We’ve had some impeccable timing when it comes to traveling during the pandemic.
In February and March of 2020 when it was first starting to go around, Guy and I were in New Zealand. Living our dream life out of a Hiace van, house-sitting for strangers while they went on vacation and renting out our van while we housesat actually making a profit. We had six housesits set up and four future van rentals set up for our van at the time.
An abrupt change with my apartment back home in Santa Barbara left us no choice but to return back to California to settle up my apartment (the plan was to put in my notice on the apartment, and head back out).
Long story short, the guy who sublet it from me asked me for a rent reduction. I was paying $1400/ month and I had it rented out for $1700/month. I said no that I couldn’t do the change and he immediately turned around with giving me a 1-month notice to move out. Shocked, we had a lot of decisions to make. Do we go home? Do we stay in NZ and put in my notice from abroad? What would we do with my furniture? I felt a responsibility to go back and handle it. The end of his 30 days was March 15th. We made plans to fly home on March 14th. It was February 20th when we got that news about the 1 month notice.
In a panic, we had to put our van up for sale. I had to cancel all our Housesit plans. We had spent 3 months on the north island of NZ, and we had just gotten to the South Island (our main attraction that we were excited for) when we got the news from Joey subletting my apartment.
We were in Christchurch, one of the bigger cities in the south Island. We decided it would be best to try to sell the van there. We ended up selling the van to the first person who looked at it. A lovely couple from the UK. One English guy and one Irish girl. We were happy to have the van go to a good home. We sold it for $1,000 less than we bought it for but we still feel like we came up as a win for the rental money we had made from the past. We had made $3,500 from rentals in the last one month alone and had several more planned which we sadly had to cancel. I hated canceling all these plans. But it had to happen.
We sold the van early so now we had three weeks where we could have rented another van to keep traveling or… curveball… fly somewhere else. It was Friday when we sold it. We booked a flight by Saturday night to Fiji and spent three weeks on beautiful remote islands. It wasn’t expensive. It was very fun. But I probably wouldn’t go back. It wasn’t expensive because we didn’t do all the activities(boat rides, fishing, spearfishing and whatever else they had going on). There wasn’t much else to do besides these activities – and laying on the beach of course – but luckily, we both have our day remote jobs that kept us busy a lot of the time. We had a great time staying in a few different places on the island relaxing.
Once we flew into America, they closed all flights that Monday the 17th. Guy (my British boyfriend) barely made it in. He had 90 days on his ESTA to stay. We quarantined in my tiny apartment for months, only going out for groceries and walks for fresh air. We desperately watched the news and online notifications regarding the airlines opening back up, his time slot in America was running out.
Curveball number two, we found out we were pregnant! Normally he could have gone back to the UK and we would have met up after, but now with new baby on the way, everything was 10x more complicated. I wanted to go with him to the UK as we didn’t know how long we would be apart. Weeks and days approaching his 90 day limit in America, we checked for updates daily.
Finally, a downturn in the virus and flights started opening. We booked our flight to England and left on day 89 of his ESTA. We both got in no problem. I again sublet my apartment while we were going to be away for two months this time, (not making a profit this time as I did it last minute and just wanted it to be rented out so I didn’t need to pay the rent). We found a wonderful woman to stay who took great care of the place.
We stayed in the southwest of England in a surf town called Croyde. He owned a chalet holiday home which usually would be rented out all of summer, but because of the virus, it wasn’t. We luckily got to stay in it for free. This allowed us to save a ton of money since all we were buying were groceries for about $80/week and we didn’t have a car so we weren’t spending on gas.
After a few weeks of being in England, my dad told me California was starting to close up again, that we couldn’t travel to Europe and we are lucky to have come when we did. I started researching and he was right. It looked like Americans were banned from entering Europe. Wow. I felt so lucky to have gotten in when I did. So with that said, knowing I would be quarantined and safe staying in England most of the time I decided we should book one last trip together before the baby arrived. They call it a babymoon apparently.
We booked two weeks to Italy. We were excited for the week we knew we were going since we booked it rather last minute. So excited. I hadn’t been to Italy since 2009 when I studied abroad in Rome. Guy hadn’t really been before (He likes his surfing and has always stuck to vacation spots he could go surf). We were eating our home-cooked food the last 5 weeks and I was craving pizza and pasta and bruschetta like never before.
Flight day came, I was confident we would get in. There was no reason why we wouldn’t, we were both coming from the UK which was deemed OK. We land. We queue up. The second my American passport gets in custom’s hand, we are following them into a room to be questioned.
Apparently, Americans are plain not allowed in at all and we had a small problem on our hands. Guy was allowed in but I wasn’t. They asked him what he wanted to do.. to travel on without me or stay. He obviously said stay with me. Which later on I thought about it that they were testing him to see if we were really together or if we just found each other on the way and made up a story.
There were at least five polizia talking in Italian waving their hands saying no no no that I couldn’t enter to each other. If I had a permit saying I was living in England, I could have stayed but since I was just visiting, that was a no. They said no so many times. They even told Guy they were sorry but they just can’t let me in. They felt bad and didn’t even want to look at me at this point. They asked if we were married, apparently, that would have solidified our relationship and would allow for us to go in together. But we’re not. They asked for proof of me entering the UK 5 weeks ago, which, normally the UK would stamp my passport, they couldn’t find a stamp. We were staying calm and being kind, it was only a 2-hour flight back if we did get turned down which it looked like we were. Then I said, “we are having a baby together” and rubbed my still semi-flat 15 week along stomach. That didn’t do it either. They kept questioning us, our relationship, our time in England and where we stayed. It was a good 45 minutes. I was so sad to be thinking we weren’t getting in.
They flat out said no. But also kept asking questions about a permit. They wanted to help me. I remembered I had a letter from a doctor in the UK with an NHS number registering me into their healthcare program (honestly way easier than it should have been but that’s a different story) they kind of liked that but it wasn’t enough. We remembered later we should have shown them the magazine clipping of us that hit every newspaper in the UK to France to Ireland.
Finally, They asked for proof of pregnancy. I was given one from planned parenthood when I first went to see if my at-home tests were correct, but I didn’t think to bring that with me. I remembered I had been given a letter from my ob-gyn to give to my dentist saying I was pregnant and what treatments I could and couldn’t have. I had recently sent that via email so I knew I had it. But under pressure, I could not for the life of me remember the name of my dentist who I emailed it to. Minutes went by that felt like hours with everyone watching me try to think of this name frantically searching through emails. Finally, I just searched “pregnant dentist” and it came up. Frickin hell! Talk about pressure. I showed him the email that I sent my dentist from early June. He seemed to like that. They stood around. Looking and talking amongst themselves. Looking at me. Looking at my passport. Then. The main polizia man, basically turned his head and said, “It’s okay. Go.” (Before this, during the questioning process, they asked why we were entering, we said as tourists; they said absolutely not allowed right now). I jumped up with a huge smile “REALLY!!?? THANK YOU THANK YOU I could cry!!” And he shook his head yes, while a few others shook their heads non shelantly as they couldn’t believe the decision that was made. We got up so fast and so excited. They handed me my passport, and we left the room.
We walked towards baggage claim and there was my single bag, sitting there alone, waiting for me to retrieve it and head into the center of Bologna. We had three hours of sleep the night before. I’ve never been so scared, nervous, sad, and hopeful all in one. We grabbed the bag with a huge smile, looked for directions into town, found our bus, paid for a ticket and got on, also, just in time might I add, and headed to our Airbnb.
I might be the only American in all of Italy right now on a tourist visit. Well, American and a half 😉 We have our little growing baby to thank for helping us get into Italy that day, that is for sure!
Thanks, Kiddo. Doin’ us proud already.