2021 Recap: A Year of Learning

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2021 has come to a close and man, what a doozie! From some of the highest highs (getting a COVID vaccine, hallelujah!) to some of the lowest lows (so… turns out that vaccines didn’t end the pandemic and salvage the global economy and international travel quite like I hoped), 2021 was kind of a roller coaster- and yet, somehow was definitively not as terrible as 2020- huzzah! And in hindsight, this year has perhaps changed my perspective on how I want my life to look more than any of the other thirty-something years I’ve been on earth. 

Last year, I started the tradition of recapping my husband, Justin’s and my past year in travel here on the blog. And since I’m a lady who loves her traditions, I’m sticking to it- here’s my 2021 recap.

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2021 Travel Summary:

Countries visited: 1 (We visited Puerto Vallarta and Sayulita on the western coast of Mexico.)

U.S. States visited: 14 (Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Arizona, Montana, Missouri, Hawaii, and Nevada)

Couple sitting on the Ehukai Pillbox, overlooking the ocean

U.S. National Parks Visited: 8 (Olympic, Mount Rainier, Redwoods, Death Valley, Petrified Forest, Glacier, Crater Lake, and North Cascades)

Beds slept in: 7 (undoubtedly, the least amount of beds I’ve slept in per year since I caught the travel bug in 2017, but we made up for it in another area…)

Campsites stayed in: 50 with our little teardrop trailer, plus 2 backcountry sites in Washington and Oregon when we went backpacking

Couple walking on a log in Alice Lakes in Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho

Our three travel highlights of 2021:

1. Buying and adventuring in our RV

Undoubtedly, buying our travel trailer was one of the best decisions we’ve made- ever. There were SO many unknowns about it before we took the plunge- we bought it from a random couple we met on Facebook, we’d need to drive over 5,000 miles roundtrip to pick it up from these strangers, and no if’s, ands, or buts about it, it was, like, really expensive (it’s always a good idea to drive 37 hours straight and make the second biggest purchase of your life- from complete internet strangers… right?!).

And, I’m not going to lie, the drive bringing our new-to-us trailer home was truly a nightmare- we had a really terrifying experience driving through a white-out blizzard on a curvy Colorado mountain ridge in the middle of the night- all while learning how to tow for the first time while also being extremely sleep-deprived. For being as practical of a person as I am, I’m weirdly superstitious- and I wondered whether our harrowing experience picking up our trailer was an omen for bad things to come. 

But it turned out not to be the case! In fact, nothing has changed my perspective about how you can travel and explore your own country as much as owning our RV has.

Couple standing in front of a Safari Condo Alto travel trailer

Over the course of the past year, we’ve adventured and slept in it over 150 nights- from waking up in a vineyard of California wine country to falling asleep to the sound of the waves along the Oregon coast and being woken up to a hot air balloon landing in our “backyard” against Sedona’s red cliffs.

We’ve watched the sunrise from hot springs, made new friends around campfires, and discovered some incredible hidden gems, like Petrified Forest National Park or a random monastic brewery in a tiny town in Oregon, that we probably would have otherwise never stopped at. The time we’ve spent this past year exploring this beautiful country in our trailer has been nothing short of incredible- and the fact that our two puppies (who, at 14 and 17 right now, are certainly living out their golden years) could share the experience with us made it even more special. 

Couple sitting on the hood of Toyota Highlander while pulling a Safari Condo Alto trailer

2. Exploring Oahu

We had canceled a week-long trip to Hawai’i in 2020 and finally were able to rebook the tickets for September of 2021. My grandma had taken me to Hawai’i three times previously when I was a little kid, but I’d never been back as an adult and wondered whether it would stack up to the epic memories in my head. Would it be this veritable paradise with turquoise waters, Jurassic Park-style mountains, and sting rays gliding through the water?

And I’m happy to report it is! While I absolutely love traveling in our RV, I so much miss the feeling that you can only get from international travel- being someplace completely and totally different, where you’re out of your element.

Woman jumping in front of mountains at the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden in Oahu

And, while Hawai’i is part of the United States, Oahu definitely scratched that itch- we snorkeled with technicolor fish, we hiked up the most stunning green mountain ridges you can imagine (you can read about that hike here), and ate so much incredible food from funky food trucks in gas station parking lots.

There was one particularly memorable moment where I was sitting on one of Oahu’s most beautiful beaches with an enormous 48-year old sea turtle named Olivia Dawn (who, to be clear, was named by the volunteers at the awesome Malama na Honu conservation organization- I’m not that weird that I walk around naming strange sea turtles), watching surfers ride the famous North Shore waves while the sun sank beneath the turquoise ocean. I was so overwhelmed with the beauty of that moment that I literally started to cry- and I can count on one hand the number of times I cry in a year.

Hawaiian sea turtle on a beach in Oahu at sunset

For the past two years, almost all of our travel has been places we can literally drive to from our house in Seattle and it was so rejuvenating to feel something decidedly different. 

3. Going back to St. Louis to visit friends and family

Two of my friends in St. Louis had rescheduled their 2020 weddings for 2021, so we went back for both to visit the place we had lived for the entirety of our relationship before our move out to Seattle. Our visit in May happened to coincide with the magical pre-Delta variant period of time where vaccinated people were encouraged to walk around maskless and everything just felt a little bit lighter and less scary.

To say the wedding was a rager is an understatement- it was like everyone’s pent-up energy from social distancing for the past year and a half was unleashed, resulting in an epic, sweaty dance floor, an intense limbo contest, and so much laughter. Beyond the wedding, that weekend back in St. Louis was packed with back-to-back meetups with friends in our old haunts. 

We had so much fun in May that we scheduled to stay in St. Louis for a whole week for the second wedding in September. We got to see even more friends (at a slightly less frenetic pace)- and more importantly, we both got to see our parents for the first time in TWO YEARS.

And it really did our souls some good- while moving to the Pacific Northwest right before a global pandemic happened was such a blessing in so many ways (and has forever changed my life!), it’s been really challenging to build friendships out here while trying to be as COVID-conscious as possible- and on the go as much as we are. So being surrounded by the people we love and have built so many incredible memories with is exactly what we needed.

Two friends sitting at a wedding

Travel lows of 2021:

Of course, not everything about 2021 was MaGiCaL:

1. Thwarted road trips due to weather and wildfire smoke

Since COVID has rocked our world, our adventures have shifted from exploring international cities to having outdoor adventures around the United States with either our car or RV. And while I’m so happy that my life is enriched with this aspect of travel now, there’s a tons of things that can go wrong when you’re exploring the outside- think thick wildfire smoke, heat waves (which is not ideal when you’re living out of your tiny metal box), and hail storms.

And we ran into ALL of these in 2021. In July, we had planned on spending some time exploring parts of Idaho we hadn’t seen before- but, with uncharacteristic heat waves, it wouldn’t have been safe or comfortable to camp there. So we instead headed up north to Montana by Glacier National Park- until that area experienced a heat wave a week after we arrived and we were forced to head back home.

A couple of weeks later, we were going to go on a road trip to Lassen Volcanic and Yosemite National Parks, with a stop at Tahoe along the way. But between wildfire smoke that turned the whole landscape an ashen gray and a forecast of up to 110° in the Yosemite Valley, we abandoned that trip after three days of driving and hundreds of dollars in gas to Northern California.

And it’s happened countless times since then- we couldn’t use a coveted backpacking permit to one of the most famous treks in Olympic National Park due to unusually early snow, my birthday backpacking trip to the incredible Skyline Divide trail in the Northern Cascades didn’t work out because of dense wildfire smoke (and an apocalyptic-level of bugs), and we had to cancel multiple planned outings to the eastern Cascades this winter due to icy and snowy mountain roads.

There’s always been a silver lining to these hiccups- for example, instead of spending our time in Glacier, we found one of our favorite campgrounds ever in Olympic National Park and our canceled trip to California turned, instead, into an impromptu exploration of the beautiful Oregon coast. And most importantly, it taught me the importance of flexibility and not getting so hung up on things going exactly as I planned.

But… I’m sure I’m not alone in being just a little bit sick of always looking for the silver linings for things, especially after the crappy couple of years we’ve all had.

Couple sitting on a picnic table, overlooking Cannon Beach

2. Freaking out too much about money

Because of some pretty lofty travel goals Justin and I have, we try to stick with a strict monthly budget, funneling a significant portion of our income to be put towards savings.

This year, I really wanted to be laser-focused on saving money towards our goals- but between unexpected costs related to traveling in our RV; our pets getting older and needing more vet care than they used to; and just general life things, it was harder than I thought to stick to our teeny allotted “fun” budget, especially while we were out on the road. And instead of examining our budget and seeing what we could adjust or being more flexible about what our savings goals should look like, I simply got really stressed out and upset about how we weren’t saving quite as aggressively as I hoped. 

In fact, I spent so much time being worried about money that it frankly ruined a couple of our trips. About midway through the year, I realized that we (read: I) had to find a better balance- I want to continue to see, explore, and enjoy the world (which inevitably costs money), while still saving towards those dreams.

Now, we try really hard to stick to our allotted budget (and, if we go over one week, cut back the next), but have given ourselves way more flexibility if we come up a little short. And despite all my hand wringing and melt-downs over money, we’re right on track with our savings schedule!

Couple standing in front of a Safari Condo Alto trailer in Death Valley National Park

3. Our trip to Puerto Vallarta

This one is kind of a reach, because all things considered, we had a spectacular year of traveling in 2021! But, to be honest, our first international trip in almost two years to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico was a bit of a let-down. Before our trip, I had waffled a bit between staying in the resort city itself or rather staying at one of the small hippie surf towns a bit north of it, like Sayulita or San Pancho. Ultimately, I settled on staying in Puerto Vallarta and just taking day trips to the cute nearby towns. 

This was a mistake.

For one, we visited in October, the area’s rainy season, and a ton of restaurants, markets, and similar activities were closed, due to the lack of tourists. For another, despite all of these closures, Puerto Vallarta was more touristy than almost any other place I can remember, with aggressive street hawkers selling tours, their restaurant, or pairs of crappy sunglasses, and what felt like a lot more Irish pubs and Senor Frogs targeting tourists as opposed to the charming street taco stands I had been hoping for.

While still touristy, Sayulita and San Pancho were definitely more of our speed, filled with laid-back beach bars, vegan ice cream shops, and surfer vibes. If we ever go back to the area, I’m 100% going to base myself in Sayulita and just take day-trips, as needed, to Puerto Vallarta. 

Woman walking in front of a hotel in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

My word for 2021:

If you read my 2020 yearly recap, you may remember that I pick a word for each year, a sort of mantra that sums up my objective for the year moving forward. My word for 2020 was focus and prioritize (I know, I know- that’s technically three words, but whatever), to really drill down and have blinders on to pretty much everything other than accomplishing my short and long term goals. 

And I’d say it was largely successful- I got promoted at my professional job (woohoo!), explored so much of the country with Justin and our puppies, and worked and saved a ton towards our dreams. As mentioned above, I over-indexed, at times, at being too “focused” on meeting certain goals in lieu of enjoying where I’m at in the present day, but moving forward, I think we’ve found a pretty good balance. And I’m excited to take what I’ve learned in 2021 into the new year!

Couple sitting in a tent in the Glacier Basin trail in Mount Rainier National Park

My word for 2022:

My word for 2022 is going to seem kind of simple, but it’s really all I want to focus on- growth. Throughout 2021, but especially throughout fall and winter, I worked my butt off on this blog, learning about search engine optimization, writing a ton of posts, and thinking of ways that we can improve the site. In fact, I wrote more posts in 2021 (60 in total!) than I did in our previous three years of blogging COMBINED (45 posts from 2018 through 2020) and actually wrote more posts in December 2021 (16) than I did in ALL of 2020 (13 measly little posts- what was I doing during all of quarantine besides baking banana bread?!). 

And all of our hard work has slowly but surely been paying off- our unique visitors have increased 324% year over year, with 103,535 unique visitors, and 151,472 pageviews (up 339% year over year!). We’ve gotten published in a magazine, licensed our first photo to a publication, and gotten our first really exciting partnership offer that, fingers crossed, will be launching in 2022. So while we’ve got a long way to go as compared to bloggers who work and live off their blog full-time, I’m really proud of where we’ve come- and determined to keep (and even accelerate) the growth more.

From a pure travel perspective, I also am looking forward to continuing to grow my skills. I previously learned how to scuba dive but I haven’t been diving in well over a decade, so I want both of us to get PADI-certified. I want to go on our first multi-day backpacking adventure. I want to continue to explore our beautiful country in our RV, finding amazing campsites and off-beat adventures along the way. And I really can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2022- I’m feeling a lot more passionate and excited about the possibilities of 2022 than I did moving into 2021, so it feels like we’re starting off on the right foot! 

Couple sitting on the hood of Toyota Highlander at McPhillips Beach along the Oregon coast

How’d we do on our 2021 travel bucket list?

Last year, I put together a list of travel goals I want to accomplish in 2021- let’s see which ones we actually got to check off.

  • Visit Hawaii

    Check! As you can see from my #2 travel high above, we definitely demolished this goal in the most awesome of ways. 
  • Climb Mount St. Helens, an active volcano in Washington.

    Negative. I was over-the-moon excited when I snagged a highly coveted permit to climb the mountain right before my birthday, but someone decided to be a real jerk and steal the catalytic converter on our SUV the week beforehand. So instead of checking items off my bucket list, we spent that weekend- and $500- getting a steel cage built around our replacement catalytic converter. Much awesome!
  • Paddleboard in Lake Tahoe

    Negative. As mentioned above, wildfires and extreme heat canceled our plans to explore this part of California. I’m coming for you one day, Tahoe!
  • Camp in Mount Rainier National Park

    Check! In August, we backpacked to the Glacier Basin backcountry campsite in Rainier. Between seeing an enormous marmot, having meandering conversations in our tent for hours, and literally sleeping on my most favorite mountain on the planet, this one was a rousing success. 
  • Climb Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States. 

    Negative. We applied for, but unfortunately, didn’t get a permit for this hike. You’ll see this was a trend for some of our missed bucket list items. Damn you, U.S. National Park Service lotteries!
  • Camp at Granite Park campground in Glacier National Park.

    Another negative, due to an unsuccessful lottery attempt. Womp womp. 
  • Visit Redwoods National Park in Northern California

    Check! We spent a week marveling at the Redwoods and the insane beauty of the northern California coast. I can’t wait to come back and explore this area more!
Couple walking along Stout Grove in Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park
  • Thru-hike the Enchantments in Washington

    Negative. Unsuccessful lottery attempt strikes again!
  • Visit Yosemite National Park

    Sigh, another negative. Heat and wildfires and yadda yadda… you know the drill.
  • Camp at Broken Top, Crater Lake National Park, and the Alvord Desert in southeastern Oregon

    Negative. I actually don’t have a great excuse for why we didn’t camp at any of these other than the timing and weather didn’t work out in conjunction with our other travels. And frankly, that was just due to the fact that we really just didn’t prioritize hitting these spots. Of all our missed bucket list items this year, I’m not kicking myself too much over this one. 

So, all in all, we completed three of our ten bucket list items. Not the best, but, given that a lot of our misses were out of our control (and how many other epic adventures we had along the way in 2021), I’ll take it!

My 2022 travel bucket list:

So what are the things I want to do in 2022? Probably because of all of the hard lessons I learned in 2021 about being more flexible and not quite so dead set on how everything is going to work out, my travel goals are a bit more mushy this year. 

  • Snowshoeing at Crater Lake National Park. We just went snowshoeing for the first time in Mount Rainier National Park and had an absolute blast. Now, I can’t wait to bust out my snowshoes and walk around the rim of Crater Lake’s impossibly blue waters.
Woman snowshoeing in Mount Rainier National Park
  • Go on a multiple-day backpacking adventure. It would be awesome to thru-hike the Enchantments (or- dream big- maybe even the Wonderland trail, an epic 93-mile trail that circumnavigates the base of Rainier), but I’m not going to get too hung up on which trek we do. I just want there to be epic mountains and beautiful lakes!
  • Take an international trip. We’re going to Costa Rica in February, but I’d love to take another international trip besides that. I’ve got my eyes set on Iceland, Greece, or Turkey, but, due to the ever-changing COVID situation, I’m not getting my heart set on any of the particulars.
  • Get scuba-certified.
  • Take our trailer to at least one new state. I LOVED our 2020 road trip to Utah’s national parks and would go back there in a heartbeat. I’ve also been wanting to check out the Badlands and Custer State Park in South Dakota. Or perhaps another trip to Grand Teton National Park and to explore Wyoming’s Wind River mountain range. Which state will it be?
  • Take a trip to Alaska to see the Northern Lights or a fall foliage road trip around the East Coast of the United States: Given our limited vacation days from work, I don’t think we’ll be able to do both of these trips, but they’ve been on my bucket list for a while. So manifesting that we do either or in 2022!
  • Spend Christmastime in Chicago. We usually visit my family in Chicago around Christmastime, which, between its German markets and Christmas-singalongs in old movie theaters, is straight up holiday magic. But we’ve stayed in Seattle for the past two Christmases because we didn’t feel comfortable being around my parents in an indoor setting, due to COVID. This year, coronavirus be damned, I’m going back to Chicago for Christmas and figuring out a safe way to spend the holidays with my family. 

Most of my other goals are slightly less directly related to travel and more focused on growing the Uprooted Traveler brand, but I’ll share those as well. 

  • Get 50,000 unique visitors per month. Our #1 goal of Uprooted Traveler is to create helpful content that makes travel more accessible for you, but it would, of course, be great if it was also a successful side hustle from our professional jobs. And, in order for us to get on some of the best affiliate and advertising networks, we need at least 50,000 unique visitors each month. While this may be a stretch goal (given the fact it would be 500% growth for most of our months in 2021), we’re going to work our butts off until we accomplish it!
  • Start a YouTube channel and publish at least 12 videos. Both Justin and I are really passionate about RVing and want to create content that enables other people to feel empowered to get on the road themselves. And some of the content that we want to create would be best suited in video format. We’ve very briefly dabbled in shooting videos during our adventures, but it honestly takes so much time and effort, we’ve usually given up halfway through and focused solely on just enjoying wherever we’re at. But this year is going to be all about growth and pushing our own boundaries- so I’m committing to making some videos, gosh darn it. 

And there you have it, my 2021 recap. If you’ve made it this far, buy yourself a beer or an ice cream cone- you deserve it. And I’d love to hear about your 2021 and dreams for 2022- let me know in the comments below!

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