I departed for my world trip of a lifetime in March 2020. Two weeks into my journey I became a special kind of traveller, one who made her way around the world in the first eighteen months of the COVID-19 pandemic. My hosts and others I met along the way welcomed, applauded, and supported me in my adventure. My experiences and exchanges were for the most part enjoyable, rewarding and enriching. My return to Squamish in fall 2021, however, was challenging.
It took a lot of planning and sacrifice to make the trip happen and I knew if I turned back when Covid-19 appeared, it would be very unlikely that I would ever be able to make it happen again. I had given up almost everything I owned in Squamish, albeit not yielding me much monetary gains, to spend on my trip. I was determined to do the travelling I’d missed out on when I was younger while I was still unattached and healthy.
My original plan was to explore different cultures, do some market research for my new online ‘love coaching’ business, do some internship and work exchanges along the way and periodically switch to just being a tourist. I had chosen to travel to countries where there were branches of my tai chi international organization, with whom I teach as a volunteer, and where I could brush up on my Spanish- and French-speaking abilities. Despite the pandemic, I was able to follow this basic plan, with just a few adjustments, such as the additional pre-travel paperwork and expensive PCR tests each time I got on a plane.
I carefully followed the news of the spread of Covid-19 virus and the global responses. This allowed me to choose the wisest routes and timing of my travels so I could minimize risk to myself and others. In fact, my actual travel time was very little and for the most part I stayed put in countries where the Covid rates were lower and/or protocols stricter than they were back in Canada. I remained Covid-free the entire time.
Although I could neither work nor practice tai chi with my organization nor play at the beaches, at least for the first half-year or so, I did find my way to 11 countries, staying for four months in Costa Rica, five months in Europe, and two months in Peru. In 2021, I did finally find a way to both work and play at the beaches of Hawaii and spent four months there, living the digital nomad dream.
Of course, there were misadventures. I fell in a hole in the streets of Cusco, Peru; got a minor ear infection from swimming in an unclean river near Dominical, Costa Rica; and had altitude sickness in the Peruvian mountains and the classic ‘Montezuma revenge’ in Mexico City.
These occurrences are normal when one travels, and the additional adjustments during the pandemic were not too cumbersome. While hand-washing, mask-wearing, social distancing, and disinfecting were measures followed in each country, there were slight variations. In some countries, masks became more of a fashion statement while in Peru, where survival was paramount and income limited, they wore the plain-Jane surgical masks doubled! Bills and coins were always sprayed with disinfectant before giving customers their change. At one point in Scotland, protocols were so strict that three friends would not be allowed to meet in a park.
Any of these challenges I faced en route were strongly outweighed by the bonuses of staying abroad during the pandemic. I saw several wonders of the world, enjoying mostly private, exclusive, free or almost-free sightseeing tours and excursions without wait-lines and crowds, as well as incredible deals on bike rentals and accommodations. Thanks to my careful planning, I only had to get two paid Covid tests outside of Canada and one 14-day quarantine, which was better described as glamping on a beautiful 22,500-acre Guinness-owned estate south of London, England.
And so it was, while away I stayed safe, healthy, happy, and free the entire time, enjoying comfortable weather and very affordable living.
I avoided coming back to Canada before the insane ‘quarantine hotel’ requirements were lifted. Had I done so, the cost of landing home would have been about $3,000, not including the flight. Thank goodness, I had no sick relatives I needed to be with during the summer of 2021. I was also able to avoid the scorching heat waves that hit back home that summer.
And there were other challenges to face, back in Squamish. My hometown was over-ridden by big-city type expansion. There was a zero-vacancy rate, insane prices for accommodations and limited capacity or planning to support the exponential growth.
I refused to join those who used the word ‘impossible’ to refer to the daunting task of finding an affordable place to live, until I’d been trying for months, to no avail, searching for accommodations with too many people looking for too few affordable places. After three months of compromising my financial situation, business, health, and well-being, I couldn’t support this disheartening and futile endeavor any longer. I finally resorted to leaving my community of 25 years behind and looked farther afield where my luck at finding a place was a little better.
Now I share a house in North Vancouver with a multi-cultural group of guys and spend a small fortune to drive back and forth to Squamish to provide my in-home massage services to my clients. I loved travelling, but I miss my Squamish community, and long to return some day.
During my travels I prepared to launch some online programs for mature single women around the world, equipping and supporting them in preparing for, creating and growing evolved love relationships. The logo I designed for my programs called ‘Love is the Way’ has a big heart with wings. I’m holding to the logo and slogan that symbolize how I felt during my journey.
Love can be found within each of us and IS the way to a better life, better relationships, and a better world.
Heather-Lee Donaldson is a Relationship/Intimacy Coach, EFT Practitioner /Author/ Mobile Massage & Shiatsu Therapist who loves outdoor adventures on land and in water and is willing to fly to get to them.