loader image
Finding hope in uncertain times

Finding hope in uncertain times

I’ve been living in fear and anger lately, without much hope in uncertain times. We’ve had to leave our home in the UK, only to be treated like we don’t belong ‘back home’ in Australia. We couldn’t say goodbye to any of our friends or even to our life of the past six years – just had to jump on a plane and hope for the best. It’s been very sh!t.

COVID-19 has impacted a lot of people in many terrible ways. Some people don’t understand, they remain lucky and unscathed; the most they have to complain about is that the gym is closed. Others find themselves in situations where they can’t see sick or dying family in hospital or at home. Cooper and I had our lives torn away from us, and I haven’t seen light or hope, if I’m honest. Grief.

Finding hope in uncertain times

I know I don’t want to live like this. So, as we sit in mandatory 14 day isolation in a hotel in Australia, I’m finally getting to a point where I feel like I want to make the best of it. Acceptance.

This has been many weeks coming though. If you’ve followed the stories on this blog, you’ll know we’re now in our fifth week of isolation.

We got caught in Italy when lock-down was announced on 10 March.

Then we witnessed the health crisis unfold in the UK, although we were watching from a distance in our beautiful little corner of Bedfordshire with our friends Andy and Helen who we met through house sitting adventures.

 

Hope and acceptance amidst impossible decisions

We found ourselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. If we stayed in the UK, we did have accommodation and I had employment. But, Australia is harder and harder to access now (closed borders, very few international flights in), family is here and we seem less affected by Coronavirus (so far). Is it a better bet? After what we’ve witnessed, we worry that many here are too complacent – that Coronavirus will explode after Easter. I hope that prediction is wrong.

A friend recently gave me some advice about dealing with impossible decisions. She said, “sometimes you just have to make the choice, commit to it and make it work“.

Now that we’re here, we’ll make the best of it, even if ‘it’ means taking things month at a time.

There’s also a school of thought that my friend Leanne (publisher of Get it Magazine) and I have been focusing on. Time is something we have gained through Coronavirus isolation. Read our April Get it e-news for our tips on the ways you can use your time to improve your business and your life 😄

We have to hold onto this 👇

“Now more than ever, hope can actually become our power source.” -Deepak Chopra

 

Finding hope in uncertain (and isolated) times: our fave tools

No matter what’s going on in your life, in the end, hope comes from within. And it’s something we have to practice accessing – we can’t take it for granted. (just like you shouldn’t take your time, fresh air, fresh food, nice bed, and HEALTH for granted – think about that today 🙏).

So, from within the confines of our forced lock-down in Australia, here’s what we’re leaning on:

Hope in Uncertain Times, 21 day meditation experience (FREE on the app at time of publishing)

Gratitude practices

– Yoga – we love Adriene and Benji on YouTube

Home fitness classes including Barre, Pilates and Boxing on Popsugar Fitness TV

– Positive social media, like content coming from pages like this one from our friend Madonna Williams of Zen Soul Life

– Gabby Bernstein’s ‘Miracles Now’ card deck

Finding hope in uncertain times - Gabby Bernstein Miracles Now cards are helping our sanity

Find out more about what we are and importantly, are NOT doing, in this post about managing Coronavirus anxiety.

 

Helpful advice

Throughout this disaster that we know will end, although no end is in sight, I know more than just Cooper and I have retreated ‘home’. A wise friend and lifestyle coach Linda Stewart-Brown, reminded me that going back to your roots isn’t a bad thing, and to not feel like I’m peddling backwards. She says:

There are some things that need clearing up and finalising, in one way or another. Doing this, one step back, as you might see it, also means the next step is definitely forward! A strategic retreat and then transformation and clarification to be able to move ahead more quickly and with greater success. It is difficult to see right now, however, in 18 months, or less, this will all be 20/20 hindsight for which you will be very grateful.

 

I learnt a little something in this mental health and life coaching training too, that talks about a nice evening ritual. The course mentors encourage us to visualise our future at night. If you’ve got a partner, talk about it before bed. No worries if you’re on your own – pull out your journal and write as if you’re in that future moment.

Feel the health, travel, fun, freedom and abundance that’s on the way.

 

We hope you’re doing ok in these uncertain times. Let us know in the comments about your experiences, or find us on social media to say hi. We’re in isolation, after all – happy for your company 😉

And if you have any helpful ideas or resources to share, do feel free to link them below.

Inside our Coronavirus Australia mandatory quarantine

Inside our Coronavirus Australia mandatory quarantine

So now we’re caught inside the Coronavirus Australia mandatory quarantine. Just brilliant 🤨

We were told we’d be better off coming ‘back home’, away from the UK where we’ve been residents for the past six years. They say the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has not yet reached its peak there. So of course we’re better off in Australia, right?

Australia, ‘the land of the free’.

We aren’t so sure.

Coronavirus Australia mandatory quarantine

A few days before we were set to fly, the Australian government announced what they claim is ‘necessary’ to stop the spread of Coronavirus here. Every international arrival is sent into forced quarantine – somewhere, like maybe a hotel, motel, student accommodation or caravan.

We’ve found it interesting that family and friends think this is fine. No questions asked.

“It’ll probably be a hotel”.

“You’ll be right – it’s meant to be 5-star.”

“I assume you’ll have internet.” [for not just fun, but we work for ourselves!]

Interesting, that so many have an attitude about it being ‘fine’ – as long as we’re back on ‘Aussie soil’.

If only we could touch that soil. If only we could get some fresh air during this Coronavirus Australia mandatory quarantine. And what is in the food that I’m eating, since I do have allergies?

 

Inside our Coronavirus Australia mandatory quarantine - is Australia violating human rights by treating recent arrivals worse than prisoners? Our story...

An unacceptable lack of information

This policy rolled-out all too quickly, allegedly because “80% of the Coronavirus cases in Australia have come from abroad”.

Funny, we now know six people in Brisbane who believe they have had Coronavirus (experiencing everything from very mild to very bad symptoms). None of them were tested. One of them had been overseas. Some went to work and grocery shopping across the space of a couple of weeks.

Many countries have already enforced strict ‘stay at home’ policies. That’s absolutely not the case yet in Australia. The response to target incoming travellers would be reasonable, if everyone was treated the same here. It’s not happening – and we know how this works. It’s our third Coronavirus quarantine in five weeks. Aussies have no idea what lock down really means, and consistently disregard the rules.

The government’s response here, typically, is to target anyone stepping off a boat or a plane. Keeping in mind these are all residents – with ‘rights’ – because no one else has been able to enter the country for weeks.

The policy announcements came with zero information on what incoming travellers should expect. On the plane there was no information on what to expect. Brisbane airport was FULL of federal police and the army, to ‘welcome’ a flight of just a few hundred who had boarded internationally. Everyone was silent. We filled in several forms and finally Cooper and I had confirmation that we wouldn’t be separated.

Then we were told to wait:

“…the police will pick you up soon”.

It was about two hours after all passengers had cleared immigration that we were all herded onto a bus. Still no confirmation on what was going on. Everyone diligently packed their suitcases under the bus, boarded, and finally our coach full of masked avengers left… to go somewhere.

Guessing games

After a 25 hour commute of two flights, and a three hour wait at the airport for everyone to be processed, Cooper and I were on the road again. We spotted the exit signs and figured we were headed to the Gold Coast, just over an hour from Brisbane.

Half way down the highway, one poor young woman begged the bus driver to pull over – she was desperate for the loo.

“We weren’t told anything at the airport, I assumed we were staying in Brisbane. I wouldn’t be asking if I wasn’t desperate – I can’t wait another half hour,” she pleaded.

So, our coach driver flashed his lights in the dark at our police escort in front (I know, really?!), and we were all happy to see that this poor chick wasn’t going to pee herself in the bus!

But that’s how little information we’ve been given. We’ve not even officially been told when check-out is.

Yet, most people we know think this is fine.

If it was your partner or your child in this situation, wouldn’t you want to know what the plan was for them?

Forgive me for being anxious and really pissed off about the whole thing.

Meanwhile, there was a lot of traffic on the road between the Gold Coast and Brisbane on this random Wednesday evening. Who exactly is prioritising staying at home then?

Basic human rights and the Coronavirus Australia mandatory quarantine

We ended up at the Voco Hotel on the Gold Coast. It’s nice enough and staff are doing their best. The windows don’t open though. And we’re confined in one room for the next 14 days. A legion of police and army were here to escort us to our rooms and ensure we didn’t run. For God’s sake – I would understand why someone would want to. And, we’ve heard reports of solo travellers threatening to self harm because of this isolation experiment.

Plenty of people still out and about in the street though, from what we can see out of our window.

Smokers here in quarantine are allowed to go out on an escorted break for ‘fresh air’. How ironic.

Good time to take up smoking, I’d say.

We’ve read this evening that some people in Sydney even had their room keys taken away from them. What the actual f!ck?

For those of you who say or Tweet, ‘”Oh wow, quit moaning, you get a free two week holiday”, find some empathy. And quit ignorant trolling!

Even if you’re self isolating – as we have been in England following getting caught in Italy’s lock down – we bet you’re in a place with more than one room. You’ve probably got a garden you can go out to, yes? Or a door or window to open for fresh air, right? You can go for a walk and choose the food you want – or need – for your own wellbeing.

Do you suffer asthma from air-conditioning like I do? We’ll be requesting time outside. Let’s see what they say.

Go shut yourself in your bedroom for 14 days, lock the windows and then tell me how reasonable this is. Tell me that’s good for your mental health and physical wellbeing, or that of your kids?

Since when did we become prisoners?

We’re not the only ones picking up on the problem with this rushed-through government policy.

People in forced quarantine around Australia have made the same comments as us: prisoners are allowed exercise and fresh air, why aren’t we?

Most of us aren’t even sick, and don’t have Coronavirus, let alone have criminal convictions.

This BBC video shows another recent arrival to Australia – she highlights really well that a ‘five star’ room isn’t any bigger than your bedroom, and since when should we have our basic rights like moving around (responsibly), fresh air and fresh food taken away in 2020?

What we’d say from this experience is please be careful what you’re consuming from the television and governments. 

THINK about how others are impacted before saying, “you’ll be right”, or posting how great you think a free holiday would be, or how much you love working from home (when you’re not really working from home). Someone you know is having a tough time because of this world crises.

Live from Coronavirus Australia mandatory quarantine

We’ll do our best, and we’re refocusing every day, using tools like yoga, gratitude and keeping in touch with family and friends. We know this is far from the worst situation anyone could find themselves in, but at this difficult time, we expected more consideration from those in charge.

If you’re struggling with Coronavirus anxiety, especially if you’re travelling or a digital nomad, our key tips on dealing with all of it are here.

We genuinely hope Australia – and the world – can get on top of this quickly, so we can all get on with our lives. But this Coronavirus Australia mandatory quarantine policy for residents entering the country feels very narrow minded, and like something that serves as more of a ‘popular vote’ for the prime minister, than anything that takes proper care of Australian citizens. All of them. Would it not have been cheaper simply to test us for the disease?

 

Latest update

The Australian Red Cross is now involved in liaising with state health bodies, like Queensland Health, to lobby for better conditions for thousands of returning travellers like us. A representative made contact with us yesterday (8 April) on rounds calling all people in hotels on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane. They confirmed that there is a serious issue with people not being allowed fresh air, exercise and fresh food. In some cases, the government has been required to make changes at hotels because the food being provided was of ‘unacceptable quality’. Maybe people coming ‘home’ from now on will be housed in accommodation where windows at least open – that would be a good start, and it’s reasonable to expect in Australia.

 

Always happy to hear your stories or perspective though – drop us a line in the comments. And please – wherever you are – stay inside and stop the spread!

 

👉Subscribe on Youtube and Facebook … you don’t want to miss us going live from our ‘free holiday’ 😆

Expat blogger changing tack

Expat blogger changing tack

It’s with a heavy heart that this proud expat blogger writes one of her last posts from our adopted home of England. London has been such a wonderful adventure. It’s not been without ups and downs, laughter, tears and lessons.

But, we’ve lived our motto here: life is about experiences.

Expat blogger – future uncertainty

I had wanted so very much to settle in England. We’ve produced plenty of blogs for expats and travellers here on Travel Live Learn. And as a reader on this site – to you I say thank you 🙏 I am grateful.

As an ‘expert’ expat blogger, I started out getting together guides on living and working in London. Cooper developed our videos too, that showcase fun, travel and tips. We’ve been lucky to be recognised for content on this site with a couple of awards, and have covered wonderful destinations while living over here.

As I look over it all now, I have to admit to fighting back tears. It’s hard to let go of one life and go back to another – or start yet again. That’s risk we take though, forging a space for ourselves in a new country. You either get to stay or one day must leave. But we must not forget: life is about experiences.

Difficult decisions for expats all over the world

We’re at the end of March 2020 and as I type, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is changing the face of the planet. It was completely unexpected, and it certainly is not discriminating in who is impacted. The world has been dealing with this public health crisis since January, although then most people outside of China where the disease originated, never predicted the impact that’s unfolding.

I type this while on ‘self-isolation’ in the English countryside. We were lucky to get out of Italy when things shifted from ‘manageable’ to ‘catastrophic’ overnight on 10 March. Cooper and I found it very difficult to get a flight out to leave.

Just as we made it back to England though, lock-downs and strict measures were imposed. With the threat of airline closures and restricted international flights, it feels like we’re heading back to the days where travel was far less accessible and much more expensive. The UK has already seen one major airline go into receivership over the past week. Which other airlines will follow?

As we come to the end of our work sabbatical which was covered in major media, I fear our story about inspired action is turning into one of retreat, back to ‘our’ official corner of the world. We are set to renew visas for the UK in July, but with so much uncertainty around the future, I am sad to say it seems like that that dream will no longer become a reality. As these shocking events continue to sweep the globe, I doubt very much we are the only travellers, digital nomads and expats forced to reconsider our paths. Borders are closing. People are worried. The tourism industry and way we travel will look different on the other side.

Expat blogger changing tack - leaving England our home - how does it feel to leave somewhere you love behind

How it feels to leave ‘home’

As I type this I remember the little things about life in the UK. Old church bells chiming. Work bus commutes when I’d to listen to new music that would become the soundtrack to special moments. My favourite walk around London Fields where I’d feel so happy sometimes I’d almost burst. Dog spotting on the tube; identifying wonderful old buildings amongst innovative new ones. Swifty at Wembley! Swifty at BST Hyde Park, for that matter 💕

I remember ‘stairwell lunches’ with my friends when we’d laugh so much and be told off for being too jovial; and impromptu after-work pub runs that would last ’til 11:30pm mid-week, with the sun just down not long before that. Just ‘popping over’ to France, or Spain, or Italy on the train or plane. Pride, festivals, fairy lights and Christmas markets, dining in igloos by the Thames, fireworks night, bank holidays spent in the park and at the loveliest markets in the world.

Only in London.

There were moments I helped people get through tough times. They became my good friends. And other times when people here would show up for me, just as I needed them. I call them too, my best friends. Sunny park days in summer – oh the joy of sunshine 😀! And snow days of course – always gleeful for an Aussie in London. We made a mark, got a special invite to Buckingham Palace, covered royal weddings, and mostly just enjoyed life in the big, mad, historical, beautiful, wonderful city that London is. I’m sad [understatement] to leave. This has been our home. It is a home of ours.

But after six years, and because of this pandemic and situation, the best version of a ‘goodbye’ we could do with all our friends – our UK family – was on WhatsApp.

What to do when the world is ending

Maybe a bit dramatic, but you’d agree if you saw Heathrow as we did today – like an eerie mall, all closed down, lifeless – another planet. As an expat blogger who now needs to find a new niche and start another life, you get where I’m coming from, I hope. Everyone has been impacted by this, and will be for months, if not years to come.

But we’ve been hit hard.

Our life as we embraced it was ripped away today.

We’re working on new projects already though, like this venture into wellness travel (podcast launching soon); but when can those who value travel, safely and freely travel again?

We left here once before and I consoled myself with the idea of bringing adventure back home. I’d spoken to another expat friend too and discovered there is a mourning process around leaving somewhere you love, somewhere you’ve invested heart and soul into. Having two homes – I’ve always maintained – is a blessing and a curse.

Is Coronavirus impacting your plans as a digital nomad, expat or traveller - read about how we're approaching it

Coming to terms with change

This time when we leave the UK, I don’t know, maybe it’s for good? That’s not how we feel right now though. This is a ‘trial’ separation 😉

Are we really better off ‘at home’ in Australia? The government certainly isn’t treating us as equals.

We know we’re lucky to have options, and family and friends who are happy to see us (and we to see them). But, I’m only at a ‘2’ on the change curve, which you can probably guess from the tone of this post – in a state of disruption I’m feeling anger and fear.

We’ve had a hell of a ride the past few weeks, and use every moment as an opportunity to try and choose our thoughts again.

👉We’ll continue to seek hope in uncertain times 💕

 

It all goes too quickly, is the old lesson. Wasn’t it just yesterday we arrived back mid-2014, to pick up where we left off in 2011? Isn’t it all so delicate, just hanging by a thin thread that can break at any time. Like now.

If you’re impacted by the fallout of borders closing or difficult circumstances brought about by being based in another country, being a digital nomad, or the change that’s been thrust upon you now, let us know about your experience in the comments. We’d also love for you to join us in our Facebook group – come say hi today!

 

How to deal with anxiety around Coronavirus + travel

How to deal with anxiety around Coronavirus + travel

By anyone’s standards, we’re living in troubling times. Coronavirus messaging is overwhelming, from the media, governments, employers and family members – how to deal with anxiety of it all then?

With very few details to go on, the only consistent message we had for months was to keep our hands clean and off our faces. Then hand sanitiser sold out! (well, except for the packs of six small bottles that you could buy on Amazon for the bargain price of £75 😠).

Travel plans are out the window and some of us face a very real threat of being separated from family, friends and the future we’d planned because the world is closed, indefinitely.

How to deal with anxiety around Coronavirus

The exceptional pace at which events have unfolded since January 2020 means people are living in fear. Unexpected lock-downs began in China, then Italy which we got caught up in. People worry about empty supermarket shelves, closed international borders and economic collapse.

All of this came out of nowhere. Our travel trends never predicted this in the plan. It’s new, and it’s upsetting.

I know you are stressed. Me too!

Friends have messaged me in tears. Fellow travel writers and bloggers have contacted us to ask, ‘what are you guys doing next?’ Another friend has been stuck on a cruise ship for over 25 days – no port will accept the passengers! If someone walks past and coughs, panic wells inside of us all. Our biggest international airlines have simply stopped flying indefinitely. The business landscape is changing, and many people are without work. It’s madness.

Social isolation is enforced globally, including here in the UK. We’re keeping our distance from other humans. Pubs are shut – it’s bad. That would be a joke if it weren’t for all the other businesses that have closed too. Hotels, restaurants, events, tours, even the famous summer festival Glastonbury has been cancelled, in what would have been its 50th year! Will summer destinations like Ibiza – heavily reliant on seasonal tourism – even be able to open this year?

I would have thought it was all a bit of a crazy media frenzy, if we’d not experienced all of it directly. Unfortunately, it’s all true.

It’s time to admit we’re in trouble when ‘wartime’ rhetoric is invoked, but admittedly I’d drawn these parallels already.

Coronavirus anxiety has been following Cooper and I for a while, from before our trip to Italy where we were set to attend the TBEX conference, here in the UK and in Australia.

The situation for digital nomads and the Coronavirus pandemic - what to do next

The situation for digital nomads and the Coronavirus pandemic

Last August Cooper and I set off on a grand adventure. For the first time in our lives we let work be a secondary concern. On a house sitting sabbatical adventure (that made international headlines) we had a world of opportunity at our fingertips. We’ve embraced a house sitting and digital nomad lifestyle – like thousands and thousands of others. This lifestyle has been accessible and easy for years now. Living a laptop lifestyle and all of that.

But what happens when you have plans to travel, live and work in different countries, but now deal with anxiety around what’s [not] on offer? The Coronavirus outbreak means for many of us that we need to return home before we want or intended to. When will we be free to travel again? It’s estimated that most airlines will be bankrupt by the end of May 2020. A staggering and saddening thought.

I remember the days when there was no competition and there’s no way an average family of four could fly from one city in Australia to another. We had to drive. I imagine it was the same in Europe. Now we flit from the UK to Spain on a whim. Well, at least we could do that three months ago.

Currently we’re in the UK where we have residency, thankfully for a little while yet. We were going to apply for indefinite leave to remain visas this year and stay. But we want to be at home in Australia too. How can we get there when all flights are cancelled? We are without a flat because we’ve been travelling. It feels like our options get slimmer by the day. Where’s safest in terms of wellbeing and the economy? No one knows from one day to the next.

Anxiety and stress: dealing with Coronavirus and an uncertain future

Whether you’re in a precarious situation like us, uncertain of the future; or, you’re feeling down, worried and downright isolated working from home for the foreseeable future, it’s easy to get caught up in the worry mindset. Oh yeah, I get that. There are people trapped in foreign countries right now, with no money or accommodation. Cruise ships with ill passengers being denied entry to ports. Sick with worry – that’s no way to live.

Author and spiritual teacher, Gabby Bernstein, shared very helpful tips that I’ve passed around to friends who are caught up in Coronavirus anxiety. In this blog, she talks about how to claim back a good night’s sleep, and about taking responsibility for your own thoughts. It’s worth a read.

How to deal with anxiety - our own experience

How to deal with anxiety – our own experience

Our ‘new normal’ includes:

  • limiting the amount of news and social media we’re consuming.
  • breathing! (don’t forget to do it).
  • we use ‘spare’ or ‘locked-in’ time to focus on creative projects, like our upcoming wellness travel podcast launch (perhaps timely, given the world’s predicament) – it’s called ‘Exhale’ which is referencing, appropriately, remembering to breathe!
  • taking the time to reevaluate what’s working in our business – getting prepared and positioned to be available when things pick up again and new opportunities arise out of such significant change.
  • acknowledging when things get too much and giving ourselves a break – there have been some tense moments over the past few weeks and it’s led to emotional and physical burnout for both of us.
  • looking for opportunities to laugh and live in the moment.
  • Keep the faith: our tips on finding hope in uncertain times are here
  • Yoga postures! See a tip from our friend Flavia Munn in the clip below, or here on Instagram.

 

 

Be present

As I write this, we’re safe at a house sit in the Bedfordshire countryside with our pups Maise and Mole and horses Haze and Roo. Cooper and I went into a 14 day self isolation after returning from Italy, and fortunately we are ok. Our biggest issue is sourcing groceries, but the kindness of neighbours has meant that strangers bring us food and check on us. Beautiful 💕

There are changes happening around us every single day, and we are practising the art of allowing and letting go of the plans we simply can’t make under the circumstances. We have a few options to consider, but are taking this day at a time. It’s taken some time to get to this head space though, to be able to write even this piece in a calm and collected manner. Tears and depression have presented. I’m a ‘planner’ by nature, and right now I can’t plan. It’s tough, but we’re all in it together regardless of status, race or colour. It’s like a disaster movie and we’re all playing a part.

Moving forward

There’s people I work with who hate the term ‘moving forward’, but I this it’s appropriate here and hope we can do it soon. Let’s pray the airlines keep running; that lost jobs are found again; and that we can continue to travel in the direction in which we’re called.

I hope wherever you are that you feel safe and connected, despite enforced social distancing. This too shall pass. And, it’s an opportunity to think about your future and how you’ll embrace change on the other side.

If you have tips or stories on how you’re going through all of this, let us know in the comments or on social media.

Coronavirus Italy lock-down: personal experience

Coronavirus Italy lock-down: personal experience

Have you ever wanted to go home after a holiday? Nah, us either, except for this past week when the Coronavirus Italy lock-down was announced without warning. We had legitimate fears we’d be stuck in Sicily for the month to come. Maybe longer, the way things are looking now! Things have been anxious and stressful, to say the least. And as I reflect on the events that unfolded, I’m sad to say things have only gotten worse.

Just a year ago, we were on one of the best trips of our lives. We enjoyed a train journey across the country, taking in Milan, Lake Como, Verona and Venice.

It was magical, and I hope to return again soon.

 

Coronavirus Italy lock-down

For now, Italy has been hit HARD by the Coronavirus (COVID-19), and the country is a no-go zone. Usually it’s teeming with tourists. On the morning of 10 March, we woke up in our Airbnb in Catania, Sicily, at 6am to discover that late the evening before, the government had announced extreme measures – all of Italy was on lock-down. A terrible way to start your day!

Coronavirus – an infectious disease that attacks lungs and airways as well as other vital organs if you’re suffering from underlining health conditions – had been sweeping through the north of Italy. When we chose to continue with our trip to the south of Italy – Sicily – that area was clear. Several major centres in the north had already been quarantined which had been the strategy for China where COVID-19 originated. But just a few days before when we stepped onto a plane, our destination was fine.

Certainly, there were signs of trouble on 8 March. Our flight was only about a quarter full. But we had nowhere else to be that week, and figured we would go catch up with some friends who were also headed to Catania – a few ‘TBEX survivors’ who still turned up for a travel media conference that has been (at time of publishing) postponed.

Coronavirus lock-down in Italy and around the world

Panic response vs managing a crisis

If we’d only seen the messaging the evening before, we might have got out on a flight to the UK easily on Tuesday 10 March. It had been our back-up plan – if things escalated, we’d just get on a flight straight away. But from 6am until 6pm both Cooper and I were on our computers and on phones, trying to get out.

Things looked bright around 8am when we finally got a flight from Catania to neighbouring Malta. We figured Malta was a good choice, we know the place well. I transferred our Easyjet flight from Catania (set for Saturday 14 March) to take us from Malta to London the next day. We incurred some hefty fees but that was ok, it was time to leave.

Something told me to keep an eye on the Catania airport departures board. It felt like the response from our accommodation on the ground in Malta was fearful. Malta is close to Italy, and it’s a small island. If Coronavirus infiltrates, they’d find it hard to manage. I was liaising with the manager of the airport accommodation on WhatsApp when I spotted about 9.30am: our flight status had gone from grey (‘scheduled’) to red – cancelled.

Distress kicked in from that point. Everything was cancelled, more and more as the minutes went by. We love travel. But the feeling of being trapped is unnerving. Our family in Australia were getting worried too. They called and tried to help – which was appreciated, but added to our anxiety.

In my view, with so many people trying to urgently get back to their country of residence, governments and airlines in the area made bad decisions – panicked choices that amplified the problems and the region’s collective fears.

Bad practice by airlines in a time of heightened anxiety

After this, we spent the day trying to book flights on numerous airlines to many different destinations. The threats from the media and government warnings kept mounting: we would be locked in and all flights grounded within 48 hours. Although, many, many flights were simply cancelled that same day. Countries were closing their borders to anyone coming from Italy. It felt like we didn’t have a chance!

BUT, airfares continued to sell. Oh, and many airlines simply shut off their customer service call lines and social media messaging function too. No contact, many charges and much stress. We’d get to the payment section and the bill would tally on our credit card – our flight tickets wouldn’t process though. We encountered ‘errors’. Only to try again and discover the flight prices had been hiked up significantly. Very bad practice in a time of much stress. Some university students we met later on told us stories of how they simply had no more credit to keep booking under these circumstances, and they’re still in Italy.

It seems that if you continued to book, you eventually won a lottery seat on a flight out – but he/she who paid the highest price won a spot on the escape route. By 5pm I was in tears, Cooper was stressed (he’s NEVER stressed), and we didn’t know what to do.

Small gestures and good people

Through all of this though, our encounters with kindness were amplified. The manager of this small airport hotel in Malta was ever so kind, assuring me he’d not hesitate to issue a refund, despite booking.com stating the fee was non-refundable. He stuck to his word, and the money came back.

Similarly, our Catania Airbnb host made us feel safe and offered help to contact embassies and get food. He also told us that he’d help us with accommodation if we got stuck.

These gestures – from operators who will suffer financially as part of this global disaster – were really appreciated in stressful times.

We were also in contact with our house sit in England – one we were returning to after sitting for them in Bedfordshire last year. (They run a beautiful B&B here too, if you want to visit when things are back to normal!) 👇

Due to the unprecedented situation, we suggested they might want to look for last-minute sitters. Instead of doing this though, our host spent time looking for flights that might just get us out of Italy and back to the UK via a European destination.

We’d tried a few of these routes, but Andy at our house sit found one on Ryanair via a cool city in the Netherlands that we’d never heard of, Eindhoven.

As it turned out, Andy’s suggestion that we chose to book (despite the stress of mounting credit card fees and the necessity of an overnight connection stay) totally saved us. This flight was one of the last two flights out of Sicily on 12 March. Nothing is set to leave until mid-April, or beyond. When we landed in Eindhoven, everyone cheered!

Coronavirus Italy lock-down experience - just up the road from where we were in Sicily

Lock-down in Catania

We were really lucky to get out after a couple of days. Wow, were those days fraught with anxiety. To get groceries or necessities, we had to line up one at a time outside stores. Lock-down got crazy and scary. Masks and gloves were essential. The image above is from an area near us in Catania – deserted. The feature image at the top is from Catania’s famous and usually thriving fish markets. Again, now all closed indefinitely.

One shop after another gradually closed, store-owners aware they were shutting their doors indefinitely. How will they pay the bills? Can this country recover? Life’s already tough for many.

Sleep was hard because each hour the rules changed, not just in Italy but around Europe and the world. Borders closed, transport was restricted and people started hoarding food.

The aftermath

There was no guarantee our flight would depart. Every half hour on the 12th, we obsessively checked but it remained green: good to go at 5:15pm.

Travellers in Catania worried about whether they should try to leave and risk potentially spreading the virus at home or passing on to ‘at risk’ relatives. We would face a 14 day self quarantine if we got into the UK, but that was ok by us – we were headed to a regional area anyway. As residents in England, we chose to pursue a location where we can access healthcare (although perhaps a dubious notion now that hospitals are overwhelmed).

We worried for friends (like Jason and his mum 👇) who appeared to be entirely stuck in Catania. They were even asked to leave their Airbnb with nowhere to go!

I had transferred our original Easyjet tickets back to the Saturday flight out (at more expense), but it was cancelled too.

We felt sick, despite the sunny days in Catania which would otherwise be a joy. Our time was spent indoors except for going out to get a bit of food. The streets were dead. A few cafes were open, but not for many more days, I’d guess. The experience took me to the height of anxiety. We’re still waiting for refunds from airlines that I’m not sure will come – perhaps they’ll go into receivership before processing. I never imagined I’d want to leave Italy, ever! But during those days, we very much did want to get out, back to a ‘home’ base.

The future?

Since we left Italy, thousands of people have died due to COVID-19, and thousands more are ill, without access to oxygen or healthcare. The situation there is now worse than it is in China. The system in Italy is not coping. Other European nations are in a similar situation, and the UK harbours legitimate concerns about the future too.

Conversations have moved from ‘this is just a flu’, to, ‘you really should talk about final arrangements with your family should the worst happen’.

They say there’s reasons to find hope within this chaos. This is how things unfolded in Sicily and elsewhere 👇🙌

😪

Now we are on lock-down in the UK (but so far virus free 🤞). We’re trying our best to deal with the anxiety associated with an uncertain future – here’s our personal tips on that.

I don’t know if things are ok though, or what’s around the corner.

No one really does.