A traveller's guide to surviving lockdown: social isolation, mental and physical health

    March 30, 2020Renee Nathan Helms

    9 min read

    What full time travel has taught us about isolation, staying connected, and looking after your physical health and well being.

    These are strange and scary times. A global pandemic. A recession. Potential financial crisis. No toilet paper at the shops. Unable to travel. And perhaps most terrifying of all, the huge likelihood of a complete lockdown meaning you’ll need to spend 24/7 with your spouse and kids. For us there is some strange irony in the fact that years of fulltime travel around Australia and New Zealand as a family has left us curiously prepared for times such as these.

    We’re pretty used to being isolated from others. To having limited places to get supplies, with limited options, and paying obscene outback prices. To living on a small budget and making ends meet with limited income. To spending all day every day with each other and our kids (while somehow retaining our sanity and our marriage). And luckily, full time travel has taught us to always have an emergency fund, because you never know when things are going to go horribly wrong.

    So with that in mind, we thought we’d share some of our tips with you, to help you get through these crazy times and see you safely out the other side, when we can all hit the road again.

    Social Isolation

    We’ve gone weeks on the road without seeing another soul. It can feel a bit surreal to know the closest human being is probably 100km or more away. But it feels even more surreal knowing the closest human being is right next door, but you can’t just pop over for a drink.

    For us we’ve always dealt with physical isolation by drawing closer to our community in other ways. By keeping close contact with our loved ones at home through video calls, group chats, regular sharing of photos, and lots of phone calls. Plus we’ve created a new community of other travellers online who understand the life we lead, and who we keep in touch with to share ideas and experiences.

    And in times like this it’s really the same. We’re currently in New Zealand, and most of our family and friends are in Australia. We have absolutely no clue when we’ll be able to physically see them again, and as we have a new baby that’s particularly hard. But I suspect this forced separation will actually bring us closer. Not a day goes by where I don’t speak with them in some way, and we’re constantly checking in on each other, more so than we ever did before.

    Not only that, but we’re developing a new community. The house we’re currently living at in NZ is blessed with fantastic neighbours. When we arrived back from our recent travels it was to a flyer in the letterbox suggesting all the women on the street catch up once a month to get to know each other. Unfortunately I only managed to attend one of these catch ups before the world started going completely mad, but it was enough to form a connection.

    Now we have a Facebook group for all the women on the street where we can check in on each other, help each other out if needs be, and do little things to keep us sane. Right now, with the libraries closed, we’re organising a book swap to ensure we’ve all got new reading material. So as a result of this crisis here, we are forming new bonds, that perhaps we never would have formed otherwise. Sometimes you just have to think outside the box a bit, and not be afraid to say hi to your neighbour. Same as on the road, really.

    Mental and Physical Health

    We’ve always been of the opinion that Mental Health is just as crucial as Physical Health. It’s important to work on when you’re on the road, and in these current times it’s more important than ever.

    Being stuck in lockdown is going to be difficult mentally for most people to varying degrees. Speaking to a friend last night who lives alone, he pointed out that he’s not going to be able to touch another human being for weeks – quite a confronting and sobering revelation.

    Sure, it can be tough staying home with your partner and children, but staying home alone is a whole different ball game. If you are living alone, do consider isolating with a family or friend if you’re worried about coping alone. We often see single travellers travelling with others, and if we’re on the road and meet someone travelling alone we generally invite them for a meal.

    Even the most solitary people need some human contact occasionally. So if you’ve got friends and family isolating alone please make sure you check in on them regularly. Don’t be afraid to ask about their mental health. Maybe drop off a little gift to keep their spirits up and to let them know you’re thinking of them. Sure, we can’t be physically with each other, but we can definitely still help each other out.

    Stay connected – but be wary of Social Media

    We’ve touched on it already, but it’s so important to stay connected in other ways when you’re physically away from the people that you love. Fortunately social media makes staying connected very easy. But we all know social media also isn’t always a great place to be – particularly now. So yes, stay connected with the ones you love, use this opportunity to draw closer to people. But at the same time, watch your social media use.

    We have learned that when you have more time available to you, you can easily overdo your social media usage. And I can assure you, it’s not great at the best of times, and definitely isn’t now. Watch you don’t find yourself falling into the Facebook rabbit hole. Keep informed of current events, but try not to get sucked into the hysteria, panic and fake news that will be coming from some aspects of the media and online. Or before you know it you’ll be stockpiling toilet paper and watching old re-runs of ‘Doomsday Preppers’.

    Watch your alcohol consumption

    We all know that when we go on a camping holiday there is often rather a lot of alcohol being consumed. There’s nothing quite like sitting around a campfire with a beer in your hands, catching up with old friends under an open sky. And that’s fantastic if you’re only away for a short time. But if you’re on the road long term, and you keep drinking like you’re on holiday, before you know it you’ve gone from a social drinker to an actual alcoholic.

    The same goes for food actually. If you’re on a weekend away you’re going to be having dessert, eating all the cheese platters, perhaps living off tinned food, or takeaways. But again, if you’re travelling long term it’s not really a great idea to keep eating like you’re on holiday. And sometimes it can be really hard for people to get their head around the fact that this is a lifestyle, not a holiday.

    The same goes for current times. Right now in New Zealand we’re on a minimum four week lockdown. There is every likelihood it will continue. And it’s very likely there will be similar in Australia. If we all start spending our days drinking and eating like we’re on holiday (which is very tempting, don’t get me wrong) then we’re going to come out the other side of this 20kg heavier, with a serious drinking problem. Which I’m sure nobody really wants.

    Now I’m definitely not saying to give up the wines altogether – these are difficult times and you’re well within your rights to have a drink. But try and limit your drinking to the times you would usually be doing it, in regular circumstances. Have your beer in the arvo, or your glass of wine with dinner. Maybe have a vodka on a Saturday night. But keep an eye on yourself. Anyone who’s been on the road long term will tell you; it’s surprisingly easy to fall into bad habits very quickly.

    Get outside

    Watch the sunset, see the stars, get up for a sunrise all on your own, stand in the rain, go for long walks if you are allowed. One of the very best things about being on the road is how often you do all these things. And for us the minute we stop in a house for a while, we start to miss them. But there is absolutely no reason you can’t have all these things to some degree while you’re in a house, and while you’re in lockdown. Obviously it’s going to depend greatly on your physical location, and your local lockdown rules. But for us were still plan to go camping at Easter – we’ll just be setting up the tent and a campfire in the backyard instead!

    Seriously, get outside as much as you can. We personally think it’s the very best thing you can do to keep yourselves sane.

    Alone time

    Granted if you live alone more alone time is the last thing you need. But if you’re in lockdown with others then alone time is going to be super important. This means being alone with yourself, but also being alone with your partner, if you have kids that you need to escape. And we’d suggest alone time without social media too – go for a walk, read a book, listen to a podcast, have a nap, do some yoga – whatever your thing is. Now is the time to take care of yourself. In times like these it’s more important than ever.

    We talk more about alone time and surviving your kids in Part two: Surviving your kids (& partner!) so feel free to go ahead and check that out if it’s relevant to you.

    Most importantly this is a time to be kind to yourself, and others. On the road we find there’s this camaraderie between travellers. We wave at each other when we pass on the road. We look out for each other. We have happy hours at the campsites. Our kids adopt grey nomads as temporary grandparents for a little while. We borrow a cup of sugar, or swap books and magazines. And if we need help we know someone will have our back.

    The entire world is in this together, and now is the time to draw on that camping camaraderie and extend it to our fellow man. These are hard times, but we’re all in this together, and a little kindness goes a long way.

    Good luck to you all.

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