This is the longest I have been at home in 9 years!
It has been 2 months since I finished my non-stop trip around the world. Transitioning back into society for me has actually been easy overall. I mentally prepared before returning and I think that really is what saved me. I read about the post travel issues many travelers encounter when they return and tried to prepare for it months before. I returned with a plan and followed it the first month but this last month well as the world knows Covid-19 shut everything down so I wasn’t able to continue along my plan per se…like everyone I’m just stuck at home.
I do think that my last few stops on my trip also helped prepare me for a return. Each stop added a modern element I had not seen in a long while…driving a car in Oman was such freedom, walking among skyscrapers in Dubai was eyeopening, hearing the Spanish language on my layovers in Madrid was a fantastic treat, celebrating my birthday in Portugal with a close friend who joined me and updated me on real world life was perfect…and even running into many tourist was for the first time ever a welcoming encounter (says no off-the-beaten-path backpacker, such as myself, ever). In general all were steps toward entering an all around well set up infrastructure world again. Instead of a direct placement back into society these steps/stops while still traveling helped dearly on the return to the US.
My plan for returning was to rest for at least 1-2 weeks and slowly see friends and family. I decided to restbecause I was quite tired from so much travel that I knew it was what I needed most. The last 5 months of travel was challenging, I would take a rest and continued then repeated multiple times just to keep going….so many signs along the way pointed to going home it was absurd yet I pushed a bit more and a bit more because I felt my birthday in early February was the perfect finish line….A struggle for me to reach that date because at the end of my trip I was always on a roller coaster of highs and lows with the adventure…Long term travel definitely takes it´s toll especially when the last few months were spent in West Africa…one of the least developed parts of our planet.
By week 3 my resume was updated and I was visiting more friends. I was however avoiding all invites to travel…I knew I needed to stay put, organize my stuff and just chill. Finally week 4 saw me start applying for jobs and establish something of a routine. To celebrate 1 month I decided to join some friends for a weekend in Vancouver, Canada (2 hour drive)…which I hadn’t visited since Winter Olympics in 2010! I went because part of my plan was to move there soon and this was an opportunity to check and make sure I still liked that idea.
Vancouver was a breath of fresh air…in Seattle everything was closed, many working from home (wfh) and few people were walking around due to the coronavirus…yet in Vancouver it was the opposite…it was great to see people on the street, supermarkets with non empty shelves and be able to go to restaurants and bars…but even there every day you would hear more and more about Coronavirus…I met with a friend who is a doctor there and he was quite worried about it but otherwise he was great.
Imagine this was just the beginning of all this uncertainty and things were changing by the day (sometimes even the hour). In fact we were actually uncertain if we could go…we called the borders to check before leaving and when it appeared all remained open we started driving…at least we now knew from the conversation that the US would let us back…crossing though was still uncertain in our heads. We got to the border and waa la we were cleared to cross!
It was interesting to see first hand the differences in procedures to cross the border. Canada’s Prime Minister said that very morning we were planning to cross, ¨that stricter measures would be taking place immediately¨ so we expected at least extra questioning. Crossing into Canada they asked reason for travel, if we had any symptoms, goods carried, weapons and past (2 weeks) travel yet returning to the US they asked why we went during the virus, scolded us then understood that the Hotel Marriott wouldn’t let us cancel and said we weren’t the only ones with that problem…further questions about weapons, past travel and done. No health questions at all…this really worried me that even the border was so lax about it…even distracted by our Marriott story. Really showed me the difference in communication and speed of response of these two nations…We thought it odd that neither side took temperatures…I know this might not help and that questions regarding health that people might lie but still…the ease given the situation was ridiculous. Any who a few days later both sides of the borders did close soo I’m glad I went then but realize it doesn’t help with my future plans.
The plan to move up to Canada and hopefully find work there has obviously changed. Not the best time to move somewhere you hardly know anyone (can’t socialize) and while jobs are kind of on a hiring freeze (no income to pay rent)…
”You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one. Each day is a different one, each day brings a miracle of its own. It’s just a matter of paying attention to this miracle” – Paulo Cohen
It does appear to be the best time to be home and spending time with my family…I guess that is what I am supposed to do and I am completely fine with that. Everything happens for a reason…as I generally say…although this is a rather odd thing right now (first ever worldwide quarantine). In fact I am thankful that I am here since I really haven’t been around like this before with my family and it is a cherished time for all of us. Might not be ideal for my plans but it’s certainly needed. I would say I am lucky I can be home and that I am not trapped alone in another country far away. Some say I got back just in time…I guess that is true…but I don’t see it quite like that.
While here the lockdown is quite relaxed, if anything, very American and often unclear. We have most retail closed (except food – mainly supermarkets & takeout/delivery -, medical -pharmacy/marijuana- , hardware) those that can are wfh (many, since Seattle is a Tech hub), schools are virtual (many) and we can go for a walk or exercise outside. While this is true here my Latin American friends literally can’t go out unless they need groceries, medical, 15 minute dog walks, or the children need something. When they do go out it is restricted by gender and sometimes hour…basically they are under full lockdown and highly control. For a few weeks this really had an effect on me…I felt as if I shouldn’t go out either because they couldn’t…This for me came mainly from social media…I didn’t want to show such a completely different world while friends were completely stuck…so I too barely left the house…in fact it impacted me so much I wanted off social media but this is also a moment you want to be connected so I remain on but now just try to show calming, beautiful or simpler things that might ease the drastic measures in some areas of the world.
This is just one example but having traveled around the world I find this moment so amazing to connect. Not only am I connecting to people from home but also people I met on my trip from all corners of the world have written or I have written them to check in and in some cases I’ve even called which has been wonderful. Through them I hear the stories of the real world, ones they don’t talk about on the nightly news (especially in the US, no one seems to know much about the international world here…). Unless you dig for information on your own would you know a bit but even then you only get some information so hearing from friends is actually really interesting and eye opening.
My friend in Beijing, China until recently was on quarantine for 2 months with her family and said it was best to just stay home (they are lucky to wfh and have 2 little ones). In Senegal there is no lockdown as it isn’t possible for those who live day to day in the population. There is curfew from 8 pm though and there is no travel between regions. In Nigeria (7 most populous country in world) they are on lockdown too. For the privileged they are at home but for the poor they are left to fend for themselves basically very little help to improve their situation. In Austria all borders are closed, my friends mom got the virus and recovered and it seems they are starting to try to return to a new normal opening up slowly. In Madrid, Spain they are in lockdown, only allowed to go out and get groceries and the government says public gathering places like restaurants and beaches will be closed all year. In a few weeks they are supposed to lift lockdown measures. They are now a family of 8 as one of her daughters returned with her family during the whole ordeal to renew a work visa and got stuck. In Sri Lanka…all is on lockdown, my friend is wfh. Singapore everything is moving almost as usual but cases have risen lately and further lockdown measures are likely coming soon. New Zealand just went on lockdown a few weeks ago, everything is closed and you can exercise outside near your home but can’t do water activities. My friend who works in NY got laidoff, quarantined 2 weeks then went South to a family house where she says it is better since the NY area was just so intense. A friend in Florida says things are closed but the whole wfh is not as easily catching on for some including his cousin who still goes to the office.
In all countries those hit worst by the quarantine are the poor. The stories above are of those who have a place to wait it out and many have income. I worry the most for those in poverty because they are about 50% of our population worldwide. I have seen it and it really worries me. No improvement for them while countries lockdown, no begging on the street, less people to sell their goods to in order to survive, cramped quarters shared with many others or simply no roof…let alone access to healthcare should the virus get to their community. Here in Seattle homeless/poor camp on the street (normally police would make them move elsewhere) and can go to shelters or food banks to get needs taken care of while others receive welfare checks (government money to buy the essentials)…even treatment for Covid-19 is free shall they contact it but in other countries this is far from the reality. The poor in most countries have absolutely no easy access to food and necessities which sounds scary and near impossible to begin imagining. The harshest I have heard is from friends in Colombia that say hundreds of Venezuelans (with their families; little ones and all) are walking back to their country (1000s of kms away) now that there is no government support for foreigners or consumers on the streets to help them…Imagine returning to a country that is in an economic crisis far worse than what corona virus is bringing after having left it seeking refuge abroad and making your life better. Indeed very sad times.
“We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.” – Paulo Cohen
Not that you are too interested in how I am taking it but I guess you did read this far so maybe you are ha ha. I have like I imagine most people gone from motivated to unmotivated days. Having no job taking my time to wfh nor kids makes filling hours with less motivation difficult. I still apply to jobs from time to time…there are some but I see the changes…for example my former employer had 1600 positions a month ago when I started searching, 2 weeks later only 650 and this week 100…so with that you can see the harsh impacts out there. My focus has turned from Canada to the US because that might be the best plan with such an uncertain world but I’m not giving up hope in Canada or beyond (ideally Europe).
I spend my days between exercise (run, bike, occasional kayak), writing (blog, diary, other), cleaning years of my stuff, hanging out or helping my family, reading a book or news (less and less each day spent on the same old news but is also about the only routine I have – 6 pm local news), eating (sometimes cooking or baking), talking to friends (reconnecting to so many it is crazy how long I’ve been away) and well a good chunk of time doing absolutely nothing. Unfortunately I could be more productive and that is what I am working on…finding ways to that again. I made a list to measure current productivity and so far most days are at 50%. It will make you laugh so I’ll share it, the list consists of 10 tasks each worth 10% and quite open-ended… ha ha **Apply to 1 job, write, read, exercise, call a friend, do 1 task (on a bigger more specific list), cook something besides breakfast, clean something, drink a bottle of water and sell something.** Sometimes it is the simple things that get you through…like a bottle of water lol.
Meanwhile I am living at my parents house where my aunt also lives. All are over 70 y/o so being here does worry me a lot and it doesn’t help that they are hard to keep home. My aunt needs help so I have been there to take her to doctors appointments in the city, get groceries, errands or simply picking stuff up off the floor. It has been quite sunny here and Spring has been sprouting up which is very pleasant to watch especially since my dad loves plants; there are so many flowers in the yard. It is amazing to be near the water again, it is so calming…meditative…from most places in Seattle you can see it…if not the water you see mountains…both often…so going to the beach is definitely part of life these days…the other day after a super moon the tide was way out and we got to explore all the sea creatures…very cool! Most though of Seattle for me has changed a lot over those 9 years, sometimes I like it and sometimes it is crazy knowing things you grew up with are completely different or just gone…but exploring keeps it all interesting at least. I usually do that by bike (running and kayaking too)…of course social distancing approved…exploring each trip new roads and neighborhoods (Seattle area is all about the neighborhoods) and I mix in challenges like cycling to a friends house (talking from afar but visiting) or a bakery ha ha (each time finding my way because I don’t seem to remember many road names…visual recall only). I am not in any rush to leave, don´t mind spending time with my family and don´t have any urge to travel except maybe to another state to see friends. I´m not looking for just any job for money but one I will most definitely enjoy so wait I will.
Although these times aren’t ideal I do see lots of cool things happening that will likely remain and form part of the future. The singularity no one knew was coming and has changed the course of everything forever.
The biggest seems to be community (although I still think babies might still join it in a few months ha ha). Everywhere neighborhoods seem to be connecting more, if not window to window or driveway to driveway then definitely virtually. The amount of people sharing information for free and helping out is great to see and people are exercising or doing happy hours (opposites attract, right).. both too lol. It almost feels friendlier out in the world…except for the initial stares at the supermarket as if you might have the virus…ha ha or fights over some items (forget your friendly neighborhood grocer ha ha joking they are helping everyone a lot) and people let’s recall many in the world don’t use TP (think about it, actually more sanitary).
Roads have no traffic and for some places this also means lower or no air pollution! With so many people realizing they are able to work from home this has really changed for the better. Really hoping that stays…well at least a few days a week from home so people don’t go crazy. If companies comes together on this we might have staggered work hours so all can keep traffic lower. Now that all know how much is achievable virtually – in some cases better, less costly and more efficiently done. In addition some cities have even closed streets completely in dense neighborhoods to allow more space for walking and exercise …it is like the ciclovia in Colombia – less cars? – how about no cars!
Medical care will hopefully seem more important…especially in the US it would be nice to see it more accessible for the population…as I wait it out without insurance so do many others here. My aunt has to get treatment every so often and I have taken her. IT’s interesting to watch the changes medically here. The screenings at the door this week finally had thermometers (weeks later) and only those who must be there were…cutting about 50% of the clients down. The rest are using a new service, telemedical …appointment via video conference …what a great idea! Why waste time going across town for something when those appointments that can be taken care of virtually! Wow! Like!
Oh and then there are nursing homes…a huge business in the US and currently one of the most dangerous places to be as an elderly person. Is it possible to see a change in society where most elderly are taken care of at home? (US at least!) With more people able to wfh people are finding ways to bring relatives home instead of all cooped up in a care facility. Less loneliness, more safety…could it work out? Not sure but I have visited from the window my other aunt and if we could she would be out too.
In the US especially I hope this whole thing makes workers actually stay at home when sick instead of our mentality to work through it in fear of wasting sick leave. In addition, I hope it means more people actually take a vacation and maybe venture to explore more at least locally. Although it may seem like people take vacation in the US let me remind you that just over 40% have passports out of 328 million people and in fact most never leave their city nor their state…so I’m hoping those neighborhood walks show them how much is out there!
Travel, what many wonder about and have opinions about. I´ll give my 2 cents…lol. Let´s just keep it local for awhile. Realize there is just so much to see nearby. Globalization has made it so we can go everywhere and now we can even do it virtually too ha ha. Well we could go everywhere and we will in time but this gives us a chance to discover or rediscover what gems we have right were we are or in our own countries that we just skipped over to go see the world. There is still so much to explore locally and we will. As I see it being home these two months…a lot has changed even the places we know. So take the time to go visit and support your local economy first. When borders open again and things calm a bit sure fly farther…many countries actually do rely on our tourism to support their economy…I personally hope to make it to Iceland this year. Something else to consider is the work side of travel…there might be less travel for work after this…my dad said the other day, ¨I might never need to travel again¨ since he now can do his classes from his desk. I know some stuff you must travel and see for work so I doubt it will completely change but many things might take this virtual approach and reduce the carbon footprint of airlines in an unforeseen way…instead of them buying to offset it.
A short note on consumerism…something I am not really a fan of at all, even if I worked in an industry all about it. It is nice to see that these days people are only buying what they need. Maybe some are excess buying online out of boredom but I feel most are realizing there are far less things needed to be happy and…well survive. I really hope this current realization makes a mark on many people and reduces the materialistic over purchasing happening in the world (you think it is bad in US or Europe wait until you see Asia!). All the over consumption really has a horrible impact on the environment, your health and society…and I hope people realize this when they return to being the usual in store consumer…too much material consumption is unnecessary. Especially if you have a job during this quarantine period, so much money is being saved right now it is ridiculous. I think less money spent these days is showing people how much money they were throwing out on saving for things that are more essential and meaningful to their lives.
Lastly, exercise. Not sure if it is just me but it seems that more are doing it. Especially as people realize how much it improves their mood. The only real thing helping us mentally during these hard times of quarantine is exercise. Most people I know do some form of exercise so it is hard to know but I have seen friends try something new and now make it part of their daily routine, while others seem to be giving in to and trying it since there is not much else to do. One friend is going on daily walks or hikes in the neighborhood, another tried the many free online programs and others are finding they have time again to incorporate exercise. I know it doesn´t suit everyone but here I am impressed by the many neighborhoods I go through and see so much activity….people are out walking, running and cycling all minding the social distance norms…it is incredible to witness. Also for those gyms who are virtual right now, this is huge! Access to more clients and less physical space consumed. Easier for clients to attend classes I think these virtual classes are definitely not leaving us in this busy world of ours…..oh and in person won´t leave but instead see virtual capacity increasing the class attendance!
Lift your glass (at the virtual happy hour) to this all ending or at least calming down as soon as possible. Hope you are taking the time to invest in your future in better ways and see the benefit of this time to reconnect with yourself, your family, your friends, your garden, those exercise apps and your neighbors. Also be happy…you can now say you were part of a historical moment never seen before and marked a change worldwide. We will get through this…humans always have…we are adaptable to new circumstances and that is what makes us resilient! As proven through history…trust me I read it at a museum on the origins of human history in Ethiopia ha ha…no but really!
And I am sure excited about that post quarantine party that will rage across the world when they do let us free!
More on Returning from LT Travel