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Our Traveling Zoo is a family travel blog that focuses largely on travelling with small children. Lately, they've begun expanding the focus across the intersection of international work, travel with kids, and education, including homeschooling/world schooling.
Their interest in travel runs deep. Jenia and Shon met while travelling in Europe, in fact, and their relationship included a number of trips to see each other since Jenia was from Russia and Shon from the USA.
“We consumed lots of travel writing as we prepared for both our travels and our life abroad, and we found books by Rick Steves, for example, to be really helpful and practical when it came to getting the most out of our travels”.
In 2012, they made the big leap and began living abroad. They started blogging as a means of chronicling their international work experiences and the trials, tribulations, and triumphs involved, and they had seen a lot of readerships.
“This was especially true considering we were just operating a free WordPress site. Jenia got interested in founding a more serious blog, and in 2018 we started Our Traveling Zoo. We felt it might be a good way to generate a little side income while doing something we were enjoying anyway”.
Our Traveling Zoo have been mostly in the US state of Georgia for COVID Lockdown. The story of how they got there is a bit crazy. Shon teaches in Shenzhen, China, and it just so happened that they went on vacation for a month just when the virus was first breaking out.
“We were walking around Delphi, Greece, and I saw a Chinese tourist. I decided to be friendly and said, "Ni hao," and the lady began talking to us. She asked if we'd heard about the epidemic in China. I told her was sort of aware of it--but this was when I first realized that it was a really serious situation”.
Their travels took them from Greece to Albania and then to the UAE, and that's when things started to get really dangerous.
“Our airline offered a change of ticket destination, and since there was a mandatory lockdown in Shenzhen at the time--and because we have two children under 8--we thought it would be miserable to be stuck in a little apartment. After extending our stay in the UAE for two weeks longer, we flew to Malaysia for a week. My school switched to an online format, and following that, we decided it would be wise to return to the USA to weather the storm”.
Sadly, the coronavirus arrived in Georgia not long after the family did. They’d only expected to stay in the States until the virus died down in China, but then countries started closing their borders and instituting lockdowns. During the ensuing lockdown in Georgia, they have written a lot (though not much for the blog for one reason or another--such as what follows!), worked remotely, and homeschooled the kids.
“We've also been cooking a lot and helping out around the house where we're being kindly hosted, too”.
Our Traveling Zoo has been affected in a few ways. They’re fortunate that blogging isn't how they make their living, so they weren't hit like some of the big players in the travel blog arena. The first and foremost effect is, however, is that they are unable to return to their home in Shenzhen.
“Our apartment has been unoccupied since January, and until China relaxes their border restrictions, we can't get back. The other effect is that, as I mentioned already, we've had to adapt to working remotely. Another effect is that we simply haven't travelled as much as we would normally. Our summers usually include a lot of road time in the USA, and that would be unwise right now. We also often do some international exploration as part of our return flights to and from China, and that's not happening, either”.
Our Traveling Zoo thinks that the change in the industry is hard to predict. They’d guess there will be limitations of numbers of tourists allowed in facilities and such in the near term; some travel options and lodging might get cheaper as they try to lure visitors in order to keep afloat.
“There's already a larger focus on enhanced sanitary conditions in transit and lodging, so that's likely to become standard. Buffets are being enclosed; hotel breakfasts and the like are starting to look quite different. It seems likely that the small mom-and-pop businesses are the ones we'll see changing the most as they struggle to survive the downturn in travel business. Since people aren't going out to eat as much, I think we'll see AirBnB and other lodging options where people can cook at home grow more popular”.
They think that the travel influencer economy will consolidate. Also, the ability to be a digital nomad is now more common than ever since people can more easily work remotely. Lots of businesses now allow people to work from home, where just four or five months ago, they had to go work regular office hours.
“Of course, border restrictions and virus concerns mean many people are staying at home or traveling only within their home countries. I'd guess that existing digital nomads settle somewhere, leading to a decline in overall numbers, but in the future the growth may well expand, assuming that businesses that now allow people to work remotely don't change their policies”.
Our Traveling Zoo have lived as residents in four different countries during their decade of marriage.
Working abroad provides a unique series of challenges and they found that it requires flexibility in areas that you may never have required it before. There's patience required for many things that you take for granted in your home country, and accordingly you learn to adapt your expectations.
“This is a challenge at first, but over time, it becomes part of the package. Languages represent a challenge in some countries much more so than others; some countries have cultures that are radically different, where others are much more similar. At this point, we find it fairly easy to adapt. It wasn't easy at first. In terms of affordability, again, there's great variation from place to place. China, our current place of residence (at least in times of open borders!), is much more affordable than the USA in terms of cost of living. That is, if we're able to modify our diet to be more localized and less like what we'd eat at home. If we try to eat like we're in the USA, then we will spend a fortune on groceries. It very much depends on lifestyle, but for us, we can save much more money by being abroad at a lower cost of living”.
Their advice to other digital nomads is to Cultivate patience and flexibility!
Our Traveling Zoo have been to Thailand a couple of times, once exploring a fair amount of the country, but as of yet they have not been to our island of Koh Phangan.
“We love Thai food and Jenia says she would come back just for that. Thailand can be very affordable, and that's a real pro for a traveling family! We're open to your recommendations about Koh Phangan! A couple of our favorite destinations in SE Asia include Malaysia (it's affordable and its a diverse place in many senses, while having very little language barrier) and Vietnam (fantastic cuisine and affordable, plus gorgeous scenery). A couple of our other favorite destinations include South Africa for its stunning scenery and affordability (their currency is pretty weak, so the dollar goes a long way) Iceland for its otherworldliness (but be prepared to spend a pretty penny)”.