We’ve read so many stories of fellow travelers stranded abroad during this crisis who our hearts just go out to. Their flights were canceled, they couldn’t afford the high prices, or they just don’t have another option. But, that isn’t our story. Yes, leaving New Zealand at this point would be highly unlikely (but it is getting more of a possibility with each day!). However, by no means do we feel stranded here. This was a choice. Being ‘stuck’ for now was expected going into this. And we realized going into it that this may be our situation for months – maybe a year or more. But we’re okay with staying here as long as we need to. Well, as okay as we can be.
When the Coronavirus crisis started ramping up around the world, we made a choice to stay in New Zealand. (Technically, after a short freak-out … we made this decision twice). We could have gone back to the U.S., but we decided it wasn’t smart to leave.
So, why would we decide to remain in a foreign country while the world seemed to be falling apart? Well, there were some huge reasons that really solidified our choice. I think we are very realistic about this decision, however, I know a lot of people won’t agree with us on some of these points. And that’s okay. But, for anyone curious what this process has looked like, we wanted to share about this journey. Because we had planned for a lot of travel issues as nomads and this sure as hell wasn’t one of them!
Deciding on the best option for us was a real lesson in faith and a reminder of all the ways our life of travel has shaped us into the people who could commit to such a big decision.
[Note: Photos used in this article were taken in the more than two months we were here before the pandemic in New Zealand changed travel rules. We have followed all rules of the lockdown and social distanced before it was even suggested here. The van we bought had a dead battery as proof! HA!]
Top Reasons We Stayed in New Zealand During the Pandemic
1. We Don’t Trust the U.S. Government
May as well rip the band-aid off, right? I know this will be the most controversial reason, but it was top of our list when we discussed the situation. Politics aside, in no way do we feel that our home country has our best interest in mind. We haven’t had health insurance in multiple years (just travel insurance), since the U.S. healthcare system is totally effed up it is basically worthless to us. The fact that doctor friends will elaborate on these issues disturbs me most! And the idea of being anywhere in the U.S. during a health crisis was terrifying to us.
The messaging around the virus has also been extremely confusing and the number of people – including those in leadership – not taking it seriously, is very concerning. We didn’t and still don’t feel that the situation is being handled well and I am terrified daily for our loved ones in the states. From the start, many businesses seem to be putting making money before health and the people we love have been put in horrible situations because of this. Not having to be fearful for our own well-being on top of that has been a relief.
Of course, we don’t want to feel this way and aren’t sharing this to start an argument with anyone. Hopefully, our feelings will change one day, but this is a big consideration for people in our situation.
2. New Zealand is Safe, Beautiful & Handling the Crisis AMAZINGLY!
I keep joking that I’ll be getting a tattoo of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s face in a heart after this is over. But, for real. THAT WOMAN! She is a role model if I ever saw one. Calm. Smart. Clear. Unwavering. Empathetic. Strong. Everything you could hope for in a leader. (Read more about her leadership style during COVID here). It didn’t take long for me to start referring to her as “our PM.” We are totally eating up the “unite against COVID-19” messaging here in NZ and are so proud to have been part of the efforts that eradicated the virus here. We’re on the path to beat it.
Yes, I said beat it. That’s one of the main reasons we chose to stay in New Zealand. They didn’t go into lockdown just to flatten the curve, they have been able to almost stop the spread with minimal numbers being reported now. We’re going on our second week of level three lockdown with the chance to ease up in the coming week because the numbers have dropped so much. We may even get to move around the country again!
We especially appreciated that the government extended Visas for anyone who had one expiring amidst the lockdown (us!) and went ahead and made it good until September! Such a relief to know we are cared for and welcome long-term. Our decision would have been very different had we been somewhere with a questionable government or lack of places to stay, high crime, etc. But, luckily, New Zealand is known for being a wonderful, welcoming place!
Even if we aren’t able to leave for a while, we can’t complain about being in New Zealand! Well, I’d be okay if we weren’t headed toward winter, but it’s still an opportunity for adventure and that makes my heart happy.
3. We Don’t Have a Home to Go Back To
We’re nomadic. We have no home base. Just a storage unit and mail forwarding address. Of course, there are about a dozen or so people who would take us in – and all reached out to expressly tell us so during this. But, to be completely honest, the idea of having to move back to our hometown or feel like a burden to someone else was awful.
I looked at Buddy in tears and told him I think I’d get inconsolably depressed if we had to do that. We discussed getting an apartment in the U.S. as well, but that was almost just as depressing – with the addition of completely wasting money. But, those were real options. We weren’t the only ones making difficult choices and we knew we’d have to make sacrifices no matter what right now. And when we saw the flights getting fewer and fewer (just before New Zealand went into complete lockdown), we seriously considered if going back to the U.S. despite our concerns was the right option. The world was being told to ‘go home’ and so many others were doing it…
But, for the last three years, home to us has been wherever we happen to be. Of course, we knew these alerts meant ‘home country’, but that just didn’t feel like the safe, welcoming home others felt called to and getting to family or a long-term place to live in the U.S. had its own issues.
4. Traveling Would Be a Nightmare & Irresponsible
As we looked into flights, we realized the absolute nightmare traveling during this crisis would be. I felt my heart rate rising and my breath was heavy with each new issue we talked about. Imagining the reality of it all was anxiety inducing. It was too much.
Getting to our family in Florida (our best option in the states), would have meant flying from Christchurch, NZ, to LAX in California. We’d have to hope no other rules went into place during the half-day flight that would mean being stuck in California where rent would be outrageous. Then we’d have to cross over to the domestic side of the airport (which we know from experience sucks) to get to Denver where we have a car.
THEN, we’d have to drive across the whole damn country, which we’ve done about five times now and despise … because Texas. That meant so many gas station and accommodation and food stops. Should we be quarantining in California? Before the drive? Once we get to Florida? All of them? Could we still even buy masks or cleaning supplies once there to protect others from our germs and vice versa? There were no clear answers to be found. But we knew it was wholly irresponsible to travel with the chance of potentially spreading the virus at so many different points.
We also knew the rules and guidelines were ever-changing with travel of all kinds getting more and more difficult (we have heard horror stories from full-time RVer friends trying to find a place to shelter in place). So, we had no idea if we would get stopped and stuck along the way. We were exhausted just thinking of it and couldn’t help but envision post-apocalyptic scenes of lawlessness, especially knowing we’d have to drive through some very back-woods places.
Surprisingly, everyone state-side told us they agreed with our decision. A first in our long list of controversial life decisions! New Zealand quickly became a no-brainer.
5. Going Back Wouldn’t Have Helped Our Loved Ones
Obviously, staying in New Zealand was smart. The situation was much less extreme, yet being handled much more seriously. It’s a beautiful place and the Kiwis are lovely people. But, then the alerts started rolling in. The day before we were headed to the apartment we were due to stay in and right after buying a vehicle, we got another alert saying we should come back to the U.S. or “be prepared to remain abroad indefinitely.” That i-word is now banned in our life, but I’ll type it this one time to give the full effect. It wasn’t the first time I had read it, but it was the first time Buddy looked at me with deep concern and asked “Are you sure you don’t want to go back? It could be years.” Cue the waterworks, as they say.
I sobbed. Because NO!, that’s not okay with me. But I was torn. Aside from the people I love there, everything else told me to stay. I felt that God had lined up a safe place for us here in New Zealand. Things had just worked out with miraculous timing, but it was really freaking scary to feel like we could be here for years if this didn’t get sorted out. When could we get to our loved ones again? I had all the emotions. And we had to decide immediately as rumors of a lockdown were swirling and flights were going fast.
As Buddy looked up flights, I went through all the scenarios in my head. I even messaged whoever I knew that was online (because it was middle of the night in the U.S.) to get their thoughts. I NEVER do that. A total sign that I was spiraling.
I knew, realistically, we couldn’t be of any help if we went back. We’d be putting people we love in danger by traveling to them and then we’d also just become a burden, even if they didn’t see it that way. It was definitely the truth. I wanted desperately to hug my new-mom best friend of 25+ years and tell her it would all be okay, help home school my 11-year-old nephew, and see with my own eyes that our parents, friends, and siblings are healthy and safe. But that wasn’t possible. We’d have to keep our distance. Other than whoever we stayed with, we’d be in the same situation – supporting via phone calls and texts. It would just be extra sad because they’d be up the road or a few states away, but out of reach.
Looking back, I know I was feeling a strange mix of fear and grief I had never felt and didn’t know how to handle. I genuinely felt in danger no matter what, as many others have as well. And I was grieving our hard-earned travel lifestyle at the same time I was grieving my freedom to see my loved ones. I didn’t want to leave, but I felt like we were really alone and was petrified of not being able to see our people for years. We’ve always done life our own way and made our own decisions without getting input from others. But, this time it just felt so heavy. I told Buddy with complete genuine devastation that I just wanted to quit. I didn’t want to decide. And – in the way only your soulmate can – he said he understood … agreed even, which I will always appreciate. But we had to decide.
In the end, the ticket prices jumped thousands of dollars as we debated for about an hour. That sealed the deal. I don’t know if that hadn’t happened if we would have let the fear push us to just go back despite all the red flags. Deep down, I know God intervened once again – giving us an easy out and all but screaming this time, “You’re meant to be here!” I knew it in my gut all along. All the reasons we chose to stay initially still made sense. I think I just had to have that time to mourn. Although it’s been an ongoing process … as I’m sure many people can understand. We’re okay, just not 100% of the time.
6. We Have Funds & Friends
About a week before the lockdown began in New Zealand, we were able to get set up with an affordable, long-term, self-contained apartment thanks to the help of a fellow housesitting couple and New Zealand locals. Travel angels are real, y’all! We’ll always be grateful for our new forever friends and hope one day we can pay it forward.
Thankfully, we have savings and a credit card and online work, so we can stay here for as long as we need to. I talked to some other travelers who didn’t have any of this and told them I think they should go to their families without hesitation. But, we are lucky to have the ability to work anywhere and are experienced as nomads already. Once restrictions are lifted, we could potentially move to another place – even if it has to be a hostel to stay in our budget.
Now that we’ve been through the lockdown and seen how graciously it was handled, we are no longer afraid. It may have felt like it, but we were never alone. There are always friends to be made, angels to swoop in, soul-reviving support from loved ones no matter how far, a deep reliance on each other that is truly amazing, and our God … geez, I can’t even tell you how much this experience has made my faith grow. He has always shown up for us, and this crazy, terrifying experience is no different. The deep love and peace I feel – even in the midst of the inevitable waves of fear and sadness – is absolutely indescribable.
Our sense of dread around this crisis has gradually been replaced with hope. Most of us crave a sense of stability and control in our lives. We knew that wasn’t really available years ago, but this drove that home more than ever and challenged our ability to just lean into what we know is true on a soul-level. No one knows what our new reality will look like or when it will be able to go into effect, but if we think of others, remain patient, and hold onto our faith, I think we’ll be just fine.
Hugs from our little ‘bubble’ in New Zealand!
P.S. Interested in the New Zeland COVID-19 alert levels and updates? This government site has helpful info.