In March, when things started to get scary with Covid in New York, we quickly realized that trying to do a lockdown in a Manhattan apartment with a rambunctious 2-year-old was like being stuck in an airplane bathroom with a goat on drugs. Manhattan apartments actually aren’t meant for living in — they are sleep, shower, and changing rooms for busy people whose living room is the city herself (or was). Our hearts go out to all the families that found themselves in similar and much tougher situations. Fortunately for us, we had a little rainy day fund and were able to quickly escape the city.
Thankfully, the internet was useless so we had actual conversations and played games next to the fire at night
What followed quite by accident was a modern-day vagabonding adventure as we carefully moved through New York, Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas and Greece trying on different lives whilst simplifying our own along the way. We started in upstate NY renting a friend’s farm. Our 2 best friends joined us in the guest house. He is a painter from Madrid and cooks. He needed to work so we rigged up a makeshift studio in a barn facing a cornfield. We found some rope and made a tree swing for our son. We didn’t want to leave the property, so jump rope sessions in the barn replaced jogging. We ate locally sourced farm-to-table lunches and dinners together each day. Thankfully, the internet was useless so we had actual conversations and played games next to the fire at night. Lesson: routine is good. Eating together as a family is good. Drinking wine with Spanish people at lunch every day is less productive whilst working from home, but siestas are good!
One day the friend that owned the farm called from France to say he’d been offered crazy money on Airbnb and would we mind vacating. Market is market. We then learned that just about everyone tries to “have a go” in a pandemic and thinks they can rent their garden potting shed out for $500 per night. Everyone also tries to cut out Airbnb and do cash deals on the side. I think they call this leakage. We learned to haggle and that it’s best done in conversation where you can sell your “decency” vs through email. Eventually, we found 2 liberal sisters in Cooperstown that rented us their house while they isolated in an Airstream at the bottom of the garden. We made friends over the garden fence, but learned it’s ok to set boundaries about how much chit chat time you are up for.
Another Airbnb scam…but the neighbor was the kindest person we met on the trip
Next, we split from our Spanish friends and found a quiet carriage house in Annapolis, MA where we made a socially distanced friendship with our hosts in the main house who happened to be relatives of the Governor. We learned what it’s like to own lots of real estate, have help, and support Trump. Next stop, Virginia — not for long — another Airbnb scam with the house looking nothing like its photos, and false reviews. You have to watch for that. The area was rough but the neighbor, a retired Vet with holes in his roof, was the kindest person we met on the trip.
A Visit That Inspired a Move
We moved swiftly south into the apartment above a disused antique shop in the sleepy retirement town of Edenton, NC. The whole town meets at one coffee shop each morning. It was like being in Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon. We were welcomed in and invited for socially distanced ice tea on verandas. From there we fled to Greece to be with family for the rest of summer. Trying on life in Greece for an unplanned extended period during Covid has actually given us the gift of insight — that is where we want to live long term as a family so we’re moving to Athens in December.
This is a time when our need-sets are changing and we’re asking: What is home? What is travel?
The art of vagabonding is to wander, explore, embrace the unknown without any specific time schedule. We learned that if you decide to make the most of it and approach things intelligently there are lots of little freedoms available to be created. Granted, we were lucky enough to be able to mobilize. We started off with a car jammed full of “essentials,” but jettisoned more and more along the way as we found that less is actually more. You just don’t need tons of stuff — outfit changes, plastic toys for kids, screens — that’s why they call it “trappings.” You can usually find anything you might really need along the way and having to reuse a few things creatively vs just consuming via Amazon has to be good for you. The few things we did end up with, like a good pair of jeans and boots, we really loved living in. Our son has one book from the trip he loves because we had to find ways to make up new stories from the same pictures night after night.
For those considering a similar adventure, here’s why you shouldn’t do this: It can be expensive. We had to pay double rent as we kept our lease in Harlem and had to rent multiple Airbnbs and a car for the extended trip. You also have to constantly take costly precautions to stay in your safety bubble and be respectful of others.
The sense of being nimble and in motion gives you a feeling of ownership over your fate that was a blessing in this tipsy topsy year
But then here is why you should consider an escape. The 7-month trip probably cost us about $13,000 but what we saved in our own sanity and outlook can’t be counted. Fortunately, we were both able to carry on our work remotely and, in many ways, being in a better “headspace” helped our creative thinking. Rightly or wrongly, Covid has probably pushed us to take steps in advancing things like remote work, medicine and education that would have come more slowly. For anyone that joined our “Wylde PechaKucha” events on Zoom, these were all hosted from a variety of Airbnb kitchens along the way. Our experience wasn’t perfect and we had our fair share of meltdowns, but the sense of being nimble and in motion gives you a feeling of ownership over your fate that was a blessing in this tipsy topsy year. Besides roaming free is in our species’ DNA. Maybe it’s about finding new ways to do old things.
We learned that scarcity leads to intentionality. We learned that the world is 99% full of decent people just trying to get along with their lives and “Can I help you?” is the best way to approach anyone. We learned that in uncertain times you need to be a little kinder to yourself and those around you. It goes a long way. Ultimately, we learned that home is where the heart is and your true possessions are your relationships with family and friends.
With talk of more lockdowns, perhaps there are some insights on life editing and creating small freedoms that we can all learn from here…
Crispin & Margarita Baynes are founding members of The Wylde (@wyldepeople) a club that brings people together in interesting locales. To find out more sign up here or contact them directly at firstname.lastname@example.org