2020 'travels'

Updated: Jan 4


The new decade, which we all excitedly entered with a renewed sense of clarity (cue the 20/20 references), was already the worst year known to modern humanity before the end of the first quarter. And it only seemed to become more harrowing as the months progressed.


I thought, by 2020, that we'd have teleportation and flying cars. Never, in my wildest imagination, would I have guessed that people would just be learning proper hand hygiene and that racism was bad.


The pandemic tested and isolated us humans, but it decimated the tourism sector. 2020 was a lost year for travel and an incredibly boring year for my passport. But, before and after the world got completely cancelled, I was able to getaway a handful of times. In a year like no other, I felt it fitting to do things a little different, in terms of my '2020 Travels' blog...You'll find the format this year is a mix of travel year-in-review and quarantine chronicles.


JANUARY

On the 1st of Jan, things were still very festive in Vilnius, Lithuania! Snow fell, lights twinkled, champagne corks popped, fireworks exploded and I didn't yet know that an apocalyptic virus would bring the world to a standstill. Life was good!


Upon returning to Munich, I had just about enough time to unpack, re-load my suitcase and sleep a couple of hours before I schlepped back to Franz Josef Strauss International Airport. Since I didn't have to report to work for six more days, I had some free time to spend with friends in London. Many people had not yet returned from their festive holidays, making maneuvering around The Big Smoke a breeze (and also a bit of foreshadowing for the very near future).


In mid-January, a weekend in sunny Lisbon, Portugal was just what the doctor ordered to temporarily rid myself of the winter blues. The laid-back vibe, delicious food, friendly people and my lovely travel companion helped as well.


Back to London I went for nine days, at the tail-end of the month. As I was physically there, I can confirm the United Kingdom did in fact leave the EU (as of 23:00 GMT on 31st January 2020), after 3.5 years of political deadlock. An eleven month 'transtion period' was put in place, during which a complex UK-EU withdrawal agreement had to be negotiated, ratified and implemented. Five months passed before the trade discussions began and it took until 24th December, just seven days prior to the end of the Brexit transition, for the UK and EU to agree upon a deal.


FEBRUARY

11th February was the day that the World Health Organization announced 'COVID-19' as the official name of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Four days later, clearly not yet feeling personally affected by that news, I escaped the cold of Germany to vacation hard in Naples, Florida, for two weeks.


On Leap Day, my friend, my killer Floridian tan and I headed out of Munich, for the night, to Starnberg (Bavaria's second largest lake). Because it was winter and the ferries weren’t in operation, we wandered, on foot, around the north end of the shore - eating, drinking and admiring the alpine panorama.


29th February also marked my six-month bavarianniversary and the official half-way mark for my 'cooling-off period.' Only 183 more days to go until I was permitted to apply for a shiny new UK visa.


MARCH

Fear and anxiety increased as European coronavirus cases surged. I hadn't quite grasped the severity of the situation, so I went about my business, as planned, and spent the first week of the month in Barcelona, Spain. Having been to the Catalonian capital several times previously, I did this trip in a more tasty, less touristy manner.


Back in Germany, I attended the final match played by FC Bayern Munich, on 8th March, before the Bundesliga season was halted (until 16th May). There I was, sat alongside 74,999 fellow spectators, just three days prior to COVID-19 being classified as a pandemic.


The Albanian Prime Minster shut all clubs and restaurants, as an outbreak precaution, two days before I was scheduled to visit. Additionally, I received an email from the hotel I had booked indicating that they were 'closing for an undetermined period of time due to the COVID-19 threat.' Since I'd have nowhere to eat, drink nor sleep, I decided that maybe this wasn't the right time to go to Tirana. Instead, I booked a last-minute flight to London, for a long weekend.


I didn't know it on 15th March, when I returned to Munich, but that would be my last time flying the friendly skies for the next 78 days.


By mid-March, there had been outbreaks in nearly every country and Europe was the epicenter of the virus. Governments attempted to suppress the spread of the illness by imposing dramatic measures like lockdowns, quarantines, border closures and non-essential travel bans.


The crisis unfolded rapidly and dramatically. It disrupted modern society on a scale that most of the living human population had never previously witnessed. The virus that knew no borders emptied public spaces and filled hospitals. It cost lives and livelihoods. It crashed economies and broke healthcare systems. It shuttered restaurants/bars/shops/schools and separated people from their workplaces/friends/families. Individuals, communities, businesses and industries alike felt the impact.


Transport and tourism were among the hardest hit sectors. Never before had international travel been restricted in such an extreme manner. Airlines faced the darkest period in the history of commercial aviation, significantly worse than 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis. Mass flight cancellations were the result of aircraft companies grounding up to 95% of their fleets. Lufthansa was reportedly losing €1 million per hour, at the height of the pandemic travel paralysis.


Quarantine Week 1 (16th March): In Germany, the number of infections at the start of the week was about 7k. By the end of the week, more than 26k were tallied. The country's borders were shut, closures were announced and contact bans/curfews were put in place. I was instructed to work from home until further notice (I never actually went back). Downloads for apps like Houseparty and Zoom spiked as people virtually connected with friends/family members and work video chats soared in volume. Unnecessary panic buying left supermarket shelves devoid of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and pasta. St. Paddy's Day 2020 was cancelled. The Shedd aquarium, in Chicago, allowed penguins to roam freely whilst its doors were shut to the public. Love is Blind taught us how to get engaged whilst in isolation. Tik Tok piqued the world's creativity (before becoming controversial and banned in several countries). And even though the Tiger King docuseries baffled millions of people, the one thing everyone agreed on was that Carole Baskin fed her ex-husband to her tigers.


Quarantine Week 2 (23rd March): It only took two weeks of lockdown to realize my top two sources of joy were travel and non-essential businesses. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic games were postponed to 2021. I was supposed to be in London for the week, but the UK had implemented lockdown measures in an attempt to fight the pandemic, which meant my flight did not operate. Boris Johnson tested positive for COVID-19. A 101-year-old Italian man who survived the 1918 flu and a World War recovered from COVID-19. By the end of the week, Germany had confirmed more than 57k infections, with 395 deaths.


Quarantine Week 3 (30th March): It was clear that the quarantine would not end anytime soon and 'emotional claustrophobia' took hold as people recongized that they'd be stuck for an undetermined period of time. Corona beer was forced to halt production as it fell victim to the virus with its namesake. Wimbledon was cancelled for the first time since WW11. In an attempt to have control over something in my life, I started a routine which included walking two miles each day, to purchase two bottles of wine. I was not the only person lubricating this weird situation with booze. In the UK, sales were up by 22% in March and in the US they rose 55%, compared to the same period last year. I was supposed to have been exploring Georgia & Armenia over the weekend, but the flights were cancelled. Germany now had more coronavirus cases, on record, than China (officially) did, as it approached the 100k infections mark.


APRIL

I hoped that I'd wake up on April Fool's day and learn that the pandemic was a well-orchestrated, global joke. No such luck!


Quarantine Week 4 (6th April): On World Health Day (7th April), we all realized just how profound of a debt of gratitude we owed our medical professionals. Stephen King apologized for people feeling like they were living in one of his horror novels. Isolation fatigue became feared by many governments. My trip to Iceland for the Easter break had been cancelled, but, as a fitting Easter treat, I got to meet the two giant neighborhood bunnies, whom I had nicknamed Covid (white) and Corona (brown).


Quarantine Week 5 (13th April): Worldwide infections surpassed two million and the death toll rose past 128k by mid-April. Conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus sprung up as science was railroaded for speculation, politics and clickbait. Did Bill Gates have a hand in the creation? Did it originate in a Chinese lab? Or maybe, some numpty in Wuhan really did just eat an under-cooked bat? Kneading to relax a bit, people turned to baking bread (see what I did there?), which meant there were shortages of eggs, yeast and flour in shops. The road trip around western Romania that I had planned and booked did not happen.


Quarantine Week 6 (20th April): My weekend in Madeira, Portugal was thwarted. Coronavirus shutdowns were the environment's 2020 Earth Day gift. In 'don't try this at home' news, Trump suggested that people inject themselves with disinfectant as a COVID-19 cure. North Korea's dictator hadn't been seen in weeks and was deemed either dead, alive or just fine, depending on what publication you read. Maybe Carole Baskin also fed him to her tigers!? With no Munich to London flights in operation, I stepped up my steps as I began training to walk to the UK (just kidding....kind of). Oktoberfest 2020 was cancelled, five months early, due to the ongoing health calamity. The first of Germany's restrictions eased with the reopening of select shops (mainly DIY stores and garden centers), whilst a €150 fine for hugging was imposed.


Quarantine Week 7 (27th April): I was still staying home and still grateful my only fever was cabin, but I was also struggling with boredom and restricted freedom of movement. Wearing masks became mandatory throughout Germany, on public transit and in all shops. I was supposed to meet my boyfriend in Leeds over the weekend, to see a football match, but since all flights and sports were suspended, that obviously did not happen. Captain Tom Moore raised $32m for the NHS, on his 100th birthday, by walking 100 laps around his garden. Less for charity, and more for sanity, I walked 125 miles in April.


MAY

Quarantine Week 8 (4th May): By the time May rolled around, things had still not improved a whole heck of a lot. In fact, some would argue that things were made worse as murder hornets entered the scene. We all hoped that Winter the llama would end up saving the human race, but that didn't pan out. My Bulgarian road trip was cancelled, but because German restrictions had lifted slightly, I was able to, instead, head to the Bavarian Alps for the weekend. Whilst there, I got to see the enchanting Neuschwanstein Castle (from afar, as it was closed to visitors).


Quarantine Week 9 (11th May): During the 20th week of 2020, Twitter announced that its employees could work from home, forever. I was thoroughly sick of looking at my own face on video chats, but I had finally worked out my best angles and perfected my tactic for nicely informing people that they were on mute. As German restrictions continued to loosen, the government battled with knowing how exactly to reopen a modern economy during the ongoing pandemic. Restaurants came up with clever ways to keep people socially distanced and I had played (and won) 1,000 games of Sudoku since the start of quarantine.


Quarantine Week 10 (18th May): Known global C-VID cases exceeded the five million mark, with more than 328,000 deaths. Singles started listing CV antibody test results on their dating apps. A robot dog enforced social distancing in Singapore, like an episode of Black Mirror. In Bavaria, outdoor gastronomies and beer gardens were allowed to resume service. All 12 trips I had planned, booked and paid for (between March and July) had cancelled, but I had only received reimbursements for four (of sixteen) flights. Some carriers were doing right by their passengers, but Lufthansa was most certainly not one of them. They repeatedly promised refunds but never actually processed them. When discussions of a €9 billion government rescue deal were announced, I regained hope that maybe one day Lufthansa would actually refund their customers for all the flights that they cancelled.


Quarantine Week 11 (25th May): As we were allowed to began righting our overturned lives in Germany, the 'new norm' felt completely abnormal. Security guarded entrances to establishments like grocery stores, bike shops and even recycling centers, managing headcount and ensuring masks were being worn/people were keeping their distance. At some eateries/drinkeries guests were required to fill out forms with the date and their contact information, in the event that tracking and tracing was necessary. The United States surpassed the 100,000 coronavirus-related deaths milestone. CV cost the drug cartels millions, as their methods of moving product were compromised and money laundering became easier to spot, with legitimate businesses closed. I was meant to be in London over the weekend, but that flight had been cancelled a month prior. Cheeky monkeys in India stole COVID-positive blood samples and ate them. The Boston Marathon was cancelled for the first time in its 124-year history. I most certainly was not training for a marathon, but I walked more than 130 miles in May, for lack of anything else to do.


JUNE

Quarantine Week 12 / Self-Isolation Week 1 (1st June): After countless failed attempts and 78-days grounded, I was finally able to get a flight out of Germany, on 1st June. I arrived in London one week before the UK's 14-day travel quarantine rule went into effect, but I still self-isolated for two weeks, in an Airbnb, to play it safe after a completely full flight. The start of June marked an unsettling time in the USA as George Floyd's unjust death escalated national civil unrest. Protests, and subsequent riots, against racial inequality, discrimination and police brutality occurred in all 50 states. Outside the US, thousands also rallied in solidarity.


Quarantine Week 13 / Self-Isolation Week 2 (8th June): The world coronavirus cases climbed to 7.5 million, with more than 420k deaths. New Zealand, which, to date, had contributed only 1,154 cases and 22 deaths to those aforementioned totals, declared themselves COVID-19 free. British Airways, Ryanair and Easyjet each filed a formal legal challenge against the UK government’s new quarantine policy, which went into effect at the start of the week. According to the LA Times, there were 160 different CV vaccines being development in labs around the world.


Quarantine Week 14 (15th June): When I finally got to my boyfriend's house, after two weeks of self-isolation, it had been 90 days too long since we had last seen one another. The UK were super late to the COVID game, only making it mandatory to wear masks on public transit in mid-June. Although Greece started opening up its borders to travelers, Athens was the only operational airport, which meant my weekend flight from Munich to Corfu got cancelled (also, I wasn't in Munich, so that flight wouldn't have been particularly useful anyway).


Quarantine Week 15 (22nd June): News outlets reported that there were more than nine million worldwide confirmed coronavirus cases, in 188 countries, with a death toll nearing 500k. The bulk of CV activity was now concentrated in USA, Brazil and India. The number one tennis player in the world, Novak Djokovic, tested positive for COVID-19 following a tournament he hosted. Kenya suffered a second plague as the largest swarms of locust, in more than 70 years, infested and destroyed their crops. Frightfully, US gun permit applications increased by more than 500% amid pandemic and racial protests.


Quarantine Week 16 (29th June): Despite the ongoing coronavirus surge in Russia, Putin mobilized resources to make sure the referendum went ahead. Russian voters 'overwhelmingly backed' new changes to the constitution, allowing Putin (Russia’s longest-serving leader since Joseph Stalin) to run for two more terms - meaning he could remain in power through 2036.


JULY

After 110 days of quarantine, 4th July was COVID-19 Independence Day in Britain. The UK re-opened its doors to pubs, restaurants, cafes, salons, museums, zoos, theme parks, libraries, cinemas and hotels, effectively ending life in lockdown. Although COVID rules officially became guidelines rather than legally enforceable offences, singing was still strictly forbidden. Without work to physically go to, and with things opening again, it felt a bit like a false sense of summer break.


My boyfriend and I headed out to his folks' house in Crawley, UK for a weekend, where we went on park adventures, played football (soccer) and BBQ'd.


The third weekend of the month was spent with a small group of friends in a lovely country house in Lewes, UK, where we all took turns cooking semi-gourmet meals, honed our cocktail-making skills, swam and played tennis. Adulting at its finest!


By the end of July, global coronavirus infections had surged past 15 million, according to Reuters. In the UK, only on 24th July did it become compulsory to wear masks in shops (three full months after this rule was put in place in Germany).


AUGUST

Desperate for a trip, but feeling like international holidays were still too risky, my friend and I hired a car and did a four-day road trip around Kent. We had a fabulous time exploring Folkstone, Dover, Broadstairs, Botany Bay, Margate, Canterbury, Whitstable and Tenterden.


On 16th August, I flew from London Heathrow to Boston Logan. I counted only 17 passengers on my Airbus A350 (capacity of 331). What a delight...for me! Probably less so for British Airways.


It was an interesting time to have been in the US, where Trump seemingly did more to halt people from voting in the upcoming Presidential election than he ever did to stop people from getting COVID (at which point there were 5.88M US confirmed cases and over 181k US deaths). Fires ravaged the West, hurricanes decimated the Southeast and tornados plagued the Northeast, Great Lakes and Northern Plains. There was also another demoralizing shooting by the police (Jacob Blake), another angry set of protests in the streets and another disturbing trail of destruction that overshadowed the message to end police violence and racism.


SEPTEMBER

My two weeks of US self-isolation ended the day before I was legally allowed to apply for my new UK visa (that precise planning was not an accident). The pandemic seemed to have streamlined bureaucracy as the whole process, from submission to approval, took 15-days and was the least painfull immigration process I've yet endured.


In total, I spent six weeks in the US. Luckily the weather cooperated and I was able to enjoy outdoor adventures with loved ones (including goat yoga, a corn maze, playing tennis, seaside dining and wine tasting).


On 23rd September, I relocated back to UK soil, for the second (and hopefully final) time. My American friend had also arrived in London, from the US, at the same time, so I did my 14-day quarantine stint at hers, which basically resulted in a two week long boozey slumber party!


After 13-months, and two weeks of quarantine, my (restricted) life in London officially resumed.


OCTOBER

Donald Trump tested positive for COVID-19, which surprised absolutely nobody.


I snuck away for two weekends to the countryside, despite regional lockdowns. The first of which was spent in Suffolk, at Retreat East, with two of my girlfriends, for some serious R&R.


I also went to Sussex, for some fresh air, long walks and autumnal leaf peeping.


NOVEMBER

And just like that, it was November and the British national lockdown part deux was in effect, for a month.


Quarantine Week 789 (2nd November): Netflix's The Queen's Gambit inspired me to take up chess as a quarantine hobby, which helped pass the time whilst I sat around and anxiously waited for votes to be counted. After four years of failed administration, a long and bitter Presidential race and the most consequential/unpredictable election in American history, 2020's bright spot was the Biden-Harris victory. Trump, of course, conceded with dignity, grace and honor. Oh wait, I think I have him confused with Kanye West.


Quarantine Week 1,287 (9th November): The week kicked off with more good news as Pfizer/BioNTech (cautiously, but optimistically) announced a vaccine that was projected to be 90% effective against COVID-19. If it passed final checks and was distributed/adminstered effectively, it would serve as a turning point in the gobal fight against the virus. Questions remained about how much defence it would offer, when/who could get immunized and how long the protection would last, but even just the promise of a vaccine was enough to instill a little bit of hope in the population. This week also brought us the second Friday the 13th of the year.


Quarantine Week 2,473 (16th November): Three more vaccine candidates were announced! Moderna (partly funded by Dolly Parton), Sputnik V in Russia and Oxford University/AstraZeneca's were all looking promising. The more vaccines the merrier!


Quarantine Week 3,156 (23rd November): Football legend Diego Maradona, widely regarded as one of the game's greatest ever players, died of a heart attack on 25th November. The combination of ongoing and changing travel restrictions/quarantine requirements made it impossible to get back to the US for my annual November trip. So instead of spending Thanksgiving with my family, I doubled my lockdown Sudoku streak (2,000 games now played and won). It's hard to contain all the excitement this year brought!


Quarantine Week 8,727 (30th November): I finally received the last flight refund (of 16) that I was due, from all my pandemic-related cancelled 2020 trips. Many were retrieved as a result of credit card disputed charges, since some airlines were jerks (not to name specific names, but I'm talking about you Lufthansa and Icelandair).


DECEMBER

It was a 40th birthday miracle that lockdown 2.0 ended at 12:01am on 2nd December. Thanks for the bday pressie, UK government! I wasn't able to celebrate in the Caribbean, as originally intended, but my boyfriend and I did get to spend a few nights at The Treehouse Hotel, for a lovely little staycation.


Whilst scientists continued work on vaccine approvals, the UK returned to a three-tiered COVID restriction structure.


8th December, dubbed 'V-Day', was an exciting one as the UK officially kickstarted its nationwide vaccine rollout. The first people to receive the jab should be fully immune by 5th January 2021.


Quarantine Week 10,999 (14th December): Straight out of lockdown, at the start of the month, London was placed in Tier 2, but was relegated to Tier 3 only two weeks later. After four whole days in Tier 3, a mystical Tier 4 was introduced and London was placed firmly in it, effectively entering lockdown part III. The self-isolation period, following travel and exposure to the infected, was reduced from 14 to 10 days. The news was reporting 71.1 million COVID-19 cases worldwide, with 1.67 million deaths by the end of 2020's 50th week.


Quarantine Week 12,333 (21st December): On 21st December, the planets quite literally aligned as Jupiter and Saturn came closer together than they had in 400 years. It was too cloudy for me to witness the conjunction, but my dad captured the photo below, from Naples, Florida. Coronavirus was the Grinch who stole Christmas. As a result of the UK's new, mutant strain of COVID (that seemed to be up to 70% more transmissible), all holiday plans were cancelled and alternatives had to be rearranged with short notice. Netherlands, France, Italy, Germany, India and Canada issued temporary bans on flights from the UK.


Quarantine Week 15,000 (28th December): Controversary over Hilaria (Hillary) Baldwin's heritage captured the attention of the entire internet. The good news was that the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine was approved by UK regulators and would start being administered the following week. The bad news was that New Year's Eve would have to be celebrated at home and my 20-year streak of ringing in the new year in a new city/country would come to an end.


SAD STATS FROM MY 2020 TRAVELS:

  • Trips: 8 (23 in 2019)

  • Air Miles Flown: 25,269 (83,789 in 2019)

  • Airline Segments Flown: 18 (48 in 2019)

  • Airlines Flown: 5 (14 in 2019)

  • Amount of Time Spent in the Air: 56.5 hours (183 hours in 2019)

  • Total Countries Visited: 6 (17 in 2019)

  • New Countries Visited: 0 (as of March, I was intended to visit at least 7)

  • Continents Visited: 2 (North America & Europe)

  • Nights Spent in a Hotel/Airbnb: 35 (67 in 2019)


In March, the graph below displayed how my 2020 travels were shaping up for the year (green bubbles = countries already visited; blue bubbles = new countries):


...But this is how things actually materialized.


CLOSING THOUGHTS

2020 was a defining year for humanity, for good and for bad. Australian bushfires/US wildfires, Brexit, record unemployment, economic depression, racial injustice and tumultuous politics, alongside a global pandemic that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, were some of the latter.


One of the very few upsides of this year was people coming together, in the face of calamity, displaying inspirational acts of solidarity and generosity. It was heartwarming and uplifting to see so many people and businesses helping those in need, whilst spreading love and goodwill.


The months spent in quarantine were a time to reflect and appreciate. Although I was bored, felt caged, struggled with having my travel wings clipped and spent so much time away from loved ones, I often felt guilty because I really was quite fortunate. I didn't fall sick nor lose any loved ones to the virus. I was grateful to have remained gainfully employed through it all and that my company continued to invest in my UK immigration amid a tough economy. I was thankful that I had a safe places to quarantine and appreciative of all my friends who stayed in contact.


I certainly won’t miss 2020, but I also will never forget it.


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