Happy new year! Despite what 2020 has thrown at us all, I’m sticking with my yearly tradition of doing a travel roundup of everywhere I went in the last year. Yes, I appreciate the irony in trying to write anything about travel in 2020, a year when we hardly left our homes. But I’ve given it a go anyway.
In these yearly roundups, I try to sum up the ‘best of’ and ‘worst of’ for all my previous year’s travel. They serve as a kind of personal reminder and are more for me than anything else. But I’ve got myself into doing them as a tradition now. Maybe they’re mildly useful for anyone wanting to know where I recommend. Or don’t recommend. As you’ve probably deduced, there’s very little in this 2020-based one. But I’ve shared some of my thoughts on the little travel I managed this year and also some musings on the state of travel blogging and how it’s been affected by the pandemic.
So, pour the dregs of your New Year’s Eve bubbly and have a read about my pathetic ‘travels’ in 2020: the least travelly year of my adult life. Let me know in the comments how you’ve survived 2020 and what travel plans you’re hoping to do in 2021.
Places visited in 2020
Well, this isn’t going to take long, is it?
I bought a new suitcase back in February. And it’s still got the cellophane wrapping on.
I should have had five trips after March but I cancelled all of them, or they were cancelled for me (not that I’d have gone, anyway).
Here’s what I managed in 2020:
- January: Spent a week in my favourite place, Madeira, Portugal. SO glad I got this in before the pandemic hit. I’ve blogged about Madeira so much; the only new post I did this year was on the little town of Camara de Lobos.
- February: Nowhere.
- March: Nowhere.
- April: Nowhere.
- May: Nowhere.
- June: Nowhere.
- July: Nowhere.
- August: A short but sweet trip to Auchencairn, Scotland. We had a very brief window of time when we were allowed to travel outside of our tier (for non-UK readers: we have a tier system for COVID restrictions) so we took the chance. I haven’t yet blogged about the trip yet as the post won’t make money and I’ve had to focus on those that will, for now. But I have plenty on the Dumfries and Galloway area already.
- September: Nowhere.
- October: Nowhere.
- November: Nowhere.
- December: Nowhere.
Oh good. What a year.
Suffice to say my most-visited destination was this: my home office. Note all the Lonely Planet books on my shelf gathering dust.
Worst travel experience of 2020
The whole bloody thing?
I normally start with the best travel experience in these yearly roundups. But it’s very 2020 to start with the worst.
Obviously, I can’t talk 2020 travel without mentioning the pandemic. It’s impacted so much. Plenty of people I know have lost loved ones. Other friends are dealing with long COVID symptoms, months after having the virus. It’s been awful for so many people.
Work is nowhere near as important as people, naturally, but it still made my heart sink watching this blog crumble in 2020. In case you don’t know, bloggers make money through ads loading as people read. The more readers, the more ads, the more money (put simply). Pre-COVID, I was getting >30,000 readers a month and doing well. In March, travel was suddenly off the cards here in the UK. People stopped searching for travel stuff to read. My numbers dropped to around 5,000. This has fluctuated since but never recovered. I have no idea what long-term impact this will have. Google is not fond of blogs with no readers. All I can say is I’m very lucky to have my full-time non-blogging job and don’t rely on my blogging income. Many bloggers and other travel professionals aren’t in that position. Even Lonely Planet made serious cutbacks in 2020 and closed its UK office.
Another crap thing was all the lost trips. My paid blogging trips with tourist boards and hotels were postponed indefinitely. Personal trips were cancelled. Not the end of the world, but still disappointing. I adore my full-time job, but it’s been relentless this year and I’ve worked flat out for months. Regular trips are normally my time to escape and de-stress. I’ve really missed them.
Best travel experience of 2020
Madeira in January, before anyone even knew about COVID
Oh, the heady days of pre-COVID naivety when I thought this would be the first trip of many in 2020…
I’m so glad I managed to get this week away in back in January. Obviously we’d barely even heard rumblings about the ‘rona in the news at that point. Halcyon days. That week in Madeira was the most carefree time I had this year.
Regular readers will know that Madeira is my speciality subject. I’ve been lots of times, know it inside out, and have a ridiculous amount of blogposts about it. So I didn’t need to do much blogging work while I was there and could just enjoy it as a break. We revisited old favourite places, took everything slowly, and enjoyed being warm for the first time in months. I always find it relaxing being in the sun after months of UK winter darkness. Being somewhere I know so well is quite calming in itself, too. Little did I know how much I would need to draw on that restorative week in the coming months…
While in Madeira, I did a bit of research to update some existing blogposts (I’m still yet to republish them though) because a few things had closed and new things opened that I needed to include. My main task was to spend a day in Camara de Lobos as that was the one place I was lacking a blogpost on at the time. That’s live now if you fancy a read.
Looking back, it feels like a lifetime ago. We could leave our room (we stayed in our usual B&B, naturally) without a second thought. Imagine now strolling down the streets not keeping 2 metres from people and going into cafés without masks on. Wild times.
Best local destination of 2020
Auchencairn, Dumfries and Galloway
Well, there’s no competition here. This was the only place I went to in the UK other than my own house. But Auchencairn would have won even in a normal year.
I’ve been visiting Dumfries and Galloway, South West Scotland, since childhood. Every time I return, I find more new places that I fall in love with. Auchencairn is the latest.
It’s a beautiful village just a short drive from Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbright, Kippford, and all my other regular haunts round those parts. Of course, it being 2020, we couldn’t do our usual things like go to restaurants, pubs, museums etc. But luckily this area is more about enjoying the outdoors. It’s well known for walking and there’s a fantastic book called Galloway: 40 Coast & Country Walks that lists the best walks. Auchencairn was a great base for doing them.
My favourite was definitely up Screel Hill (pictured below). It was also the most… challenging. We may have gone slightly awry navigation-wise, but when I planned a relaxing break away from the horrors of the pandemic, I’d not pictured climbing on my hands and knees up a vertical path that was essentially a waterfall while hailstones battered me in the face. Can I sue Visit Scotland…?! Luckily, the views from the top were well worth it all.
I think I burned enough calories to warrant a delicious takeaway (or carry-oot, as they say!) pizza from The Dragonfly, a vegan restaurant in Auchencairn. Yes, you read that right. A wee village boasts its own vegan restaurant. It was excellent. I fully intend to return to eat in once normality resumes.
More on Auchencairn and the surrounding area in blogposts soon, I’m sure. It was a much-needed break and very easy to not go near anyone, in the 2020 circumstances.
Best accommodation of 2020
Okay, I have two serious answers for this one.
The Bothy at Brigend Cottage, Auchencairn, Scotland
It took a lot of research back in August to find somewhere that wasn’t booked up in the brief window of time we could leave our area (where I live has been under the highest tier since forever with only this one chance to go anywhere!). After much searching, I settled on this Airbnb cottage, The Bothy in Auchencairn. It was around £85 a night.
I don’t know how it was available because it deserves to be booked up months in advance. It was genuinely one of the most memorable places I’ve stayed. It’s a converted mini barn-style outbuilding attached to the main cottage (which you can rent too if you’re a larger group). The way it’s been done makes incredible use of space so the whole thing feels light and airy yet packs everything you need in.
You have to climb up a ladder to get to the sleeping area, which is on a mezzanine above the kitchen and bathroom. It’s SO cosy. One of you can be getting the log burner going in the morning, while the other throws things at you from bed.
Outside, there’s a quaint little garden area with its own stream running through it. We had the place to ourselves and loved sitting out here to catch the last of the sun with a local beer from Sulwath Brewery (more on that in my Castle Douglas post!).
I should also mention how lovely the owner and caretaker were as we stupidly left a flask there and they very kindly posted it to us! So if you’re looking for the cosiest little bolthole ever, run by people very tolerant of forgetful idiots, The Bothy is your place.
Quinta Sao Goncalo, Funchal, Madeira
Ah, Madeira in January. What a time. Obviously not even dreaming we were about to enter into a global pandemic, I booked our usual beautiful pink B&B, Quinta sao Goncalo.
I’ve promoted this place SO much in all my Madeira posts over the years that you’re all probably sick of hearing about it. This stay was no less lovely than usual and we got my favourite room, which has the best view of the sea (see below). But little did I know that this would be the last bed other than my own I’d be sleeping in for eight months (until The Bothy, as mentioned above!).
Whenever we stay here, it’s like coming to our second home. The owner, Rita, is wonderful. We’re also always impressed by the amazing Vitolina (I’ve probably spelled her name wrong) who works there. She somehow manages to set out a delicious breakfast spread, usually out in the garden, while simultaneously making up the bed and getting our room all nice and fresh, within about five minutes of us sitting down at the table. Even if one of us has forgotten something and immediately pops back up to the room, it’s always done. I can only assume she’s cloned herself.
We always end up chatting to other guests while we’re at Quinta sao Goncalo. This year, we spoke to some German and Swedish couples, swapping our travel tales/recommendations and of course talking about our upcoming plans for the year. Ha! The best-laid plans and all that…
I’ve recommended it time and time again, but once we can travel again you should definitely book here if you’re off to Madeira.
Travel blogging overall in 2020
There was a lot of talk in the travel-blogging community about whether or not it was responsible to ‘promote’ travel in 2020. Some bloggers carried on as normal; some stopped publishing altogether. I opted for a middle ground. I had a long break from March to August in which I did absolutely no blogging. This was partly because it felt wrong, partly because no one would read it, and partly because I just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to do it with everything else going on. Eventually, it felt ok to get back into it and I started publishing again in August. I managed to catch up on a massive backlog of posts that needed writing, editing and publishing. After August, I actually ended up churning out a lot. I’m hoping it’ll all start ranking on Google next year, but who knows. It feels like a travel recovery in some form may be on the horizon. Until then, I’ll continue screaming into the ether with my posts.
Anyway, despite this awful year, I just wanted to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who read and supported the blog in 2020. I don’t think I’ve gained any new long-term readers this year but I know some people have still dropped in from time to time, or have at least said hello on my social media. If you don’t already follow the Pack The Suitcases page on Facebook, please do. It’s where I tend to put my more personal ramblings and where I promote any new blogposts as they go live. I’m also active on Instagram and Twitter.
What’s next in 2021?
I’m cautiously optimistic about 2021. We all know travel won’t be back to normal yet. And that’s probably going to be the case for a good while. Maybe it’ll never be the same now we’re all more conscious of the environmental impact of flying so much. I’d already started to transition more towards train travel and away from flying in the last couple of years. So I’m definitely planning on going further down that route once we can go anywhere safely.
If things get better, I have some big long-term travel plans brewing for late 2021. Fingers crossed. I don’t want to jinx them by going into details yet. I’m also looking forward to some more ‘normal’ trips before then. There are a few places I tentatively plan on going in 2021 that I should have been to in 2020 but got postponed. These include:
- Helsinki, Finland (definitely – I won free flights and fully intend to use them!)
- Amsterdam, The Netherlands (maybe)
- Rome, Italy (again).
There’ll inevitably be more if at all possible, but I’m not booking anything new yet. Who wants to tempt fate?! Any tips for the places I’ll be heading to (fingers crossed)? I’m especially interested in Helsinki as it’s a new one on me, but open to Amsterdam and Rome tips too as it’s been a few years since I’ve been to either. Answers on a postcard or, you know, in the comments.
And let me know where you’re hoping to head off to as soon as we’re able to safely. I hope you’re doing well and survived 2020 as best you could. Here’s to a better 2021, eh? Let’s all get that vaccine in us and get out of this place.