Sooo… these have been quite an eventful few weeks, haven’t they?
And clearly this isn’t over yet. (Far from it.)
I didn’t post much here or on social media since the pandemic hit, as I felt that you may have other things on your mind than travel. I mean, who wants to hear from a travel blogger when you’re dealing with lockdowns, major disruptions to your life, and worrying about loved ones?
But I thought now might be the time to share a little about how I experienced the recent events and what I’m doing during this period of isolation.
It feels like ages ago, but until March 12 I was still travelling. I’d been spending 10 days backpacking on Cape Verde, a trip I’d planned long ago and decided not to cancel.
If you haven’t heard of Cabo Verde, that wouldn’t be surprising. Many travelers would probably struggle to point it on a map!
This archipelago off the coast of West Africa is not that well known (particularly among English-language travelers), but let me tell you, it’s amazing. My trip there was honestly one of the best I’ve done — and I can’t wait to tell you much more about it in the future.
I first went to Mindelo, a city bursting with culture and where you can hear live music every night.
I then went hiking for many days on the island of Santo Antao through epic volcanic landscapes, valleys filled with banana, mango, and papaya trees, and via donkey paths along rocky cliffs to isolated coastal towns. Santo Antao is a hiker’s paradise — I hadn’t felt so excited about hiking since maybe Nepal a few years ago.
I kept hiking until my feet were all blistered and I stumbled around the hostel like a pirate with two peg legs.
Unable to hike more, I looked for a rental car in the small town I stayed in. I found a car rental offered at the local grocery store — an amusingly small but surprisingly capable Suzuki Jimny. I drove it to the far side of the island through incredible volcanic landscapes, taking on passengers along the way and learning a bit about the local culture.
I headed for a remote fisherman’s village, but then the paved road suddenly stopped, as it just hadn’t been finished yet. I continued in 4-wheel drive along rocky dirt tracks and finally drove on the beach itself to reach the town of Tarrafal, a small settlement under a big gnarly cliff, alongside a beautiful black sand beach dotted with colorful fishing boats.
In this tranquil end-of-the-world place, I felt a million miles away from the current crisis.
Cape Verde was just pure adventure. It made it easy to ignore the coronavirus for a while. You’d hear it talked about occasionally on the radio, but 98% of the time I was just happily in the travel bubble.
That changed as soon as I got back to my home in Lisbon. I went from hiking through beautiful landscapes and things feeling very normal to scenes of hoarding at my local supermarket. It was all a bit surreal.
As lockdowns were now on the horizon, I stayed in Lisbon and prepared for an extended time at home. My girlfriend who’s been working in Seville came back to Lisbon so we could isolate together.
The first week of self-isolation was a little stressful. My thoughts were mainly with my parents, who are older and live in the Netherlands, where the virus was not taken very seriously at first. (I think my parents did, but many in the Netherlands didn’t.)
But it soon got easier to settle into a new routine. I know it’s not been the same for everyone and I’m probably in a relatively lucky situation… but so far, so good.
I’ve mostly been spending more time reading, cooking, and working on future projects. Zoom sessions have been great for keeping in touch with friends around the world, even playing board games over webcam. I help organize meetups for the Lisbon Digital Nomads community, which we’ve moved somewhat successfully online as well. I think video sessions have been amazingly helpful in keeping everyone (at least somewhat) sane. These tools did not exist during previous global crises and I’m thankful we have them.
And there’s been Tiger King, of course. Honestly, it’s trashy as hell, but it’s impossible to stop watching.
This pandemic is obviously leaving a huge mark on the world. I find myself trying to game out how this thing will play out. I’m not sure, but I guess I’m feeling mostly short term negative, long term positive. As one speaker on a podcast I listened to put it: this virus will act as a global vaccination against future crises. I think there will be silver linings that will become apparent later.
But that’s little comfort to us now. Besides the health aspect, there’s the economic one. The pandemic has been brutal to the travel industry in particular. Hostels, hotels, restaurants, and tour guides are facing zero revenues at the moment — and a rebound will surely be slow. Nomadic Matt did a great job summarizing what’s going on in the travel industry. Many people will lose their livelihoods and the coming recession won’t be easy.
My own blog was hit pretty hard too, with a 90%+ drop in traffic and revenues on March 15, though it’s recovering a bit now as some people start to research future trips.
Going to Cape Verde was part of my plan for 2020 to shake things up and go to more off-the-beaten-track places. My next trip would have taken me to Sumatra in Indonesia in April, though I obviously had to forget about these plans. Right now, I’m writing about Cape Verde and some other stuff I never got around to.
I’ve seen other travel blogs pivoting hard during this time, but I’ve mostly chosen to stay the course. I don’t think my blog lends itself well to running a Patreon campaign, nor do I want to start writing only work-from-home tips (it’s just too far outside of my core topics).
In any case, I’m in a fortunate situation, as I can still pay my bills, don’t keep permanent staff, and my cost of living in Lisbon is relatively low. I’m keeping things lean until things rebound. Not everyone will have that luxury and I imagine the next 6 to 12 months will be pretty tough all around.
I’ll probably focus on throwback content and going through my personal travel archives for things I’ve overlooked. (I’m sure there’s a lot; you have no idea how long it takes for a single day’s worth of travel to be processed into content. I feel like I’m perpetually ten steps behind!). Once it’s permitted and responsible to do so, I would visit my family in the Netherlands and maybe do a bit of nature-based travel in Portugal — but it’s still too soon to think about this.
For now, it’s still all about #staythefuckhome until this thing is under control.
I know from my blog statistics that many of you reading this are late Millenial or early Gen-Z, which makes sense as in your twenties is a popular time to go backpacking. I’m a bit of an old fart now (37, geez!) so I remember events like 9/11 and the 2008 financial crash quite well. Both stopped everything in their tracks for many months and the mood was pretty glum, but… things picked up again too. I know that eventually, it will be the same this time.
The world will be different after this, but hopefully — and someday not too distant — we can go explore it once again.
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