What It’s Like Living Abroad During a Global Pandemic

No matter what corner of the planet you’re on, the global pandemic has been the focus of all nations. Businesses have shut their doors, many people have lost their jobs. And sadly, thousands have lost their lives.

It’s a scary, uncertain and stressful time for us all whether you work on the front lines protecting and treating the sick or are sitting at home waiting for what comes next.

Here at home, where we haven’t left the apartment to do more than take the trash out or grocery shop, it feels like we’re in mourning. Mourning the loss of travel, the loss of social interaction and most definitely the total loss of freedom.

And personally for Tony and I, we mourn the ability to get back to the U.S. and see our families. We had a three week trip back to the states planned for August – which sadly, was cancelled last night by the airlines.

This too, we are mourning.

I’ll never forget the first time I lost a pet, experienced a breakup or saw a loved one pass away. In the same way we mourn those losses, the emotional cycle of having our freedom taken away has many phases according to the President of the Australian Association of Psychologists in a recent Dailk Mail UK article.

I’m curious to know where you’re at in this very moment…

5 Emotional Stages of Coronavirus Lockdown

“The extraordinary challenges and monumental disruptions to daily routine thrust on us by the COVID-19 pandemic cause us to feel overwhelming emotions as we suddenly lose agency over our lives and our futures,” she explains.

While many of us are entering week seven of lockdown, my guess is that we’re somewhere in between stage three and four.

1. Disbelief

2. Anger

3. Sadness

4. Acceptance

5. Hope

And compared to what others are experiencing – depression, anxiety, the loss of financial security or worse, a loved one – we are doing just fine. More than just fine. We are counting our blessings. What else can we do?

Watch the news and worry ourselves to tears? Of course not, even if the “news junkie” in me just wants to crawl into a ball under the covers and stay glued to the headlines. We’ve just learned to accept our 1,500 square foot apartment as our new norm and try to smile.

If not for ourselves, for each other.

At this point, there really is no light at the end of the tunnel. There’s only wishful thinking. Stage five, hope, will come – but it’s still too early.

RELATED ARTICLE: 20 Ways to Battle Quarantine Woes

What It Means to Be on True Lockdown

In our fifth-floor apartment in city center Barcelona lives my husband and I along with our three kids. Our days consist of homeschooling, cooking, cleaning, tidying up, assisting with school activities, entertaining the kids and my husband fulfilling the expectations of a brand new and demanding full-time job.

I can’t imagine life wherever you are looks all that different. Or does it?

In Spain, throughout most of Europe and much of Asia our family situation is not unique. It is mirrored by hundreds of thousands of other families in major cities all on lockdown.

True lockdown.

Which means children are not, under any circumstances other than to the hospital, permitted outside the home. Not to the park. Not for a walk around the block. And according to our landlord, not running up and down the stairwells or hallways to get exercise.

Indoors, with little to no fresh air, for six straight weeks.

Unless you have a private garden/terrace your children are confined to the walls of their apartment. And in our case a 10-square foot balcony.

Rather than complain about the lack of outdoor space while children in other parts of the world ride bikes on their driveways and play catch in their backyards, we choose feel thankful for the tiny balcony we DO have – which has literally become our oasis.

We bask there on sunny days, take our umbrellas out when it rains and enjoy lunchtime together in this small space. We’ve also started laying out bird seed in the hopes that one day a tiny winged creature will pay us a visit.

There is no “grey area” as far as what can and cannot be done here. Put very simply, if anyone is caught outdoors doing anything other than heading to an essential place of work or the grocery store, they’re slapped with a 750 euro fine.

Seems harsh. But it’s effective.

After 50+ days indoors, the hours are beginning to evaporate into each other and our current situation reminds us how truly isolated we are here.

We’ve watched videos on Facebook of drive-by birthdays and families gathering with lawn chairs on front yards to celebrate Easter.

We’ve even sadly witnessed as a small population of people in certain parts of the world refused to “stay at home” annoyed that their “civil liberties” were being taken away.

Sigh* Really?

Maybe these people feel that’s the answer to cover up their real fears about what’s happening. Here are a few ways I’m learning to cope and keep my head on straight each day.

Looking for the Silver Lining

I hate to sound like a broken record but there are some definite silver linings that have emerged from the Coronavirus.

We’ve all heard about air pollution qualities improving and dolphins swimming in the canals of Venice. We’ve all witnessed social media “heros” helping the elderly, supporting a local business or simply praying for the sick.

The human spirit shines brightest in times of need and we’ve seen countless examples of that from all over the world these last few weeks. We try to play our part from here by participating in nightly applause with the rest of the city for all the medical professionals on duty.

We’ve played virtual games of Battleship with friends, challenged family members to “flour-face” competitions (!), connected for Houseparty happy hours and even started a baking exchange with our neighbors downstairs. Silver linings we can all count on to get us through each day.

A big one we’re choosing to focus on in Barcelona will happen this coming week. The Spanish government has announced that for two hours each day, children under age 14 are permitted to go outdoors accompanied by their parents.

We’re limited to a 1 kilometer radius from home and to certain hours based on kids’s ages. But still…this is something worth celebrating.

Let Go a Little

Before the pandemic took over our lives, I was a neat freak who enjoyed my daily morning workouts, a strict writing routine and tried not to snack at night. And while I appreciate all the home workout videos, DIY’ers and meal prep experts on You Tube, I just can’t anymore.

I’m done stressing over what I’m eating for every meal. Some days it’s potato chips for lunch. Other days I can barely get in five jumping jacks.

I’m through caring if the house gets trashed. For this moment, our apartment is a playground for the kids – and I’m okay with it.

Having three young children to homeschool and keep happy/clean/fed takes most of my energy as it should.

So yea, I’m letting go a little – and instead of beating myself up for it or feeling guilty I’m patting myself on the back after another long day in lockdown.

RELATED ARTICLE: How to Travel As a Family Without Leaving Home

Choosing Not to Give into Fear/Worry

I’ve always been a worrier. According to my Mom, I get it from my Dad. Either way, the wheels in my head, once they begin turning, are hard to slow down. And since I mentioned being a news junkie, I’ll also admit how much anxiety it will give me, if I let it.

So when I feel the worries start creeping in – about my aging parents back home, my children’s schooling or overall quality of a normal life, I let go of it and turn on music.

Music has been the ultimate escape for my family lately.

Trying to Prioritize Time for My Passions

Blogging started as a hobby two years ago. But today it’s become a creative outlet that I actually HAVE TO focus on. Lots of travel/expat bloggers I’ve spoken to lately have said they just don’t have time to dedicate to writing/posting/marketing. And believe me, I get it!

But I need to incorporate what little time I have in my day to this. It’s my passion and it gives me balance at a time when I couldn’t feel more suffocated.

Giving Thanks for the Blessings

The bottom line is, we are safe and healthy. Our family members back in New Jersey are too. We cannot ask for anything more.

Would this situation be easier if we weren’t living abroad thousands of miles away? Of course it would.

But being isolated to our little apartment in Barcelona has challenged our family in ways we never imagined possible. All we’ve had is each other and while not always easy, we consider ourselves lucky.

I’m thankful to our families back home for keeping in constant contact as they too adjust to life in lockdown. I’m thankful to a tremendous school at St George British International for being the social and academic lifeline my children so dearly need.

I’m thankful to our amazing expat friends who have been our family abroad even more now than ever before.

And lastly, I’m thankful to my incredible husband. Our marriage has been tested over and over in these weeks – and we’ve always emerged smiling and laughing. He has proven what a dedicated employee and father he is. I simply could not go through this without him.


  • Nicole C.

    Great story! I also relocated to France during the pandemic just a few months before, Although I had the help from an awesome relocation platform http://www.avvinue.com, It was extremely hard to begin to socialize because of the Covid-19 worries. And now is when people are more open to sharing their city.

    • Lauren Covino-Smith

      Thank you so much! It’s been an amazing experience abroad even despite the last few months being challenging for everyone! We also had the help of Sterling Relo and they were amazing at accommodating us to our new home city!!

  • Jenny

    I love how honestly you have shared your experience. Here in Germany we have not been under such strict lockdown (we are allowed to go out as a family for exercise) but we sure are being tested. It CAN be rough some days, but all in all I don’t regret having this time in such close quarters with my family. Hopefully you’ll all be able to get out and about soon.

    • Lauren Covino-Smith

      Thank you so much and I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I realize that no matter we may be living, being an expat during this difficult time has its own set of challenges!! Hugs to you, stay strong!

  • Lynn Ryder

    This was beautiful. Your writing draws me in and captivates. It actually made me tear up. You are an amazing family and troopers that you have endured for so long, all the while with a smile on your faces.

  • Jaemie

    Thank you for sharing this.

    We were planning on moving to Barcelona in July, which obviously isn’t happening now. ☹️ Keeping our hopes up for a January move.

    • Lauren Covino-Smith

      Thank you so much for your comment and I’m really glad you liked the article! Congrats on making the decision to move here. I’m when the time comes you will absolutely love this city – it’s an incredible place!!

  • Susan

    Absolutely outstanding!! This was an amazing, transparent and heartfelt message! You so beautifully capitalized the emotions you and so many other Expats are experiencing right now. One of your very best blogs! Truly loved it!❤️

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.