Freelance Writer, Debbi Shibuya, Sydney, Australia

“We’ve discovered this year, more than ever, that life is short – and that nothing is ever certain or guaranteed. Thus, the best thing we can do is maintain a positive outlook on things and try to reflect on all the experiences we’ve had in the past (and present) that we should be grateful for.”

Debbi Shibuya is originally from California, but says that she hasn’t really been “home” since 2013, when she began working various jobs that allowed her to travel the world. She’s currently a freelance writer in Sydney, writing for about 3-4 sites on a weekly basis.

Debbi began her career at Disneyland Resort, before leaving that lifestyle behind to challenge herself both personally and professionally. Since then, she’s lived in New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Thailand, has sailed all seven seas, and visited 75 countries (she spent time working on a cruise ship which she’ll dive into, later in her profile feature).

In the next few years, she’s aiming to self-publish her own book (she’s still deciding on whether it’ll be focused on “how to change your life if you’re unhappy,” “why every woman should travel solo at least once in her life,” or “the importance of mental health in relation to travel” – or all of the above!). 

Debbi says that she’d love to continue freelance writing but also wants to be a part of a company (or build her own business) that allows her to make more of a difference in the world. “I want to inspire and encourage others to live out their wildest dreams and not stay ‘stuck’ in something just because it’s what society paves out for them,” she says.

Here’s how she’s been faring in Sydney, Australia, since COVID turned the world upside-down.

Where do you currently reside/and what has your local community been doing to fight the rate of transmission? 

“I currently live in Sydney, Australia (just 10 minutes via train from the city center, to be exact). Safety and sanitization protocol out here has been incredibly well-maintained and enforced, although face masks have never been a requirement in Sydney.

As of now, face masks are strongly recommended when traveling on public transport. My boyfriend and I always wear masks when taking public transport and going grocery shopping, but there is no official law that enforces this. The amount of people who actually wear masks is dependent on the actual suburb.

Strict social distancing measures have been in place for nearly every business, park, outdoor facility, and public transport. Signs, posters, and stickers have been placed on windows or inside every business throughout the city. Varying numbers of people have been limited in every shop to maintain social distancing (indicated by a sticker on the outside of each business; varies by shop size).

Businesses began opening up on June 1st for us, and things have transitioned into easing back into the norm (slowly).

In regards to public transport, the following guidelines have been established: green “sit here” dots have been placed on seats that indicate where one is able to sit on trains and buses; we are encouraged to monitor capacities onboard via apps before boarding; and green “stand here” dots have been placed throughout train stations to show where we are allowed to stand when waiting for a train.

Australia and New Zealand have been using their “tap to pay” services for years now, so electronic payment has never been an issue here. The vast majority of restaurants and cafes now allow us to order from their menus via QR code, so no interaction is even required for taking orders.

I believe that Sydney is doing an effective job of reopening things to safely support the arts community as well. Our cinemas reopened a few months ago and theatre productions are starting up again with social distancing measures in place. 

Additionally, Sydney Opera House has put digital shows online, Opera Australia performances are streamed online, and annual food markets such as the Night Noodle Markets have gone purely digital via DoorDash (allowing everyone to order food from the same restaurants, but with more discounts).”

Can you tell us a bit about how this pandemic has changed your life? 

“This pandemic has been incredibly hard for everyone, but it’s primarily shown me the importance of gratitude and making the most of every single moment in life (as cheesy as that sounds). 

We’ve discovered this year, more than ever, that life is short – and that nothing is ever certain or guaranteed. Thus, the best thing we can do is maintain a positive outlook on things and try to reflect on all the experiences we’ve had in the past (and present) that we should be grateful for.

I was fortunate enough to fly into Australia about 12 hours before the foreign border was closed, so I’ve been with my boyfriend the entire time as COVID-19 started to unfold. Some, unfortunately, aren’t as lucky, and the hardships of being separated from someone you love (for an unknown amount of time) is extremely difficult. 

Due to the pandemic, both my boyfriend and I were forced to figure out the best option for our futures together. We had always known that I’d end up moving to Sydney in the long run, so the pandemic merely acted as a fast-forward button for this. 

Nearly everyone who is dating someone from another country inevitably decides which country to end up basing in, so we lodged my partner visa application here (especially since it made sense, with the inability to travel elsewhere during this time).”

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced during the COVID crisis? 

“The hardest part of the ongoing pandemic hasn’t really been about me, personally — it’s been the resulting aftershocks and reverberations of the world around us. 

Reading the news on a daily basis and seeing the shocking number of cases and deaths rise continuously (especially in my home state), unemployment rates soaring, the number of businesses being forced to close, and the majority of my closest friends being unsure about their futures (especially in the arts/entertainment industry, which has been affected the most) has been absolutely heart wrenching. Along with the other events of the year, it’s felt like I’ve been watching the events of a wild film play out in real time, except from the other side of the world.

In particular, hearing about the recent layoffs (approximately 28,000) across The Walt Disney Company, in both California and Florida, affected me the most. I had an extremely tough time (and still am struggling) with how to deal with the aftermath of so many jobs being lost — especially when these are all people who I love and care about with all my heart, and most are people who have helped me in my own professional life.

My entire friend and family base that I started my career with (straight out of college) have been laid off unexpectedly in the most devastating event of the company, so this was the worst part of 2020 for me.

The most difficult part of seeing all of these unfortunate events unfold is how you, as one person, cannot help every person single-handedly. I realized that there is no amount of words I can say to comfort anyone, other than offering support, encouragement, and a listening ear.”

Is there anything you feel that you’ve learned about yourself or the world from this experience, that you’d like to share?

“As I’ve mentioned before, I think it’s important to realize that nothing is ever certain or guaranteed – change is bound to happen (even in this very moment). Thus, it’s important to stay grounded and live in the moment, focus on the present, and not get upset about things that are out of your control or have already happened.

I’ve also learned throughout my travels that people are inherently good – most of them. It can be all too easy to become bitter, frustrated, and angry at the human race because of all the negative events that have happened this year, but it won’t do your mental health or heart any good.

Instead, focus on the people who have brightened your life in immeasurable ways. The people who have helped shaped you into the person you are today, the people who have stood by your side through all your struggles, and the people who offered helping hands to you, even if they were complete strangers. 

Community is vital to our own personal growth and development, and I’ve found that there is always beauty in others — if you’re willing to see it. Your vibe attracts your tribe!”

Has this experience in any way changed the way that you order your personal/professional priorities in life?  

“I’m quite certain that this pandemic has changed EVERYONE’S perspectives about life and their careers in general.

For me, it forced me to focus on my passions and which path I wanted to take for my career. I was fortunate enough to leave behind a career on cruise ships at an ironically ideal time (literally a month before the pandemic hit), and I knew I always wanted to focus more on writing. 

Thus, everything career-related has fallen into place for me (miraculously), except that I’m probably working and hustling a lot more than if I were to have a set 9-5 job. SEO research, constant deadlines, photo editing, more research, setting up other side hustles – you know the drill!

Like others, I also focused a lot on making time for loved ones virtually (especially since I won’t be able to go back home easily in the unforeseen future). I’ve FaceTimed and Zoomed so many more friends and contacts that I normally would just message. However, even with time zone and schedule differences, it’s possible to sync and stay in touch with the people who matter most to you.

If anything, the pandemic has also taught me not to take anything for granted. It has humbled me in countless ways and allowed me to focus on what I have in the present – and not what I ‘need.'”

What has been your general daily routine so far during the pandemic?

“My routine has varied since I arrived in Sydney in late March, but I usually do freelance writing during the week and then reserve my weekends for hiking and exploring all the gems of this city.

Since I was working seven days a week (for 6-9 continuous months, no days off, for four years) on cruise ships, I truly value time off and understand how burnout is real. Thus, I try to make time to go outside (ALL day, amassing about 30k steps) at least twice a week.

My boyfriend works from home and has a strict routine of waking up at 6 a.m. and sleeping at 10:30 p.m., which I’ve been accustomed to follow (and highly recommend). Having a normal sleep routine is the most important thing for your body and mental health, and I’m the type of person who requires eight hours of sleep per night.

We’ve eaten out a fair amount of times to support our favorite small businesses in the past few months as well. Learning to cook, hone various skills, and try new things has also been quite therapeutic for me.”

What have you been doing to keep your spirits up on a day-to-day basis?

“I’m a huge advocate of mental health (especially as someone who has struggled with depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder in the past), so I find true value in using the outdoors as the best “therapy.”

I’m an avid hiker, so it was difficult to have been staying indoors from March – May. However, once restrictions began easing in June, I finally felt safe enough to hike twice a week. Our hiking trails are usually never crowded, so I’ve always felt extremely safe and comfortable hiking alone in various bush tracks here.

I also threw myself into rebranding my travel blog, building up a portfolio for copywriting and copyediting, taught myself Photoshop, and social media marketing. I like staying productive on a daily basis to ensure that I’m still making quality use of each and every day, and I knew that I still wanted to use this year to focus on my passion for writing and creating as much as possible.

I also bought two lightsabers (legitimate ones, not the toy ones!) to practice saber spinning, am learning to roller skate, and am beginning to delve into cosplay and the world of sewing in order to channel more of my geeky side. I’ve used social media platforms to connect with other like minded individuals (whether Star Wars fans or travelers) and have used many of them as further inspiration to continue sharing my passions with the world.

Lastly, I’ve downloaded the “Gratitude” app that prompts you at the end of every day to write about one thing you’re grateful for in that moment. I’ve always been bad with journaling on a daily basis, so this is much easier for me – and it’ll be something nice to reflect on when the year is up.”

Has this travel ban/quarantine situation impacted any especially important future plans you had laid out?

“I think it has affected many others who have unfortunately had to cancel trips, weddings, potential working holiday visas, etc. — far more than it has impacted myself.

A good friend’s wedding in Santorini had to be cancelled (I was supposed to be there last week), but my plans around that, including backpacking around eastern Europe, can always be rescheduled. While I unfortunately won’t be able to attend her rescheduled wedding next year, I feel extremely grateful to be where I am right now, with my boyfriend, in good health, and to have begun setting up all the things necessary for a quality life in Australia.”

Anything else at all, you’d like to share?

“As humans, we tend to fall into the spiral of negativity far too often (“I’m too busy;” “Life sucks;” “I just want this year to be over”).

However, your mindset is everything, and negative thinking can be a tough habit to break. You’ll be rewarded in so many unimaginable ways if you just start speaking and positioning yourself as a positive source of knowledge and inspiration, rather than someone who complains and sees all the “bad” in the world.

Hiccups and hardships in life are temporary – but your life itself isn’t, so make the most of it.”

Check out Debbi on social media, here:


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