What a crazy month March has been.
I was on my way from South America to Europe with a quick pitstop in Florida when all hell broke loose with this pandemic. Here’s what happened to me during my travels…
The News Hit
Garrett and I were having a beer at the JFK airport on our layover. We were going from Florida to Portugal. There was a TV on just over his shoulder, and I saw the headline…
TRUMP TO CLOSE US BORDER TO FLIGHTS FROM EUROPE
We were on our way to Portugal.
We sat there, not really knowing what to say about it. Is this getting blown out of proportion? Am I am an asshole for not taking this too seriously until “it affected my home country?” Is this going to affect our travel plans, and I am a selfish bitch for even thinking about ME and my travels right now?
So many questions, very few answers, and a whole lot of uncertainty as we boarded our flight to Portugal.
To make things worse, the flight crew was spreading fake news. I immediately Googled the headline to get clarification because, of course, they had to let their citizens back into the US, there’s no way the entire border was closed – to everyone! I quickly learned there was an exception for US citizens; I found out this info in twelve seconds.
As we bordered the flight, the flight crew in charge of boarding passengers came up to us before we could get in line and told us in a panicked manner, “Oh, you’re on this flight to Portugal? Are you coming home before Friday!?” (It was Wednesday… So uhm, no I’m not going there for like, less than 48 hours, lady) “Did you hear? You won’t be able to return anytime soon; they are closing the borders!”
Fake news, and a bit surprising coming from airline staff who should have been more aware and careful how they worded things.
I did feel bad for them though, we could tell they were emotional. This essentially meant they were out of a job! Bizarre times!
Nonetheless, we boarded our flight thinking damn, things are getting really bad!
Our Two Weeks in Portugal
This trip wasn’t just Garrett and me, Garrett’s older parents (his dad is in his late 80s), we’re meeting up with us.
They were actually on a cruise ship during the time this was all going down and luckily made it off the boat with no issues or cases on board. They docked in Barcelona (I know!) and immediately flew to Portugal to meet with us. We checked into our Airbnb and just watched the world crumble.
This was officially a pandemic now.
Shit is real.
Within a few days, Morocco closed its borders. We were due there just after Portugal to go surfing again.
Just about ten days later, our hiking trip to Pakistan was canceled as well.
We saw the flights back home go crazy. We saw flights for $2,500-$3,000! IS THIS A JOKE?!
All the while, I’m feeling sick to my stomach. I don’t know what to do. I can’t begin to explain the mind fuck the pandemic was having on me.
All we could do was watch the news about it…
All we could do was see if the borders were closing for everyone, including US citizens…
All we could talk about was the pandemic.
Here we are, with elderly family, and semi-stuck in Portugal. Could/Should we go back was running through our minds with no clear answers. We had thousands of dollars on the line in future travel that we had to hope refunded us. With a virus all around us, and the surrounding countries reaching Level-4 and Portugal following shortly after, we were lost.
Only one of us could go shopping at a time because stores were only allowing one person per family, and we had to wait in line since they only allowed a person in after one person left.
Shelves were getting empty but not as bad as the USA. We had plenty of toilet paper (*insert eye roll*), but vitamins, soaps, and wipes were pretty much gone.
The amount of anxiety I was feeling was freaking me out as my chest was tight. I was convincing myself I had the virus because I had some chest pains, and my breathing was irregular at times. I later came to the conclusion it was anxiety. I had mini panic and anxiety attacks, and I was freaking myself out.
I felt so awful; I couldn’t sleep. I got Garrett to dart out to the pharmacy for some meds. I don’t even take Tylenol when I have a headache! I never take medicine! It was bad.
I was worried about the family, our money, our situation, our health, and of course, my job.
Fuck me, dude.
My job is safe because I work for myself! I can’t become unemployed. However, I’m in the travel industry (duh), and because of that, my income just took a massive nosedive off a fucking cliff.
Luckily I have reserves, but damn, I was hoping to not tap into that, and ya know, not have a fucking pandemic ruin my blog’s progress and my monthly income.
So there’s that weighing on me too.
*chest tightens even more*
Decisions–Do We Stay or Do We Go?
We had the awful task of having to decide wtf do we do?! Do we stay, or do we go?
BOTH decisions were equally shitty. Neither choice was ideal or good. Both were risky. Both were royally fucked.
Remember – We had Garrett’s elderly parents with us too. They were due to fly home alone on April 1st!
Staying meant possibly getting locked out from our home country, loosing out on the help from our travel insurance, having to pay to essentially be in quarantine while there was a free place with our free vehicles back home in Oregon, and potentially be fucked when our Airbnb expired with places to go.
We had a friend’s house in Portugal to go to, but it perhaps may not have been ideal for his parents (although if we were alone, this would have probably been our choice).
Flights to the US were increasing in price by the day and the routes were getting shittier as airports and flight routes were closing.
Portugal was now a level-4, not that the USA was far behind, but the sense of home maybe be better. His parents had nothing to do so they were just pacing the room. We, at least, had some work, they had nothing. Our Airbnb didn’t even have a TV for them; we were supposed to be on vacation, who needs a TV?!
If we went home, his parents would be in their own home, and Garrett and I could have their small trailer, which is essentially a second house. They would have their home health insurance (although Garrett and I would be fucked on that), and we would have three cars that were paid off, and we would be “home.”
The problem was getting there. Flying was essentially the worst thing to do in terms of upping your chance of catching the virus. So FAAACCCKKK.
We were all SO torn on what to do, we actually booked flights home, packed our bags, and then decided last minute to not go.
We waited again, pondered more, a few more days passed… and then we decided for real this time, it was time to go and finally left.
The decision was one of the hardest I ever had to make. Would we be OK? Would his parents be OK going through all of this?! Was the USA the right choice?
We SUCK in this country. We are stubborn, aren’t self-isolating, the healthcare sucks… The USA straight blows right now, so coming here was a considerable risk.
Luckily, we are in Bend, which is a decently progressive city and we felt this was an OK place given our situation.
So that was that. After two weeks, we decide to head back to the US.
Was there really a right choice? We didn’t know.
Our flight back home SUCKED.
We flew three hours in the WRONG direction to Frankfurt, Germany, to catch a flight to San Fransico, which flew over Bend, Oregon! Then after a five-hour layover, we caught the flight to the tiny airport outside of Bend.
In total, we flew around 15 hours had about 8 hours in layovers.
The airports were eerie AF. I have never seen airports so empty in my life.
Lisbon airport was EMPTY. Frankfurt surprised me at first because there were a decent amount of people, but they must have all gone on a flight because a few minutes later, everyone was gone and it was empty again.
San Francisco was a ghost town – one of the biggest airports in the country! Wow.
Most stores were closed and many restaurants too. The few food stops that were open often were take away only. The few that allowed you to sit made you order at the bar, there were no servers.
The Lisbon and Frankurt Airport ALL had signs about the virus and had constant intercom broadcasts reminding people to practice social distancing.
San Francisco airport – fucking nothing. No signs and no promotion of social distancing.
The only thing I saw was a small sign in the bathrooms, and they turned off the gross hand dryers that spray germs and should be done with anyway. Zero mentioned social distancing, and the sign pretty much talked about getting the flu shot (?!!?!) and washing your hands. LAME, USA… LAME…
Deplaning in San Francisco
And the biggest disappointment? San Francisco Airport and their handling of people getting off the plane from Europe.
This was the lamest attempt to help the situation and it seemed like it wasn’t a big deal. We actually scheduled in a longer layover for this flight thinking there were going to be measures taken that would delay us…Nope.
We were told to fill out a piece of paper on the flight—Name, where did you come from, do you have these symptoms.
When we deplaned, EMTs were waiting and interviewed groups traveling together. The four of us spoke to the EMT and this is what happened…
EMT scans papers and asks us again did we have symptoms, we say no. Asked us again where we came from. Told us “to try and stay home for the next 14 days,” AND THAT’S IT.
I guess I’m not sure what else can really be done… Even taking temperatures aren’t too much of a guarantee of anything but you’d still catch a few people and perhaps isolate them or at least don’t let them out in the open! I just felt it was very nonchalant and not a big deal. The process took an extra three minutes and would mean nothing to the people who don’t care nor take this seriously.
Have you flown during this time and had something more be done? Am I expecting too much?
What The Airlines Did
The flight, aside from being empty, was mostly the same.
The airline staff wore masks from Portugal to Frankfurt; nobody wore masks on the next two flights. Pretty much everyone wore gloves.
The Portugal to Frankfurt flight also announced the service being limited due to the virus, but the only real difference I noticed was they only served individual water bottles instead of a choice of drinks.
Almost everything else was “normal” on my flights, and thankfully all were empty enough to sit without others being too close.
Our long flight we upgraded to be a bit more comfortable, and it meant EVERYTHING! We had tons of legroom, and people were spaced out even more.
What Other People Did
I was pretty surprised. I’d say less than half of the people I saw anywhere were taking this seriously.
Many people weren’t wearing a mask at all or anything, even a scarf to cover their mouths. I know masks are hard to come by, and if Garrett’s mom didn’t buy a few before this blew up before her cruise, we wouldn’t have had any either. But I would have at least used a scarf to decrease the chance. (Yes, I know they won’t totally prevent but even a mild form of help is welcomed, even as a reminder not to touch your face)
The mood was pretty on edge and somber, unsurprisingly.
The things that shocked me the most, but then again, didn’t – The US was the least concerned. Once we landed in San Francisco, you could see most people didn’t give AF about this pandemic.
Most were acting normal, no protection on their face, no wiping down of things, no washing hands for a bit longer than normal, COUGHING, no signs, not social distancing when waiting in lines, grouping together, etc…
I won’t forget this one group of people that were on our last flight. It was around 10:30 pm at San Fransico, getting ready to board our Oregon flight. They were laughing, being loud, and coughing.
One of them kept coughing into her HAND. Not the elbow, not into her shirt, not with a mask on… Just coughing loudly and into her hands. What.the.actual.fuck.
We made sure to be nothing less than 10 feet away from that group.
How We Protected Ourselves
Flying was rough. It was long, and everyone was on edge. We did everything we could to protect ourselves with the resources we had.
We all wore masks. We went through about half a pack of wipes wiping down every single surface we came in contact with. I even wiped down my shirt sleeves a few times during transit, and we wiped down our bags in between flights too. I went psycho with the wipes but I was happy to be psycho than sorry later.
And then, of course, washing hands so frequently my skin has turned to scales. This was all we could really do, this and distancing ourselves from others.
After about 24 hours, we finally made it back to Oregon. We Lysoled our bags when we got back, immediately washed all clothes, and passed out.
Well, we made it back, and my anxiety has definitely subsided. It’s still there but not half as bad as it was.
Weirdly, I travel perpetually and I haven’t truly lived in the US in about nine years, but for some reason, I felt it was maybe a good idea to come back here. I guess when the world is crumbling, the place that’s kind of home is best?
So what now?
I wish I knew. We have no idea.
We planned on coming back to Oregon this summer, as we have been for the last four years, for a road trip. We were going to go back at the end of May, get a van, and van life around the State for a few months. So now we’re here early but don’t really know what to do.
We are keeping an eye out for a van and may still buy one with the hopes of being able to travel with it in a few months.
Otherwise, we are just back to Oregon, working as usual and are again, self quarantining for at least another two weeks and hoping we didn’t catch this nasty virus on our way back home.
We are really grateful and thankful – things could obviously be much worse. And we are all lucky we had the resources here in Oregon to come back to.
Speaking of resources, I made a resources page for you guys where I’m posting fun stuff, learning resources, workouts, freebie, etc that are happening during this crappy time <3
This is a weird time in our lives and the world. I hope you’re staying safe, washing those hands, and are thinking of others and staying home as much as you can. Wishing you the best <3
Nina Ragusa is an adventurer, messy bun master, breakfast fan, and full-time travel blogger. She’s been abroad and epically failing at the American Dream since 2011. Her sassy yet informative blog, Where in the World is Nina? is all about how to work abroad to live a more adventurous life. If you want to travel longer you have to work to wander.