digital nomad travel journey

How I Failed To Become A Full-Time Traveler

by Juliet Dreamhunter

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I left my job, packed a suitcase, grabbed my husband, and hopped on a flight across the world…

This is what you expect to hear as the beginning of my story, and this is actually pretty accurate.

But, unlike other people who choose to become full-time travel bloggers, my story doesn’t end up as a success.

The global pandemic has ruined many people’s plans all over the world, and I’m not an exception. I just chose the worst time ever to start a new life!

What does failure even mean?

I mean, I actually left the country with a one-way ticket and long travel plans.

The goal was to see Asia and I had a great time traveling around the whole island of Sri Lanka: I watched elephants in natural parks, climbed UNESCO sites, shoot photos with various waterfalls, visited Buddha temples, indulged in Sri Lankan food, swam with turtles, and did many more memorable things. As a new travel blogger, it gave me enough material to write a few posts about my adventures and schedule even more to write later.

This was the exact lifestyle I was hoping for.

The thing is: it only lasted one month.

So I decided to go all-in and expected a lifestyle of traveling and adventures, but merely got a month-long vacation. A very stressful one, I should add, although amazing anyway.

The happy beginning

Changing careers and jumping into a travel blogger lifestyle wasn’t just a whim for me.

I planned this for about a year.

I gave my notice far in advance, in midsummer, as I liked the company and wanted to keep the good relationship after leaving.

September was the month I officially stopped calling myself a full-time software developer and started to think of myself as a travel blogger. I love how my last working day happened to be Friday, 13th.

At the end of September, my husband and I went to Spain for a month to kind of test this lifestyle and see how it suits us both.

Malaga was a great destination to test the nomadic lifestyle. It was sunny, warm, and social enough. We actually decided that it was the first place we visited where we could possibly stay for life.

It gave us some understanding of how we felt about potentially living like this long term, and what needs to be changed for us to feel even better.

Then we came back in November and started preparing for a real trip, the one with no coming back in the foreseeable future.

We gave ourselves some time to fix ongoing health issues, to get rid of our stuff, and to use all the gift certificates for experiences that would expire when we left for a year.

Our new life was going to start in February.

Soon, the day X came.

We packed two suitcases and two small backpacks, gave up our rent, said our goodbyes to all our friends and family members, and jumped in a taxi to the airport.

Coincidentally, we were leaving on February 14th. We took it as a good sign! Little did we know…

Our first destination was Sri Lanka. Besides our honeymoon in Maldives, where we pretty much didn’t see anything but our hotel, this was the first time we’d go to Asia. So we were really excited to immerse ourselves in a totally different culture.

And it was an amazing month-long trip. Unforgettable even. The perfect way to start a new travel-based lifestyle. We visited plenty of places, stayed in cool authentic Sri Lankan homestays, explored beautiful beaches, hiked in Sigiriya, went on breathtaking safaris, attended a cooking class with a local family, and learned a lot about Sri Lankan culture.

It was our last day in Sri Lanka when it all went downhill in a matter of hours.

Friday, March 13

See how it was Friday 13th again? Only this time it wasn’t lucky.

Situation on Friday morning: we are going to India tomorrow and then to Nepal in a month!

…I was downloading all the tickets and other documents for tomorrow’s trip as I wanted to ask our hotel to print them for us. I opened my visa approval letter from the Indian Department of Immigration to print it. It said that I should print a correct visa form from their site instead of printing it from this email.

Surely, I clicked through to their site. And this popped up.

All existing visas issued to nationals of any country except those issued to Diplomats, Official passport holders, those in UN / International organizations, those on Employment, Project visas and those who are operating aircrew of scheduled commercial airlines, and who had not yet entered India, are suspended

From the Indian Government website.

India closed the borders the day before we entered. How lucky we are!

This is when it all went wrong

First of all, I’m not someone who jumps on sudden trips.

I like to plan ahead, book everything in advance, and know (at least to some extent) where I will be every day.

Yeah, it’s not very adventurous of me and probably not the best quality for a travel blogger, but I am who I am.

And suddenly realizing that tomorrow’s trip is not happening… I can’t even describe how stressful it was.

At least I found out about this the day before thanks to my organizational skills, and not in the airport when we would be denied boarding the next day.

So we had to find another country to go to. To-mor-row. This alone blew my mind. I’ve never ever planned anything for tomorrow, not even a coffee meeting! And now – a whole trip to replace a long thorough-planned and fully booked trip to India.

Ok, it was southern Asia, options were many.

deciding on next destination

Of course, India was the closest, but it was out of the picture.

Our next planned destination after India was going to be Nepal – I started investigating it and quickly found out that they did the same as India and closed the borders.

A few other visa-free options were either the same or too close to China, the coronavirus epicenter.

After some digging and a lot of reading from travel-related and nomadic communities, we decided that Thailand was safe enough. There weren’t many cases of coronavirus and many travelers who were there at the time decided to stay.

So we bought the tickets and booked nice accommodation for a month. We decided not to travel much around the country and stay in one place as the situation was uncertain. It looked like a good and safe option to replace India.

However, during this investigation, we started to see a lot of things that were happening in the world in the context of the virus. They hadn’t started to call it a pandemic yet, but many countries introduced some restrictions. We saw a few countries that restricted entrance from China and all the nearby countries, including Thailand.

At this point, it became obvious that we probably won’t be able to travel to many places after Thailand and we’d have trouble getting anywhere else next month.

This is when we decided to cut the trip short and come back to Ukraine after Thailand in case the situation gets worse.

So we bought the tickets from Thailand back to Ukraine, and went to bed feeling anxious, but somewhat relieved.

Situation at the end of Friday: we are going to Thailand tomorrow and then back to Ukraine in a month!

Saturday, March 14

We woke up to Ukrainian news featuring our president’s video speech.

He just announced that all air travel would be suspended after March 16.

Apparently, now we had less than 3 days to come back home if we wanted to.

This was a tough decision to make.

Did we consider staying in Sri Lanka?

Of course we did! We loved our Sri Lankan adventures and would gladly stay for more.

However, our visa would expire on Monday.

We could of course ask for a visa extension, but:

  • The Department of Immigration was located in Colombo, whereas we weren’t anywhere near at the time.
  • Visa acceptance application working hours were from 8.30 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. Monday to Friday. It was already Friday afternoon and we weren’t even in Colombo.
  • Monday was our last permitted day, so we could try to come and apply for an extension, but should they decline, we’d have to leave immediately. And as other countries started to suspend visas, we thought that the chances of our extension being declined were high.
  • Unless we left on Sunday, we wouldn’t be able to come back to Ukraine anymore.

A few days later Sri Lankan department of immigration decided to extend all the current visas for present foreigners for another month. But we couldn’t possibly foresee this happening, and it was still for one month only. Even if we stayed, we would be in the same situation again in April. But coming back to Ukraine wouldn’t be an option anymore.

Why we decided to go home

coming home from travel because of coronavirus

The main reason is: uncertainty.

We had some other options, but at the same time, there were many things to consider.

1) Countries started to close borders and suspend visas

India (our next destination) already suspended our visas, Nepal (our planned destination after India) already closed its borders, and some other closest Asian countries as well. This means that at some point we could potentially get stuck in a transit zone of some country. Not being able to go anywhere if every country closed borders, and not being able to stay as our short travel visa would expire. Even the mere thought of this frightened us big time.

2) As Ukrainians, we could only stay up to 30 days in most Asian countries

Being a travel blogger, you don’t have a reason for any visa other than a short-term tourist visa. With my Ukrainian passport, I can go to many places with either an online requested visa or obtain a visa upon arrival. However, this only works for short-term tourist intentions, usually up to one month, and then you need to leave.

With all the uncertainty in the world and restrictions changing literally every day, it was too risky to expect that every month there would be some country nearby to welcome us and give us a travel visa for another month. Not with all the chaos that was already happening around us.

3) We wouldn’t be able to come back home later

As I already mentioned, we only had 3 days to return to Ukraine before they closed the air.

ukraine closed borders

And even if it was physically possible to come from Sri Lanka by land, the neighboring to Ukraine European countries like Poland and Hungary already closed the borders. We heard all the news about long lines of cars and buses being stuck in-between countries for days and not being able to come home. And we wouldn’t want to risk it.

In case the current visa expired and no other country would let us in, we wouldn’t even be able to go home. The thought of not being able to live anywhere in the world was terrifying.

4) Simple things like eating would be a hard quest every day

Imagine coming to a foreign country for the first time when everything tourist-oriented is closed.

You don’t know anything about the infrastructure, you can’t go to a restaurant to eat, and you don’t speak the language to buy your own food. Local markets are most likely closed anyway. Nobody speaks English. Even if you find a place to live that has a kitchen (for example, in Sri Lanka we only stayed in homestays and hotels without a kitchen), you don’t know where the supermarket is (if there are any at all), and public transport might not operate for you to get there.

Not that it would necessarily be that dramatic, but at that point, this is how we saw it. And, to be honest, it could.

5) Without knowing a local language foreign quarantine could be tricky

Unless we spoke Sinhala (for Sri Lanka) or Thai (for Thailand) or the language of whatever country we would stay at, it would be really hard and stressful to follow the rules and stay out of trouble. We heard a lot of cases of people being fined in Ukraine for going out without a mask or entering a park when it wasn’t allowed. But at home we can follow the rules and know about all the restrictions. With every country having different rules which were subject to change every few days, we could easily unknowingly get in trouble.

Obviously, being at risk of potentially getting fined, being put to jail, or even deported was not the fun travel lifestyle we anticipated. This was the last straw that led to our decision of going home.

6) With all the tourist attractions closed, there wasn’t much to explore anyway

Among many reasons for traveling, my main goal at the time was to get to know the world and share my experience in my blog.

When everything is closed, I wouldn’t have much to write about. So what’s the reason to sit in the apartment abroad and stress about every little thing, if I could sit at home and don’t stress? All the anxiety would be for nothing.

closed attractions around the world

And it’s not like all of this would have ended in a month or two. We would get stuck in the uncertainty for who knows how long.

So, we changed our plans again, and found new tickets to Ukraine. This time for today.

Situation on Saturday afternoon: we are going home to Ukraine today!

Anticipated itinerary: Sri Lanka – Qatar – Turkey – Ukraine.

We checked out of our last hotel, called a taxi to Colombo, and went to the airport.

Finally, at the airport leaving Sri Lanka… or not?

It was kinda early when we arrived at Negombo airport and we weren’t allowed to go through security just yet, so we spent a couple of hours in the only cafeteria they had there. Finally, check-in time came.

We went through the security scanning and found our flight on the information display. Staying in a queue to drop off our luggage, we felt relieved as we knew we’ll be home soon.

Only this wasn’t the case.

When we handed our passports and tickets to a check-in guy and he was looking at them for too long, I knew something was wrong.

Long story short, Qatar just closed the borders a couple of hours back so they couldn’t let us in on the flight.

sad after denied boarding

Apparently, if we had connected flights, and not self-connected, they would let us through.

But our flights were with different airlines, and we couldn’t go through the transit zone in Qatar. Instead, we’d need to exit the airport and enter it again for the next flight, with passing security, grabbing our luggage, and checking in again. Only now we couldn’t do it as they closed the borders.

Our check-in guy told us that if we could purchase another ticket from some partner company, then they would be able to connect those flights and get us through the transit zone.

He told us a couple of companies that were ok, and we went to look for a local ticket office.

I should say, going back after you passed security is not an easy task.

We were stopped four times by different security guys on the way out and had to tell the story all over again. Then that next guy would shout to a previous one ‘Did you let them through?’ across the hall, and we were allowed to go a dozen meters until the next one stopped us.

A few minutes later, after running in circles around the airport floors with our luggage and losing each other in elevators, we found the office we were looking for. Only it was closed and apparently didn’t sell tickets anyway. There were some other lost souls sitting on the floor near that door hoping for the best. Everyone just wanted to go home.

So we sat there too, for a bit. Until I realized that we are wasting precious time.

Wait, did I mention that we only had 40 minutes to find another ticket and get back to that flight?

At some point, we left the airport as they had a ticket office outside, still hoping to find the tickets and catch that flight.

We asked the woman in a ticket box if there were any tickets from allowed partner companies available to connect with our flight. She searched and said no. Only at that point, we realized we are actually not flying home.

So there we were, staying on the street with all our belongings, deep in our phones, trying to find a new way to get to Ukraine in two days.

a couple trying to come home

This was probably the most stressful point of the whole story.

We had nowhere to go, our Sri Lankan visa was about to expire, and we had limited time to come home.

If you think finding tickets online was easy, you are wrong.

Remember that it was the day when our president announced a 3-day window.

Every Ukrainian person from all over the world was trying to get a ticket home, the same as we were.

Because of such high demand, the prices jumped from around $300 to $1000 and above.

So you find a new option that fits your time window, the system says ‘there are 2/3/4 tickets left’, you happily start to enter your data to buy them, press Next, and find out that there aren’t any tickets left. Apparently, someone else just bought those last ones a moment faster while you were entering your card information. Right under your nose.

It was a few times like that for both of us until finally we were able to purchase connecting tickets with Turkish Airlines for another $1500. For tomorrow. At least we now had a chance to come home. Fortunately, it would be on the last day before the air restriction.

As we needed to spend another night in Sri Lanka, we found an Airbnb close to the airport, called a taxi, and went there. At that point, I just wanted to lie down and forget about all of this.

Situation at the end of Saturday: we are staying one more night in Sri Lanka, and going home tomorrow!

Sunday, March 15

Not much to tell here. This time everything was fine. We caught the flight, and then another one.

About one third of the people in the airports were in masks, including all the staff. Some people just used scarves to cover their faces.

Up to that day, there were no known cases of the virus in Sri Lanka, it was calm and safe. Nobody would wear masks on the streets. So the airport seemed surreal and as if we were in some kind of a pandemic movie.

Despite our personal rush, it wasn’t like that for everyone. The travel industry was already suffering, we just weren’t aware of it. For example, I had never seen a half-empty plane in my life before. And this is how a huge Istanbul airport, which is a main hub for many connections, looked when we arrived. Disturbingly empty.

homecoming during coronavirus outbreak

Monday, March 16

We arrived in Lviv in the morning and checked into the hotel we managed to book for a week in between flights.

We chose the one with a breakfast included option to not worry about at least one meal per day.

Ironically, the next morning new restrictions came up in Ukraine and all the cafeterias were forced to close, including the one in our hotel. Sorry, they said, we can’t make you breakfast anymore.

We stayed there for a week and then found an apartment for a month so we had a kitchen to cook our own food. And the rest is history. There were quite different opinions among people around us: some were scared and washed everything that came from the supermarket with soap, while some others didn’t even believe that coronavirus existed.

We choose to stay somewhere in the middle: be cautious, but sane. And looking forward to a better future.

Final thoughts about our homecoming journey

We’ve been through a lot, we learned a lot, and survived.

We went through all of this as a family, relied on each other, and it brought us even closer together.

As they say, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

Fast forward to 2023, I am still a blogger, just not a travel one. We attempted another year-long trip but ended up cutting it short again after 3 months spent in Mexico because the neighbor attacked our country. After that, we decided to settle down somewhere and are now building a new life in Canada. I got certified as a happiness coach and started to teach people to look for joy in the little things through my blog Utterly Positive.

We still plan to travel a lot in the future but I don’t think we’ll ever attempt a digital nomad lifestyle again. We learned our lesson and decided to put down roots. Besides, we realized that travel becomes much less fun when it’s your job.

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Amanda Kerr May 24, 2020 - 9:11 pm

Wow, what a story. It sounds like my story in a way. My husband and I wanted to travel for a year, we left our apartment and moved in my with in-laws, saved for a year, and left Canada. We planned to travel for a year and started “vloggging” We had planned to climb MT Everest in April for my husbands birthday and be in Europe for my bday in May… We left last Sept, we got to see amazing places like New Zealand, Egypt, Vietnam, etc, but we got burnt out and came home after 4 months. So happy we did, because the virus came about 2 months after we got home. I’m so happy we did what we did, I just wish we didn’t try to be like those travel vloggers, they make it seem like it’s all perfect, but in reality full-time travel is hard, living out of a backpack is hard, eating the same food is hard. Maybe people are different , but no one talks about the truth. Vlogging also took away from spending more time together and taking in the nature. Thanks for sharing your story!

Juliet Dreamhunter May 25, 2020 - 10:44 am

Yeah, a genuine blogger is a rare find these days. Not even because everyone lies, but because people don’t show the bad sides so it seems to be all good. Also, many people “use” bloggers as an inspiration and not everyone likes to see people whining on camera about their failures.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with me! I’m glad that you are back and safe now, good timing! That’s why we did a test run to Spain, to see how this works and if we would even like this lifestyle. What are you guys doing now? Will you try again, maybe with a slower pace next time? May 25, 2020 - 3:43 am

Glad you all are ok. It sounds scary back then. Great post. I live in the United States. I don’t know much about Ukraine, but it must be nice. I am a travel blogger too although I cover points & miles. I do not know if you have credit card rewards in the Ukraine. I wish you best of luck in the future. The nomad life looks cool. I know you will do well as a travel blogger in the future.

Juliet Dreamhunter May 25, 2020 - 10:49 am

Thank you so much for your kind words! It wasn’t quite scary, but it was stressful and uncertain, and being not welcome anywhere in the world including our home country felt frightening. No, we don’t have rewards, at least not to the same extent as you do in US. Actually, I don’t even have a credit card, which already says a lot about how different our systems are. Good luck to you too!

The Spicy Travel Girl May 27, 2020 - 10:10 pm

I can imagine how frustrating that must have been! I had just moved to China half a year ago, planning to spend the next four years there, and then our university already sent us home!

Juliet Dreamhunter May 29, 2020 - 1:57 pm

Oh no, this must be so discouraging! Will they reinstate your program later when it’s safe? Are you studying back home in the meantime or remotely?

Sarah Camp May 27, 2020 - 10:20 pm

Oh my goodness – I can’t even imagine how this must feel! Firstly, I am glad you were able to make it back to Ukraine safely. As much as we’d love to be quarantined in an exotic case, it isn’t practical and can lead to really uncertain situations. I am so sorry you left it all behind to take this on full-time and now that’s all been cast aside – but we will travel again! I’m glad you got your accommodation bookings back – and a sad story about the flight money I can identify with.
Making use of time at home to become a better blogger and photographer is what I’m doing too – these things will get us through to the other side!

Juliet Dreamhunter May 29, 2020 - 2:00 pm

Thanks for reading this, Sarah! Yeah, I wouldn’t wish for anyone to go through such adventures! But I guess nothing scares me anymore ๐Ÿ™‚
All of it kinda prepares us for the worst and makes us stronger!

Wellness Travel Diaries May 28, 2020 - 1:07 am

Thanks for sharing your story! I can very much relate as I started travel blogging this year too. My husband and I were traveling around Europe and Asia when everything started to shutdown. Weโ€™d been traveling for over 9 months and had to make the difficult decision like you if we should return home or stay. We decided to return home as well, and with a very similar homecoming story. Iโ€™m glad you are safe and continuing to be optimistic! ๐Ÿ™‚

Juliet Dreamhunter May 29, 2020 - 2:04 pm

Thanks for reading! I hope you are safe now wherever the home is. We are all stronger and smarter now after such homecoming journeys ๐Ÿ™‚
Are you going to start over/continue your itinerary when it’s back to normal? I’m rethinking all of it now and considering staying for longer in every destination, to avoid the constant rush and uncertainty.

Melissa May 28, 2020 - 9:12 am

Heartbreaking. Seriously… I feel so bad for all you had to go through. I guess in the end you are one of the luckier ones because you did get back. I follow a couple other travel bloggers who are in fact stuck in a country and the situation doesn’t look great for them. It’s hard to see any bright spot in this situation as a whole, but soon hopefully we emerge a strong world with better protocols. Glad you are back safe!

Juliet Dreamhunter May 29, 2020 - 2:09 pm

Yeah, I guess… I’m happy to be safe of course, but I left for a reason, and coming back to my home country feels like a huge failure and a step back. On the contrary, I follow some bloggers who decided to stay in remote tropical destinations as it’s safer than home and they seem to continue to live their best life as their visas were prolonged automatically. If anything, I think we made the right decision in that particular situation, but I hope things get fixed soon and we can travel again!

Paula May 28, 2020 - 11:56 am

This is so heartbreaking. I can only imagine how much you were looking forward to this and how disappointed you must be now. Nevertheless it is good that you are safe and not alone!

Juliet Dreamhunter May 29, 2020 - 2:10 pm

Thanks Paula! I’m really disappointed and feel like a big failure because of all this, but I’m doing my best to learn as I have time now and prepare for smarter travels when it’s possible.

Chelsea May 29, 2020 - 3:09 pm

Awww my heart breaks for you! I am going through a similar thing right now trying to get home from Canada to Australia! It wasnโ€™t planned either but due to the Boris we have to! I totally understand the uncertainty and not knowing if you will be able to get home! Itโ€™s scary!

Juliet Dreamhunter May 29, 2020 - 7:19 pm

Thank you Chelsea! I imagine now it’s quite different as everything is closed, but at least they don’t introduce sudden border closures every couple of hours as it was for us in March. Are there any direct flights from Canada to Australia? Here in Ukraine the air is closed and you can’t fly neither in nor out. Is it some kind of “rescue” flight for citizens or they just eased the restrictions enough that you can fly? I hope you get there safe and well!

Curls en Route May 29, 2020 - 3:16 pm

I’m sorry you had to go through this, it must have been really tough! But look at the bright side, that amount of stress in the beginning of your journey, especially for someone who likes to plan everything in advance like you, must teach you a bunch of valuable lessons that’ll help you a lot in your future as a full-time traveler. Stay safe and stay strong!

Juliet Dreamhunter May 29, 2020 - 7:21 pm

Yeah, probably. Thanks for helping me see even more positive in this ๐Ÿ™‚
What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger! I’ll be a tough traveler soon lol
Also not everyone has such a story after only one month of travels!

Olivia Harris May 29, 2020 - 4:25 pm

Aw I’m sorry to hear about the circumstances. BUT this was a great read ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š and these photos are beautiful

Juliet Dreamhunter May 29, 2020 - 6:59 pm

Thank you wonderful soul, so nice of you to say that!

Sarah Styf May 29, 2020 - 10:59 pm

WOW! I was in Costa Rica right before everything closed down in the US. Five days after we got home, Costa Rica closed its borders. I was so glad we were there the week that we were. It has been a crazy time for all and I hope you get to get back on the road (so to speak) sooner than later.

Juliet Dreamhunter May 30, 2020 - 11:19 am

Thanks for sharing Sarah! Could we imagine last year that getting safe home without sudden border closures would be considered lucky? The world is changing, but I’m sure there will be some good from it eventually, one way or another!

Cathy May 30, 2020 - 12:59 am

Wow what a story! That’s a lot to go through! I hope you are safe now..don’t give up on your dream. You writing style is wonderful!

Juliet Dreamhunter May 30, 2020 - 11:20 am

Thank you so much Cathy! It’s very nice of you to say this ๐Ÿ™‚ I will now give up, I’ll be smarter next time and make it even better!

Loise May 30, 2020 - 2:08 am

That must be so stressful and frustrating! Imagine you just wanted to go home but because of this pandemic it gets harder and harder every time. But surreal we will overcome this and come back to our passion, travelling. I was also on my first step in becoming a full time travel blogger, and this virus suddenly came. All I did right now is just launch my blog and get my past travels and hopefully soon I can travel again.

Juliet Dreamhunter May 30, 2020 - 11:21 am

Thanks Loise! Of course we will travel again! Now is a good time to learn things for your blogging journey that you won’t have time for when constantly on the road. Good luck with your blog!

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