I greeted 2021 by packing up the last of my things and preparing to kick off my journey. I moved four times in 2020, and each time I had to pack up and go, I shed; shed more clothing, more books, more mementos that I didn’t know why I had held onto for this long.
After I had decided to go on this road trip, I sold all of my furniture and spent my last three months in Miami in a furnished apartment. The small number of things I still had was either coming with me or would sit in a box at my parent’s house.
When Sunday, January 3 rolled around, I was beyond ready to go. I packed up my Kia Soul to the brim with the help of my friends Gio and Abel, coaxed Sophie cat into her carrier, and we started our caravan up the Florida Turnpike to Kissimmee, where I’d be staying at an Airbnb for a week.
The three and a half hour journey was the first time in weeks that I’d actually sat down to think about what I had just done. In the weeks leading up to my departure, I often felt that it didn’t ‘feel real’ – that this idea to go nomadic was just something I had been preparing for but wasn’t actually happening. It hadn’t sunk in, even after I sold my furniture, or when I signed the short-term lease for my apartment in Austin, or even packing up the last of my clothing.
Yet, here I was with Sophie Cat, a suitcase and two bags, leaving Miami. Part of me was excited to go and start this journey I had been planning for the last few months; the other felt a pang of fear of leaving my hometown and the only state I’ve ever lived in, to hop between a series of cities that I had no real ties to.
I had an itinerary planned out – I’d be leaving Miami to head to Kissimmee, followed by Tampa, then Gainesville. Each city had a friend or two I wanted to see or a place I wanted to revisit for sentimental reasons. I was giving myself a sendoff from Florida, of sorts – a proper goodbye.
And then, as I pulled up to my new home for the week in Kissimmee, I got a text from a friend: her boyfriend, who I had just seen a few days prior, had just tested positive for COVID.
I thought the hardest part would be leaving – but now, what I left behind was the least of my worries.
The news hit me and I felt the familiar uneasiness in my stomach start to build – a surefire sign my anxiety was rising.
Do I have COVID? Where am I going to go get tested? What hospital am I by in case of an emergency? What county am I even in right now? Are my friends okay? Am I okay? Do I have what I need? Should I tell my parents? Who else did I see that may have been exposed?
Question after question rolled around in my head. The only thing I knew for certain was that I had to quarantine.
The next few days were a blur of getting all of my necessities delivered to me. I canceled my Tampa trip and booked another week in Kissimmee to complete the full two weeks of quarantine. I found out that my current county – Osceola – offered a free testing location only 15 minutes from me.
I lined up at 7:30 AM a few days later – day 5 since my exposure – to get tested in the parking lot of a Disney corporate office. The testing facility was behind Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park, and from the line, you could see the top of the artificial Mount Everest. It felt a little jarring to be standing in line at Disney for a COVID test while the rest of the parks started to open their gates.
The results were rapid and 15 minutes later I got a text: I was negative.
Despite the negative result, I knew I had to keep waiting, but that first initial result allowed me to breathe a bit more deeply than I had in days.
My first Airbnb, a comfortable condo in the suburbs, was not able to extend my stay, and so I moved into another apartment that was located in a complex that was part-hotel, part-owner owned condos. The condo I was in was very clearly geared towards Disney vacationers, and most of the people staying around me seemed to be tourists.
Inside the condo, small figurines adorned the walls; an assortment of characters from Frozen, Beauty and the Beast, and a stuffed Goofy greeted me each morning as I made matcha at the small kitchenette. The couch had three Mickey and Minnie throw pillows as decoration, with red and white polka dot pillows to coordinate.
It was an adorable little vacation studio for Disney fans; but I wasn’t here for a vacation. My work from home setup felt out of place next to the cheery decor, and I was definitely feeling less than magical. The tourists made use of the pool area while I sat in my room on Zoom meetings, which served as another reminder that I was here to work and wait out another few anxious days.
Thankfully, another negative test came in and I was able to wrap up my quarantine.
Although I hadn’t planned on staying for two weeks in Kissimmee, I was able to make the most of it.
I ordered Tijuana Flats more times than I care to admit. This particular TexMex spot was my favorite back in college at USF, and there aren’t any locations in Miami. Although I couldn’t physically go back to Tampa, I still felt a bit nostalgic eating the chips and queso.
I got to try the recently launched line of cookies from Mariah Carey. Yes, she launched a cookie company. Kissimmee is a test market and Postmates was offering free delivery – so fuck it, I ordered them. Surprisingly tasty cookies!
I was able to drive 40 minutes north of Orlando to see Kelly Park. The afternoon was sunny and the temperatures were in the mid-50s, and there was zero humidity – a rarity in Florida. Although the springs I wanted to see were closed off, I was able to walk the trail. It felt relieving to be able to walk through the open trail – truly, a welcome relief from the four walls I was in for days.
This was not the sendoff I planned for but I’m grateful I’m healthy. I’m grateful that my friends are okay.
I’m grateful I get to keep going.
I made it to Gainesville on Sunday morning, still healthy with no symptoms. I’ll be here until the end of the month before I go on to Panama City Beach, my last city in Florida.
After that, it’s off to New Orleans – my first official city that I’ll be staying in for six weeks.