The traveler who's spent the entire pandemic backpacking


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

Hromjak, from Kosice, Slovakia, give up his job and acquired a round-the-world ticket, which might see him go to locations reminiscent of 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 might keep in mind.

However, issues did not fairly prove how he’d imagined. Just a number of months into his travels, Covid-19 started to unfold around the globe, 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 compelled to desert sections of his journey.

But whereas different vacationers may need been tempted to pack up and go residence, Hromjak has persevered. Last month, he marked two complete years on the street.

And removed from being dissatisfied by the state of affairs he is ended up in, Hromjak feels extremely fortunate to be one of many few backpackers to have visited a few of the most unusual locations on the earth at a time when many vacationers have been shut out.

“I’m seeing the world from a completely different perspective,” he tells CNN Travel from Guatemala. “For me, traveling is about experiencing and learning something new.

Unique opportunity

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 continues to be on the street.

Courtesy Tomas Hromjak

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

The first part of his trip started off simply enough. He spent several months traveling around Asia, and had ticked off numerous countries, including Singapore, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar, from his list before talk of a certain virus that was believed to have originated in China reached him.

“I believe I used to be in Myanmar after I first heard about it [coronavirus]. I have to say, I did not actually take it severely,” 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. Especially as a result of this was one thing I had actually wished to do for my complete life. And I had been on the street for [just] three months.

“So I was like ‘no way, I’m not giving up.'”

Vowing to maintain going till issues “got really, really serious,” 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.

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

However, he says he was more than pleased to remain as soon as he realized how robust restrictions had been again residence — Slovakia declared a state of emergency that very same month — and is grateful to have been in a position to have spent an prolonged period of time in one of many few locations on the earth that has remained Covid free all through the complete pandemic.

“My parents basically said, ‘We think you’re better off where you are in Tonga,'” Hromjak says of the distant island, which stays shut to international nationals.

“I was living with a local family and I met some great people who basically took care of me, so there was no reason to go back.

“Although folks typically say that a number of days in Tonga is sufficient, I spotted there is sufficient to see and expertise there simply for a month or much more.”

After spending months checking for border status and restriction updates, Hromjak accepted that there was no way he could enter New Zealand, where some of the toughest border restrictions had been implemented, to continue on his round-the-world trip.

The 34-year-old was also made aware that all of the upcoming flights for the trip he’d originally booked had been canceled.

While there was nothing to stop him from continuing on a different route, any trip he embarked on would now be very different to the one he’d envisioned when he first hit the road back in September 2019.

Challenging times

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 go to Mexico, the place restrictions have been relaxed, final October. He’s since visited Ecuador, Chile, Peru and Panama.

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

Although Hromjak has been through several different lockdowns and quarantines during his pandemic travels, he found Chile, where he was required to spend 10 days isolating before being allowed to go out and about, to be the toughest.

“That [visiting Chile] was on my record for many of my life. The restrictions had been loopy, however I simply determined to go,” he says, before pointing out that he didn’t encounter any other foreign travelers during 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 every weekend [a weekend curfew is in place in high risk regions]. I had to get permission to go from one vicinity to another.”

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

“The most striking difference is obviously the amount of tourists,” he says. “If you go to hotspots like Cancun or maybe Cusco in Peru, you will see people.

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

The social aspect is another significant change. For many travelers, making friends and meeting people from all over the world plays a monumental part in their backpacking adventures.

But Hromjak has met few other travelers in recent months, while any type of social gatherings have been few and far between — not that he’s complaining.

“You would possibly see a few lone vacationers from time to time, however I have never 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’d say it would not exist now. But to be honest, it wasn’t actually one thing I used to be doing earlier than.”

Positive reception

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

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

Courtesy Tomas Hromjak

Although he’s found it tough to witness first hand how hard destinations reliant on tourism have been hit by the lack of travelers, he’s been amazed by the reception he’s received.

“The locals are actually appreciating foreigners in numerous locations,” he adds. “They’re actually pleased to speak with guests and ask questions in a real means.”

According to Hromjak, this couldn’t be further away from how things were while he was traveling before the pandemic.

“Back 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 might do no matter they wished. They did not actually respect any native or cultural guidelines.

“I went to some famous places and I did not enjoy it at all because of the massive overtourism and the behavior of tourists.

“People aren’t going to love me saying this. But it 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 different folks [around them] did not matter, the native folks did not matter.”

He would like to think that things might change once the world reopens fully again, but admits he isn’t hugely hopeful that this will be the case.

So for the time being, Hromjak is making the most of being able to visit places like Colombia and Peru with far fewer crowds.

“On one hand, I do benefit from the state of affairs 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, pointing out that he’d been warned against visiting Colombia’s Cartagena because of the crowds, but had a completely different experience when he traveled there in November 2020.

Loss 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

“When I used to be there, it had a variety of vacationers from Colombia, but it surely was undoubtedly not overcrowded and I actually beloved it really.

“Of course, what is sad, and what bothers me, is that a lot of small businesses are suffering. But I feel really happy that I’m able to contribute in some way. I try to go to local cafes and local places and support.”

As one would think about, touring from nation to nation throughout a worldwide pandemic isn’t any simple feat. There’s little room for spontaneity when quarantine, ever-changing restrictions and testing necessities are taken under consideration

“There is way more organization required,” he explains. “If you go somewhere for two or three weeks, it’s manageable to plan.

“But for those who’re going someplace for an extended time and you are not going to the hotspots. It’s troublesome.

“A lot of rules are changing rapidly. And a lot of things get closed at short notice, or the opening times are changing.

“For some parks in Costa Rica or Chile, you must enroll the day earlier than you go due to the constraints on folks coming into.

“So it does require a lot of patience, nerves and improvisation. But I enjoy the challenge in a way.”

He’s additionally discovered it robust to attempt to sustain with all of the completely different guidelines and restrictions in place in separate locations.

“Now it’s not so crazy,” he says. “But half a year ago, the rules were changing in every country every week, in terms of tests, who can visit, which countries are on the red list, which are not. This is the difficult part.”

Hromjak’s vaccination standing can also 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 in a position to 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 in the course of the pandemic has modified Hromjak’s perspective on journey and he is in no hurry to go residence.

Courtesy Tomas Hromjak

But increasingly more nations have been bringing in restrictions for, and in some circumstances completely banning, unvaccinated vacationers, and the record of locations he is in a position to go to is getting shorter.

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

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

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

“From talking to my ex-colleagues, I knew that I wasn’t really missing out on anything in terms of work experience,” he says.

“They [his former colleagues] were at home for a year mostly doing Skype and Zoom calls.

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

For Hromjak, the rarity of traveling around the world during such an uncertain time and documenting his experiences is too good an opportunity to give up and his perspective on the world and travel in general has shifted.

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

“I’m talking to locals, visiting indigenous people and doing all kinds of things I didn’t before. I don`t actually feel like a tourist anymore.”

Top picture credit score: Tomas Hromjak



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