The Coronavirus pandemic hit the world pretty hard. We had just started our world-wide adventure and we had to make a tough decision. This is one of many pandemic stories and why we stayed in abroad in Cambodia during the worldwide pandemic in 2020.
After only 5 weeks of full-time travel and almost everyone else we knew heading home to quarantine for the foreseeable future, we didn’t know what to do. We ultimately decided to stay abroad when everyone else went home.
Luckily for us, Cambodia was incredibly safe throughout the pandemic, and we had some incredible people taking care of us.
This post is about pandemic stories and the reasons we stayed abroad during a worldwide pandemic.
When we arrived in Cambodia, we arrived a day late, cutting our 28-day trip down by one. Not too big of a deal. Little did we know we would end up extending our stay by another THREE MONTHS due to the onset of the COVID-19 Worldwide Pandemic.
Quite frankly, we had heard the whisperings of coronavirus before we left. The first cases at Los Angeles International Airport happened a week or so before we were flying out from there. We felt some public health changes as we traveled through Bangkok, Thailand with temperature checks, hand sanitizing stations, and plenty of billboards and ads.
However, we never thought it would grow into the worldwide pandemic that has since become.
As we continued our travels as normal, things started changing more rapidly. By early March, countries started to close their borders in Europe and eventually in our very own bordering countries.
It was the end of March and it turned out we had a decision to make and quickly: To go home or not to go home.
Here are the most influential of reasons why we stayed:
1. The state of the pandemic in the US
We are originally from the United States, living in San Diego, California before we left to travel the world. So naturally, we would either be going back “home” or staying put for “an indefinite period of time” according to the countless emails we got from the US Embassy.
I think it is safe to say the US was having a particularly difficult time with the spreading of COVID-19. They were certainly not alone in their struggles but given the US or Cambodia were our only two options, we really focused on their policies and statistics.
Our two likely landing spots would be either my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin or Alicia’s hometown of Glendora, California. Both states were on strict lockdown and did not look like they were very close to lifting said restrictions anytime soon.
Also, it felt like the US had gone slightly mad. People were stashing and hoarding everything: toilet paper, paper towels, sanitizer, soap, canned foods, and bottled waters.
Amazon stopped its Amazon Prime 2-Day Delivery Guarantee so they could better fulfill essential item orders. It seemed like the freakin’ Zombie Apocalypse.
Especially when you consider where we were. We were in Cambodia which had not been hit nearly as hard. As of May, there had still only been 125 confirmed cases. In fact, the surrounding countries at large have taken aggressive measures to squash the pandemic.
Add to that, we can walk to the grocery store, which is a stone’s throw away, and buy toilet paper, soap, sanitizer, and canned food (even though it is CRAZY expensive here) anytime we want. And facemasks? Not an issue, $15 for 50 at our local pharmacy.
All in all, we felt much safer when comparing Cambodia’s stats and reality to America’s.
2. We were technically “homeless”
Okay, obviously a very loose definition, but altogether true. We don’t have a lease or a mortgage in the US or abroad. Would our parents take us in? Of course, but two things weighed on us that we could not move past.
First, as we mentioned above, the US was crazy and it was already burdensome to live and to shop as it was. Adding two more people to the equation just places more stress on a home which we would never want to do to our families.
Second, and most importantly, we did not want to risk catching this virus on the way home only to hand it off to our families. It just wasn’t something we could live with.
We could have tried getting a place but we didn’t have any steady income at the time having just started a travel blog (good timing). And Airbnb rates in the states are far different than in Southeast Asia.
3. We were “Unemployed”
Yes, technically we had just started our own business, but as many entrepreneurs know, it is slim pickings in the beginning. We had no income coming in (at all) and we were using our savings.
This meant we wanted to spend as little as possible and we had no location ties. Cambodia is far cheaper than the US’s cost of living made an easy choice on this front. And having location independence actually allowed us to do so.
4. The Cost to Get Home
Since we technically had no income we are always looking for the best economic options available to us. We always shop around for the best value on accommodations, flights, and even restaurants. So a decision to pack up and head back home, a third of the way around the world would definitely need some budgeting. And with the pandemic shuttering all travel, prices were going through the roof.
Flights were looking at a minimum of $2,000 per person, one-way. For a grand total of $4,000 plus 34+ hours of travel with plenty of layovers, we just couldn’t justify the cost. And at the time of this post, the cheapest we could find was a $5,000+ flight and 62 hours of travel that in the end got canceled.
To put that in perspective, our flights cost $620 total ($310 per person, one-way) to get to Southeast Asia back in February. Even better, we used points from our favorite travel card to get free flights with airport lounge access and only a 1-hour layover.
To us, it would have tied up too much of the money we had saved to travel the world which we are still planning to do when it is safe to do so. And that is not even factoring in the fact of the return flight after the pandemic (in a few weeks, right?) which would chew up even more funds.
By staying in Cambodia and spending $600 – $700 on rent per month and only spending money at the grocery store with about $500 per month, we were able to stay in Cambodia for much less than flying home.
5. We Felt at home in Cambodia
Last, but not even close to least, this was our biggest reason for staying. For us, it really started with our hotel, Ananda’s Hotel.
It is owned by a gentleman, Ananda, but here, profits are shared with everyone that works here, a concept we are not at all familiar with coming from the US. The difference? Everybody here takes massive pride in the hotel and the guest experience.
It is not a huge crew and consists of four individuals, including Ananda, Maridette, Vireak, and K.
From the moment we got here, Maridette was beaming from ear to ear and treated us like old friends. She took us for a quick walk around the neighborhood to get us acclimated. When we returned, and Maridette showed us to our room, we found that all of our luggage had been delivered up the stairs for us.
When the borders locked down pretty much everywhere, we had notified the hotel of our desire to stay. Due to a lack of business, and restrictions preventing travelers from coming into Cambodia, they were closing the hotel.
Understanding our situation, they let us stay anyway as the only occupants of the hotel. To make us more comfortable, they brought us a two-burner cooktop, a bigger pan for cooking, a sharper knife, an extra refrigerator, a french press so we could have fresh coffee vs. the instant packs, bigger shampoo bottles, and anything and everything we ever requested.
They even offered to make us food if we ever felt like eating something other than our own cooking. They made us feel like family which was comforting considering how far away we were from our families.