We arrived in central Vietnam way back in mid-February, coinciding with the beginning of the dry season. We started with a wonderful month in Hoi An. The sun and warmth really brightened our moods after coming from the cold and dreary north. When we moved 15 miles (25 km) away to Danang in mid-March, the weather got even better. It was hot and sunny everyday. Even the afternoon thunderstorm that’s a common feature in the tropics was a rare event. But that’s not the case anymore. Rainy season is here.
There are a lot of challenging things about traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although I should probably put “traveling” in quotes, as we’re not moving from place to place right now. We have to deal with standard virus prevention measures like everyone else, but being in a foreign country also presents its own unique issues. While I realize that everyone is experiencing problems during this trying time, I felt like I should document mine.
In Vietnam’s continuing efforts to stamp out COVID-19 for the second time, they’ve undertaken an ambitious goal to test every single person in Danang. While authorities are still not exactly sure how the initial 100 day infection-free streak ended last month, it’s clear that Danang is the epicenter of the second wave. As temporary Danang residents, that meant that we were required to appear for mandatory COVID testing.
For the last two months, we have been living our day-to-day life very much like we were not in the middle of a global pandemic. This is not because we are defying common sense, but because Vietnam was COVID-free. There had been zero cases of community transmission for 100 days. This allowed all of the locals, including us, to relax. With the borders closed and no transmission happening, Vietnam had essentially eliminated the Coronavirus. This meant everyone could resume living mostly normal lives. That was until another infection cluster popped up out of nowhere to burst our worry-free bubble.
The last time Katie and I stepped foot on US soil was on June 26, 2019 when we walked into LAX to board our flight to Asia. While we quit our jobs two months prior, leaving the country felt like the true start of our retirement adventure. Many hours later, we arrived in Bangkok ready to explore the world. During the last 12 months, we traveled through Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, back to Thailand, and then on to Vietnam where we’ve been grounded due to the ongoing global pandemic. Throughout these travels, we’ve spent way less than I anticipated. And while I post spending reports for each location, today I’m going to provide a summary of all of our costs by category instead.
As early retirees and nomadic travelers, we do not own many possessions. We also are not big spenders. Nevertheless, our life still feels pretty luxurious on a day-to-day basis. This is almost certainly because we have an abundance of the greatest luxury: time. We’ve been retired for over a year now and it still feels amazing having the flexibility to do anything (or nothing) on any day of the week. Still, when it comes to material luxuries, we have fewer compared to our previous working life. Lately, we’ve started to reverse that trend.
When we arrived in Danang on March 11th, Vietnam was ramping up its efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. While the country had been taking the coronavirus seriously all along, things were becoming more urgent. PSA banners had been hung on light poles of every major street and daily announcements were made over loudspeakers. Restaurants, coffee shops, and other non-essential businesses were ordered to be closed. Shortly after that, masks were required in all public places, indoors and out.
It was just over one year ago that Katie and I vacated our last permanent residence to become nomads. Prior to leaving, we spent a lot of time thinking about what this new life would be like. Since we were undertaking such a radical lifestyle change, it was impossible to know exactly what we would experience. All of our ideas were just educated guesses. A few months prior to leaving, I wrote down a bunch of these expectations. I’ll share these below and compare them to the realities of life in SE Asia. Let’s see how close I got.
Since April 1, Vietnam has been under lockdown. People are only supposed to leave the house for essential purposes. This allows going to the grocery store, pharmacy, or to work at an essential job, but not much else. Restaurants and malls are closed. Even the beach here in Danang has been roped off to keep people away. Of course everywhere around the world people are sharing a similar experience right now. It seems like stay at home orders have been instituted in most every country.
Our Vietnam visa was about to run out. Even though we used a professional agent to facilitate an extension, I wasn’t sure if it was actually going to happen. We turned our passports over to the agent on Saturday March 21st. Despite being repeatedly promised that our visa extension would be taken care of, up until this morning, our status was still in limbo. However we just received notice that our extensions have been granted which allowed us to breathe a gigantic sigh of relief. It was also just in time for the country to go into full lockdown mode.