As many of you probably know, my New Zealand trip just got cut short by about half a year due to coronavirus. As the global situation toughened and it became clear that international travel would be out of the question for some time to come, I took the difficult decision to return home on one of Germany’s repatriation flights – pretty much the only way you could still travel between NZ and Europe at that point.
Deciding to come home wasn’t easy. On the surface, many factors spoke for staying in NZ: the situation was a lot better there in terms of infection rates than in Germany. Meaning, the risk of getting sick was way lower than it is at home. Because of that, there was a good chance they’d lift restrictions sooner than in Germany. Maybe travelling within the country would eventually be possible again. On top of that, my working holiday visa was still valid until November.
However, there were also some very good reasons against staying. Two of them eventually determined my decision to cut short the trip: If I didn’t take a repatriation flight, there would be no chance for me to leave until normal air travel resumed. Who knows when that will be. Two, in a situation like this, I’d rather be close to my family than all alone on the other end of the world, without the ability to return home should anything happen.
And yet, although I’m sure my decision was the right one, it’s not an easy one to live with.
Living with a trip cut short
There is the aspect of having missed out on plenty of things I wanted to do this year while travelling NZ. For example, I had planned to visit Australia once more to see friends and family while I’m in that part of the world. I had toyed with the idea of visiting a travel blogger conference in Melbourne that I wanted to go to for years but was never in the right part of the world for (of course, it has now been postponed anyway).
I realize I’m still lucky in that at least I don’t have much of a financial loss. I’ll have to pay for the repatriation flight (because no matter what many people think, the government does not fly us home for free). But unlike many other travellers I met, I didn’t already have other flights booked that got cancelled, with yet little info on reimbursement. Neither did I have any trips or accommodations prebooked for which I might not get money back.
But even for those who lost a lot of money, the main toll of this experience isn’t financial or material. It’s emotional. In that, we were all in the same boat.
What’s worst about being forced to cut short a trip:
It’s missing out on a trip you were, in some cases, planning and saving for many months, or even years.
It’s the knowledge that while we can all probably return to New Zealand one day, we will never be able to repeat this trip the way we planned it. Maybe that’s because we can’t apply for the same visa again. Maybe it’s because we don’t know if we’ll ever get this much time off again from work. Or maybe it’s just because we don’t know yet how much the world will have changed once this is over, and we with it. This trip, the way it was now, is gone, and it can’t just be replaced.
Why it’s so hard to let go
It’s also the feeling of not being able to choose when to end your trip. Many travellers, I included, taking things as they came without an exact end date in mind. One friend I made during the lockdown in Auckland told me that on this trip, for once, she wanted to get to the point when she returned home not because she had a pre-booked flight, but because she’d reached the point of having travelled enough and wanting to return. A chance she has now lost.
For me, I was thinking of this as probably my last long-term trip for a while, after which I wanted to concentrate more on Europe and closer destinations. At least for the foreseeable future. Now, I don’t know what I want to do anymore, once travelling is possible again.
All these things need to be processed. That takes time. The fact that coming home in the present circumstances does not equal returning home to your normal life doesn’t make it easier. Under normal circumstance, I’d have plenty to distract me and cheer me up. But I’m returning to a world of social distancing and isolation, where I can’t see my friends or do many of the things I love. I may be an introvert, but being stuck at home without any chance of seeing the people I care about doesn’t appeal to me at all.
Ways of coping with a trip cut short
However, in the time I’ve been home, as well as during the two weeks lockdown in NZ, which gave me some time to come to terms with the fact that my trip is over, I have learned a few things that help me cope. None of it is exactly groundbreaking, but it’s worth repeating as often as we need to hear it.
Maybe it can help you, too. Not only if you had to cancel or cut short a trip, but also with other struggles you may have during these difficult times.
Concentrate on what you have, not what you’re missing out on
This can certainly fall into the „easier-said-than-done” category. But it does help me to remember that I still got to see quite a bit of New Zealand before my trip was cut short. I had about three months in this beautiful country plus one in Australia before COVID-19 became a thing. I didn’t see everything I had planned on, of course. But I saw enough to appreciate what an incredible country New Zealand is.
I got to travel with my auntie and visit friends in Sydney I hadn’t seen in years. I also made some great friends during my time in lockdown. Despite or maybe because of its hardships, that was an experience that let all of us sharing it grow together. Those are the memories I try to cling to.
It’s okay to be upset
Sometimes, however, it’s not enough. The pain of all I couldn’t do is just too real. If that happens, be sure you allow yourself to feel these emotions. Don’t try to suppress them or tell yourself you shouldn’t feel this way because others have it worse. You can be sad and angry and disappointed, while still being grateful at the same that a cancelled trip is all you have to mourn in this crisis.
Find those who understand
Not everybody will be able to commiserate with how you’re feeling. Some may indeed be struggling with worse problems. Others may just not understand what’s so bad about it, as they are not travellers and don’t know what it feels like.
When I was still in New Zealand during the lockdown, I usually found it much easier to talk about the situation with the people there, rather than with anyone at home. Even if many in my family are travellers and were very sympathetic, they simply couldn’t always know what it was like to be in this situation.
Find someone who gets it. Then vent to them. Discuss the future. Commiserate on what you’ve lost. Whatever you need to do. Get it out. Even introverts sometimes need someone who listens to them.
If you really can’t think of anyone to talk to, find another way to process your emotions. Journaling. Craft. Sports. Whatever works for you. Just don’t let it pile up and eat you up from the inside.
Find things that cheer you up
If you manage to do be productive during the lockdown and your creativity brings you joy, that’s great. But if all you’re able to do is sit in bed and watch Netflix while decimating your stash of chocolate, that’s fine too. I mean, I basically lived only off Tim Tams during NZ lockdown.
This can also apply to what media you consume, social and otherwise. Yes, it’s important to stay informed. But there’s no need to read the news every five minutes, and a little escapism has never hurt anyone. Seek out those accounts and outlets that cheer you up. Stay away from everything that pulls you down, adds to the anxiety or makes you feel not enough in any way.
This situation is hard for everyone. Don’t make it worse for yourself by feeling bad about not getting things done or living your best life. We’re all just coping the best we can.
Did you have to cancel a trip due to Coronavirus? How do you cope with that? Share in the comments.