The World Nomads Podcast: COVID-19 Travel News, 17 April

In this episode, the popular travel blogger who caught coronavirus, the hotel chain doing its bit to comfort us and why location won't be as important when choosing accommodation.


Man standing in a street Photo © Supplied Matt Kepnes

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The World Nomads Podcast: COVID-19 Travel News

As governments around the globe impose lockdowns and people self-isolate, coronavirus (COVID-19) has hit the travel industry hard. The World Nomads Travel Podcast has suspended its regular destination episodes and, in their place, offering a round-up of the major coronavirus-related travel headlines, including the future of travel.

What’s in the episode

00:40 Bake Hilton’s famous chocolate chip cookie

01:25 How is Nomadic Matt feeling

04:12 Matt’s health routine

05:25 What’s the one thing Matt will remember to pack when he starts traveling again?

07:19 Getting outside

08:32 Reconnecting

11:50 What does the immediate future of travel look like?

12:29 Next episode

Quotes from the episode

“Nobody is booking their travels, since this all fell off the cliff, around March 11th, 12th, I think I've had five people use my hostel affiliate, booking affiliate link. And a lot of programs have just completely shut down.” - Matt

Who is in the episode

Matthew Kepnes has been traveling around the world since 2006 and runs the award-winning budget travel site, Nomadic Matt.

Christina Tunnah joined World Nomads in 2009 and is Head of the Americas.

Matt and Christina catching up via Zoom

Resources & links

Here is the official Hilton DoubleTree chocolate chip cookie recipe. We’d love to see your baking photos while in isolation. Email

Discover the history, location, and creators of street art.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and World Nomads Travel Insurance Coverage

Travel safety alerts.

In self-isolation? You can put your time to good use practicing your travel writing skills

You can get in touch with us by emailing

We use the Rodecaster Pro to record our episodes and interviews when in the studio, made possible with the kind support of Rode.

Kim: In this episode, the popular travel blogger who caught Coronavirus, the hotel chain doing its bit to comfort us, and why location is no longer important when it comes to accommodation.

Speaker 2: Welcome to the new World Nomads podcast. We'll be keeping you up to date with travel alert, and sharing some uplifting news and views, to inspire you and keep you smiling.

Kim: Hi, it's Kim and Phil with you. Matt Kepnes, Phil has been an inspiration to thousands of travelers as Nomadic Matt, so it came as a shock to us in the travel industry, when he was diagnosed with Coronavirus. That chat shortly, but Phil, have you got some travel headlines?

Phil: Of course I do, Kim. Look, DoubleTree by Hilton has unveiled its recipe for their famous chocolate chip cookies. I've actually had one of those. I've stayed in a DoubleTree by Hilton. They're not bad, I have to say. And look, they're saying in these anxious times, a cookie can bring a moment of comfort and happiness and-

Kim: Yes.

Phil: And an extra layer on the hips. But there you go. We've spoken a lot about virtual tours, and if you're into street art, you can explore the stories behind the art, with audio guided tours and online exhibitions, from around the world, offered by the Google Cultural Institute.

Phil: That other giant of tech, Apple, has launched a tool that reveals how our behavior is changing around travel, and it's using its maps app, and it covers major cities and national figures for 63 different countries.

Kim: So what's the point of that? Is that to let governments know that people are doing the right thing?

Phil: Yeah, I think so. As well, if you have a look at the graph they've got, you can see that use of public transport, and driving, and walking, is way down, which you can only from that, infer that people are staying at home as they should.

Kim: Good one. Now speaking of technology, in an episode coming up, how they're using it in South Korea, amid the pandemic. But in the travel world, he's known as Nomadic Matt, an award-winning writer, and founder of TravelCon. So it came as a shock when he was diagnosed with coronavirus.

Phil: Yeah. Look, World Nomads Head of Americas, Christina Tunnah, caught up with him, post-diagnosis, I have to say and they kept the distance, to find out how he is.

Matt: I'm good. I am now 12 days out of... I'm symptom-free for 12 days. So, I mean, that's pretty good. It means I'm okay.

Christina: Do you have a sense, when you look back, because you are always on the road, of potentially where you might've been exposed?

Matt: Yeah. And they say the average time is about six days from contact, to infection, to symptoms. So my guess is that it's probably New York.

Christina: So, and that's unexpected too. I think a lot of, especially in the early days, a lot of travelers, or people paying attention to the story, which is the whole world, might have been surprised at that. But obviously now in hindsight, it might not be so surprising that it was New York. Was there anything, when you think back about that potential, that you think, "Oh, maybe I could have done differently?"

Matt: I mean, clearly at some point I messed up. I was trying to be really conscious, I didn't shake anyone's hands. I was always Purelling, and washing my hands even more so, than I normally do. But at some point, I must've just touched something. Touched my face. I mean like, "Ah, messed up."

Christina: Yeah.

Matt: You touch your face so often, you don't really know, and having a mask really showed me how often I touch my face. So there's probably some time where I was on the subway, and I just picked it up. And I think it's true for so many people. You don't know how often you touch your face until you realize, you have a mask on and you're like, you keep touching the mask. And you're like, "Oh yeah, I really touched my face so often."

Christina: Have you gotten ill before on the road? And what's your typical health routine, or the rituals that you take when you're on the road?

Matt: I've gotten sick on the road before. Mostly, I had the flu on since Spain. That was terrible. I also got sick in Romania too. That was also terrible. But, a lot of just foodborne stuff. I have a sensitive stomach, so I end up getting, usually food illnesses, more than anything else. I try to be conscious about washing my hands and using Purell. I think after this, I probably will be even more conscious, and I think if anything comes from this, I feel like the world itself will be a lot more conscious of hand sanitizing, and germs. So, that'll be good all-around because, if everybody's conscious of germs, we reduce the likelihood that someone's going to spread it from A to B, because they're washing their hands more.

Christina: Do you think that when people take to the skies again, and on the road, that there will be a change in traveler behaviors, or even in your own, in terms of, will you curtail certain things that you do? Or how do you think that you'll pass through all of this in your future travels?

Matt: I would say one thing for me personally, I will probably bring more wipes with me, to wipe down public counters, as well as airplane seats.

Christina: When you think about it, I know, I think about it when I'm on a plane, I do wonder like, "Oh, what was on this tray before I put my sandwich on it?"

Matt: Yeah. I mean I've seen some pretty gross trays. I actually, I'm a nervous flyer, so we had some turbulence once, and I grabbed the seat, and I was like, "What am touching?" And someone had stuck gum on the hand rest, on the bottom side, and I was like, "Oh, that's gross."

Christina: Oh dear.

Matt: I feel like a good benefit could be that, maybe people will just be less gross in general, as we realize just how widespread germs can, and how easily transmittable they are.

Christina: Yeah. Yeah, Absolutely. I think there's a heightened consciousness across the board. How have you been spending your time?

Matt: I have been reading a lot of books. I spend way too much time on Twitter. And I've been writing a lot. Being home, and 24/7, has really allowed me to catch up on a lot of website maintenance, and article updates, that I had been delaying for a while. So that really kept me busy for the first few weeks. Now I've just been reading a lot, catching up on movies. You'd be surprised, the days passed pretty quickly. I mean, it's already noon, it's like, "Wow. Halfway through my day." And then I haven't been able to go outside, because of the whole, coronavirus thing, but I'm finally allowed to go outside now. This week I do plan to go for a walk, and start taking regular walks, like an hour a day.

Christina: And will you walk differently? Will you have a face mask? Is that mandated by local ordinances, or are you feeling...? You're probably feeling a little sensitive to passing something on that might be residual. Or how will you go about your outdoor life?

Matt: Well, they don't really have any mandated laws for masks here. But I have one, thankfully I still have, when I went to Taiwan. So, I'll use that mask that I got from Taiwan when I go around, at least for the time being, because it's not good forever. But I will generally stay away from people.

Christina: Yeah.

Matt: I have been symptom-free for long enough, that I no longer think I'm contagious. But I think, everybody is social distancing. So, I'll avoid people, and they'll avoid me. And...

Christina: Now, I've found that I've actually spoken and video chatted with more people, friends that I haven't been in touch with for years, let alone months, and it's been a really interesting, positive, side effect of all of this, is that I do feel actually that I've rekindled a lot of my friendships. Have you had a similar type of reconnection with folks?

Matt: Yeah. I've been Zoom chatting with people a lot and calling people a lot. Probably have a Zoom call, once or twice a day, with friends, in the evening. So... And just texting tons and tons of people.

Christina: Clearly the travel industry is in a free fall, very comprehensive travel bans and quarantines, impacting everybody. How has it impacted you, your site, whether it be sponsorship, ad rev, or affiliate earnings? How are you pivoting to weather this?

Matt: Well, I've at least seen a drop in everything, from traffic, which is probably down 80, 85%. I just stopped looking, it was so bad. At this point, it doesn't even matter. To, new email signups are down, and to, revenue to being down. They're basically like 90, 90 something percent. I mean, I just stopped looking. I mean at this point, it just doesn't matter anymore.

Christina: Yeah.

Matt: Nobody is booking their travels, since this all fell off the cliff, around March 11th, 12th, I think I've had five people use my hostel affiliate, booking affiliate link. And a lot of programs have just completely shut down. Do you know what I mean? Momondo has shut down, Kayak has shut down. Who else? This tour company in New Zealand has shut down. And so a lot of the programs are just, they're just not even doing sales. I mean, looking at where we're doing right now for insurance, I had sold one World Nomads policy in six days, in April.

Christina: Yeah.

Matt: So I mean, everything is just on hold. You just got to ride out the storm until probably June, when people start booking again and just be ready to welcome everybody back.

Christina: Now, you mentioned hostel booking, but it also triggers the thought of, you have a hostel in Austin, don't you?

Matt: Yes we do. We're shut down. So [inaudible]

Christina: When you start up again, will there be new operational changes that you'll make to how you run it, in terms of, maintaining, or else washing any fears that a guest might have around been in a public space?

Matt: As a small hostel, I mean, we only have 15 beds. It's pretty easy. I don't think people are too worried. Our dorms are pretty small too, but we have a volunteer staff, and we scrub down the hostel top to bottom every day, already. So, I think seeing that makes it easier. I think maybe we'll do more cleans, and have hand sanitizer available, as well as just wipes around. We probably won't make too many changes, simply because we were already mopping, wiping things down, cleaning, changing beds, changing sheets, and towels, every day.

Christina: I wanted to turn to your audience as well. We talked a little bit about you, your business, but what are you hearing from your readers?

Matt: Yeah, they're mostly just at home waiting it out. When it comes to travel, right now they're the reading a lot of books, and they're looking for inspiration to keep that wanderlust going. But nobody wants to book travel anymore, even for fall. I think the biggest fear is, how long will this last? As everybody comes out of this, are countries going to let people back in right away? Am I going to need some sort of documentation that I'm COVID free? And so I think the uncertainty around that, is what's keeping people from even booking travel in the late summer, in the fall.

Christina: And so, you're obviously keeping an eye on everything. You're voraciously absorbing all the different information sources that are going to help you with your thinking, and how you advise your readers. I mean, how do you advise? Are you advising caution? What kind of counsel, and at what time do you think you feel comfortable to start encouraging travel again?

Matt: Yeah, I've told people that I would probably start looking at where things are in mid-May. I mean, there are some rumors coming out of Europe right now, that I've been reading, where some places are already talking about slowly unlocking at the end of the month. But I think by mid-May, you'll get a real sense of how things are going to unfold, and then you can start booking your travel. But, I mean, I think right now, while countries are in lockdown, there's really nothing you can do.

Kim: Thanks, Matt and Christina. And to Matt's point, Phil, about cleanliness, which he really honed in on. Singapore has launched a scheme to audit hotels nationwide and give them a clean bill of health. But they've got to meet seven criteria, and that includes, where feasible and applicable, have processes in place to check temperatures and look out for symptoms of tenants, contractors, and suppliers. So forget about location, location, location. It's how clean, how clean, how clean.

Phil: Look in our next episode, we met a man who started a business, speaking of hotels, recycling hotel soap, to give to disadvantaged communities. And look, if you've got a story on travel, please do get in touch at

Kim: Bye.

Phil: Bye.

Speaker 2: The World Nomads podcast. Explore your boundaries.


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