Among the many things COVID-19 has taken from us is the ability to travel effortlessly. And while we all look forward to the day that this “new normal” becomes a distant memory, no one may be as grateful when it comes as Janet Semenova. That’s because Semenova knows firsthand just how precious of a freedom it is.
“I was born in 1983 in Uzbekistan,” she says. “At that time, it was a communist republic in the former Soviet Union.”
As a result, her family’s freedoms—from what books they could read to when (and if) they could leave the country—were restricted.
“For years, my parents quietly planned our emigration to the United States,” says Semenova, noting that families who fled were seen as traitors. “At 7, my parents unexpectedly took me out of school one day and drove to the airport.”
They would board a plane to Chicago, officially becoming refugees. Upon arriving, her parents divorced. Two suitcases to their name, Semenova—who didn’t speak English at the time—and her mother began life anew.
“Once more comfortable socially and financially, we traveled as often as possible,” says Semenova. “People don’t realize the freedom a U.S. passport grants to explore all of the beauty in the world.”
But, their trips together came to an abrupt halt when Semenova was a high school senior.
“In 2000, my mom was diagnosed with liposarcoma, a rare cancer,” says Semenova, who would lose her mom in 2002.
Her mother’s illness inspired Semenova to become a nurse practitioner, initially in Pennsylvania. The career path would also lead to her finding love with an emergency room physician named Jon Hornstein. After the two married, they moved to Phoenix in 2008, when Semenova was eight months pregnant with their first child, no less! By 2010, they were a family of four living in Paradise Valley, with Hornstein still working as a physician and Semenova as a pediatric nurse practitioner at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. When not busy saving lives, the couple made it a point to travel with their children, visiting 17 countries in less than 10 years.
“I wanted my children to be as thankful for their passports as I,” says Semenova.
It was actually during a trip to Costa Rica in 2017 that Semenova was inspired to take her love of travel to a whole new level, after she met a travel agent who was vacationing at their same hotel.
“I didn’t know they still existed,” says Semenova. “Something clicked. I wanted to do the same thing.”
Once back in Arizona, and while still working as a nurse, Semenova co-founded Boutique Travel Advisors. The business curates hyper-customized travel for groups of 1 to 100 anywhere in the world. The business booming, Semenova left nursing to focus on the company full time in 2019, only to have COVID-19 hit just months later. While devastating on several levels, Semenova remains hopeful and ever-grateful.
“I am thankful each day that Jon is remaining safe as a frontline worker and that our children are thriving despite the modified learning environment,” says Semenova. “This is not the end of our lives as we knew them, but a modification required to win the war on this disease.”