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Should the Coronavirus Change Your Travel Plans? 150 Digital Nomads Weigh In

Sarah Lempa

Chicago, IL, USA

When your entire existence revolves around travel, an infectious virus spreading at a rapid rate across the globe is bound to jumble up your plans. Despite years of experience under their belts and an astute know-how of navigation, responses from digital nomads and full-time travelers vary from seemingly unbothered to plan-altering levels of concern when asked about the Coronavirus travel bans.

Out of 150 respondents, the overwhelming majority seemed unaffected:

Here’s what a few full-time travel folks have to say about being on the road during the outbreak:

Jessica & William Swenson, parents of a nomadic family

“We’re a digital nomad family with three kids. We’re planning the next 6 months in Europe and haven’t changed plans yet. We seemed to have picked some of the outlying countries that don’t have big numbers yet so maybe we’ll stay ahead of it. We’re just super strict with the kids about not touching while we go through airports. And washing hands lots. Our only real concern is being in an area that goes panic mode and food/supplies are hard to come by.”

Follow Jessica and William:

Jordan Plotnek, cybersecurity consultant en route to Mexico

“I must admit that I have a bit of a cynical perspective on things that are reported in such a way as to promote fear. Fear sells well and is often advantageous for those in power. Every year there’s some other big thing to worry about, and seemingly always blamed on people from some other country or culture. If I were to change my plans around each time then I’d never have left home! Therefore I see the COVID-19 as more of a politically and racially motivated mass hysteria rather than a legitimate threat to healthy life, and so I’ve made no changes to my travel plans or lifestyle – other than being conscious of not passing on my own germs, as always.”

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Ricky Dunn & Nat Dunn, traveling couple embracing the unknown

“As a couple who travels full-time and will likely be exposed more than most, people have asked whether the virus will impact our plans. At this point, the only way it will change anything for us is if it’s forced. We’ll keep washing our hands (properly), avoid touching our faces and continue taking advantage of far less tourists and probably enjoy some great travel offers as we visit new places. If we get coronavirus, it may derail our plans—for a week or two! The same as it will for 99% of the population. Life shouldn’t be standing still over this.”

Follow Ricky and Nat:

Kayla O’Brian, left Japan earlier than planned

“I went home from Japan a week early because I saw the numbers rising and I was worried Trump would add Japan to the ban list. I’m honestly not that worried about the virus, but I am worried about airlines and countries limiting my movement and/or trying to quarantine me, so I went home for a bit until all the panic dies down. I think in a month or two it will be worldwide so limiting travel will stop making sense (not that it ever made that much sense once the virus was out).”

Locals protect against Coronavirus in Italy. praszkiewicz /

Taylor Norris, online English teacher based in Chile

“I teach English online while traveling. A lot of schools in China have been shut down for weeks because everyone’s quarantined and can’t go to school. A lot of companies have been put on hiatus, so many of us haven’t had any classes to teach.”

Follow Taylor: @taylor_a_norris

Ye Fu, Chinese digital nomad heading back home to China

“In January, I chose to stay in Brazil since I didn’t want to let this affect my trip. However, after the first patient was confirmed with coronavirus, and the government just sent him home, I knew it was time to go back to China. 

Some reasons that brought me back to China: 1) The attitude from the government and how people react makes me worried. What happened in Italy, Korea and Japan makes me feel Brazil might be the next outbreak. People won’t care and will still go to carnival here. 2) As a Chinese person, I might face discrimination becuase of the virus, which has already happened in many countries. 3) Coronavirus is still very serious in China, but the number of increasing patients is less than other countries in the world, which means China is doing a bit better than other places. 4) Worst case, I can get free medical treatment in China. It would be way complicated if I got infected in Brazil. 5) As a digital nomad, it really doesn’t matter where and how long I stay in a place. I can still come back to South America next time. 

I wouldn’t say going back to China is the best choice, but for now, being Chinese, I don’t have a better option.”

Ulli Schnuhr, tour guide based in Berlin

“It’s only affected me in terms of logistics. Chaos at airports. Grocery stores and hand sanitizer are being raided everywhere in Europe now. People are talking about it ALL THE TIME.”

Follow Ulli: @the.ulliverse

Locals protect against Coronavirus in China. IHOR SULYATYTSKYY /

Jean-Philippe JP Hugonnet, avoiding the crowds in eastern Europe

“I had to kind of cancel my plan to go to Milan, I’m staying around Croatia, I avoid going to crowded places, etc. I don’t want to get sick and lose some working days or risk spreading the virus to weaker people at risk.” 

Follow JP: @Jp_unchained

Patricia Serrano, travel agent balancing clients around the globe

“So far I’ve just been rebooking flights, but nothing has been cancelled. Some of my other agent friends however have seen cancellations to South Korea and even to Portugal. A lot of my clients aren’t leaving until summer, so I think they are okay for now. And all going to warm climates like Thailand, Vietnam and East Africa where the Coronavirus doesn’t seem to be impacting as much.”

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Kevin Humbert, American teacher living in Shenzhen

“In all honesty, after an initial period of worry and concern if Shenzhen (where I live) was going to be inundated by the virus, things are not particularly disturbing here. I teach high school, and although it’s an awkward and uncomfortable situation to be teaching online for two months, I strongly believe that China is handling things the right way. (Wuhan and Hubei province are a different matter.) Travel has been severely restricted, and I’m kind of shocked that the rest of the world isn’t putting more restrictions on movement. The basics: No restaurants, no bars, no movie theatres, no malls open (ok, the malls are open, but few shops inside). For the most part, people are being very vigilant and wearing masks which is absolutely mandatory. (Sure, masks aren’t 100% effective, but I think a lot in the West don’t understand the purpose: Masks aren’t to personally keep the wearer from getting the illness, but to cut down on potential spread.) Things are starting to open back up again, but I’ve always continued to bike and run….just need to wait 10 minutes outside my apartment complex’s gate for my temp to go down. In the last few weeks, you need your personal QR code to enter and exit your apartment complex, but the security has always taken temperatures in and out.

Now, I’m frankly more concerned about the rest of the world. Italy with 60 million people has had more than 100 deaths, compared to the dozen or so deaths in Guangdong province (population 120 million) where I live. I’ve been in “self-isolation” for 4 weeks, but that pretty much means keeping contact with people down to the minimum. I still go to my (empty) school to do work because the internet is better. Another 4 weeks at least of the same thing…not particularly pleasant, but I think it’s a smart policy. Full freedom of travel means higher potential for spread of virus and pandemic, so I’m staying put.”

Coronavirus Q&A

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