How Coronavirus Helped This Full-time Traveler Rediscover the Power in Staying Still

 A travel writer shares her experience being forced to sit still while on lockdown in Vietnam.

Hanoi, Vietnam skyline
Photo: Nguyenhieu2206/Getty Images

I’ve been living out of suitcases for 713 days. A red-brick Away checked hard case plus carry-on, to be precise. My partner and I left our New York City apartment in June of 2018 and have been traveling the world ever since.

Whether we’re in Bali or Chile, we spend the majority of our nights in hotel rooms and the occasional Airbnb. We arrived in Vietnam on January 12th, before COVID-19 spread around the world. As borders quickly shut, flights became limited and Vietnam continued to control the virus, we decided to wait it out there.

Hanoi, Vietnam street
NicolasMcComber/Getty Images

Instead of staying in a tiny hotel room for weeks on end, while the country was in mandatory lockdown, we decided to rent a one-bedroom apartment — the most living space we’d had in nearly two years.

There was enough room to unpack our suitcases, to hang our clothes inside actual closets, and properly store our bags. It even came with a washing machine, a luxury we never had in our Brooklyn apartment.

Far away from our families, friends, and the comforts of home, we made a temporary one in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city.

The apartment’s sectional sofa has become my office, Tiger King binging station, and lunch table. I spent the majority of my days there, only getting up to shower, stretch, and take our daily walk to the local supermarket for whatever was fresh.

During Vietnam’s quarantine, the repetition of my days wasn’t boring — it was comforting. I looked forward to my morning ritual: turning on the TV for background noise and answering all the emails that accumulated overnight.

Occasionally, I exercised. In our spacious apartment, I had more than enough room to work out, something we always did in a local gym near our accommodation. Whether it's a free Barry’s class or Orangetheory, I could spread out on the wooden floor to stretch and work my muscles that nearly atrophied from sitting for so long.

When it was time to write, I assumed my position on the couch, and my partner took his business calls in the other room with the door shut. It seems like a small thing, but we’ve always had to coordinate his phone calls when we’re staying in one-room accommodation, especially if they start at 6 a.m.

If I got restless or my focus started to evaporate, which happened more often than not, I got up and walked through our bedroom to our tiny balcony on the fifth floor. It's where we did our laundry and watched our short-term neighbors chat through their masks as motorbikes whizzed by below us.

Vietnamese Home Cooked Food
Katie Lockhart

Then, once dinner time rolled around, cooking in our little kitchen became a way to ease my anxiety and wind down the day. I made comforting meals, like spaghetti bolognese from scratch; a recipe I made often at our old apartment in Brooklyn. I also experimented with new dishes, ones I’ve learned in cooking classes I’ve taken along my travels, like caramelized pork and eggplant from Hoi An.

But our temporary apartment wasn’t just a safe and familiar place to wait out the effects of the virus. It was a place for me to feel closer to home; closer to my family and friends during a time when things are so unpredictable, and the date when I’ll see them again unknown.

Although I couldn’t join the latest sourdough baking trend (most Asian kitchens don’t have ovens), I documented my meal prep, cooking, and the finished products, like my friends were doing on Instagram. I organized Zoom calls from across the world with my best friends and video chats with my parents on our apartment’s speedy WiFi.

On occasions when I didn’t feel like cooking, we’d order from one of Hanoi’s food delivery services. We found Western-style restaurants and cafes delivering pizza, BLTs, Greek salads, burgers, cookies, and banana bread —another baking trend I couldn’t join in on. But that didn’t matter, the tastes of home were enough.

In Vietnam, quarantine ended on April 22 and, since then, we’ve been able to travel north to Mu Cang Chai and Sapa. I’ll admit that at first, I missed quarantining in our apartment, so, when we swung back through Hanoi on our way south, we immediately booked it for a week-long stay. As soon as we walked in the door and slipped off our shoes, it felt like we were back home again.

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