dorm room with someone who tested +ve. Guilty by association.
This guy ended up in a hotel and I am not sure how he managed to organise that. I mean, what hotel open for business wants to accept a known +ve case? They must have known, as his location must be shared with the health department.
And me, having ended up needing to isolate, I was also in much the same situation, but I was lucky in that the hostel had private rooms available and were also willing to get my food for me.
So the moral of the story is, avoid the need to be tested, be very careful where you take a test if you need to, and steer clear of anyone who is going to take a test.
Time to adapt:
Dorm rooms, where they exist, are much cheaper than hotel rooms, hence their attraction. They also provide the backpacker with somewhere to cook your meals, meet up, swap stories with other travellers.
But hotel rooms reduce the likelihood of being guilty by association.
A buddy of mine, a non-believer, just spent a night in an 8-bed dorm in Sofia. 8 beds, 8 people. It’s getting cold now. I bet the window was shut all night.
In Albania, I survived as mostly I had the dorm to myself and, if I had to share, I made sure the window was wide open. It was always hot enough.
So my buddy is a non-believer but he can still contract Covid and still be ok. But if he needs to take a test within the next weeks, he will become unstuck.
Eight occupied beds in an unventilated room are just too many. Seven others who may be positive, seven others who may go and take a test and find out that their luck ran out and my buddy suddenly becomes guilty by association.
Land borders are less strict on the need to provide a -ve test result. But you will most likely be temperature zapped.
If your temperature is running high and/or you are showing any symptoms you will be forced to take a test and wait it out in an expensive medical facility or hotel.
Tests when needed before travel range from 30$ in Istanbul to 60€ in Serbia or up to 100€ in Tirana. This is a major expense, and there is nothing you can do to avoid this if you want to go anywhere.
So being on the road as I am, as I have nowhere to go back to, requires a lot more research to avoid possible extensive costs.
Even though I had contact with a known Covid+, I was not required to take a test, just to isolate. In my case, had I developed symptoms, a test would have been free, as would hospitalisation, if it had been needed. But not every country is like North Macedonia.
So the things you need to consider when travelling:
• Do you need to take a test to get into the next country and how much will that cost?
• Are you prepared to deal with it if the test comes back +ve?
• What are you going to do if you get sick in a country that is not your own?
• Do you know what will happen if you are temperature zapped on arrival? (This is possible even if you go to a mall). I’ll tell you. You are reported to the authorities.
• You may find yourself having been in contact with someone who later tests +ve. You will have to isolate.
• Going somewhere that requires you to quarantine upon arrival is best avoided, especially if they put you in a state organised hotel.
Dealing with it:
Being stuck in Kenya was nerve-wracking. How long was lockdown going to last?
Having just been freed from isolation, I can tell you, that the situation for me in Kenya was harder, as it dragged on for so long.
In Skopje I knew it was for only two weeks but there was always that fear hanging over me, having been in contact with someone who had tested positive. Was I going to end up sick?
I have always been healthy but did I have an undiagnosed condition lurking inside me which would render me less strong? You never know.
Every sneeze, cough or tightness in the chest (caused by the pollution and anxiety) sends you into panic mode.
The cases in Macedonia were crazy high. The English language online newspaper suggested that the sudden onset of massive pollution levels in Skopje were responsible for the high number of cases. Indirectly, I disagree.
A large number of people who suddenly felt unable to breathe due to the toxic fumes wafting through the city were going to the hospital and thus getting tested. Hence the high number of +ve results. Had there been no pollution the majority of these people would have been untested, as they would have been feeling fine.
The number of people there with breathing issues is probably high anyway, as they suffer terrible pollution every winter and, man, they still smoke inside cafes.
But what do I know? I’m just a backpacker.
And while I was in isolation there was the worry that Skopje might lockdown again before I was free and I would become stuck in that city with horrendous pollution for six months.
Thankfully, that never happened. But add it to the list! It could happen. Countries are going back into lockdown, and not all give you time to organise a flight out! Lockdown in a foreign country ain’t fun.
The days of isolation in Skopje passed slowly but it wasn’t too traumatic. I am grateful for the moral support given by a small number of friends.
This is not questioning the severity of Covid-19, and I know many have different opinions, it’s about avoiding the need to be tested by choosing where you travel to and what’s going to happen if you do get tested in a country that is not your own … or simply being guilty by association. And if any of that happens, how to deal with it. This is what’s required now. If you cannot deal with it, best stay at home.
And it’s getting to the stage now of not wanting to deal with it any more.
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