If you haven’t gotten to know us yet, I’ll just let you in on the most “millennial” fact about me and John: We quit our jobs last year to travel long term. And now we’re accidentally living in Bali.
We had hopes of venturing through various countries, starting with India then moving eastward. We had dreams of hopping from one country to the next, but – more importantly – moving at our own pace, taking the time to inquisitively explore each new environment, soaking in the nuances of each culture and subculture we were lucky to delve into.
Then Covid-19 hit.
Now, this isn’t a story seeking any sort of sympathy or pity at all whatsoever. In the grand scheme of things, we are well aware of how fortunate we are to not have been forced out of a job that was providing necessary income for a family, not have to go to a job that was putting us at greater risk of contracting the virus, having the financial savings to adapt and adjust on the fly, not be physically high risk of falling seriously ill from the virus given our age and general good health (minus minor asthma on my part), etc.
And I’m not thanking Covid-19, which has been a horrendous tragedy for the world. Lives have been lost, homes have been taken away, anxieties have raised.
This is simply a silver lining story, one that I hope helps other couples see the silver linings of their years, that have also presumably been filled with cancelled plans and unprecedented changes. That shifts the “2020 sucks” mentality towards the “maybe… 2020 was what we actually needed…” attitude.
Once we quit our corporate and education jobs, we were pumped about everything. Pumped about leaving our small yet expensive city apartment, excited to spend time both together and out in the world, giddy about simply driving away into the unknown.
We gave away most of our belongings, packed up the Honda CRV with the essentials for a long road trip, and drove out August 1st, 2019. After 20,000 miles – stopping in towns from D.C. to Colorado; hiking and camping and rafting through national parks in Wyoming, Montana, Canada (AB, BC, Yukon), and Alaska; doing a friend tour down the West Coast of the country, then spending the holidays kayaking and sleeping on the beach in Baja, California, Mexico – our adventure was well underway before we even went overseas.
John and I eventually did make it to our first oversees stop – India – in January. We flew into Dheli, traveled all around Rajasthan and down to Goa and Mumbai, then over to Kolkata, then back southwest to Kerala. It was a wonderful, interesting, food-loving, stimulating experience that we’ll remember forever. But as crazy as it started (including getting scammed into taking an overpriced overnight taxi out of Dheli due to “protests” – ugh, forgive us, we were jet lagged and just wanted to sleep, even if it was in a cab), it was even crazier how it ended.
“Just” 3 people were confirmed with Covid about 5 days before John and I had a flight to go to Sri Lanka – a place we were excited to go in order to rent our own tuk tuk and explore all of its natural beauty. We had never once thought to go to Bali – a place we had (now, admittedly, incorrectly) imagined was simply filled with travelers and digital nomads – which of course isn’t bad (as we are those people), but felt would lack the culture and natural beauty we craved the most (again – so, so wrong about this! Bali is beautiful).
However, when we got to our final hostel on March 15th, the manager stated that they would be closing down in 2 days, and we’d receive a refund for the days following that we had already paid for. Okay great but…. what are we supposed to do? He said we should leave India as soon as possible. Crap.
India had been doing as well as it could trying to keep track of travelers to prevent the spread of the virus. We had to fill extra paper work and answer questions about symptoms at each new hostel, hotel, or homestay we visited for a couple of weeks at that point. But we didn’t expect things to start shutting down all of a sudden.
Not a problem though right? We would just find another place to stay before our flight to Sri Lanka the following week…right? Nope. The manager said many other accommodations were also closing their doors, and that our flight to Sri Lanka would also likely be cancelled in a few days, if it wasn’t already.
This is when we looked at each other and realized everything we had planned for Sri Lanka was out the door. This is when we had to make a decision that was going to determine which new place (let alone new city, and let alone new country) we were going to be laying our heads in the very next night. And finally, it struck us that given the pandemic, we probably didn’t have that many options.
I’m going to be honest – the next 30 minutes was kind of a blur, with 40,000 thoughts in my head; a little fear about what the next few months would look like; and seemingly instinctual determination to not go back to the U.S. yet because 1) we didn’t have our own place there and didn’t want to risk infecting our parents if we were to stay with them after international travel, 2) if things got better in Asia it’d be costly to fly back to U.S. then fly all the way back to Asia again and 3) a million other less important reasons.
After rummaging through a myriad of “maybe” “sort of” “kind of” flight and travel information articles full of speculation, both stern and wishy washy government warnings and restrictions, and a couple of instagram posts – the surprising truth was that the instagram posts won out over the news.
I told John that three people I knew were in Bali and they said it seems fine over there. They could barely tell a pandemic was going on beside from the news. “That’s where we have to go. It’s the only place that seems safe”.
John wasn’t super convinced at first, and neither was I. Again, of all the places we had listed and been so excited to visit or revisit, Indonesia was definitely on the list, but Bali specifically hadn’t crossed our minds as a top option at all.
But even with all of the unknown, even with other hostel guests asking and wondering and worrying themselves, even with facing the facts that our year was certainly not going to look how we thought it would – we were rest assured that it will all be okay because at least we had each other.
I KNOW THAT SOUNDS CORNY BUT IT’S THE TRUTH, OKAY?
We decided to go for it, and within 24 hours, were getting picked up from the airport and driven to a homestay I found in a haze, hoping it even actually existed. (Side note – on that very day, Bali announced that they would stop accepting Visa on Arrival, and effectively stop letting foreign tourists in within the next few days, so we got really lucky!).
And now it’s been 3 months since that day.
3 months of practically living in Bali, which we could not have anticipated when we first took off on this journey.
3 months of staying relatively still, instead of hopping around as planned.
Instead of continuing to move from city to city, filling our days with new sights and new sounds and new foods and new lessons, we’ve adjusted to facing our constant realities again – ourselves. And instead of immersing ourselves in more cultural exploration, we’ve been forced to use this time to immerse in our past selves, and explore each other to an even greater level.
All of this was not something we planned, but it was not the antithesis either. Because it was still new, an adventure in itself, something we were getting before we left. We had been distracted with work or with friends or with stress or with alcohol.
Without flights or cars or trains, we had still somehow been running away from ourselves.
And even though the beginning of this adventure – which was indeed filled with actual flights and cars and trains – gave us more time to reflect and process and self-improve than what we had in our city lives, these past 3 months have granted us the largest dose of “JUST SIT AND LISTEN TO YOURSELF” that we could have ever anticipated. Bali has done relatively well in terms of its Covid response, likely because tourist destinations and large gatherings on the island started closing a week after our arrival, and social distancing was a necessary requirement here just like most of the rest of the world. So just like many other people, there was no way we could have even known to ask for this amount of personal reflection.
Okay so what’s the point right? What did all of this sitting still actually do for us?
For me, I was able to seize all of the trauma work I had done through therapy, reading, yoga, meditation, etc. and actually put it into real, uninterrupted practice. I was able to let the planted seeds of that work grow and flourish – psychologically, physically, and sexually.
For John, he was able to access his deepest feelings and emotions regarding his childhood, once and for all, without distraction. He was able to have the time and space to not only identify those feelings, that pain, but also sit with them, process them, accept them for what they were, feel through them instead of boxing them up and putting them to the side and running away again.
In the past 3 months, we have grown more as people than we have for the past couple of years, I’d argue.
And the result of this growth has unsurprisingly reaped various benefits for our relationship. The honesty, transparency, and acceptance we’ve had with ourselves has allowed us to be all the more honest, transparent, and accepting of each other. It has enabled us to better understand and support newer, refreshed versions of ourselves.
Our completely changed plans, our watered down dreams for this year, and even our slight stress about the future has brought us closer together than we could have ever imagined or planned.
What have been your silver linings from this “crappy” year? Let us know in the comments!
Loving the old; exploring the new,