The World Nomads Podcast: COVID-19 Travel News, 6 May

In this episode, Italy finally on the move, a New York-based travel writer battles coronavirus, and finally some good news from China.


Woman standing against a wall Photo © Meryl Pearlstein

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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 but continuing to engage with the travel community by reflecting the way they are experiencing the virus.

What’s in the episode

00:58 Rules for airlines in the United States

02:05 Cambodia takes a hit

03:00 News from China

04:10 Why Eileen didn’t want to go back to the US

06:29 Documenting lockdown in Paris

08:14 Slowing travel down

10:20 Exposed to coronavirus in New York

14:41 The million-dollar question

17:17 Back on the cocktails

Quotes from the episode

“I was reading about grief at the beginning about how we're grieving the old world and society we used to know. And I was like, that's a bit much, but now I've really… I think that's what it is. I go through these weird cycles I've never experienced before.” – Eileen

“Will we be able to do international travel anytime soon? Probably not. I think people will look closer to home initially. They'll feel more comfortable riding in their cars, maybe even renting an RV.” - Meryl

Who is in the episode

Eileen Cho is a Korean American journalist and photographer based in Paris. Eileen is currently in lockdown amid coronavirus. Follow Eileen on Instagram and read her article on Business Insider reflecting on her emotions, reading, writing, and making a food diary while self-isolating.

Meryl Pearlstein is a journalist, passionate about food and travel. In this episode, Meryl, who is also involved in travel PR shares with us her COVID-19 diagnosis and thoughts on the industry post-pandemic. You can also follow her blog, Travel and Food Notes and her first armchair travel article, Celebrate Stay-at-Home Cinco de Mayo in Style

Resources & links

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: Hi it’s Kim and Phil with those topics and a journalist in lockdown in Paris but first Phil, Italy – what’s happening.

Phil: Look while social distancing and wearing masks is required Italy has said ciao to lockdown, well at least most of the restrictions, they are in 'phase two' of lockdown where they can leave their homes for less urgent reasons, including exercising in parks and visiting relatives.

Kim: What other headlines have you got,

Phil: It is now mandatory to wear a face mask on most US airlines, with American Airlines, United, Delta, and Frontier Airlines joining Jet Blue in the order…

After initial saying face masks provided no protection, the CDC now recommends their use to prevent people who are infected but don’t know it from spreading coronavirus.

Speaking of American Airlines - they have posted a whopping $2.2 billion loss for the first 3 months of the year. But it isn’t the end for the airline, they say they have $6.8 billion in liquidity and government aid will raise that to $11 Billion by the end of the second quarter.

One of the world’s most popular tourist sites has had a 99.5% drop in visits in April.

Cambodia’s Angkor Watt normally takes $7 Million a month in visitor fees, but with just 650 visitors last month the takings were a paltry $30,000

Finally, some GOOD coronavirus news… Beijing’s Forbidden City is open to the public for the first time since January 25th.

Visitors get their temperature taken and they have to show that they are healthy via a verification app on their phone.

Kim: Eileen Cho is a journalist and photographer who prior to the pandemic would travel nine months out of the year. She’s currently in lockdown in Paris.

Eileen: I've lived here for the past five years and so, it feels like home. And because I'm American, I didn't want to be in the US with the healthcare that they have. It sucks because most of my family are stuck in Seattle and it's been just a mess.

Kim: It actually worries you, does it?

Eileen: Yeah. So Seattle was one of the first places where it was pretty bad or the Seattle area. So I have neighbors who are doctors who have, they were the first doctors to fall ill. And I was back home in February visiting my parents and also doing an assignment, and I had an eye infection and I tried to go see a doctor and the price was just exorbitant. It was $1,200 just to get a doctor to look at my eye and get a prescription. So I just can't even imagine what it's like to deal with COVID right now as an American.

Kim: So you're in lockdown, which means you can't even go to restaurants and enjoy your food?

Eileen: No. So everything is closed except for the essentials. They're quite strict about it because of the cops ... I live in the center of Paris and the cops have been active, I guess checking with people. I went out yesterday for the first time because my laptop screen shattered over the weekend, which is so unfortunate. It's never happened once in my life. And Apple France has no way of fixing it. So I had to find a third-party person to fix it, and I went out for the first time yesterday and it was terrified.

Kim: Explain that. What was terrifying about it?

Eileen: I'm reporting a lot of stuff for US news source, news sites right now and so I'm really up to date with everything COVID. And so I was reading a report from Finland about how even six feet might not be enough of a distance. And so I had to bike four kilometers away yesterday to drop off my laptop and people outside were not respecting social distancing. A lot of people aren't wearing masks. There are parts of the city with half-open produce shops and it was filled with people.

Eileen: I was biking to dodge other people on the streets. A lot of the cars have stopped respecting driving rules. I don't drive, I've never driven in my life so I don't know what they are, but I know for a fact you should not be U-turning wherever you want. So I was on my bike, dodging cars as well. It just seems like a very foreign world outside. It's like the society I don't recognize anymore.

Kim: Now you're also a photographer. Are you documenting any of this? Not only for your personal history but for back in the US?

Eileen: So I did a story a few weeks ago for Business Insider about the first few days of lockdown. So yes, I was documenting actively. I'm still shooting from my window. I don't feel comfortable at all going outside. I have severe asthma. So even before this started, I'm always sick with like my lungs. I just don't want to be outside right now. But I'm trying my best.

Eileen: I have a food diary with photos going on of the foods I'm eating at home. I'm documenting life in my 50-square-meters apartment as much as I can. But I've also felt this crippling anxiety. I'm trying my best to balance it out. And I've been reading a lot about why creatives don't feel very productive right now or anyone, actually. I was reading about grief at the beginning about how we're grieving the old world and society we used to know. And I was like, that's a bit much, but now I've really, I think that's what it is. I go through these weird cycles I've never experienced really before.

Eileen: The other part is that my partner and I are on lockdown together and he's a very logical person and he's just doing what he has to do, like going to work from our couch every day. He's just like, "It's out of my control." Whereas, I'm just spiraling on my own.

Kim: How do you think travel is going to change Eileen?

Eileen: The weird thing is that I travel so much, so in the past three or four years that I've graduated from photography school, I was traveling nine months of the year. And it's weird because I have a background in conservation biology, so I'm all about being eco-friendly. I was just kind of grossed out by how much I was traveling. Also, where the travel world was heading towards. It was just too much. Like all these people taking weekend trips. For me, traveling is about really understanding a place and it requires time. And so I told all my editors that I would not be traveling as much this year. And so for me, it feels just like the perfect storm. I now don't have to explain to everyone why I'm not traveling as much.

Eileen: I think moving forward we won't be traveling as much. We'll be traveling in a more thoughtful way, which is a good thing, definitely. I'm worried about all the people I've written about who work, who make their income off tourism. That's one of the scariest things for me. And I have lots of family also still in Korea. And Korea is ahead of everyone else with the pandemic, I would say. And even they have it mostly under control, people aren't moving as much. So I think we won't be traveling for a good year until the virus is totally controlled, which means we have a cure or a vaccine.

Phil: Thanks Eileen in the last episode we heard from Rhiannon on how South Korea was managing the virus and doing a good job based on a law that was passed after the MERS outbreak in 2015 which put a system in place system allowing the government to track and trace every person carrying the virus to prevent a full-scale outbreak.

Kim: Meryl is a travel writer and involved in travel PR. Meryl caught the coronavirus and agree (obviously) it’s not a good time for the industry.

Speaker 1: You could certainly say that, Kim. Oh, my goodness. I really couldn't have foreseen this coming. Everything was so perfect. I was about to head to Croatia in Montenegro and then to do another trip to Morocco. My schedule was packed, and all of a sudden, pause, hit pause, stop. And who knows when it will resume?

Kim: And put on hold because of the pandemic that is coronavirus, which you caught.

Speaker 1: Yes, I did. I did. I live in New York City, which is, as you know, the epicenter of really what's going on with coronavirus. There was an estimate made by our mayor that literally 100% of people in New York City have been exposed, so I wasn't so surprised when I caught it. In fact, there were probably five, six, seven, eight different places I could have caught it, just being on the subway, being outside, in the grocery store, going to Broadway, you name it. You name it. We lived like sardines. So yeah, I had it.

Kim: Were you unwell? And I don't say that to be flippant, but there are cases where people have tested positive and haven't even known they've had it.

Speaker 1: Right. Initially, I actually thought I had a hangover. This is really funny. We were having cocktails and whatever, and I just got a blistering headache. And I said, "Okay, I just drank too much. That's typical." The next morning I woke up and I still had a headache, and I was freezing and I ached everywhere and I had 102 fever. And I said, "Uh-oh, I definitely have this." And that kind of stayed with me for a week. I was miserable. I was achy. I felt like my shoulder was going to crack. And then the worst thing of all... I write about travel and restaurants and food... I lost my sense of taste and smell. Apparently, that's one of the really particular symptoms that coronavirus has. So, it differentiates it from the flu. At that point, I said, "Uh-oh, I have this. I'm done." And then I had to really quarantine myself, be really, really careful.

Kim: So it floored you in so many ways. Physically, took away your livelihood, and then not even able to enjoy food.

Speaker 1: No. And the other downside of it is that I wasn't able to be near my husband. It had been 31 days that I had not been in the same room with him. It was crazy.

Kim: Tell us about that, because out of the two of you, would think that he would pick it up, coronavirus because he's immunocompromised.

Speaker 1: Yes. That is, unfortunately, the case. My husband has been dealing with three different cancers over the past four years, and last year he had a bone marrow transplant, which obviously results in your being immunocompromised and he has to be especially careful. So the irony of it was that we had been very, very careful and done everything that we thought was proper with the sanitization and masks and gloves and wipes, and I had lots of Purell. You name it, I had everything. I bought zinc tablets. I made us take it. All the things you're supposed to do to come out of this okay, and then I got it and my husband actually stayed okay. I mean, he had one little bout of fever and a cough, which freaked me out completely. I said, "Oh my God," because I'm not in any shape to take him to a hospital if I had to, but he stayed fine and I didn't.

Kim: And how was it emotionally to be worried about him, but also apart from him?

Speaker 1: Oh, my goodness. We've been married 32 years and this is the first time... aside from when I travel all the time. We've never really been separated in the same premise. It's crazy. We were communicating by FaceTime up and down the stairs. I couldn't go near him. Fortunately, he has an amazing sense of humor, and he was taking really good care of me and bringing me food and leaving a plate outside my door. It was rather funny. He would knock on the door and say, "Okay, prisoner 9753, breakfast," and that would make me laugh every day and it would help keep me... I stayed very positive, and I really think that that's what helped me get through this.

Kim: Well, you've come out the other side in terms of the virus. What do you think is the future for your industry, as a travel writer?

Speaker 1: The question of the hour, Kim. Oh, my goodness. Well, I think there's going to be a lot of pent-up demand for travel, there's no question because people love to travel. I think what's going to happen is that we're going to have a very different take on how we travel. It's going to take some time for us to figure that out. You know, every day it changes. Will we be able to do international travel anytime soon? Probably not. I think people will look closer to home initially. They'll feel more comfortable riding in their cars, maybe even renting an RV. I would suspect that if people don't own cars, the rental industry for cars and RVs will do very well because people will want to drive maybe three hours if they're too skittish to get on a plane, which I completely understand.

Speaker 1: After 9/11, during 2008 when we had the financial crisis, people weren't flying, for different reasons, so people drove. And I think there's still, at least in the US, we're a big enough country here that there's a lot to explore. This might be an opportunity for people to stay home and look in their own backyard, if you will, and see what's here. In terms of international travel and specific things like flights, airplane travel, that's going to take some time to figure out. We're in the middle of the unknown right now. I hate the word "unprecedented," I'd rather use "unimaginable," but that's where we are.

Kim: What do you plan to churn out in terms of content then?

Speaker 1: I just finished a big article. I was talking to one of my editors yesterday and we were talking about you have to be so careful right now not to be tone-deaf. You don't want to talk about, "Hey, this beautiful resort awaits you," and blah, blah, blah. That's really being tone-deaf and insensitive to people's situations right now. There's a lot of demand for armchair travel, the virtual experiences. So the type of articles that I will be focusing on will be more armchairy, if that's a word. Things to look forward to. Your dream destinations. Another way to look at somewhere you might have visited before. Customs around the world. People still want to know about traditions, and foods, iconic foods. And if I can find some personalities, I would love to find some people doing interesting things in the travel sphere.

Kim: Well there are plenty out there Meryl, who I really enjoyed chatting with and Meryl is also a New York City restaurant reviewer so you can imagine who horrible it was for her to lose her taste. Oh, and she’s back on the cocktails.

Phil: To get in touch and share your story whether business or personal email

Kim: The next episode stuck in Guatemala.


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