- Countries Visited: 53
- Travel Wishlist: Canada, Iceland, Central and South America, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel
- Locked down in: Wurzen, Germany
“Overnight, I became a health advisor and spent every spare minute on google researching as much as I could, so I could inform people and give basic hygiene advice”.
In 2019, I met an African man named Joel, while traveling on a bus to Munich. We enjoyed several hours talking together. When I say talking, I mean, we used google translate, and took turns showing each other photos of our family on mobile phones. He only spoke French.
When Joel invited me to visit his home in Burkina Faso (which I used google maps to locate), I felt completely comfortable to accept his offer.
Fast forward to March 13th 2020, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. My first trip to West Africa.
I had spent the previous week helping refugees in Kurdistan, and then a few days in Tunisia. Countries were just starting to close their borders. To say it was a crazy time, would be an understatement.
The airport display boards were filled with more cancellations, than departing flights. To make an already stressful situation worse, I had arrived in Tunis with body aches, and a dry cough, both possible symptoms of covid-19.
At that stage, not much was known about covid-19 and I was assessing my health, hour by hour.
In Ouagadougou, my local contact arranged a hospital visit, but the hospital wasn’t equipped for testing. After a 3 hour wait, we were told to come back the next day.
I awoke the following day feeling much better, and we decided to continue our plans and visit Joel’s village in the south. We took all the precautions we knew of, but I was still very anxious about the trip. No one wants to be patient zero; the super-spreader.
In the remote villages in the south of the country, I was continually asked for information about the covid-19. Was it dangerous? Should they be worried? What were the best ways to protect yourself?
Overnight, I became a health advisor and spent every spare minute on google, researching as much as I could. I could then inform the people with any latest news, and also give them any relevant hygiene advice.
My original plan was to continue the journey south to Ghana and visit a friend there. However, after hearing about Germany’s plans to close borders, I decided that my luck had already played out as far as I should push it.
I booked the earliest flight home (in Germany), and was lucky enough to get a flight to Brussels. I landed in Berlin just hours before the border closure.
A few days later, I tested negative for covid-19 and felt so relieved. I could relax, knowing that my research trip to West Africa had been a blessing and not a curse.
I plan to return when it’s possible, and will provide free training to a group of young entrepreneurs that I met during the trip.
As a prologue to this story, my African translator woke up with a fever the day I left. Thank God he also tested negative.
My first trip to Germany was in 2011, during a four-month travel adventure with an Australian friend. We visited 18 countries throughout Asia, Europe and the middle east.
During that trip I met my future wife, and I’ve been based here in Germany with her since we married six years ago.
I’m in a small town called Wurzen, in the eastern region of Germany, and the only native English speaker. Even though I can now speak basic German, it’s been hard to make close friends. Friendship here, takes years, and a lot of patience. If I’m honest, I’ve given up trying.
I enjoy meeting people, but deep down, I know I’ll always be a global citizen. The friends I have made, are from a group of internationals in the nearby city of Leipzig.
InterNations is a global network that organises casual get-togethers for expats in most countries around the world. After the last get-together, I was invited to dinner with two guys from Egypt, a Turkish lady, and another young guy from Bangladesh.
There are also quite a few Germans who attend our Leipzig InterNations meetings. Usually they have lived overseas, like practising their English, and enjoy meeting foreigners.
At present, we are in a second lockdown, so my social life is once again online.
During the first wave, we had an eight-week lockdown with only one recorded case in our town. On a good day, there are only ever a few people on the streets, so social distancing is easy.
Like many other countries, Germany also had its share of hoarding, with toilet paper disappearing off the shelves.
With friends all around the world, I was able to receive up to date reports from everywhere. I felt I was one step ahead of every development in Germany. Each morning, I would give my wife a briefing of what we could expect in the following days.
I still remember the look on my wife’s face when I told her to buy toilet paper, in preparation for a shortage the following week.
As far as work goes, I helped my wife’s tutoring school to go online, so we still had income, however, all my speaking events were cancelled for the year.
Usually, I would be traveling to different countries and speaking to businesses, schools and community groups on topics such as coaching skills and emotional intelligence. Overnight, that all ended.
Among the cancelled events, was an opportunity to speak to hundreds of entrepreneurs, and have my travel photos displayed in the Leipzig train station, the third biggest in Europe.
As an alternative to in-person events, I was able to run a small training event on zoom that kept me busy for a few months, and the rest of the time I have kept occupied with writing projects.
My next book is on the topic of goals and gratitude, and should be published early in 2021.
As I write this in November, there have now been around 50 recorded cases in our town, and several local friends have also tested positive.
We have similar restrictions as the first lockdown, but it feels much different.
During the first lockdown, I was opening our apartment door with my elbow. I don’t feel as paranoid now, because we know so much more about covid.
When I’m out walking, people also seem far less terrified of each other than they were in the first lockdown.
As far as traveling goes, there were a lot of cancelled trips this year, including a trip to photograph grizzly bears in Canada. However, I did manage to slip in a short visit to Rome, directly after our first lockdown.
I called several Italian friends to get their opinions, and they all encouraged me to come. One told me that it would be the best experience ever, and he wasn’t wrong.
I had never visited Rome, so I had mixed feelings of excitement and anxiety. Excitement, because I knew the streets would be deserted, and I would have some great photographic opportunities. Anxiety, because the world was still very much in the midst of a pandemic, even if expert opinions were sometimes in conflict.
I’ll never forget the moment I arrived at the Vatican museum. I was looking for lines of people and thought it was closed. There was no one outside.
I walked up to the doors and entered. The place was empty. I was able to purchase a ticket and explore the exhibition without crowds.
At times during my trip in Rome, it felt like I was the only foreign tourist in the city. With every risk you take, there are potential rewards, and the rewards were definitely worth it.
Everyone was very diligent in keeping the hygiene rules, so I felt extremely safe the whole time.
Over the summer holiday (July, August), those of us in Europe have had quite a big travel-bubble. That has briefly changed, but as we move toward spring (March 2021), I’m expecting the second wave to slow down, providing some interesting options for travel once again.
For those in Europe planning travel next year, my travel tip would be to google the top 20 places and avoid them, because they will probably be overcrowded.
Head to the less-known places, and you’ll have a much more enjoyable experience.
As far as my travel plans for 2021, I’m looking at Iceland as a possible destination, and will continue monitoring the situation there.
It’s been high on my bucketlist for a few years now, and to enjoy the experience without crowds of people would be an amazing opportunity.
Currently, visitors are still welcomed, but a six-day quarantine is in place. The Icelandic quarantine does allow solo walks though, so it’s not like Australia’s policed detention.
As for travel to Australia, that’s a whole other topic. I’ve tried looking for flights, but limited quarantine places have made the situation extremely hard to return.
As of November 2020, booking flights to Australia from anywhere, is still a big gamble.
I’ve been waiting for the government to lift travel restrictions or organise a more sustainable quarantine solution, but I’m not hopeful of the situation improving before Christmas.
The maths show that the number of stranded Aussies is growing exponentially, with numbers as high as 100,000 Aussies waiting for flights home.
The earliest flights I can currently find, are in four months’ time. I can only pray the situation will change, because I have not seen my children or grandchildren, for over nine months.
Many of us expats live between two countries. We work overseas and have parents and even children in Australia. I visit Australia twice a year and stay five or six weeks each time. While in Australia, I schedule some speaking engagements, and spend the remaining time with my family.
TRAVEL OUTSIDE AUSTRALIA
Regarding travel outside Australia, you can receive exemptions to leave Australia for periods of three months or more. This might provide digital nomads with an opportunity to escape overseas.
However, I wouldn’t leave Australia unless you know you can support yourself for at least 12 months, because there’s no guarantee of returning home if you get into trouble.
There are several covid-free countries that Australians could visit, but you would need to do your research. It’s not going to be straight forward, and the situation can change rapidly.
If you’re not an experienced traveller, I recommend staying home, and if I was forced to define “experienced traveller”, I might say, “spending more than a few months a year outside of Australia”.
My last piece of advice would be to respect any local restrictions overseas. Covid-19 probably isn’t going to kill you if you’re young and fit. However, if you are a carrier, you don’t want to put other people’s lives at risk, especially in countries with low quality healthcare.
2020, has certainly been a big change of pace for travellers. The most challenging part for me has been establishing a routine and staying motivated. I seem to fluctuate from feeling really slack, to giving myself permission to play Mahjong and watch movies all day.
Strangely, giving up my travel plans wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I’ve enjoyed spending more time with my wife, but when travel stopped, I felt extremely isolated.
While traveling, I always had the thrill of meeting new people and seeing old friends.
I loved the rhythm of travel, meeting people, speaking at events, photographing nature, and returning home to rest. I still have a lot of uncertainty regarding my future, but at the same time, I see lots of opportunities.
Over winter, my biggest goal is self-care. German winters are dark and depressing. Even on a good year, you need to work on your mental health.
This year, I plan to do heaps of long walks outside, and take vitamin D tablets.
Another project I have recently started, is my 1000 quote challenge. I spend a few minutes every day selecting a theme and creating my own quote to post on social media.
I’m currently up to day 72 and have found the challenge really great to stir up my creativity. It’s one way I can contribute something positive to the universe.
If you’d like to read and follow my quotes, you can find them on