Expats, Over 50 Travel

Coping With Expat Journey Interrupted

On December 30th, 2019 we moved out our little ocean view apartment in California. When I say moved, we left with nothing but 4 suitcases and a few carry-on items. We had sold everything we owned with the exception of 2 small suitcases of life long memories, kids artwork, report cards, etc. Years of preparing to live as expats, we had manage to simplify life, our dream was now in the final phase and we had just 3 and a half months before we would depart on our Norwegian flight to France on April 18, 2020 where we would begin our new life as expat retirees. This is the story of how our expat journey was interrupted and how we managed to adapt to becoming real nomads.

The World Came To A Standstill

We were happy and excited, living temporarily in our little AirBNB. We gave ourselves time to tie up any loose ends and wind our business down. However, a heavy cloud was looming on the horizon. I clearly remember the day when our son sent us a video of the sounds coming from Wuhan, China as people who had been locked down for several days were trying to make communication with the outside world. Food was running out. That is the moment I had a sinking feeling that what whatever this was could upend our plans to be expats living abroad.

As this dark cloud began to grow, picking up speed on a daily basis, governments were scrambling to maintain control over this new and deadly virus. Governments around the world began closing their boarders as this virus entered undetected into their countries. A few weeks later our flight to Europe was canceled. We wouldn’t be going anywhere. My worst fears of having our expat plans destroyed were now beginning to fully materialize. We canceled our month long reservation in the little town of Caen, France in the Normandy region right away. Both the airlines and AirBNB along with the landlord of the property we had rented all refunded us fully without question. But this begs the question, what do we do now?

Caen France where our expat life would begin. CLICK for more information.

No Place To Call Home

Our plans to stay in an AirBNB were only scheduled to last 3 months, and once Timo retired end of March, we were now on retirement income and could no longer afford the price of an AirBNB, even a little one. We ended up staying with my old roommate who graciously opened up her home to us. With a roof over our heads we settled down to wait and see how this now very deadly virus would dictate our future. That stop lasted 3 months. As retirees we were really living as nomads. No place to call home for now.

Might As Well Do Something Constructive

There we sat in Orange County, California, now 3 months behind schedule in our expat journey. Timo decided he was going to replace a knee that had been a problem for years. He had figured he would take care of it in Europe since he is an EU citizen, but why not just do it now since we were already doing a lot of sitting around while distancing.

Just to be safe since even in this many months in no one was really sure how the virus was spread so we decided that we should move into a hotel. Timo needed to be kept completely isolated from any chance at all of contracting the virus while he recovered from the surgery. We rented an extended stay for 6 weeks with a little kitchenette. His surgery went off without a hitch. Recovery was rough, he was in a lot of pain and I spent about 5+ weeks sleeping on an air mattress on the floor. I was starting to feel the stress of the nomadic life about now. Bad enough to be in lockdown, but to have no comforts of home, I was feeling a little frayed.

The Flood

About 2 weeks after Timo’s surgery, he was feeling much better, but still exhausted. We were sitting watching TV one evening in our hotel room and I hear the sound of running water. I investigated, looked in the freezer at the icemaker, found nothing. Timo, the plumber said it sounded like there was water running down a sewer pipe, maybe someone above us was showering. I wasn’t sure that made sense, because the loudest noise was coming from a wall next to the closet. A few minutes later, I was compelled to investigate again. This time I spot a drop of water dripping from the light fixture in the bathroom and there are now 2 bubbles of water filled paint over the bathtub. The water I heard running was a leak somewhere above us!

Timo gets up to investigate more, going to turn on the light in the kitchen, just darkness. In minutes. In just minutes of me first hearing the water running, we had no lights, and he is now standing in about a half inch of water where there had been none a couple of minutes before. Within moments water starts dripping from the light fixture in the kitchen.

Water in the hallway, right outside of our door.

The Race To Save Our Stuff

Literally everything we owned was in that hotel room. Our 4 suitcases of clothing, our computers and most of all, ALL of our photography equipment and this is how we planned to support ourselves in our retirement. The water was beginning to pour from the ceiling now, how long did we have before the ceiling potentially fell? Timo poked a hole in the ceiling over the bathtub to let some of the water out in a hope that the drywall would not be saturated.

In my pajamas, I threw on a mask and ran down to the office in search of help. The office person had no idea how to shut the water off and the maintenance person had the night off. I grabbed a luggage cart and we were given a key to another room on the second floor. Timo took off, hobbling with his cane to try and locate the water main shut off. A couple of minutes later someone knocked on our door with an entire hotel laundry cart full of towels and threw them on the floor to soak up water and then left.

I started throwing our possessions on to the cart made more difficult by the pile of wet towels on the floor. Electronics and photography equipment first, running in my now wet PJs to our room on the second floor. Timo after walking the entire perimeter with his cane, could not locate the water shut off. He grabbed another luggage cart and started loading up. I passed him with his load in the hall as I was going for my second load. A few minutes later he calls and his key to the new room doesn’t work and he feels like he is going to pass out from exhaustion.

About now I am exhausted too, but there was at least a couple more loads. Trying to do this on any given day would be hard, try it while wearing a COVID mask. I was suffocating. Timo had propped himself against the wall but was pale and drenched in sweat and water. He needed to stop and sit down. I had to finish this on my own.

A few more loads and I had everything important out. Shaking from fatigue and near tears, I put on dry clothes and crawled on to my air mattress at about 2:00 AM.

With about 4 more weeks of recovery time, we just huddled in our little hotel room trying to stay safe from COVID.

Where Would This Journey Take Us Next?

We couldn’t just stay hold up in a hotel room, it was way out of our budget. Staying in Southern California on our retirement income just wasn’t in the budget either. In the August heat with COVID at record highs we decide to make a really BIG move. The rest of our journey coming soon. Follow us so you don’t miss the adventures of our new nomadic life during a worldwide pandemic. A hint, Lysol spray & Clorox wipes.

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6 thoughts on “Coping With Expat Journey Interrupted

  1. Rebecca, this is a terrible start to a new beginning! I hope things have gotten better for you!

  2. Oh, my goodness! What a nightmare. Most of us just worried about cancelled vacations (a two week river cruise down the length of France) but having your life plans put on hold is terrible. The pressure of moving to a new country is bad enough, but then having all those plans cancelled must have been terrible. I’ll have to read the rest of the story now on your blog!

    1. Yeah it was a bit of a nightmare for sure. But good news is that we have remained healthy so far. Yay!

  3. OMG, what a story Rebecca – incredible! I very rarely have the patience of reading a long article, but with yours, I just couldn’t stop. And of course it’s not over yet. *Well, I don’t want to expose here my opinion on this covid, but it’s too crazy. How come just a virus can destroy dreams, and even lives… Anyway, you have a writing talent, and with your beautiful photos, you will succeed for sure in maybe fulfilling your dream differently… sometimes I thing that things happen for a reason. Who knows? I’ll go and read the continuation of your story 🙂

    1. What a crazy year that was and we are still feeling a little gun shy, you know waiting for the other shoe to drop.

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