Wow, 2020. What a shit storm, eh?
I haven’t been on a single plane, I haven’t been home to Orkney since April 2019, we haven’t seen Ash’s parents in over a year. Who saw any of this coming?
A year ago, we were celebrating what was undoubtedly going to be the best year of our lives. We were going to get married! Celebrate our 10 year anniversary! Finally visit Japan! Maybe even buy a house!
How could any year ever beat 2020? And yet I felt this weird sadness creep over me. We were celebrating, but it was just the two of us – after a year in Edinburgh, we had struggled to form any real friendships. We had lots to look forward to, but we didn’t feel like we were living the dream that we had envisaged. I now kind of wonder if the sadness was a premonition of what was to come – that maybe our 2020 was too good to be true.
We started off strong – in January, we did indeed celebrate our 10 year anniversary with a beautiful castle stay in an area of Scotland we hadn’t managed to visit before. In February, we moved into our own place (we had previously been living in a room in a friend-of-a-friend’s flat) and one of our best friends came to visit the same weekend, which in hindsight was the perfect last hurrah, not to mention a whole bunch of help right up until she smashed my Tim Hortons Scotland mug. Hahaha. We also did a load of last-minute exciting Japan planning, as she was due to come with us.
Three weeks later, we went into lockdown and our lives were turned upside down. First, Japan was cancelled. Our original flights (via China) had been cancelled in February and we had decided to book far more expensive flights instead. It was almost fortuitous – the new flights went via Turkey, and it was actually because of this that they got cancelled as Turkey banned flights from the UK three days before lockdown here was announced. If it hadn’t been for that, we would either have ended up going to Japan with no way back, or cancelled it most likely on our own dime.
It’s no secret that I was devastated losing out on this trip. We’d been planning it with our friend since 2013, and separately for years before that. At the time, I wished we had booked it for a couple of weeks before because then at least we would have gone. But would we have had a good time? Everything we wanted to do was closed. I convinced myself that we would have had a great time anyway – there’s plenty of nature to check out, and the cities would still be amazing. But part of me wonders if it was really for the best. Because of the timing, we also received full refunds for absolutely everything – within a couple of weeks, most people were only getting vouchers and credits.
If only I’d known that that would be the “least-bad” thing to happen this year.
Unfortunately, it was all down from there. A couple of weeks later, we cancelled our wedding. Two weeks after that, Ash’s best friend died. April 2020 was truly the worst month of our lives, and it was a real struggle to recover. In June, in the week coming up to what should have been our wedding, instead of making exciting last-minute preparations for the biggest day of our lives, we were live-streaming the best man’s funeral online because we weren’t allowed to go in person.
The only good thing about hitting rock bottom is that it’s usually uphill from there. While 2020 has certainly been a bumpy ride, we’ve had some great experiences, and once lockdown lifted in July, we were off on (Covid-safe) road trips and adventures like we were making up for lost time – which, let’s face it, we were. July, August and September were like that light at the end of the tunnel, and God knows we were desperate to get out of the tunnel. We could be amongst the mountains again! We were eating out in restaurants again! We could see friends (in a small number) again!
Since October, Scotland has essentially been in semi-lockdown again and we’ve been unable to leave Edinburgh for most of it. But we had finally felt like 2020 wasn’t a complete write off, and to be honest I think we all needed that.
In the mean time, we’ve both been working from home, squirreling away more money for future adventures – both in the travel sense and in the life sense. I’ve been packing in as much overtime as I can; at least 200 hours of it over the year. I feel lucky – while many of my friends were furloughed or even lost their jobs, we not only held onto full-time jobs that we can do from home, but I’ve been earning more than I’ve ever earned in my life.
Ultimately, it meant that we have been able to buy our own house in one of our absolute favourite parts of Scotland, in one of our favourite towns on the edge of Edinburgh. We feel like we’ve secured a part of our future. Friends have joked, “an actual house? One that you can’t just leave for 18 months if you decide to go travelling again?” Yep! But I’m really excited about it.
Of course, it doesn’t mean the future will be adventure-less – far from it. We’ll be swapping working holiday visas for two-week trips and endless weekend getaways. (No joke – Ash said recently that “the first thing we should do when we can, is book a beach holiday”. I replied, “you do realise that as soon as we can, I’ll be booking like twelve flights??”)
I have been thinking a lot about the future of travel, though. Will everything go back to normal? Will people start to focus on sustainable travel? Will unexpected destinations become popular in the wake of all of this? Will staycations remain popular? Will a lot of people just not risk travelling for a long time? The jury’s out on that, but I’ve been thinking about the future of my own travels too.
I realised at one point that I’ve sort of lost sight of my favourite aspects of travel. I live for the weird and wacky, yet there are a lot of things I’ve missed, and I’ve barely ticked anything off my list, particularly weird places to stay. In Australia, I found an amazing hostel in Melbourne set in a nunnery, but instead we ended up staying in a formulaic hostel downtown because it was cheaper. The same happened in Christchurch with a hostel in an old prison. And I was gutted on our American road trip when we missed staying inside a giant dog in Idaho by just a few days as it closed for the season. I still haven’t stayed in a hobbit house or an ice hotel.
This year has given me plenty of time to find all sorts of ideas for what I want to do in the future (more than I can fit in a lifetime, probably). In Scotland alone, I’ve earmarked boats, train carriages, lighthouses and churches to stay in. There are lots of awesome things I’ve wanted to do for years, like hire a VW camper, or the canyon swing I ended up not doing in New Zealand, or ride in a hot air balloon.
Part of it has been down to money; I am a budget traveller, but equally I love anything unique, and the reason I do travel on a budget is so I have more money to spend on those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. And one of my favourite things about travelling is finding those unique things!
And if this year has taught us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t settle for less than our dreams.
I’ve also decided to set myself a few challenges. Like above, I feel like I’ve been “floating” through my travels and also my life to some extent – the places at the top of my travel list have been there for years because I keep doing other things instead. Even this year, when I’ve been deliberately not been taking things for granted, I had so many hiking plans within Scotland, and I’ve not done a single one.
I want to prioritise places on my “bucket list” rather than favouring quick or cheap getaways, or doing something else “because I can” – after all, that’s partly why we put off Japan for so long! To be fair, one of those reasons was to move to Canada for a few months, which is something I will never regret, but the point is that it was never something I’d planned to do and now we still haven’t been to Japan. Or Norway.
It’s meant that I’ve spent the past few years bouncing between a huge adventure and scraping as much money together as possible before the next one, while not knowing how long the money will have to last me. I’m grateful to now be in a position where it’s not an “either or”.
So I have a few challenges in mind, while also prioritising the places I want to see and do the most.
- Visit every country in Europe
- Visit every island in Scotland (by this, I mean every visit-able island!)
- Bag 10 munros (mountains in Scotland higher than 3000ft)
- Climb Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike & Snowdon, the 3 highest peaks in Scotland, England & Wales
I’ve added these plus a few more (including ridiculous things like “visit 4 countries in one day”) to my Wanderlist page, which is full of the things I want to tick off at some point. Some of these will take a long time. Some of them may even take my whole life. I’m not in any hurry to complete them, but it gives me some purpose, adventures to achieve; not to mention a reason to get fit again. I’m currently the most unfit I’ve been in my life!
As for 2021 – at this point, who knows? Hopefully we’ll get our dream honeymoon in Tanzania, with a safari in the Serengeti polished off with some beach time in Zanzibar. We’ve come to terms with the fact Japan is unlikely, but we’ve still got our sights very much set on it for as soon as we can. Apart from that, I’m just hoping for some weekend trips hopping around Europe.
I’d love to visit a Christmas market or two as well – I’d been hoping we might still be able to do that this year, but in the back of my mind I knew winter was going to be a tough one to get through. It’s no surprise that travel is still off the cards.
Anyway, let’s share some of my favourite things from 2020.
Favourite trip: Isle Of Mull
If it hadn’t been for the Shit Storm Of 2020, there is no way that we would have got to Mull this year; it was barely even on my radar. So if there’s one good thing to come out of it, it’s that we managed to have one of the most fun trips of our lives (yes, really!) as we discovered our new favourite place in Scotland.
Runner up: it might have been a bit of a disaster, but our “camping” trip with our friend in August was so much fun! We drove through the Cairngorms, “camped” (by which I mean slept in a tent… in a garden…) and then road tripped across to Glenfinnan and Glencoe. Ash and I returned to Glencoe a few weeks later and that was a seriously lovely trip too!
Favourite TV show: Schitt’s Creek
I honestly thought with the constant lockdowns that we would have watched a lot more TV this year than we did, but we did discover a few crackers. One of those was Schitt’s Creek, which I actually only decided to check out after they swept the floor at the Emmy’s. It’s a bit of a slow start, but the characters just get better and better with every season and we ended up binging the whole thing. We finally finished it on our very last night before we moved, which was quite fitting, although I’m not really sure what to do with my life now (except post endless gifs on Twitter).
Runner up: The Umbrella Academy (season 2 was possibly even better than the first!).
Favourite movie: Enola Holmes
Obviously there was a meagre selection of movies out this year, but one of the ones that made it through the cracks was Enola Holmes, which we watched on a whim. SO. GOOD!! It’s the story of Sherlock’s sister as she tries to track down her mum. The cinematography is really cool, and obviously Millie Bobby Brown is a freaking treasure. Plus it’s got Helena Bonham Carter – what’s not to love?
Other choices: We’ve been working our way through the Studio Ghibli films we haven’t seen since their catalogue was added to Netflix. I think our favourite so far is Laputa: Castle In The Sky, which makes sense as it’s one of their more popular ones and we couldn’t believe we hadn’t seen it!
Also, we finally watched Into The Spider-Verse which is FANTASTIC and way better than I expected it to be. The animation is unreal. Total comic-book style executed excellently. And the plot is really, really good. Honestly, so impressed.
Oh, and – if it counts – Hamilton!
Overall, the music industry has been pretty lacking this year given how much it’s been suffering. That said, a few artists have managed to achieve a lot in lockdown – here are some of my favourite songs:
This song is from 2019, but I only heard it this year and it’s one of the best portrayals of mental health I think I’ve seen! (The lyrics AND the video)
Biffy’s new album is great, and this song is beautiful – but they somehow made it MORE beautiful by doing this mindblowing studio session with an orchestra! Want goosebumps? Give this a listen.
I got a bit addicted to Against The Current earlier in the year… taking me back to my pop punk/emo days big time! This song’s from 2014 and I definitely prefer that era of their music (HOW did I only hear them this year?!).
I’m also really enjoying All Time Low’s new album – which is funny because I was never a fan of them! I can’t decide what my favourite song is, but probably this, Clumsy or Summer Daze.
Favourite blog posts by other bloggers
It’s been a bad year for travel bloggers. Not for the first time, I am thankful I don’t do this for a living. That said, there have been some great blog posts out there that I’ve really enjoyed reading. Here are a few of them –
No, I will not stop talking about politics on my travel blog by Adventurous Kate
Here Are All The Things I Haven’t Accomplished This Year In Self-Isolation by This Battered Suitcase
Drinking Around the World Around the House: 9 World Cocktails to Make at Home by A Dangerous Business (a fun post while we can’t travel!)
Domestic Travel Tips To Help The Tourism Industry by Forever Lost In Travel
Is Quitting Your Job To Travel Ever A Good Idea? by Pip & The City
Ecobricks – How to Reuse Your Non-Recyclable Plastic Waste by Tea & Cake For The Soul (seriously, this has blown my mind and is something I’ve finally started doing!)
I am sure there are loads more that I’m forgetting to include!
Highlights Of My Blog
Naturally, I’ve posted less on here than usual – there’s only so much I can write about when we’re stuck at home! Instead, I’ve been working away in the background – I finally embraced the block editor on WordPress, made a new dedicated Scotland page with it, and updated my home page so it’s a bit smoother. I’ve actually almost caught up with making pins for all my older posts that hadn’t had them. Writing might be my favourite part of the blog, but there’s so much else to keep on top of, and this year has been a perfect excuse to smash that to-do list!
Here are some of my favourite posts:
15 Quirky Places To Eat & Drink In Edinburgh – this was my most popular post for months, especially during the Eat Out To Help Out campaign – and then of course Scotland practically went into lockdown again, and the post has tanked. Hopefully it’ll pick up again next year!
Four Islands, One Epic Weekend On The Isle Of Mull – our unexpected favourite trip of the year!
A Camping Guide To The North Coast 500, Scotland – a post I wrote this year, but about a trip I took last year.
Alphabet Adventures: Journeys Around The World From A-Z – a fun post I’d been planning for a while, but it became a trend on Twitter, so I decided to do a full post! Lots of other bloggers ended up joining in with this too, which was fun!
On Lockdown, Loss & Dealing With Grief – a really tough post to write following the death of a close friend. By far the lowlight of the year, but a reminder that, somehow, things have got better.
An Anniversary Trip – Staying In A Castle In Argyll & Bute – a hark back to happier times when we blissfully thought 2020 would be the best year of our lives.
I’ve also been writing a lot about Scotland and I’m looking forward to doing more of this in 2021.
Anyway, I hope you’ve all had a lovely Christmas! We had to change our plans up a bit with restrictions being re-introduced. My parents should have left today, and instead they had to leave on Christmas Day.
I have eaten entirely too much cheese (and chocolate, and everything else) and at this point I think I will in fact turn into a block of cheese. Most likely Double Gloucester with onion and chive.
It’s been lovely though; as sad as I thought I would be having such a short celebration with my folks, it was really delightful being able to spend any time with them at all, as I know so many other people haven’t been that lucky. I’m glad they were able to see the new house, and it feels like we have, at the end of it all, ended 2020 on a high.
Not quite pictured: my Christmas t shirt which says “Merry Christmas ya filthy animal” on it.
On Christmas Day, we even left Edinburgh for the first time since October – by walking across the bridge to Fife and back! It was… putting it politely, EXTREMELY BREEZY, as I suppose should be expected high up over the sea.
While it wasn’t as much of a trek as it sounds like, we have spent all subsequent days languishing in laziness and eating the many, many leftovers that my parents were supposed to help us polish off. We’ve watched Christmas movies every night, and to be honest it’s just been nice to actually relax.
I will, like everybody else, be glad to see the back of 2020 though, and I’m hopeful that 2021 will bring better things!
In fact, I’ve even made a calendar (after 2020 diaries were the biggest money waste of the year) which I’m really proud of. I made a few for family and an extra one for ourselves, and I’m thinking of making some next year to sell!
Anyway, here’s hoping we can actually put the calendar to good use!
Hope you all had a good Christmas and that you have a much better year coming up!