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Travel In The Age Of Coronavirus

A complete season of travels wiped out.

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ASTORIA, New York City- I was supposed to be on my way to South Africa to speak at a conference a few days from now. Cancelled. I planned to be a part of a press trip to Singapore at the end of the month. Nope. I was scheduled to give talks in two different cities in Kazakhstan at an independent media festival in April. No more. I had arranged to fly directly from Kazakhstan to Ukraine to give a talk at a new cities conference right after that. Gone (more than likely).

I had a full slate of international speaking events and journalism projects planned for this spring that had the carpet pulled out from under them by coronavirus. That’s $5,000 of revenue — minimum — that I will be losing and the complete stoppage of momentum in the acquisition of public speaking engagements. It also hamstrings my progress on journalism and film projects as well, as my economic model is use the free travel that comes with such events to carry out my other work on the sidelines.

Basically, I’m grounded for at least a season which undermines the very reason why I moved to NYC:

… the underlying reason why I came to New York City: so I could have a steady base of operations that would allow me to plan — to make commitments way in advance and keep them when the time comes. This is paramount to being able to do speaking engagements, big projects with myriad moving parts, and, seriously, be able to get the most out of my work.

The model that I envisioned when I set up a base of operations in Astoria back in August works. I was able to secure a $30,000 film project in Hong Kong and set up a full slate of speaking engagements. In the beginning of December I was able to sit back and give myself a pat on the back as it actually looked as if I was going to be able to pull this off. Then my participation on the Hong Kong film project got blown up when I was denied entry at the Hong Kong immigration — something that’s been happening frequently for journalists and academics there — and then coronavirus took care of the rest. Meanwhile, rent, the bill for my kids’ school, utility payments are all still due … and we have to eat.

One thing that I have not really had much of an opportunity to focus on is the frailty of my economic model. Under ideal circumstances, all’s good. But when things get shattered for reasons that are out of my control, I don’t have a response other than to bunker down and allow the storm to pass.

It’s looking as if I will be having a couple of months of downtime — at least. Time to develop a new economic model, an optimist would say. Or time to enjoy hanging out with my family without the prospect of impending travels on the near horizon. Or time to finish projects that have been left on the docket for far too long.

In terms of travel right now, I don’t recommend it. Covid-19 has now spread to at least 115 countries and it will probably end up in all of them by the time this thing is through.

While adventure is often a byproduct of mishaps and mayhem the mishaps and mayhem of quarantine doesn’t sound particularly appealing. Governments are taking a scorched earth attitude towards the pandemic, basically putting up partitioning walls and cutting off entire countries. I don’t exactly know what the impact of warm weather is on coronavirus, but if this thing spreads rampant through the tropics — parts of the world that tend to have less developed medical infrastructure — it could be a long while before things are put back together again. Imagine being stuck in Bangladesh as an infectious disease runs rampant. That’s not the kind of adventure that travel stories are made of:

“It sucked. I couldn’t leave my hotel room for three months.”

That’s not a tale of the open road that anyone wants to hear.


Filed under: Epidemics, New York City

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3679 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Papa Bay, Hawaii

8 comments… add one

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  • Rob March 10, 2020, 3:00 pm

    A lot of us are hunkering down & waiting to see what happens. I’d say you’re in a good spot to wait it out, way better than that 3 month stay in a Bangladesh hotel room you used as an example.
    I’m sure you have stuff that you’ve been waiting for a time to work on it…

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    • Wade Shepard March 10, 2020, 3:33 pm

      That’s true but this still sucks. It’s not the Black Death. South Korea, who is actually doing proper testing, reports a 0.6% death rate from infections — and there were probably way more who had / have the disease who were asymptomatic / minor symptoms who weren’t tested, which would drive this number way lower. We’ve blown this thing out of proportion and this overreaction is going to have the biggest impact.

      The US is reporting a 3% death rate but that’s mostly because they aren’t testing anyone (lowest rate in the world). The CDC was woefully unprepared and even people with textbook symptoms are being denied testing — including a lady my wife knows who just came back from South Korea.

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      • Rob March 11, 2020, 12:04 pm

        S Korea has the closest to how it is numbers because they are testing everyone, their death rate is well below the advertised but still well ahead of the normal flu. Then again I’m 67 years old and on the charts my age puts me in a higher risk area…

        I’m glad I’m not in Italy seeing Rome right now!
        Actually we’re in a house across from my daughters, the RV is parked in the yard next to us and we are watching the grandson with a compromised immune system (he’s doing chemo for the leukemia) today.
        The plan was to fire up the RV and hit the road when my grandson gets in the maintenance phase of treatment (he can go back to normal actives). I think we’re going to wait and see how the world looks after this first wave of the Kung Flu does it’s thing…

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        • Wade Shepard March 11, 2020, 5:33 pm

          That’s true. I’d imagine the death rate is actually lower due to the high number of asymptomatic infections who aren’t being tested. But it is more deadly than normal flu, but I would estimate it to be only around 3x more so.

          It seems to me that, given this, we’d be much better off putting resources into protecting at risk populations rather than trying to quarantine everybody — which isn’t working so well — and tanking the global economy over an illness that’s not particularly dangerous for what, 95% of society?

          Also, I believe in Italy the average age of people who have been dying from this is 80. So I’d say you’re still good to go.

          The MSM wants us scared so we keep watching.

          But what is scary is the CDC’s mass refusal to test people with symptoms and potential exposures in the USA. I know two people who were either exposed or were in high infection rate countries with symptoms who were refused tests. However, maybe their policy of only testing at risk individuals is an adaption to recent discoveries about the nature of the epidemic? It makes sense as hardly anybody actually dies from it.

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  • Trevor March 12, 2020, 9:37 am

    Hi Wade greetings from Kenya. Im done with west Africa and am kindda glad as i would rather be stuck here than there..
    Been thru Tunisia + Senegal + Mali + Cote d’Ivoire. Now Kenya Next Uganda ;)))

    Its getting crazy with this virus. Hope u can somehow enjoy the down time despite massive loss of income and momentum.

    Trevor. (Linked a latest post)

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    • Wade Shepard March 12, 2020, 2:46 pm

      Excellent to hear from you again! Yes, not a great time to be out traveling. Glad you’re still going … and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be … it’s not like this disease really kills all that many people. 4,000 deaths in a 1.4 billion person country is not something to go crazy over. Each year 300,000 to 650,000 people die worldwide from the flu but we don’t freak out over that. No, it’s just normal. This is a bunch of bullshit. Media trying to keep people watching. Politicians (with connections to pharmaceutical companies) wanting to look good taking action. Investors driving down the price of stocks so they can buy them all back up at a cheaper price. It’s all rigged.

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      • Trevor March 13, 2020, 1:46 am

        I was on a travel group for west africa so i was hearing the latest quarantine stories . People just getting delayed at land borders, gov s issuing notices and the like. Least im in Kenya now. Easier life.

        MRP got quarantined in Dali for 1 month.

        Ps 95 countries now. Uganda Rwanda next 4 sure Burundi if i can get a visa. Then Zambia.100th could be Botswana or Namibia. Also Madagascar then i can say ive had a good crack at Africa.

        Met interesting peeps.

        Hope you’re well.

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        • Wade Shepard March 14, 2020, 3:37 pm

          Lay low, man, lay low!

          F’ck, you’re pulling way ahead of me. I was supposed to be in South Africa this week, which would have been country 90.

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