I’m not quite sure where to begin with this year in review. It doesn’t help that I am nearly three weeks late in publishing it; like 2020, 2021 seems to already be passing by in a strange vacuum of time. I wake up, I don’t really do anything, and then it’s dark outside. I don’t do anything, and yet time goes by and I’m always tired.
What a great way to start a review, eh? I’m sure you’re just chomping at the bit to read more!
Truly, it was an absolutely awful year for the world, there is no sugarcoating it. Many, many people much, much smarter and more articulate than I will cover 2020 in thousands of articles, hundreds of books. I don’t feel as though I could ever even begin to cover the collective loss and grief that was felt around the world, particularly when it came to the pandemic and civil rights.
And part of me struggles to write anything on this blog anymore, I believe, because so much of what I write just feels so… inconsequential. So superficial. Does it really matter what I thought about 2020, or what happened to me? I wasn’t sure I even wanted to post this review at all, because it just felt so naval-gazey and self-centred.
But on the other hand, I remembered that at the start of 2020, I promised myself that I’d blog like I used to again. Dance like nobody’s watching, that old chestnut (otherwise known as, “blog like nobody’s reading,” or, “blog like it’s Livejournal circa 2004 and your username is still boogie2shoes and you have nine followers”). Because at the end of the day, this is a personal blog, and this is the place I go to write and get some of what I’m feeling down on proverbial paper. It’s also the place I go to record memories, and 2020 was full of them, for better or for worse.
When I think of 2020 on a personal level, three words spring to mind: privilege, sadness, and love. These three words are woven into so many of my memories from the year just past. And while in years gone by I wrote reviews based on the good and the bad and reviews broken down month by month, this year I thought I’d organize this post by focusing on those three words.
I try to acknowledge the privilege I was born with every single day. The privileges I was born with include but are not limited to: being a white, cis-gendered, able-bodied, heterosexual, healthy woman born in Canada, one of the safest countries on the planet, to a family that supported me emotionally and financially no matter what I wanted to do in life. Throw in a few well-paying jobs, university scholarships, and no dependents, and that led to travels and living all over the world.
Yeah. If that’s not privilege, I don’t know what is.
2020 in particular really highlighted my privilege in two distinct ways. The first is with the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and too many other Black lives that brought forth Black Lives Matter rallies and protests that rightfully became one of the largest collective movements in history. Millions of people around the world came together to support this cause; I joined the Justice 4 Black Lives rally in Winnipeg, which drew thousands of people, the biggest rally Winnipeg has ever seen.
And as I wrote on Instagram then,
“For years, I wrote variations of the following on my blog: “People ask me if the world is safe for a solo traveller, and I always say yes; everywhere I go I am welcomed with open arms.”
It’s embarrassing to admit that, until about five or six years ago, I never stopped to think that maybe that was because of my white skin, my blue eyes, my blonde hair. For twenty years, I’ve been attending protests, reading books about racism, donating money when possible, and calling white people out on racist behaviour, but there were so many times I didn’t recognize my own hurtful actions and words over the years. All the ways I’ve screwed up, of which there are many. All the times when I should have shown up – with my time, money, or support – and I didn’t. It’s uncomfortable to reflect, but it’s necessary.
For white people, this is not about posting a black square and thinking we did our part. This is about ACTUALLY caring about Black lives. It’s not enough to watch a clip of police killing a Black person and say, “Isn’t that horrible,” and then do nothing. It’s not enough to say, “I’m not racist, so this doesn’t apply to me.” Saying you’re not politically-minded is a privilege. Staying neutral or silent is a privilege. Being ignorant to the racism against Black women and men around the world is a privilege. Educating yourself about racism and not actually experiencing it on a regular basis is a privilege.”
I think there is this idyllic image of Canada as a multicultural utopia, one where nobody faces any racism. That simply isn’t true. One only has to do light research into how Canada has treated (and is treating) its Indigenous population to know that this country has a lot, A LOT, of work to do, of listening and learning and changing to do. For me, as an individual, this means reading a lot. Shutting up when I need to. Stepping up when I need to. And donating my time and money when I can. I vow to continue doing all of this in 2021.
The other way in which I really recognized my privilege was regarding my pandemic privilege. Don’t get me wrong, I freaking hate this pandemic. I hate that I lost my job, can’t see my family or friends, feel completely isolated (the only time I leave the house is for a dog walk or grocery shopping), and that I suffered badly from anxiety and depression in 2020, things I thought I had left back in 2017.
But I didn’t get sick, nor did any of my close family or friends. I didn’t lose anyone. I still had a roof over my head, food in the fridge, and savings in the bank. I’ve been able to spend money on local gifts and takeout to try to support the economy. I think about the people working on the front line with Covid every single day, the people fighting for their lives, the people who have lost someone to the pandemic… and I can’t imagine asking anyone to feel sorry for me because I couldn’t go the gym, because I had to stay home and watch TV. I can’t imagine the level of delusion I would need to have in order to believe someone might feel sorry for me because I didn’t get to leave the province for a fun holiday. But hey, that’s just me.
I got really, really frustrated with the levels of pandemic privilege I kept seeing online, mainly people shouting about their “freedom” because they were asked to wear a mask to, you know, PROTECT THEM AND PROTECT THE REST OF SOCIETY. I wish I could say I’ve been shocked at the selfishness I keep seeing online, but I’m not. I’m not shocked when I hear about huge gatherings that lead to dozens of Covid cases. I’m not shocked when I see yet another travel blogger travelling abroad and not really making mention of the pandemic other than to say, “I’m following all safety protocols!” Like… ok.
But yeah, it’s been really frustrating. It’s been frustrating to have stayed home for an entire year, to not be able to see my new niece, to not have seen any human being in person other than Jon (and a few grocery store employees) since early November. It’s been frustrating that Manitoba has been in such a severe lockdown since then that we can’t even buy anything that isn’t deemed essential in stores (so for example, we can’t buy books, toys, electronics, clothing, etc), let alone visit a gym, restaurant, or any indoor space that isn’t a grocery store. I’m frustrated that all of my family and friends have totally followed the laws and advice set forth in Manitoba, not even seeing each other over Christmas, but I continue to hear stories of people not doing the same and instead meeting up in large groups. I’m frustrated that their selfishness means that I won’t feel comfortable seeing my family and friends for even longer.
But again, I’m healthy, and I’m safe. That is a privilege that so many people around the world do not have, and I refuse to take it for granted.
Are you still reading? I’m just coming in hot with these positive vibes, eh? I promise there’s some good stuff below, but I just wanted to get all of the horrible crap out of the way first.
So just like a tragic Pixar movie (anyone else sob uncontrollably at Inside Out?)… here comes sadness!
Yep. I was really, really sad for a lot of 2020. As mentioned, I felt (and still do feel) extremely isolated. I remember feeling this so strongly in London, when I didn’t feel as though I had any good friends there, when I’d spend night after night over-eating and over-drinking, spending too long in the pub next door on my own or spending the evening rewatching movies I’ve seen a thousand times.
When I moved back to Canada in 2018, it took about a year before I really landed on my feet. But then… but then! In 2019 and early 2020, I felt as though I had really found my stride. I had finally finished renovating my little house, and had a full, beautiful garden. I had my beloved dog Dottie by my side. I saw my family nearly every day. I reconnected with a very dear friend, Sarah, and made a new amazing friend, Nicole. I discovered my love for the gym, finally got my binge eating and drinking in check, and lost 50 pounds. I was making a lot of money as a freelance travel writer, a total dream. I had an amazing campaign that would see me travelling all over the province lined up. And then, in February of 2020, I met Jon, a man I’d end up falling deeply in love with.
And while I’m so incredibly grateful to have Jon and Dottie (and Jon’s dog, Lazlow) to keep me company every single day, and to have this house I love every much, I’d be lying if I didn’t mourn the loss of so many of those other parts of my life that were so drastically changed back in March 2020.
I thrive off of interactions with people – it’s the main reason I love travelling – and so not seeing my family and friends in person has been pretty devastating for me. Jon is the only person I see, and he works as a first responder who occasionally comes into direct contact with Covid; that not only means I’m alone for a few days/nights a week, but also that I worry about him a lot when he’s gone. I can’t wait for the day when it is safe to see my family and friends in person; the thought of holding my niece, hugging my sister, sitting with a friend for a beer… it seems like heaven at this point.
The loss of the gym, and of routine, has been tough as well. The gym was so much more than just physical health for me; it was mostly about my mental health, because feeling strong and moving my body daily was helping my anxiety in so many ways. I didn’t have one panic attack for all of 2019. In 2020? I completely lost count of how many I had. So while, like many people, I’ve gained weight over the last year of staying home – which is completely normal! – that’s not what I feel sad about most days. I feel sad that I don’t have that space I loved so much, that space where I could get out of the house, chat to a few friends, and spend an hour or so being active.
And while I do try to work out at home, it’s just not the same. I don’t have the means or the space for any kind of cardio equipment such as a stationary bike, treadmill, or elliptical, and our sidewalks are so icy at this point that I don’t feel safe running outside. I hate HIIT, and I refuse to force myself to do any kind of activity that doesn’t feel good, but I do try to dance with Just Dance 2021 on Nintendo Switch every day (it’s an amazing cardio workout, plus it’s so much fun!). All of the weights I have are quite light, so I’m missing the heavy squats and deadlifts and hip thrusts I could practice at the gym. Pair that with daily dog walks and I’d say I’m doing OK, but I miss the gym a lot.
And of course, with the inactivity comes a lot of over-eating and over-drinking. I’m trying not to be too hard on myself for this (see: pandemic, freezing temperatures, and holidays) but I know how much better I feel when I eat healthy, nutritious food vs. nothing but junk and alcohol.
Finally, the biggest blow of 2020, the main root of my personal sadness, was the loss of my career I’d been working so hard on for over a decade. When I started travel blogging nearly 18 years ago, I had no idea that it would one day both a) lead to my career in professional travel writing and editing and b) be a source of income itself. I could have never dreamed of such a magical thing. But over the last few years, particularly when I moved to London in 2013 and onwards, that all became a reality.
Up until February of 2020, I had a fantastic job as a freelancer for a major travel company. I ran their travel blog, so was paid to edit and upload as well as paid extra when I wrote articles myself. The money was very good, and I was very, very happy with it.
On top of that, this blog brought me tons of other income streams. With affiliate marketing and Mediavine ads, I was earning around $1200-$1500 per month. I was also working on a few selected campaigns as well as writing here and there for other publications. I was all set for an amazing campaign in the summer with Travel Manitoba, which would see me travel to five locations around the province. I also had a few international campaigns lined up. Again, life was very good. A decade of writing, studying, and learning had finally paid off.
And then, of course, it all came crashing down. I lost my steady freelancing job in the early summer, and with it went an income of around $4000 per month. I lost most of my travel campaigns, a total loss of about $12,000. My ad and affiliate income went down to approximately $150 monthly. There was one month that I earned only enough to pay for the hosting and other costs of this blog.
And while I saw other travel bloggers travelling, I didn’t feel comfortable leaving Manitoba, not with all of the advice from medical professionals pleading for us to stay home. I also saw so many people saying that we should be promoting travel in order to help the travel community and support the locations, but in all honestly I couldn’t really afford to just fly to the Caribbean on a whim. I also saw just how many local businesses were shuttering their doors, how many shops and makers and breweries and restaurants and galleries were having to close, lay off their staff, and so on… and I knew that whatever money I did have left over at the end every month I wanted to put back in my local community.
While I took a couple of trips around the province when our numbers were extremely low (I went to Brandon when we had only one active case of Covid in all of Manitoba, for example), once the numbers started rising again, I decided I was staying put in Winnipeg. Even though I had the chance to visit my absolute Manitoban dream, Churchill, I just didn’t feel right about promoting travel to a small, vulnerable, isolated community. The province soon after issued a Northern travel ban, so I believe I made the right decision.
It was tough to turn down travel opportunities, especially when my net income had dropped overnight from around $6000 per month to $100 per month. And it goes back to privilege that I was able to turn down those few opportunities and live off my budgeted savings, which is what I’ve been doing since June.
But oh man… was I sad. I was so, so, SO sad. I felt so helpless, and so lost. I always believed that, whenever the main freelancing job fell through, I’d at least have this blog as a source of income, and that I’d be able to build from there. To lose all of my income streams almost overnight was a blow I couldn’t fathom.
Needless to say, all of these factors – not seeing friends or family, isolation and loneliness, lack of physical activity and healthy behaviours, loss of income and purpose in my career – meant that my anxiety came back, and it came back with a vengeance. Panic attacks became the norm in 2020. I constantly felt as though I had drank ten cups of coffee, that I was always on the verge of throwing up or crying or exploding with rage. It was – it is – awful, but I’m working on it daily (step one: give up actual coffee and switch to decaf).
I didn’t feel like writing, or working out, or reading, or doing anything that I truly loved. I celebrated ten years of This Battered Suitcase and hoped I’d write up a storm, but that never happened. It was like my anxiety froze me, so overtaken by fear and sadness that I didn’t even want to try to write anything, even though historically it always makes me feel better.
I have no idea when my career in travel writing and blogging will pick up again, but I’m hopeful that it will one day. I can slowly see my ad earnings creeping up, and I have a fun staycation campaign in Winnipeg with Jon planned for this month that I’m very excited about. I’m staying hopeful, and staying grateful for all that I have experienced in this career already. And who knows? Maybe losing my career will lead to something new all together, something unexpected and wonderful.
It’s a cliche, but I’m reminded here of Kintsugi, a Japanese art of putting broken pottery back together with lacquer mixed with gold. Something so broken put together again to be stronger, embracing its flaws, emphasizing them, even. For now, I’ll focus on that, focus on trying to come back stronger, shinier.
Whoa, are you still here? I thought I’ve written some depressing posts in the past, but here’s this contender, knocking it straight out of the park!
So let’s get to the good stuff, shall we? Because despite all the absolute crap that happened in 2020, I also had some really wonderful things happen, namely that I was introduced to two of the most important people in my life.
While I won’t be sharing any photos of her on the blog or social media, my niece Ophelia was born in August. My sister and I are very, very close, and seeing her become a mother has been one of the most amazing things I’ve ever witnessed. Ophelia is not only adorable, she’s sweet and funny and so bright-eyed, and I can’t wait until she’s old enough that we can have adventures together. At this point, I’m only seeing her over FaceTime, but I was able to hold her a few times in the summer when our numbers were very low. I can’t wait to spend more time with her in person, because I’m already so in love.
The other person who came into my life in 2020 is Jon. After years of writing about being single – both being happy about being single and being sad about being single – I had had it up to here with dating apps and trying to meet anyone I connected with for longer than a few dates.
It was with that attitude that I matched with Jon on Bumble back in early January of 2020. I sent him a message about travelling – he said he liked it in his profile – and then before he could respond, I deleted the app. I was just… done. I couldn’t take another so-so conversation back and forth, only to have it fizzle before it even started.
Fast forward about six weeks, mid-February. I was out for drinks with my friend Jen at a little bar called Handsome Daughter here in Winnipeg, when I see a tall guy walk in. The first thing I noticed was his salt-and-pepper hair, and when he took off his jacket… his arms. I was like, damn, that guy is HOT. And then I thought… DAMN…. do I know him?!
It took me about thirty seconds to realize he was the guy I had matched with, messaged, and then just left hanging. I felt an instant surge of regret, especially as he was with another woman. I tried to keep talking to my friend, but I was so distracted. Something just kept telling me that I needed to talk to this guy.
I saw him get up to go to the bar, so I went to the bathroom and reapplied my lipstick (don’t judge me, hah). When I came out, however… he was gone.
The next day, I decided to redownload Bumble. I realized I hadn’t actually deleted my profile, just the app, so I was hopeful we might still be a match.
It turns out, not only were we still a match, he had actually messaged me a couple of times to say he wished that I had messaged back! And the latest message? Sent the night before, after he returned home from his date. He said that he had seen me at Handsome Daughter, and even though he was on a bad date, he didn’t want to be disrespectful to her by talking to me.
That day, we talked for six hours on the phone. The next day, he picked me up for our first date. And I know that this is some romantic movie BS but honestly? When he walked in the door, my very first thought was, “You’re going to have babies with this man.” I swear on my life, that was my first thought.
Nearly one year later, we’re now living together with Dottie and Lazlow. He asked me to be his girlfriend three weeks after we met, and that was the same day Covid-19 was declared a pandemic. We went into lockdown together immediately after. It’s been incredibly interesting trying to navigate a new relationship while also navigating a pandemic, especially when we can’t go out, can’t meet each other’s friends, and have to spend nearly all of our time together. We’ve never been to the movies, never been dancing, never been bowling, and gone out for dinner approximately five times in our entire relationship.
And despite these tests, despite the fact that I wasn’t always the most joyous person to be around (see: entire last section), we’re strong. We’re happy. We laugh a lot.
I never really thought I was going to find love like this, or perhaps never thought I deserved it. And in all the muck of 2020, I certainly didn’t believe that there would be this bright spot, this person who’d change my life so much for the better. And with Jon came Lazlow, his dog, who is a goofy, lovable, amazing pup. Our little family of four is more than I ever thought I’d have in this life.
2020 was also the year my mum came to stay in the house next door to me for nearly three months. As she lives in Toronto, she wanted to spend time in Winnipeg for Ophelia’s birth. It just so happened my neighbour was at the cottage all summer, so rented out his house to my mum and her boyfriend. Although they had to quarantine for the first two weeks, which meant I only saw them when we’d go out on our respective decks in the backyard, we ended up spending so much incredible time together once they were out of quarantine. It almost seems like a dream to me now: this moment in time when the sun was shining, our numbers in Manitoba were extremely low, and we could all sit together outside with a glass of wine, long into the cool summer evenings. I will forever be grateful for those few months.
In terms of travelling, I (obviously) did very little in 2020. I started the year with a bang, visiting Arizona and Utah with my dad. We had two main goals: visit the Barrett Jackson car auction (we are both extremely into classic cars) and drive to Monument Valley. I had long been hoping to do both, and it was an amazing ten days of sunshine, cocktails, and meandering walks in the desert landscapes near Scottsdale. If only I had known that would be my last international trip for a very long time…
I didn’t travel again until the summer, when our numbers in Manitoba were extremely low (in the single digits). Then, I went on two sponsored trips within the province, to Brandon and to Swan Valley. Jon and I also discovered we loved back-country camping together, so camped a few times in Whiteshell Provincial Park. We especially loved Mud Turtle Lake and Cabin Lake, both of which required long canoe paddles and long portages. Think stargazing, drinking rum around a fire, reading by the water, and long discussions about nothing and everything.
Again, I had absolutely no desire to leave Manitoba, especially when our numbers started to really climb in the autumn. It didn’t feel safe or responsible to me. But because of that, because of the year I’ve spent in Manitoba, I’ve learned to love it so much more. I’ve learned to appreciate just how beautiful and diverse this province is, and just how much there is to do here. Jon and I are already discussing where to camp this spring, and we’re very trepidatiously planning a camping trip out west to Alberta and BC for September (we hope that’s a realistic dream).
Finally, I learned a new craft this year. It started as one simple idea – a small Christmas gift for my dad – that turned into something I love very much. I’ve always loved working with my hands, and I found this new hobby to be so relaxing. Often, the only time I’d forget about my anxiety was when I was crafting. I love it so much and have invested so much time and money into it already that I hope to launch a little side business in a few months; I’m just waiting on logo design, packaging, setting up an Etsy shop, and a few other administrative pieces of the puzzle.
Needless to say, I’m very excited, as it’s something I love very much. I’ll give you a hint: it’s in my sidebar bio. And it ain’t whisky.
This year, in 2021, I hope to focus on these good things even more. I’m focusing on small goals: reading 20 pages a day, dancing for 20 minutes a day, writing for one hour a day. Nothing major, nothing scary or overwhelming that might trigger all that anxiety that shadowed so much of 2020.
And if anything, 2020 made me realize just how important my family and friends are. I always knew that, of course – it’s why I moved home in the first place – but now more than ever it feels as though I am so unbelievably grateful for the people I love.
There were lots of other little good things, too. I made my own limoncello, wine, and eggnog from scratch. I cooked and baked more than ever. I took many summer day trips from Winnipeg, especially to local beaches. I did puzzles, and read books, and watched more Netflix series than I can count. I gardened for hours every day, my front yard an explosion in colourful flowers. I went for long walks on the frozen river, discovered new-to-me hiking trails all around Winnipeg, learned new songs on the piano, and shared many a cuddle with Lazlow and Dottie.
I can see these things, conjure these memories, as tiny glimmers of happiness in a year that was so often clouded by sadness, and for those glimmers, I am eternally thankful. Even just looking back at the photos of this past year, I see more happiness than I had previously remembered. We never take photos of the bad times, of course, but I’m thankful that I can see that happiness shining through these photographs.
Today, I watched the American inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. I sat on the couch, Dottie on one side of me, Lazlow on the other, while Jon slept upstairs (he worked a night shift last night). As I drank my decaf coffee, I scrolled through Instagram, a feed – for once! – filled with such joy and excitement.
There is no doubt 2020 will go down as one of the worst years in our lives. I still cannot fathom just how many people have lost their lives, lost their loved ones, lost their homes and jobs.
And while there is still so much work to be done, I am hopeful. Hopeful for millions of us to be vaccinated, hopeful for a little bit more peace in this world. Hopeful that we can all hug the people we’re missing soon. Hopeful we can start to find our collective footing after a year that toppled us all.
If you made it to the end of this post, thank you so much for reading, and for your endless support. It’s dark out now, the snow coming down in soft drifts, the sky streaked with a pale pink to the southwest. Today, my anxiety stayed at bay as I wrote these thousands of words, as I had lunch with Jon, as I took a break to chat to my dad on the phone, to read for a little bit in bed. Today, I was filled with even more gratitude for what I have, for what’s on the horizon. Today, it was a good day.
Interested in what I wrote this year?
It wasn’t much, but here are some blog posts I ended up writing: