From lockdown to isolation: My COVID-19-fuelled journey home
“The Quarantine Act states that you are now required to self isolate for 14 days. Failure to comply may result in a fine of up to $750,000 and six months in jail. Do you understand?”
Jet-lagged gulp: “Yes.”
Welcome home to me!
My greeting at YVR International Airport’s customs desk is about as warm as my farewell from Cape Town 27 hours earlier. I left South Africa with one day to spare before the country goes into complete lockdown: no flights in, no flights out, no playing outside, no nonessential movement whatsoever for 21 days.
No matter how you slice it, my move is the same: stay inside.
As a travel content creator, I’d been living my best digital nomad life in Cape Town for the past three months. Though the severity of the situation lagged in South Africa compared to what I saw in the rest of the world, I had been watching COVID-19 tighten its grip abroad and knew it was coming our way, fast and furious. And I knew that once it hit South Africa, it will spread like wildfire.
At first, I flirted with the idea of hunkering down in my perfect little Cape Town bubble to wait this thing out. My cost of living here was minimal, the weather is idyllic, the scenery is breathtaking, people are awesome, outdoor adventures are abundant.
My mother even initially expressed this may be the best option for me, knowing how comfortable and supported I was in Cape Town, and taking into account the risks associated with the intercontinental journey home. South Africa had just got its first positive case when Canada was already in full-fledged panic mode. At the beginning of all of this, we were all overwhelmed with information; it was difficult to differentiate what was sensationalized from what was real, and no one knows how long this will last.
Then the WHO declared a global pandemic. The Canadian government was urging its citizens to come home. I had a flight booked with one airline, which subsequently got cancelled. I spent a few hours on hold with various airlines, trying to figure out my best and safest route home while also trying not to lose $1,000 — money wouldn’t dictate my move, but let’s not pretend these are easy financial times either.
So I locked down (poor word choice, perhaps?) a flight with British Airways that I deemed to be the best option for me: only one layover, and it was in London. As I witnessed my friends’ flights getting cancelled and airlines shutting down, I found comfort in knowing that if I were to get stranded in London, I would be in a familiar, English-speaking city where I have a support system of friends. I couldn’t say the same for the two-stop flight options including layovers in Hong Kong or Istanbul.
I booked the flight, which I found out a few days later was right on the brink of South Africa’s 21-day lockdown. Had I booked my flight for 48 hours later, I would still be in the country, stranded as some of my friends still are.
But my family and the universe wanted me home, and so along with a full flight packed mostly of elderly Europeans scrambling to get to their home continent, I set off from Cape Town to London. The airport vibe was eerie. COVID-19, or at least the fear of it, was in the air — it was palpable. More people were in masks than not (myself included), hand sanitizer was pumping, and restaurants and shops were gated shut.
Arriving in Heathrow, the atmosphere wasn’t much different, except for a tiny weight was lifted from my own chest as I could feel I was one flight closer to home. Here, signs and intercom announcements urged us to keep a safe distance from other passengers and airport staff. I passed the time with my companion for the next two weeks — technology — and got up to move twice when a fellow passenger found a seat that was too close for my comfort.
Ten hours of airport quarantine later, I boarded my second and final flight home. This one was a different story from the previous, as the plane was virtually empty. Window seat: check. Full empty row for lounging: check. We have to take these small wins, people.
Another airborne nap later and I touched down on my homeland, at YVR International Airport. Signs informed us of the 14-day isolation immediately, and the airport staff was asking how we were all feeling.
I had been planning on self-isolating anyway, but I wasn’t aware of the new Quarantine Act that made it mandatory. The customs officer’s spiel solidified the need to distance myself with no exceptions, or face major penalties.
I came home for the peace of mind and health of my family and myself, and I do not intend on jeopardizing that in any way, shape, or form. So yes, customs officer, I understand.
The next 14 days for me are about reflecting on my amazing three months in Cape Town, writing, making videos, and sharing photos of my life there that already feels like a dream. I’ll be bonding with friends over Facetime or this new Houseparty app that’s all the rage. I’ll be doing yoga, catching up on reality TV, eating all the groceries my mother has stocked my isolation base with, and digging deep into myself to turn this COVID-19-flavoured lemon into lemonade. This is a time for self-motivation, tapping into our passion projects, and setting ourselves up for growth and success at the end of the coronavirus tunnel. The earth is taking this time to rejuvenate, and we all need to do the same.
As someone whose life revolves around travel, freedom, and social interactions, this quarantine will be a challenge for me. But it’ll be nothing compared to those who are in less fortunate positions when it comes to their finances, quarantine setups, and support systems. So all of my energy will be going into channelling positive vibes, and if you are reading this, I hope you can pick up on those and emanate them out as well. Brighter days are ahead, but for now we must shine our own lights through the dark.
COVER: La Casa Cottages, my self isolation base. Photo: Kellie Paxian
World Footprints Editor Kellie Paxian is living the digital nomad lifestyle as she explores six continents (and counting — looking at you, Antarctica). Her office locations are determined by a mix of wanderlust and Wi-Fi. From the top of mountains to the bottom of the ocean, there is no bucket list item that Kellie won’t chase. She is passionate about wildlife, adventure, and making the most out of every experience on her travels, whether it’s good or bad. Follow her footprints across the world on Instagram at @kelliepaxian