Last Updated on June 28, 2023 by Michael
As many of you may recall, in 2011 Larissa and I sold our house, quit our jobs and left our home town of Philadelphia for what we thought would be a year-long journey around the world.
However, when the year ended we realized we liked traveling too much to stop. So we drastically simplified our life and have been full-time global nomads, with no permanent address, ever since.
But what’s a full-time traveler to do when a global pandemic hits and brings travel to a halt?
First, let’s take the wayback machine to 2019. That’s when we found out about an apartment we could sublet in Manhattan for all of 2020 from an academic couple who was going on a sabbatical. If we were going to spend an entire year in one place, New York City was the place to do it. With its wide variety of ethnic neighborhoods, we could re-create a global journey by sampling foods from around the world that were only a subway ride away.
In late December 2019 we moved to New York. 2020 was going to be a wonderful year. And for the first three months it was. We took our nieces to their first Broadway show, attended many free TV tapings like Stephen Colbert and Rachael Ray and traveled all over the city in search of international foods. The Chinatown in Flushing, Queens was one of our favorite spots.
Early in the year we had inklings of this coronavirus that was impacting China and then northern Italy. In what seems the height of hubris, or stupidity, we figured it wouldn’t affect us. After all, hadn’t there been previous health scares like SARS and the avian flu that didn’t go global. Heck, we even remembered the killer bees scare of decades past that turned out to be nothing.
In February, we were traveling on the 7 train in Queens to visit the 1964 World’s Fair site when we passed through Corona. “Hey, isn’t that the name of the virus? Good thing it’s not here.” Little did we know, it already was.
By mid-March there was talk of the city shutting down for two weeks to “flatten the curve.” Remember that one? A few days before the shutdown I attended the Big East basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden. People were already kind of nervous in the half-filled arena. It turned out to be the last game before the tournament, and all sports, were cancelled, and also my last subway ride for a very long time.
By that weekend New York City was on a wartime footing as residents prepared for two whole weeks at home. The lines were long to buy booze and there were so many food deliveries stacked up in the lobby of our building it looked like a Red Cross relief effort at an earthquake. I half expected to be handed a cup of chicken bouillon and greeted with an aluminum blanket to wrap around me for warmth. In a bit of woefully bad planning, I only stocked up on one candy bar.
And then New York was whacked, hard, with the coronavirus. It was dire. Early on, Larissa got sick, really sick. Coughing, difficulty breathing, the works. She could still taste food so, since one of the reported symptoms was loss of taste, she thought she didn’t have Covid. In retrospect, she probably did but we’ll never know.
We lived near Mount Sinai hospital and heard the 24/7 wail of ambulance sirens and medical helicopters rumbling overhead bringing in new patients. We watched them build the temporary field hospital in Central Park right across from the hospital. The worn canvas tents looked like something from the set of MASH. Emergency freezer units were delivered to hold bodies. It was surreal and also so scary that Larissa didn’t feel any safer going to the hospital to be examined.
Fortunately, she got better and New Yorkers rallied. In the evening we’d bang our pots to thank the medical workers and give encouraging shouts to other residents from our window.
For exercise we climbed flights of stairs in the high-rise building. Larissa, being more into it than I, would climb up and down, eventually doing 100 flights, which was much better than her previous waddling back and forth like a duck in a shooting gallery getting in 10,000 steps in our small apartment. Despite baking even more, we went against the grain and each lost 25 pounds.
But we finally realized we had to leave. Being cooped up in an apartment in the global epicenter of the pandemic had not been in our plans. After four more months we left New York and headed to a more rural setting where it was just us and we could be outside more.
Before the pandemic, Larissa taught online classes part-time at Drexel University’s Close School of Entrepreneurship, so she was well prepared for the Zoom era when she continued teaching. She also started a new blog focused on Arizona travel at Arizona Journey.
With more time on my hands, I dusted off my Fender Stratocaster and finally learned to play at a level that didn’t sound like feral cats wailing. Now it’s more like domesticated cats. I also just wrote a new book 75 Top Car Museums – Europe & America. It’s a collection of articles I’ve written for automotive magazines in the US and the UK.
In summer 2021, freshly vaccinated, we dipped our toes into travel again and drove cross-country from Virginia to Seattle. It was interesting to witness the various responses to the pandemic as they tied into local political leanings. We spent a lot of time exploring the West and Southwest in search of temperate climes where we could be outdoors.
By 2022, we realized if we didn’t travel overseas soon we were never going to. Some friends and family had been flying but we just weren’t ready to get on a plane. Living in New York when the pandemic hit had really scarred us.
However, that summer we were in Seattle for a return visit when I saw an ad that Air Tahiti Nui was starting flights from Seattle to French Polynesia and offering really cheap introductory fares, about $650 roundtrip. It seemed like a sign that we needed to get our travel mojo back. At that point we were still not eating indoors much and Tahiti would be the perfect climate for outdoor dining.
When we boarded the Boeing 787 (our favorite plane) for the 9 1/2 hour flight to Tahiti we were pleased to see that, since it was a new itinerary, the plane was less than half full so we had plenty of room around us. We had already decided that we wouldn’t write about Tahiti for any of our media outlets. We wanted a true vacation so we left the camera and note pads at home.
Two weeks in Tahiti was just what we needed. Larissa describes it as a less crowded Hawaii with baguettes. The photo above is Cook’s Bay on the French Polynesian island of Mo’orea, where we spent most of our time. It was the inspiration for Jimmy Buffett’s song “One Particular Harbour.” (He recorded much of the song’s video there when The Bounty was being filmed so he used props from the movie including the ship and costumes.) We returned from Tahiti ready to travel overseas again. The mojo was back.
And so we continue our journey, now in its 12th year. This spring we drove across America, from west to east this time, before taking off for Europe for a five-month stay to catch up with old friends, make new ones and rekindle our love of travel. Our itinerary is partially filled with a road trip through the Black Forest in Germany plus long stays in Brussels, Valencia and London. The rest is left open to allow serendipity to fill in the blank pages.
Whether your dreams are for palm trees swaying in a tropical breeze or flying to Tokyo and learning to speak Japanese, we hope you find your own particular harbor.
And there’s that one particular harbour
Sheltered from the wind
Where the children play on the shore each day
And all are safe within
–One Particular Harbour, Jimmy Buffett and Bobby Holcomb
(Sorry for the video quality below. It’s the only copy online of the original video Buffett filmed in Tahiti. At 1:20 you’ll see the actual harbor as pictured above.)