January 8, 2021

I was really depressed a few months ago as we were entering the holiday season because I was still confined to my home because of Covid. I couldn’t remember when I had last felt joy. I was feeling very empty. When did I have an experience that made me want to store it my memory banks forever? When did I last smile until my cheeks hurt or laugh until I had a stitch in my side? You know what? The answer made me so sad because I had to think back more than a year.

My last joyful experience was when I traveled to Savannah to visit my friends in 2019. I went out with another writer and a jewelry designer and discussed creative process and projects while we watched the installation of an electronic train display on a snowy mountain, surrounded by a twinkling tree and gift wrapped empty boxes, simultaneously imbibing holiday drinks on the waterfront. We attended the opening of a museum exhibit and walked the park every morning. We ate dinners in wonderful restaurants, participated in a Farmer’s Market fundraiser and we listened to soulful jazz music, drank wine, and talked for hours. Wow. I had lived a full year with no joy! Unacceptable!

Let’s face it… when you’re the primary caregiver for a loved one (or two people in my case), you often can’t leave the neighborhood for extended periods of time. When you’re the in-house caregiver for a partner or loved ones, you’re even less likely to take a vacation. So, when everyone around you and all the media harps on you to take care of yourself and give yourself a break, you’re not thinking you are hopping a plane for the European trip you dream of… right?

With Covid, all the normal ideas of passing the baton to a sibling, hiring aides to help, bringing loved ones with you on a cruise that offers caregiving (check out elitecruisesandvacationstravel.com) shuts that window of opportunity even more tightly closed. So, what to do? How am I supposed to find joy, take care of myself, make sure I don’t burn out?

Thanks to COVID, I figured out a way to take my dream European trip! I selected my dates, got my long distance sister and brother to agree to be on-duty by telephone; told my parent’s community I was unavailable and who to call instead. I called my parents doctors and told them I would be out of town and who to call instead of me. Naturally my siblings had my phone number and a text code to let me know it was critical for me to contact them. My parents knew I was “out of town” but that if an emergency happened, I was still close enough to respond.

I set up an auto responder to my emails that told clients and friends/family that I was on a virtual vacation and would be unavailable by phone, social media, email or text until January 3, 2021. I sent out an email notification with a happy holidays message to my current clients two weeks before my vacation was to begin to let them know when I would be gone and that I would be unreachable. The gist of my message was that if they had something to say or needed doing, they had two weeks to let me know. Amazed, I realized no one had anything for me and all that responded simply wished me a well-deserved vacation! (Secretly that made me wonder if maybe I had started getting a little snarky from burn-out?)

Do you want to come with me on my trip? You can! I shared experiences with my friends through zoomed events and sent emails of my travel journal along with photos. Allow me demonstrate for you how you can do this from your own home, so you can take care of yourself while fulfilling your caregiving responsibilities.

I “traveled” to Europe and did all the things that I enjoy when I travel. Scenery, culture, food, music, and unique to the area experiences. My favorite thing, the idea of meeting new people, I could not replicate exactly. I didn’t figure that one out until the end. So, next trip. Meanwhile, here’s how I created my experience and some advice for you to create your own…

1)  I culled through YouTube for drone tours of cities I wanted to visit. Made a list. It was like taking a helicopter tour of my favorite cities. I also did the street level tour which was similar to riding a sampler tour bus around town to get the lay of the land.

2)  Then I researched the museums I’d want to see and checked their websites to find virtual tours. If you love art, this is a must, but if art is not your thing, find something that is. Maybe architecture or historical sites; parks, zoos, gardens; tours on rivers or out on the water, virtual fishing even. There’s something for everyone!

3)  I looked at YouTube travel channels to get city tours with guides that spoke English, so I’d know what to look at with my limited time available. I would look for a guide around my age and listen/watch someone as if I was tagging along with a friend.

4)  Google helped me find the best of local food. I checked the reviews, got the recommended dishes, and then found recipes to recreate them on my own.

But, even better, if you can, call and have food from those countries delivered to your home. MUCH easier. Less kitchen clutter and clean up required. Felt much more like a vacation this way. My Greek night was superb with all the different dishes and the restaurant staff (originally from Greece!) helped me when I called to pick what would be authentic instead of what I always order, and they stayed within my budget.

5)  And lastly, it was important to me to listen to the music of the country I was visiting. I like classical music, so I found native composers and listened to wonderful concerts or performances. Again, YouTube was really helpful here.

I captured screen shots of things and sites I enjoyed. I made an album of the places I will visit when I am free to do so and Covid restrictions are lifted. I learned so much and had a mental break from day to day caregiving and work responsibilities, no more “tasks”. And yet, I was still close by so if I needed to be there, I could be. That meant less guilt.

I have to admit, this respite from day to day responsibilities was much needed and doing my virtual vacation helped me realize that I can do this more often. I don’t need a full day and time and hassle of travel logistics. I can take an hour or two to transport myself mentally somewhere else. Revive and rejuvenate!

Since I’ve been back, I’ve been logging on to Netflix to watch Broadway shows and concerts. I zoom in some friends, share my screen, and we can talk (and not get shushed by ushers and other theater goers) or push pause to take a bathroom break, or rewind if we missed something (my hearing ain’t what it used to be!) I’ve figured out how to travel and/or do fun things with friends without leaving my home. It’s not totally the same as being there – no hugs – but it’s better than being lonely and feeling left out of all the things you love.

My advice is to figure out what YOU love and find a way to make it possible during Covid and caregiving. Even an hour of something you love will lighten your load and open your heart to your own happiness. You deserve it! I promise you’ll feel better when you take this time for yourself. When you create your own virtual joy experience, I’d love to hear about it. Share in the comments or email me at info@illberightthere.com. I’ll share, with your permission, some of the stories on this site.

[Note: If you’re curious about what links I used and what I actually did/saw on my vacation to Amsterdam, Madrid, Barcelona, and Santorini without getting jetlagged… check out my separate travel journal blog page on this site with my whole European trip and comments.]