Make Plans, and Then Do What Happens: A Gap Year Interrupted
May 3, 2020 Airbnb Cottage Ocean Beach (OB), San Diego, CA
Disclaimer: We are eternally grateful that we are all healthy and safe, as are our families. We are not on the frontlines, and we have not been thrown into financial ruin (at least not yet). We know we are some of the lucky ones! But here is our unique coronavirus story…
It’s safe to say that this is not what we expected. The endless hours of planning and booking the “perfect” apartments, hotels, tours, boat, and travel itinerary could never have prepared us for Sunday, March 15, 2020. The day our world literally closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The irony is that on February 4 when we flew out of Auckland, we thought we were leaving the virus behind on that side of the world. We had never seen so many masks in an airport as scores of Chinese tourists were still coming and going. Whew, at least we would now be safe heading to Mexico and Europe.
While in Mexico, we kept one eye on the crisis but only a little bit. It was a non-issue there. Italy was not looking good, so we were lightly discussing backup plans, but we still had months so assumed it would all be fine by then. We could enjoy blissful ignorance as Mexico was completely safe at that point.
We were nervous to fly to New York on March 10 so stocked up on hand sanitizer and wipes. We reminded each other countless times not to touch surfaces or our faces. As long as we were cautious, we’d be fine. After all, “it’s just the flu.” Honestly, our biggest concern was getting any type of sniffle that could cause us to be quarantined and delayed somewhere along our travels.
The night before we left Mexico, however, we saw the unprecedented news that Italy had closed. How do you close a country?? (See the quaint naivete from ancient history: two months ago?) It was a major blow to world history worldschooling plans. However, I was already familiar with “Make plans, and then do what happens.” Shaka, man. I’m laid back now, so I was sure we would find a suitable alternative. Maybe we’d go to Switzerland, Spain, stay longer in Cyprus, or go to France early. (Seriously, these were all logical thoughts back then, or so we thought.) We still had a few weeks to figure it out.
At that point, New York had just had its first cases, mainly in New Rochelle. Armed with personal disinfectants and an abundance of caution (and/or ignorance), we even got a little touring of New York City. The Museum of Modern Art, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Those were our last tourist moments.
Then reality began to catch up to us. First Broadway went dark before we could see a show. Then they closed the Met, the Natural History Museum and the 9/11 Museum. We were upset but simply resolved it meant we would come back to do NYC right another time.
Not content with those minor inconveniences, however, reality proceeded to hit us over the head the next morning. We were going to take the train into the city and wander Greenwich Village. I love the Village and was eager to share it with Dan. Lucas and William were going to a skatepark. Instead we awoke to dozens of news and social media posts about new things like “social distancing” and “flattening the curve.” Suddenly, it didn’t seem smart (or good PR) to take public transportation or allow the boys to go to the park. (Again, note the naïve, narrow view of our world at that point.) We cancelled plans and spent the morning online, trying to understand what was happening in the world.
The next day we were scheduled to fly to Iceland. We decided to check the situation in all of our destinations. Iceland: fine. England: fine(ish). Cyprus: closed. What?? Cyprus was our hopeful escape route, isolated and very few cases. So, of course, the government intended to keep it that way and announced just that morning it was closing its borders to all non-citizens. We were scheduled to arrive there in less than a week, so we had some major decisions to make.
After some difficult discussion (and more than a little swearing at our circumstances), we decided the best thing to do was Plan C: spend the rest of the month “vacationing” in suburban Jersey. We scrambled to cancel everything up until April 10, our treasured month’s stay in Provence. That wasn’t looking great either, but maybe we could make it work. We would just sit tight, enjoy our friend’s hospitality since we were now quarantined together, and see if we could restart the vision when things “calmed down.”
Dan and I spent hours online and on the phone trying to cancel all the flights, hotels, and tour operators. Sadly, since Iceland was still operating somewhat normally, we lost most of that money. We tried to explain they really didn’t want us to come and get stranded in their country, but at that point people were falling back on following their normal cancellation policies. I was cursing my organized planning abilities! If we had stayed spontaneous, this would have been a lot easier. And like all travelers during this time, we received the rude awakening that global pandemics and closed borders are exemptions to travel insurance policies. Argh! (However, I will be forever grateful and a customer of Airbnb. They have been so amazing about all of this; we have received every penny back from them—a total of almost $6500 we would have lost otherwise. We ❤ Airbnb!)
At the end of that fateful day, we sat back a bit stunned, more than a bit demoralized, and a whole lot of exhausted. However, we took heart in the fact we were quarantined with our amazing friends, the Pulvers, who let us stay another week before their daughters came back from college. Lucas was actually thrilled to have this extra time with his BFF from preschool. We had quickly found a cute nearby Airbnb for the following week, and the adults stocked up on wine to get us through. We were going to carpe this quarantine diem!
A few wine-soaked days later, after lots of great food, laughter and tears, reality came back. This time it knocked down the walls and crushed the dream we had planned, saved and sacrificed for. The entire EU and then France specifically closed its borders for 30 days. Now it was clear that we were not going to get to that perfect apartment in the medieval walled city of Uzes for the month. We were not going to get to enjoy the medieval tower (!) that came with the apartment, or the bicycles for leisurely rides through the vineyards. No rosé, no baguettes, no cheeses or pastries.
Worse, New York City and New Jersey were now becoming the epicenter of the crisis in the U.S. There were plans for stricter lockdowns and rumors of restricting domestic air travel. I awoke in the middle of the night faced with fear for the first time. What if we got stuck? What if our parents got sick and we couldn’t get to them? I woke up Dan and we spent those early hours Googling and talking things out. By morning we had decided to scrap the New Jersey plans and get a flight back to San Diego. We found a generous Airbnb host with a place we could stay for a month in our old neighborhood while we figured all this out.
On Friday, March 20, 2020, five days after the first “adjustment” to our schedule, we were seated on an Alaska Airlines flight from Newark to San Diego. We were three of 17 people onboard. I cried as we hugged goodbye to our quarantine family, and I was visibly shaking as we made our way through the airport, stripped of my rose-colored glasses and the innocence that ignorance provides. This was real, and not just for us, but for the world. The Newark airport was eerily quiet and the atmosphere tense. As passengers eyed each other suspiciously yet sympathetically, we all wondered what kind of world we were traveling in and when or if it would ever be the same.
I must admit that when we woke up the next morning in San Diego after our late-night
arrival, I only felt relief. We were still in shock and absolutely exhausted from what had just happened. After checking on my parents (safely) and stocking up on groceries (also safely), all we wanted to do was crash in our cute little beach cottage and wait out our 14-day quarantine. We took socially-distanced walks each day and reveled in the sunshine and salt air. All of California was under Stay-at-Home orders, and though we no longer had a home, at least we were back to familiarity and our beloved OB neighborhood. It wasn’t a terrible place to be stranded. Yet after relief, came the profound sadness, even grief.
Our trip was supposed to end on June 23, 2020 in Paris. Paris is my absolute favorite city in the world. I am a huge Francophile! I lived with a family there the summer before my high school senior year and minored in French in college, but I had never been back. Instead I have spent the last 30 years dreaming of France, wishing to go back. I have read dozens and dozens of books about the French lifestyle and running away to the South of France. I was “saving the best for last” by planning France at the end of our trip, closing it out with a spectacular grande finalé of two weeks in Paris!
Over the last month, each of those tiny glimmers of hope have died. Yesterday it was official: France will remain closed to non-citizens and largely locked down until July. We only had until the end of June before Dan had to be back at work. There is no more time left. Airbnb allowed the final cancellation of our final stay: a sunny two bedroom flat in Montmartre with a patisserie across the street.
Cancelled and money returned. It’s over. As the French say, resigned to so much loss throughout history, C’est la vie. It is life.
Sometimes I can shrug it off. (The French are masters of the shrug. Pfft.) But if I’m honest, I’m pissed. I have moments of self-pity. I have been struggling with accepting the IS-ness of what’s happening. I vacillate between railing against reality or wanting to hide under the covers in denial…to leaning into my Higher Self’s coping mechanisms. I meditate with Deepak’s “Hope in Uncertain Times;” I listen to Eckart Tolle on Accepting What Is rather than fruitlessly claiming “this shouldn’t be happening.” Of course it should. Why? Because it IS happening. I listen obsessively to Brené Brown and Glennon Doyle take me through grief emotions and how to be gentle with myself during these unprecedented times. I know I am not alone in these emotional exercises as the world attempts to navigate collective crisis. And yet we each have our unique story on how this has impacted us.
For the Myers it’s been hard to reconcile. The yearlong adventure we hoped to give our son, the lifetime memories and lifechanging experiences not only came to an abrupt end, but are now overshadowed by the global health and economic crisis that is smothering the world. Lucas can’t help but look back on his Family Gap Year and think, “Coronavirus Quarantine” rather than remembering the fun planned but unrealized. Even the fun we did have will likely be overshadowed by the collective tragedy that now marks 2020. The two events will be forever intertwined.
As we try to rebuild our lives in the midst of a pandemic, we also secretly worry that we made a huge mistake, or least it was not worth the sacrifices. We were going to take Lucas to 8 different countries; we made it only to two. We second-guess our itinerary a lot. Did we waste too much time enroute? But how could we have known? So many bucket list destinations unchecked.
And now we must find an apartment and buy furniture during a statewide lockdown of non-essential businesses. Lucas is enduring quarantine from friends he was already missing terribly for months. I need to start my career over when 30 million people are out of work. Deciding to travel the world (when the world closed) and having to now stay at home (when we don’t have a home) certainly does not seem like our best idea.
People offer optimism: at least you are healthy (yes!), at least you didn’t get stuck in Europe where there has been so much suffering (yes!), and at least you got to complete the majority of your trip (yes!). All true, and in my heart I am sincerely grateful. I spend a lot of time focusing on people who have it worse: the sick, the families left behind, the frontline workers, the unemployed, the high school and college seniors cheated out of so many significant milestones and memories. I hurt for them. It’s not fair. As the meme asks, can’t we just hit CTRL-ALT-DELETE on 2020?
Instead, the enlightened part of me will continue to mine my own lessons. I am going to spend the next week pouring over the memories we made, looking at pictures to reclaim the trip we had, rather than mourning the trip we didn’t.
Just this morning Lucas warmed my heart by chirping, “Remember when…” and rattling off a series of forgotten family moments. It will also come in smaller flashes, like when I saw a man walking down the street, big backpack with sleeping bag and shoes dangling off. We see that here in OB occasionally, but this time it took me instantly to the streets of New Zealand where it is ubiquitous. I stopped dead in my tracks. Oh yeah, I had been in New Zealand. For four months. No one can take that away from me, and it will forever change me in ways I cannot yet understand.
And maybe what we got was all we really need. Maybe Lucas’s amazing world history lessons will be more appreciated when he’s older. Maybe a Europe trip deserves its own block of time and attention. Maybe my French dream remains on hold until I’m wiser and can immerse more in its joie de vivre. Maybe.
A lifetime ago, at our first stop in Waikoloa Village on the Big Island of Hawaii, I heard the quote that has both inspired and haunted me this year: “Make plans, and then do what happens.” Back then it was aspirational; I could never have predicted it would be the heavy mantra of our entire trip. This is not the story I thought I was going to write. This is one helluva plot twist! Hopefully one day, I’ll be able to sit down and write my book, and hopefully by then I’ll have the perfect Hollywood ending…But I don’t think I’m quite there yet.
C’est la vie.
Stay safe and healthy everyone! Much love and thanks for following our journey, Angie & The Boys aka Myers on the Move