We should have known in early February, when we evacuated my mother from China. We were in a small town in Colombia then with no running hot water, a world away.
When we crossed the border into Nicaragua, a doctor came running up to me frantically, but it turned out he was more concerned about my yellow fever card than anything else.
By the time we reached Panama, the stock market was crashing. In Costa Rica, the last stop on our South America trip, we saw tourists wearing masks for the first time.
We flew back to Boston on March 10. Days later, cancellation requests on our Airbnb started flying in. We went from 90% occupancy to zero.
In May, emboldened by the city’s new eviction moratorium, one of our tenants decided to stop paying rent, even though she still had a job.
By June, every airline had cancelled our summer flights to Europe but refused to refund us. Our stimulus checks never came, and our health insurance didn’t cover us inside the US. Murphy’s law – anything that can go wrong will go wrong – was playing out in real time.
It was a panicky time. Over the next few months, we worked round the clock to get health coverage and our affairs in order.
I sued my tenant and she eventually paid most of what she owed, though she pulled other stunts like threatening to call the police if I entered the apartment for rental showings. Somehow we still found new tenants with only a video tour – pure luck.
Aaron contacted the Department of Transportation and EU authorities about the airlines that were still withholding refunds, which finally worked in our favor.
We dropped prices on our Airbnb and marketed to longer term guests. To our surprise, bookings returned, not quite at last year’s level, but better than we had forecast in April.
I also got my mom free flights from Qatar and JetBlue in a giveaway for healthcare professionals. And we got to reconnect with family and friends, which has been the highlight of the year.
By fall the things demanding our attention had lightened up enough for us to feel the first tinge of restlessness, so in September we took our first flight since March, just a short domestic trip to practice traveling again.
Having our life upended was ultimately good for us. It exposed us to some worst case scenarios we hadn’t considered before and gave us time to reflect on our lifestyle. If nothing else, we can stomach more stress now. We’ve also recommitted to traveling because we need to see what’s happening in the world with our own eyes, now more than ever.