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Most of us have been on a trip that didn’t go exactly as planned. Sometimes this is for the best but quite often it is a challenge. I guess it all depends on your point of view.

I recently caught up with my great friend Neal since he and his wife Madalyn are riding out a “Level 4 Lock Down” in New Zealand. They recently left the States for a long-awaited worldwide adventure but the Coronavirus has thrown their plans for a loop. I asked him 11 questions about their adventure, how it has changed and what they have been doing in lock down.

Question: Tell us about yourself.

Answer: My name is Neal, and my wife is Madalyn. We’re a married couple in our 30s from Jacksonville Beach, Florida. I worked in finance for years and my wife was a project manager. We both left our jobs to take an extended trip around the world trip.

Q: Tell us about your planned trip.

A: We left Florida in early March for what was expected to be a 14-month trip. We planned to go through French Polynesia, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Europe, and Southeast Asia.  We’re in New Zealand at the moment.

Q: How long was this in the works?

A: Three years.  We took a 10-week leave of absence in 2017 where we spent time in Rarotonga, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, and Hong Kong. On the way home, the wheels were already turning to figure out how we could do this again, but in a bigger way. Once we did the math and determined it was feasible for us in 2020, we set our sights on making it happen. We’ve been saving for three years and planned in-depth for several months before we left. 

Q: What was it like being abroad as the COVID-19 news started looking more dire?

A: It’s obviously been strange. We left the US on March 7, and at that time, there were no lockdowns taking place there. We’ve been gone for three weeks now, and are keeping close tabs on the changes back home and across the world. The developments worldwide have been difficult for us to fully digest, as we have had no consistent local benchmark against which to measure these changes. When the New Zealand government announced a national “Level 4 Lockdown” last week, we had to make a quick decision about where we wanted to be for the next 4 weeks minimum. Anyone in the country was given 48 hours to figure out where they’d spend the next month.

Q: Where did you guys get put into lockdown?

A: We made the decision to stay where we were when the lockdown was announced.  We’re in Wainui Beach, near Gisborne. We figured Gisborne was a large enough city to ensure we’d have regular access to groceries and medicine if needed. Wainui is a small beach community (pop ~2,000) with good surf and local walks.   

Madalyn sheltering in place.

Q: Do you wish you had come back to the U.S. before this occurred?

A: Sometimes we do, but for the most part we consider ourselves lucky to be here. We figure that our lives would be different no matter where in the world we’d be right now, so to have the natural beauty here that we can experience is a plus. The consistent surf has also been a bonus for me. We’re hoping this is just a slower start to our long trip and that we can resume traveling relatively soon.

Social distancing

Q: What has that been like so far?

A: Buying groceries and booking accommodations has been easy. We primarily use Airbnb, and fortunately for us, prices have been really good. Grocery stores have been busy but still civilized. We made sure to stock up on enough food to last us at least a couple of weeks before we moved into our most recent cottage in Wainui. Encountering others has of course been interesting – people we see on the street during walks are friendly, but everyone keeps their distance.

In terms of our overall trip, it has been stressful not knowing how long this will go on. Our next stops were going to be Australia and then Japan, and of course those aren’t happening now, at least not when we planned. Thankfully our New Zealand tourist visas were extended from three to six months. We’ll be here through New Zealand’s lockdown and will then evaluate what country we could feasibly go from here.

Q: What have you been doing?

A: We’ve been moving more slowly.  We’re normally early risers, but we’ve been sleeping in and enjoying the change of pace.  Most days I can surf at least once, and we’re running and going on hikes often.  We’re also doing a lot of FaceTime calls, games, Netflix, wine and beer. In NZ’s lockdown, you can’t even do takeout or restaurant deliveries, so we are cooking more as well.

Q: What is the first thing you will do when the lockdown ends?

A: Restaurants and wineries!

Q: How will this affect your ongoing travels?

A: We’ve canceled almost all of our future bookings and are trying to look at the trip with a fresh perspective. Many of the locations we’d planned on visiting are currently closed off, such as Australia, so some of our decisions have been made for us. At this point we’re really hopeful we can make it to Japan and Europe sometime around June, but who knows what things will be like by then. As I’ve been saying a lot recently – this isn’t the trip we planned for, but it’s the trip we got! All we can do is make the best of things. 

Q: How can we follow your journey?

A: We post regularly on Instagram @nealdest and @madalyn_destafney. Follow along!

Do you know someone that is sheltering in place overseas during the pandemic?  Leave a comment and we may feature them in a future post!


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