Today was supposed to be the day. March 31, 2020 Paolo and I were supposed to move to Italy. It feels like ages since we clinked glasses over our decision. It wasn’t. It was November 2, 2019.
Sitting on our couch in Camas, Washington we were deep into one of our soul-stirring conversations. We’d gone round and round. On living closer to family. On living below our means being the key to our financial freedom. On the ultimate question. How much is enough before we move to Italy?
In the end, our decision, came down to one hilarious exchange.
Me, serious as ever…
“Paolo, what are we waiting for? We know where we want to be. How we want to live. I know it’s complicated and yes, could be risky but how do we get to Italy sooner rather than later.”
Paolo, sharp-witted as ever…
“We call Delta.”
He was right. It was finally time. Time to move to Italy. We’d been working towards this lifestyle for nearly a decade. Now, all we really had to do, was book flights and move. Or so we thought. Little did we know the Coronavirus would soon put the dreams of the world on hold, starting 6,084 miles away with Wuhan, China.
When COVID-19 Started, So Too Had Our Move
Looking back now, we had the worst-possible-timing-ever! There was just no way we could have known a worldwide pandemic would strike right in the middle of our move. How close did we get to moving to Italy before COVID-19 hit? Take a look at the timeline for our move to Italy next to the timeline for the COVID-19 outbreak.
December 3, 2019 (Paolo and I go month-to-month on our apartment lease and secretly set March 31, 2020 as our date to move to Italy.)
Step one in our plan to move to Italy was telling our parents. In person. Paolo’s parents would be ecstatic. Mine, not so much. Happy for me, yes. Even proud. Paolo and I had worked hard and made a lot of sacrifices for the life we wanted. Still, I knew they would be fearful of not getting to see me as much moving forward. I needed to see my Mom, Dad, and Sister in person before I left for Italy. We all needed to know, I would never be more than a flight away.
December 6, 2019 (I email my sister and ask her to come to Florida for Christmas.)
With my Dad in Ohio, my Sister in Michigan and my Mom’s recent retirement to Florida, the holidays are always complicated. No matter where in the world I am, I’m missing someone dear to me during the holidays and in 2019, it was Paolo.
December 7, 2019 (I went first, flying to Ohio to see my Dad.)
When my Dad called to say he had to have a “small procedure to remove skin cancer” and not to worry “it would be minor” I jumped at the excuse. My Dad’s Mohs surgery was minor but the time we had together was not. I was able to tell him I was moving to Italy in person. That and help him build furniture despite Doctor’s orders to rest. There is no doubt where my stubborn determination comes from.
December 12, 2019 (Paolo goes next, fly to Italy.)
Paolo barely made it one day before spilling to beans to Mamma and Papà over a bottle of wine. As we expected, they were elated almost to the point of disbelief making Paolo repeat himself several times. The thing they wanted most in the world, was happening. After 11 years in America, their son would be coming home. There was no better gift we could have given Mamma and Papà that year for Christmas. Pure joy.
December 15, 2019 (I fly to Orlando, Florida.)
My Mom knew. I’d been saying for years we would be moving to Italy as soon as we could. She was supportive but a bit numb. Having the Christmas holiday together was important for us both. I needed one last holiday hoorah with my Mom and Sister. I craved Christmas the way I grew up having it. We baked Kringla, opened presents Christmas morning, played cards late into the evening and even had a snowball fight in Florida.
December 31, 2019 (Chinese Health officials inform the WHO about a cluster of 41 patients with a mysterious pneumonia. Most are connected to Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.)
“Happy New Year!” I shouted to Paolo over FaceTimed from JFK. It was 8:30pm EST right before I was to board my New Year’s Eve overnight flight to Milan. Can I just say, flying alone on New Year’s Eve when the love of your life has already yelled “Happy New Year” with his parents in Italy, frankly sucks. Especially when we had already been apart for over three weeks.
I’d hoped to find an empty flight but alas, every seat was taken. It was also the sickest flight I’ve ever flown on. Every single person in every direction at least three seats deep from me, was sneezing, coughing or blowing their nose. Wrapping my scarf up over my nose and mouth I thought “I can’t get sick right now!” The saving grace? Knowing in just a few months, I’d finally call Italy home.
January 3, 2020 (Paolo & I both get sick.)
Sure enough, I ended up with a cold. It was Paolo who got the flu. He was down for the count with classic, horrid flu symptoms followed by what seemed like a bad cold.
We gifted Paolo’s parents with a family trip to Nice, France for Christmas. When the day arrived, neither of us felt well enough to travel. Paolo pushed our reservation back a week. Looking back we have wondered, did we get exposed to the Coronavirus early on? Unfortunately right now, there is no way for us to know.
January 9 – 11, 2020 (China records the first Coronavirus death.)
Finally getting to see the French Riviera made us feel a lot better! For three days, we explored the city, devoured ceviche, french bread and white wine at Peixes. Found Papà the perfect Salade Niçoise and walked the blue chair lined boardwalk. It was bliss. Nice, France being just three hours drive from Paolo’s parent’s home was the ultimate reminder of why we wanted to move to Italy. Being on vacation, we were aware of the Coronavirus but it seemed like a far off threat in China.
January 12 – 16, 2020 (First Coronavirus case outside of China is reported in Thailand.)
We took Mamma and Papà home before heading south to explore Florence. The rolling hills of Tuscany lulled me to sleep at night and greeted me with a morning view from our four-poster bed at Villa Medicea di Lilliano. I honestly dreaded returning to Washington. Italy already felt like home.
January 20, 2020 (First US case is reported: a 35-year-old man in Washington.)
We didn’t know until we landed that we were flying home to a state already infected with Coronavirus.
January 24th, 2020 (We book our move.)
We hit the ground running on our move. Our first week back I create a work back schedule and action item list for our move. Knowing we had to be out of our apartment by March 31st, I targeted March 23rd to be ready, just in case. I didn’t know it at the time, but my training as a Producer would be what saved us.
January 29, 2020 (We begin selling off our things.)
I posted the following video on Facebook. My goal was to pay for our move to Italy by selling everything we were not taking with us. It worked. We raised nearly $6,000 before selling our car to fully cover the cost of moving one lift van to Italy. What we didn’t sell with this video we sold with Facebook Marketplace and eBay.
January 30, 2020 (WHO declares the outbreak a global public health emergency of International Concern.)
Paolo and I have lived below our means for a decade. We’ve rented small apartments, shared a car we paid cash for. Opted not to have kids, pets or buy a home. I will admit all of this at times, made me feel behind the curve from my peers. However, come January 30th when the WHO declared a global public health emergency, I felt ahead of the curve.
January 31, 2020 (Trump bans foreign nationals from entering the US if they were in China within the prior two weeks.)
Being mobile with no credit card debt, no car lease and no mortgage meant we could weather the storm that was about to hit the world. Plus, we had two advantages.
- Enough liquid assets to sustain ourselves without work for the foreseeable future.
- Two citizenships and passports each. American and Italian. As foreign nationals were being banned, we could still go between the US and the EU if we need to.
February 6, 2020 (Everything Must Go!)
Our neighbor buys our couch, mattress and bed. It might have been early in the game but it was a huge relief for us. Life on an air-mattress was a small price too pay for more cash in our pockets and less to hold us back.
February 11, 2020 (WHO announced a name for the new coronavirus disease: COVID-19.)
When the WHO changed the name to COVID-19 from Coronavirus, we moved into total social isolation. We couldn’t risk getting sick in the middle of a move.
February 12, 2020 (Cases start to spike in South Korea.)
Paolo and I inform our apartment building we were moving. March 23rd our movers would arrive and March 31st we would turn over our keys before heading to the airport. Being a beautiful below-market apartment just 20 minutes from the hot Portland rental market, there was a waiting list for our apartment. It was re-rented immediately. There was no turning back now. March 31st, we had to be out.
February 16 – 23, 2020 (A proper goodbye.)
Paolo and I decided to take one last trip to Cannon Beach and Yachat’s Oregon. This was our favorite part of living in the Pacific Northwest and the perfect way to bid farewell to America. It was the last calm before the storm.
February 21, 2020 (Italy outbreak begins.)
Our fear was never about our move, it was for Paolo’s parents. We could hunker down with my family if we needed to but Paolo’s parents were now in the forefront of the European outbreak for the Coronavirus.
February 29, 2020 (US reports first death on American soil.)
At this point, we’d already given up our home and knew we had to move regardless of the situation. Thankfully friends (Mina I adore you) and neighbors (Lori your kindness will never be forgotten) begin to offer us a place to shelter knowing we won’t have an apartment in a month.
March 8, 2020 (Italy places all 60 million residents on lockdown.)
At this point, America was still open for business. We however, were getting daily updates from Paolo’s parents and knew, things are going to get worse quickly. We needed to move faster, we knew we couldn’t afford to wait.
March 10, 2020 (Rumors of a statewide lockdown in Washington begin.)
We had 13 days left before our movers were scheduled to arrive. If there was a true statewide lockdown, we were screwed. Things began to feel dangerous but we couldn’t turn back, all we could do was prepare for what came next.
March 11, 2020 (WHO declared the outbreak a pandemic and Trump bans all travel from 26 European countries.)
Both of my parents express alarm. “Are you two going to get stuck in Washington without a home? Can you get here? Can you move sooner?”
March 13, 2020 (US National Emergency is declared.)
This was the moment I was grateful for my training as a Producer. When the best-laid plans go to shit fast, a good Producer has already mitigated the risk with a Plan B. Knowing we could face a ‘Go Time’ decision the minute COVID-19 was reported in Italy, we had already been ahead of our move schedule. When people began to panic over toilet paper, we made the decision to shift to Plan B immediately. Our international move had to be put off, but we still had to move out. Florida was to be our refuge. We just had to get there before the US started to lockdown.
March 16, 2020 (Plan B!)
Monday morning, first thing, I called the movers. HUGE shout out to Mary and Jeff at Continental Van Lines in Washington. Mary helped us secure long term storage in the US to avoid potential dock demurrage fees in Italy (which could get as high as $150 a day). While our movers were scheduled for the 23rd, Mary got them to show the very next morning. As soon as I got off the phone with Mary, Paolo booked tickets to Florida where we could hunker down with my Mom and her husband Mark.
March 17, 2020 (Go Time!)
From this moment on, we were in a flat out run.
- 12:30 Movers arrive
- 2:30 We tip them heavily and waved goodbye to a single lift van containing everything we need for a first home together, one day soon (we hope) in Italy.
- 3:30 We sell our first car together to Carmax. A Mazda 6 we drove cross country three times, named Nanty.
- 6:30 Our final dinner in the apartment. With our luggage as a backrest, we ate pizza on the floor and put Paolo’s laptop on an empty unused box. I fell asleep on the floor, physically exhausted before getting to see my favorite scene in Kill Bill. The one where Uma Thurman fights Lucy Liu in the snow.
- 9:30 Paolo picks me up off the floor to put me to bed in the air-mattress we had been using since selling our bed.
March 18, 2020 (Earthquake Shuts Down Salt Lake City Airport.)
- 8:30 A hearty egg and hash brown breakfast and some seriously strong Italian coffee.
- 9:30 As the owner of my company, work must go on. I held my weekly client calls as if there was nothing happening in our lives.
- 10:18 Text from Delta. An earthquake in Salt Lake City had shut down the airport. Our connecting airport. With COVID-19 in full force and an earthquake, phone help was not available. We had to take our chances and get to the airport ASAP.
- 11:00 As Paolo’s Dad says “a check is just a piece of paper you can wipe your ass with until it’s cashed” and in a crisis, we were not taking chances. Short on time, we practically ran to our bank to cash the check from selling our car.
- 12:30 Luggage packed. Apartment empty.
- 1:30 I drop off rations of canned goods, toilet paper and frozen foods to the neighbors we will miss.
- 2:30 Apartment management comes to verify we’re out and collect the keys.
- 3:00 Lyft car arrives. Off to PDX we go.
- 4:30 Salt Lake City had opened back up.
- 8:30 Aftershocks in Salt Lake City delayed our flight past our connection.
- 8:45 Re-route through ATL now leaving around 11pm.
- 9:30 I’ll be honest, I was barely hanging on at this point from exhaustion and fear of touching anything in the airport. I distracted myself by finishing a Risk Mitigation plan for our client.
- 10:13 Our new connecting flight to Orlando was canceled.
- 10:30 Rebooked on the next connecting flight from ATL to Orlando and we were buckled into our flight out of PDX.
March 19, 2020 (Nearly all US states declare a state of emergency.)
- 8:50 With no sleep for 24 hours, we board our Atlanta connection to Orlando.
- 12:30 Rental car keys in hand we make our way to The Villages Florida.
- 1:30 The best eggs and bacon I’ve ever had in my life at my Mom’s table.
March 22, 2020 (About 1 in 3 Americans are under lockdown as 12 states issue stay-at-home orders)
Without acting fast and moving a week early, it would have been too late. We would have been locked down in Washington without the ability to hire movers or stay in our apartment. We honestly don’t know what would have happened but it would have been pricey. Instead, we were already in Florida. Safe with family.
March 23, 2020 (Original date our movers were scheduled to arrive.)
Our contracts are paused due to COVID-19. Given the chance to go back, I wouldn’t have cancelled our move because like millions of Americans the money has stopped coming in. I’m grateful we’re mobile, lease free, debt-free and healthy.
March 29, 2020 (Roughly 1 in 2 Americans go on lockdown as 22 states issue stay-at-home orders)
I called my Dad to wish him a happy birthday and thank him for self-isolating. I get to share the good news that Paolo and I were both healthy after our flight.
March 31, 2020 (Our Original Date to Move to Italy)
Oddly, I’m not as devastated as you might think. Yes, we’ve been working towards this move for years. Honestly, what I feel right now is stunned. Stunned at what’s happened with COVID-19. Not just for Paolo and I but for all of us. This is the first time in my life when everyone in the world has been deeply impacted by the same thing at once. Oddly, this is the one thing that comforts me. As much social distancing as we are all doing, we are all connected by this.
We had no way of knowing that our plans to move to Italy would simultaneously be run in parallel with the spread of the Coronavirus. Unless COVID-19 steals my final breath, I’m going to keep my dreams alive. We will get there, it’s really just a matter of when.
While I have some downtime, I’m going to be blogging again. I’ll be sharing some of the trips we’ve taken over the last few years that convinced us Italy was the right place for us. I’ll also be sharing how Paolo and I have managed to attain financial freedom to make a move to Italy. Right now, I’m guessing we’re not the only ones pinching pennies and maybe, just maybe, I can help someone else get through this difficult time.