How to be (safely) nomadic this year

TL;DR Nomads are ready to start up their travels again. It’s possible. You’ll just need some creativity, flexibility, and diligence.

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It seems almost impossible that, as remote work has exploded overnight, nomading is more difficult than it has been in years. While the effect of COVID-19 on travel is not surprising, it certainly is not a welcome change for a community that values freedom of mobility above all else.
Most nomads were faced with difficult decisions at the start of the pandemic.
Do you evacuate home, or stay abroad? There was and is no correct answer.

Whats important moving forward is that no matter where you are, nomading in 2020 is still possible. It may be different, and almost certainly is not what you thought it would be a year ago, but it can be done.
You’ve likely seen photos and videos of friends abroad and thought, ‘how is that possible?’ As the first company attempting to build a social safety net for nomads, we’d like to dive into some of our learnings and observations of how our community continues to thrive.

Let go of FOMO

Regardless of where you are from or where you’ve recently been, it’s no longer true that you can go wherever you want. It’s best to bite this bullet early. What’s potentially more hurtful, is that you can’t go where everyone else is.
If you had your sights set on a tropical beach, it can be hard not to envy the people who were in Thailand before the lockdown hit, and remain there now. If you had plans to road trip through Europe, it will be tempting to desperately wish you were an EU citizen allowed to flow freely through the Schengen zone.

That’s the ‘fear of missing out’ talking. Let go of it. It’s now out of your control, and this can honestly be a blessing. One of the difficulties of having ultimate mobility freedom is that you always want to be everywhere, but inevitably can’t. But just because you have 5 kinds of chocolate to choose from instead of 50, doesn’t mean you will enjoy the selection less. In fact, there is evidence to back up you {might enjoy it even more!}

It’s also key to remember that whoever (and wherever) you are, there are advantages you hold not accessible to others. Stuck in the U.S.? You have a truly insane amount of territory to explore by car. Are you from a country that traditionally didn’t have access to as many countries as say, the UK? You likely now have options they don’t! Cut yourself some slack, and enjoy the options around you. Which brings us to #2.

Expand your horizons

Flexibility has always been one of the most impactful tools for the nomad community, and that’s more true now than it ever has been. The difference is the need for… let’s call it internal flexibility. It’s time to think outside the box and consider nomad destinations you never have before.

If you are feeling a bit stuck or roadblocked, here are some things to consider.

If you’re in the U.S., that might mean inside your own country exploring different states. If you’re in the Schengen Zone, it might mean neighboring countries. When you have the ability to travel the entire world, it can often be shocking what you miss in your backyard.

At the beginning of the pandemic, pretty much everyone was locking down. That’s no longer the case. It’s now more of a tide coming in and out, depending on where the virus is fluctuating. Check out tools like SafetyWing’s own Flatten the Curve to read specific restrictions, both in terms of where you can go and what it will be like when you get there. There are some pretty stellar green countries (completely open for tourists), and a ton of them in the yellow category (open for tourism, but with restrictions.) In fact, if you can find a place with partial restrictions, it will likely be a better experience than a country fully open to everyone.
Just make sure to check the details and stay safe (more on that below).

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Follow travel communities and groups

There are a BUNCH of nomad Facebook groups and quite a few that are related to COVID travel. The nomad community is wildly resourceful, and it’s honestly better to get first-hand experience information than reading speculations off an article which may or may not be correct. Post your questions, or even just where you are, and ask for recommendations.

Research diligently

This hopefully goes without saying, but make sure you do diligent research and triple check your sources. If you can, try to get confirmation from an embassy. Make sure the information you are getting is both accurate, reputable and recent. Now is not the time to make assumptions, particularly with regard to travel.

Remember that most places you can go to will still require additional protocols to let you in. It seems like the negative PCR test is the new travel visa for most places.
Maybe where you want to go will let you in after a 10–14 day quarantine period. That might be worth it if you are planning on staying somewhere for a few months! It’s worth taking some time to consider what could go wrong. What if you arrive at the airport and actually test positive? You might end up being forced into a hotel for 2 weeks at your own expense.

Again, Flatten the Curve is a great resource for this, as it not only tells you where you can go but what kind of contingency scenarios to look out for. There are other tools and governmental resources with all kinds of information that will help you. It might not be the most fun, but as the saying goes: hope for the best, expect the worst.

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Planning for plot twists

Speaking of planning, there is actually quite a lot you can do to both minimize the chances of something going wrong, and being prepared for when they do. These are some things we’ve learned over the past few months, but I encourage everyone reading to leave any additional tips they have in the comments!

If you look on any flights, you’ll notice some good deals for plane tickets months out from now. Do not buy these. Frankly, no one knows what will be happening in a few months. Gone (for now) are the days when you can plan your trip way ahead of time to maximize discounts. Unfortunately the same goes for hotel bookings.

The travel industry is suffering pretty hard right now, and that means you likely will not be getting any refunds (particularly for accommodation). Many providers have wised up to this and realized that people will favor them if they offer liberal cancellation policies. Check this specifically if you’re renting through a platform like Airbnb, or a third party travel provider like Kayak. If they don’t have a cancellation policy, make sure it won’t be devastating if you never see that money again.

Any complexity you add to your travel adds risk. This includes layovers, driving through borders, and coming into contact with hotspots on your way to the destination. Avoid these if at all possible. If you are an American citizen trying to get to Serbia, shell out the extra cash for the direct New York to Belgrade flight instead of saving money with a London stopover. This is not the time to bargain shop for travel.

Protect yourself and others as you travel

For most of us, traveling has never been wildly comfortable. Being on a plane for 10 hours can only be so much fun when confined to a chair. Hauling luggage, dealing with sleep deprivation and unexpected delays never helps. It’s no surprise that these discomforts will be magnetized now. Still, as a community, we need to accept additional minor discomforts to keep ourselves and those around us safe while traveling.

Most airlines and airports will have strict guidelines. Even if they don’t, be diligent about taking the usual precautions (even if no one else is).

  1. Wear a mask at all times in airports and especially on the plane
  2. Wash your hands frequently
  3. Carry hand sanitizer with you (don’t rely on everywhere having it)
  4. Try to fly with airlines using social distancing measures.

It’s never a good idea to travel (or stay in place, for that matter), without insurance. This was true even before the pandemic but is infinitely more true now. On top of the ordinary things you should consider in terms of coverage (activities you do, places you are going, etc.), you need to consider what happens if you actually test positive for COVID-19. Even if you’re young, there is still a chance you might need hospitalization.

There are now several insurance companies claiming to “cover” COVID-19, but in reality, what that means is that if you test positive they will repatriate you to your home country. That might be fine for you! But if you are truly nomadic, or simply want treatment in the country you’re in, you’ll want true coverage.

As of August first, SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance offers just that. Additionally, if you’re a full-time nomad looking for comprehensive health insurance, our new product Remote Health offers this as well (and much more).

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Treat your destination as your home country

The nomad community is one of the only groups still traveling around the world. That’s because, for us, the world is our home. Many of us don’t have places to hunker down. Because we are staying mobile, we have a great responsibility to keep the communities we travel to safe. It’s important to take this responsibility safely.

Just like you wouldn’t want a traveler visiting your parents or family and bringing the disease to them, it’s important that we as a community avoid this as well. It’s become clear that not only is it possible for asymptomatic people to spread the disease, but it’s actually where much of the spread is coming from. People travel and visit places, either bringing the disease with them or taking it back home to their communities.

A good rule of thumb is just to treat the location you are going to as if it were your home country full of your friends and family. If you are coming from a hot spot, consider attempting to self-quarantine for a few weeks before going out (even if you aren’t required to). Continue to follow normal guidelines, as well as strictly adhere to the protocols of individual countries. Always err on the side of caution.

We have a big opportunity to step up and show the world how to travel responsibly. ❤

Written by: Sam Claassen, Head of Growth.

Written by

Building a global safety net that offers travel medical insurance and global health insurance for remote companies and individuals.

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