Updated: March 19, 2020
It’s March 14, 2020 and the world is in panic due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Countries are closing schools, canceling events and even closing their borders entirely. This virus first emerged in late December, 5 months into the world trip that we’ve been saving up for and planning for so long. At first, it seemed like things were pretty well under control. Most infections were at ground zero, while there were only a sprinkling of cases elsewhere in the world. We continued our trip, while keeping an eye on the developing situation, but were ultimately confident that we could finish what we started.
On March 11, we were telling our families that everything is fine; we’re continuing our trip because everything is pretty calm where we are and the countries we’re in have things under control. On March 12, we read the news that countries are taking extreme measures to stop the spread of this virus. Our next destination, Cambodia, shut down all schools after a single case of the Coronavirus. What would they do if they had two or even three cases? Italy quarantined their entire country—Denmark shortly followed suit and other countries are discussing the same things. Air travel from Europe has been restricted entirely for many countries.
What’s going on? How did this go from “everything is fine” to “the WHO has declared this a pandemic” in just 24 hours?
It’s March 14, 2020 and we’re writing this from a rather expensive last-minute AirBnB in Kuala Lumpur, unsure if we’ll be able to make it home.
Yesterday, we were supposed to travel to Cambodia from Vietnam by bus, but were forced to change our plans because there were too many risks in not doing so. Would Cambodia let us in since Denise is a European citizen? If not, would Vietnam let us back in since Denise is a German citizen whose tourist Visa has now expired? Would we get stuck on the border with nowhere to go? We had to act fast.
Our original flight back home to Germany was scheduled for April 23, 2020 from Kuala Lumpur. Amid the current situation, Emirates has generously offered fee-free flight changes. We decided to take advantage of this. We booked a last-minute flight from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam to Kuala Lumpur, but for some reason, we weren’t able to reschedule our flight home. The website wasn’t working properly and we couldn’t reach the Emirates customer support staff, as they are totally overwhelmed with customers in similar situations. So we had a flight to Malaysia, but still no earlier flight home.
At midnight on March 12/13, we were finally able to go through the Emirates website and reschedule our flight. The first date we tried that worked was March 16 and given the problems we had with the website throughout the day, we didn’t want to risk not getting a flight at all by backing up and trying to check different dates. We booked it.
We went through an empty airport in Ho Chi Minh and took an empty flight to Kuala Lumpur. We made it without any problems, so we were confident that everything was going to be fine and we’d make it home. However, a lot is happening over a short period of time. As of today, Germany has decided to close all schools for a month. But what’s next? Will they shut down borders and close airports too? That seems to be the next step for most countries. Now we’re reading that Emirates is also cancelling flights due to the Coronavirus. With so much happening over the course of a single day, anything is possible over the course of 2 days.
It’s March 14 and we’re supposed to fly home on March 16. Will we make it? Honestly, we don’t know.
Update: On March 16, the Malaysian government announced new restrictions preventing travel abroad. Lucky for us, these restrictions took effect on March 18th, meaning that we were able to make it home safely. However, Germany also announced that they will no longer allow non-EU citizens to enter the country shorty thereafter. That begs the question for us, if Ryne would be allowed to enter, since he’s a non-EU citizen with a residence permit and who is married to a German citizen. Again, we were lucky because this announcement came after we had already passed through customs.
In short, we’re “safe” in the new epicenter for the COVID-19 outbreak and 11 people in our small village are infected.