03 Jun Life update: Covid-19, travel and the future
It’s been months since I blogged and, during that time, the world has become an unrecognisable ruin. Ravaged by a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands and decimated the economy. Who could have imagined a world where planes were grounded, borders closed, whole countries locked down? On top of that, the USA bleeding and burning with social injustice. I couldn’t. Even in the dozens of dystopian novels I love to read, I never imagined a real disaster would feel like this: powerless, sudden, surreal.
But then, you know all that, because you’re living it too. We all are, to varying degrees. We’ve all lost something from Covid-19: income, opportunities, freedom, housing and in the worst case, loved ones. That’s the real tragedy, of course, and while people are dying it feels insane to write or think about travel, to feel sorry for yourself or to worry about your own circumstances. This is especially true given what’s happening in the USA. As a white, privileged person I have it easy and cannot imagine what’s it’s like to be oppressed, ignored and dehumanised.
However, after weeks of telling myself to be grateful for what I have and not to moan about the loss of income, our insecure housing situation and wrecked plans, I realised that it does me no good to deny my feelings. Yes, I’m worried for the world, but on a personal level, I’m also devastated about losing my travel writing work and more broadly, about what’s happened to the entire travel industry. Who knows how many businesses and livelihoods are being lost in the sector, particularly in regions that rely on tourism to survive? I know the industry isn’t perfect, especially environmentally, but I hope it can somehow recover, perhaps in a more responsible way.
Despite everything, I can now recognise that there are people far worse off than me and understand that I’m fortunate, while also allowing myself to be sad and to feel uncertain about the future. Because, the future is one huge, unpredictable void at the moment. For everyone. This pandemic has illuminated the fractures in societies, changed the way we all live and work, what we view as important and wiped other concerns – even previously massive ones like Brexit – off the map.
Our personal Covid-19 journey
When lockdown came in the UK, we were housesitting in London. In fact, our whole calendar until October was filled with house sits, visits to family and a long, summer trip to Canada and the USA. We both had secure, yet short-term work contracts, and I had some freelance work on the side. Our savings account was slowly filling up. Somehow, by hook or by crook, we were making life in the UK work.
While watching Boris’s speech on TV, the homeowners we were sitting for messaged us to say they’d be returning the next day. Lacking a home of our own to lockdown in, we made a split-second decision to head to Wales, where Andrew’s parents had a motorhome which they kindly let us isolate in for a while. The days melted into one, with walks in the nearby forest, Skype calls and watching hours of endless news.
Even though schools closed, most stayed open to accommodate the children of key workers. So, after quarantining in Wales, Andrew returned to London to fulfil his work contract at a school in Bermondsey. With Airbnbs and hotels shut, he booked cheap accommodation for key workers whilst I stayed separately with family, enjoying a peaceful daily routine and plenty of dog walks. We came under fire for this decision and were shamed by some for moving under lockdown, adding guilt to the list of emotions weighing us down in these strange times.
Through a stroke of luck, a family we house sat for in February offered to let us a flat in Teddington for three months, at a cut-price rate. Relieved to be reunited, we moved in at the beginning of May. Since then life has been a routine of work, staying home and daily walks in nearby Bushy Park and along the Thames. This is a beautiful area and we’re so thankful to be riding things out here. We’ve been cancelling our summer travel plans, attempting to get refunds and accepting that we’re probably only going to receive credit for our flights.
Andrew is in school three days a week and although I’ve lost pretty much all of my travel work, I’m fortunate to have been furloughed for the final few weeks of one contract and to have also received a small self-employment grant. This has allowed me the breathing space to launch the new vegan website I’ve been dreaming about and planning for over a year. It’s an uncertain time, income-wise, but we’re grateful that Andrew has his teaching job and our savings account is healthy.
Above all else, we are so, so lucky that none of our family or friends have been sick and that we remain healthy. I remind myself every day that things could be, and are for many, a million times worse. We’re ok, all things considered, we’re doing fine.
Tentative post-Covid plans
For an anxious, chronic over-planner, not knowing what comes next is difficult for me, as I’m sure it is for many people. This manifests in strange moods, periods where I find it difficult to stay motivated or even speak to family and friends. It leaks out in anxiety-ridden dreams, the most common a recurring one where my contact lenses have grown to huge proportions and I’m struggling to stuff them into my eyes. I Googled this and apparently, I’m not the only one who has this dream – perhaps it means that circumstances are too big for me to absorb?
We only have this apartment until August though, so we do have to figure out what we can do next. With housing an over-priced nightmare in London (this place usually rents for over £1,100 per month, bills not included), we need to find a cheaper alternative. Housesitting opportunities will be scarce since people can’t and perhaps don’t have the money to travel and who knows when Airbnbs and hotels will reopen. They’re a sure-fire way to run-down our savings in record time anyway.
In pre-Covid times, we would have simply moved to a cheaper place for a while to regroup. Understandably, international movement isn’t going to be allowed for some time and who knows when or if any of us will ever be able to travel with ease again, to cross the seas and hop over borders. As soon as it’s safe to do so, when flights and visas allow and if we can get tested and fulfil quarantine requirements abroad, we’re pretty sure that we’ll be returning to Asia. Obviously, only if and when we can do so without putting anyone at risk.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the news, but Vietnam has done an amazing job of containing and eliminating the virus – in fact, it’s returning to some sense of normalcy. Tourism is decimated, but their e-visa system is opening again in July and hopefully international flights will resume shortly after. The language centre we used to work for in Hanoi are recruiting overseas teachers for September and have told Andrew there’s a teaching or managerial role there for him, should he want it. We’re also monitoring the situation in Thailand.
We don’t have any clear-cut answers yet, we’ll have to see what happens. Until then, we’ll keep on taking one day at a time.
I hope that you’re all safe and well. Let us know in the comments below how you’ve been dealing with Coronavirus and this strange new normal.