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A 1 AM call is never followed by good news.
This was the case five years ago. We’d just fallen asleep, but were jolted awake by the urgent ringing of Wanderer’s phone. As it turns out, Wanderer’s grandmother was in the ICU, and we had to fly home ASAP.
When you live a nomadic lifestyle, you have to be prepared to fly home at the drop of a hat. When you live everywhere and nowhere, flexibility is key. Which is why we live out of two backpacks so we can pack everything in 15 mins and be out the door.
This time, it was 9 PM at night in Bali, Indonesia, when we, once again, got bad news. One of our immediate family members were seriously ill (not COVID-19 related) and emergency surgery was scheduled in 2 weeks. We needed to get our butts home ASAP.
In the midst of all this, COVID-19 was beginning to rampage all over the world. We already had a flight and an AirBnb booked in Australia on March 19, so we thought we would fly back to Canada from there.
But as our time in Bali ticked down, I got more and more nervous reading headline after headline about travel restrictions and border closures. Even though we were only 3 hours from Perth, Australia, I didn’t want to take the chance of Bali closing the borders on us or Australia not letting us in.
We quickly cancelled our JetStar flight (luckily they gave us a flight credit) and AirBnb gave us a full refund for compassionate reasons (love AirBnb!).
We used our frequent flyer miles to book a flight back to Toronto, going through Taiwan and Vancouver on March 18th (we wanted to avoid going to through US, to avoid border closures).
Then Taiwan announced it would soon be closing its borders to all travellers.
I have to say, in all our 5 years of travel, this is definitely geo-arbitrage on hard mode.
We got back to Toronto on the 2nd-to-last flight, before the travel restrictions took effect and we would have been stranded in Asia.
Now, as per the Canadian government’s instructions, we are holed-up in a Toronto AirBnb, self-isolating for the next 2 weeks to keep our family and fellow Canadians safe.
So now that we’ve had all this time to reflect, what happens to this nomadic life in the time of COVID? Is this it? It this the end of nomadic life as we know it?
Here’s what we’ve learned when you need to do geo-arbitrage on hard mode:
Frequent Flyer Miles are Gold
With so many travel restrictions and border closures being announced every hour, travellers are scrambling to change their flights to get home. This means flights from Asia to North America can spike from $700 USD to $1500 USD in less than 24 hours.
Luckily, we’ve saved enough Frequent Flyer Miles from Travel Hacking to fly both of us home. And the best thing about miles is that they don’t get more expensive even for last minute tickets.
As a nomad, it’s always a good idea to keep enough miles in your account to get you home in an emergency. That way you can avoid this catastrophe where a family paid $20,000 for last minute tickets to get home.
Practice Local Geo-arbitrage
Our motto “if shit hits the fan, we’re going to Thailand” doesn’t quite work when Thailand is locking down their borders to keep COVID-19 out, so for the time being, we’re revising our plan to use local geo-arbitrage instead.
This means staying close to family, and afterwards living in inexpensive places in Canada until the travel restrictions are lifted.
For nomadic travellers who flew back to your home countries, get an AirBnb for 2 weeks to self-isolate, then use local geo-arbitrage to keep your costs low.
Take Advantage of Low AirBnb Prices
One strange phenomenon I’ve noticed in the time of coronavirus is that AirBnbs in the downtown core of major metropolitan cities, like Toronto, are now cheaper than smaller, more remote areas like Sudbury or Hamilton.
I can find a fancy condo in downtown Toronto, with pool and gym, from April 2-9 for $49 – $83/night, whereas a similar quality one-bedroom apartment in Sudbury is $71-$120 for the same period.
I guess people are fleeing from the crowded city centers and into smaller towns get away from the virus? A cabin in the middle of the woods, away from people, seems pretty safe right now if you’re worried about getting sick.
So as long as you aren’t in a high-risk group, you might get a super good deal as people cancel their vacations and leave all these AirBnbs empty.
Pick a Country to Ride Out The Pandemic
If it weren’t for the family emergency, we would’ve picked a country in Asia to stay in while we rode out the pandemic.
Our criteria for picking a country as a temporary home would’ve had to meet the following checklist:
1) Must have a strong healthcare system
2) Must be taking this pandemic seriously and have a plan in place to prevent the spread of the virus.
3) Must be willing to grant visitors 90 days visa or more, with extensions if needed as a result of the virus.
The countries meeting these criteria at the time were Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia.
Compared to the rest of the world, Taiwan did a great job keeping the virus at bay. If you don’t believe me, just read this article.
However, at the time of writing, all have since closed their borders to travellers, so we would’ve had to get in right before the gates closed.
Here’s the latest update from NomadNumbers on what it’s like to stay in Taiwan under quarantine:
Self-Isolate. Save Lives
My friend Archie, who’s under voluntary self-isolation, recently joked “how often does one get to watch Netflix and save lives? Haha.”
And that’s why we’ve been binge-watching Silicon Valley and Fresh Off the Boat for the past fews days, not leaving the Airbnb.
If you’ve been travelling the world like we have, be considerate to others and go into isolation for 2 weeks. To order in, If you’re American or Canadian, use apps like
- Doordash (use this referral link to get $20 off: $5 for your first 4 orders)
- Foodora (use this referral link on your mobile device to get a $10 off your first order), or
- Uber-eats (enter this discount code “eats-brycel43p2ui” on your mobile device to get $20 off your first order)
If you have friends or family offering to help you with grocery/care package drop offs, take them up on their generous offer.
DO NOT leave your house or AirBnb. Even if you are young and have a strong immune system, think about your parents, your grandparents, friends, and community. Keep them safe by keeping to yourself. Don’t be like these idiots.
And for those of us who are introverts (I’m an Ambivert, so I can go either way), guess what? You don’t have to see anyone or talk to anyone for 2 weeks! You’ve trained for this for your whole life!
If you’re a nomad and are worried about how the COVID-19 restrictions are going to affect your lifestyle going forward, know that this will pass. Just like everything in life. Nothing good lasts forever, but the same goes for bad situations. We will get through this together.
A Huge Thank You To Our Heroes
And finally, I want to thank all the doctors, nurses, healthcare workers on the front lines fighting this virus. We owe you our lives.
I also want to thank the flight attendants (shout out to my friend Clover), airport workers, and pilots for bringing us home safe and sound. Thank you all for your service.
We are in uncertain times, but if we band together (well not literally–stay physically as far part from each other as possible. SOCIAL DISTANCING, PEOPLE, SOCIAL DISTANCING!), we will get through this.
If you’re self-quarantined at home, reading blogs and watching Netflix, think of all the lives you’re saving. Kudos!
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