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Hotel quarantine: What to expect and how to prepare

The lessons from my twenty-one-day Hong Kong Hotel Quarantine

By Lydia Gahr

Creator: Hollie Adams, Credit: Getty Images

Starting February 15th, all arrivals to Scotland will have to undergo hotel quarantine for 10 days. As an exchange student in Hong Kong, I am required to complete 21 days in a quarantine hotel. Going into my hotel quarantine, I was rather optimistic, having previously undergone four home quarantines since the start of lockdown. To be completely honest, I thrived during home quarantine by spending time cooking, cleaning, organising, knitting, sewing, dancing, and watching films.

I thought that hotel quarantine would be a breeze and I would come out of it productive and refreshed – I was very wrong.

Hotel quarantine has been physically and mentally one of the hardest challenges for me since March 2020. My room is fifteen square meters with no closet, table, or chair. I am living out of a suitcase and can only exercise in the space of an ironing board. In hotel quarantine I am unable to do any of the fun activities that got me through home quarantine, such as cooking or cleaning. All I am able to do is hours of live lectures and homework, after which my eyes are too tired to watch Netflix. Hotel quarantine takes away nearly all the choices I have during home quarantine, such as what to eat and what to do. On Day 10 I fell into a quarantine-slump; I would lay on my bed staring at the ceiling for hours because I couldn’t concentrate on doing anything else. I struggled to sleep at night and in the morning, I had no motivation to get out of bed because there was nothing to do but school and sleep. My friends and family were all in different time zones, meaning that even digitally, I didn’t have contact with anyone for hours at a time. This lack of control, choice and contact affected my mental health more than I ever would have imagined.

My body has also been feeling the effect of hotel constrictions. The room doesn’t have a chair or table, so I turned a window ledge into my chair and the bedside table into a desk. Being hunched over my laptop during every class, chat, and meal has certainly taken a toll on my back and energy levels. Scottish hotels are likely to provide a chair and desk during quarantine, so hopefully incoming arrivals will not have this problem. As previously mentioned, the only space I have for workouts is long and wide enough to comfortably do a plank and nothing more. Therefore, I have had to be very creative with adapting dance and Pilates workouts for my small space to make sure I get in more than 20 steps a day. Even Hillhead bedrooms have slightly more space for home quarantine, plus the advantage of having communal space outside the bedroom for variety.

Three times a day I get food dropped off at my door by hotel staff and every day at least two of the meals are rice plus some protein and warm lettuce. Food was one aspect I wasn’t expecting to be difficult, but after having the same ten meals in rotation 63 times, I started to lose my appetite and would eat just for the sake of eating. During home quarantine I had the freedom to decide what I wanted to eat and could eat as much or as little as I liked. This is a luxury that quarantine hotels cannot offer. Thankfully, I was advised beforehand to bring my own food and it is the single best piece of advice for anyone undergoing hotel quarantine. I made sure to pack protein bars, cup-a-soups, instant coffee, chocolate, spices, and a ton of instant noodles which has made a huge difference. Even with all the extra food, I am definitely losing weight in quarantine, which is physically unhealthy as well as energy draining. However, some quarantine hotels allow UberEats and Deliveroo drop-offs, which can be a lovely mid-quarantine treat even if it sits at reception for fifty minutes before being brought up.

I am not trying to fill anyone with dread at the prospect of a hotel quarantine; I instead wish to give some realistic expectations and provide some advice on how to make it doable. Packing food, coffee and spices is the easiest way to minimise the dietary toll of hotel quarantine. It keeps you well-fed and making a coffee in the morning or having late night chocolate goes a long way in improving mental health. It is also wise to bring a basic plate, bowl and cutlery set with dish soap and a sponge. As weird as it sounds, washing dishes has become a fun part of the day, as it gives me something to do that’s on my feet, doesn’t involve a screen and is part of a familiar routine. Take some type of non-electronic entertainment such as a physical book, colouring book, or crochet materials. As a film student I never thought I would get bored of watching Netflix, but my eyes and body are not able to handle staring at a screen all day. I did bring a colouring book with me; however, due to my lack of desk, my back only allows for short periods of colouring.

Making a schedule and filling it every day provided me with some much needed routine and variety in my days.

It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to have contact with others and set up calls with friends and family. Talking with others is such an excellent way to improve mental health in this situation, even for people who really detest Zoom calls. My family would often put me on Zoom in the kitchen while they made breakfast for some company and familiarity. A final recommendation is to have little moments of fun, even if you have to force it at times. Once a day I force myself to have a dance party to get out anxiety, perk up my mood and will allow me time to jump on the bed with no one watching. Hotel quarantine is extremely different from home quarantine and much more challenging; however, I think that if you prepare for it being its own kind of experience, it is definitely doable and has the potential to be positive. Today (February 10th) is day twenty of my twenty-one days and I have to say, I’ve never been more excited at the prospect of going outside.


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