13 of the Strangest Places People Quarantined During the Pandemic
This will make you feel much better about being stuck inside your own home.
The coronavirus pandemic has shaped many different aspects of our lives throughout the year so far, including how and where we live. When states began issuing shelter-in-place orders in March and restrictions were placed on various types of travel, a lot of us prepared to hunker down in our homes until it was safe to resume our “normal” everyday lives again (with many still waiting for this to happen). But not everyone was at home when these guidelines were put in place, and some people have since had to relocate somewhere with a mandatory quarantine period. This has resulted in people having to stay in some pretty unusual places around the world.
A former Soviet printing factory
When coronavirus hit Europe back in March, Alexandra Nima—who is from Austria, but lives in Tallinn, Estonia—was on vacation in Austria. As the owner of Tallinn Business Walks, a small start-up offering tours of the city, Nima wanted to get back to Estonia as soon as possible and left Austria as soon as borders reopened in July. “My small business had suffered substantially, so my friend booked me the cheapest Airbnb in Tallinn that we could find to quarantine for the required 14 days,” she tells Reader’s Digest. This just happened to be a former Soviet printing factory made entirely of concrete with steel tubes serving as “decor.” It also had tiny windows that wouldn’t be out of place on a submarine and didn’t allow much natural light to enter the space.
On top of that, the factory included a theater with a stage for speakers—something Nima says was common for big companies to have during the days of Communism. “I felt a bit like a Girl Scout, exploring its dark, concrete halls by myself, [but] it was also cold, lonely, and moldy—as I discovered too late. I wished I had known this before I booked,” she says. Living with an autoimmune condition, Nima fell ill a few days into her booking, experiencing respiratory issues, fatigue, and extreme inflammation and aches in her bones. Fortunately, she’s out of the factory and in better health today. “Eventually, we discovered the source of the mold, I was partially refunded, recovered, and am now back doing tours, alive and kicking,” she says. That probably makes your home sound comfortable in comparison. Here’s why one woman stopped complaining about quarantine.
A ghost town
When Brent Underwood purchased the abandoned silver mining town of Cerro Gordo, California, with a partner in 2018, he envisioned creating a rustic overnight resort for travelers. But thanks to heavy snow and COVID-19, he ended up being stranded there alone for months. And while he had the run of the town, Underwood avoided the supposedly haunted bunk house and cemetery. “The longer I’m here, the more things happen to me that I can’t explain,” he told the New York Times in May. “I was a firm nonbeliever prior to purchasing the property.” Despite his otherworldly neighbors, Underwood plans to stay in Cerro Gordo indefinitely, though he had a setback in mid-June: A fire unexpectedly broke out in the town, destroying three of the 20 buildings, including the historic hotel. Check out these other creepy (but real!) ghost towns around the world.
An island off the coast of British Columbia
As a travel blogger and digital nomad, Philip Weiss is used to being on the road. He was in Cambodia when the pandemic hit and decided to head back to the United States via a transfer in Vancouver, British Columbia, in Canada. When an old friend of his got in touch and suggested that he cancel his flight to the United States and stay on British Columbia’s Salt Spring Island instead, Weiss booked a room at a local inn, where he ended up living for the next few months. “I had the chance to relax and enjoy the natural surroundings, coronavirus-free, and with plenty of social distancing,” he tells Reader’s Digest. “After all, it’s an island!”
Ultimately, he saw his time on Salt Spring Island as a silver lining to the chaos the pandemic has caused for travelers and digital nomads—he finally had the chance to take a break. “It was actually quite refreshing and empowering, as I was able to take time to focus on my personal health and well-being,” he explains. “I couldn’t have chosen a better place to do this, as the calming nature of the people and the island of Salt Spring made for an amazing experience.” Here are 27 things you can do for yourself if you have to quarantine.
A fishing boat in the Indian Ocean
Back in February, when a crew of New Zealand and Filipino nationals embarked on a two-month commercial fishing trip for a seafood company, they thought it was just like any other routine job. But after COVID-19 hit, the vessel wasn’t permitted to return to its base in New Zealand, leaving the 42 members of its crew stranded on their boat in the Indian Ocean. According to Stuff, a news site in New Zealand, the seafood company spent $300,000 (New Zealand dollars) chartering two private jets to get their crew back home in late August.
A potentially haunted German castle
In March, 20 members of a pan flute orchestra from Bolivia embarked on what they thought would be a two-week tour of Germany. But when the coronavirus brought travel to a halt, the young musicians weren’t able to return home, and they took up residence in a nearly 600-year-old German castle until June, Reuters reports. The castle is allegedly haunted by the ghost of one of its former inhabitants, Frederick the Great, and it is also surrounded by 23 packs of wolves, according to the BBC. “We all joke that Frederick’s ghost is following us and trying to trip us up,” one of the musicians told the BBC in May. “I don’t usually believe in such things, but it does feel as if there are ghosts on the grounds.” The orchestra spent their days rehearsing, playing soccer, and walking around the estate. They’re not the only ones who kept themselves busy during the outbreak: Here are some of the hobbies people started during quarantine and have no plans to give up.
A reality-TV show
In March, contestants on the German version of Big Brother were in a house, isolated from the rest of the world as usual. But this time, the show had another twist: The cast didn’t know about the COVID-19 pandemic impacting Europe and the rest of the world, CBS News reports. The producers finally clued in the housemates regarding their inadvertent quarantine on March 17, on live TV. Filming wrapped up in mid-May, and the contestants found out what it was like outside the safety and confines of the Big Brother house.
A tiny house in a stranger’s backyard
At the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, blogger and traveling pet sitter Cori Carl was on a job in Calgary, Alberta, in Canada. But when her host took an emergency repatriation fight a few days into lockdown and returned home, Carl was left with few options in a city she had never been to before and had 36 hours to find a new place to stay for an unknown amount of time. Though her pet-sitting client invited her to stay, she only had a one-bedroom apartment, which wasn’t ideal for quarantining.
So Carl searched Airbnb to find a place to live temporarily. Some requests were met with comments that she needed to leave, while others offered to let her pitch a tent in their backyard. “There were hotels and Airbnbs accepting guests, but they were still charging a normal rate,” Carl tells Reader’s Digest. “They were able to cash in on people needing to quarantine.”
Finally, she found a listing for a tiny house in someone’s backyard in downtown Calgary—but the owners thought they had taken it down. Once Carl explained the situation, the Airbnb hosts immediately de-winterized the tiny home and offered it to her at a fraction of the normal listing price.
For two months, Carl lived in what was designed to be a writing studio and guest room, functioning as an extension of the main house. This meant that the “kitchen” in the tiny house was built for making cups of tea, not whole meals, and had only a mini-fridge, tiny sink, and hot plate. “Things that could normally be solved with a trip to the store could only be solved with ingenuity or accepted,” she explains. “There was no storage space. My water supply froze. My composting toilet clogged.”
But Carl—who blogs about the social economics of travel—says there were upsides to her stay. For starters, the backpack she had with her contained toiletries, a few changes of clothes, and her laptop. Plus, toilet paper was included in her stay. “Spending lockdown in a tiny house made it feel like an adventure,” she says. “It was full of good books and had a clever desk space. The owners were lovely. Both they and my previous host helped me track down everything I needed.” Love this story? Check out these 21 moving photos of kindness in the time of coronavirus.
An abandoned hospital in Vietnam
Three British women in their 20s who were on vacation in Vietnam were required to spend a 10-day quarantine isolated in an abandoned asylum in Ninh Bình, the BBC reports. Though the former hospital wasn’t exactly comfortable, they did have working toilets and were able to shower with buckets of water, and a nurse kept track of their health and brought them food. If spending time in an empty hospital sounds like your cup of tea, you’ll definitely want to see these 25 chilling photos of abandoned places around the world.
A lake house in Guatemala with 11 strangers
On March 14, Dana Humphrey left her studio apartment in New York City and flew to Guatemala, where she was going to attend a retreat. After one day, she was informed that the retreat was over and that she’d have to find other accommodations in San Marcos. Two Canadians in the same situation allowed Humphrey to stay with them in their yurt, which had Wi-Fi and a small kitchen and bathroom. They met up with other people who had participated in the first part of the retreat, and they all rented a large house on a lake together. Ultimately, it ended up being a group of 12 people from the United States, U.K., Australia, Belgium, Spain, Israel, and Mexico.
“We nominated one person per day to go out with a mask on and buy groceries,” Humphrey tells Reader’s Digest. “We were on curfew—just like the rest of the country and the world. Many of us are self-employed and worked remotely from the house. Some have lost their jobs. We shared Wi-Fi and water and cooked meals together. It was a very unique situation, and we are very lucky to have had each other.” Humphrey was able to return home to New York on June 9.
A Russian submarine
In March, a civilian contractor who had been exposed to the coronavirus visited one of the eight remaining Soviet-era Oscar II class submarines still in Russian Navy service, The Drive reports. As a result, Russian Navy officials required the entire crew to remain quarantined in the submarine until early August.
A long-shuttered part of Disney World
An Alabama man spent several days in May illegally camping on Discovery Island, a part of Disney World that has been closed since 1999. But, as Newsweek reports, all of the original buildings were left on the island, giving the man a place to stay. Within a few days, security guards and law enforcement arrested him and charged him with one misdemeanor count of trespassing and banned him from Disney properties. If, like this man, you are nostalgic for the golden days of the amusement park, you might appreciate this list of discontinued Disney rides we wish would come back.
An island off the coast of the Horn of Africa
Travel vlogger Eva zu Beck was visiting Socotra, a Yemeni island located 60 miles east of the Horn of Africa, when the coronavirus outbreak began in March. She ended up staying until the beginning of June and documented her new life on Instagram, as it unfolded. Zu Beck was criticized for publicizing her time quarantining on this remote island, but she had a different perspective on the situation. “My intention was never to encourage active travel to remote places during a pandemic,” she wrote in an Instagram post on May 19. “Rather, I wanted to share the beauty of a place I was already in, a place that’s little-known and needs to be protected.”
An English zoo
Four members of staff at the Paradise Park zoo in Cornwall, England, decided to remain on the property to care for the animals after it closed to the public on March 21 because of coronavirus, the BBC reports. They lived at the zoo for 12 weeks, keeping up with their daily feeding routines and documenting their time with the animals on social media. The zoo reopened in early July. The pandemic hasn’t been the only time that zoo staff faced an unusual situation: Here are 10 of the craziest things zookeepers have seen on the job.
For more on life during the pandemic, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.