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The idea of travel can be overwhelming sometimes. The world is large, with so many people, cultures, landscapes, and climates. For the average traveller, there is always a little anxious excitement before a trip. Who will you meet? What will you see? For Scott Meyer, these were not the questions going through his mind. No. He was wondering something else. 

“Will I be okay?” 

At twelve years old Scott Meyer was diagnosed with Common Variable Immune Disorder (CVID), a rare immune disorder affecting the production of his red and white blood cells and platelet count. 

As an active young kid, it was an adjustment to learn to live with an immune deficiency. 

With medication and healthy living, Meyer can live a relatively normal life. He discovered a love for racing, and after meeting his wife and going on his honeymoon, he also discovered another love: travel.  

“There are so many places in the world that I’ve always wanted to see. My wife has done a lot of travelling, so it made it easy to go,” said Meyer. 

Meyer’s immune deficiency requires him to self-inject a blood by-product into his abdomen every five days by way of syringes and needles. The blood by-product, hemoglobin, works to normalize Meyer’s levels so his immune system can sit at the lower end of functioning. It’s the best he can ask for given his condition. 

The hemoglobin comes in 8ml vials and must be kept between 8 and 20 degrees Celsius. It’s a relatively easy responsibility while at home; however, in the fall of 2019, Meyer was going to do something no Canadian with his condition was known to have done before – he was going to travel to Asia for five months. 

With 28 vials in a small cooler inside of his backpack and enough medical supplies for nearly five months, Meyer and his wife waved goodbye to Medicine Hat, Alberta, and hello to Tokyo. 

While Meyer spent the first week of the trip hopping around Japan with temperature-controlled accommodation, the following six weeks would be the challenge. Although Meyer chose to do a bus tour to be more secure, it was still South East Asia: humid heat, high temperatures, long bus rides, and basic accommodation, oftentimes without air conditioning. 

“My worst fear was that my blood would warm up too much. It’s Asia. It’s hot. Even with the triple cooler and ice packs, I still worried that it would be too much,” said Meyer. 

Meyer recalls the day the group walked across the border from Thailand into Cambodia. 

“It was the first time I was really out in the public with my medication.”

Scott Meyer

He recalls the commotion of people at the border: peddling counterfeit clothing, cigarettes, food. Vehicles were driving about everywhere. Dust and smog clouded the air, already thick with the heat from engines and the South East Asia climate. 

However, it didn’t take long for Meyer to get used to travelling with his medication. 

“It came with its complications, but it was easier than I thought it would be,” said Meyer. “Our tour guide was always great at helping me find ice or cool places to leave my medication.” 

Although every day Meyer had to ensure he had enough ice to keep his medication cold for the long bus rides and overnight trains, his immune deficiency didn’t stop him from experiencing everything to the fullest, and he still found time in his busy days to complete his infusions, a process that can sometimes take upwards of two hours. 

“It was admirable how Scott didn’t seem to feel like he was different or privileged, or, on the contrary, disadvantaged by his immune deficiency,” said Yasmine Bogaert, a fellow traveller that Meyer met on his bus tour in Asia.   

Yasmine and Scott pose for a photo during a break from a 13km kayak trip down a river in Laos. (Photo by Emily Meyer)

Most days were business as usual for Meyer, but since CVID isn’t a common disease, he wondered whether the border security agents would question his extensive medical equipment and vials of medication since he was crossing multiple borders, many by foot. 

“We were warned that the border into Singapore would be the most difficult,” said Meyer, recalling the warnings from his tour guide. 

According to Meyer, the border crossing to Singapore was the only time in Asia that security really questioned his medication. He laughs, remembering the guards asking if the medication was steroids, an illegal import into the country. 

“I told them, ‘Look at me. Do I look like I do steroids?’”

Scott Meyer

“They laughed at me and let me go.”

Meyer was about two months into his trip when whispers of the Coronavirus began to swirl in Asia. By the time he was leaving Indonesia in early February, there was a noticeable tension surrounding the virus. There were rumoured cases at nearby hotels. Western tourists were decked out in masks. Anxious travellers cringed at the coughs and sneezes of fellow passengers on the aircraft. 

But these were just whisperings: small feelings of tension. 

Meyer chose to leave Asia and flew to the South Pacific: first to cruise around Vanuatu and New Caledonia, then New Zealand. 

Scott in Vila, Vanuatu (Photo by Emily Meyer)

“I thought it was very inspirational and brave that Scott travelled with his immune deficiency. I’d constantly be stressing about the ‘what ifs’,” said Paige Lewis, a traveller that Meyer met on one of his bus tours.   

“I can only imagine how many things he would have had to think about before the trip,” said Alice Smith, another traveller from Meyer’s bus tour. 

Meyer considered many situations before leaving for the trip. He took into account what would happen if his medication spoiled or if he got sick. He planned extra medical supplies in case any were taken at the borders. What he didn’t plan for – what no one could have planned for – was the pandemic. 

The situation abroad escalated at an alarming rate. What started as a whisper erupted into pandemonium over a few weeks, and then, seemingly overnight, the world started slamming doors.  

“It was our last day on the cruise, and we woke up to news that all these sporting events had been cancelled in the States. Other cruise lines had stopped sailing,” recalled Meyer. “It was all happening so fast.” 

Meyer and his wife had tickets to the Formula One race in Melbourne for the day their ship docked in port. By the evening, the race was cancelled. 

Meyer was to be boarding another cruise to Hawaii in just a few weeks, but ports everywhere were closing. Cruise ships were turning into quarantine zones with outbreaks occurring at random. Governments were issuing warnings for travellers to come home. 

The afternoon that Meyer disembarked the ship, his cruise to Hawaii was cancelled, and he realized there could be a thin window of time to get home safely. 

It wasn’t just the pandemic that was the issue – his medication was running low. He had a month-long supply of vials left. If borders closed, how long would it be before they opened? 

In the course of a few days, Meyer’s dream trip turned into a nightmare. The ‘what ifs’ that he had been able to push to the back of his mind for nearly four months were now front and center. 

Meyer and his wife didn’t have a choice. They cancelled the rest of their trip and booked one-way tickets back to Canada for the next day. 

The trip home was just as stressful as the previous 24 hours had been. After all, they had spent nearly three months in Asia, which had turned into a massive red zone. They’d just gotten off a cruise ship which was considered a high-risk form of travel. Would they even be allowed to board their flight? 

“They asked us a few questions about where we had been, but in the end, we got a stamp that said we were all clear for flying,” said Meyer. “It wasn’t until we touched down on North American soil that we actually breathed a small sigh of relief.” 

Even after Meyer and his wife returned safely to Canada, they still had two weeks to sit and wait, quarantined at home, wondering if symptoms would surface. Thankfully, they never did. 

It wasn’t the ideal end to an exhilarating adventure, but it’s one Meyer won’t soon forget. However disappointing and frightening it was to be caught abroad when a pandemic broke out, it hasn’t deterred Meyer from future travel.

“Of course I’ll travel again. The different landscapes and architecture are so intriguing. There is always something unique to experience,” said Meyer. 

For Meyer, travel is an enriching and exciting experience; however, he understands the hesitancies that come with leaving the familiar borders of home. The important thing is to overcome those hesitancies. 

“It’s best to open that door and walk a few steps to learn how much you can handle before writing off the possibility of travel at all. You might be surprised. I know I was.” 

Scott Meyer

Photos and story by Emily Meyer

Feature Image: Scott Meyer visits the ancient temple of Bayon in Cambodia (photo by Emily Meyer)

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Emily Meyer

Hi! I'm Emily Meyer. I live to travel! I have been to 46 countries, and have plans to visit many more! My favourite part about travelling is the food and the people!

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