Uncertainty in the Time of COVID-19

Many years ago I took a personality assessment for work and the results included this sentence that has stuck with me ever since: “Jaime likes to plan her work and work her plan.” I think one of the reasons I remember it so well is because our results were shared with our colleagues and all of my coworkers adamantly agreed that this sentence was almost too accurate about me. I can’t help it. I’m a planner. Always have been.

If there’s one thing that has been true throughout the global COVID-19 pandemic, it is that it will force you to change at least some of your plans. For full-time travelers like us, the pandemic may require us to change practically all of our plans. 

My last post about how the pandemic has affected us was just over a month ago and in it I mentioned we had found some normalcy and things seemed to be getting better around the world, so we were hoping for a mid-May flight home. Well, that didn’t happen and as of today, we are still in Costa Rica. The border closure was extended to June 15 earlier this month and will likely be extended again. We did go ahead and book two tickets home for July 15 on United, but whether that flight will happen remains to be seen (people here believe the border closure will be extended until at least August). Our hope is that because United has been doing repatriation flights throughout the closure, our tickets might allow us to take one of those even if full commercial air travel hasn’t resumed.

A month ago we were also hoping to carry on with our plans for the second half of 2020, but that won’t happen either. We cancelled our July 13 flight to London (and it’s attached November 13 return flight from Dubai). We’re confident we’ll be able to use the flight credit within the two-year period, so it is no real financial loss for us. 

But now we don’t know what the second half of 2020 will look like. We don’t even know for sure we’ll be able to go home on July 15. All we know is that we want to be able to spend six weeks at home when we can get there and then we want to spend the rest of fall on the road, still returning in mid-November in the hopes of celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas with our family. But we don’t know if we’ll be able to do what we want. And if we can get home and leave again, we don’t know where we’ll be able to go. Uncertainty is the name of the game during these COVID-19 times. 

So I’ve been scenario planning. In one scenario, we go to Europe about six weeks later than originally planned, missing our August in Bansko and the film shoots we’ve already punted to 2021 and start with September in Serbia (Belgrade) and then on to Kenya as planned in October, wrapping up with a week or two back on the European continent before flying home. This scenario is pretty unlikely, but it would mean we could keep and use most of our existing Airbnb reservations and flights.

A second similar scenario is to go to Europe (likely Belgrade as planned), but remain in the Balkans rather than going to Africa. It is very unclear what conditions in Kenya will be like this fall and it would be simple enough to find an alternative location in Europe. 

Our third, and increasingly likely, scenario is to head to Mexico, and we’re looking into which states look reasonably safe and interesting (Chiapas is a possibility). An advantage of Mexico is its affordability, especially if we end up having to eat the cost of all the Airbnb stays and flights we’ve already arranged for the second half of this year.

The point is, we don’t know. Things continue to open up here in Costa Rica and in the United States, but in the US especially, cases continue to rise (there are also an additional 10 or so cases here most days, though usually more recoveries than new cases). We’re hopeful that as conditions improve here, we’ll be able to engage in some local tourism and visit more of Costa Rica in our last 2-3 weeks here. But even that plan is uncertain.

Although we don’t know what the future will bring, we can’t complain about our present conditions. We’ve been able to deal with the challenges that come with extending our four months of travel to six months (like obtaining things I usually only get at home – birth control pills and contact lenses. Neither required a new prescription in Costa Rica, which points to some of the many inefficiencies in the US healthcare system). The beaches are now open on weekdays from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. and several restaurants have also reopened, so we’ve eaten out twice in the last few weeks and went out for cocktails once. We continue to enjoy daily walks (made better by being on the beaches!) and weekend hikes and riding our bikes and of course spending plenty of time working. Oh, and there are still plenty of howler monkeys around to watch!

We feel very lucky we happened to be in Costa Rica when the border shut-downs happened (in Peru, the emergency quarantine measures have been extended until June 30, including not being allowed to leave your home on Sundays; I’m very glad we didn’t end up there). Costa Rica continues to have low instances of the virus, which has started to be noticed by the North American press (they will also be the first Central American country to have legal gay marriage in a few days and they celebrate not having an army, so there’s a lot to like about Costa Rica). We’ve been extremely comfortable here and really can’t complain.

The uncertainty has been the greatest challenge of the pandemic for me. All I can do is to try to be better about living in the moment. Chad and I continue to take it day-by-day, enjoy each other’s company, and look forward to better days of travel ahead. And a time that I can again “work my plan.”

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