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I Traveled Abroad—and Then Got Banned From Home

Traveling during the pandemic affects way more than just you—and I learned that the hard way.

After over a year stuck in a pandemic and many months in cold, dark Denmark, a four-day trip with friends to Madrid was the relief I had been longing for.

Everything was going great until I received a series of messages that sent my newfound happiness down the drain.

I’m a Brazilian journalist and I had been living for almost a year in the Danish city of Aarhus, where I was enrolled in a Master’s degree program. I lived in a dorm that accommodated about 100 students. During that time, I had my private bedroom and bathroom, but the kitchen—one out of nine in the dorm—was shared with 11 Danes and one other Brazilian (who happened to be one of my friends on the trip).

Estrada Anton

Naturally, when folks from different places come together, there is bound to be some cultural shock, and more than a fair share of miscommunication. Every then and again, one side or the other would say things that would be received as hurtful or offensive—but up until our trip to Madrid, it felt like we were handling things well.

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When living in a shared space, your actions very directly affect everyone around you, something that COVID made even more evident. The choice made by one single person of going on a date or to a party could result, in the worst-case scenario, of 13 people infected with COVID-19. Or, in a handful of students self-isolating for a few days while waiting for the results of a PCR test. Mind you, a cost-free, government-financed PCR test. One we already took about once a week to be allowed in onsite classes.

But the current times we are living in are (as often said) unprecedented. And because I know they are tough, I always did my best to understand when my dormmates were more inquisitive about my comings and goings than my parents were when I was a teenager. They were scared. I understood.

“You have put us in a difficult situation. You have chosen to go to Madrid, which is classified as an orange region, so we called the corona hotline, and they told us your ten-day self-isolation is obligatory, not optional. You have to stay in your room and are not allowed in the kitchen. Breaking the self-isolation is breaking the law, so there might be consequences.”

I also did my best to understand when arbitrary rules started popping up. Rules created by my very own dormmates, exclusively for those—myself included—who shared our kitchen.

Rules such as “the only people apart from the 13 of us allowed inside the kitchen are boyfriends and girlfriends.” Not the guy you had been dating for three months but were still not ready to define the relationship with. Not the friend who had a negative COVID test taken less than 72 hours ago, as required to enter any, and I mean any, Danish establishment at the time.

So when I arrived in Madrid, I made sure to follow through with every recommendation from the Spanish health authorities. Even when that meant using masks outside, under the 95˚F sun, while in Denmark masks were no longer required—not even in indoor public spaces. Still, we were having a blast. I was living a beautiful illusion of a worry-free life under the sun, with happy, kind, random people talking to me in the streets, and getting free stuff at restaurants. It felt like nothing could ruin the moment.


Until the messages started to arrive.

“You have put us in a difficult situation. You have chosen to go to Madrid, which is classified as an orange region, so we called the corona hotline, and they told us your ten-day self-isolation is obligatory, not optional. You have to stay in your room and are not allowed in the kitchen. Breaking the self-isolation is breaking the law, so there might be consequences.”

Before traveling to Madrid, I had looked up the COVID-related requirements—both for leaving and for reentering Denmark. And so I took the COVID test 48 hours prior to entering Spain; filled all the documents with proof of said negative test; booked another test, again to be taken 48 hours prior to my return, with a private (and expensive) facility in Madrid, and got ready for the test that would be expecting me in Copenhagen airport, a place I wouldn’t be allowed to leave before receiving the negative result. As far as the information available was concerned, my travel companions and I were all set.

Oh, and did I mention that I was already fully vaccinated? That I was the only person in the kitchen who was fully vaccinated?

So when I received a message that my dormmates had called the authorities because of our trip, without communicating with me—and without any indications whatsoever that I might have COVID—I was somewhat shocked.

Thus began the most stressful four hours of the trip. A trip that started off with one of our friends having her purse stolen and with a tour through Madrid’s police stations.

They were scared. I understood.

I lost track of how many different phone numbers I called before finally getting a hold of someone who could provide me with any information. With all the pre-recorded information in Danish, it was hard enough to find out what number to press to be directed to the right department. And if that wasn’t enough, I was being tossed back and forth from the COVID-19 hotline to the ministry of foreign affairs, like a kid trying to ask her parents for permission. Go ask your mom! Go ask your dad!

When I finally landed on someone who was kind and helpful, it was hard not to cry. I unloaded all my sad story on her and, by the end of it, she told me she was sorry I had to share a living space with those people. She calmed me down but explained she didn’t have that information at hand. She would read through a 30-40 page document, which should shed a light on the issue, and call me back in a half-hour.

“Unfortunately”, she said, “your dormmates are right. You are supposed to self-isolate, and shouldn’t go to the common kitchen, but only for four days, after which you can resume your life with a negative PCR.”

That settled it. Nothing to be done. We enjoyed the rest of the trip however we could and, when reentering Denmark, as expected, no authorities mentioned anything about us having to quarantine. But my dormmates made sure to dig in to find this out, and there was no turning back.


I was banned from the kitchen for a full week. They decided I was allowed to enter the kitchen three times a day, a half-hour each time, and was not allowed to eat in the kitchen. I’ll admit, I was so hurt, I didn’t respond to a single greeting the whole week. Things never really recovered from there—and they never will, now that I’m moving to a new country.

Lucky for me, though, one of the friends on the trip lived in the same dorm, but shared a different kitchen–one where people felt some empathy for me and my other Brazilian travel bud. We ended up being invited for a week-long of happy, kind, random people giving us free food. And this time, there was nothing to ruin the moment.

albertlin3005 September 26, 2021

I have very little or no sympathy for people insisting on only considering their own enjoyment while discarded the feeling the other people.  The old saying absolutely applied.  You play, you pay, simple as that. Complaining about how others treat you after you disrespected them is childish.