The traveler who’s spent the complete pandemic backpacking
(CNN) — After working in a company job for various years, budding photographer Tomas Hromjak determined it was lastly the appropriate 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 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 might bear in mind.
Nevertheless, issues did not fairly prove how he’d imagined. Only a few 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.
However whereas different vacationers might need been tempted to pack up and go house, Hromjak has persevered. Final month, he marked two complete years on the street.
And much 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 am seeing the world from a very completely different perspective,” he tells CNN Journey from Guatemala. “For me, touring is about experiencing and studying one thing new.
Tomas Hromjak set off on a year-long backpacking journey in 2019 and continues to be on the street.
Courtesy Tomas Hromjak
“I believe this can be a distinctive alternative. However has it essentially at all times been the simple 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 international locations, 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.
“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 street 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 discovered 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 the earth that has remained Covid free all through the complete pandemic.
“My mother and father mainly stated, ‘We expect you are higher off the place you might be 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 mainly took care of me, so there was no motive to return.
“Though individuals typically say that just a few 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 standing and restriction updates, Hromjak accepted that there was no means he might enter New Zealand, the place a few of the hardest border restrictions had been applied, 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 completely different to the one he’d envisioned when he first hit the street again in September 2019.
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 to date, all the things has labored properly. Now it isn’t a lot about the place I need to go, it is about the place I can go.”
Though Hromjak has been by way of a number of completely 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 declaring that he did not encounter every other international vacationers in the course of the two months he spent there.
“Some individuals could not imagine 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 straight earlier than and in the course of the pandemic to be dramatically completely different, and is within the uncommon place of getting skilled each.
“Probably the most putting 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 individuals.
“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 pals and assembly individuals 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 would possibly see a few lone vacationers every now and then, however I have never met anybody who was touring earlier than the pandemic and caught round,” he explains.
“If somebody is keen to journey now, they should not anticipate 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.”
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 arduous 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 comfortable to speak with guests and ask questions in a real means.”
In response to 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, individuals had been fed up with vacationers, and I utterly perceive why,” he says.
“I skilled this in Vietnam the place [it seemed like] individuals thought they might 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 get pleasure from it in any respect due to the large overtourism and the habits of vacationers.
“Individuals aren’t going to love me saying this. However it appeared like their [some of the tourists’] primary precedence was to get a selfie in the perfect spot and everybody else did not matter. The opposite individuals [around them] did not matter, the native individuals did not matter.”
He want to suppose that issues would possibly change as soon as the world reopens totally once more, however admits he is not massively hopeful that this would be the case.
So in the intervening time, Hromjak is profiting from having the ability to go to locations like Colombia and Peru with far fewer crowds.
“On one hand, I do benefit from the state of affairs as a result of you’ll be able to really go and expertise some locations which you in all probability would not again within the day,” he admits, declaring that he’d been warned in opposition to visiting Colombia’s Cartagena due to the crowds, however had a very completely different expertise when he traveled there in November 2020.
Lack of spontaneity
Visiting the Desierto de la Tatacoa in Colombia in December 2020.
Courtesy Tomas Hromjak
“After I was there, it had a number of vacationers from Colombia, nevertheless it was undoubtedly not overcrowded and I actually cherished it really.
“After all, what is gloomy, and what bothers me, is that a number of small companies are struggling. However I really feel actually comfortable that I will contribute not directly. I attempt to go to native cafes and native locations and help.”
As one would think about, touring from nation to nation throughout a world pandemic is not any simple feat. There’s little room for spontaneity when quarantine, ever-changing restrictions and testing necessities are taken under 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 if you happen to’re going someplace for an extended time and you are not going to the hotspots. It is troublesome.
“A number of guidelines are altering quickly. And a number 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 individuals getting into.
“So it does require a number of endurance, 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 completely 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 principles had been altering in each nation each week, when it comes to checks, who can go to, which international locations are on the crimson checklist, which aren’t. That is the troublesome half.”
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 capable of get vaccinated.
Backpacking in the course of the pandemic has modified Hromjak’s perspective on journey and he is in no hurry to go house.
Courtesy Tomas Hromjak
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.
In actual fact, he says studying the total extent of how life has modified for his household, pals 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 fascinated about persevering with for some time as a result of I do not know if or after I need to return to what I used to be doing earlier than.”
For Hromjak, the rarity of touring around the globe throughout such an unsure time and documenting his experiences is simply too good a chance 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 individuals and doing all types of issues I did not earlier than. I don`t really really feel like a vacationer anymore.”
High picture credit score: Tomas Hromjak