When to travel is to live, then what do you do if travel becomes impossible for a while? COVID-19 messed up a lot of things in this world, including many travel plans. Fellow travel addict and blogger Elizabeth van Tilborg – van As from The Netherlands was forced to cancel several planned trips due to Corona (COVID-19), but also discovered that an emptier agenda has its advantages. An interview to learn more about the travel plans, tips, experiences and struggles of this experienced travel enthusiast.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
Hi! So my name is Elizabeth, I am 38-years-old. I live in a small village in the south of The Netherlands, together with my husband. We got married 8 years ago. For my profession I upholster furniture. Besides that I have a travel blog called Elizabeth on the Road.
When did you start traveling?
When I was still in high school, I guess I was about 15-years-old, I had a history teacher who was originally from Indonesia. This man was a true storyteller who immediately made me day dream about Indonesia. At that same time I also joined a pen-pal program and I started to write with a girl from Indonesia, super coincidentally! I told myself: as soon as I get the opportunity, I will travel to Indonesia. So I got myself an after-school job and started to save money for the trip.
Finally, at the age of 21, I made my first 4-month solo backpacking trip to Indonesia, where I visited my pen-pal. On that same trip I also went to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. The travel bug hit me hard! I enjoyed myself so much, saw so many beautiful things and met so many great people. I got hooked on travel and since then, I usually travel about 3-6 times a year, from long weekends up to three weeks’ trips.
What were your best trips so far?
This is a question that I find hard to answer! So far I have traveled to 82 countries. It is not easy to pick just one favorite. I have a top 3 actually, in random order. Two-and-half-years ago, I made a trip to Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo in Africa. It is still one of my best travel memories ever that I saw gorillas in Congo DR in their own natural habitat. I also made an epic hike to the Nyiragongo volcano. To see the gorillas for real was such a special moment for me that I decided to get my best shot printed as photo wall paper. Now I wake up every morning in the jungle with the gorilla family! I also love making photo albums of my travels.
It was such a dream come true to look a gorilla in the eye, face-to-face in the African jungle.
I also had a great experience in Iran, where I traveled around with my sister. We did not get to see all of the sights that we wanted to see, but the people we have met during this journey were so nice. The people we met really made the whole trip to a big success and a lovely memory to cherish.
Together with my husband I traveled through Japan for two weeks in 2018. He is a judoka and he wanted to visit the country of origin of his favorite sports. He did a judo training there, which was really cool to watch. I find the Japanese culture truly unique and fascinating. I really loved how tidy and neat the country is. And because we traveled there in the autumn, we got to see the beautiful colorful trees that are characteristic for that particular season in Japan. Definitely recommended!
What is/are your favorite destination(s)?
Thailand was one of the countries that I visited during my first solo backpacking trip back in 2003. As soon as I set foot across the Thai border, I instantly felt at home. I loved the food, the beaches and the nature. Since then, I re-visited Thailand five times, it is quite addictive haha The islands around the Andaman Sea are my favorites. The beaches are characterized by beautiful white sand and steep lime stone cliffs, absolutely fantastic! For sure Thailand is one of those countries that I will continue to visit in the future.
A country that should be on top of everyone’s bucket list is Italy. Not only there are stunning beaches, cultural history and beautiful nature, but also many wonderful hidden gems to discover. I could literally travel to Italy every year and still find new, unique places. And of course the food. I especially love lasagna and panna cotta, yum! We also have friends in Italy, so that is always a good excuse to travel to Italy as well.
Another place I am likely to visit on an annual basis are the Alps. About four years ago, my husband and I got hooked on a mountain sport called ‘klettersteig / via ferrata’. This can be done around the Alps in France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Via ferrata is a protected climbing route with a steel cable to protect yourself from falling down. The route contains ladders and metal rungs attached to the rocks. It is a unique experience to do these climbs and it really does not require a lot of experience since you can start at different levels. The only thing you should not have is fear of heights!
To what extend did COVID-19 mess up your travel plans this year?
Unfortunately I had to cancel my trips to Bulgaria and Ecuador due to Corona this spring. Last March my husband and I were scheduled to visit my brother who was staying in Bulgaria during the winter season. Ecuador was another trip that would have involved visiting a family member abroad. My sister and her husband were traveling all around South America and we were planning to meet up in Ecuador in April.
Of course I understood that it was not possible to travel there then, but it made me so sad! I was really looking forward to see them and travel around Ecuador to see some new sights together. Especially Galapagos was really a bummer to miss. I heard it is really beautiful there! Hopefully we can re-book this trip once COVID-19 is under control.
Where did your most recent trip go you?
On my last trip before Corona hit Europe I went on a solo backpacking trip to Guatemala and El Salvador during the Christmas holidays. I was eager to climb to volcanoes Acatenanago and Santa Elena, for the views and the experience. I found it easy to travel around Guatemala and El Salvador by public transport. Before departure I only booked accommodation for the first couple of nights. Each day I decided what I wanted to see and do. I really enjoyed the city of Antigua, the markets near Lake Atitlan, Tikal and the food market in Juayua. In El Salvador I also did a waterfall tour, which actually made me climb up a waterfall! This ‘forgotten’ country in Central America is definitely worth a visit!
What do you miss most about traveling as you can/could not due to Corona?
What I miss the most are the new experiences. For example I like tasting new food when I am traveling. Traveling abroad takes me out of my daily life routine; work, eat, sleep, repeat. Perhaps I miss the planning of a trip even more, having something to look forward to. Usually I spend quite some time trying to find cheap flights or great package deals, searching online for places to see or activities to do at a particular destination. Because that currently does not make much sense and the uncertainty of when we can travel again, I guess it does not help much against the withdrawal symptoms. After all, I am a sort of travel addict, travel is my passion! There is not a day I do not think about it. Now I just have all those hidden gems saved on my laptop, in the hope that I will ever be able to see them. Currently my bucket list is only getting longer!
Where would you like to go to once the travel bans are lifted?
Once the borders are re-opened within the EU, I will probably will go to Austria to go hiking and climbing with my husband. And I would also love to visit my friends in Italy. I think those are the most realistic travel options for now. In a way feels a bit like a compromise, because deep down in my heart, I would dream about traveling outside of Europe. But as long as that is not safe yet, I will stick to Europe, which also has many amazing places for me to discover and to re-visit.
Any new insights you had during this period of staying at home a lot?
To be honest, I think my agenda was too busy before COVID-19. Nowadays my agenda is emptier, which gives more space for hobbies and spontaneous things. I already knew hiking and gardening makes me relaxed and happy, so that is what I did a lot during the past months. And I will continue to do that post-Corona. The Netherlands has beautiful nature that I enjoy on foot.
I now realize that before Corona, I tried to squeeze in too many appointments with friends and family, mostly during the busy weekends.
What’s still on your travel bucket list?
Ethiopia, Madagascar and Papua New Guinea are high on my bucket list. Madagascar because of the diverse wildlife, such as chameleons and monkeys, and the gorgeous nature. Really a special island I think.
Since a long time I am fascinated by the tribes of Papua New Guinea. I really would like to go there and learn more about them. That would be such a cool trip!
What triggered me mostly to add Ethiopia to my bucket list were some pictures of the Danakil depression and the volcano Erta Ale. I would like to go there and see it with my own eyes. Also, in Ethiopia there is a lot of nature and cultural diversity, which I would like to experience.
How do you think travel will look-like post-Corona?
If someone would have told me about a year ago that in 2020 there will come a period of time when there would be no flights because of a pandemic called COVID-19, I really would have laughed in their face! I just could not imagine this would ever happen. And honestly, I am still having a hard time to get my head around the idea that our travels really are and will be affected by Corona. But it is undeniable.
Obviously, things will be different than what we were used to. Looking back, I realize how privileged we were, traveling so much, with just a minimum of limitations and boundaries. Being Dutch and affluent, there were just a few countries that were off-limited to travel to. Now since COVID-19, we all have to be more aware of where we can go, and which countries and areas will have to wait to be explored by us.
My guess is that flight ticket prices might rise and some countries might not open up for tourism for a longer period of time due to Corona.
Right now I cannot really tell whether my post-Corona travel behavior will really change or not. I am waiting to see the first borders to re-open. It looks-like I will be going to the Alps this summer. Since it was quite hassle to get my money back for the canceled trips, it made me more aware of for example the booking conditions and where/how to book. In fact, I am still waiting for some vouchers.
And I really do not want to book another trip that might get canceled soon after, or at least minimize the risks for that to happen again. Initially I will probably choose some of the ‘safer’ options, like countries where I have been before. So I will know a bit better what to expect, instead of visiting a country that is completely new and unknown to me.
Any travel tips you would like to share with us?
In The Netherlands, most people have about 20 or 25 holidays per year, so about five weeks in total. But if you work four days a week, like I do, you can take advantage of those extra days you do not need to work. It is easy for me to switch work days, so I can take a full weekend off and it does not cost me a single vacation day! And use the national holidays wisely. You can use those extra days off for a long weekend away, or to extend your trip for example.
Another tip is try to travel as light as possible! With most airlines you will need to pay for baggage nowadays. The rules vary per airline, but you can always carry a (small) backpack on board as hand luggage. A small backpack is easier to take with you and it will not be too heavy to carry in case you need to walk for a couple of miles. I would suggest to take max 2 or 3 sets of clothes with you, and to make use of the laundry service along the way. In most countries you can get your clothes washed within the same day for only a few euros or bath!
People do laundry all around the world, so do not worry about taking too little clothes with you when traveling.
When I travel to a destination where it will be mostly warm and sunny, I will take 8 kg maximum, including my DSLR camera. To a colder climate, where you need a thick jacket, long pants and sweaters, try to pack max 12 kg.
Tips for solo traveling
If you would like to start traveling solo, be open minded and just do it! It is not as scary as it may seem, you see I survived them all! Probably it will feel a bit more comfortable and easier if you book at least the first couple of nights before departure, so you (and your loved ones back home) know in advance where you will be going. A hostel is a great place to meet other travelers. And try not to plan too much. Prioritize what you really want to see and do, and focus on those. Everything else is a bonus.
Thank you very much Elizabeth for this lovely interview, your tips, stories and thoughts! I recognize a lot. Let’s hope we can all enjoy traveling again soon, but also learn from the months when we could not. because of Corona
The copyright of all the photos in this article belongs to Elizabeth van Tilborg – van As, unless mentioned otherwise.
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