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Stepholidays is the merging of the first names of the creators (Stephanie and Oliver) and the term "holidays". Nothing of any commercial interest or with any bigger mission statement. Just Stephanie and Oliver are on holidays.
The couple has been travelling in different countries around the world for roughly 15 years and around 10 years ago when they started to focus travels to Asia (esp. ASEAN countries) and the idea of some long term travelling started.
For Stephanie as a school teacher and thus tenured German civil servant it was not as easy as in any other job to get released from work. But the German government allows teachers to save a special period of years disclaiming a fraction of salary to be paid for getting one or a half year off at the end.
During the "saving period" we started making plans on how to use the Sabbatical and the idea of doing a world tour was born.
The tour was supposed to travel as less as possible with aeroplanes. The original planned route went through Russia via Trans-Siberian Railway, then Japan, Korea, China and South-Eastern Asia before Stepholidays wanted to travel via Fiji to America (North and South) and then back home.
“During our several short-term vacations before, Stephanie started to write down her thoughts handwritten in a diary and we shared photos and short stories via WhatsApp Group or Instagram with a selected group of friends and family”.
The idea to set up Stepholidays was very much triggered by Stephanie's sister who sets up professional internet portals, blogs etc. for a living. She made Stephanie a birthday present setting up a WordPress blog for her. But the idea was still to keep it as some personal diary to share only with friends and family - thus it's also kept entirely in the German language (but with a translation function).
“Due to good feedback and plenty of time during lock-down, we decided to also give more people access to the blog by promoting it on other social media channels like Twitter and YouTube”.
Stepholidays route for their world trip needed to be adjusted a couple of times due to some incidents that happened during the tour even before COVID19.
“We were travelling by train through Russia when the first time COVID news reached us”.
Later when entering Korea and Japan they started realizing that China and SE Asia might become difficult at this point in time.
“But we did not give up and just tried changing the order of the countries going to Fiji first for 2 weeks and then from there to Singapore entering SEA”.
But the situation became worse globally thus the couple decided once they reached Singapore to get to Malaysia asap. Malaysia gives tourists 90 days visas and they had some kind of a clue that travelling to other countries than Germany (their home country) might become difficult for a longer time.
“In Malaysia, we spent the lock-down on Pulau Kapas for 3 months. It's a small island in Terengganu not too far from the mainland (~5 miles). White beaches, turquoise ocean and sound coral reefs - actually a paradise to spend lock-down. There were only a few other stranded tourists left on the island, so we had very often complete beaches just for us”.
In the beginning, Stepholidays felt some unpleasant feelings to be in such a globally every new situation in a foreign country on an island with strange people. On the other side, they've been to Malaysia a couple of times before and knew that the country is not only politically stable and has good infrastructure (esp. w.r.t. healthcare) but also super friendly people.
“Some of them "adopted" us on Pulau Kapas - we became part of their family.
But even in paradise, we faced on and off some "island blues" esp. when we were facing some days of monsoon-like rains. But we kept ourselves entertained by snorkelling, making underwater videos, started promoting our blog, playing games with our foster family etc”.
In the first 3 months, the Malaysian government banned any kind of interstate travelling and at the very beginning even walking through the streets on the mainland without any purpose was not allowed. Thus, at their island, Stephanie and Oliver still felt quite free since they were able to walk around the island.
“After interstate travel was allowed in June we took the opportunity to travel through Malaysia and visit all interesting spots for another 2 months. It was exciting to be in tourist hotspots without many tourists. E.g. in the Taman Negara Park people welcomed us as the first western tourists they've seen for months. And we had the complete jungle for us alone!”.
Furthermore, prices for accommodations went down and the couple enjoyed quite cheap vacations during that time.
Even though their world tour was only a half-world tour, they feel they have gained a very exciting experience living in Malaysia for 5 months very close to the locals, which they definitely didn't want to miss.
The couple predicts that there will surely be economic damages for areas depending on tourism and they expect that some airline carriers might vanish especially in the budget segment.
“Prices for flights might rise due to fewer competitors in future and people might start thinking to travel rather by surface (like we prefer)”.
Another aspect which gained from the pandemic is the option to work remotely. Especially in their home country of Germany, “this kind of work was always neglected and experienced a big boost during COVID19 lockdown”.
When talking about the change to the digital nomad industry, one of the pillars being the freedom to travel almost wherever you want, especially to avoid visa constraints, they feel this will be a challenge.
“During the current border lockdown situation, this is definitely getting a challenge for digital nomads as soon as countries start dropping any visa amnesties. In Malaysia, we got in contact with a lot of travellers who really face issues (e.g. couples with different passports who cannot return to any common home country, people who gave up complete life in their home country). Thus, some digital nomad indeed will get forced to return somehow in their "old life". Even once the pandemic is over, people might think twice before choosing this style of life”.
Currently, digital nomads are people who are self-employed do not need the physical presence and have complete control over their schedule. With the boost of remote working possibilities, Stepholidays feel digital nomad life might also become an interesting option for some employed people.
“But as long as there are formal barriers - a lot of countries allow employed people only to work with an issued work permit - there are still obstacles”.
For Stephanie as a teacher, it's actually not really an option since the physical presence with the students is still essential.
The latest discussion on climate change has definitely influenced travelling models, especially in the Western World. Stepholidays have observed a lot of travellers who are avoiding planes as they do.
On the other side, they have also met people in other parts of the world who struggled to understand that they planned to travel by train.
“In Russia people asked us why we are using the Trans-Siberian Railway since flying is faster and sometimes even cheaper. Similar opinions we heard in India”.
Independently from transport, Stepholidays also faced in Asia a lot of efforts done to create sustainability to preserve natural habitats.
“But just in Asia, there is still another side where you find tremendous amounts of plastics near the sea and a very unthoughtful use with plastic”.
Stepholidays plan was to avoid flying wherever possible - not only from an ecological aspect but also from the "slow travel" experience.
In general, they try to avoid garbage wherever and whenever possible anyway. They used their time of isolation to clean the littering they found at Pulau Kapas. Additionally, they have reusable boxes and bottles in luggage to avoid plastics.
Their advice to all travellers who are blogging, vlogging or Instagramming: "Do not forget to experience the places you are by being too busy creating content".
And finally, their recommendation for a destination is surely Malaysia. This country is in the middle of South-Eastern Asia but comes around with nearly western standards plus the low cost of living.
“Most people speak English fluently, the infrastructure is brilliant, the food is very varied. Malaysia has big cities, old huge jungles and paradise beaches. On top of this, you are quickly in other interesting destinations in the direct neighbourhood or even in India, Australia or New Zealand”.