Hey all you cool cats and kittens.
Yes, if March was a person it would be goddamn Carole Baskin down in Florida.
If you haven’t watched Tiger King yet, you’re probably wondering if I’ve lost my mind.
If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you’re probably aware that I did a long time ago.
I’d love to start off this post by saying wow, I couldn’t have predicted what happened in March.
Except, I kind of predicted it all.
Let me tell you a little bit about what it’s like to have anxiety. The definition of this disorder is persistent, irrational thoughts.
I was panicking about the coronavirus in mid-January. When Wuhan went into lockdown, I was announcing to Dave that the whole world would be next; that this would wipe out the boomers; that this was going to destroy our businesses. I joined the coronavirus subreddit when it had just 3,000 members and I absorbed as much information as I could. I was convinced that this was the big one; this was going to change the world and it was going to kill so many people.
I don’t identify as having an anxiety disorder anymore — I haven’t had symptoms for years — but this situation made me feel like I was 18 and catastrophising again.
But here’s the thing about suffering from anxiety: those fears never, ever come true.
It’s why travel cured me of my disorder. Every single day while I was on the road, I’d wake up and fill my mind with concerns: was I going to have an allergic reaction to the unfamiliar breakfast at this hostel? Was I going to be kidnapped and raped as I explored this city alone? Was I going to get lost and never find my way back to this dorm room? Would I say something weird in the hostel common room and have everybody hate me? Would a reader spot me while I was exploring and think I was stuck-up because I’m reserved and quiet? Would somebody mug me for my expensive camera? Would my website get hacked while I was out exploring for the day?
Yeah, it was exhausting.
And none of those things ever happened.
So, when your brain is continually filling itself to the brim with very irrational fears and those fears are never proven to actually happen, eventually you stop having those thoughts. It really was the main cure for my anxiety: flinging myself out into the world with a head full of worries, learning none of them were rational, then no longer creating them.
And then coronavirus happened.
Me: “It’s going to wipe out everybody’s parents! We need to cancel all of our travel plans and hide away for a year! We need to get your family to stay inside!”
Dave: “Lauren, it hasn’t even travelled outside of China. Only 20 people are dead.”
Me: “People you know are going to die!”
Me: “The mainstream media is underreacting! Nobody is taking this seriously!”
In mid-January, I cancelled my travel plans.
I never really announced it publicly because I was still convinced I was experiencing an anxiety flare-up that was filling my mind with impossible outcomes. I didn’t want to seem like I was being dramatic, especially when every travel blogger I knew and respected was still travelling and writing updates about how everyone should calm down and keep their travel plans.
From February, I was supposed to road trip around Western Australia for two weeks, head to Singapore for a week, meet a friend in Vietnam and hang out on the beach in Da Nang for two weeks, jet to a new Thai island for a couple of weeks, head back to India to wander around the south, and then fly to the U.K. sometime around mid-April.
Instead, Dave and I decided to spend February in Melbourne to try to figure out what to do.
It was one of the harder decisions of my life. We could stay in Melbourne, fly back to the U.K., or head for the calming shores of New Zealand.
I felt that flying back to the U.K. made the most amount of sense. We have a house in Bristol that we pay rent on and that’s full of our belongings. We could live there indefinitely. We’re in the healthcare system.
The downside was that the U.K. was most likely to be hit hardest by COVID-19. A month ago, cases were starting to skyrocket in Europe while remaining fairly low-key in Oceania. Was it a really stupid decision to return to a country that was about to go into lockdown for months and have hundreds of thousands of cases?
So, should we stay in Melbourne, where we have the greatest number of friends and family? The disadvantage to this was knowing we had already travelled for three months while paying rent on our place back in Bristol. If this lasted for a year, we’d be spending so much money on a house we weren’t living in while making little income. And plus, I had already used one month of my three-month tourist visa — what would happen in two months when my visa ran out? I didn’t want to get deported from the country on a coronavirus-filled flight or chucked out to Christmas Island.
The main benefit to staying in Australia was not having to board a plane and travel when that was the last thing I wanted to do. It felt so risky.
But of course, New Zealand was an option. Safe, wonderful New Zealand. I could get a six month visa on arrival, we could live in the family holiday home in peaceful Hanmer Springs, the country was taking it seriously, and was widely believed to be one of the best countries to wait out an apocalypse. There had only been a handful of cases in the country at that time, and it felt like a sensible place to be. But there was still the question of rent — with Dave and I no longer making much money from our sites, how could we justify spending so much on rent in Bristol while we weren’t there?
We even considered separating. I wanted to head to the U.K. while Dave was leaning more towards to New Zealand. The big fear was that, if this ended up lasting for something like 18 months, would we have to go that long without seeing each other again? That was a scary prospect.
In the end, we decided to go back to the U.K. together.
Even though it felt like flying into the eye of the storm, we bought a plane ticket and rushed back home.
I think it was the right decision.
So, how does it feel to have my predictions come true?
Kind of awful? Kind of terrible? Kind of weird? Kind of unbelievable?
Yup, all four.
In fact, it’s been infuriating, because I’ve felt like the girl who cried danger. Back in early-March, I simply could not get my parents to take me seriously as I begged and pleaded with them to stop leaving the house. They’ve dealt with 20 years of my histrionics — how could I convince them that this time it’s really, really serious and not just my anxiety speaking?
For the most part, though, I’m calm. That’s kind of funny — but I guess anxiety is all about irrational thought processes. When there’s a freaking pandemic rampaging through the world, I’m like, aaaand exhale.
I practice gratitude, I get my work done, I read books, I cook meals from my travels, I meditate, I workout. Occasionally, the magnitude of the situation hits me and I feel like I’m living in a movie. Occasionally, I freak out over my family’s safety because I can’t control them. I flit between feeling a deep, aching sadness for the lives that have been lost and terror for my own safety as somebody with an autoimmune condition.
I’m trying to view the isolation as a gift — the least gift-like gift — as an opportunity to pursue creative outlets, to focus on things I never have the time to justify working on.
I finally hung up my magnet board above my desk and arranged all of my travel magnets on it. I’ve been collecting magnets from the countries I visit for the past three years, from places like Rwanda, Borneo, Tonga, Namibia, Ukraine, Lichtenstein, Japan, Tanzania… It serves as excellent motivation when I sit at my desk and reminisce about the incredible places I’ve travelled to.
I’m also cooking all of my favourite meals from my travels!
I’ve been talking about recreating all of my favourite dishes from my trips for years, but never really got around to putting my dream into action. This feels like the perfect time! So far, I’ve made cochinita pibil tacos and chicken tinga tamales! They were both so good and surprisingly easy to make. As an added bonus, our kitchen smelled like Mexico for the entire day.
Houseplants are my everything, and filling my home with them brings me so much joy. For Christmas, my family treated me to a bunch of gift cards for plant stores, but I immediately went travelling so wasn’t able to use them.
It was the perfect way to lift my spirits after I returned to the U.K.! I especially love my new banana plant, as it reminds me of scootering around the Philippines and taking photos of the thousands that blanket the islands.
I’ve also — very randomly — been practicing the Wim Hof Method while I’ve been back. Primarily based around taking cold showers and breathing exercises, the benefits of the method include reduced levels of depression, decreased anxiety, greater mental resilience, and improved immunity. It’s kind of exactly what I need right now.
And honestly? It’s been so enjoyable to do! It feels beneficial.
I can’t believe I now take cold showers, but let me tell you, I feel so invigorated and energised by the end of them! And the resilience and mental strength it takes to shiver in the shower, turn the temperature dial to ice cold, and then stand there and take it? I can feel myself getting stronger every day.
What I’m Doing to Give Back
When my income first started to plummet, I’ll confess I panicked like I had never panicked before.
I can’t even tell you how it feels to discover your traffic and income have dropped by 90% overnight. That the business you’ve poured your heart and soul into for a whole decade has fallen apart. That it may not recover for years. That your goals are no longer attainable.
One morning in mid-March, I woke up and realised I had made less than $20 over the past 24 hours. I extrapolated that out to $600 a month in income and freaked out. That wouldn’t even cover my share of the rent, let alone bills and food.
Soon afterwards, I learned that the British government would be paying 80% of people’s salaries to the furloughed employed and self-employed, was filled with relief, then realised that as a company director, I wouldn’t qualify for anything.
It took about a week for me to catch my breath.
Wow, talk about an inappropriate pun for the situation, Lauren.
Once the dust had settled, though, I was unexpectedly filled with gratitude.
I’m luckier than most.
I have savings. I wasn’t living paycheck to paycheck before this happened. There’s little risk I’ll be made homeless. I have an audience who love me and have contributed to my Patreon in their droves (more on that later!).
Over the past two weeks, I’ve written newsletters and blog posts titled How You Can Help multiple times, but discarded them all. It felt tone deaf; it felt disingenuous. I’m going to be okay. Others, however, are not.
So here’s what I’m doing about it.
I’m supporting my favourite independent businesses in Bristol, for starters. I’m buying gift cards galore for my favourite plant stores, cafes, and restaurants in the city. I don’t expect to use them within the next year, but I’m hoping my investment in their businesses will help keep them afloat. If you live in Bristol, here’s an extensive list of spots selling gift vouchers for you to buy.
I’m donating to charities, too. I’ve donated to the North Bristol Food Bank, Caring in Bristol — a charity for homeless people that is doing great things in the time of the coronavirus — and Changes Bristol — a mental health charity that’s currently running online support groups — to help protect the city’s most vulnerable humans.
I’m spending money on my favourite creators’ products, especially those in the travel industry. Two of my favourite travel bloggers are Alex in Wanderland and Adventurous Kate, so I immediately bought Alex’s guidebook for Koh Tao and signed up for Kate’s new Patreon. I also signed up for a Travelfish membership to support the great work they’re doing, producing unbiased content on Southeast Asia.
As an author, I know the value of a positive review, and I also know how hard it is to get one. I remember after my book launched, I’d have some weeks where I’d get an email every day from somebody telling me they adored my book, but on Amazon, I might get one three-star review.
I’m guilty of this, too — whenever I have a wonderful experience or read a good book, I’m like, oh man, that was so great, and then I just get back to my life. Whenever I stay in a terrible hotel, read an awful book, or take an awful tour, I’m like, IT IS MY DUTY TO TELL EVERYBODY HOW MUCH THIS SUCKED.
In lockdown, I’m spreading the positivity. I’m working my way through my bookshelf and leaving positive reviews for my favourite books. I’m publishing reviews for my favourite hotels in the world. I’m sharing how much I love my favourite cafes and restaurants on Google and TripAdvisor. I’m writing reviews for products I love on Amazon. When I can’t afford to financially support everybody in the world, this feels like the next best thing.
I’m making my own products more accessible, too.
From today, my travel anxiety course is now donation-based. I usually charge $49 for access to the course, but from today, you can pay whatever you want for it. Can’t afford to pay anything? That’s okay! Want to give me $1000 for it? You can do that, too! (Please don’t do that.) This course covers absolutely everything I know about travelling with anxiety, but it has plenty of gems for handling anxiety in general. In these scary times, I want to help as many people as possible, so feel free to dive in and have a read. I’ve spent months working so freaking hard on making this resource the best it can possibly be, and I’m really proud of the product.
I’ve also decided to make some of my Patreon stories public.
I started a Patreon because I wanted to have an outlet for my creative work. I’ve been having so much fun over there, sharing some of the most ridiculous untold stories from my travels. Every month, I aim to share around 10 travel narratives to my Patreon page — one long-form and written as though it was an additional chapter to my book, and 10ish shorter stories.
Some of my supporters on Patreon reached out to suggest that I offer some of those stories for free over here. Side note: you guys are the best! I thought it sounded like a great idea, for two reasons:
- The world is bleak and I want to provide a silly distraction from the doom and gloom that’s taking over the internet
- To give you guys an idea of the type of content I’m posting over there. If you’ve been on the fence about signing up, this is a way for you to see whether it’s something you want to join.
For the next week only, I’ve made four of my favourite Patreon stories open to be read by anyone. Here they are:
- That Time I Wet Myself on the Streets of Nepal
- Did I Just Meet an Indian Psychic?
- The Hottest Drive of My Life
- I Travelled the World With Chronic Hiccups
If you enjoy the stories and want to read more, you can support my creative work on Patreon here. It costs $5 a month to do so. This is close to being my main income source these days, so your support will be so appreciated.
Highlights of the Month
Your outpouring of love and support: I love my readers. And when I shared a nerve-wracking update on Facebook about my loss of income, you responded by helping me hit 100 patrons on Patreon!
Yes, I hit a hundred supporters! Yay! That’s been a big goal from the very beginning.
But you guys should be celebrating too, because that means I’ve hit one of my big Patreon-based goals. I announced at launch that once I hit 100 patrons, I’m going to start publishing twice a week on Never Ending Footsteps. That starts this week.
I’m also hoping to start sharing more personal stories on Patreon this month. I have so many ideas for posts to write!
Having the freedom to take control: I feel so lucky to work from home and to be able to choose to isolate myself from the moment I realised this pandemic was something I didn’t want to expose myself to. At a time when both of my parents have been identified as key workers — my mum as a freaking office administrator in a school — I realise my situation could be far worse and a lot scarier.
Celebrating my dad’s birthday: When the cheapest flight out of Melbourne happened to coincide with my dad’s birthday, it felt like fate. And even though Dave and I were exhausted, it was so wonderful to celebrate the occasion with my family. I even managed to pick up some souvenirs from my travels to bring home for him!
Lowlights of the Month
Discovering I don’t qualify for a COVID-19 grant: In the U.K., self-employed and regularly employed people, for the most part, are having 80% of their salary paid by the government to cover them through this challenging period. Directors of limited companies? Nothing! Unfortunately, I belong to that last group.
It’s a little frustrating to realise that if I’d stayed self-employed, rather than starting a company, I’d be in a far better financial situation over the coming months!
The fear that this might destroy my business: I’m hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. So, I’m concerned. My worst-case scenario is regular lockdowns of the world for the next two years, with very little travel taking place. I would then expect it to take three or four years for my traffic and income to return to its previous levels. In this situation, I would be pretty, uh, screwed. The environment, however, would probably be doing a lot better, let’s be honest.
So, I have to ponder whether I should start a new business entirely. Powering through with this site only for things to not get better would be a terrible financial decision.
But I have to have hope.
I have to believe that things will get better. And I don’t want to abandon you guys — my beloved readers and community — who helped give me this life that I treasure so much. I love the work I do here and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
But also, I can’t work for nothing for years on end.
People used to ask me what my back-up plan was. What I would do if travel blogging disappeared. What my exit strategy was.
Every single time, I would just shrug and shake my head. I didn’t want to do anything but this.
For now, then, I’m sticking with the norm. My traffic has plateaued, my income is a little better than I’d expected, and isolation is giving me the perfect opportunity to churn out as much new content as possible. And I promise all new content will be light-hearted and have absolutely nothing to do with the coronavirus.
The longest of flights: When I decided that I needed to leave Australia immediately to head back home, I looked for the quickest route back that I could find. That was a Qatar Airways flight from Melbourne to Doha to London.
It was a flight that involved 25 hours of travel. Fifteen hours from Melbourne to Doha, a two hour layover, then seven hours to London.
Wow, that was a challenge, both physically and mentally.
Incidents of the Month
So, yeah. I was determined not to catch coronavirus, and I decided the best way to do so was to cover every single transmission path for the majority of the flight.
Yes, for 24 hours, this was mostly what I looked like.
Still, at least, I wasn’t using my airplane eyemask for protection, like the lady beside me.
The Next Month
A month ago, I was berating myself for being overdramatic about a situation that nobody seemed concerned about.
And then March happened.
We don’t know what the future is going to hold for the world right now, but I’m fairly certain things are going to get worse in April.
In these times, I’m trying to do what I can to help others and practicing extreme self-care. I’m staying at home, obviously, but I’m still doing everything I listed above. Supporting artists, supporting the vulnerable, and trying to ensure this site remains a place of escapism, about the wonders of travel.
I’ve got lots of exciting blog post ideas for the coming months.
How are you guys holding up? How dramatic was your March?