First a confession – our quarantine was harder than we thought it would be! We know how to stay in isolation, but a quarantine is harder than just staying isolated. The reason it was challenging for us was that we started our isolation period after traveling for over 16 hours and we were adjusting to an 8 hour time change. Being out in natural light every day and taking walks are two key ingredients for getting over jet lag and adjusting to a significant time change. Without walks or enough natural light for 14 days the body gets confused and people can get a bit cranky.
A few months ago we mentioned to some friends that we might take another international trip this winter, either in England or Mexico. Those friends invited us into their community in southern England and they also sweetened the deal by promising to do our grocery shopping during quarantine. That was an offer we couldn’t refuse!
We first met this amazing couple, also in the FIRE community and also people who love travel, when we were all in Thailand last year. Since then we have continued to meetup in different locations around the world and we chat on a regular basis. It’s weird to think that was only last year because 2019 seems like a million years ago now!
England’s Quarantine Rules
The rules for entry into England: “When you arrive in the UK, you must travel directly to the place you are staying and not leave until 14 days have passed since you were last in a non-exempt country or territory (the USA).”
48 hours before we were due to arrive in England we were each required to submit a Passenger Locator Form online. The form clarified that we were required to quarantine since we were coming from a non-exempt country or territory (the USA). It included the date we would be arriving, our passport details, our flight information, the address we would be staying at during our quarantine period, and contact information for our local friends in case of an emergency. The government could use the information submitted in this online form to do spot checks and make sure we were following the quarantine rules. They could also use that information to trace exposure.
That all sounds interesting to us since there’s nothing like that going on in the USA. But to be fair, the UK’s test, track and isolate system is far from perfect. It’s reassuring to know they at least have a system and rules. But we would have loved it if someone from the government contacted us during our quarantine period. We would have thought it was cool if a field agent showed up at our door to check on us and log the fact that we took our quarantine seriously.
We were curious to compare our quarantine in England with what some friends have experienced in other places. Our friends currently living in Taiwan had a much more serious quarantine period a few months ago that included interacting with government officials through a phone app, phone calls, and even a visit from a field agent at their door. We also have a friend currently living in Abu Dhabi who is in a very strict quarantine right now, complete with a COVID-19 PCR test plus she’s wearing a tracking bracelet with the promise of a big fine if she leaves her apartment. Wow! Those are two great examples of more serious quarantine programs.
Now that we’ve had this experience here in England it does feel like the UK’s quarantine requirement is more of an honor system rather than a serious quarantine. But again, at least they have a system and rules for us to follow here. That’s a hell of a lot better than nothing, which is what we have in the USA.
What Was Our Quarantine Really Like?
Honestly, it wasn’t all that interesting. Kind of like watching the sand fall in an hourglass. It definitely felt a lot longer than just 14 days. For the first week we were restless and overtired with jet lag and we adjusted very slowly to the local time. We tried not to obsess over what was happening with COVID-19 or politics back in the USA, and being in England helped a lot with that.
We left the USA the morning of Tuesday October 6th. We arrived at our place in England the morning of Wednesday the 7th after around 16 hours of travel. We started our quarantine period on Wednesday the 7th, “the day after we left a non-exempt country (the USA)” and we stayed in self-isolation for 14 days from the 7th until the 20th. We experienced zero symptoms during our quarantine and now we are free to get out and run around as of Wednesday the 21st of October. Hooray!
The most interesting part of our quarantine was when our friends stopped by to drop off groceries, which they did four times. We loved when they modified and added things beyond what we put on our list. The bacon flavored corn crisps (chips) were kind of strange and so were the chocolatey-orange biscuits (cookies). But the tikka masala, different kinds of beer, and stuffed chicken breasts were fabulous! Best of all was when they surprised us with treats from the local bakery. We still need to ask them where we can find those apple donuts and croissants they bought the other day!
Cooking during quarantine was lots of fun since our friends supplied us with some great ingredients. The best thing I cooked was probably the chicken tikka masala dish. The weirdest thing I cooked was definitely the grilled cheese sandwich with fried gerkins and grilled onions (I’ve decided not to repeat that one). Alison did much better with her breakfast cooking. I especially loved the apple tart for desert last night and again for breakfast this morning!
During quarantine we entertained ourselves by unpacking things and figuring out where our favorite spots were around the apartment. We also walked up and down the stairs, a lot. And we rearranged things like we always do! There’s no way for us to be happy in a double bed for a month since Alison is 6’3” and has a wing span to match. We can handle it for a couple of days but that’s about it.
Our home during quarantine had a double bed on the third floor, and a twin bed plus a set of bunk beds on the second floor. I think we slept in the double bed twice, worrying one of us might fall out, and then we got to work fixing the problem. Ideally we could have added the twin bed with it’s frame next to the double bed, but there wasn’t enough space for that. Luckily the two mattresses fit perfectly with no frames though. It helped that the double bed frame is in two pieces, so we could stack them together in the only open corner of the room and put our bags on top.
Once we were all settled in and comfortable we started doing some planning. We usually put post it notes on walls and also write all over the windows with our dry erase markers. Since we were craving sunlight during quarantine we didn’t put any marks on the windows for fear of losing a speck of natural light. Instead we focused on post its. The first set of notes we put up was a countdown for our 14 day quarantine period. Alison wanted to take one off each day, and I wanted to see all of them up there without losing past days. So we compromised by moving the completed days up a few inches every night before bed.
A couple of days ago we started working on a second set of post it notes representing a milestone calendar from October 2020 through the end of 2021. We’ve started adding notes for important projects we want to work on and finish by a certain time, like finishing our tax preparations and figuring out our new plan for health insurance. We’re just getting started on this planning wall and we’ll definitely reconstruct it in our November Airbnb and keep adding to it after we move next month (about 400 ft to the north of our current place).
One of the other things we did during quarantine was plan for some adventures after we are allowed to get out and run around. We have three full months on this island after we finish quarantine and we hope to see a lot of those sights during our stay. Alison ordered bus passes online since we’ll be on the Isle of Wight for three months and they arrived very quickly. It was fun to get mail at our Airbnb! This island has a ton of things we can do including historic sites, beaches, hiking trails, a royal palace, a historic castle, and some fabulous areas for bird watching.
Would We Do This Again?
To be honest, we both thought it was surprisingly hard to be indoors for 14 days. We could tell that affected our ability to sleep and our moods as well. We can only imagine how hard it has been for our friends and family to stay indoors this year for 14 days (or much longer) either because they actually tested positive with COVID-19 or because they are at very high risk for contracting the virus. Our hearts go out to everyone who dealt with much longer periods of isolation and not by choice!
The answer is yes! If we could go back in time and replan this trip, deciding whether to go to Mexico with no quarantine requirement or to England with a quarantine requirement, we would still take this trip to England. We love visiting this country and it feels new and different to be here. We can hardly wait to spend time with our island friends and enjoy social distance visits with them. We also have a friend who lives just across the water in Portsmouth who has promised to come over for a social distance visit (or hopefully a few) while we’re here. We’re also excited to be in England rather than Mexico this winter because it will feel like a real winter here and we haven’t been anywhere cold during winter in years. We’re also grateful to be in England because it’s separate from North America and we wanted a bigger change for this trip.
We’re tracking the COVID-19 numbers in our location and as of today there are 3 cases per 100,000 people on the Isle of Wight. We’re very happy to be exactly where we are right now!
Up in northern England in Manchester there are 62 cases per 100,000 people, which is why they are implementing Tier 3 level restrictions according to the UK’s national plan for managing COVID-19. We also track virus numbers back in the USA and as of today there are 23.8 cases per 100,000 people in Coconino County where we just bought a house. And up in North Dakota there are currently 91.9 cases per 100,000 people, where only one city has a face mask mandate they just implemented two days ago. And of course there’s still no national plan for managing COVID-19 in the USA.
We’re planning to stay in the town of Cowes on the Isle of Wight until January 11, 2021. This year on Alison’s birthday, which is just a couple of days away, we’re having fresh local seafood from a restaurant a couple of blocks away. Thinking about that plan reminds us of our first trip to England together in 2014, when we celebrated Alison’s birthday at a restaurant called Rule’s in London. That was our first trip away from North America. It was also the trip that sparked our decision to travel full time in 2019 and 2020.
We actually just returned from spending our first morning out walking around the town. It was raining and it was fabulous to be out in the fresh air and cool breeze! We woke up at 6AM local time feeling excited to get outside. We walked along the seawall for a few miles and then took a side trip through some woods. Then we turned back towards town and found a spot to get takeaway fish and chips from a window. After that we stopped at a grocery store for a few things, both food and finally a bottle of Scotch Whisky! Then we visited the fish shop around the corner from our Airbnb and got fresh crab and shrimp for tonight’s dinner. All of that before 2PM! Not bad for our first day out.
For the next few months while we’re in England we’ll stay isolated. We’ll wear face masks in shops and around other people. We’ll take tons of walks. And we’ll celebrate Alison’s birthday, American Thanksgiving, Christmas, the New Year, and hopefully also a couple of major changes in American politics!