- Insider spoke to five travellers about why they decided to remain abroad instead of flying back home.
- As the coronavirus halted a majority of air travel, many people vacationing had to make quick decisions that could have long-lasting impacts.
- The biggest risk most travellers saw was being in an airport and on an aeroplane for long periods of time. That risk, for many of them, didn’t seem worth getting back home.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Travellers around the world have rushed to get home.
While many travellers packed onto remaining flights in a quick attempt to get home, others decided to stay put.
They hunkered down in foreign countries for the indefinite future.
Insider spoke to five travellers about how they made the decision to stay abroad instead of returning home.
Almost all of the travellers we spoke to pointed out that the situation was changing so quickly that it was hard to determine the best decision.
Without commitments back home, Samantha Tropper knew she was safer staying in place
Samantha Tropper, a 28-year-old living in North Carolina, left for a backpacking trip through South and Central America on January 2.
Tropper had planned to be abroad for about three months. While she was in Ecuador, the country closed its borders on March 12 for an initial 15 days.
She couldn’t go to her next destination, Peru, and it came down to a decision of whether to stay in Ecuador or attempt to get back home.
At the bed and breakfast where Tropper was staying, she watched guests struggle to leave.
Ecuador had halted public transportation, which made the three-hour bus ride from Baños to the airport nearly impossible. Tropper had also heard rumours about flights being cancelled and travellers getting stuck in the airport. If her flight was cancelled, she wouldn’t have a place to stay since rules had passed that didn’t allow hostels or hotels to take in any new guests.
“The airport seems like a great place to catch the coronavirus,” she told Insider.
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“I was looking at the other people here trying to get back to France and all of their hair pulling and hassles,” she said. “Then I looked outside at the river and the beautiful place I’m staying, and I said, ‘Wait, why am I in a rush to get home?'”
So Tropper decided to stay. It quickly became clear that the quarantine would last longer than 15 days, but she didn’t have any commitments back home, she said.
Tropper works at a bar, which is currently closed due to the coronavirus. Her only commitment is graduate school, which starts in August.
Tropper said she feels lucky. She has a great place to stay, and she worked out a deal with her bed and breakfast hosts. She’s helping out with projects, and it’s helping her pay for the stay.
“I’m comfortable here. I know that the embassy and the US ambassador were saying, ‘Take these flights or be prepared to be there for an indeterminate amount of time,'” she said. “But even though that’s not easy to deal with not knowing what’s going to happen, I still just felt like it’d be a better option to stay here.”
Now, as the bed and breakfast’s only guest, she spends afternoons in the hammock reading and building friendships with her hosts.
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Tropper said she “feels incredibly safe.” In her province of Ecuador, Tungurahua, there have been 22 coronavirus cases. As far as Tropper knows, none of those cases have been in Baños and everyone is taking it very seriously. Most of Ecuador’s coronavirus coverage has focused on the western city Guayaquil, where the virus is rampant.
“People aren’t scared, I mean, they’re scared enough to be cautious, but they’re not terrified enough to be hoarding,” she said.
That’s one trend she’s noticed: The community she’s living in Ecuador has calmly come together in an effort to stay safe.
“They have real dangers here that you don’t have in the US,” she said. “They’re over here like, ‘This is not my first rodeo.'”
Leslie Aimone felt she was at greater risk of contracting the virus in California than in Costa Rica
When Leslie Aimone travels, she doesn’t typically travel for just a week or two, but instead for a month or longer.
So when she planned her trip to Costa Rica, it was originally a two-month trip. Now it’s looking like it could be much longer.
Aimone left January 31 and had a flight scheduled to her home in California for April 3.
Toward the middle of March, things started quickly changing, she said.
“The gravity of the situation changed daily,” she told Insider. “It went from gosh, there might be some travel restrictions, to no tourists allowed in the country at all in Costa Rica.”
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The country declared a state of emergency and shut down its borders to foreigners and non-residents on March 18.
Her friends could no longer visit her, but she said she didn’t feel the situation was serious enough to go back home yet.
When she did consider trekking home, it didn’t seem worth the risk.
Aimone is in Playa Zancudo, a remote area of Costa Rica. In order to get back to San Diego, California, she’d have to spend hours on a bus to San Jose and fly through the Los Angeles International Airport to get to her home.
“Even in good times, it’s so easy to get sick on planes,” she said. “They’re cesspools of germs.”
Aimone noted that when she made the decision, it seemed more lighthearted and something that would only last a few weeks.
She soon realised that she could be looking at staying in Costa Rica for months. The last flight that Aimone was aware of left March 31. Many airline carriers don’t plan on resuming flights until early May, according to The Tico Times.
“I think it’s the right decision,” she said. “I don’t think any decision is going to be a perfect one.”
In Playa Zancudo, people are taking it seriously, she said. She’s staying in a little cottage by herself at an off-season rate.
But even in her short time there, she’s seen the community rally together. One woman has offered to do grocery shopping, while another local is 3D printing masks.
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Aimone helped create a Facebook group so everyone in the town could stay connected.
“It was really exciting and heartwarming, and even how much they have welcomed me,” she said. “It’s a good thing to see come out of all of this.”
Colombia’s healthcare system was ranked higher than the US and played a factor in Leigh Lagrosa’s decision
When Leigh Lagrosa left for Colombia on February 8, the coronavirus wasn’t on her radar.
She knew about the virus, but “not nearly enough for me to reconsider this trip,” she told Insider.
Her trip was originally planned for just three weeks. She met her father in Cartagena, Colombia, and then explored the Amazon.
On her last day in the Amazon, she found a sick kitten and decided to extend her trip to rehabilitate the animal.
“I’m in between jobs right now, and I have a lot of flexibility and money saved and a really big heart. And I can’t leave this kitten to die,” she said.
So she brought the cat with her to Bogotá, Colombia, and she cancelled her flight from Bogotá to Florida and from Florida to New York.
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Lagrosa said she’s always wanted to spend time in a Spanish-speaking country to improve her language skills.
The kitten was the convincing factor.
Lagrosa decided to stay put. President Trump then made the announcement about closing the United States border, and Lagrosa realised things were getting more serious.
She reached out to friends and family for advice, and everyone told her to stay in Colombia.
“I just decided that I didn’t feel that travelling through such major airports at this time, especially New York being one, that it was a good idea,” she said.
Back home in New York, Lagrosa lives with her mother and stepfather who are both in their 60s. Her mum has an autoimmune disease.
“I had more than myself to consider,” she said.
So she made the decision to stay in Colombia. She met another American in Bogotá who had a spare room in his apartment.
She said, so far, everything is tame in her area. There had been no major outbreaks in Bogotá, Colombia, at the time of writing, and the country as a whole has around 1,500 confirmed cases.
Colombia’s government has made early precautions to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, and Bogotá has been under quarantine since March 20.
“I feel safer here now,” she said.
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Lagrosa is also comforted by the fact that the US government is still having weekly humanitarian flights.
“I made a decision that, if things are bad in the US and they’re good here, it’s better to be here,” she said. “If things are bad in Colombia, I’d rather be in a bad version of the US than a bad version of Colombia. But right now they’re not.”
So she plans on staying put.
“When I was trying to make the decision, I looked up the healthcare in Colombia, and it’s ranked higher by the World Health Organisation than the United States,” she said. Since hospitals haven’t reached full capacity and Lagrosa is in a relatively wealthy area of the city, she believes she’d have access to healthcare if she were to get sick.
But for now, she’s hunkered down with her cat Rio and taking the situation as it comes.
“All I can do – all anybody can really do – is take this day to day or week to week.”
Ani Lacy and her nomadic family felt safer quarantining in place
Ani Lacy and her 13-year-old son flew to Mexico on February 1 for a worldschooling conference.
Lacy and her son are worldschoolers, which means Lacy homeschools her son from locations around the world.
When they arrived at the conference in Playa del Carmen, the plan was to attend the conference and travel throughout Mexico until April. That quickly changed as the coronavirus caused Mexican states to close their borders to travellers.
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Lacy had to make the decision to stay in Playa del Carmen or head back to her family and friends in Michigan.
The tourists and snowbirds in Playa del Carmen quickly left. “I would say about 80% of the people that were here two weeks ago are gone. It’s like a ghost town,” she told Insider.
Lacy’s first consideration when the situation worsened was how she would get back to her extended family’s home in Michigan.
Mexico closed its borders on March 30, and the individual governors shut down their states’ borders.
That meant that Lacy’s flight out of Marino, Mexico, was impossible to get to. Instead, she’d now have to fly out of Cancun. But the only flights out of Cancun had layovers in Dallas, Texas, where travellers from Europe were coming from.
“So at that point, I decided, we’re just not going to expose ourselves to an airport right now.”
Lacy found an apartment and rented it through June.
But for Lacy and her son, life has always involved travel. Lacy is an artist specializing in ceramics, and her son is homeschooled.
Lacy didn’t have anything she needed to get back to, and if she did decide to go home, she’d have to stay with a family member or friend, and possibly infect them with the coronavirus.
“We’re safe here. We’re healthy. We have our food delivered,” she said. “My thought process is to avoid airports until things are more under control.”
Lacy said she’s also heard rumours of airports cancelling flights last minute, which has left travellers stuck in the airport.
Lacy said she doesn’t feel trapped or stuck in Mexico because flights haven’t completely stopped and there’s a shared border.
Lacy said everyone in her community is being very friendly, and she hasn’t experienced any xenophobia as other travellers have reported.
Meanwhile, her expat community has grown even stronger. The group has formed a buddy system to check up on one another, and all emergency contact information has been shared.
“I definitely feel that looking back, this is something that our group of people has gone through at this time that no one else can understand,” she said. “I think that it’s a shared trauma, and in the way that shared trauma can bond you, I definitely think I’ve gotten closer to some of the people that I met during the worldschooling conference.”
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Lacy has started a routine to cope with the lockdown. Each morning she makes breakfast with local produce and makes sure to exercise.
So far, she has no regrets about her choice to stay.
“I absolutely think I made the right decision,” she said. “I talked to my family and friends back in the United States and they all agree that I’ve made the right decision.”
Shani Kotecha’s working holiday was a lifelong dream
Shani Kotecha arrived in Canada in January on a working holiday visa.
Travelling from her home in northwest London, she had planned to travel in Canada for a bit, and then settle down and find a job.
Kotecha had made friends with one of her host’s neighbours, so when she learned about the virus, she reached out to him to see if she could stay with him indefinitely.
Kotecha has been with that family for about two weeks now, but after three or four days, “I started questioning it,” she told Insider. “I think that’s when the flights started disappearing as well.”
Kotecha was faced with the decision to head home and abandon her plans to move to Canada or stay put and attempt to find a job and housing.
“In terms of the decision process, I would just say that it was just about 10 days of crying and talking on the phone to everyone I could think of,” she said.
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“There are so many aspects to it, there’s family involved, there’s work, there’s the safety, there’s general mental health,” she said.
Kotecha said it came down to the fact that she was ready to build a life in Canada. If she left for home, with fewer and fewer international flights, she wasn’t sure when she’d be able to come back.
Additionally, she knew that going home meant potentially contracting the coronavirus.
“I thought I’ll stick it out, and if I went home, I’d be putting myself at risk, and I’d be putting my family at risk,” she said.
Kotecha, who is in the field of marketing, said the job boards are still full of open positions, and once she has a job secured, she’ll be able to afford a permanent home.
Until then, “I’ve decided to stay, but there is one foot out the door,” she said.
Kotecha still has access to flights home, which has provided her with a sense of reassurance.
“I’m trying to hold out, at least until things calm down a little more because it’s a dangerous time to fly,” she said.
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Kotecha has been following lockdown rules, only leaving for walks. The friend she’s staying with goes grocery shopping, and everyone is abiding by the quarantine rules.
While Kotecha’s confidence in her decision changes daily, sometimes hourly, she said she’s using advice from friends, family, and the government to stay for now.
“There is no right decision, which sucks, or there might be a right decision, but I’ll only realise in a couple of months,” she said.