We Asked for Fascinating Stories of Lockdown Abroad. And Wow, Did We Get Them
Fodor’s writers around the world share what life is like under lockdown.
With guidebooks that cover every continent except Antarctica, Fodor’s has a network of writers that extends across the globe. Some of our writers cover the places in which they grew up, while others are constantly on the move. Here, we’ve asked some of our expat writers what it’s like to be a travel writer who can’t return to their home country.
Photo by Isaiah Bekkers on Unsplash
Barbara Woolsey is a Canadian journalist whose travels span over 50 countries and five continents by plane, train, and motorbike. Based in Berlin during quarantine, she’s covering the coronavirus crisis for Reuters and working on a book based on her experiences as a nightlife columnist and TV host in Thailand. Follow her on Instagram at @barbara.woolsey.
We are on lockdown here in Berlin, with restaurants, bars, and shops closed; last week, even stricter measures were handed down: no gatherings of more than two people from different households, and, if you leave your home, make sure to bring your ID with you. It all feels very surreal, especially going to the supermarket and seeing the effects of “hamsterkauf” (an untranslatable German word for panic-buying), seeing the shelves devoid of items like cheese and toilet paper and watching people on the news form long lines at shops selling gold.
Being an immigrant living in Germany for seven years now, I wonder when I will get to see my family in Canada and the Philippines again. I really miss them. My father, currently in Canada, is 77 years old and not in great health, so I am thankful for all those participating in social distancing to protect people like him.
It’s not all bad, though—how our community is coming together is uplifting. A couple of my neighbors have put signs on our apartment building’s door with their phone numbers, offering help to those who need it. In the evenings, I’ve been curing my homesickness for Berlin by reading Christopher Isherwood and watching free live-stream performances by the Berlin Philharmonic, Berlin State Opera, and “United We Stream”—an initiative of my favorite Berlin nightclubs like Sisyphos and Wilde Renate that are putting DJ sets online in lieu of parties (and of course, I’m hitting their “Donate” buttons).
Photo by Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash
Elianna Bar-El is a southern California expat living in Tel Aviv for the past 10 years, where she is the editor of Time Out Israel.
My current situation is unique in that I gave birth to our third child, and the very next day Israel was put on lockdown. Days before, my office and all employees were put on a 45-day unpaid leave, and now it is an indefinite future with every day that passes. My husband works independently as an osteopathic physician and the Israeli Health Ministry also called for all clinics to close at the exact same time, so we have been home, the five of us, for the past two weeks straight.
Being at home with a newborn, obviously, has its emotional and physical challenges. It can be extremely isolating in and of itself. Previously, I took refuge in those quiet, intimate months; bonding, nurturing, finding our “new normal.” Somehow, this maternity leave has so far been the exact opposite experience, yet with the same goals and revelations. Our house is lively and loud—at times, chaotic and exhausting on unexpected and overwhelming levels. Patience is tested to the extreme and some days are, in fact, endless, given the actual sleepless nights. Yet there is a new normal emerging, inside and outside, and I am grateful.
When she’s not traveling around East Africa, you’ll find Charlotte Beauvoisin watching chimpanzees and birds from the balcony of her wooden cottage on the edge of Kibale Forest National Park, Uganda. She’s lived in Uganda since 2009 and has updated the Uganda section of Fodor’s Complete Guide to the African Safari. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and see more of her work at www.diaryofamuzungu.com.
Lockdown is imminent in Uganda. The airport and borders are closed, and all schoolchildren were sent home two weeks ago. Bars, restaurants, markets, churches, and mosques are closed until further notice (and ban-breakers are being arrested). However, few people are taking social distancing seriously and with crowded public transport and densely populated slums, we are bracing ourselves for the worst. Until a couple of weeks ago, most Ugandans thought coronavirus was a disease that only affected China until we had our first confirmed case last week—a 36-year-old Ugandan man who had traveled to Dubai.
I live off-grid on the edge of the National Park with no rent, no power bills, and water bills; I am in an enviable position. However, we are scared too. If one of us is ill, clinics are a long drive away and poorly-equipped when we get there. Although we are in such a lucky position, deep in the village and with a good supply of food, we have lost all our business. The capital Kampala is six hours away and my travel via public transport is no longer an option.
All of my income is from tourism. Most of my clients are tour operators and lodges who have had virtually all their trips and bookings canceled. Here at Sunbird Hill, we have no accommodation bookings. I’ve been alarmed at the lack of information online in Uganda about coronavirus, so I have published a blog that collates the best (verified) information. I’m updating it on a regular basis in my attempt to bridge the information gap here. It’s given me purpose too. Overall, I’m doing okay emotionally, but my biggest worry is my 70+-year old parents in the UK; I have not seen them for over a year.
We are prepared for full-on lockdown here in Kibale Forest. I now exercise every day and try to sleep well (and act silly as often as I can manage!). We start home-schooling my nine-year-old nephew this week—there are challenges in every direction we look!
Isabelle Kliger is a freelance travel and lifestyle writer who grew up in Sweden and moved to Barcelona 10 years ago. She is happiest out exploring the world, meeting new people, eating all the food and drinking all the wine; follow Isabelle on Instagram at @ikliger.
I have been on total lockdown in Barcelona since March 14 and, because I live alone, I haven’t seen another living soul (sans the staff in the supermarket) in 10 days. As an extrovert who is rarely at home and never cooks, this situation is proving challenging, to say the least.
Work has definitely slowed down, although, thankfully, I still have some projects to keep me from going stir crazy. Despite all the horror surrounding COVID-19, this surreal situation has weirdly enabled me to tick some major professional boxes: last week I wrote a first-person piece about lockdown in Barcelona, and yesterday I got my first-ever commission from The Guardian –a story about what to watch during lockdown for fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race , based on a series of interviews with top drag queens from the show.
Inbal Baum is the founder and CEO of Israel’s leading culinary tour company, Delicious Israel.
Not even four weeks ago we were looking forward to March being one of the best months in tourism history. Food tours and cooking workshops were flowing in like water. Incredible memories were being made and guests were enjoying what we think is the world’s best food. One week later the tourism industry started grinding to a halt and three weeks ago Israel basically shut down.
Part of the devastation in this situation is the speed by which life halted. Trying to explain to my toddlers why there is no daycare because of a global sickness is simply devastating and confusing. Not being able to go on morning jogs and losing the luxuries of daily life (oh, how I dream to sit in a coffee shop to work), is rough.
In Israel, we are familiar with challenging tourism crashes because of war-time and political situations. We are resilient and always bounce back (usually stronger). This situation just feels different. The uncertainty of how long the schools will be closed and how long life will be on pause is unnerving, especially to people like myself who have the travel bug in our DNA. I fluctuate daily: do I ignore the fears and change things—new content creation strategies, starting new online workshops,—or do I just stay in bed and enjoy a few more weeks of yoga clothes and a (forced) break from work emails?
Photo by Shai Pal on Unsplash
Sorrel Moseley-Williams is a freelance journalist and independent sommelier based in Argentina. She writes about food, travel, and wine with a focus on South America for an array of publications; follow her on Instagram at @comewinewith.me and see more of her work at www.sorrelmw.com.
I’m at my apartment in Buenos Aires, and just finished working on a book I’m co-writing. And while I’m used to working from home, I’m not used to being at home for such a prolonged period. Argentina has been officially on lockdown since March 20, though I’ve been practicing social distancing since March 14. My upcoming trips to Ecuador, Mendoza, and Rió Negro wine regions have also been postponed.
While I’ve been appreciating the downtime, I’m ready to get back to work. I go to a lot of events in Buenos Aires (wine launches, restaurant openings, etc.) so even when I am home, I’m not in my house that often. But, no trips or events means no work, which is obviously concerning. And I miss seeing my friends and other journalists who I see regularly; especially friends who have become as close as family, which is important to me given that my own family is in the UK.
On the plus side, I am home with my partner Allan and cats Henry and Honey, and we’ve developed new routines, such as playing Rummikub every evening after supper and clapping at 9 p.m. with our neighbors from our balcony to show our appreciation for all the workers holding Argentina together.
I also miss the act of going somewhere; not necessarily for the first time as some places are now familiar, but simply the nuances and colors of a skyline, catching up with old friends from other countries or meeting new people, learning about cultures, and, of course, trying new ingredients and dishes, then sharing the flavors through my work. I realize I’ve been in a very privileged position–after all, I spent all of January in Peru researching the book and many people never get to be in another country for that length of time. But for the moment, when all I would like is to go for a jog in the local park, yearning to jet off somewhere is frivolous. It’s time to start reassessing.
Sara Toth Stub is an American journalist who has been working in Israel since 2006. In addition to updating part of Fodor’s upcoming new edition of Essential Israel, she has written for The New York Times, US News & World Report, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Travel & Leisure, Archaeology Magazine, and others.
I have been a journalist for nearly two decades and have reported on many stressful and emotional events, like fatal accidents, weather disasters, terrorist attacks, and armed conflict. But this is the first time where I really feel overwhelmed and scared by the news and have had to cut my consumption of media to stay calm.
My three young children have already been home from school for three weeks, and my husband is working full-time from home. We are thankful our immediate family is together, but as of March 25, we are on a stricter lockdown with orders not to travel more than 50 meters from our home, unless stocking up on food or medicine. This has also been a time to reflect on the seriousness of the situation in Israel, where the somewhat quality health care system is already working near capacity. I have been working on non-travel writing assignments, most of which were commissioned before the pandemic began and am continuing to report (from my desk and phone) on pandemic-related stories. But it is difficult to concentrate while tending to the kids and trying to quiet my own worries. We do not know when we will next see my parents, healthy but in their early 70s, who live in St. Louis, my hometown, or my sister, who is a nurse and on the front lines of the outbreak in Colorado.
Kate Springer is a writer and editor based in Hong Kong, specializing in food, travel, and wellness. She loves trying new things, from via ferrata mountain climbing in Oman to scuba diving in the Maldives; see more of her work at www.kate-springer.com.
Since Hong Kong is right next door to China, where the outbreak started, we’ve been on high alert since January. As a community, Hong Kong locals acted very quickly–people started working from home when possible and social distancing without being told to do so. The government also quickly closed the schools, partially closed the borders, and established quarantine measures. We were doing great; as one of the densest cities in the world, we only had about 150 cases as of March 15!
But we recently saw a second wave due to expats and residents racing back to Hong Kong when outbreaks hit the U.S., Europe, and the UK. Now, bars are closed and restaurants can’t serve liquor–an effort by the government to encourage people to stay home. We haven’t had a total lockdown or mandatory shelter-in-place, which I’m thankful for. However, I think that’s only possible because people in Hong Kong are very conscientious and hygienic. The memory of SARS, a coronavirus that deeply affected the city in 2003, is all too raw. Due to this earlier tragedy, the city and the community were relatively prepared with epidemic protocols in place. Of course, we still had people buying up all the toilet paper and rice, but there will always be people who panic!
I already work remotely so I don’t feel that my lifestyle has been totally upended. Of course, like most travel writers, I’ve still been affected: I canceled half a dozen trips scheduled for the first half of 2020, pivoted my stories to be more timely and relevant, and am only conducting meetings and interviews virtually. I miss seeing people in person and my feet are seriously itching for an adventure, but I strongly believe these short-term sacrifices will pay off for the community as a whole.
Michelle is a Danish-French freelance journalist and guidebook author who holds a Masters in International Affairs from The University of Hong Kong and has studied journalism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Previously, she’s worked for TIME in Hong Kong, Roads & Kingdoms in New York, Hearst Newspapers in Washington, D.C., and the government’s mouthpiece in Rwanda.
I’m based between Copenhagen and Berlin, and when the borders started closing, I had to make a quick choice between the two cities. If I stayed in Copenhagen, I wouldn’t be able to see my Berlin-based Dutch partner—with whom I’m expecting a child— for at least a month, as he wouldn’t be able to travel to Denmark. If I went to Berlin, I wouldn’t be able to see my friends and family for the same amount of time. I chose Berlin and hopped on one of the last flights leaving Copenhagen. As with a lot of other Europeans, I’ve taken the open borders and the ease of traveling around Europe for granted, not realizing what an insane luxury it is to be able to live in two countries at once. I’m in Berlin now, feeling mighty landlocked and struck by an insane bout of wanderlust. Most of all, I feel lucky to be stuck in a European country with good (free) healthcare, though. I can’t wait for the world to open up again, but I also can’t stop thinking about what the post-corona world will look like in countries with weaker healthcare and welfare systems.
Benjamin Kemper followed the siren song of jamón ibérico from Brooklyn to Madrid, where he writes about the places that make him hungriest. Beyond editing Fodor’s Essential Spain and writing for Fodors.com, he helps people plan trips of a lifetime to Spain and the Caucasus, his other geographical area of expertise. Find him on Instagram at @benjaminkemper and on Twitter at @benkkemper.
I’m currently holed up in my apartment in the Argüelles neighborhood of Madrid with my partner, Marcos, and our 80-pound pup, Lorca. Madrid is on full lockdown, which means no walking outside unless you’re getting groceries or medication. Dog-walking is also allowed (phew). I’ve never been so thankful to have a dog—my dog-less friends are starting to lose it, being cooped up all day.
My hermitic writerly routine aside, the virus has affected every aspect of life here. Streets are deserted, restaurants are closed, and ambulance sirens are becoming more and more frequent. It’s eerie and dystopian—I’ve never lived through anything like this. As I write, it’s being reported that today (March 23) was the worst day yet in terms of deaths and new infections in the country. The military was just deployed to get people off the streets. A friend’s mom who works in the ER says there’s a shortage of beds and people are literally dying on the floor of the hospital. Another friend texted this afternoon to say that she has the virus and is toughing out high fevers alone at home. My heart goes out to Spain’s elderly, many of them alone, who are living in terror right now. From where I sit, it’s clear we are a long way from normalcy.
Amy Nelmes Bissett is a freelance writer who splits her time between Australia and New Zealand. She’s currently working out of Avoca, in the NSW Central Coast, an hour north of Sydney.
I returned to Australia from New Zealand last Thursday, getting one of the last flights out of the country before the borders closed. I’m now in self-isolation with my husband and two young children and it’s challenging. Each day is broken down into micro-moments—some hours are filled with fun and laughter, some are sobering, with news alerts making us feel frightened and worried about what is happening out there in the real world.
Laura is an award-winning freelance writer and editor based in Rome with an MFA in creative writing and a passion for covering travel, arts and culture, lifestyle, design, and food and wine. Follow her on Instagram at @lauraitzkowitz and Twitter at @lauraitzkowitz as she documents life under lockdown in Italy and shares some inspiration for future travels.
I’ve been on lockdown for more than two weeks now. Here in Italy, the number of cases of COVID-19 is announced every day on the radio and in the newspapers. As of yesterday, there were 63,927 infections and 6,077 deaths. I can’t even imagine how many there would be if we were not on lockdown and the virus was still free to spread unmitigated. Over the weekend, I heard that the lockdown will almost certainly be extended, but how much longer it will last has yet to be announced. People here—especially my friends who work in hospitality—are worried about their jobs, but I think most people realize that what Italy’s government did what was right: it put the lives of its citizens before the economy. I really admire the Italian government and its citizens, who are some of the most resilient people on earth. Individuals all over Italy are going out on their balconies in the evenings and singing to lift each other’s’ spirits! How beautiful is that?
Former Fodor’s staff editor Andrew Collins lives in Mexico City but spends about half his time on the road, mostly in the Pacific Northwest and New England. He’s contributed to more than 200 Fodor’s guidebooks—most recently Inside Mexico City, Inside Portland, Pacific Northwest, Santa Fe, New England, and National Parks of the West—and he’s written for dozens of mainstream and LGBTQ publications; follow him on Instagram at @TravelAndrew, and see more of his work at AndrewsTraveling.com.
As a U.S. citizen residing in Mexico City, I’ve decided to forego travel for the next several weeks (or longer, as necessary) and hunker down here with my partner and three cats in the small house we rent in Coyoacán. We have been practicing “shelter in place” for a couple of weeks, and finally, as of today (March 24), government leaders are asking the entire country to follow this policy. Our neighborhood is always fairly quiet, but we do live across the street from Museo Frida Kahlo and it’s strange seeing her big blue house entirely quiet—the usual queue of visitors snaking around the block having completely vanished.
In late February, I returned from a month-long research trip in the Pacific Northwest so I have a fair amount of work on my plate, at least for the immediate future. To keep sane and balanced, I try to limit my news consumption to twice a day, I jog in the evening to help further avoid crowds, we cook and watch movies, and I remain constantly grateful that I can work outside on a sunny patio with birds chirping.
A multiple award-winning wildlife photographer, writer, and videographer, James Gifford has published two books (the most recent of which was “Savute: Botswana’s Wildlife Kingdom”) and his work has been featured in numerous magazines. Follow him on Instagram at @jamesgiff, Facebook at @James Gifford Photography, and see his work at www.jamesgiffford.co.uk
After Botswana closed the border to countries affected by COVID-19, the safari industry effectively shut down. Lodges closed and safari companies put staff on unpaid leave. As a photographer and videographer, all my safaris and 90% of my photo and video shoots have been canceled. I am currently working on a book for a South African publisher, so I have work to keep me occupied (as well as a ton of images that are always waiting to be edited), but for now, we have no income stream and, given the current environment, any books are unlikely to be published in the near future.
Although we are not on full lockdown, we are self-isolating as much as possible to limit our role in spreading the virus since the fragile health system here would not be able to cope with many cases. Compared to the rest of the world, we are fortunate—there is lots of space here, so I can still safely get out of the house and walk the dogs as normal. Schools are closed, so we are keeping the kids entertained, as well. It would be tempting to go and camp in the bush for a few weeks (to take the opportunity to boost my photographic portfolio), but with family in the UK and elsewhere, I would feel uncomfortable being out of contact for long.
Although we have no official confirmed cases in Botswana, there is a reluctance by authorities to use limited supplies of testing kits, and given how many tourists entered the country before the restrictions, it is almost inevitable that the virus is already here.
WHERE: South Africa
An American writer based in Cape Town, Lee splits her focus between the urban and the wild, writing about sustainability, urbanization on the continent, and children’s rights. She is currently at work on a book about transracial adoption.
I am with my family at our home in Cape Town and have just completed week one of South Africa’s 21-day lockdown. While splitting childcare of my five-year-old son and not being able to go outside to hike or swim (especially now in autumn, when the weather here is so wonderful) is challenging, we are very lucky to be in comfortable surroundings with a small garden (which is far more than the majority of people in South African cities can say). Like everyone, I’m wondering how long this will go on, but I am grateful that leadership here took serious action so quickly.
Photo by Andreas Selter on Unsplash
Originally from Hong Kong, Simon N. Ostheimer is a Phnom Penh-based travel writer who has so far lived in six countries and 10 cities, mainly in Asia. Follow his original Cambodia travels by subscribing to his free new blog.
Life in Phnom Penh is still pretty normal. There’s no lockdown, shops are still open, and life goes on as normal. Indeed, it’s so routine it’s almost eerie, and that’s perhaps what’s has put many of us on edge. That said, the Chinese government has just sent experts and supplies to help take charge of the situation, which is a hugely calming thought.
Simon N. Ostheimer
Patricia Rucidlo has been writing for Fodor’s for quite some time.
I live in Italy and am a licensed tour guide in Florence (as is my husband, who also teaches for U.S. study abroad programs). We have seen a total collapse of our finances for the rest of 2020. Fortunately, we live in the country and are not locked in apartments as most of our friends are. How am I feeling in the isolation which has just been extended? Not possible to write in polite company. Fortunately, we are both healthy.
Lauren is a British freelancer based in Mexico City who mostly writes about travel and culture in Mexico and the UK. Read her sporadically updated blog at northernlauren.com .
I’m a Brit based permanently in Mexico City, and I’ve chosen to ride out the pandemic in my adopted home, mostly because I can’t bear to leave behind my cat! Also, the thought of long-distance travel seems like a scary prospect right now.
As a freelance writer who works from home, my (very boring and mostly antisocial) day-to-day has been mostly unchanged although I’ve already lost my main anchor client thanks to COVID-19 concerns.
Even though I’ve been lucky enough to socially-isolate for the past fortnight, the city as a whole is only just beginning to take the threat of a highly contagious virus seriously. Meanwhile, I’m mostly avoiding the news and really immersing myself in jigsaw puzzles, Animal Crossing , and romance novels to drown out the constant ring of low-level anxiety in between getting food and coffee deliveries from local restaurants.
While I’m scared about the situation globally and generally anxious all the time, it’s hard to really complain about my personal situation. After all, I’ve got a home, a job that can be done online and the ability to stay inside pretty much completely; these privileges are available to so few people in Mexico City.
Emily Monaco is an American writer based in Paris.
I’m currently in Paris, where my lifestyle is only minimally affected by COVID for the moment. I usually work from home, and I’m continuing that now. I’m starting to get a bit antsy, though, especially as the government just announced exercise-related outings must be limited to one per day of maximum one hour and one kilometer distance from the home. I usually walk quite a bit, and while I don’t see friends every day, I see them a few times a week. Luckily, I’ve been able to stay in touch with most people via chat apps. And I’m relying on delivery services like Circus Bakery and Belleville Brûlerie to support local business and get great bread and coffee delivered right to my door.
Photo by Nil Castellví on Unsplash
WHERE: New York
Mary Holland is a South African writer based in New York. You can follow her @missmaryholland.
I am in my apartment with my husband. But we’re okay because we have lots of wine (like, a lot). I’m on semi-lockdown, but I allow myself to go for runs in the early morning and trips to the grocery store. Also, the laundromat…because this is New York.
As a freelancer you become accustomed to working from home. You also become accustomed to moments when work booms and wanes. I trust that people will crave more reading material in the coming weeks and that’s something we writers can give them.
I have moments when I think about the destruction this crisis has caused and will continue to cause, and I fall into a pit of anxiety. I’m so overwhelmed by how this will devastate communities, the economy, especially in places like Africa, where resources and infrastructure are scarce. When I realize that the borders to my home country, where most of my family lives, are closed, I have to take a few deep breaths. But then I think of all the people in the world working on the frontline and those who are doing unbelievable work; doctors, nurses, volunteers, people donating money. I think of the small businesses in my neighborhood fighting to stay alive by being innovative and positive. I think about how pandemics have come, and gone, before. And then I pour a really big glass of wine.
Photo by Josh Wilburne on Unsplash