Merry Christmas from Portugal

Merry Christmas from Portugal. Yes, we finally escaped the UK winter, not to Vietnam as we’d planned but back to our former home in the Algarve. This wasn’t where we thought we’d end up but as the year comes to a close, we’re just grateful to be anywhere other than the UK. It’s been a strange year, that’s for sure.

Us with Covid masks on the train to the airport

However, I know that compared to many people, we’re  fortunate to have gotten through 2020 relatively unscathed. Despite working in the travel industry, I’ve managed to scrape together work, we’re both healthy and have families that have helped with our housing issues this year. To everyone that’s really suffering: I hope 2021 brings better days.

Vietnam fails and Covid scares

November was a bleak month for us, starting with another UK-wide lockdown as the days grew shorter, darker and colder. At that point, we were putting all our energy into getting to Hanoi. We’d spent around £500 preparing documents for our language centre and finally had our visa approval from the Vietnamese government. Our departure was arranged for the 30th and it felt like the stars were aligning – until our flight was cancelled.

After a near emotional breakdown and frustrating calls to the airline, we found out that we could re-book on a special flight for visa holders at the beginning of December that would cost around $1,000 per person, one way. Add that to the $1,500 quarantine hotel in Hanoi and extra Covid PCR costs and we were seriously doubting we’d make any money back with the Vietnamese school year ending in May. Then my family caught Covid.

Armacao de Pera, Algarve

Suddenly, the virus that had been disrupting all our lives for the past year was right on our doorstep. The reality of it hit home, literally, as my Dad and my brother’s family (who are teachers and in a childcare support bubble with my parents) tested positive for Covid. Given that Andrew and I were living with my parents, we went into self-isolation. Remarkably, we tested negative, along with my Mum, but that almost made things more difficult as we had to isolate in separate areas of the house while worrying that my Dad, in his mid-60s, could get seriously ill.

Thankfully, everyone recovered and we somehow managed to avoid catching Covid, testing negative again at the end of our self-isolation period. It was a nightmarish time though and the whole situation really set off my OCD, brought on a bout of insomnia and caused so much anxiety. At the end of it all, we were more desperate to get away than ever.

Escaping to Portugal

Up until then, I’d spent months mentally preparing for a move back to Asia. I was excited for the chaos, colour and energy of Hanoi. We’d finally be able to afford our own apartment again, we’d both have stable jobs and be living in almost a pre-Covid culture given that Vietnam has all but eliminated the virus. After a year of uncertainty and having no home of our own, feeling like a burden staying with family and worrying about the future, we just wanted our independence back. I wanted to feel like I was living my own life again.

Beach in the Algarve, Portugal

In the end though, we had to face up to the financial facts. Getting to Vietnam was going to cost close to $5,000. By the time we had quarantined, work wouldn’t start till January and we’d have just a few months of the school year left to earn back what we’d spent. With our Tiny House scheduled for completion in the summer, we couldn’t commit to a longer stay either. So, we finally had to admit defeat and pull the plug on our Vietnam plans.

Once lockdown ended at the beginning of December, we knew we had a limited time to get out of the UK. It was obvious with the way the virus was spiralling and plans to let people mingle at Christmas that another lockdown would come soon. So, we made a list of destinations that were allowing Brits in and searched for flights and apartments on Airbnb. Portugal came up as the best bet.

Being back in the Algarve

When we left the Algarve in summer 2019, after nine months of living and working here, we had no plans to return. Obviously, we couldn’t have predicted what 2020 would bring and how the world would change. As the plane swooped in to land at Faro airport what I felt was just overwhelming relief. I’m so grateful to be anywhere other than the UK, especially now that this new mutant strain of the virus has emerged and the UK has been effectively cut-off from the world and plunged into lockdown again.

Rock formation on Praia de Rocha, Algarve

We were so lucky to get away when we did and we plan to stay away for as long as we can. Of course, we have Brexit looming too – the icing on the cake of this epically awful year – but for now we’re just enjoying some peace and stillness. Unlike in the UK, we can afford to rent an apartment here so we have our own space to live and work remotely. I’m fortunate to have picked up more freelance work and Andrew has an online tutoring job lined up for January.

The Covid rate in Portugal, especially the Algarve, is low and we can easily keep ourselves to ourselves. Most days we’re just in the apartment working or out walking on the beaches, staying socially distanced and wearing masks when we’re in shops. Christmas will be just us cooking and watching Netflix, with a few family Skype calls and a walk on the windswept stretch of sand just outside of our apartment. We’re certainly seeing the Algarve with new eyes and appreciating its beauty and seclusion more than ever.

Looking ahead to 2021

With the world in Covid ruins and Brexit poised to cause all kinds of chaos, I’m reluctant to make any real plans for 2021. So far, we know that our Tiny House will be ready by autumn and we’ll need to be back in the UK to get that towed to a suitable plot (which is still yet to be determined). We also have a tentative London housesit booked for June. Since we can both work remotely though, we’re not rushing back to the UK before then.

Sunset in the Algarve, Portugal

Things will change again in January though, when the UK leaves the EU for good. From then, we’ll have just 90 days to spend in EU countries over the next six months. That means we’re going to have to go to a non-EU country for a while, assuming we can get to one given Covid and travel restrictions. For now, we’re in Portugal until the end of January and then hoping to go to Albania perhaps for a couple of months. We want to  save some of our precious EU days for a stint in Greece when the weather warms up in Spring. We’ll see how things go.

Here’s hoping that with the vaccine in play, 2021 is going to be better for everyone. We wish you all a safe and peaceful holiday season, wherever you are in the world.

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13 Comments
  • Patti
    Posted at 20:49h, 24 December Reply

    Merry Christmas Amy & Andrew. I’m so glad you found your happy place back on the Algarve. It is truly a beautiful spot and it’s nice you can feel good about it again.

    There are no words to describe the seemingly chaotic state in which we are all living. I am holding on to hope for 2021, but at the same time I can’t begin to fathom what life will be like in a year from now, let alone trying to pick up where we left off in our travels. I have days when I ache to be back on the road, or at home-away-from-home in Porto, but then I have days when I can’t even imagine going anywhere. It’s a constant emotional dance.

    All any of us can do is take one day at a time, see where this life takes us, and stay healthy.

    • Amy
      Posted at 16:19h, 27 December Reply

      Thanks Patti, it’s really good to be back. So true, it’s difficult to make any plans or imagine a world where we can travel as we used to. I really hope things improve next year and here’s hoping you can return to Porto sometime in the next couple of years. Glad you guys are staying safe and well x

  • Rhonda
    Posted at 22:58h, 26 December Reply

    Well, it sure has been a tough year all around hasn’t it. Thank goodness your family is okay, you never got sick, and you escaped to a spot where you can work and have some peace & quiet. Happy New Year!!! We shall all see what happens next, won’t we:)

    • Amy
      Posted at 16:20h, 27 December Reply

      It has Rhonda, hope you guys are doing well and making the most of your time near family. I know you’d normally be heading south at this point so this year is certainly a strange one. Stay safe and well x

  • Mel
    Posted at 06:20h, 27 December Reply

    Well, it is good news that you have found a bolt hole and are away from the UK. You are all doing it so tough – we are so lucky in Australia. While I am feeling quite trapped here, at least I can get out and about locally in relative freedom and I don’t know anyone who’s actually had Covid – my life is put in stark contrast when I read stories like yours about how the rest of the world is in such dire straits.
    So glad to hear you’ve managed to cobble together some plans. Hopefully the vaccines will start to turn the tide and the world will slowly open up once again. Take care and best of best wishes for 2021.

    • Amy
      Posted at 16:22h, 27 December Reply

      Hi Mel, so pleased to hear that you’re enjoying some freedom, it’s great to know that some countries have managed to deal with Covid better than the UK. Australia sounds like an idyllic place to be at the moment. Yes, fingers crossed for vaccines and best wishes for the new year x

  • Gilda Baxter
    Posted at 10:12h, 30 December Reply

    Amy and Andrew, I am glad to hear you are well and safe back in the Algarve. I think we are all ready to say good riddance to 2020, it has been a very strange and difficult year for every one. But like you guys, so far we have managed to stay COVID free, lets hope we can keep it that way. Happy 2021 to you both and keep well 😄

    • Amy
      Posted at 16:51h, 02 January Reply

      Happy New Year Gilda! Glad you guys are well, hope 2021 brings more motorhome fun for you in some form x

  • Shane
    Posted at 04:59h, 06 January Reply

    Amy, I hope 2021 is more respectful of your plans than 2020 was. Hang in there!

  • Donna
    Posted at 05:03h, 06 January Reply

    Sorry Amy, I don’t know why my comment above is attributed to “Shane”. I’m Donna and I didn’t notice that those were defaults that I needed to delete/modify.

    • Amy
      Posted at 16:00h, 07 January Reply

      Hi Donna, no problem! Happy New Year and yes, I hope we all have a more settled 2021 x

  • [email protected]
    Posted at 07:40h, 07 January Reply

    Hi Amy,
    Happy New Year to you & Andrew!

    I’m so pleased that you were able to get out of the UK as quickly as you did!
    As a British expat in Germany, it breaks my house to see/watch & read the UK break into some sort of chaos re Brexit, & a way forward combating the new covid strain!

    I’m pretty safe in Germany & grateful that my friends and my husband and son are healthy and that I was able to support small organisations where I could, especially those in the arts, but as I still have family in England, I’m anxious about their health and safety. They live in the countryside in Northern England, but I worry so much about them all the same.

    We went to Norway at the beginning of 2020 but cancelled all our other international travel plans for travel within Germany – the Baltic Sea, Lake Constance, the Brandenburg lakes, the Saxon Switzerland mountains – and a bit of Austria instead. Our son also went camping in a “members only” hippy commune in the countryside of East Germany!

    Let’s hope 2021 will be a better year for all.
    Enjoy your time in Portugal & take care of yourselves. xx

    • Amy
      Posted at 16:02h, 07 January Reply

      Hi Victoria, great to hear from you. Yes, we were so lucky to get out of the UK when we did. Glad to hear that you and your family are safe and have managed to get through 2020 in-tact. It’s certainly been a challenging time for the travel industry, especially as a Brit in Europe with the added shame of Brexit 🙁 Happy New Year and stay safe.

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