"We were just praying and hoping we could get the hell home," says Billy Trudsoe of his journey with wife Ivana back to the U.S.

Billy and Ivana Trudsoe never thought their annual trip to Europe would turn into a chaotic race against time to get back to the United States, but that’s exactly what happened for the New York couple this month.

Now quarantined at their Bolton Landing home since March 17, Billy, 38, says he’s choosing to share their experience in hopes that others will avoid traveling during the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic until it is safe to do so.

“This story is to let people know what the consequences are,” he explains. “We are lucky, we are fortunate, but there are consequences if you don’t do the right thing, and we’re so grateful to be on U.S. soil.”

The harrowing ordeal started earlier this month when Billy and Ivana, 26, departed for their annual, month-long vacation to Slovakia to visit her family. This year was no different, despite concerns that coronavirus cases were rising in that area.

“It was in the back of our heads, but we didn’t really have those thoughts,” Billy explains. “We weren’t panicking or scared… We said we’re still gonna go because we’re not gonna live our lives in fear.”

Billy and Ivana Trudsoe

The Trudsoes departed from Newark Airport and arrived in Vienna on March 1. Once they landed, they took a bus to Bratislava’s airport in Slovakia, where they rented a car and drove to Ivana’s family.

Over the course of the next seven days, Billy and Ivana’s trip proceeded like normal. The couple visited Ivana’s friends, went sightseeing, and visited breweries. COVID-19 was barely a thought in their minds, even when “things started to heat up” around March 9.

“We said, ‘Let’s ride this out, I don’t know what’s gonna happen’ … [but] we only get to see her parents so often,” Billy explains.

However, their perspective changed on March 13 when Ivana’s father Jozef came home from Bratislava and urged the couple to cut their trip short. But things weren’t so easy.

Because they used a travel agency to book their vacation, Billy had to contact them and see if they could move their flight up, but every attempt he made was met with little to no answers. Agents told him he could not depart from a different airport than originally planned and when they finally did find him a flight, those plans somehow fell through.

As his frustrations built, so did the intensity of the virus. By March 16, Billy says Slovakia had instilled a law that everyone had to wear face masks when going out in public or they’d be fined. That same day, Billy and Ivana scrapped the travel agency and booked their own flights home from Vienna, leaving on Thursday, March 19.

Since it was only Monday, the couple planned on spending the next three days with Ivana’s family — but yet again, a wrench was thrown in their plans when Jozef frantically alerted Billy that Austria was closing their border at 7 a.m. the following day.

With those regulations, Ivana was allowed back in Slovakia under a mandatory 14-day quarantine because she is a citizen, but non-citizens, like Billy, would not be allowed into the country. This meant if their plans happened to fall through again, Billy would be trapped in Austria.

“My heart was racing. There was nothing we could do, we just had to get to Austria. We were a wreck and our emotions were flowing,” Billy says. “We were gambling. It was like a game of Texas Hold ‘Em, and we were all in.”

So the couple frantically gathered their luggage, said goodbye to Ivana’s family, and “hightailed it across Slovakia,” stopping first at Bratislava’s already-closed airport to return their rental car before Jozef’s boss drove them to the Slovakian-Austrian border.

Along the 4½-hour journey, Billy decided to document their travels on his Facebook, explaining, “In the back of my head, I was like, ‘This is so historic.’ It’s like a wartime situation… it’s unheard of in this day and age.”

Once they made it to the border, Billy and Ivana traveled on foot — with two checked bags, two carry-ons, and two backpacks — across the police barriers and waited for a car that Ivana had ordered to pick them up. But that car never came.

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By some miracle, another vehicle who dropped off a passenger suddenly pulled up to the Trudsoes and asked if they needed a ride to the airport. With no other option, Billy and Ivana agreed to pay 50 Euros and take a chance on the stranger.

When they finally made it to Vienna, they checked into a hotel and then headed to the airport to see if they could depart before Thursday.

Luckily, they got the news they wanted: they could get on a flight the next day from Vienna to Newark with a connecting stop in Munich. As it turned out, the flight would also be one of the last to head to the U.S. — after Tuesday, any flights to America were suspended.

“We were just praying and hoping we could get the hell home… so we were pretty relieved,” Billy explains, noting that they officially left Europe the next morning and safely arrived in Newark on Tuesday, March 17 at 1:15 p.m. local time.

Upon landing, the couple filled out paperwork from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and had their temperatures taken. They’ve been home ever since, where they’ve been keeping a watchful eye on their health and reporting their temperatures twice a day to the Warren County health department.

Through it all, Billy credits his late mother and their optimistic outlook for getting them home safely.

“I count my blessings to my mother, my guardian angel. I felt her presence and I felt her guide me and my wife through our way home. I know she was looking over us,” he says, adding, “We were thinking ‘What if?’ but we did our best to stay positive. Emotions will get the best of you, but sometimes you gotta bottle them up, stay focused, and keep moving forward.”

As for what he hopes people take away from their dramatic story?

“I would not travel unless it’s a necessity. Don’t do it, it’s just not worth it,” he urges. “If we would’ve waited one extra day, I would’ve been in Austria right now saying, ‘How am I gonna get home?’ I can’t get stress it enough. People, just stay home.”

“The only way we’re gonna get rid of coronavirus is if we all work together. We can’t combat this virus without everyone doing their part,” he adds. “People really need to wake up and make the right decisions, not for themselves, but for their community and for their country.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, there have been at least 52,215 cases and 675 deaths attributed to coronavirus in the United States, according to the New York Times. New York currently leads the country with at least 25,665 cases and 210 reported deaths.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.