From the very first, Tom and Jess Lyman agreed they’d stop traveling the world if either one of them said, “Stop.”
In October 2012, the former Chanhassen residents left their suburban lives behind to wander the world as happy nomads. They sold everything, keeping only what will fit into a few suitcases and an electronics bag. In the last 7-1/2 years, the Lymans have lived on practically every continent in extended-stay home rentals from Morocco, Italy, South Africa to Vietnam, New Zealand, Tasmania, Dubai, England and Ireland. They have even visited the Antarctica.
Life on the road has had its ups and down. In addition to marveling at amazing scenery and immersing themselves into each community they’ve lived in, weeks or months at a time, there’s been episodes of cruise cough, visits to local dentists and doctors, and a few injuries requiring rest and patience. But the major pause in their wandering happened last year, when Jess underwent major heart surgery in South Africa. There were serious complications, but Jess healed, and the pair continued on their way.
That is until now.
Thanks to COVID-19 and the world-wide pandemic, the Lymans are sheltering in Mumbai, India, in a Marriott hotel. Their itinerary for 2020 included India, riding the Maharajas Express and taking an Indian safari. Over the years, the newspaper has kept in touch with the Lymans, following their daily blog detailing observations and daily lives.
They never imagined an international pandemic would bring their life of traveling the world on what is for now an indefinite hold.
The newspaper reached out the Lymans to check on their experience. They responded by email (edited for clarity and length).
By Jess and Tom Lyman
On Feb. 2, 2020 we began an extraordinary one-week journey on the world-renowned Maharajas Express Train from Mumbai to Delhi, after which we began a 55-night private tour of the country of India. What a glorious experience! We were scheduled to sail out of Mumbai on April 3, 2020 on a 29-night cruise on the Viking Sun to Greenwich, England. During the tour, we stayed on top of the worldwide news of COVID-19, continually aware of the rampant infections on cruise ships, in China and Italy and other parts of the world.
On March 10, 2020 we were notified the cruise was canceled. It was at that point, we decided to end the 55-night tour with over three weeks remaining. We needed to get back to Mumbai, close to the airport to decide what we’d do from there. With a flurry of activity, a flight from Madurai, India to Mumbai — canceled and rescheduled — we finally made it to Mumbai. After considerable discussion we decided to fly to our favorite place — Marloth Park, South Africa — to hunker down until the virus ran its course. (Marloth Park is a wildlife sanctuary situated on the southern boundary of the Kruger National Park. The Lymans have had previous extended stays there.)
Immediately, after arriving at the hotel in Mumbai, where we’d stay the first few days when we’d arrived at the end of January, we booked a flight to South Africa, via Kenya and a house in the bush with the help of our dear friend Louise. We repacked our bags to comply with baggage restrictions.
On March 20, we arrived at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport at 3:30 a.m., prepared to board the first leg of the lengthy journey to South Africa. After hours in the queue at the airport and waiting almost an hour at the check-in desk, we were turned away. We could not travel to South Africa. They were, and still are, rejecting all foreign nationals from entering the country. With our luggage in tow and a dreadful taxi ride back to the hotel, we checked back in with a plan to figure something out. The Mumbai airport was closing in 36 hours. No international flights.
One may ask, why didn’t we return to the U.S. at that point?
For several reasons: First, COVID-19 was rapidly escalating in the states and I'm at high risk — asthma, heart disease, and age (72). The thought of making our way through multiple airports was terrifying at this point. Second, our international health insurance only covers us while “outside the U.S.” Third, we have no home in the U.S. We had no choice but to “wait it out” in a safe hotel in Mumbai.
After four nights passed, the hotel informed us they were closing and sent us on a wild goose chase to another hotel which they confirmed had booked us. Once we arrived, we were informed we hadn’t been booked into this hotel at all, and most other hotels were closing by the hour. In essence, we had nowhere to go.
We checked holiday homes online but owners weren’t interested in renting to foreign nationals, especially U.S. citizens where (COVID-19) cases are rapidly climbing. Most hotels in the city were closed. Taxis and tuk-tuks weren’t allowed to operate. Need I say, we were very worried.
We were offered a room at a government-arranged hotel but all the patrons were suspected COVID-19 cases on 14-day quarantine. We passed.
With the kind help from the hotel manager at The Orchid Hotel which was closing and not accepting bookings, he found us a beautiful Courtyard by Marriott hotel that would take us but under the condition that they too, could close at any time and leave us stranded.
That is where we are now, waiting in a comfortable air-conditioned hotel room with excellent Wi-Fi, kindly supportive staff, food supplies rapidly dwindling, and the constant concern that they too, will close with only 20 rooms occupied by guests such as us, out of 165 rooms.
We’re living day by day, hoping the hotel will remain open, hoping eventually the virus will pass, the airports will open and we’ll be on our way to South Africa, which at this juncture won’t allow any foreign nationals to fly into their country until May 31.
Can we wait it out? Only time will tell. In the interim, we draw upon our emotional reserves, our dedication to one another and our passion to continue on to see us through yet another challenging time in our journey. We can do this. So can you. Please stay safe.