For the latest status on our fight against the Coronavirus, check out my COVID-19 Diary.
Dear readers: I break out of my regularly scheduled blog programming to provide another update on how the new Coronavirus (COVID-19) is impacting our travels. It has been two weeks since we fled to Spain due to the Coronavirus outbreak in Italy, and a lot has changed since then. With Coronavirus cases spreading around the world at an alarming rate, we are now officially in the midst of a global pandemic.
Due to these extraordinary circumstances, Daniel and I decided to take a break from international travel and head back to the United States. We intend for this to be a short break and are eager to resume our vagabonding journey around the globe as soon as possible. But who really knows what the future has in store for us, as the COVID-19 pandemic is new territory for everyone.
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The Tipping Point: Travel Ban to Europe
It’s 7:00 am on March 12th and I groggily reach for my phone. We’ve spent the last couple of days in Granada exploring the magnificent Alhambra and strolling under fragrant orange trees. The weather is warm and the days are beautiful. Tomorrow we head to Jerez, the biggest town in Spain’s famed sherry producing region known as the Sherry Triangle. I love dry aged sherries and we have tastings booked at three local wineries. I can’t wait.
But it is not to be. I read with disbelief that the United States has just closed its borders to most European countries due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19), including Spain. Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued a Level 3 warning against all non-essential travel to Europe due to widespread sustained transmission of COVID-19.
This is big. Really big.
After Daniel and I fled Italy two week ago, we agreed to monitor the situation – but if things got really bad we would reassess. If countries continued shutting borders, restricting travel and shuttering businesses…at some point it would be too difficult to keep going. What fun is it to travel when all the restaurants and businesses are closed? Not to mention the ethical dilemma of the situation; we could unknowingly be carrying the virus to each new place we visited. Or even worse, we could get the Coronavirus and have to deal with accessing medical care in another country where we don’t have a social support network.
My overriding emotion, however, was fear of separation from my family. What if one of my loved ones fell ill and I couldn’t get to them? I felt an urgent need to get back to the United States as fast as possible to be near my friends and family. My reaction was so strong that it actually took me by surprise. It’s hard to know sometimes how you will react in a crisis situation until it happens.
We Change our Plans… Again
A few hours later, Daniel and I had flights booked back to the United States. Thankfully, U.S. Citizens were not barred from entering the United States from Europe – the ban only applied to foreign nationals. U.S. Citizens could enter America but there would be some extra screening when upon landing. Moreover, the ban did not apply to citizens of the United Kingdom. We were keenly aware that this could change any minute, however, and the restrictions could become even more stringent.
We were glad we bought tickets as fast as we did. Daniel and I managed to secure last minute tickets to London and from there to New York at reasonable prices. We heard horror stories of skyrocketing fares as study-abroad students and other citizens returned home en masse. On March 14, we learned that Spain is poised to order a nationwide Coronavirus lockdown – so we got out of the country just in the nick of time.
Booking tickets to New York was the easy part. The real challenge was figuring out where in the country to go from there. It was also difficult to come to grips with cutting our trip short. We’d planned this trip for years had weren’t ready to come back. There was no contingency plan in place. It was depressing to put it mildly.
After an agonizing day filled with research and soul-searching, we decided to head back to Washington State in order to be near friends and loved ones. Daniel and I were very aware that we were going “from the frying pan into the fire” as it were. The situation in Washington was worsening by the day – schools were closing, events were canceled and people were anxiously stockpiling toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
It was clear to us, however, that there was no escaping the Coronavirus – it would soon be everywhere. It was just a matter of time. The question we had to ask ourselves was “Where do you want to be when the Coronavirus hits?” For us, the answer was near our friends and family.
Well, as you may have guessed, this means that I will not be walking the Portuguese Camino this spring. It also means that we won’t be going sherry tasting in the Sherry Triangle or traveling to Scotland to tour distilleries as we had planned. We still hope to do these things as soon as we can, but sadly they will have to wait.
In the meantime, we’ve decided to lay low for a couple of weeks. The CDC recommends that travelers returning to the U.S. from Europe “stay home for 14 days from the time you return from travel, monitor your health and practice social distancing.” I’m not sure if such self-isolating measures are necessary at this point given the rapid spread of Coronavirus in the Seattle area, but we’ll do it anyway. If we haven’t been exposed yet, then the 18 hours of plane travel from Granada to Seattle puts us at an even higher risk. The last thing we want to do is unknowingly infect a loved one (or anyone else for that matter).
Since we don’t have a home to return to, we’ve rented a lovely isolated cabin in Washington State and will relax there for a while. Our self imposed quarantine will give us an opportunity to decompress and figure out next steps. To be honest, it will be a welcome change to stay put after non-stop traveling for the past six months. Maybe I’ll even get caught up on my blog!
Note: it’s a good thing we quarantined upon returning to the United States because we caught COVID-19 on the plane ride home! You can read about the experience in my COVID-19 diary.
Where are we now?
Location: The John F Kennedy Airport in New York
Dates: March 14, 2020
Vagabonding Journey Status: Days 164
For more details on our vagabonding journey, see my previous posts:
- Day 147: Our Experience Traveling during the Coronavirus Outbreak in Italy
- Day 137: Verona in 24 Hours: Valentine’s Day Edition
- Day 132: Venice Blog: Canals, Carnival and Coronavirus
- Day 128: Shenanigans in Odense: Of Board Game Marathons and Tandem Bicycle Rides
- Day 123: Copenhagen Blog: An Unexpected Visit