Last year when we were racing through Italy and Spain to outrun the coronavirus I think I was quicker than Katy to see the urgency and need to rethink our plans. Not paranoid but I have a pretty good sense for how things are going to pivot. And after Trump announced the border closures, I was ready to fly home to keep from getting stuck abroad and risk being very ill in a place that didn’t speak English.
But once we were home, Katy was much faster at realizing the scope of what was about to happen. Even after we were back for a couple months, I was still hoping things would turn around and we’d be back out there by the end of summer. A hopeful delusion. While Katy was already resigned to being home for a year or two until things got back to normal. To me, that sounded like defeat. An avalanche of depression. All of our effort to get pruned 6 months in.
Forced to either watch our savings dry up or go back to working some tech job for an income. I just couldn’t get there. And things came to a crisis when we decided to buy our Rialta and start our domestic ramble a year and half early. I knew that was deciding to possibly give up on the plan. To me a consolation prize. It was very difficult to come to terms with the reality that would unfold over the past year.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned this to many people but part of the reasoning behind our trip was the closing window on my mobility. I have a genetic degenerative nerve disorder called CMT (Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease) which attacks the nerve casings in your extremities and causes loss of feeling and muscle function. My brother was walking with a cane when he was my age and my feet are almost entirely numb to the ankle. I’m not done for yet but there’s no cure and no therapy. It’s just a slowly encroaching inevitability. I also have worsening knee trauma from surgeries early in my life. So I don’t see a long career of globe trekking late into my silver years. To me, the time to go is now or never. There’s an urgency. And under that a looming existential dread of not being able to achieve my goals of seeing the world. Boohoo, I know, at least I’ve gotten to see as much as I have, and I am thankful for that. But it’s only such a small part of what there is to see. And at this point in my life, I know what I’m missing and that’s not going to change.
So this June was a pivotal moment. We were either going to travel again or get jobs. That was the only way to save enough money to travel later. And who knows how long it might be before the world opened up again. We’d had our yearlong American road trip. The vaccine was blessed news. It was at least something. A positive sign. But nothing you could plan on.
We decided to rent a house in Eugene, OR for two months with a split reason. The first was to get our vaccines and be fully vaccinated before June. This maximized our chances of traveling if things turned around and we managed to get an appointment the day it became available to us. The second, hedging our bets on the travel thing, was to get a feel for the town as a potential landing spot for a long term stay. Not a wasted effort either way, as we’ll need to land somewhere when we return.
But as fortune would have it, in our last month in Eugene, the EU announced plans to open back up for the summer. For me, that was enough. That was now the plan. Even if I had to go alone. I needed something more before I could mentally adjust to regular employment, buying furniture, and worrying about my credit score again. And after some additional positive signs, Katy was on board, too. So we booked an apartment in Seattle for June to make the transition back to international travel.
We parked the Rialta at Katy’s parents house, rewinterized it, bought a cover and some drying agents for the inside, and got it ready to sell if we needed to. We dug our bags and supplies out of storage and bought all of the things we needed to live out of a backpack again. We made doctors and dentist appointments to get those practicalities out of the way. (I have a stubborn hip injury from some electric scooters in Austin to figure out.) Made plans to see our Seattle friends throughout the month. And that left just enough time to get our minds back into the necessary frame to live completely afloat for the next year.
We reviewed our finances. We had enough to travel comfortably for another year with a 6 month cushion for reentry. Probably not the best window given all of the barriers to travel that still exist for most of Asia and Oceania. But I’m placing a bet that as we travel, things will eventually loosen and allow us to see at least a portion of what we had originally planned. And worst comes to worst, there were plenty of places to see in Europe that would make me happy. And given our previous pacing that assumed things would be normal for our entire three year trip, I’m much more open now to hopping around to the good spots while we’re still able to go.
We waited until the last moment, two weeks before our departure date but still hadn’t booked anything, waiting on last minute restrictions to be lifted. Greece was open but I really had my heart set on Lisbon. And then on the last day, Lisbon opened to Americans! We hastily booked our Airbnb and flights.
Honestly, the travel was quite easy. We had to get a covid test before flying and bring our vaccination cards, but otherwise it felt mostly normal. We bought N95 masks for the flight to be safe. And everything went off without a hitch.
The health guidelines in Portugal are ever-changing, and the requirements are mostly unenforced, but we try our best to keep up to date and comply with what we can. The more annoying aspect is that regulations (and this is true of the EU generally) are written for EU citizens and talk about the digital covid certificate which isn’t available to tourists and does’t specifically address the US vaccination card. So restaurants and hotels have to decide on their own if this is ok. Or speak about arrival from an EU country (with DCC requirements) or the US, conflating departure location with nationality, but rarely about arrival as a US citizen from an EU country, leaving huge grey areas with potential painful circumstances. The big test will be our upcoming flight from Lisbon to Dublin where we put all of this vagary to the test.
So it looks like we’re back on track for our international ramble. But this time we’ve thrown out any notion of a plan and are just taking it one day at a time. We booked our next destination only a few days in advance which we hope will minimize the risk of change.