It was early February. We were sitting in a bar in Hoi An, Vietnam, sipping a bloody mary, watching the superbowl without a care in the world, other than the 49ers defense. It was mid-way through our five week trip through Southeast Asia, where we were meeting activity partners and visiting boutique hotels to include in our Custom and Designed Trips. We were gearing up for a very busy 2020 - travel felt accessible and adventure was calling.
The week before, we had read about Coronavirus, but it wasn’t a reality until a couple days later, when we met our friend Nhi for a coffee. She owns a boutique hotel in Hoi An and said that they were seeing a spike in cancellations as China and South Korea started to restrict travel. The potential effect that loss in tourism could have on small businesses and communities started to feel real. As the trip continued, the concern about the virus in Southeast Asia grew. We began wearing masks on the plane and in Ho Chi Minh City, Kuala Lumpur and Colombo, we passed through temperature checks at customs. Still, the number of cases outside of China was relatively low and we happily continued our adventures through Sri Lanka, hand sanitizing along the way.
Soon after we arrived home to Lucca, Italy, we learned that the virus was spreading in the region of Lombardy, just a few hours north. Within a few days, social distancing measures were implemented and the pasta (not toilet paper!) aisle at the grocery store was empty. But for the next two weeks, life generally felt pretty normal. People were out and about, drinking cappuccinos at bar counters and cycling around the Lucca walls. In the background, the virus must have been spreading south because before we knew it, we were locked down.
The lockdown restrictions in Italy were super strict right out of the gate. We were not permitted to leave our house unless to go to the supermarket or the pharmacy, and only one person could go at a time. We were allowed to walk outside, but only 200 meters from home. Without warning, everything was closed. No more cappuccinos, no takeout food, no Amazon deliveries, niente. It was an abrupt change and a big adjustment, but we were (and continue to be) happy that the government took such decisive action early on, especially as we watched the virus spread and the death toll rise in our new home country.
During our first week of lockdown, videos circulated of people singing and playing music from their balconies. Every morning we walked past signs reading “andra tutto bene” - it will all be okay - hanging in our neighborhood windows. We started going to the supermarket every 7-10 days, stocking up in true American style, after waiting in an eerily quiet line for over an hour and getting temperature checked before entering the store. It was all very zombie-apocalypse like, lacking the joyful (and loud) Italian greetings we’d come to appreciate.
Our work came to a rolling stop, once trips were sadly rescheduled. We did our best to stay motivated, using the time to work on projects and develop strategic plans for the rest of the year. We redesigned all 15 of our Designed Trips, implemented a new booking policy and started planning Guided Trips that we hope to lead in 2021. It was a roller coaster of emotion - there were days we felt isolated and missed our family and friends. Days when our hearts ached for the world. And days when we felt a real sense of sadness for the time and growth of our business lost. But we also started to feel more at home in our new house. We took some time to do things we might not otherwise do. We tried new recipes, studied Italian (and attempted to chat with the neighbors), started a daily yoga practice, grew cilantro seeds, binged some Netflix, and made a music video for our nephew's 10th birthday. We started to feel more comfortable here, and when a neighbor arrived home after over a month in the hospital with the virus, we joined the applause and impromptu dance party at the end of our driveway.
And now, after 50 days in lockdown, we’re starting to feel hope. Each day the numbers across Europe are improving. We’re seeing leaders roll out plans to reopen, and some countries already successfully enjoying life post quarantine (shout-out to our friends in Denmark - we’re right behind you!). Next week in Italy, restaurants will open for take-away, parks will be accessible, and we’ll be able to freely drive and exercise. Hopping on our bikes to ride to the center for a gelato will feel nothing short of amazing.
Spring has sprung in Tuscany and our semi-rural neighborhood is full of vegetable gardens, olive groves and fields of yellow mustard seed flowers. There’s a palpable hope in the air. And we think - we hope - that travel and exploration, even if it looks a little different at first, will follow soon.
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