How COVID-19 Hobbled These Veteran Globetrotters

Follow three stories of veteran globetrotters as they navigate closures, shutdowns and changing travel restrictions. You’ll see how COVID-19 affects travelers. CONTACT TRACING, is a day-by-day chronicle of how Coronavirus affects travelers. Even the pros.


Collage of three photos of veteran travelers affected by COVID-19

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Sunday, March 1, Tisha Cazel leaves Flagstaff, Arizona, for Lisbon, Portugal. She plans to walk the Camino Portuguese from Lisbon to Santiago in western Spain. The walking journey would take 25 to 26 days. Afterward, she’ll volunteer as a hospitalera, one who welcomes Camino pilgrims and tends their lodgings.  She’s scheduled her return flight back to the US on May 14. But fate will have it otherwise.

As Tisha crosses the Atlantic Ocean on her eastbound Delta flight, Donnie Schumann meets with clients in Marrakech. Donnie lives in sunny Morocco while on business since early February. “At that point, COVID-19 was not as real as it is today,” explains the San Francisco-based business consultant. “Morocco was at low risk.” Still, that was soon to change.

In the meantime, Carla Rupp is in her NYC apartment, packing bags for a travel blogger’s conference in Catania, Italy. She will meet her adult son, Jason Rupp, a YouTube video blogger who is flying into Italy from Indonesia. Jason, who travels the world and films his adventures, had been in Wuhan, China, in December. The travel blogging duo looks forward to hanging out in southern Italy. Unfortunately, their time together will be cut short.

This is How COVID-19 Affected These Veteran Travelers

A map of world countries by policies regarding wearing masks to limit the spread of COVID-19, as of 17/04/2020 | ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Tisha carrying her pilgrim backpack carefully provisioned with food, water and sleeping bag, walks out of Lisbon, calling its numerous paved sections “brutal.” On Saturday, March 7, she reports meeting Giacomo, an Italian chef living in Lisbon. Portuguese hospitaleros denied him entry to pilgrim accommodations because he is Italian. By now, the news is full of the pandemic raging through northern Italy. Tisha starts to experience how COVID-19 affects travel even in rural areas.

Carla deplaned in southern Italy just two days earlier. By Monday, March 9, she and Jason hook up with fellow bloggers, including Alex Kallimanis, to tour Catania and its nearby charming Sicilian towns. That night, fifteen international bloggers gather for dinner at Be Quiet, one of Catania’s finest restaurants. During the pasta course, news of Italy’s nationwide shutdown sends shockwaves around the table. “It was a surreal moment staring at piles of delicious seafood and pasta, after a beautiful day of exploring the area. We all scrambled [on smartphones] during dinner to book flights out of Italy ASAP,” says Alex, co-founder of

TBEX travel bloggers at ‘Be Quiet’ restaurant scramble to rebook flights out of Italy. Photo by Alex Kallimanis of

Caught Up in Italy’s Virtual Quarantine of 60 Million

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Alex makes it out of Italy, but Carla and Jason get caught up in the virtual quarantine of 60 million people in that country. Jason snags the attention of Nightline ABC-TV News with his “Live! Another Day in Lockdown Italy,” YouTube videos. ABC News Report broadcasts interviews with both Rupps.

“We will survive,” Carla proclaims Wednesday, March 11, in the first of three ABC News Reports broadcast internationally. The news story shows Carla and Jason holed up in a Catanian Airbnb. How fast everything shutdown surprises Carla. “We had gelato, espresso and amazing pastries one day. The next day that place on the piazza was completely closed.”

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young man holding hooka sits on rooftop bar surounded by pink lighting on the walls and cityscape behind
Veteran globetrotter Donnie Schumann flies +100K miles per year.

In downtown Marrakesh, Donnie enjoys a rooftop dinner party with friends Wednesday evening. “All of a sudden, all our phones starting going off,” he later recounts. All around the table, smartphones begin pinging. The Moroccan government has banned flights to and from France and Spain because of escalating COVID-19 cases and deaths. Many at the dinner have connecting flights through those countries.

“We were worried because we knew that in Africa, changes and shutdowns could happen fast–within an hour,” reveals Donnie who was starting to experience How COVID-19 affects travel.

Later, Donnie’s pinging phone wakes him at 3:30 am as friends from the US alert him to another setback. That night in Washington DC, President Trump is announcing sweeping travel restrictions on 26 European countries. The limits will go into effect on Friday, March 13 at midnight (GMT.)

Clogged Airlines Customer Service Lines – How Coronavirus Affects Travel

“On Thursday, I couldn’t get ahold of American Airlines,” says Donnie, who keeps calling his American Platinum Service Desk. As a frequent flier, he knows how to use the airline’s website to research his flight options. “I learned that American Airlines had a new partner, Royal Air Maroc, and there was a Sunday flight from Casablanca to Miami.” If he could get a seat on the three-hour train ride through the desert from Marrakesh to Casablanca, he could make that flight. However, a customer service agent needed to book the trip, and he just couldn’t get through to one.

The next day, after being on hold for six hours, he finally gets an American Airlines live voice. “She had no idea of Royal Air Maroc, but fortunately, I made a note of all the flight numbers, and she was able to find it in her system,” explains Donnie.

Racing to Get Out

Sunday, March 15, 2020

As Donnie races for his flight, on Sunday, March 15, the US Consulate in Casablanca, Morocco, issues this notice:

The government of Morocco has announced the closure of all international travel in and out of Morocco.  The US Embassy and Consulate General understand the challenges the rapidly evolving international response to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused US citizens seeking to return to the United States.

Morocco is closing down all its borders and airspace. Would Donnie be able to get out, even if he could get to the Casablanca airport on time?

How COVID-19 Affects Travelers: Pilgrimage Stopped

a mural of dancing abstract ladies with skirts, flowers and the Shell of St James. how Coronavirus affects travel
The mural in the garden at the pilgrims' lodgings depicts the yellow arrow and shell of St James, symbols of Camino pilgrimages.

In Portugal, Tisha’s pilgrimage had been stopped at the request of hospitaleros in Porto. While staying at pilgrim lodgings in Porto, she tries to contact Delta Airlines to change her flight. “I went to their website; it said ‘call this number.’ The number didn’t work,” she says. “The albergue [pilgrim’s refuge] had a big garden, so I bought groceries, cooked dinners and stayed a couple of days.”

“I didn’t know what was going to happen next, but that’s not unfamiliar to me,” articulates Tisha, who is a certified nurse-midwife. “It’s not unfamiliar to me to not know what’s going to happen next.”

In Catania and under quarantine, Carla and Jason aren’t sure what’s going to happen next. “The traveler in me wanted to see things. Yet there was the danger,” Carla confesses. “We saw some life in the piazza with an accordion player singing his Sicilian-style songs. But a few days later, after quarantine, we saw him from the airport shuttle to the Catania airport alone on a sidewalk. It was no longer essential for him to be at the Duomo Piazza square.”

jason and Carla Rupp with face masks - another way COVID-19 affected travelers
Jason and Carla Rupp hoping to get out of Catania before the next shoe drops. Photo by Jason Rupp

To be continued…

Click on the button below for CONTACT TRACING PART II  to see how COVID-19 affects travelers – even the pros.

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18 thoughts on “How COVID-19 Hobbled These Veteran Globetrotters”

  1. Wow, Stacey! This is a cliff-hanger. My neighbors just arrived home a couple of days ago (family with two childreh) after being stuck in South Africa for 2-3 week. And I worried about getting back from Lake Tahoe on March 15! I suspect I’ll never see a refund or insurance reimbursement for my flight to Italy that was to have happened yesterday!

    • I bet your neighbors have some stories to tell! Sorry you had to miss your trip to Italy yesterday. So sad…

      Know your concerns about trip insurance reimbursement. I’ve submitted claims – but need to porvide more documentation. I’m just not sure it is worth my time, so I’ve been procrastinating.

  2. Hi Unstoppable Stacey!
    Thank you for including us in your excellent reporting here in this article. Great writing. It’s so interesting and well-written. Jason and I really had quite an experience, as you described.

    • Thanks for sharing YOUR authentic story, Carla. I was sorry to miss hanging out with you in CAtania – but our time would have been cut short. Stay tuned for PArt II

  3. Great article! Thanks for taking the time to share these stories, Stacey! And for everyone that contributed!

    I ended up experiencing lockdowns in 4 countries – Italy, France, Netherlands and now the USA. Granted, in Italy and France I experienced the early stages of lockdown before stricter rules were imposed – even restricting walks outside!

    It was also surreal to arrive in Amsterdam, a city I previously lived in for 3 and 1/2 years and watch tourists wander aimlessly as there was nothing to do. The lockdown went into effect a couple hours before I arrived. At Schiphol Airport the initial announcement repeated ‘by order of the Dutch government, restaurants and bars are closed. You can drink the tap water.’ Fortunately, they changed the announcement to be more helpful – directing people to the grocery store in the airport. Takeaway marijuana at green cafes in the city was still possible! My hotel (Doubletree NDSM Wharf) was just $60 a night including tax (a fraction of the typical rate) and was serving their breakfast buffet the first morning, before they were forced to only serve room service my final morning before flying home.

    • WOW! What a score on the Doubletree in Amsterdam! So interesting about the shutdowns you’ve experienced in your recent travels. I love the stories that you have put up on your website

  4. This is GREAT, Stacey! It reads like a suspense novel, and of course it’s real….wow! Can’t wait for part 2!
    Thanks for putting this together.

    • Amazing that I could have been stuck in Catania with Carla and Jason. We were even talking about rooming together. Now they are ABC NEWS celebs!

  5. Thank you, Stacey, for the research into all these paintings, and for including the art in your article. That’s probably as close as I’ll get to any of them.

    • Valorie, you never know where your work will take you next. You can find art in the most unexpected – or usual – places. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

  6. Hi Stacey, was surreal, I remember that we start the dinner with everyone wish for the trip on Mt Etna on the morning after, during the fabulous dinner (please kudos also on TripAdvisor for Be Quite restaurant also for the special deal the owner reserve to us) I receive an SMS from the Mayor of Catania “tell everyone to leave immediately, watch TV”. I turned on my burning (for the numbers of message to manage the 50 #tbexsurvivors) iPhone and start to watch the address to the nation of the italian PM, he declared the whole nation a red zone with a strictly lockdown even in Sicily where at that time the situation was really calm. Feeling very stressed I had to attract the attention of everyone and communicate and advice to immediately find a flight to leave Italy asap, including myself as I live in London and need to reach my partner before UK close the borders (Malta close borders during the same night). At that point the situation was really surreal as everyone try to find where to go, meanwhile return back home I arranged an early morning Taxi for Penny and Simon and their dog as was my worry for Penny. Every one flight in some other nations, few directly home, as on that date (9 March 2020) the situation appear critical only in Italy, on March 18 80% of the World was in lockdown, in 8 or 9 days everything changed. Was also very sad for all our sponsors that they try till last minute to organize something to make people enjoy Catania and Sicily. By sure Tbex Europe-Catania will be when restrictions will be lift, there is a tentative date in November that make sense as we can wait till mid/end of July to understand what will happen worldwide and restrictions in place. Anyway a special thanks to all #tbexsurvivors for be in Catania at that time.

    • Wow – what a good perspective to hear it in your own words, Mario. For those of you who don’t know Mario, he is the Catania, Sicily contact for #TBEX20, the travel bloggers convention that I mentioned in my post. The #TBEX survivors were those who were already in country, or who could not change their flights after the conference was canceled. Mario and the sponsors hosted the “Survivors” until the Italian PM declared the unexpected lockdown. Thanks so much for sharing here, Mario. See you in November – hopefully!

  7. Hi Stacey! Thanks for including my journey back to States! Wild to hear how many people across the globe were practically stranded.

    Update: contacted American Airlines to see if they would refund my change fee or give me some other sort of kickback. They denied, even with my status! I informed them I would be taking all my future travels to Delta and SkyTeam. AA just lost my business over that.

    • I am so surprised to hear that American Airlines wouldn’t work with you on this one, Donnie. I am so sorry! I recommend contacting Chris Elliot at Elliott Advocacy to see if he could help.
      I met Chris in Cleveland, OH, at a North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA) conference.

  8. Bonsoir Stacey
    (it’s10pm right now in France, this is why I say “Bonsoir”),
    I really enjoyed these fascinating stories, it’s like reading a good thriller, wondering what’s going to happen next !

    • Bonsoir, Annie. I am so happy that you liked our “Thriller.” I say “our” because there were so many people involved in the story. Dormez bien!

  9. These heart-stopping stories remind us that even experienced travelers can get caught up in the “unexpected” and was a good look at how they problem-solved their way back to safety. Well-written and riveting!

    • Yes, getting caught up in the unexpected is one of the reasons that travel challenges me so … In both exhillarating and debilitating ways. Does your upcoming book describe ways you problem solved your way back to safety?


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