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I originally published this post on 10 April 2020 and have updated it each month since (most recently on 19 July) with our latest thoughts and experiences during the pandemic in New Zealand. If you’ve already read the original post, use the contents to skip ahead to the updates.
The last month has certainly been a rollercoaster of emotions for us, as I’m sure it has been for all of you.
I can’t believe that only a month ago we were celebrating 10 years of nomadic life including the most financially successful year our business has ever had.
Ahead of us we had the most planned year of our travels including an island-hopping trip to French Polynesia, a month on Hawaii’s Big Island, and a dream two-month summer housesit looking after horses in the Cotswolds in England.
Now we’re nomads without a home or the ability to travel and our income is down 95%. The travel industry has collapsed as very rightly we are all staying at home, and we have no idea when it will recover.
- The Craziness of March
- Feeling Grief
- Feeling Gratitude
- Things That Have Helped Us
- Update 5 May 2020
- Update 1 June 2020
- Update 19 July 2020
The Craziness of March
Things changed so fast.
In early March we still hoped that our South Pacific trip might go ahead. There were only a handful of COVID–19 cases in New Zealand and life continued as normal, just with more hand washing.
By mid-March we were travelling up through the North Island. We visited Hobbiton, I ran a half-marathon in Auckland (surely one of the last sporting events here), and we made our way up to the Bay of Islands where we were due to start a six-day sailing course.
Despite continuing with our New Zealand plans, our anxiety was increasing. The US banned travel from Europe, our already declining blog traffic took a jump off a cliff, our income plummeted, and New Zealand announced that everyone entering the country must self-isolate for 14 days.
We began to realise how unrealistic it was to travel, even in the relatively unaffected South Pacific.
The issue for digital nomads is that we can’t just cancel our travel plans and stay at home. We don’t have a home. Our New Zealand visa was due to expire in a month so we began to research how to extend it.
There were no restrictions in New Zealand at this point, so despite being tired and stressed and in no way eager to learn a new skill, we began our Great Escape sailing course on 17 March.
The first three days involved living on a 25ft yacht at a boat yard in Opua and sailing during the day with an instructor. We then headed out by ourselves for three days to explore the Bay of Islands and test out our sailing skills.
It was challenging, exhausting, sometimes terrifying, sometimes joyous. But it was so much to process that we barely thought about the dreaded virus and enjoyed a much needed escape from reality.
When we returned to the mainland everything had changed.
New Zealand’s borders had closed, as had French Polynesia’s, and non-essential travel around New Zealand was limited. The next day, a total lockdown was announced.
It was clear we wouldn’t be going anywhere and our priority was getting our visa extended.
Luckily, we had a beautiful house booked nearby. Rather than exploring the area as planned, we launched into action, still feeling dizzy and nauseous from land sickness.
We spent a whole day completing a detailed visa application with pages of supporting documents. We visited five shops, most an hour away as we’re in a fairly remote location, trying to find essentials (flour, lentils, and beans were hardest to come by). We enjoyed our last takeaway meal before restaurants closed entirely.
We couldn’t quite believe what was happening.
The first few days of lockdown were fine. It was nice to be still after a week sailing and a busy few days of visa and shopping stress. My birthday was quieter than usual but the sun was shining and I enjoyed a relaxing day of pancakes and reading on our terrace.
But slowly it hit us—everything we’d lost, every plan that wouldn’t happen, the precariousness of our situation, having to stay “at home” in what wasn’t our home.
I read an article, That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief, which resonated. It says:
“The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”
We might feel that we don’t deserve to grieve for something as trivial as a holiday when people are sick, dying, risking their lives to help others.
But we can be aware how lucky we are in many respects while still feeling sad at how suddenly life has changed. Feeling your feelings is important and it’s ok to take some time to grieve. It’s the only way to move on.
We grieved our cancelled travel plans, the thousands of pounds lost in non-refundable flights, and more than anything, the destruction of our business that we’d spent 10 years building and had finally become so successful.
We struggled with anxiety about our families in the UK, when we’d next get to see them, and whether we’d made the right decision to stay in New Zealand.
Mostly we grappled with the unbearable uncertainty of it all.
We’re now halfway through the planned four-week lockdown in New Zealand. We only go out for a run or walk locally—luckily we’re in a beautiful, quiet area with trails through bush and mangroves—and Simon’s been doing the weekly shop by himself (he doesn’t trust me to buy enough treats).
We’re feeling better. There have been ups and downs, and I’m sure there will continue to be, but we feel like we’ve reached the acceptance stage of grief.
We’re enjoying the quiet of self-isolation and are seeing it as an opportunity to restore our energy and, perhaps, if I ever feel like writing about travel again, catch up on the many blog posts on my to-do list. (Do you want to read about travel now?).
We’re going easy on ourselves, though, and not putting pressure on ourselves to be productive. If you are also struggling to get much done, be kind to yourself, and read this article on Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure —it helped us a lot.
We have so much to be thankful for.
We are together. I can’t even begin to imagine how awful it is for couples who have been separated by border closures and quarantines.
We’re healthy and our families are healthy.
We have savings and can ride out this downturn for a year or more if we’re careful.
All of our accommodation gave us a refund for non-refundable bookings (thank you to the InterContinental, our Hawaii Airbnb host, and the Novotel Auckland Airport).
New Zealand has been a gracious host. They automatically extended all visitor visas until 25 September (we needn’t have bothered with that application) and Jacinda Ardern is leading the country admirably and we feel safe in her hands. We don’t think there’s a better place for us to be right now.
We’ve extended our Russell house until mid-May, which has given us a bit more security, and we’ll have a while longer to enjoy this magnificent view.
Things That Have Helped Us
(With updates added in May and June)
Limiting news and social media – This is difficult but we feel better when we disconnect. Following the news constantly just causes anxiety.
Self-care rituals – Starting the day with a run or yoga followed by drinking tea and reading a book on our terrace leaves me in a much more positive mood than scrolling my phone.
Routine – While we’re not pressuring ourselves to have a work routine (I’ve taken many naps and Simon watched 17 episodes of The Office one day), we have found it useful to mark the days in some ways. On Saturdays I make soup and bake a sweet treat, on Sundays I do a long run and Simon makes pancakes, and our friend has implemented Formal Fridays.
Connecting with friends and family – We have regular Zoom chats with our New Zealand friends and are in touch with everyone more than usual.
Achieving small tasks – Writing still feels like a challenge (it’s hard to be motivated as a travel blogger), but it makes me feel better to do something whether it’s making lentil soup, vacuuming the house, doing laundry, or sorting through photos.
Yoga with Adriene – I’ve been doing Adriene’s yoga videos for years and now we need them more than ever. Adriene is a positive and down-to-earth teacher who encourages you to find what feels good.
Most videos are free on YouTube (although the membership site is also well worth it), and there really is something for everyone whether you are looking to manage anxiety or do a fast-paced flow.
Reading books – Escaping into other worlds has always been good for my mental wellbeing and it’s more important now than ever.
I also enjoyed Endurance by Alfred Lansing about Shackleton’s harrowing Antarctica expedition. It certainly puts our situation into perspective and shows what humans can endure.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk “It’s OK to be Overwhelmed. Here’s What to do Next” – Liz Gilbert always has wise words to share and I found this video incredibly useful. I highly recommend it if you are struggling with anxiety, loneliness or grief right now. I’m trying to implement her advice to be more present and stop worrying about the future.
Cheryl Strayed’s Podcasts and Books – I adore all of Cheryl’s books including Wild, her memoir of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and especially Tiny Beautiful Things, a compilation of letters from her unique advice column Dear Sugar. I reread it in the early days of lockdown and it’s heartbreakingly beautiful and wise and just what we need right now.
Dear Sugars is her fantastic podcast that follows a similar format—along with Steve Almond, she gives compassionate advice on a range of human struggles.
I really needed her wisdom during this time, so I was delighted that she started a new podcast, Sugar Calling, where she calls a writer she admires in search of insight in this difficult time.
I also enjoyed listening to Cheryl talk about how she’s dealing with the pandemic on the Longform podcast.
Some Good News – John Krasinski (from The Office) hosts this new YouTube show from his home sharing good news from around the world. It’s just what we need right now and episode 2 is gold! Watching new episodes is the highlight of my week. (Sadly, the show ended after eight weeks, but it’s still worth watching them all).
Broadway Coronavirus Medley – For some much needed comic relief!
Animal Crossing on Nintendo Switch – I don’t usually play games but Simon convinced me to try this one which is hugely popular right now. You move to a desert island where you live a simple life—building a home, collecting fossils for a museum, earning money by fishing or picking fruit. It’s easy and light and wonderfully distracting.
Extra Pack of Peanuts Travel Podcast – I’ve long been a fan of this travel podcast and I really appreciate that Trav and Heather are doing extra “Quarantine Diaries” at the moment where they have unplanned, unedited chats about their favourite destinations (you can also watch them on Instagram).
I can’t face planning specific trips right now (who knows when we’ll be able to travel?), but their episodes help stoke my wanderlust and are giving me inspiration for the future (we really must return to Slovenia and Cape Town and Barcelona…).
Staying In with Emily & Kumail Podcast – I discovered this after lockdown had ended in New Zealand (update on that below) and although I wish I’d found it before, I’ve still found it immensely comforting.
They are a lovely couple who talk honestly about how they are dealing with the pandemic (watch The Big Sick movie for background on their story—it’s included with Amazon Prime). They are vulnerable, funny, and share genuinely useful tips (Emily used to be a therapist) as well as entertainment recommendations.
I’ve found it really helpful to listen to others who are struggling with this too (and crying at random things). I highly recommend it.
Unlocking Us Podcast with Brené Brown – This new podcast about being human and dealing with emotions comes at the right time. I found the episodes on FFTs, Comparative Suffering, Grief (with David Kessler), and Permission to Feel (with Dr Marc Brackett) especially useful.
The Great Realisation – A video poem/ bedtime story that offers a hopeful vision for the future.
Baking – We couldn’t find flour or yeast for a month, but as soon as we did, we happily joined the baking bandwagon. It is so comforting! Simon makes this easy no-knead wholemeal bread regularly while I bake weekly sweet treats—the best so far is the Moosewood vegan chocolate cake which is simple and requires no fancy ingredients.
Outdoor Swimming – When we moved to Level 3 of lockdown in New Zealand (see the May update below), we were allowed to swim and it has been wonderful.
It’s too cold for Simon (the water temperature is about 17ºC/63ºF), but I warm up after a few minutes and I feel so alive, uplifted, and invigorated afterwards! I’m going to try to keep going as winter approaches—the Swim Wild Podcast inspires me.
What’s getting you through the pandemic? We’d love your recommendations.
Update 5 May 2020
It’s Day 41 of New Zealand’s lockdown. We were supposed to be in Hawaii right now after a few weeks island-hopping in French Polynesia, and although we’re disappointed our plans didn’t work out, we’re feeling grateful to be here.
New Zealand has well and truly flattened the curve. There are currently less than 200 active cases of COVID-19 in the country with just a handful of new cases each day (all with known origins)—yesterday there were zero new cases for the first time in 49 days. Every time I hear Jacinda Ardern speak I feel reassured that we’re in good hands.
The UK government has arranged rescue flights for Brits stuck in New Zealand, but the thought of travelling for 20+ hours on a packed flight is unappealing. The UK lockdown has no end in sight but here we are beginning to feel hopeful.
Last week we moved from Level 4 (the strictest lockdown) to Level 3. We still have to stay at home most of the time, but we have a few extra freedoms that have made a big difference. For me, the most significant has been being allowed to drive to a local beach and swim.
After walking and running the same trail for a month, the novelty of a new destination was wonderful—the sand under my bare feet, the strange blue jellyfish that had washed up, the patterns in the sand.
It also felt strange to be out in the world. One minute we’d forget the pandemic had ever happened; the next we had to remind ourselves to keep our distance from others walking on the beach (luckily, it’s not very busy).
At first I wondered if things would ever feel normal again or has the way we interact with the world changed permanently? But with the sun shining it didn’t take me long to embrace the joy of being outside somewhere new.
Swimming felt especially glorious, quite literally like a weight was lifted. Even as winter approaches I want to try to keep swimming outside regularly (@vagabondbaker inspires me with her joyful wild swims).
For Simon, the highlight of Level 3 is pizza! We’re living outside the tiny village of Russell and food options are limited, so we were very excited when Hone’s Pizza announced they would open for takeaway. Simon texted in our order and collected it contactlessly from a table by the side of the road. It was delicious!
Hard to find items are also returning to the supermarket. After four weeks we finally found flour and yeast and have become bread bakers as well as making weekly treats. Before we found flour, though, I did discover this tasty recipe for a flourless banana bread using ground oats.
In more good news, Hawaiian Airlines refunded us in full for our cancelled flights (tweeting them helped speed things up), which will help cover our rent here.
We’ve extended our stay in our lovely house until mid-June. Creating what certainty we can in such uncertain times really helps.
Although we’re currently feeling good, there have still been plenty of ups and downs. I wrote in the original post above that we had reached the acceptance stage of grief, but unfortunately, grief isn’t linear.
After feeling that I was over the destruction of our business, that I could face that reality with equanimity, it hit me hard again. It felt so unbelievable, so unfair that the business we’d built for over 10 years, that was finally doing so well (January was our best month yet), could just disappear in a few weeks.
Reading people’s predictions about how long it would take the travel industry to recover (2 years, 5 years…) didn’t help.
And yet, humans are resilient. I passed the low point and feel like I can face it all calmly again. Everything is going to be ok, we keep reminding ourselves.
Of course, our business isn’t really destroyed. We still have some visitors to the blog (thank you!) and a trickle of income, and with our savings we should be able to weather this until the world opens up.
I’ve even begun writing about travel again. It feels strange to write about New Zealand when the borders are closed, but it’s also grounding for me to continue with my planned writing schedule and share our experiences in this beautiful country.
When the borders open, our posts will be there to help you plan a trip. Perhaps they can even provide a little escapism now.
Things are still strange, of course, but this time of quiet and stillness is probably good for us. We’re always saying we need to travel more slowly and now we are. We can restore our energy, catch up on a backlog of posts, and even bake bread.
By focusing on the present, staying away from the news, spending time in nature, exercising, baking, reading, and working a little, we’re finding a peaceful normality in the chaos. We hope you are too.
Update 1 June 2020
How is it June already? Wasn’t it just March?!
The Good News
After 7 weeks of staying at home, New Zealand’s lockdown ended on 14 May when we moved to Level 2 of the alert system.
Most businesses are now open and we can go out as much as we want as long as we keep our distance from strangers and don’t gather in groups of more than 10 people (extended to 100 people on 29 May). Schools are open but working from home is encouraged where possible.
Contact tracing and social distancing are important. We sign in at restaurants and must be served at a table by only one server.
The borders will remain closed indefinitely.
Most significantly for us, domestic travel around New Zealand is now allowed.
Best of all, unlike in other parts of the world, the easing of restrictions is happening because the numbers are genuinely positive.
As of 1 June (over two weeks after lockdown ended), there is only one active case of Covid–19 in all of New Zealand!
There have been 10 days without any new cases reported (despite testing thousands of people a day) and no one is in hospital with the virus.
We were pretty sure we’d made the right decision to stay in New Zealand when this all kicked off, but now we’re immensely grateful we did. We never imagined the virus would be eliminated so quickly and that we’d able to explore more of this beautiful country.
Again, thank you to New Zealand for letting us stay, and to Jacinda Ardern for being a strong, compassionate, and competent leader at such a challenging time.
We really appreciate how clear the messaging has been during all this—knowing when decisions would be made and what would come next has been immensely reassuring.
In other good news, we received a self-employment grant from the UK government as our business has been affected by the coronavirus.
It was easy to apply for and only took a few days to arrive in our bank accounts. It’s not a perfect solution for many, but at least it buys us a few months before we have to dig into our savings.
The Post-Lockdown Struggle
We’re delighted but the progress made here, but the transition out of lockdown hasn’t been entirely smooth.
At first it felt sudden, like we were just getting into a lockdown routine and now everything was changing again. We’d be able to go out and do new things, which was exciting, but also a little scary to leave the safety of our cocoon.
I also felt guilty—both that I wasn’t happier about lockdown ending and that we could now do something as audacious as plan a road trip, while the rest of the world (especially the UK) was still such a mess.
Then there was the foreboding—when our visas expire in September we’ll have to return to the UK.
Of course, we want to see family and friends, but spending 24+ hours in airports and on planes is unappealing, and the UK will likely still be struggling with the virus. I know it’s a long way off, but coming out of lockdown made it feel suddenly closer.
Ultimately, I think I struggled because I felt like things should feel normal, but they aren’t normal.
The travel industry and our business are still decimated. Our loved ones in the UK and the US are still at risk. People around the world are dying.
We can’t make plans. We don’t know what flight routes will be open back to the UK in September. We have no idea when we’ll meet our newborn nephew. We can’t travel the way we used to because of our reduced income.
Looking back a few weeks later, I wish I’d had more compassion with myself, that I’d just let myself feel those emotions without the shame that I should be over it. There is no right way to be feeling during all this and we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic!
Listening to the Staying In with Emily and Kumail podcast was reassuring as I realised that others are struggling too and it’s a normal response to be crying over random things at the moment.
The Unlocking Us podcast episode on comparative suffering was also enormously helpful. If we suppress our emotions because we think someone else has it worse off, it just intensifies the emotion.
Empathy is not finite—when we practice empathy with ourselves and others, we create more empathy. As Brené says, love is the last thing we need to ration right now.
(I’ve added more resources in the Things That Have Helped Us section above.)
Coming out of lockdown was a change in the same way that going into it was, and it took us a while to adjust to the new normal. But we have.
We forced ourselves to get out and explore more of the Bay of Islands even when it felt weird. And it has been (mostly) wonderful. It felt so good to discover new places, to go for a long hike, to forget the craziness for a few hours.
We celebrated our firsts: our first non-essential visit to a shop, first dinner out at a restaurant, first ferry ride, first coffee made by someone else, first museum, first in-person conversation.
Three months ago these were normal things; now they feel remarkable.
We went for hikes in some gorgeous places: the wild and empty Mimiwhangata Coastal Park, glorious Urupukapuka Island (and even wrote about it), the challenging forest trails at Whangaruru North Head.
We even visited the historic Waitangi Treaty Grounds which include museums, a cultural performance, a guided tour, and lots of hand sanitising.
The more we do, the easier it gets.
While we feel safe and comfortable out in the world now, it takes constant vigilance to maintain good mental health during this pandemic. I have to remember to exercise, to minimise news and social media, to focus on the present, to stop worrying about the future, to be kind to myself.
Getting outside in nature is the best remedy of all, and I’m so grateful we’re able to do so.
We leave our house near Russell in two weeks. We will have been here 12 weeks—8 weeks longer than planned. We’re thankful we had such a beautiful place to be quarantined and that we’ve been able to explore this stunning area in the last few weeks. But it’s time to move on.
I’m torn between not wanting to make plans (the amount we’ve had to cancel is still painful) and needing some kind of certainty amongst all the uncertainty.
We’ll start with a road trip back down the North Island. Nothing is booked yet but we’ll likely visit the Coromandel Peninsula, Lake Taupo, Hawke’s Bay, Castlepoint, and finally Wellington where we’ll happily reunite with friends (our Zoom buddies during lockdown).
We’ve then booked a beach house on the Kapiti Coast for July and August. We stayed there for three weeks in February and loved it, and although the winter experience is going to be very different, returning to somewhere familiar feels comforting, and we won’t be far from our friends in Wellington.
Beyond that, we’re trying not to think about it. I’m sure the corona coaster has more ups and downs in store for us, but for now we plan to enjoy this wonderful country as much as we can.
Update 19 July 2020
Life is, unbelievably, completely back to normal in New Zealand.
On 9 June, 102 days after the first case in New Zealand, we moved to Alert Level 1, which means that all activity can resume (although the borders remain closed).
There are concerts and weddings and sports matches. Cafes and restaurants and bars are crowded. Social distancing isn’t required and there’s far less hand sanitiser around.
And we feel safe. It has been 75 days since the last case of COVID-19 in the community. While there are still 27 active cases, all are in the mandatory organised quarantine at the border (Kiwi citizens and residents returning from abroad).
Our 10-day North Island road trip was just what we needed to put lockdown behind us. We soaked in hot springs, enjoyed lazy lunches at wineries, and walked on beautiful beaches.
We remembered what normal felt like. We stopped flinching when strangers walked past us. We reunited with friends—and hugged them.
We’re now loving beach house life on the Kapiti Coast—the chilly swims, blustery beach walks, stunning sunsets, and cosy nights by the fire. The rain, wind, brilliant sunny days, and that gorgeous glowing winter light.
We have two months left before our visa runs out and we have to return to the world of COVID. We’re not looking forward to it, but we’ll be ok. And for now, we’re enjoying every minute of freedom in this beautiful country.
(Update September 2021: Those visa extensions kept coming and we’re still in New Zealand after nearly two years!)
How are you all doing? What’s the situation in your country?
Sending lots of love from New Zealand,
Erin and Simon