How Long-Term Travel Prepared Me for Quarantine at Home

When Dan and I headed off on an around the world trip, we were a bit naïve to think it would be like any other vacation. But as weeks turned into months and years, we discovered long-term travel is different. It has unique challenges, blessings, and lessons. Some lessons learned–acceptance of other cultures, flair for conversing with no common language, ability to get to the front of the queue with no defined lines–I use in everyday life. There were other things I learned during our travels that I never thought I would apply to my homelife. However, they are serving me well during this time of social distancing and quarantine at home.

  1. A Mask Can’t Hide a True Smile

When you add together the time Dan and I have traveled in Asian countries it equates to around 2 and a half years. One cultural norm from that region of the world, that we learned to appreciate, is wearing face masks. They are not just worn to avoid breathing out germs when ill, but also to stop breathing in pollution and even as a fashion statement. Hello Kitty masks are especially popular in some countries.

Dan and Shyla Bare in quarantine masks

With mask covering people’s mouths, we discovered we could still tell when someone was genuinely happy. A mask can’t hide a true smile for it shines from the eyes. As American’s mask up, we can still let happiness shine through our eyes and actions.

My Mom and Sister made me several masks. I took a selfie in one and sent it to them. My Sister responded with “You look so happy.” I asked how she could tell. And she said “Your eyes are smiling.”

  1. Video Calls and Clothes Are Important

Dan and I first started video calling our family when we lived in Australia. Our app of choice was Skype. (It’s still the best one. Right now, everyone is jumping on the Zoom bandwagon. Zoom is great for group meetings, but if calling a single friend or a family member try Skype.) At the time, I had a young nephew and we wanted to make sure he grew up “seeing” his Uncle and Aunt. To make the calls fun, we cut out a paper shark and put it on a stick. At some point in every call the shark would surface, and my nephew would call out warnings. We bonded over his saving us time and time again.

Zoom call screenshot

This proved to us that seeing friends and family is crucial in relationship building. This definitely holds true during this stay at home order. Although I have used Zoom for years for my business, in the past it was once or twice a week. Now it is once or twice every day. Video calls are keeping me connected with travelers around the world. As well as my book club, happy hour friends, even getting gym routines using it. Seeing people when I can’t meet up with anyone is keeping me sane.

One thing, I didn’t learn when traveling, was the fact that people had to be told to wear clothes when on a video call. Don’t get me wrong, it is not that I, or anyone I talked to, did them naked. I took knowing to wear clothes for granted. But apparently not everyone knows. There is a tweet circulating that says: ‘got an email from a prof: “As a reminder, you are required to wear clothes during Zoom meetings.” Rules are made when they become necessary, not before.’ (@ellen_perleberg)

Yes people, clothes are important.

And just because you can’t go out these days, does not mean you can’t dress up and feel good. I learned that occasional wearing a nice outfit could make my happy when traveling the world. I first packed only “travel clothes”–safari trousers and t-shirts. My only goal was to travel light and have everything in neutral colors so they matched. My pack equated to the popular quarantine options of t-shirts and yoga pants or pajamas all day.

Utilitarian travel clothes worked until I got to India. There, I met women in beautifully colored saris that left me feeling woefully underdressed. I started to long for color. And sure, I was all about clothes I could pull out of my backpack and wear. But wrinkle-free is not limited to t-shirts or pajamas.

Because of India, I changed what I traveled with. I ditched the blah and added clothes with color. I also now pack a few items that make me feel dressed-up. For some people that may actually be a dress. For me, it’s fancy shirts (such as a lacy tank top or bedazzled rayon blouse.) Dressing up a bit brings me joy and makes me feel special.

A few weeks into the stay at home order, I needed a mental pick-me-up. So, I went to my closet and choose a nice outfit. It felt so good to wear zip-up trousers and a nice shirt. So even though the first Zoom protocol is any clothes, don’t underestimate the boost dressing up can give.

  1. DIY Haircuts Are Hard to Do

Don’t get me wrong, yoga pants are still my current norm. But dressing up feels good. As does occasionally putting on makeup and doing my hair. I do feel very lucky that I got my haircut the week before lock-down. My hair is good to go for months.

Dan not so much.

Street barber in Vietnam

Dan likes to get his haircut every 4-weeks whether he needs it or not. That is why he has already brought out the shears and had me cut his hair. This is a travel skill I would have preferred to never revisit.

I may have been willing to travel the world without a hairdryer, but Dan packed hair shears. At least he did our first year. We learned that getting haircuts around the world was a fun adventure. Often the hair-dresser spoke no English. So describing the desired cut was part of the game. Even with that added challenge, Dan still got better cuts than my untrained hands could give.

Yet in this time of quarantine with hair salons closed, Dan managed to find his shears. A good cut from me, means no blood. I would like to say this will improve the longer we are under quarantine. But based on what we learned when I cut his hair while traveling, it won’t.

  1. Breaks in a Relationship Are Important

One of the reasons we liked getting haircuts when traveling, was it was something we did separately. Dan would head off to find a barber shop in Cambodia, Romania, or Paraguay, and I would have an hour or two on my own. Ahh, sweet solitude.

The need for a bit of alone time was one of the first lessons Dan and I learned when traveling long-term. Sure, on normal vacations couples are together 24/7 for a week or two. Then they return home and go back to daily life, which usually means different places for at least part of the day.

Three months into our around the world trip, I was at my wits end. At that point we had been together every moment of every day. My frustration at never being alone, broke loose and I found myself yelling at Dan on a park bench in France. For once, I was glad that not everyone could understand me.

Let me make it clear, I love my husband, then and now (we celebrate 20-years of marriage this year). But I also need alone time or activities with other people. When we started traveling, I got neither. And now, under stay at home orders, I again find myself isolated with only my husband.

Luckily, we learned after that argument in the park to take “breaks” from each other. Sometimes the separation was short. We would eat at restaurants across the street from each other. Or we would walk through a museum in opposite directions. On occasion, we would split up for longer periods. Dan and I would pick different destinations in the same country for a few days or a week and then meet back up.

When traveling, we discussed if we needed a “safe word” for when one of us was feeling they needed some alone time. In the end, we decided that either of us at any time could simply say “I need a break.” The other person would not take it personal or feel offended. Knowing we had this option, meant we rarely needed it. But there were times when one of us would say it and the other would give space.

We have brushed off this policy as we are quarantined together – 24/7 with no other people to distract. Our townhouse is not big, and under normal circumstances we rarely close room doors. But during this time, we have agreed that if either of us needs a break, they can say it and the other will not be offended. A closed door is to be respected as a sacred way to get sweet solitude.

  1. No Toilet Paper, No Problem

Early in our travels, Dan and I spent a month in Kenya. Soon after we arrived, it became clear that toilet paper was not readily available. Luckily, I had packed mini-tissues. These became my TP. But the lesson does not stop there. For when I first started using mini-tissues, I could go through a pack a day. But out on safari, there were no convenience stores to replenish supplies. I was going to have to make my tissue stash last. Through experimentation, Dan and I discovered the trick is in the folding. By carefully folding a tissue you can use less.

Toilet with no paper in Mexico

When coronavirus started spreading in America, there was a crazy rush on toilet paper. People horded as much as they could carry. We did not. But a couple weeks into news reports of panic buying, we realized we better make what we had last. Especially since, weeks into the stay at home order, the TP aisle was still bare.

As such, we returned to the careful folding we learned when traveling. I know use three squares a time. This has extended the life of my toilet paper rolls from about 5 days to 11.

And, if we do run out, Dan and I have a back-up plan. It’s called the “left-hand.”

  1. Best Not to Shake Hands

Creative and conscious folding got me so one tissue was enough. Even so, Dan and I traveled long enough in developing countries that there were times that we ran out of tissues. It was then that I had to resort to the infamous “left-hand” technique. Yup, I learned to wipe with my left-hand. This is actually the normal practice in many parts of the world. It is also why in many countries, they do not eat or pass things to each other with that hand. Nor do they touch as a form of greeting.

Thai wai

As an American, I was trained to shake hands or hug when meeting someone. But traveling taught me not to. Not only are their hygiene reasons for not shaking hands, but in many countries it is culturally inappropriate, as is hugging. I learned it was safer to give a slight head bow, “namaste” welcome, Thai wai, or simply a smile. Returning to America after 12-years abroad, I found it strange that people had to touch each other when they met.

As the pandemic spread across the U.S., hand shaking and hugging stopped. In fact, they were one of the first things to go and people are saying the custom may not return. I like the idea that hand shaking might be gone for good. I’m happy to smile or send “air hugs” when meeting.

  1. If You Can’t Zig than Zag.

If you’ve read the Before You Go Abroad Handbook (or taken the Before You Go class) you will know that I am a planner. When we travel, I like to have an itinerary and activities booked. Dan’s approach to travel is spontaneous. He likes to wing it and enjoys going with the flow. At first, our different travel styles clashed. With time, we learned to blend the two.

Many times, even when I had a plan, we had to do something different. In Australia, an employee strike kept us from reaching Canberra. In Egypt, a medical emergency meant giving up my dream of visiting Luxor. In Malaysia, a religious holiday kept us from following the itinerary I’d planned. My list of dashed destinations or changed plans could go on.

What all this taught me was sometimes you have to zag when you can’t zig.

This is definitely a lesson needed now. Millions of travelers had vacations cancelled. We ourselves were one day away from a trip to Canada, when the borders closed. But a cancelled vacation is not the worst thing. I understand and support not traveling right now as a way to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. It is important for travelers to not take the disease to areas with limited medical care.

For us, the biggest changes have come with our work. We are diversified in the travel industry–books, talks, classes, coaching, blogging, and more. But it is all in travel. Watching the travel industry crash was unprecedented and unsettling. We went from a growing business to nothing in what seemed like hours. For many days we sat in stunned silence not sure what our next steps should be.

Now we are doing what international travel taught us – zag when you can’t zig! We are increasing our online presence. We are looking to the future (who wants to travel with us in 2021?) We are exploring how we can best serve travelers, even when no one can travel.

Travel Dreams Bundle Logo

In fact, two of our services are in a Travel Dreams Bundle coordinated by Solo Traveler World. Watch for this when it is on sale the week of May 31st. It is an incredibly good value and will prepare people for future travel. For if there is one thing my previous travels have taught me, is there are always more places to explore.

I trust our ability to travel will return. Until then keep zagging.


by Shyla Esko Bare, International Travel Coach, Wild Spirit Travel, 01-May-2020 ©

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