Jess and Tom Lyman, former residents of Chanhassen, have been traveling the world for almost nine years.
Nothing “short of death” has been able to put a stop to their adventuring, not even Jess’s emergency open-heart surgery, performed in South Africa in 2019.
But then, COVID-19 hit.
The Lymans were visiting the U.S. in January 2020 when they first got wind of COVID-19. They were leaving to travel in India, so were sure to pack N99 masks to combat the smog. Little did they know they’d also be using them for other purposes.
The couple took a week-long trip on the Maharaja Express, getting off along the way to take tours. It was the first week of February when the train ended and the Lymans had scheduled a private tour of India that included driving and flying.
“It was an extraordinary experience that it was just the two of us,” Jess said. “We were having the time of our lives.”
In March, the couple learned a cruise they had booked, which had prompted them to go to India in the first place, was canceled due to COVID-19. At that point, they decided to cancel the tour and go back to Mumbai.
The Lymans checked into a hotel that was already holding some of their luggage. They booked a flight to Johannesburg so they could get to Marloth Park, a wildlife sanctuary positioned on the southern boundary of the Kruger National Park in South Africa.
Arriving at the airport at 3 a.m. for a red eye out of Mumbai, they found out South Africa was closing its borders. The Lymans headed back to a hotel they stayed at in January, only to find out it was closing a couple days later due to the pandemic. But, the hotel had arranged another place for them to stay.
“Hotels were closing so rapidly you wouldn’t believe it. It was like doors slamming one after another,” Jess said.
Upon arriving, not only had the hotel never heard of them, they were closing the next morning. The Lymans had nowhere to go, but tried to remain calm. They stayed in the hotel lobby for several hours searching for hotels or vacation homes, with the help of the concierge.
“He said the only hotels I can find for you, are those that have COVID patients, because there’s no room in the hospitals for them,” Jess said.
Finally, the concierge found a hotel near the airport that they could stay at for the night. The hotel said they were open, but couldn’t make any guarantees for how long, Jess said. It was March 24, the day a nationwide lockdown was ordered.
The Lymans spent 10 months living at the hotel.
One of the restrictions of the lockdown involved a ban of alcohol sales. The hotel staff came into their room to empty out the mini-fridge. The couple was also told they couldn’t go down to the hotel restaurant and that their food would be delivered to the room.
Neither of the Lymans eat Indian food. Tom is a “picky eater” so he ate chicken penne pasta every night for dinner for eight months. Jess ate salmon and chicken on rotation for dinner for all 10 months.
“I haven’t had a piece of salmon since we got out of there,” Jess said, with a laugh.
The Lymans weren’t supposed to go outside, because the hotel didn’t want them bringing COVID-19 back with them. However, they were allowed to walk around the floor they were staying on. Jess would walk five miles through the corridors while Tom walked the stairs.
Jess found it helpful to develop a routine. Every day she would get ready, work on their travel website and walk the hallways of the hotel. She would post old travel photos and even made a video of her walk for their fans to see what lockdown was like. At around 3 p.m., the Lymans would stream TV shows, preferably ones with a lot of episodes. It helped them to get out of their heads, Jess said.
The Lymans strived to take each day at a time. It would have been unbearable if they knew ahead of time that it was going to be 10 months, Tom said.
“Each day we took as a new day and tomorrow’s another day and we’re going to get through it,” Jess said.
Fans of the Lyman’s travel site stuck with them throughout the lockdown and acted as their “cheering section.” It helped them to know that there were people all over the world following along and being supportive, Jess said.
People would ask the Lymans how they fared alone in a hotel room for 10 months. Luckily, they like each other a lot was Jess’s response. Neither of them ever got depressed or was ready to give up, she said. According to Tom, he resigned himself to the reality and decided to have a good attitude.
“We just hung in there thinking, maybe tomorrow will be the day we can fly out,” Jess said.
During the lockdown, Jess’s older sister, whom she was close with, died. She couldn’t go to the funeral, she said, adding that was really hard. A number of their family members in the U.S. got COVID-19. It was difficult for the Lymans, knowing there was nothing they could do.
The Lymans were terrified of getting COVID-19. Hospitals were so full that patients were being put in beds in the parking lot. They were also concerned if they ever needed a doctor for any other reason.
Finally, the day came that the Lymans would leave the hotel room they had called home for almost a year.
The Lymans watched for the airports to reopen, and in January 2021, their wish came true. They left their hotel in Mumbai, and 59 hours of travel later, they arrived at Marloth Park. Only 72 hours after they arrived, Emirates Airlines stopped flying to South Africa.
“We got here by the skin of our teeth,” Jess said.
After traveling for so many years, the couple has had some good and some bad experiences. You can’t travel without some bad, Jess said. Their lockdown in India was just one more situation. Together they learned that they can choose to be strong and get through it.
The Lymans have future travel plans in mind, but with the COVID-19 Delta variant, things don’t look good.
“We just got this travel bug and we can’t put an end to it,” Jess said. “We’re adventurers ... we’ll figure it out.”