Confession- I am a holiday enthusiast. Christmas, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, you name the holiday; I probably have some article of themed clothing dedicated to it. And what’s not to love- a reason to get together with friends and family, possibly eat some cake or pie, and celebrate?
In 2020, I think we all need a reason, more than ever, to rally around some central positive idea. So, while Thanksgiving may have problematic historical origins, I’m all about focusing on gratitude, on spending times with friends and family (albeit mostly virtually this year), and on consuming just mass amounts of carbs. In the spirit of the day, here’s five things I’m grateful for in 2020.
Before I dive into my list, I want to be very clear that I’m BEYOND grateful for my husband, my family, my job, my health, my house, my puppies, virtual yoga classes, Old Fashioneds… the list could go on and on. But since this is a travel blog (and not a Captain Obvious blog), this post is going to focus on travel-adjacent things I’m giving thanks for this year.
1. Squeezing in one international trip before COVID changed the world forever
In mid-January (before COVID was really even suspected to be an issue outside of China), my husband, Justin and I flew to India for a little over a week to celebrate a dear friend’s wedding. On our way there, I kept thinking about how I had always dreamed of visiting India and even attending a wedding there, so to have that all come true, on top of being able to support my friend as she happily married her love- well, it felt like pure kismet.
India was… a lot. I felt like I was constantly being scammed, like I was being stared at by everyone, and leered at by men. I had way over-indexed on my enthusiasm to see ALL THE THINGS in India- packing our schedule way too full, moving around so much that we didn’t spend a single night even in the same city, and just feeling pretty exhausted the whole trip.
On the other side of the coin, though, India was bursting with colors and full of flavors and warm people, with beautiful history and culture around every corner. For every negative experience I had there, it was matched and outpaced by completely wonderful ones– from walking through a herd of stray cattle to the Taj Mahal at sunrise; monkeys playing above my head on power lines as we weaved our way through a narrow maze of colorful shops and homes; dancing my butt off with the bride-to-be at the pre-wedding Sangeet, as her aunties shoved glasses brimming full with whiskey into my hands (her family does not mess around!). India, as a whole, was by far the most different place I’ve ever been as compared to my home in Seattle- and that’s the whole point of travel, right?
Given that the cards would shake out so that I only got one international travel experience in 2020, I’m so grateful that it was a big chaotic whirlwind of an adventure in India.
2. Falling in love with nature
I have always liked nature. In my thirty-something years on Earth, I have yet to meet a mountain I didn’t like.
But with the limitations of post-February 2020 (no in-person yoga classes, happy hours with friends, or, international travel), I, like everyone else, felt sad and like I had temporarily put my life on pause for an indefinite period of time. And as the months of isolation wore on, I found myself looking forward to one thing above all others- hiking every weekend with Justin.
I’m lucky enough to live in Washington, which is within three hours of some of the most epic landscapes in the world (looking at you, Mount Rainier and Olympic National Park) and, even in the world of “lockdowns” and “social distancing”, there’s been endless opportunities to explore and have my breath completely taken away by the beauty of nature here. At this point, I can confidently say that being in nature has been my lifeline this year.
By virtue of my newfound love of nature, I’ve went from slowly hiking a couple of miles each weekend to confidently tackling 15 mile beasts. Beyond becoming a much faster, stronger hiker (which, by the way, my glutes can confirm), I’ve even learned how to backcountry camp, which is just such a cool experience- stargazing at a billion twinkling stars at night, snuggling with Justin in our sleeping bags as we fall asleep, and watching the sunrise from our tent, coffee in hand.
I know, in my soul, that this love is going to stay with me for the rest of my life (I can’t wait to take our future kids hiking and camping someday!) and if it were not for the dumpster fire that was 2020, I would’ve been too busy gallivanting around the world hanging out in bougie cocktail bars and doing whatever else used to occupy all my time. And for that, I am grateful.
3. Road trippin’ with Justin
At the beginning of Justin’s and my relationship, we did a lot of little road trips from our home in St. Louis- to Chicago, Nashville, one time even a longhaul to Atlanta. But as our careers progressed and our wanderlust (and bank accounts) grew, our weekend road trips tended to skew a lot more towards international travel- jetting over to Mexico or Iceland for a four day weekend, even just flying across the country for a quick weekend jaunt. The thought of exploring our more immediate backyard in the United States just didn’t interest me as much as the allure of faraway lands.
After not traveling anywhere for almost six months due to the pandemic, in late July 2020, we finally felt comfortable dipping our toes into more local travel with a road trip to Idaho and Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks. During that 10 day span, from listening to podcasts and having long talks with Justin in the car to exploring hot springs and completely out-of-this-world landscapes with our own two feet, our experience was straight up MAGICAL. We went on two more road trips, around Utah and Oregon, after that and I’m proud to say that, at this point, we have the art of executing a killer road trip down to a science.
Without the reset button that was 2020, I wouldn’t have made the time or space to remember how much I love this much more affordable, environmentally friendly, incredibly fun way to explore the world around me.
4. Reprioritizing our budget for Big Travel Adventures
When you’re busy constantly running around and living your life at warp speed, it can be hard to take a step back and ask yourself “What really matters to me? When I’m on my deathbed, what am I going to be telling myself ‘man, am I glad I did that when I was young and able-bodied!?” Justin and I have always been pretty frugal and prioritized spending money on travel rather than on fancy cars or other gadgets.
But 2020 gave us time to sit back, really examine the money that was going into and out of our accounts, and think long and hard about how we wanted to make our money work for us and our goals.
With that in mind, over the past several months, we’ve transitioned to saving aggressively for our future Big Travel Adventures- for example, we want to go to Antarctica (a cruise, at a minimum, usually costs at least $9,000 a person for a 12 day trip- and that’s without plane tickets!) and to complete the W-Trek in Patagonia, which is at the exact opposite part of the world from our home. Not only has this time let us budget, plan, and save for our future Big Travel Adventures, it’s also helping us form lasting and easy money-saving habits- not going out for coffee; eating out less; and cutting out extraneous subscriptions we really don’t need (sorry, HBO GO!).
5. Having time to dedicate to this blog
I am a person who lives life to the fullest. On a weekend in any “normal” year, if we aren’t traveling, I’m usually zipping between outdoor yoga at a farmer’s market to brunch with friends to a cultural event to yet another friend outing.
I’m also a person who works to the fullest (not sure that’s a thing, but just go with it)- at my previous job in St. Louis, I worked every day until 7 or 7:30 in the office and then when I got back home, I’d fire back up my laptop until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. I worked on our honeymoon, and again as we made our way on a road trip through the fields of Hungary, in the car outside of my grandmother’s funeral, in multiple hospital waiting rooms while Justin was in surgery. It doesn’t feel like hyperbole when I say that I worked constantly.
I started this blog in 2018 and I very much enjoy it- travel makes my heart sing like nothing else on the planet, I enjoy writing and photography (especially about travel-related things), and every once in a while, when I get a message or comment from a stranger that my Internet musings actually helped them plan their trip in some way- well, that pretty much makes my month. But even while I very much valued this little space we’ve been building here (even if it was just read, at times, by my mom- hi, Mom!), at some point during 2019, with my incessant going, going, going, Uprooted Traveler got put on the backburner. In fact, it may have even fallen completely off the stove. For, ahem, approximately a year.
But with a new job that affords me much better work-life balance and a year that, for better or worse, has graced us with slowness, I have been able to take the opportunity to dive back into writing, redesign the blog, learn more about SEO and photography. And it makes me REALLY happy- to feel like I’m using this time to create, learn a new skill or two, and hopefully, maybe even develop content that will help someone avoid the goofy mistakes I make during travel.
So while 2020 has been painful and ugly and, well, just plain awful in so many ways, it’s given me some really beautiful gifts that I’m beyond thankful for. What about you- what are you giving thanks for this year?