CHICAGO (CBS) — It sounds like something dreamed up by the producers of “The Amazing Race” – a young couple rents out their place to jet set around the world, and then a pandemic hits.
Can they get home safely? And where will they live?
This, of course, is not “The Amazing Race,” it’s real life. On Wednesday, CBS 2’s Lauren Victory introduced us to the Chicagoans trying to navigate just such a scenario.
Coming back to that same old place, Sweet Home Chicago, probably never felt so real for people fresh off flights at O’Hare International Airport recently. More than 13,000 Americans worried about COVID-19 are struggling to get back to U.S. soil right now, according to the U.S. State Department.
“That was the first time that I ever felt scared traveling,” said Andy Webster.
Andy and Emma Webster made the mad dash from more than 10 time zones away.
“There was a lot of uncertainty, if we couldn’t get on a flight out, of where we would stay,” said Emma Webster, “and if we needed healthcare, without knowing the language, that could be really scary.”
The Chicago couple was in Sri Lanka, starting a five-month adventure abroad.
They had quit their jobs, rented out their condo, and left the U.S. in February – while keeping an eye on the coronavirus news.
“People were texting us saying: ‘Hey we’re thinking about you. Stay safe,’” said Andy Webster. “And we were literally sitting on the beach, you know, like, ‘What are you guys talking about?’”
And on a dime, their oasis became a COVID-19 breeding ground.
“We went out to dinner and we came back, and they were taking our temperatures to get back into the hotel,” said Andy Webster. “Everyone was wearing face masks.”
“The national park we had planned to go was closing; businesses, so that country was moving towards lockdown mode,” said Emma Webster.
Scrambling, the husband and wife made quick decisions for a long trip.
First, they went from Sri Lanka to Dubai. They then went to Singapore to avoid coronavirus chaos in European airports, and then they landed in San Francisco. Finally, 15,000 miles later, they were back in Chicago.
The hustle home had one final hitch, though. Their condo was occupied.
“We sent a text saying, ‘Hey, if anyone knows anyone who has an empty place or who is renting?’” Andy Webster said.
They talked to us from an Airbnb, where they are quarantining for two weeks. That is plenty of time to process their trip of a lifetime that was cut very short.
“Definitely bummed,” said Andy Webster. “We had been planning this for a year, we were super excited. That said, we’re really trying our best to put this in perspective too, right? This is a serious situation. People are dying.”
The Websters consider themselves lucky. They flew commercially at the last minutes using airline points.
The Department of State says its working with the departments of Homeland Security and Defense to charter flights to get the thousands of Americans overseas home. But that’s going to take a while.