This Couple's Dream World Trip Was Interrupted by COVID-19 and Here's How They're Dealing with It

Popularly known as The Globe Microbe, Tom & Eline were giving us major travelling goals since September 2019, till the time COVID- 19 happened. The cutesy, dynamic duo quit their jobs to go on a world tour but unfortunately, they had to stop midway in April. However, they still have their wanderlust intact and they plan to reinstate their travel plans and chase their dreams once the international borders open for travellers. Luckily, we got a chance to have a fun chat with Tom & Eline- you can read more about how they made this whole plan possible without a full time job. 

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you two meet?

Tom & Eline
Sadly it’s not a very romantic story since we met at work. ;-) 
Tom was already working at this company when I did my job interview there. During this interview I had the chance to experience the work I would have to do by following a colleague. This was Tom. We felt an immediate connection and by working together through the years we got closer and closer. We are a couple now since August 2018 and never felt happier! 

2. How did you get so inclined towards travelling? Since when have you been travelling?

Tom & Eline
Tom and I have both always loved travelling. We’re passionate about exploring other countries, experiencing different cultures and meeting new people. This is what excites us, what gives us energy and what makes us happy. 

Before we were together we've both done various trips. Tom visited the USA many times and my last travels were to Costa Rica and Japan. In June 2019 we did a road trip through Croatia. This was the first time we travelled together and it felt immediately like something we wanted to do more often. 

We started our World Trip in September 2019.

3. How and when did you plan to start travelling extensively to each country?

Tom & Eline
When you want to go on a world trip there’s definitely a lot you have to plan and arrange. We started our preparations at the end of 2018. Our first country was going to be China. Since this is not the easiest country to travel in, we arranged most of it in advance (flight, accommodations, transport…). This was also necessary to get the visa. The embassy of China is very strict and they ask proof of all the plans you have in their country. 

For the next few countries we didn’t really plan anything in advance. We read some travel books, magazines and blogs to have an idea of the main attractions we wanted to visit in each country but we didn’t book anything. We only had a global route in mind. It was important for us to be as free as possible and decide along the way how long we wanted to stay in each place. For example: in our actual plan we were just going to visit India to see the Taj Mahal and in the end we spent 7 weeks there. 

4. How do you manage to do that along with your job?

We don’t. ;-) We both quit our jobs to chase our dream and go on a world trip. Best decision e-v-e-r!

5. How do you generally budget your travel expenses?

Tom &.Eline
Before leaving we agreed on a maximum budget we would want (and be able) to spend on our world trip. We opened a separate 'travel account' and started saving money in the year before. 

During our travels we kept all of our expenses in an app on our phone (Trail Wallet). In that way we were always aware of our daily/monthly budget. Since we both wanted to travel for as long as possible, we got quite good at spending as little money as possible and still enjoy every second of every day! 

6. What were your actual plans and how did COVID-19 ruin them for you?

Starting from September 2019 we travelled through China, Nepal, India, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. In March 2020 we were in Vietnam and it was at that point that we started noticing the impact of COVID-19. Hotels and restaurants were closing, some travellers were kept in quarantine and after a while the Vietnamese were literally banning tourists. 

Tom & Eline
Our actual plans were to travel further through (North) Vietnam, then to the south of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Afterwards we wanted to continue our world trip in South America. 

Since we really wanted to avoid going home (that would mean the end of our world trip) we decided to leave Vietnam and go to one of the Thai islands. At that moment we were hoping to be able to ’survive’ the crisis during 1 or 2 months and continue travelling afterwards. We rented an apartment, enjoyed our time at the beach (which was almost completely empty) and followed every day how the crisis was evolving. On the island we noticed barely anything about COVID-19 and so we felt pretty safe there. We knew that the situation was way worse in our home country (Belgium). 

After 10 days we got the news that the local airport was closing soon and probably for a couple of months. This would mean that we’d got stuck on the island for a long time and so we got scared. We didn’t want to spend money while not being able to travel… So we contacted our Embassy and registered for a repatriation flight to Europe. 

On the 1st of April 2020 we flew back home. Sadly!

7. When do you plan to resume travelling?

When the international borders reopen! 

8. And we know there is nothing like a ‘worst experience’ but anything remotely similar that you would like to talk about?

In Nepal we visited Chitwan National Park which is a safari park with rhinos, crocodiles, tigers, monkeys,… . In the park you can do a guided walking tour or a jeep tour. We signed up for both tours and so we had a full day in the park with different guides. After our experience we would definitely advise against going there. The guides were totally disrespectful towards nature and the animals. They threw their garbage on the ground and were throwing sticks towards a rhino to wake it up. On top of that we didn’t feel safe at all and they didn’t really teach us anything valuable. 

Tom & Eline
Another experience we didn’t really enjoy was in Laos. We weren’t the victim ourselves but various times we witnessed a tourist being scammed by the local hotel owner or the local police. The first scam was with an Italian who had rented a scooter. The hotel owner told him that he had driven ’too far outside the city’ and that he had to pay a fine of 100 euros. The second one is linked to the use of drugs, which is forbidden in Laos. Yet a lot of restaurants and bars offer this to their guests (‘happy pizza’) but actually they work together with the police. When they catch you, you have to pay a fine of up to 1000$ (!) or spend a night in a cell. This way of treating tourists is something we really don’t like. You end up feeling like a money machine… 

9. Can you tell us destinations that are 1. Most Fun 2. Most Inspiring 3. Most Challenging ?

Tom & Eline
1. Most fun is really difficult since we really enjoyed every country but if we have to choose, we would go for Cambodia. There are so many activities you can do there and what we really liked about this country are the people. They are so friendly, always smiling and the kids (who are the cutest!) wave at you and always say hello. It’s heartwarming. 

2. For the most inspiring country, we choose Nepal. It has such an interesting culture and of course… There are the Himalayas, which is the most beautiful nature we’ve ever seen. When you do a hike in the Himalayas, you will definitely be inspired.  

3. The most challenging country we visited was China where the number one obstacle is the language barrier. The Chinese barely speak English which makes it very difficult to communicate and to connect to people. A valuable aspect of travelling for us is to meet local people and connect with them. Since we couldn’t communicate with the Chinese, this was quite impossible. 

10. Any tips for our travel buddies out there for post COVID travelling?

Don’t let anyone or anything (even not this crisis) stand in the way of making your dreams come true. If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish everything you want!

You can look at their entire journey on their Instagram page @theglobemicrobe and you can get back to them for any free tips, tricks or travel advice.

This post was published by Aqsa Aleem

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