The traveler who’s spent the whole pandemic backpacking



(CNN) — After working in a company job for numerous years, budding photographer Tomas Hromjak determined it was lastly the best time to take the year-long backpacking journey he’d been planning for years.

Hromjak, from Kosice, Slovakia, stop his job and acquired a round-the-world ticket, which might see him go to locations comparable to New Zealand, Australia, Los Angeles, Colombia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Bolivia and Germany.

In December 2019, Hromjak set off on the worldwide journey he’d been dreaming of for so long as he may keep in mind.

Nevertheless, issues did not fairly end up how he’d imagined. Just some months into his travels, Covid-19 started to unfold all over the world, resulting in widespread border closures and nationwide lockdowns.

Not solely did the chaos that ensued see him spend over six months in a spot he’d solely deliberate to go to for 2 weeks, he was additionally pressured to desert sections of his journey.

However whereas different vacationers may need been tempted to pack up and go house, Hromjak has persevered. Final month, he marked two complete years on the highway.

And much from being disillusioned by the scenario he is ended up in, Hromjak feels extremely fortunate to be one of many few backpackers to have visited a number of the most unusual locations on this planet at a time when many vacationers have been shut out.

“I am seeing the world from a totally totally different perspective,” he tells CNN Journey from Guatemala. “For me, touring is about experiencing and studying one thing new.

Distinctive alternative

Tomas Hromjak set off on a year-long backpacking trip in 2019 and is still on the road.

Tomas Hromjak set off on a year-long backpacking journey in 2019 and remains to be on the highway.

Courtesy Tomas Hromjak

“I believe it is a distinctive alternative. However has it essentially at all times been the straightforward one? No.”

The primary a part of his journey began off merely sufficient. He spent a number of months touring round Asia, and had ticked off quite a few nations, together with Singapore, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar, from his checklist earlier than discuss of a sure virus that was believed to have originated in China reached him.

“I believe I used to be in Myanmar once I first heard about it [coronavirus]. I have to say, I did not actually take it critically,” provides Hromjak, who’s been documenting his pandemic travels on his Instagram account.

“Some backpackers had been quitting their travels, however I used to be persistent. Particularly as a result of this was one thing I had actually needed to do for my complete life. And I had been on the highway for [just] three months.

“So I used to be like ‘no means, I am not giving up.'”

Vowing to maintain going till issues “bought actually, actually critical,” he flew to Tonga, a Polynesian nation consisting of over 170 South Pacific islands, in March 2020 with the plan of staying for 15 days.

However the archipelago shut down quickly after he arrived, and Hromjak ended up spending 222 days there.

Nevertheless, he says he was very happy to remain as soon as he realized how powerful restrictions had been again house — Slovakia declared a state of emergency that very same month — and is grateful to have been capable of have spent an prolonged period of time in one of many few locations on this planet that has remained Covid free all through the whole pandemic.

“My mother and father principally mentioned, ‘We predict you are higher off the place you’re in Tonga,'” Hromjak says of the distant island, which stays shut to international nationals.

“I used to be residing with an area household and I met some nice individuals who principally took care of me, so there was no cause to return.

“Though folks typically say that just a few days in Tonga is sufficient, I noticed there is sufficient to see and expertise there simply for a month or much more.”

After spending months checking for border standing and restriction updates, Hromjak accepted that there was no means he may enter New Zealand, the place a number of the hardest border restrictions had been carried out, to proceed on his round-the-world journey.

The 34-year-old was additionally made conscious that all the upcoming flights for the journey he’d initially booked had been canceled.

Whereas there was nothing to cease him from persevering with on a distinct route, any journey he launched into would now be very totally different to the one he’d envisioned when he first hit the highway again in September 2019.

Difficult occasions

Hromjak has perserved with his travels, visiting places like the Colca Canyon in Peru, and documenting his experiences.

Hromjak has perserved along with his travels, visiting locations just like the Colca Canyon in Peru, and documenting his experiences.

Tomas Hromjak/Courtesy Tomas Hromjak

Undeterred, he determined to move to Mexico, the place restrictions have been relaxed, final October. He is since visited Ecuador, Chile, Peru and Panama.

“There have been some actually tight conditions,” he admits. “However up to now, the whole lot has labored effectively. Now it isn’t a lot about the place I wish to go, it is about the place I can go.”

Though Hromjak has been by a number of totally different lockdowns and quarantines throughout his pandemic travels, he discovered Chile, the place he was required to spend 10 days isolating earlier than being allowed to exit and about, to be the hardest.

“That [visiting Chile] was on my checklist for many of my life. The restrictions had been loopy, however I simply determined to go,” he says, earlier than stating that he did not encounter some other international vacationers throughout the two months he spent there.

“Some folks could not consider I used to be actually a vacationer. It was undoubtedly essentially the most difficult place I visited due to all of the restrictions.

“There was a curfew each weekend [a weekend curfew is in place in high risk regions]. I needed to get permission to go from one neighborhood to a different.”

Unsurprisingly, he is discovered the expertise of touring instantly earlier than and throughout the pandemic to be dramatically totally different, and is within the uncommon place of getting skilled each.

“Probably the most placing distinction is clearly the quantity of vacationers,” he says. “If you happen to go to hotspots like Cancun or perhaps Cusco in Peru, you will notice folks.

“However once you journey only a bit off the crushed path, there’s just about nobody there.”

The social side is one other vital change. For a lot of vacationers, making associates and assembly folks from everywhere in the world performs a monumental half of their backpacking adventures.

However Hromjak has met few different vacationers in current months, whereas any sort of social gatherings have been few and much between — not that he is complaining.

“You may see a few lone vacationers every now and then, however I have not met anybody who was touring earlier than the pandemic and caught round,” he explains.

“If somebody is prepared to journey now, they should not count on it to be like earlier than. That mingling between vacationers and backpackers, I might say it does not exist now. However to be honest, it wasn’t actually one thing I used to be doing earlier than.”

Constructive reception

Hromjak captured a wedding rehearsal when he traveled to Cartagena, Colombia in November 2020.

Hromjak captured a marriage rehearsal when he traveled to Cartagena, Colombia in November 2020.

Courtesy Tomas Hromjak

Though he is discovered it powerful to witness first hand how laborious locations reliant on tourism have been hit by the dearth of vacationers, he is been amazed by the reception he is obtained.

“The locals are actually appreciating foreigners in a lot of locations,” he provides. “They’re actually joyful to speak with guests and ask questions in a real means.”

In keeping with Hromjak, this could not be additional away from how issues had been whereas he was touring earlier than the pandemic.

“Again then, particularly in Asia, folks had been fed up with vacationers, and I fully perceive why,” he says.

“I skilled this in Vietnam the place [it seemed like] folks thought they may do no matter they needed. They did not actually respect any native or cultural guidelines.

“I went to some well-known locations and I didn’t take pleasure in it in any respect due to the huge overtourism and the conduct of vacationers.

“Folks aren’t going to love me saying this. But it surely appeared like their [some of the tourists’] primary precedence was to get a selfie in one of the best spot and everybody else did not matter. The opposite folks [around them] did not matter, the native folks did not matter.”

He want to assume that issues may change as soon as the world reopens absolutely once more, however admits he is not massively hopeful that this would be the case.

So in the intervening time, Hromjak is benefiting from with the ability to go to locations like Colombia and Peru with far fewer crowds.

“On one hand, I do benefit from the scenario as a result of you possibly can really go and expertise some locations which you in all probability would not again within the day,” he admits, stating that he’d been warned towards visiting Colombia’s Cartagena due to the crowds, however had a totally totally different expertise when he traveled there in November 2020.

Lack of spontaneity

Visiting the Desierto de la Tatacoa in Colombia in December 2020.

Visiting the Desierto de la Tatacoa in Colombia in December 2020.

Courtesy Tomas Hromjak

“Once I was there, it had quite a lot of vacationers from Colombia, nevertheless it was undoubtedly not overcrowded and I actually beloved it really.

“After all, what is unhappy, and what bothers me, is that quite a lot of small companies are struggling. However I really feel actually joyful that I can contribute not directly. I attempt to go to native cafes and native locations and assist.”

As one would think about, touring from nation to nation throughout a world pandemic is not any straightforward feat. There’s little room for spontaneity when quarantine, ever-changing restrictions and testing necessities are taken into consideration

“There’s far more group required,” he explains. “If you happen to go someplace for 2 or three weeks, it is manageable to plan.

“However should you’re going someplace for an extended time and you are not going to the hotspots. It is troublesome.

“A whole lot of guidelines are altering quickly. And quite a lot of issues get closed at brief discover, or the opening occasions are altering.

“For some parks in Costa Rica or Chile, it’s a must to join the day earlier than you go due to the restrictions on folks coming into.

“So it does require quite a lot of persistence, nerves and improvisation. However I benefit from the problem in a means.”

He is additionally discovered it powerful to attempt to sustain with all of the totally different guidelines and restrictions in place in separate locations.

“Now it isn’t so loopy,” he says. “However half a 12 months in the past, the foundations had been altering in each nation each week, when it comes to exams, who can go to, which nations are on the pink checklist, which aren’t. That is the troublesome half.”

Hromjak’s vaccination standing can be beginning to influence his travels. As he is been away for 2 years and hasn’t spent a lot time in a single place, he hasn’t been capable of get vaccinated.

New outlook

Backpacking during the pandemic has changed Hromjak's perspective on travel and he's in no hurry to go home.

Backpacking throughout the pandemic has modified Hromjak’s perspective on journey and he is in no hurry to go house.

Courtesy Tomas Hromjak

However increasingly nations have been bringing in restrictions for, and in some circumstances completely banning, unvaccinated vacationers, and the checklist of locations he is capable of go to is getting shorter.

Hromjak goals to rectify this by returning house at Christmas to see his household and arranging to be vaccinated whereas he is there.

Nevertheless, whereas he is eager to spend the vacations along with his family members, Hromjak has no intention of staying in Slovakia for lengthy.

Actually, he says studying the complete extent of how life has modified for his household, associates and former colleagues has solely made him extra decided to maintain touring.

“From speaking to my ex-colleagues, I knew that I wasn’t actually lacking out on something when it comes to work expertise,” he says.

“They [his former colleagues] had been at house for a 12 months largely doing Skype and Zoom calls.

“I am serious about persevering with for some time as a result of I do not know if or once I wish to return to what I used to be doing earlier than.”

For Hromjak, the rarity of touring all over the world throughout such an unsure time and documenting his experiences is just too good a possibility to surrender and his perspective on the world and journey usually has shifted.

“I used to hop from one place to a different an excessive amount of,” he says. “However now I’ve slowed down, and I am additionally experiencing extra issues that you do not discover anyplace else.

“I am speaking to locals, visiting indigenous folks and doing every kind of issues I did not earlier than. I don`t really really feel like a vacationer anymore.”

Prime picture credit score: Tomas Hromjak




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