Covid Traveling is Anything But Routine

September 2, 2020

We escaped New Orleans because it no longer had the things we loved about it. Instead of live music, bars, festivals, and a collection of quirky locals, it‘s left with hurricanes, crime, humidity, poor infrastructure, and unemployed service industry folks. But what bothered me most about life in New Orleans was the routine that we, as a family, adopted over the past five months.

At first, Covid-ication involved outdoor activities, bike riding, and getting to know the neighbors, but as the summer and case counts dragged on, we settled into routines that were boring and predictable. Drew, our 17 year-old, was originally sent to live with his grandfather in St. Pete Beach, Florida, to keep him out of trouble. Before he left, he was running with the wrong crowd, burning morning, noon and night, and becoming a disrespectful, entitled teenager. Remy, our 15 year-old, had always been an intellectual and a homebody, but now she was becoming irritable and disrespectful too. Cole, our 12 year-old, had developed a severe anxiety about life in general, but more specifically, about the upheaval of everything around him. He didn’t want to leave New Orleans and seemed to blame his parents for the predicament he found himself in.

Despite my own parents’ assertion that we were selfish for going on this trip, we knew that we could no longer accept the way our children were growing up. Yes, we were to blame for their sense of entitlement, and apparently disrespect is commonplace among teenagers these days, but that didn’t mean we needed to accept it. We knew we had to change their routine.

So here we are in Shoreditch, London, staying in a two-bedroom apartment above a busy street with double-decker buses passing by. Gone are the comforts of two living rooms, a separate dining room, detached cottage, swimming pool, and plenty of outdoor living space. Now, we are living in less than 1,000 sq ft. with no air conditioning and a balcony that doesn’t even have enough space for two chairs and an end table.

And the kids have slid into exactly the same routine as in New Orleans. Drew has already found a connection and is running around town making new friends and new love interests; Remy is shopping with mom and cranking out her AP lessons; and Cole is keeping himself busy with Youtube and card tricks. But so far, we are getting along better than we have in years. There’s very little fighting, everyone is adapting to the virtual school year (from 3–9pm), and we are enjoying each other’s company for a change.

So what has changed? I guess Courtney and I. Back in New Orleans, life was a seemingly endless array of stress and anxiety. Not just for me and Court, but for pretty much everyone that lived in the city. When Covid first struck, it turned our lives upside down. We postponed our festival, closed our restaurant, and sold our house in a matter of months. Every day brought new challenges and difficult decisions. Our fuses grew shorter and our tempers flared. We were losing the battle and bringing our children down with us.

London presented new opportunities and new beginnings. The first few weeks were completely different than expected. We thought it would be like Manhattan with everyone masked, staring straight ahead, suspicious of the people around them. But what we found was sensibility and openness, with businesses thriving despite the circumstances.

Maybe the biggest change came when I lost my phone a few days after arrival. I was no longer burying my nose in depressing news articles, Facebook, or silly games, ignoring everyone and everything around me. Instead, I was teaching my son Photoshop, playing cards, and listening to them and engaging them in conversation. Being without a phone may have actually been a blessing in disguise.

Our intention has, and always will be, to return to the states, but the honeymoon phase of life in London, is making it hard to leave. The cool summer breeze, unbelievable dining scene, lack of homelessness and Covid cases makes it enviable to what we left behind. Our next stop is Croatia if we can make it out in time. Their Covid count is rising every day, and we certainly don’t want to give up the freedoms we are enjoying in Shoreditch.

We will love on London for another ten days, and we are already seeing incremental changes in the kids. Cole is warming up to life on the road, away from his two best friends, keeping his anger and anxiety in check. Remy is gaining a sense of style and sophistication, maturing before our eyes. Drew is already thinking about what college life would be like in the U.K. What we hoped was that this trip would make the kids less myopic, and give them a perspective of a world outside of the one they’ve always known.

I’ve gained a lot of respect for them over the past weeks, especially Drew. He is so outgoing and gregarious, ready to experience new things and discover new people. Though he did get his pocket-picked, he is learning valuable lessons, and growing up faster than most of his peers. If it was up to him, he’d start his gap year now, traveling the world, meeting strangers, and staying in youth hostels. I wish I had that much balls when I was his age because, at least for him, Covid traveling is anything but routine.

Shane Finkelstein is the author of “Finding Gordon Lipschitz.” and his latest novel, “Ira Silver Lining,” available on Amazon or at any local New Orleans bookstores.