I almost didn’t write my annual retrospective this year (as I’ve done for each year since 2014).

“What is there to write about,” I thought. “This year has been a total write-off and I just want to forget about it.”

But looking back, I realized that stuff did happen. And given how unusual (and hopefully unique) this year has been, I think it should be recorded for posterity.

So here we go…


Brazil and Mexico

I actually managed to go on one trip this year, and a rather long one, just before the pandemic hit!

On January 9, I flew to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, my first time ever in that country. I won’t lie; I was somewhat apprehensive about travelling alone to Rio. For years I had heard about the high level of crime there, and never made any definitive plans to go.

I spent a lot of time picking out my AirBnB, making sure I was in one of the safer and more convenient neighbourhoods (Ipanema) even if it cost more. I was really lucky to share an apartment with Denise, a retired dentist who spoke good English and gave me plenty of tips and even some first-hand help. Still, Rio challenged me, and you can read about my tips for a first-time visit to Rio here.

Paraty, Brazil

In the old town of Paraty, Brazil

After a whole week in Rio de Janeiro, I took a bus to Paraty, several hours southwest of the city, a pretty Portuguese colonial town with rough cobblestone streets, and whitewashed buildings with colourful trims. I spent nine days here, walking around the small town and visiting several nearby beaches.

And finally, I visited Ilha Grande for a few days, an island with even better beaches! After almost three weeks in Brazil, I flew to Mexico City.

Ilha Grande, Brazil

Dreamy Ilha Grande, Brazil

On the flight over to Mexico, I got food poisoning from a Copa Airline meal! Food on airplanes sucks, and you make your peace with that, but when the food makes you sick too, you know you’ve hit rock bottom! This was on January 30, at the very beginning of COVID, and the flight attendants got so worried that they called the paramedics on me! Fortunately I managed to persuade them that all I needed was a good night sleep.

After a few days in a hotel recovering, I took a bus to Oaxaca (my favourite winter town in Mexico) where I rented an AirBnB apartment for a whole month. I had convinced a friend of mine to check out Oaxaca, and she rented the apartment next to mine for a few weeks. It was a real treat to have company for part of almost every day!

I had picked March 6 for my return flight to Toronto. This turned out to be perfect timing, as the pandemic was declared five days later and many travellers had difficulty returning home over the following weeks.

Writing and the blog

I didn’t write much on the blog this year. To be honest, I didn’t feel like it, especially after spending months in lockdown and knowing that it would be a long time before I could travel again.

After returning to Toronto, I wrote a post about top bucket list destinations, and conducted an interview with a brave (some would say reckless) friend who flew to France during the summer to be with her boyfriend.

However, I’ve continued to publish my newsletter on the first Friday of the month. And in April, I launched a Facebook group called BigTravelNut Solo Travel Over 40. I had been toying with the idea for a while, in part because I was increasingly receiving messages from readers wanting me to find them travel companions! So I figured I would let people find each other. Nine months later, the group now has over 400 members, even in a year when almost nobody is travelling for leisure.

If you read my 2019 retrospective, you’ll know that a story of mine was selected to appear in a travel anthology called Fearless Footsteps. It took a while, but the book was finally released in North America this past November. This is my first time appearing in an actual published paper book! I’ve read the other 35 stories in the anthology and was quite impressed with the quality of the writing.

I was also interviewed by a couple of online sites this year. You can read my interview with GAFFL (a platform that connects solo travellers) here. I’m not sure if the other one was ever published…

The small things

I’ve now spent almost 10 months within a 4-kilometre radius of my apartment. I haven’t taken public transit, let alone a train or a plane. Instead I’ve been enjoying long walks, exploring new areas, discovering plazas, parks, sculptures and murals tucked away on side streets.

Toronto park in autumn

Toronto park in autumn

I don’t take seeing friends for granted anymore. During the summer, I met up with a few close friends, one at a time and socially distanced, and had a few meals and beers on patios.

Like many urbanites, I’ve fantasized about moving out of my small condo in downtown Toronto to a larger unit in a smaller town. I had this idea before COVID started mind you; I just never saw the urgency before.

This will be my first entire winter spent in cold Toronto, without any trip to look forward to, in over a decade. The goal has become to not lose my mind. (And the solution includes chocolate among other things.) 🙂

Any plans for 2021?

Now that vaccines have begun rolling out in Canada, I can actually start dreaming about where to escape next winter.

Right now the top contender destination is New Zealand, assuming everything goes well and they’ve reopened their borders by then. I’ve travelled to that small South Pacific nation twice before for extended trips, and it’s one of my favourite countries in the world.

I don’t dare making too many plans this far ahead. However, the first place I will probably return to, hopefully in summer or fall, is my home province of Quebec where I still have family and several good friends. I have not visited there since June 2019, which feels like an eternity.

Since I won’t be travel writing for several more months, I decided to sign up for a local online course about screenplay writing! Yes, it’s rather different, but I like all types of writing, and this should help winter pass more quickly. Maybe I can write the script for a travel movie. 🙂

Well, Happy New Year 2021 everybody!!! Wherever you are in the world fellow travel nuts, safeguard your health, take pleasure in the small things, and know that you will travel again… soon!

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