How do you deal with a lost year of travel when you happen to be a travel writer? It’s a burning question that has been on my mind for a while now.
From my window I can see the rain is coming down in icy sheets, steadily drumming on the roof.
My coffee has long gone cold and the background hum of BBC news informs me that more countries are closing their borders to the UK.
What a fitting end to a lost year of travel in 2020. Is 1 pm too early to open the gin, it’s Ireland somewhere after all?
My lost year of travel
Rainy Mondays seem like the ideal time for a spot of melancholy about the state of the travel and my role within it? If you can’t indulge in a spot of naval-gazing in a global pandemic, when can you right?
In the dying days of 2020, I thought it might be a good idea to reflect on a lost year of travel and how I got through it?
Life as a grounded travel writer in 2020
As someone who has lived a life in motion, a life without travel is something I’m having a hard time contemplating?
Travel has been my whole world since I was 18 years old. It has left an indelible mark on my soul and forever altered the way I live my life.
From the first, mildly chaotic solo trip to Paris at 18, I was hooked. Being alone in a busy city scared, thrilled and challenged me in ways that were utterly intoxicating.
Since then, I have built my life around travel. For 17 years I have been a proverbial travel wanker clocking up countless countries and miles.
I’ve backpacked around the world, worked abroad, studied abroad, volunteered abroad and now work as a freelance travel writer and podcaster.
Life on the road as a travel writer
Between travel writing and personal trips, I usually spend a huge amount of time on the road.
Life in perpetual motion is both exhilarating and exhausting and last year, I was close to burn out after back to back press trips.
Ironically, before I had even heard the phrase ‘social distancing’, I had privately decided that I would scale back my trips in 2020. This turned out to be a wildly prophetic decision in the end.
Little did I know, 2020 would be a lost year of travel, not just for me, but for the entire world.
Grounded by coronavirus
Living out of a suitcase comes with an emotional cost that is rarely discussed in my circles. I’ve missed countless birthdays, weddings and hen parties over the years thanks to my vagabonding.
Whilst my husband, family and friends have displayed endless patience over my seemingly unquenchable wanderlust, I reasoned some time at home might be a good thing this year?
Well universe, I got what just what I wanted didn’t I? I was finally grounded, but in a cruel twist of fate, was unable to actually spend any time with family or friends, thanks to being in and out of lockdowns here in Wales.
Meetups were largely delayed by agonised attempts to decipher what constituted a ‘support bubble’ this week, closely followed by ‘what shitting tier are we in today?’
And so, I was imprisoned at home asking myself the indulgent, soul searching question of ‘without travel, what am I?’ What’s my raison d’être?
What the hell am I going to talk about on Twitter? Do not say ‘armchair travel’, I am at a breaking point of my patience with that insufferable phrase.
Without travel, what am I?
I realise that ‘travelling’ shouldn’t be a personality substitute, but other than an entirely useless ability to memorise and perform 90’s rap lyrics, it’s frankly all I have.
Like many of my peers, I now find myself in in travel limbo, marooned on a rainy island that’s inexplicably about to break ties with its European neighbours as the skies empty, the ports shut, and social media explodes in collective blame, excuses and fury.
Travel writers are of course inextricably linked to an industry that is in dire trouble right now. The poor travel industry has taken a proper hammering in 2020 and its future is most uncertain.
Revenue and job losses have been vast in 2020, with many travel businesses closing their doors for good, thanks to border closures, restrictions and ever-changing travel corridors.
I doubt anyone knew when UK lockdowns first began that we would still be grounded in December?
Tragically trapped on sickly, Brexit island, as the rest of the world firmly pulled the shutters down on us Brits. What a time to be alive.
How do you write about travel when you’re not travelling
So how do you write about travel when you’re not travelling? It’s not exactly the ideal time to be a travel writer as people keep reminding me with the god-awful sympathy head tilt.
“Darling, it must simply be dreadful for you? Then in hushed-albeit-nosy tones “Are you alright for money?”
Pandemic aside, people always imagine you are broke if you work in creative industries, especially if you never publically discuss finances.
You’re never more than a delayed invoice away from destitution in the minds of families and friends.
Up until now, it’s been difficult to articulate my feelings on the situation, mostly as they have been quite complicated.
My moods dramatically ricochet between uncharacteristic stoicism and raging despair, depending on how much news cycle I’ve been exposed to that day?
The mere mention of Grant Shapps sends me into a wild fury that can only be remedied with a large glass of pinot.
The year of no travel
There are days when I feel like I’m stuck in an endless loop of waking, walking, writing, Netflix and bed. Rinse and repeat Monday through to Sunday.
I appreciate I’m far from alone in this feeling of existential, pandemic fuelled dread.
But I also think I’m entitled to my feelings and writing them down. It’s one of the few things I have any sort of control over these days.
There are, of course, always people worse off than you in any given situation, pandemic or not.
The news and our social media timelines are constantly flooded with harrowing stories of death, job loss and suffering across the globe as corona rages on.
I’m not special and neither are you, many of us are riding the storm, we’re just in differing vessels, on a voyage to nowhere.
Cancelled trips and grounded flights in 2020
Over in my own personal shitstorm, I stood helplessly by as my international work trips fell like wretched dominoes. Either cancelled or postponed to an unknown future date.
My last trip abroad was in February this year and I’ve not been inside an airport since.
Every time travel has seemed like a possibility, new restrictions come in, a travel corridor swiftly closes, or a flight gets cancelled.
It’s the uncertainty that frustrates and enrages me. It’s impossible to plan anything with this level of unbelievable government incompetence and ever-changing goalposts.
Despite all the talk of ‘travel deals’ and loopholes at the start of this clusterfuck, travelling abroad feels like a huge gamble to me.
I’m just not willing to roll the dice right now, despite pastel-pink photo assurances from a 23-year-old Instagrammer called ‘Wanderfierce’.
Is now a good time to travel?
A cursory glance at Instagram highlights that despite the rona’, travel hasn’t been impossible this year.
Reports of the rich riding out the pandemic in destinations around the world have caused much social media rage amongst us normal folk.
As if we somehow expected the wealthy elites to queue for bog roll alongside the proletariat?
Many travel writers and Instagrammers without fixed abodes, or much in the way of responsibilities, also managed to escape and hunker down in places like Tulum, Bali and the Maldives, for extended periods of time.
If you can stand the side-eye and subtweets from your industry peers, I can fully understand why you might want to swap Dulwich for Dubai right now.
Frankly, i’m not down for moralising people’s travel or life choices right now. I have my own shit going on in the background, so I’ve very much adopted a ‘not my circus, not my monkeys’ stance on most topics these days.
At some point, you have to consider your own wellbeing and not get dragged into the time-suck that are internet dramas. You do you, my friend.
Should I travel in a pandemic?
For me, there never quite seemed to be a good time to flee the sickly shores of Britain in 2020.
Scrolling through Twitter on any given day, there was an endless stream of stranded travellers, fluctuating borders and countless denied travel refunds.
Instead, I switched focus to UK travel and more evergreen travel stories and podcasts. “It’s only for a short while” was the pep talk I gave myself. That was 4000 years ago in April.
It should be said, that at least in my industry, I’m one of the lucky ones in that, I’m not actually going to miss a meal.
Many of my contemporaries, especially on the blogging side, have had to switch careers, quietly get a side job, or found themselves stranded back in their old bedroom in the family home.
The achingly millennial posts of “Quit your job, sell you stuff, travel the world”, have long been consigned to Instagram drafts.
It’s hard to “Explore. Dream. Discover”, when borders start closing all around you. It’s even more difficult to flog your digital nomad eBook I imagine?
Travel writing work
Bizarrely, travel commissions, writing work and UK press trips continued to come in this year for me, although at a much slower pace than I’m used to.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m frankly grateful for any work at all, given the dire state of the job market right now.
I had initially braced myself for zero gigs at the start of the UK lockdowns. Limited to a quick trip to Aldi or the local park, travel writing felt ridiculously out of reach back then.
In those early lockdown days, I teetered at the edge of a dark void as my world shrank to four walls, an empty diary and a dwindling loo roll supply.
Luckily, fate had other plans for me and I actually ended up writing for some new travel media outlets.
It’s the little wins that keep you going when uncertainty and fear start knocking at your door and for that, I am immensely thankful and humble.
Life in lockdown
Whilst I don’t have a generational wealth safety net like most people seem to have in media, I do thankfully have an industrious husband.
Together, we have low living costs, our own house, and we also own audio/music production companies that carried on, despite the plague ravaging the economy.
It helps that the pair of us have always had a ‘jack of all trade’s’ work ethic.
Both picking up a range of work and opportunities simply by saying yes to everything and working out the details later. “Why yes, I can indeed do a voice over for an adult film.” Don’t ask.
I’ve always been a quiet advocate of multiple income streams and jobs if you are trying to make it as a freelancer and/or business owner.
It certainly takes the stress out of having your income tied to one source and also keeps you in Merlot for another week.
I’m hopeful that together, we can ride this one out and emerge relatively unscathed. Unless Netflix goes down of course, then shit gets real up in this house.
What’s the future of travel?
As 2021 approaches, I find myself wistfully asking, so what the fuck now? The ‘we will travel again’ confidence seems to be waning, as country after country gives Britain the middle finger and Brexit still darkly looms.
I honestly have no idea what next year holds for me, but I imagine I’ll be hauled up at home for a while longer?
After a lost year of travel, I at least have a bit more patience and stoicism than I used to. Still not baked a single sodding banana bread though. I’m probably not doing lockdown right?
Whilst vaccines are a glimmer of hope on the horizon, we’re also relying on a corrupt and inept Tory government to roll it out here in Britain. I’m not exactly filled with optimism on that front.
So what now?
Travel in 2021 is likely to be the same roller coaster of border closures and broken promises that it was in 2021. At this point, I have very little faith in the British government’s ability to manage the plague.
Despite a potentially dystopian future awaiting us if things go tits up here in Bojo’s Blighty, I’ll try and find happiness in the small things, just like I have done in 2020.
Local walks, freshly brewed coffee and mindful podcasts have kept me going during the darker days and hopefully will continue to do so?
Time will tell if travel will rebound, or if it will even look the same in the future?
I rather suspect that massive and much-needed change is afoot if we are to safely and responsibly connect with the world again?
Until then, I silently sit, scrolling Skyscanner, patiently waiting, and dreaming of distant shores.
What do you think of my article on a lost year of travel? Have you managed to get away this year? Let me know in the comments below!