This year has brought about many surprises and has cast the future in shadow and uncertainty for many around the globe. Most people around the world are huddled up at home, only venturing out for necessary supplies or to head to work — for those deemed “essential”. What about those who don’t have a permanent place to call home and rather spend their days traveling from location to location?
What does a day in their life look like during a global pandemic? One such couple, Earth Vagabonds Ted “Tedly” and Ellen Kortan, found themselves seeking respite amongst strangers in the Philippines as the borders and businesses around them began to close.
The Kortans arrived in the Philippines back in November of 2019, with Ted’s mother, Diane, joining them soon thereafter for what was supposed to be a couple of months abroad with her son and daughter-in-law. They had enjoyed several stays on various islands in the Philippines, with no immediate plans to cut their time short even after the virus began to spread. However, on March 27, they were en route to a ferry to take them to their next destination on Boracay Island when the Philippines went into lockdown. While many hotels were not willing to take in foreigners during such an uncertain time, the three of them found a home away from home at Hangout Beach Resort.
Ted and Ellen Kortan are not your average retired couple and are no strangers to being abroad. They recently shared with me via email their thoughts on extending their stay in the Philippines and offered hope and encouragement to fellow travelers about what the future holds.
TA: Tell us a little bit about how you travel and why you decided this was how you wanted to see the world.
The Kortans: During our working years, we discovered how inexpensive vacations could be if we avoided all-inclusives and package “deals” and tourist traps. We figured we could live long-term that same way. So we retired early to travel as slow travelers — renting apartments and “living like locals.” We generally stay somewhere for one month at a time — but not always. It costs far less money if we treat this as a lifestyle instead of a vacation. Our budget is roughly $2,000 per month.
TA: What does a day in this new normal look like for your family?
The Kortans: While under home confinement during our quarantine [at Hangout Beach Resort], we did a lot of reading and played many games of Scrabble. Then, after 14 days, we were allowed to go to a garden up the road and to the beach. We still do a lot of reading and Scrabble, but we can move around more, exercise, go swimming and kayaking. Each family has a pass naming one person who can leave for food and supplies.
TA: What has been the hardest aspect of your current situation to adjust to? The easiest?
The Kortans: Honestly, this is easy. We have it pretty good — much better than so many people on the planet. But for creature comforts, Tedly misses beer — production/distribution has stopped; Diane misses hiking and church; Ellen misses ice cream and New York bagels. Of course, we do worry about loved ones back in the U.S. and stay in touch via video calls. We also have concerns regarding our rental property back home. Thankfully, our tenant paid April rent.
TA: What are you doing to stay healthy?
The Kortans: Our landlady has the garden in a nearby lot. It’s huge. We are active there. We also beach walk and swim and snorkel. Tedly does a bit of jogging and yoga.
TA: Share with us about the relationships you’ve developed with hotel staff and/or local residents, and how this differs from your travels up to this point.
The Kortans: Well, the gardening is one way. It’s actually more like a small organic farm. If we had just been traveling through, we wouldn’t have pitched in to help overturn land and remove tree limbs, et cetera. Also, we’ve gotten to know the owner and her dogs and the owner’s friends. A few of her friends are staying on the property during this crazy time. We really lucked out — these are wonderful, open-minded people.
The rest of the neighborhood still seems unsure about us. All the other tourists are long gone. They also speak very little English, wear masks, and practice social distancing. Hopefully, as restrictions relax in the coming weeks we can make some more friends.
TA: Share with us how day-to-day life has been different as a family of three when you are used to it just being the two of you.
The Kortans: For the long-term arrangements, it’s great that we now have a two-bedroom apartment [at Hangout Beach Resort]. Originally, mom was just visiting us as we traveled around the Philippines for a few months — each month on a different island. So during those times, mom was sleeping on couches or small second beds. We don’t know how long we will be on Panay Island, but our current place is a huge two-bedroom unit. As far as the biggest benefit: We love mom and enjoy our time with her. She’s safe here, and we like to see her enjoy this beautiful place, too. She is an experienced world traveler, and we never have to worry about her comfort or expectations. For example, if the power or water goes out for a little while, she can handle it.
TA: Diane, what creature comfort are you most missing from back home? Do you have someone looking after your home during the extension of your time in the Philippines?
Diane: Baking and knitting. I love to bake and I design quirky sweaters that are wearable art. I’m not knitting potholders. I live in a home my daughter owns in Cleveland, Ohio, so she’s looking after things just fine while I’m gone.
TA: Before this unforeseen stay at Hangout Beach Resort, what was the longest you had ever stayed in one location during your travels?
The Kortans: We stayed in Mahahual, Mexico, for four months one time. We stayed one month through Airbnb and loved it so much, we decided to rent another apartment for three additional months.
TA: Do you see yourself returning here in the future?
The Kortans: We never say never. But once we are able to travel again, we still have so many other places in the world to experience. We rarely go backwards — but see below.
TA: What are your plans once you get the all-clear to travel again? Where is the next place you plan to stay once you can move along?
The Kortans: Our tentative plan is to go to Penang, Malaysia, for a few months to visit some friends. We stayed there one month last year and loved it. Then, tentatively, we were looking at a visit back to the U.S. before starting a year-long adventure touring India. But that idea was before the pandemic. We think things are too uncertain to move forward with any definite travel plans at this point.
TA: As full-time travelers, how far in advance do you generally plan out your next stays?
The Kortans: Usually, we plan around three to six months in advance. We tend to rent monthly through Airbnb because we can get big discounts for the longer stays. Booking well in advance ensures we are able to secure the 30 consecutive nights we desire. As luck would have it, we only had a few months into 2020 booked. We knew things were getting serious with this virus, and thus our plans beyond April were left open.
TA: Can you share a little about the plans you have had to cancel since this all started?
The Kortans: We canceled two weeks on Boracay Island and one month in Romblon. That took us through April. Airbnb fully refunded both stays. We were traveling by bus to the ferry to Boracay on the day the lockdown went into effect. When we arrived, there was no way to access the island. At the Hangout Beach Resort, from our balcony, we can see Boracay Island, which is ironic. But honestly, we would rather be here, especially long-term with three people. It’s a larger, cheaper place with more amenities and fantastic hosts.
TA: Do you have any advice for people who might not want to travel again because of the current situation?
The Kortans: Wait it out more. Eventually, this virus will fade and Americans will get back to working and saving and vacationing. And no doubt there will be some really good deals to entice people to travel, too. It may take a long time — a year or two perhaps? But keep planning for the future. Now’s the perfect time to daydream and research. That said, if you are a serious, motivated traveler with means to go forward as soon as it is safe, we’ll see you out here!
Read more about travel in the Philippines and get inspired by other travelers’ ideas for making the most of time at home here. Our team previously interviewed the Kortans in late 2018 and learned more about travel habits, intriguing stories, and bucket list trips so make sure to read more about the Earth Vagabonds and get to know them even better.