For Travellers Coming Home Now
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I just want to say I’m sorry you’re having to come home earlier than you wanted because of Covid-19. And yes I’m apologizing for a global pandemic because I’m Canadian and apologizing is in my nature. I’m sorry you have to cut your vacation/study abroad/work abroad experience short and go home. It sucks. I know. I’ve been there.
I mean I didn’t have to go home because of a global pandemic and a virus that is spreading faster than we had anticipated, with no vaccine for it. But I know what it’s like to have to cut a trip short. I went through something similar in Ireland.
I still haven’t written a ton about Ireland, and I am still processing my experience there (after almost two years of being back home in Canada). The people in Ireland are wonderful and the country is beautiful, but my experience was hard and filled with a lot of ups and downs. It wasn’t always easy, but I don’t regret going.
If you don’t know the story I went to Ireland on a working holiday visa in August 2016. I was supposed to stay there for two years. However, the last job I worked at was an office temp job I started in February 2018. That May I was told my position was ending. Now I knew the job was a temp job. I wasn’t given an exact timeline when I started, but I was hoping that it would end closer to July or even early August. But it ended at the beginning of May. I had a short trip to Oslo planned and I wondered if I should cancel, but I did end up going.
Then I also had to find a way to stay in Ireland. I didn’t have enough money so I would need to find another job to stay until the end of my visa. Aside from the fact I hate job searching (had some pretty stressful experiences over that so it gives me a lot of anxiety) I also realized no one would hire someone on a working holiday visa that was ending in 3 months. I also knew that legit places that could hire me would ask for my GNIB card (which allowed me to work legally in the country). They’d be able to tell my visa (which couldn’t be renewed) would expire in a few months.
It took a lot of time and energy for me to find the work I did. I had other jobs before the office temp one, and I couldn’t go through that stress again. I’d be spending time and energy on something that was going to last a few months at most. Then if I found a job I’d have to work to save up money for rent, and I wouldn’t get to spend the last few months enjoying Ireland. I’d just be working to survive and then go home.
So I made the hard decision to come home earlier than I wanted. I still got to spend a couple weeks around Dublin before I left. I got to take walks at my favourite park, go to the beach. I visited some museums. I took a hop on hop off tour in Dublin because I found a cheap Groupon deal and why not? I even went to some local day trip spots like Howth and Dún Laoghaire one last time. At least for a while.
I had some time to process my grief over not being able to stay in Ireland as long as I had wanted. Some might say, “yeah but you were going to have to leave eventually, so what’s the big deal if you left early?” And for me, it comes down to a lack of control, because really if I had the money to stay longer, maybe €800 to help me with rent and bills I probably would have stayed another 4 or 6 weeks. But I didn’t have that option. Circumstances changed and I had to come home early and it sucked. While I missed my friends and family back in Canada I didn’t want to leave Ireland so soon, and the way I did.
I know for a lot of you coming home you also probably didn’t want to come home so soon. And I know that coming back for you is going to be a lot different than it was for me. I got to come home to family and friends. I got to see the new bridge in my city and attend festivals and check out new restaurants and all that. For those of you coming home now, especially if you’ve been gone for a while, it’s going to be different than my experience. Any travellers coming home from another country are being advised to self-quarantine for a couple of weeks. You’ll be isolated from your loved ones (aside from perhaps any people you’ve travelled with who also live with you). You’ll probably be feeling a lot of reverse culture shock, particularly if you’ve been away for a long time.
Please for your mental health stay in touch with your friends and family (online or by phone). Eat healthy meals. Be kind to yourself. Find something to do at home (whether that’s journaling, meditating, working on an online project, reading a book, yoga etc). I encourage you to stay informed with what’s going on but don’t stay glued to the news or social media because you’ll just get more anxious than you need to be. Practice good hygiene (proper handwashing with soap and water for 20 seconds, sneezing into a tissue or your elbow, and not touching your face). Stay away from others for at least 14 days, just in case. If you start feeling unwell call your doctor or healthcare provider to find out what to do next.
Most of all grieve. Feel sad for the loss of your trip and for the loss of the things you were hoping to see and experience on your travels. Feel angry at this stupid fucking virus we can’t get a hold of quite yet. Feel upset at the lack of control you have over this whole situation. Feel what you feel (but don’t take it out on others). If you need to talk with someone then reach out to a professional. Everyone’s mental health is taking a hit, and if you need to talk to a therapist via phone or online please do so. There’s no shame in getting help.
In hindsight, I can see that my coming home from Ireland wasn’t just about me being sad to end my work abroad experience earlier than I’d expected. It was also about me being uncertain and scared about my future (or as I really felt, a lack of a future). It was about feeling powerless and out of control in my own life. We like to believe that we have control. Many of us like to believe we have it figured out, or we can figure it out. Last March did anyone think I bet a year from now there’s going to be a global pandemic that’s going to kill thousands, shut down travel, shut down the country’s borders, cripple the economy, and make terms like “going into quarantine” a common thing? No, probably not (unless you’re a doomsday prepper who’s been preparing for the apocalypse for the past twenty years).
My point is that no one currently alive now has ever lived through anything like this. The world just started to learn about Covid-19 a couple of months ago, but even a few weeks ago borders were still open. Social isolation was just starting to catch on where I live. Last week I was still going to work at my retail job. Now, my work has shut down (at least until March 28, maybe later). I’m socially isolating. I know people in quarantine and know of people who likely have Covid-19. I have friends and family who are in the high-risk category for getting Covid-19 and not being able to recover. I have family in the healthcare field who may be exposing themselves to this virus every time they go to work.
This is a weird world we’re living in now people. Things are not as they used to be, and the future for a lot of us is uncertain. I know travel is a luxury that many people can’t afford, and in the grand scheme of things having to cut a trip short shouldn’t be a big deal. But this is different. This isn’t cutting a trip short and coming home because you ran out of money (I mean maybe that could also be true). This is cutting a trip short because a health pandemic that we don’t have a vaccine for yet has taken over the globe. This is coming home because your country might be closing its borders, and if you don’t leave now you don’t know when you’ll be able to get home. This is ending your travels because the world has stopped functioning the way it did a few months ago. This is coming home to a very uncertain and different future than what any of us had ever imagined.
I don’t want to end this on a bummer note. I know people are angry and confused and sad and anxious about everything that’s been happening. Even as an introvert, it sucks knowing the only thing I can do is stay home, wash my hands properly for 20 seconds, not touch my face, sneeze/cough into a tissue, and stay away from other people as much as possible. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but I also know if everyone does this we can help to flatten the curve, help not burden the global medical system, and most important help save lives. When it feels out of control I think about how lucky I am, and that me just staying home is doing a small part to make things a little better.
I like to try to look for the silver linings in these strange times, and I encourage you to do the same. I like to watch the videos of people in quarantine in Europe singing from their balconies. I like hearing how people are cheering the doctors and nurses when they go home. I like reading how the canals of Venice have cleared up, and that there’s less smog in China. I like to look back at my travel photos and think of how grateful I am that I’ve been able to visit the places in this world that I have. I like to put on my favourite upbeat songs and dance. I like to look at stupid memes and laugh at the absurdity of life.
In these times it’s important to have hope. It’s the first day of Spring today and the change of seasons always feels like a little reset to me. And it reminds me that everything ends, and at some point so will this situation. I can’t say for sure what’s on the other side of this, but I wish for us to make it through together with greater courage, plenty of wisdom, and more kindness for each other.