Episode #8

Traveling During the COVID-19 Pandemic

by | Oct 1, 2020 | Podcast, Travel | 0 comments

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With everything going on with COVID-19, I’ve seen a lot of questions about traveling in this type of environment. People are asking questions like, “we were planning on hitting the road soon, but now with everything going on, we’re not sure anymore…” and then they go on to explain their situation and concerns.

Obviously, there is a lot to this question and it’s a difficult one to give a simple answer to. So, I’m just going to tell our story of Traveling During COVID.

Let’s do this.

Hey, I’m Jason Wyatt and I’m here to help you on your journey TO your journey. My goal is to help you build a completely mobile income, so you can enjoy a location, independent lifestyle.

A lot of this episode will be my own personal experience focusing on travel and the challenges surrounding travel, but the fact is running a business became very difficult during this time as well. Since my main business is to help other businesses get more customers and clients, I definitely felt the effects. So, while most of this will be stories from my travels, there are some key business takeaways that will naturally be included.

When all of this started, we were in Florida for my wife’s business. She does a lot of in-person shows on the road and there was a home and garden type expo in Jacksonville that she was doing.

Now at this point, we had heard a lot about the virus on the news, but it didn’t seem to really be a big deal. We had heard about things like bird flu, swine flu, ebola, zika, and many others before. None of that had ever affected our life in any way. There was no reason that this was any different, right? I guess at this point, it was “the boy who cried wolf” scenario where we had heard it so often before with nothing really happening, we didn’t see any kind of significance this time either.

Well, our first indication of how bad things were going to get was when we were preparing to do the show. We always provide hand sanitizer at our booth. We usually keep a stockpile, but we were out at the time, so we went to Sam’s Club to buy in bulk as per usual.

You can probably guess what we found there. A bunch of empty shelves.

We thought, hmm… That’s weird. Sam’s is never out of hand sanitizer. We buy it here all the time!

Well, maybe we can find small bottles at Walmart or Winn-Dixie (that’s a grocery store for you yankees). Instead of buying two like near gallon jugs like we usually do at Sam’s, we’ll just have to buy a bunch of smaller bottles. Might be a little more expensive, but we won’t have to refill our small bottles like we usually do, which let’s be honest, is really a pain anyway.

Walmart was the first stop, simply because that’s what was closer. Of course, we were again faced with empty shelves. This is when we started to realize that this might not be a localized thing. It might not be that Sam’s Club just happened to be out of stock. People might actually be scared.

Alright, we checked Sam’s and Wal-Mart, but those type of places are everyone’s first stops anyway. People don’t run out to Winn-Dixie to buy hand sanitizer…

So off we went. Headed to Winn-Dixie. We know this is gonna be hella-expensive, AND we’re going to look crazy because we’re going to have to buy so many bottles, but we don’t care. We need it. If people are THIS concerned about this virus, we are going to NEED hand sanitizer to offer to the customers.

Of course, we were wrong again. Winn-Dixie was out too. At this point we knew that people were going crazy. We had just gotten into town, so we didn’t really know what the local environment was like and how the locals felt about the virus, but if they had bought out Winn-Dixie of hand sanitizer, the overall consensus wasn’t good.

But that didn’t change our reality. We NEEDED hand sanitizer. Like, the more we found out about what the local environment was like, the more we needed this sanitizer, ya know? If these people were that scared, they’re gonna want it.

But what were we to do? It didn’t seem as though anyone was gong to have anything. We were about to give up. Then I had a brilliant thought! Hand sanitizer should be a simple project. Just mix together a few easy-to-find ingredients and you have hand sanitizer, just like the kids making slime.

So I consulted the trusty Google machine. Searched for a hand sanitizer recipe, and YAY! I was right! It was easy to make at home. All we needed was isopropyl alcohol and a aloe gel or something…. So we leave the empty shelves in the soap area where the sanitizer should be and we run over to the pharmacy area where the isopropyl alcohol is.

Or, should I say where it should be. It was gone too.

Ok, the recipe says I can use witch hazel, whatever that is. Let’s look for that.

Oh, it’s gone too.

And the aloe?

Crap.

This ain’t good.

Everything is gone. All the shelves are empty. People are losing their minds.

Then the biggest realization: if people are this scared, is there anyone going to actually show up at the home & patio show?

It started getting scary because at this point, we knew this was going to directly affect our income.

Well, we did the show and not only was the attendance down, but since our product requires sampling, few of the people who were there were interested in trying it.

Fear was obviously everywhere.

We came away from that show making a little bit of money, but not near as much as a show like that would usually produce.

We left there and went to Georgia for another show. This time it was an arts and crafts show. This one was outside, so surely people wouldn’t be scared to come out.

So, we set up our tent and display on a Friday evening for a Saturday morning show. By the time we left, the whole place was ready for a crowd of people first thing the next morning. Everyone was set up and ready to go.

Later that night, it was around 11 or 12, we see a Facebook post saying the event has been canceled.

That blew us away! It was unthinkable to cancel an entire show! We couldn’t believe it. So we arrived at the venue the next morning ready to sell.

All that we found when we got there was a bunch of vendors packing up and leaving.

At this point, we were upset. Losing a show like that isn’t a big deal, but they could have at least let us know before we went through all that trouble to set up!

Oh, well. Looks like we have the weekend free. So, we headed back down to Florida to hang out with Fulltime Families at Ragan’s Family Campground. They were having a rally down there that we were sad we were going to have to miss, but now we could make it at least in enough time to get to hang out with everyone.

Now Ragan’s Family Campground, if you’ve never been there, is not JUST a campground. It’s a huge park of fun. It has a water park, a swimming lake with one of those inflatable obstacle courses, and even ATV trails through the woods.

When we got there, it still seemed like life as normal. People were concerned and there were a few people choosing not to participate in gatherings due to pre-existing health concerns, but for the most part, everyone was hanging out and having a good time with friends.

Over the course of the next few days is when it started to get really bad. We were hearing news that some states were limiting social gatherings at the state government level. We didn’t quite understand how bad it was outside the campground until we posted pictures of ourselves hanging out at the waterpark on Facebook and people lost their minds. It was like people thought that because we were hanging out at a waterpark, we were surely going to die. But within the campground, everyone still seemed to be having a grand ol time.

Even when we went out in town the few times that we did, everything seemed to be relatively normal.

When we left there, we headed back up to Georgia to see friends. We stayed overnight at a Wal-Mart. Now, since we left Jacksonville, we hadn’t seen a city in about two weeks or maybe a little more, but now we were at a Wal-Mart in kind of a medium-sized city. This was our first indication that we might be living through the apocalypse.

I went into that Wal-Mart to grab some meat. I can’t remember exactly why. Maybe we were planning a cookout. But I was looking for steaks.

The entire meat department was empty. When I say empty, I mean empty. If I wanted meat, I was going to have to settle for tripe or chittlins. I was suddenly a vegetarian. As you’re listening to this right now, you know what I’m talking about. If you didn’t experience it yourself, you at least saw pictures of similar situations. But to me right then in that moment, this was unthinkable. Unheard of. Shocking.

As all of this was going on, we continued to get emails of more and more shows canceling. We had scheduled our travels for this year around my wife’s show schedule. We had a show almost every weekend. We only had 8 weeks off the entire year, and most of those were in January and February. Now, with every day that passed it seemed more and more likely that we weren’t going to be doing any shows at all this year. Now, to her that was stressful. She loves her business. But to me, it was a relief! I hate for my travel schedule to be tied to shows. I felt like I was finally free! After all, we didn’t absolutely NEED the show income. I had my marketing business and had also set up her business to be able to run online. This wasn’t a problem at all.

We decided to head to Alabama to start re-planning the year ahead. When we got to Alabama, that’s when we first heard the “phrase of the year” otherwise known as social distancing. It seemed that most everyone in the campground in Alabama was social distancing. That didn’t stop us from having gatherings where people played guitar and everyone sang along. We just had to do it at a distance. It wasn’t like we were all sitting around a fire. At that campground, we had a Facebook Messenger group we used to communicate and schedule things like that, and that proved very useful.

It was during this time when restaurants started closing down. This was a small town in Alabama, so most things were normal, but the one or two restaurants that were there were shut down or only had curbside service.

This is when I started to get concerned about our income. Many of my clients were in the restaurant business and if they weren’t able to do business, what would they need me for, right?

And then there was the kids. My kids are very much the outgoing type, especially the 4-year-old. He’ll stop and talk to anyone. I remember one specific occasion where I was trying to get his mind off not being able to play with other kids, so I took him on a bike ride. At one point, I realized he was no longer behind me. I turned back to try to see where he was. I found him about 50 yards back sitting down at a picnic table with another family. We didn’t even know these people. That’s just the way he was. I say “was” because I unfortunately had to do my best to break this child’s outgoing and friendly spirit.

It was only a couple days after this when the campground shut down the playground. Up to that point, there were a few families who still allowed their children to play, but that was over. I’m telling you; you’ve never seen a 4-year-old cry like that little boy was crying that day. That playground was everything to him.

To make it worse, he didn’t understand at all. We tried to explain it to him, but there was no way to make such an outgoing little boy who loved people to understand why he could no longer be around people. Every time he tried to do something and we would say no, he would get upset and ask why. When we responded, “you know why. Why can’t you do that?” He would give an exasperated “because of the COVED”. This was a heartbreaking struggle that we dealt with on a constant basis for months.

After the playground shut down, it was fairly obvious that life as we knew it was going to be drastically different. Everything was shutting down.

There were a couple bad storms in Alabama while we were there. It was basically their tornado season. One of them was bad enough to scare us into getting out. So, we decided to head to South Carolina. That’s where we ran into our first traveling hiccup. This was a Thousand Trails park and was first come first serve. We were told before we got there that they had room, but this whole campground was tight. There were a couple of open spots, but nothing we could maneuver into or out of.

We instead decided to head to North Carolina. There was a park there we wanted to visit, but it didn’t open for a couple more days. I believe it was April 2nd if I’m not mistaken. That meant we had a few nights to burn before we could check in. That was no problem. We were able to find some parks between the two locations that we had discounts for that allowed us to make the trip at a rather leisurely pace.

We got to North Carolina right as they opened for the season. There were several other families checking in at the same time and everyone was looking forward to getting into the new park.

This park was a Thousand Trails park and something interesting happened a day or two after we checked in. The entire Thousand Trails system shut down. No one could check in to any of their parks.

That posed a unique situation for us, since we mainly stay at Thousand Trails parks. Once our time here is up, we will really no longer have a place to stay. We were concerned, but luckily Thousand Trails understood the conundrum that once we checked out, we would no longer be allowed back into the system. They continued to extend our stay there until certain shelter-in-place orders were lifted.

We ended up staying in that campground for over a month and a half. And I have to say, if I had to be stuck somewhere for that long, we couldn’t have been stranded in a better place. The playground and pool were shut down, but they had a really nice put-put course and we had our own golf equipment. We were also right on a huge lake and we were able to get an inflatable kayak. It got warm enough during our time there that we were able to spend many days swimming at the beach. And since check-in had closed and most of the people who managed to get in those first couple of days had long gone, we spent most of the time with the entire park to ourselves, or at least it felt that way. There were maybe 4 or so other families in this huge park in the same situation as us. All-in-all, it was a great time and a great place to be. We were kinda sad to see it end.

Once the system opened back up, we were able to get back out on the road again.

It was during this time in North Carolina that the inevitable happened. Clients started dropping like flies. As it turns out, businesses don’t have much need in trying to attract business if their customers aren’t allowed to do business with them.

I knew I needed to pivot. I needed to be of assistance to my clients in this new environment where they were still trying to figure out how to serve their own customers. I decided that what they really needed right now was someone to help. I had to forget that I had lost so much revenue and focus on how much revenue THEY were losing. I focused on generating an income for them and put my revenue on the backburner.

I formulated a strategy that created communities for their customers so they can share information about modified hours and services, I hosted contests to generate customer contact lists so they could communicate directly, and I even had regular “business spotlight” type videos where I would interview them on live social videos. These services enabled me to serve clients and provide much needed services for free. But they also allowed me to make new contacts and ended up leading to some new paid clients. No one knew that I was doing all of this from BFE North Carolina, and no one cared. After a few weeks of providing selfless services for free, I was able to attract a few clients into some paid services, bringing my revenue back up to at least 80% of where I was. Considering everything that was going on, I was happy with that. Compared to the level of struggle my clients were experiencing, I couldn’t complain at all.

It was also during this time where I had to make my wife’s business more online-focused. I had already built a website and had a customer list, but the online portion was always secondary. In this new situation where the live portion was non-existent, I had to turn it into a 100% online business.

Now the way this business works is that my wife takes care of all of the logistics and runs the in-person shows, but naturally it’s my job to handle the online marketing portion of it. Now that EVERYTHING had to be shifted to online, I’m in a position where I’m working with clients, building communities, doing contests, live video marketing, and ramping up her online presence all at the same time. Meanwhile, she’s at the beach laying on a float.

I kid, really. I was glad we were somewhere that she could take the kids out to have a good time so that I could work in peace. It really worked out well.

After about a month and a half or so in that campground in North Carolina, we had to put our rig in the shop to get some work done. Between the delays in the supply chain caused by COVID and poorly ran service department who didn’t know how to order parts, a two-week job was extended into another month and a half of being stuck.

Luckily, we had friends we could stay with, so it wasn’t as bad as it would have been if we had to stay in a hotel. It also gave me the chance to meet in person with some clients and help them out with some technical issues. So, while we were VERY upset at the RV shop, we were able to make the most of it.

So, that brings us to July. The only show we had was way back at the first week of March. Everything else had been canceled. By some odd sequence of unexplainable miracles, we had a show in Tennessee that was not canceled and we just happened to be able to get our rig back in just enough time to make it to the show. Well, that’s what happens when a woman is itching to do a show and not afraid to threaten someone’s life if they’re not done with her RV, but that’s another story for another time….

Well, it was Gatlinburg in mid-July

I just hit town and my throat was dry…

Wait… Sorry. Wrong song.

So anyway, we were able to do the show in Tennessee. It ended up being fairly tiny. Most vendors had canceled and attendance was way down. I knew I needed to do everything I could to maximize the long-term benefits of this show so that we could turn this small event into maximum residual revenue. So I threw everything I had at it. Every strategy I could think of to get the attendees to sign up to the mailing list, follow us on social, or any other connection we could get, we were doing.

Good thing, too. We had another tiny show after that, but then ended up not having another show until October.

So that is really all the trouble we’ve had. It’s now the beginning of October and we’ve had no issues. We ended up visiting Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania with no real issues getting reservations at campgrounds or any other activity we wanted to do.

We’ve visited museums, gone on tours, and even drove up to see Niagara Falls to ride the Maid of the Mist with no real issues.

I would even say that most things are near normal at this point. With the exception of wearing masks and some dining rooms not being open, there are very few differences between now and before. We’ve been able to go where we want to go and do what we want to do.

One thing I learned is that the Amish are basically going about their lives as if nothing is going on. I kinda envy that lifestyle.

So if you’re one of the people still sitting in one location because you are scared to get out there and do stuff, I encourage you to just go. Especially if you have a family. Don’t deny your kids the opportunity to travel. It’s a great time to get out there. Crowds are gone. It’s much easier to do what you want if you don’t mind certain inconveniences like social distancing and wearing masks.

Also, I want to make sure the most important point of this episode is hammered home. If you’re going to have a business of any kind, you have to make sure it is as resilient as possible. This means that you need to build your online presence and ability to communicate with your customers in case of extraordinary circumstances. That’s actually why I created this podcast. This podcast is here to teach you these skills so that you can have a successful business on the road no matter what life throws at you.

So, I ask you to help others find the podcast by giving it a rating and review. Also, make sure you are subscribed so that you don’t miss any future business-building goodness.

If you want to join the discussion about this episode or any of the others, we’d love to see you in the Facebook group over at tourfree.me/fb.

If you like the show, tell a friend. If you don’t like the show, tell an enemy. Just tell somebody.

Until next time, I’m Jason Wyatt and I’ll see you on the road.

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