• Countries Visited: 89
  • Travel Wishlist: Antarctica, East Africa, Central Asia
  • Locked down in: England

“For me, this is a multi-layered shitshow. The Covid situation has plunged the world into recession and mass-unemployment, unnecessary suffering and untold deaths, but in the UK, we also have the Brexit fallout to contend with.”

Original Post – October 5th 2020

Compared to many, I guess I’d have to say that life under lockdown hasn’t been too bad. I got to spent a few months living with my brother and brother-in-law, I managed to not dip into savings, and the weather was gorgeous. My circumstances at the beginning of the year were fortunate to see me return to the UK a week before we went into lockdown. I had been travelling in southern Europe and central Asia; watching as mayhem unfolded in Asia, and then inevitably spread to Europe, with the rest of the world catching up not long later. It’s almost unimaginable what’s happened though. It still doesn’t feel real. Some obscure nightmare that I am unable to wake from. In reality, we have been adjusting to life in a pandemic for over six months. What’s sad is that there really is no end in sight. Cases are currently surging in Europe, and as northern hemisphere winter approaches, things will probably get a lot worse before they get better.

On my travels at the beginning of the year, I was actually starting to feel like I was hitting a wall. I was lacking all motivation, and was uninterested in lots of the places I was visiting. After travelling for so many years, and seeing lots of the world’s most wonderful sights, it felt like the bar was now set so high, that I had just lost the wow factor. My trip through West Africa the previous year had been the hardest trip of my life, for so many reasons, and in a way, it felt like the difficulties there had a lot to do with the lack of motivation to travel. As it was, by March, I had decided that it was time to find somewhere to work, and stay there for a year and a half, to normalise myself again. I really hated the fact that I was lacking motivation for travel. Without travelling, and doing seasonal jobs between trips, who even was I?? The work/travel lifestyle had grown to consume my identity, and where would I be without that?? I always knew that the lifestyle was unsustainable, but maybe if I could normalise myself and regain the love of travel, it could continue for a little longer.

In many ways, Covid came at a good time. I had just finished a trip and was in no way desperate to get away again, any time soon. To have the ability to travel taken away from you though, isn’t a nice feeling, but I guess that’s how the other 8 billion people around the world also feel.

Lockdown itself wasn’t bad at all, and I actually consider myself to have been very lucky. In the UK we had three months of tough lockdown measures, and my brother kindly offered for me to stay at his. He and his partner are both doctors though, so heading there was under the awareness that it was likely that I would contract the virus. Given all of our good health, I accepted this fate, and arrived there the day before the lockdown was announced. Within a week, my brother was showing symptoms. He had a fever and a cough, and spent a few days confined to the bedroom, but they were largely mild symptoms, and he was back to normal on the fifth day. His partner Andrew and I were then in a position where we were in 14 days of isolation, waiting to see if we showed symptoms too. Neither of us did, thankfully, and life resumed to ‘normal’ after the isolation period. I spent my three lockdown months doing work on my brother’s house, de-rusting metalwork on the veranda, fences, gates, gutters and drain pipes, and treating and re-painting them. It wasn’t particularly pleasant work, but it certainly kept me occupied, and eased my guilt of living with two doctors who were going out to work every day.

Ryan and I were originally supposed to go and work in Norway, but when they went into lockdown in mid-March, we lost the jobs. We then found work in Scotland, but by June, those jobs had fallen through too. With mass-redundancies and unemployment at an all-time high, this was the first sign of the problems ahead. We were lucky to get jobs at a hotel in the Lake District at the beginning of July, which should have really been amazing. It was a beautiful, fancy hotel, in the centre of the Lakes, but horrific mis-management lead the hotel down a hole, from which there was no escape. Before long, I was running the restaurant, but trying to do a job like this, in a four-star restaurant, whilst being cripplingly understaffed and being overworked and unappreciated, was beyond stressful. For minimum wage, it just wasn’t worth it, so we packed our bags and left. We were lucky to last seven weeks.

We were fortunate to find jobs immediately, and from northern England, we made our way down to the south coast. We could live rent-free at Ryan’s dad’s chalet, and Ryan got a job on a golf course that he used to work at, starting straight away. I got a job as a cleaner at Sainsburys, starting 2 weeks later. After ten days, I’d handed my notice in there too. It was just soul-destroying work. Again, I have been lucky though, as I start work at the club house of the golf course in a few days’ time. We have somewhere to live, we both have work, and more importantly, we are together. There was a time when we thought we’d end up working at different ends of the country. For all that I am grateful for, and how fortunate I have been in so many respects, the future is bleak.

For me, this is a multi-layered shitshow. The Covid situation has plunged the world into recession and mass-unemployment, unnecessary suffering and untold deaths, but in the UK, we also have the Brexit fallout to contend with. For the last nine years, I have been living a nomadic life; moving from country to country, working for six months or so, and then going off and doing a trip, spending everything that I’d just earned. I’ve used Australia, New Zealand, Norway and Iceland as bases where I’ve worked, and then done trips from there. I was lucky to have arrived back in the UK just before lockdown, and didn’t find myself stranded in some far-off destination, but that also meant that I was stuck there. This country I’d tried to avoid for almost a decade. For most people at the moment, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting a vaccine, probably by March next year at the earliest, and then normality resuming, but for the likes of Ryan and I, that will not be the case.

Without a European passport, being able to work in Europe from now on, will be difficult. We have job offers from both the Netherlands and Norway, but getting a work permit will be virtually impossible. I find myself in a position now, where I am suffocating in the idea of being stuck in the UK. My experience this year has shown me that hospitality in the UK is a shocking industry: you are overworked and underpaid, in places that should be wonderful, but are in fact toxic and truly awful places to be. Earning potential is far greater outside of the UK, so it seems that Brexit rather than Covid will be the defining feature of my future. To take a year or so off travelling because of Covid isn’t a big deal. To feel like life as I know it will never be the same because of Brexit is now causing increasing levels of anxiety. I am thirty-five, and have no responsibilities; no mortgage, no children, no credit cards, nothing, but also no career. I’ve never really thought about the future, I’ve just looked as far as the next trip and which country I will work in to save for that trip. To lose the ability to work anywhere in Europe, visa-free, will end life as I know it. To be forced back to the UK indefinitely is truly depressing.

I can still work, save and travel, but trips will be shorter because I will earn less. Working in the UK will get very boring, very quickly. This now begs the question: What the hell am I doing with my life?? The answer is that I have no idea, but I desperately need to figure things out.

Leanne and My Life In Lockdown creator James hiked Machu Picchu together!

Update from November 18th 2020

Little did I know, whilst writing the closing passage of my original piece, the UK was at the beginning of a rapidly deteriorating downward cycle, back towards another lockdown. This is something we never thought would happen. By late September, the UK was already increasing in cases, which was expected, given that schools, colleges and universities all went back three weeks prior. We knew there would be a second wave, and we knew it would be in the autumn, but the sheer severity of the wave, when it came, took everyone by surprise.

After having started and left two different jobs, between June and September, I was beginning to get seriously down about things, but my luck was about to change. I was offered a job, which I started at the beginning of October, and even after the first day, it was obvious I was going to love it, and I did. The only problem was that it was in hospitality, but given that we were living on the south coast of England, where cases were at their lowest, I figured I would be safe. As cases were exploding all over northern England, life carried on as normal in our little remote area, but the country was on a dangerous trajectory. Over the Chanel, the shit was hitting the fan again; France, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands were the most severely hit, and as with the first wave, the UK was a couple of weeks behind. The situation in Wales was already bad enough for the government to call a two-week lockdown, towards the end of October. It was understandable for the government to avoid a full second national lockdown by any means, but it is mind boggling that nothing was learnt from earlier in the year. For the time being, I carried on as normal, loving my new job, whilst keeping a close eye on what was happening on the continent.

Early in the pandemic, one of the chief scientific advisors actually lost his job for breaking lockdown rules that he helped to impose (he went off for a shag!). And rightly so, why should the British public live like hermits, and watch on as lives broke apart, whilst MP’s and scientists just did as they pleased? Anyway, this now ex-SAGE advisor, Neil Ferguson, stated in June that if the government had followed advice and begun lockdown a week earlier, when the pandemic was doubling every 3-4 days, 25,000 lives would have been saved. Our death toll and the impact it had on the NHS would have halved. In light of this knowledge, and with already having Wales in lockdown, why would the government choose to just carry on? It’s absolute insanity, and Boris has a colossal amount of blood on his hands. Failings in the UK are on par with the US in terms of stupidity and negligence. Progressing into the end of October, cases were reaching colossal new highs, all over Europe. Several countries announced new lockdowns to help curb the spread, and it seemed inevitable that we would too. It was no surprise to wake on Halloween to the news of a leaked document, implying that we could also be going back into lockdown.

This same day, my boss heard me coughing, and as I’d had a dry cough for a few days already, she insisted I went and got tested. I expected a negative result, as I’d been exposed to my brother earlier in the year, when he had it (and I had no symptoms), but it was the right thing to do, given the situation. Sure enough, that evening Boris addressed the nation to announce a new lockdown which would commence in five days’ time. It’s bad enough that this lockdown was coming as late as it was, but to give people five days’ notice seemed absurd, given that the government had the knowledge that 25,000 more died due to a week’s delay earlier in the year. The current trajectory we were on was already far worse than even the worst-case scenario predictions for the second wave. Why delay the inevitable when you know you could save possibly thousands of lives? Where is the humanity??

As much as I knew we needed a second lockdown, it came at a bad time; three days before my birthday. We’d planned on a long weekend away, but of course we had to cancel. Rather than spending my 36th birthday exploring the spectacular Jurassic coast of Dorset, I was locked down, at Ryan’s family’s in London. Our work was closed, and Ryan was lucky enough to be furloughed, unlike me, as I’d only been there for 3 weeks. We’d been living on a holiday park, which also had to close, and in one short swift swoop, I’d lost another job and a home. Fuck this year.

No matter how bad things are though, I am definitely grateful for what I do have. Ryan’s family in an 80-minute drive away, and his step dad was happy to let us stay for the duration. My boss has reassured me that there would be a job for me once things re-open, we should be able to move back to where we were living, and hopefully we’ll have been able to lower transmission enough to be able to enjoy Christmas with family. Unless of course the opposite is true, and we haven’t been able lower transmission, and we aren’t allowed to re-open. If this drags on, who knows if I’ll even have a job to go back to?

The scariest thing of all, is that this is unlikely to be our last lockdown. The UK was stable through July and August, and things started spinning out of control at the beginning of September, when schools and universities went back. We know that this time around it’s the younger generation that are spreading the disease, so for me it seems unfathomable that these places have been allowed to stay open, whilst the rest of us are suffering. We lost control in about seven weeks from the beginning of September to when we SHOULD have re-entered lockdown, in late October. If we re-open on the 2nd of December as expected, realistically, we’ll be in the same position again by February. It seems this cycle of releasing restrictions and letting cases rise until the NHS can no longer cope, and then reintroducing lockdown, will be with until a vaccine is rolled out.

For now, we have two more weeks of lockdown, which will go as quickly as the first two did. I have reached a point now where the constant turmoil is seriously getting me down. The regular switching between having a job and not, and inability to plan more than a month ahead is crippling. So many people ask ‘so what are your plans?’ and my only option is to reply by saying ‘getting through the year’. Surviving. And the reality is that this is what life in 2020 has become for many of us. This time last year I was just finishing work in Iceland, gazing up at the magic of the aurora and mesmerised by the thick layer of snow everywhere. I was getting ready for four months of travelling, without a care in the world. Only a year later, I and millions of others, have been reduced to mere survival. What a year.