24 Dec Merry Christmas from Portugal
Merry Christmas from Portugal. Yes, we finally escaped the UK winter, not to Vietnam as we’d planned but back to our former home in the Algarve. This wasn’t where we thought we’d end up but as the year comes to a close, we’re just grateful to be anywhere other than the UK. It’s been a strange year, that’s for sure.
However, I know that compared to many people, we’re fortunate to have gotten through 2020 relatively unscathed. Despite working in the travel industry, I’ve managed to scrape together work, we’re both healthy and have families that have helped with our housing issues this year. To everyone that’s really suffering: I hope 2021 brings better days.
Vietnam fails and Covid scares
November was a bleak month for us, starting with another UK-wide lockdown as the days grew shorter, darker and colder. At that point, we were putting all our energy into getting to Hanoi. We’d spent around £500 preparing documents for our language centre and finally had our visa approval from the Vietnamese government. Our departure was arranged for the 30th and it felt like the stars were aligning – until our flight was cancelled.
After a near emotional breakdown and frustrating calls to the airline, we found out that we could re-book on a special flight for visa holders at the beginning of December that would cost around $1,000 per person, one way. Add that to the $1,500 quarantine hotel in Hanoi and extra Covid PCR costs and we were seriously doubting we’d make any money back with the Vietnamese school year ending in May. Then my family caught Covid.
Suddenly, the virus that had been disrupting all our lives for the past year was right on our doorstep. The reality of it hit home, literally, as my Dad and my brother’s family (who are teachers and in a childcare support bubble with my parents) tested positive for Covid. Given that Andrew and I were living with my parents, we went into self-isolation. Remarkably, we tested negative, along with my Mum, but that almost made things more difficult as we had to isolate in separate areas of the house while worrying that my Dad, in his mid-60s, could get seriously ill.
Thankfully, everyone recovered and we somehow managed to avoid catching Covid, testing negative again at the end of our self-isolation period. It was a nightmarish time though and the whole situation really set off my OCD, brought on a bout of insomnia and caused so much anxiety. At the end of it all, we were more desperate to get away than ever.
Escaping to Portugal
Up until then, I’d spent months mentally preparing for a move back to Asia. I was excited for the chaos, colour and energy of Hanoi. We’d finally be able to afford our own apartment again, we’d both have stable jobs and be living in almost a pre-Covid culture given that Vietnam has all but eliminated the virus. After a year of uncertainty and having no home of our own, feeling like a burden staying with family and worrying about the future, we just wanted our independence back. I wanted to feel like I was living my own life again.
In the end though, we had to face up to the financial facts. Getting to Vietnam was going to cost close to $5,000. By the time we had quarantined, work wouldn’t start till January and we’d have just a few months of the school year left to earn back what we’d spent. With our Tiny House scheduled for completion in the summer, we couldn’t commit to a longer stay either. So, we finally had to admit defeat and pull the plug on our Vietnam plans.
Once lockdown ended at the beginning of December, we knew we had a limited time to get out of the UK. It was obvious with the way the virus was spiralling and plans to let people mingle at Christmas that another lockdown would come soon. So, we made a list of destinations that were allowing Brits in and searched for flights and apartments on Airbnb. Portugal came up as the best bet.
Being back in the Algarve
When we left the Algarve in summer 2019, after nine months of living and working here, we had no plans to return. Obviously, we couldn’t have predicted what 2020 would bring and how the world would change. As the plane swooped in to land at Faro airport what I felt was just overwhelming relief. I’m so grateful to be anywhere other than the UK, especially now that this new mutant strain of the virus has emerged and the UK has been effectively cut-off from the world and plunged into lockdown again.
We were so lucky to get away when we did and we plan to stay away for as long as we can. Of course, we have Brexit looming too – the icing on the cake of this epically awful year – but for now we’re just enjoying some peace and stillness. Unlike in the UK, we can afford to rent an apartment here so we have our own space to live and work remotely. I’m fortunate to have picked up more freelance work and Andrew has an online tutoring job lined up for January.
The Covid rate in Portugal, especially the Algarve, is low and we can easily keep ourselves to ourselves. Most days we’re just in the apartment working or out walking on the beaches, staying socially distanced and wearing masks when we’re in shops. Christmas will be just us cooking and watching Netflix, with a few family Skype calls and a walk on the windswept stretch of sand just outside of our apartment. We’re certainly seeing the Algarve with new eyes and appreciating its beauty and seclusion more than ever.
Looking ahead to 2021
With the world in Covid ruins and Brexit poised to cause all kinds of chaos, I’m reluctant to make any real plans for 2021. So far, we know that our Tiny House will be ready by autumn and we’ll need to be back in the UK to get that towed to a suitable plot (which is still yet to be determined). We also have a tentative London housesit booked for June. Since we can both work remotely though, we’re not rushing back to the UK before then.
Things will change again in January though, when the UK leaves the EU for good. From then, we’ll have just 90 days to spend in EU countries over the next six months. That means we’re going to have to go to a non-EU country for a while, assuming we can get to one given Covid and travel restrictions. For now, we’re in Portugal until the end of January and then hoping to go to Albania perhaps for a couple of months. We want to save some of our precious EU days for a stint in Greece when the weather warms up in Spring. We’ll see how things go.
Here’s hoping that with the vaccine in play, 2021 is going to be better for everyone. We wish you all a safe and peaceful holiday season, wherever you are in the world.