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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.