“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”—Beatle John Lennon
What does it mean to be a digital nomad/vagabond/full-time traveler in the age of coronavirus? For us, it meant a series of remade plans.
Early this year, we rebooked the trip to Taiwan and South Korea that we scrapped last year when Melissa’s father got very ill. We applied and were accepted to do house sits in Singapore and South Korea in March and April. We bought air tickets to Singapore, leaving on March 2 and returning on June 3. We started planning itineraries and combing lists of host families who belong to the same international hospitality association that we do, Servas.
By early February, the coronavirus outbreak that began in eastern China was the talk of Asia. People were growing increasingly nervous, avoiding crowds and wearing face masks. Although Taiwan and South Korea had relatively few cases of COVID-19 at that point, it became obvious that a trip there would not be the kind we’d dreamed about.
Sure, the crowds at tourist sites would be small. But there would be none of the vibrant street life and carefree sidewalk food culture that we love about Asia. And we couldn’t expect to experience the famous friendliness and hospitality of Taiwanese and South Korean people at a time when everyone was worried about interacting with outsiders.
Then the people we were supposed to house sit for had their trips canceled. And we realized that, yet again, our first visit to northern Asia would have to wait.
Upcoming work projects later this year meant that March, April, and May were our best chance for overseas travel in 2020. And after a year in the United States, we were determined to go somewhere new. So we set our sights on Europe and converted our airline tickets from Singapore to London—on the theory that with budget airlines, we could get almost anywhere in Europe from London. Our only goal was to stay far away from Italy, at that time the only part of Europe with many COVID-19 cases.
Then we landed a house-sitting gig in Istanbul for mid-April, and we threw ourselves into planning our first visit to Turkey. We hoped to follow that with travel around the Greek islands and maybe coastal Croatia and Montenegro, depending on how things looked in Italy at that point. Our byword was flexibility: We were going to keep our options open and try to stay far away from coronavirus outbreaks.
To avoid paying hefty last-minute airfares, when we changed our tickets from Asia to Europe, we had to postpone our departure date from March 2 to March 18. Little did we realize what a godsend that delay would be.
By early March, the coronavirus was spreading throughout Europe, and travel restrictions around the world were tightening daily. We consider ourselves savvy travelers who can adapt well to changing circumstances, but we didn’t want to risk getting stranded overseas and not being allowed back into our own country. So with very heavy hearts—and maybe a few tears of frustration—we canceled the Europe trip as well.
Everyone’s horizons are narrowing right now. Our determination to go somewhere new turned into a desire to find someplace quiet, comfortable, and green where we could ride out this turbulent period. Fearful of limits on out-of-state travel (rightly, as it turned out), we focused our search on Virginia—the state where we had been imposing on the hospitality of our friends the Ferraros for many months.
With so many people staying home, demand for AirBnB rentals has plummeted. That worked in our favor: We got a large discount on a nice apartment in the foothills of central Virginia, which we’ve rented for a month (and may extend for another month).
It’s on the ground floor of a house on top of a hillside. There are windows on three sides, with views of trees and rolling hills (see the photo at the top of this post). There’s a comfy bed, a nice couch and TV, a big table under a window where Melissa can do art projects, another table that’s good for writing and games and jigsaw puzzles, and a decent kitchen where we can cook meals. We’ve stocked the fridge and cupboards with several weeks’ worth of food. And our kind landlady searched high and low to get us well supplied with toilet paper.
So, after months of plans that fell through, we finally have one that should work out. We plan to live here quietly for a while, watching spring come to the mountains at the foot of Shenandoah National Park. We’ll cook, hike, do yoga, paint, write, read, play games, catch up on TV, and stay connected with our friends and relatives. Nothing the least bit exotic, but settled and comfortable.
For people with no home, at a time when everyone is supposed to stick as close to home as possible, we can’t ask for more than that. And as we see reports of travelers stranded across the globe, stuck in uncomfortable situations and wondering how they’ll get home, we’re deeply grateful that the worst thing we’ve had to deal with this year has been postponing some dreams.