(CNN) — After years of working in the enterprise, up-and-coming photographer Tomas Hromjak decided it was finally the right time to do the one-year backpacking trip he had planned for years. did.
Hromjak from Kosice, Slovakia, quit his job and bought a round-the-world ticket. This allows him to visit destinations such as New Zealand, Australia, Los Angeles, Colombia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Bolivia and Germany.
In December 2019, Hromjak embarked on an international trip he had dreamed of for as long as he could remember.
But things didn’t go as he had imagined. In just a few months of his trip, Covid-19 began to spread around the world, leading to widespread border closures and national blockades.
Subsequent turmoil has forced him not only to spend more than six months in places he only plans to visit for two weeks, but also to abandon part of his trip.
However, Hromjak has worked hard while other travelers may want to pack up their luggage and go home. Last month he marked a two-year journey.
And far from being disappointed with the situation he ultimately faced, Hromjak is one of the few backpackers to visit some of the world’s most unique destinations when many travelers were locked out. I feel very lucky.
“I see the world from a completely different perspective,” he told CNN Travel in Guatemala. “For me, traveling is about experiencing and learning something new.
Tomas Hromjak set out on a one-year backpacking trip in 2019 and is still on the road.
Courtesy Thomas Hromjak
“I think this is a unique opportunity, but was it always an easy opportunity? No.”
The first part of his trip started easily. He traveled to Asia for several months and checked many countries from his list, including Singapore, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar, before the story of a particular virus that appeared to have occurred in China reached him.
“Some backpackers have stopped traveling, but I’ve become persistent, especially because this was something I’ve always wanted to do. [just] Three months.
“So I was like,’No way, I’ll never give up.'”
He vowed to continue until things “really, really serious” and flew to Tonga, a Polynesian country of over 170 South Pacific islands, with a plan to stay for 15 days in March 2020.
However, shortly after he arrived, the archipelago was closed and Hromjak spent 222 days there.
But he says he was very happy to stay after learning that the strict regulations that Slovakia declared a state of emergency in the same month came home. In one of the few places in the world where Covid remains free throughout the pandemic.
“My parents basically said,’I think it’s better to be in Tonga,'” says Hromjak, about a remote island that remains closed to foreigners.
“I lived with a local family and basically met wonderful people who took care of me, so there was no reason to go back.
“It’s often said that a few days in Tonga is enough, but I’ve found that it’s enough to easily see and experience for more than a month.”
After spending months checking border conditions and restriction updates, Hromjak continued his round-the-world trip, admitting that there was no way to enter New Zealand, where some of the strictest border restrictions were enforced. rice field.
At the age of 34, he also noticed that all future flights of the trip he originally booked were cancelled.
There was nothing to prevent him from continuing another route, but the trip he embarked on was very different from what he had imagined when he first hit the road in September 2019. increase.
Hromjak has continued his journey by visiting places like the Qullqa Canyon in Peru and recording his experience.
Tomas Hromjak / Provided by: Tomas Hromjak
He unexpectedly decided to head to Mexico, where regulations were relaxed last October. Since then, he has visited Ecuador, Chile, Peru and Panama.
“There were some very difficult situations,” he admits. “But so far, everything is working. Now it’s not where you want to go, it’s where you can go.”
Hromjak experienced several different lockdowns and quarantines during his pandemic trip, but felt the toughest in Chile, which had to be quarantined for 10 days before being allowed to go out.
“Or [visiting Chile] I’ve been on my list for most of my life. The restrictions were crazy, but I decided to go, “he said, pointing out that he had never met other foreign travelers during the two months he spent.
“Some people couldn’t believe I was really a tourist. Due to all the restrictions, the place I visited was arguably the most challenging place.
“There was a curfew every weekend [a weekend curfew is in place in high risk regions].. I had to get permission to go from one area to another. “
Not surprisingly, he finds that the experience of traveling just before and during the pandemic is dramatically different, and he is in an unusual position to experience both.
“The most notable difference is clearly the number of tourists,” he says. “If you go to a hotspot like Cancun or Cusco in Peru, you will meet people.
“But when traveling a little further away on a secluded road, there is almost no one there.”
The social aspect is another important change. For many travelers, making friends and meeting people from around the world plays a monumental role in their backpacking adventures.
However, while Hromjak has rarely met other travelers in recent months, he rarely complains about social gatherings of all kinds.
“Occasionally you may see some lonely travelers, but I’ve never met someone who traveled and got stuck before a pandemic,” he explains.
“If someone is willing to travel now, they shouldn’t expect it to be like it used to be. I don’t think that mix between travelers and backpackers now exists. But , To be fair, I’m doing it before it wasn’t what I actually did. “
Hromjak rehearsed his wedding when he traveled to Cartagena, Colombia in November 2020.
Courtesy Thomas Hromjak
He found it difficult to directly witness how difficult tourism-dependent destinations were due to the lack of tourists, but he was amazed at the reception he received.
“The locals are really grateful to foreigners in many places,” he adds. “They are really happy to talk to their visitors and ask questions in a real way.”
According to Hromjak, this couldn’t be far from the situation when he was traveling before the pandemic.
“At that time, especially in Asia, people were fed up with tourists, and I fully understand why,” he says.
“I experienced this in Vietnam. [it seemed like] People thought they could do whatever they wanted to do. They didn’t really respect the local and cultural rules.
“I went to some famous places but didn’t enjoy it at all because of the large tourist behavior and tourist behavior.
“People wouldn’t like me to say this, but it was like them [some of the tourists’] My top priority was to take a selfie in the best place, but no one else was involved.Other people [around them] It didn’t matter, the locals didn’t matter. “
He wants to think that things may change if the world reopens completely, but he admits that he doesn’t expect much to do so.
So for the time being, Hromjak takes full advantage of being able to visit places like Colombia and Peru with much less congestion.
“On the other hand, I enjoy this situation because I can actually go and experience a place that probably won’t come back that day,” he admits, deciding to visit Cartagena, Colombia for the crowd. He pointed out that he was warned. But when he traveled there in November 2020, he had a completely different experience.
Loss of spontaneity
Visited Decielt de Ratatacoa in Colombia in December 2020.
Courtesy Thomas Hromjak
“When I was there, there were a lot of tourists from Colombia, but it was definitely not crowded and I really really loved it.
“Of course, the sad and worrisome thing is that many small businesses are suffering, but I’m really happy to be able to contribute in some way. Go to a local cafe or place to support.”
As you can imagine, traveling from country to country during a pandemic is not an easy task. Considering quarantine, ever-changing limits, and testing requirements, there is little room for spontaneity.
“We need more organizations,” he explains. “If you go somewhere for a couple of weeks, you can make a plan.
“But if you go somewhere for a longer time and you don’t go to a hotspot. It’s difficult.
“Many rules are changing rapidly, and many are suddenly closed or business hours are changing.
“Some parks in Costa Rica and Chile require you to register the day before you go due to admission restrictions.
“So it requires a lot of patience, nerves and improvisation, but I enjoy the challenge in a way.”
He also finds it difficult to keep up with all the different rules and restrictions that are in place at different destinations.
“It’s not that crazy now,” he says. “But six months ago, when it came to testing, the rules changed every week in every country. Who can visit, which countries are on the Red List, and not. This is a difficult part.”
The vaccination status of Hromjak is also beginning to affect his travels. He was absent for two years and was unable to get vaccinated because he did not spend much time in one place.
Backpacking during the pandemic changes Hromjak’s view of travel, and he doesn’t rush home.
Courtesy Thomas Hromjak
Hromjak aims to remedy this by going home on Christmas to meet his family and arranging for vaccination while he is there.
However, although he is keen to spend his vacation with his loved ones, Hromjak does not intend to stay in Slovakia for a long time.
In fact, he says, by fully understanding how the lives of his family, friends and ex-colleagues have changed, he has only decided to continue his journey.
“By talking to a former colleague, I realized that I didn’t miss anything in terms of my work experience,” he says.
“they [his former colleagues] I mainly talked to Skype and Zoom and stayed at home for a year.
“I don’t know if I want to go back to my previous job or when, so I’m thinking of continuing for a while.”
For Hromjak, traveling around the world and recording his experience during these uncertain times was a great opportunity to give up, changing his view of the world and travel in general.
“I was flying too far from one place to another,” he says. “But now I’ve slowed down, and I’m also experiencing more than you can’t find anywhere else.
“I talk to locals, visit indigenous peoples, do things like never before. I don’t really feel like a tourist anymore.”
Top Image Credit: Tomas Hromjak