Holy &$@% 2020, Are You For Real?

by Brenna Holeman
On my first and only international trip of 2020, in Monument Valley, USA

Back in 2017, I wrote a post called “Holy &$@% 2017, Are You For Real?”. In that post, I talked about how excited I was about the year of travelling ahead, mainly the six weeks I was about to spend in East Africa (Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania). That year I also went to Antigua and Barbuda, UAE, Italy, San Marino, Austria, Germany, the UK, Japan, and finally, Canada.

In 2018, I wrote “Holy &$@% 2018, Are You For Real?” In that post, I talked about moving home to Winnipeg, updating my blog, and travelling to Namibia, the US (Mississippi, Texas, and, Arizona), Grenada, Barbados, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. So far so good.

In 2019, I wrote “Holy &$@% 2019, Are You For Real?” because I am a) lazy when it comes to originality, apparently and b) still believe this blog is my own personal diary where I can both record everything I do and gloat. Also apparently. In that post I talked about my upcoming trips to Italy as well as an adventure around the Balkans I’d been dreaming of for ages: Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, North Macedonia, and Kosovo.

And this year? 2020?

Black Lives Matter rally on June 5th at the Manitoba Legislative Building

Forget this whole “here are all the cool things I’m doing this year” vibe I had in the previous three posts.

No… in this post I’m legitimately wondering if 2020 is, in fact, for real. Because so far it feels like one giant dumpster fire that grows bigger and bigger by the day.

I’ve tried to write on this blog almost every day for the past few months but nothing seems to come. Nothing seems to feel significant enough, or meaningful enough.

In the midst of a global pandemic and one of the largest civil rights movements in history, is there really space for me to write about my personal life? This year is so completely devastating and batshit insane that when Kanye West announced he was running for president, I didn’t even bat an eyelid.

I’ve been grappling with not knowing what to say as someone who loves to write, someone who often finds comfort in writing.

My home office

This is compounded, of course, by the fact that I earn my living through writing. Or, at least I did, because like many people around the world recently, I lost my main freelance editing and writing job a couple of months ago. After seven years of feeling really happy and proud with that work, I feel lost. I feel scared.

And with my blog’s income down to around 10% of its normal earnings due to the fact that nobody’s really searching for travel tips right now, I am constantly doing the mental math of how long my savings will last (two years if I budget really, really well, one year if I continue to purchase books at a startlingly high rate. I’ll let you guess which one I imagine will come true).

I always thought that, one day, I’d feel confident and competent enough to take on zero freelancing; that one day, This Battered Suitcase would be everything. I liked freelancing, though, and I was waiting to hit a certain financial benchmark with the blog before calling the freelancing quits. I was almost there when the pandemic hit, right as I was about to celebrate ten years of This Battered Suitcase.

People talk about rollercoasters, and as cliche as it is, that’s the only way I can think of 2020. I read the news every day and shake with rage: rage that a pandemic that is rapidly infecting and killing people is not being taken seriously by some, rage that white supremacy is still so overwhelmingly prevalent, rage that peaceful protesters are being attacked for standing up for what’s right.

And then, selfishly: frustration, stress, and sadness that I have no idea what will happen to this business that I have been growing for 17 years. The anxiety and depression that I battled for most of 2015 to 2017 came flooding back, and I had many, many dark days.

But there’s that rollercoaster, because I also have joy, excitement, and happiness that I have fallen in love, and that a dear family member is pregnant. I have appreciation that I have a wonderful campaign with Travel Manitoba coming up, one that will allow me to explore my own province safely and responsibly. I have calm and gratitude, because no matter what, I still do have savings and a roof over my head.

This post is all over the place, I know. I’ve been posting a ton over on Instagram stories but felt such a mental block when it came to writing here. I figured the best bet would be to just dive back in, to just write anything at all.

While this year might not have round-the-world adventures, I’m still going to try to make the best of it, still going to try to be productive. So what does the rest of 2020 have in store for me?

At Pinawa Dam Provincial Park with my boyfriend’s dog, Lazlow

In terms of travelling, I am more than happy to stay in Manitoba. At the moment I have absolutely zero desire to travel outside of Canada, or even to another province. In a province of 1.37 million, we have 11 active cases of COVID-19 (as of today’s writing). Social distancing is still the norm here, and I believe most people are doing their best to take necessary precautions. The thought of travelling to another higher-risk location or being in close quarters with tourists who haven’t quarantined and then bringing COVID-19 back to my 70+ parents, my pregnant family member, or my first responder boyfriend? Nah. No thanks.

That being said, I was in talks with Travel Manitoba over a year ago that I would spend this summer travelling around this beautiful province, and that is indeed happening. While I’ve already been to Bird River as well as Winnipeg Beach, Pinawa Dam, and Birds Hill Provincial Parks in the past month, I’m soon headed to Brandon, Swan Valley, and Riding Mountain National Park for a Manitoba series with Travel Manitoba. My boyfriend and I will be road tripping and spending time doing what Manitobans do best: hiking, canoeing, fishing, camping, and supporting local businesses. You can expect to see a lot of that content coming up here and on social media.

Bird River, Manitoba

Other than that campaign, I have no other work lined up for 2020. While I spent most of April, May, and June absolutely petrified as I kept watching my income drop, I feel a renewed sense of hope that I will still get a few freelance articles here and there, and that perhaps this is the push off of the proverbial cliff I’ve always needed to take This Battered Suitcase to another level. I’ve been saying I wanted to go full-time with this blog for years; perhaps now is the time I will do it, not only from passion, but from necessity.

2020 is also the year I amp up my activism. I wrote the following on a recent Instagram post:

“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 fucked 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. ⁣

By now, we’ve (hopefully) seen where to donate, who to follow online, what to read, and how to speak up when we hear and/or see racism. And now what? What happens in a week, or a month, when the black square that was posted is now pushed down by photos of summer drinks by the pool? Being anti-racist isn’t just a trend. It’s a lifetime commitment, a conscious mental shift, a continuous effort to recognize our white privilege and do better in every way that we can. ⁣

It’s time to listen and learn. It’s time to show up wherever we’re able: with our time, with our money, with our support. It’s BEEN time for hundreds of years. There are no more excuses.”⁣

While I have a few organizations I’ve been donating to for years, this year I pledged to donate to a wider range of organizations, especially those that support Black and Indigenous people. Here is a good list of Black Lives Matter related organizations to donate to in the US, and here is a good list for Canada. For Indigenous organizations to donate to in Canada, click here (you can search by region for a local charity or organization).

While I’ve always read books from quite a range of authors, I’m making sure to include even more authors of colour (especially Canadian Indigenous authors) as well as trans and non-binary authors. I’ve previously read a few anti-racism books, including How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi, Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper, White Fragility by Robin Diangelo, and Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, but next up I’m reading White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson, A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America by Ronald Takaki, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, and The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power by Desmond Cole.

I am determined to be a lot more mindful of where I spend my money and make sure I support as many local businesses as possible, especially Black-owned, Indigenous-owned, and POC-owned establishments. Manitoba has a brand new directory for Black-owned businesses, and hopefully there are similar directories in your area that you can research.

I’m also confronting a lot of my own biases and coming to terms with the mistakes I’ve made in the past, particularly when it comes to cultural appropriation (I wore a bindi for most of 2011, for fuck’s sake). This means thinking about the way I’ve travelled in the past as a white woman, and how I’ve engaged and interacted with local people while in different countries. I’ve been questioning a lot about my previous choices; for example, while living in Japan in 2009, my Japanese students paid for me to dress up like a geisha in a studio for professional photographs (including geisha make up and a wig). They thought it would be cute, and I didn’t see a problem with it at the time. Would I do this now? Absolutely not. It’s shitty and difficult to reflect on these insensitive choices – especially when I’ve written about them and promoted them on this very blog – but it’s the only way forward.

Finally, I attended Winnipeg’s Black Lives Matter protest in June and I would like to attend more rallies, protests, and talks when possible… I need to listen. I need to learn.

My garden, because flowers are a metaphor for blossoming love, I guess?

Finally, 2020 is the year that I embrace being in a relationship. A damn good one, in fact. At 36 years old, this is the first time I’ve been with someone who I can truly see having a future with; he’s both intelligent and thoughtful, exciting and ambitious. I’ve never been with someone so caring, so supportive, or so fun, and he makes me laugh every single day. Plus he’s tall and has huge biceps and salt and pepper hair so yes, I am constantly swooning, hah. I will be writing more about this relationship in the future, but for now, I can say that this is the happiest I’ve ever been with someone in my life.

And for the rest: this year will still be about finally having a home after so many years on the road and feeling unsettled, and the immense gratitude I feel to be able to say that. A house that I love, a garden I spend hours in every week, a dog that has my whole heart, an active and healthy lifestyle, my beloved family and friends nearby: I am home.

I have always felt a little silly writing these posts; me, me, ME they scream, look at my year. But as I said at the beginning, I still believe this blog is my personal diary most of the time; that’s how it started, and that’s how I’ll always think of it. I never did do very well when it came to professional, search engine optimization based posts, ones that would draw in people searching for some random travel tip on Google. Perhaps this is my downfall; perhaps this means I’ll never be able to turn this blog into a full-time, lucrative business.

But as I’ve said a thousand times, I’m just going to keep writing the way I know how to write, the way I love to write.

And as always, as cheesy as it is to say, I hope you stick around for the ride.



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Sophie July 8, 2020 - 6:10 am

Hey Brenna,
Thank you for this post. Know that you made me tear up a little with it – then again I tear up even in front of ads these days. After reading you for so long, I am truly happy for your healthy relationship and wish you all the best! Enjoy your home 🙂 It’s a scary, shitty situation we’re in, so let’s make the best out of what we can.

Brenna Holeman April 12, 2021 - 4:16 pm

I’m so sorry, I just realized I didn’t reply here. Thank you so much for your words, Sophie, they mean so much to me.

Giulia Blocal July 8, 2020 - 11:47 am

I’ll stick around 🙂 I love your writing

Brenna Holeman April 12, 2021 - 4:16 pm

Thank you so much, Giulia, and I’m sorry for how long it’s taken for me to respond!

Juliet July 8, 2020 - 1:11 pm

I really like that you are so open with the mistakes you’ve made in the past. I’m also a white woman and I’ve certainly made quite a few, especially when traveling. Thanks for the quick tips on anti-racism books to read, too… I’d love to see more of what you’re reading and/or book reviews! Just a thought if you’re looking for quick blog posts.

Also, as a long time reader, hearing that you’re in a loving relationship makes me so happy. Is that weird for a stranger to say? Haha. Keep writing, I’ll always keep reading.

Mary B July 8, 2020 - 2:03 pm

Hi Brenna, glad to see an update and happy that some things in your life are bringing you joy even with so much uncertainty in the world! I just wanted to put a plug in for the library as a way to read voraciously on a budget! I used the library all the time as a kid but then shifted to buying books in adulthood. I rediscovered the library about 10 years ago, and I estimate it saves me ~$1000 a year. And when I do buy books, I try to buy them used (not sure if they ship to Canada, but Powell’s in Portland has a huge used selection in their online store). Of course supporting local bookstores is also awesome – Happy reading, however you do it 🙂

veena July 8, 2020 - 2:10 pm

I love your personal posts, because they remind me that you are a human and you’re not just doing this for the money — it’s why I’ve been following you for nearly a decade. Also, 11 active cases?? We had around 300 in the Memphis-area yesterday, and restaurants are having to scale back down after reopening because our numbers have been going up so much in recent weeks. Ugh. I am sending you a big hug and all of my best wishes for the remainder of the year!

Kathi July 8, 2020 - 2:32 pm

I have missed your writings but am sooo happy to hear of all the great-ness happening and will keep reading! Much love and goodness to you and your friends/family and all your readers!!

Mike July 8, 2020 - 3:20 pm

If this is what’s next, I’m in. You’re a good’un.

Anke July 8, 2020 - 4:24 pm

Just to let you know, I’m always looking forward to reading your blog posts and you are an example + one of my favorite blogs because of you being yourself and your honesty about how it feels like while you travel. No need for more blogs of ‘top ten places you really must see’, yes to real travel stories! Anyway, I’m very happy you’re in a happy place and I do hope to read more 🙂

Marlee July 8, 2020 - 5:21 pm

Glad to hear the updates, regardless of where you are in the world. As someone who loves travel (and is also 36!), it’s reassuring to see another like-minded woman tackling these global challenges with what sounds like an open mind. I sincerely appreciate hearing about how you’ve reflected on past travels and what steps you’re taking to grow, learn and un-learn. Keep sharing & I’ll keep reading, as I’m sure many others will too!

Betty July 8, 2020 - 8:52 pm

Loved this post and happy you have found someone to share your sense of adventure with!
Another great book i am sure you would enjoy is The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton who was defended by Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Rights Initiative.

Brenna Holeman April 12, 2021 - 4:17 pm

Thank you so much, Betty! I will definitely check out the book.

kissie326 July 8, 2020 - 10:11 pm

I have been following you for years and I love these posts, but this year’s is my favourite. I think you’ve captured what a lot of us are feeling. I’m so happy that this year seems to be helping to shape those things you want to learn more about and jump into, like full-time work with the blog. And yay for the healthy relationship. 🙂

Elizabeth July 8, 2020 - 11:48 pm

I know you can make This Battered Suitcase a full time job. Your style is so unique because you do these awesome, long form, story type posts. I always skip over listicle posts about travel because they’re just unnecessary. I can find all of that elsewhere. I think you should go for it and also work on that book you’ve mentioned before. You’ve got some time now. Maybe you can get an agent and publisher and get that out. And maybe start a Patreon with extra content. A lot of bloggers are doing it so yes, it’s trendy but it’s also a great way to get money through putting out even more of the type of posts you love to write. Sending you good vibes for the future. I can’t wait to see more of your travels around Manitoba. Post pandemic I hope to visit your gorgeous province with my wife and daughter. x

Katie July 9, 2020 - 1:41 am

Brenna. Brenna! Seeing a post of yours in my Feedly is like receiving a letter from an old friend. I’m glad you wrote. I’m glad you’re doing your best to wade through the mucky quagmire that is 2020. All I will say — as you struggle to express yourself creatively (which is understandable, given the circumstances) — is that I’m still waiting for your book. Fiction? Semi-autobiographical? Autobiographical? I think back to the early days of your blog — the artful pictures of breakfasts and books taken in places I could only dream about — and I can’t help but think there’s something there. That’s all. 🙂

Kelsey July 9, 2020 - 2:04 pm

One of the best things about growing older is how much you learn. Congratulations on learning to adapt to yet another new life (returning home can be the hardest to adapt to — I still haven’t gotten there yet) and I look forward to reading what you have to say about local travel!

Brenna Holeman April 12, 2021 - 4:19 pm

Thank you so much, Kelsey… I totally agree with you! And my apologies for not getting back to you sooner… it’s been a strange year to be online, that’s for sure. Thank you for all of your support!

Linda July 9, 2020 - 8:29 pm

Brenna, another beautiful, creative post that demonstrates your courage – you’re not afraid to share your hopes, fears, and what you feel were your mistakes, and how you want to go forward in this new world. In turn, this makes us examine our own lives and think about changes we might need to make. Your honesty is what makes each of your posts feel so personal. Thanks for being so candid, and taking us along on your journey. I’ve been there since the first thing you wrote…needless to say I’ll always be reading you. Always. xx

Sooshmita Faruk July 13, 2020 - 11:26 am

As always love reading your writing and good to know you are doing well 🙂

Brenna Holeman April 12, 2021 - 4:17 pm

Aw, thank you so much for all of your support xo

Austin Velazquez July 14, 2020 - 10:14 pm

HI Brenna, I have read your blog for a while and first time I am commenting. Great to have an update of you after a while. What has motivated my comment this time is the portion you post around cultural appropriation, which got me curious. Would like to understand the reasons why you see that wearing a bindi or a kimono while in Japan was wrong.

For example, I am an immigrant from Mexico and have no issue with a foreigner wearing typical Mexican clothes just for fun. Nor I have met any other Mexican or even seen the media in Mexico having an issue with this. Quite the opposite, the consensus I get is that many Mexicans get pride and satisfaction seeing our culture being celebrated elsewhere.

I would obviously be upset if I see that the intention is to mock our culture (in a non-comedy context), claiming falsely that is something authentic or use it for derogatory purposes, but again no issue if it is only for a private photo session, in a party, part of a parade, in a spectacle, etc.

The kimono thing reminded me of a few videos I watch in the past, where actually the Japanese that were interviewed don’t have any issue with foreigners wearing kimonos (actually some of them being happy about it). Below one of those videos (the others are in Spanish):

Having said that, I respect the decision of you and any other foreigner choosing not to wear traditional clothes from other countries if you are not comfortable with that. Again, this is more a curiosity from end to understand why this would be an issue.

Lisa July 15, 2020 - 10:14 pm

I was so happy to see this post! I got all cosy because I love how you write longer pieces and I can sit down and commit to a good read. Thank you always for sharing your perspective with such honesty. Glad to hear of your joy in your relationship and other matters. And I can’t imagine the darkness that resurfaced but thank you for being real. Can’t wait to see more of Manitoba!

Brenna Holeman April 12, 2021 - 4:19 pm

Thank you so much, Lisa, and thank you for supporting my writing! I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to respond to this amazing comment.

Things to Do in Brandon, Manitoba - This Battered Suitcase July 19, 2020 - 6:38 pm

[…] Little could I have imagined that 2020 would be the year that all of us would be looking inward, be looking to travel locally. And little could I have imagined just how quickly and how deeply I’d fall in love with this beautiful province I now happily call home. […]

Bea July 27, 2020 - 12:42 pm

I absolutely love the way you write, and you’re one of the few blogs in the crowd that really stands out for me. So I wish you all the success you can imagine with this blog! 🙂
And 2020… yeah, the ups and downs… Good for you that you recognize the ups and feel grateful for them as that’s the way to move forward. I have lots of dark days, too, but in the end, as you wrote, I have a family to love, a nice home and lots of good books to read. And I finished and self-published my own novel while sitting at home in spring. And we can take local trips. This years teaches me how to notice the small things.. or not small?

Brenna Holeman April 12, 2021 - 4:18 pm

Aw, thank you so much, Bea. I’m sorry it has taken me so long to respond, but this comment is so uplifting to read!! I totally agree with you, the last year has been about the “small” things… that aren’t so small after all. Thanks again xo

Things to Do in Swan Valley, Manitoba - This Battered Suitcase August 6, 2020 - 5:30 pm

[…] I’ve talked about on social media and in previous blog posts, 2020 was always going to be the year that I explored my home province, Manitoba. After growing up in its capital, Winnipeg, and then leaving as soon as I turned 18, I hadn’t […]

Yasmin October 6, 2020 - 5:31 am

Ahh please keep writing Brenna, I love your personal writing style and life updates! I once found your blog years ago (your story about your Danish love, since I – at the time- had also fallen in love with a Danish on an airplane which turned into a love story). Every once in a while I came back reading your posts and I always love reading about your life experiences. I also lead a nomadic travel lifestyle and returned back home to find the ‘real home’ within myself, I can relate to how nice it is to feel settled. Happy for you! Hope you keep on writing!

Brenna Holeman October 15, 2020 - 6:15 pm

Aw, thank you so much, Yasmin! That comment means so much to me. It sounds like we have a lot in common. Thank you so much for all of your support over the years, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.

Victoria November 2, 2020 - 2:37 pm

Was camping in the woods for 9 weeks so now I’m catching up on all your posts!! I’m glad you’re posting more frequently on here! No matter what you’ll post you can always guarantee a few ad revenue cents from my eyes lol I’m happy to hear about your happiness with the bf! Gives me hope for my own romantic future haha

Brenna Holeman November 2, 2020 - 3:10 pm

Aw, thank you so much, Victoria! I’m trying to just write anything at all these days, but motivation is so low. Thank you so much for all of your support, it really means so much to me. And how exciting that you were camping for so long! I took a few camping trips this year but nothing more than a few days, I’m jealous 🙂


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