A year in review for 2020, where do I even start? We all know the story, of course, as we’re still currently living through it. My year in review for 2019 ended with so much promise. I had a bunch of international trips lined up, I was hoping to travel a lot throughout Canada and start a second Canadian niche travel blog, and I even uttered these words (which I cringe at a bit now): “I have several trips in store, but I am hoping to travel a little bit less so I can focus more on writing.“
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Yikes. Even though I did travel a bit less (uh…a LOT less) in 2020, my writing completely changed. I have a lot of past trips to write about, but I really didn’t feel comfortable writing about any of them in 2020. First, I struggled with writing about travel at all. This is difficult when you’re a full time travel blogger like myself, and writing about travel is my livelihood.
But, I didn’t feel comfortable writing about international or even national travel during a global pandemic. Even if used for future inspiration, it’s not as though anyone knows when international travel will resume and what that will look like.
What Did I Write About in 2020?
The first couple months of 2020 were like any other: I was traveling, both locally and internationally. I wrote about travel. It was looking to be my best year yet for travel blogging, both financially and experientially. Then, March rolled around and I made it back to Canada from India just in time (more on that in a bit).
As we all entered into lockdown, I had all the time in the world to write and edit photos and do all of those blogger things. But, I couldn’t exactly write about travel. So, like many other travel bloggers, we explored the realm of virtual travel for a little while.
Then, I think that we all started cooking more food and recipes at home. Justin and I prepared all of our own meals and I tried so many new recipes. It didn’t matter if they were a little bit time consuming to make. We weren’t going anywhere!
While I didn’t quite get into the trend of baking my own bread like so many others did, I ended up compiling lists of vegan recipes inspired by cuisines from around the world. You can see a lot of these recipe round-ups in the recipe section of the blog.
I also started the arduous task of updating some old blog posts with new information and making sure all of the details were correct. Also, my writing has certainly improved since I started writing this blog back in 2013. My writing style has changed. I made some improvements on those older articles. Updating my old blog posts is still a work in progress.
My Travels in 2020 (Pre-Pandemic)
The year started off really well! In late 2019, I got LASIK eye surgery and could see perfectly without wearing glasses or contact lenses. I was excited for all the possibilities of going surfing, white water rafting, and doing all of those fun water sports where I wouldn’t have to worry about losing a contact lens. (Spoiler alert: Toronto isn’t the best place to go surfing, so that didn’t happen this year).
In January, I went to New York City for almost a week for TravMedia’s International Media Marketplace (IMM). I made some amazing connections at the conference that I figured would result in trips for the blog all year long. It was also great to catch up with tourism and blogging friends, plus meet some friends from the online world in person for the first time. I also toured around the city very casually, mostly walking around and exploring by foot. Eating at so many awesome vegan restaurants was a huge highlight.
In February, I had a couple of trips in Ontario planned with tourism organizations here. First, I flew up to Thunder Bay to visit Sleeping Giant Provincial Park in the winter. It was a delightful experience to stay in a cozy cabin at the park. I also had the opportunity to visit Thunder Bay and some nearby places as I had a rental car there. I had never been that far north in Ontario. While I’d love to see it in the summer, it was so peaceful in the winter. It was wonderful to see the landscapes covered in a blanket of snow and ice.
In the middle of February, I partnered with the French Caribbean tourism boards of Martinique and Guadeloupe to help promote these amazing sunshine destinations. There was a fun media event in Toronto and I was pretty excited at the possibility to spend more time at these tropical islands in the future.
As February rolled on, I took a local trip to Grand Bend and Pinery Provincial Park. I spent a couple of nights in a yurt at the park, did some winter hiking, and ate delicious food at the restaurants in Grand Bend. This stretch of Lake Huron is so gorgeous in the winter. You’ve just gotta bundle up as the wind off the lake can be super chilly.
Okay, so March is when the pandemic really struck so many countries around the world, including those in North America. But, it didn’t seem too bad by the time that the end of February rolled around. Naturally, I hopped on a plane with my sister and we went to India!
In hindsight, we were extremely lucky that this trip was such a success. It was my first time co-leading a small group trip, and I was also really stoked to go to India for the first time. This trip had many challenges along the way.
First, the president of the USA visited India right before our trip. At the end of February, there were riots and clashes in Delhi that resulted in the deadliest violence the capital has witnessed in decades. To stay safe, our plans in New Delhi shifted to areas that were safe from the violence and we ended up flying to Jaipur instead of driving (with fears of possible road blockages).
The trip was an incredible experience. While we heard a little about the virus here and there, it didn’t seem to be much of an issue in India at the time. We toured around Jaipur, Rishikesh, Agra, and more. Our small group of five ladies participated in Holi celebrations, dined with a local family, explored palaces and forts, wandered around bustling markets, visited the Taj Mahal (and the Baby Taj!), heard a musical performance, and ate so, so, so much delicious food.
I haven’t written about my trip to India at all yet. I have so much to say, but I’m waiting for the right time to write about it all. I will fully detail my adventures to India in 2021 so you can learn more. I feel the time will be right as we will all hopefully get back to traveling again towards the end of 2021. Maybe we will be able to take a trip together to India in the coming years as I’d really love to return again and again (and hopefully I’ll be able to co-lead another trip there!).
The Start of Lockdown
By some magical luck, our tour of northern India came to an end on March 10th, and we flew home on March 11th. Just as I arrived home, the country began to shut down. I learned that India closed its borders on March 13th.
For a little bit of context, there were no orders to wear masks back in these days. We wandered around the airport as usual. We flew on the plane without wearing masks. When we arrived in Toronto, no one asked us any questions about our travels, other than to make sure we didn’t arrive from any hotspots (China, Iran, and Italy were the main ones, I believe).
As someone who returned from an international trip, I was not even advised to stay home and quarantine at all. The lockdown ended up happening either on the day that I got home or the following day. I pretty much got home and then stayed home…indefinitely!
Starting the Ontario Hiking Blog
After staying home for a couple of weeks, I came to the realization that we weren’t going to be traveling anytime soon. Even though I am a full time travel blogger, I have never been a full time traveler. Most of the time, I’m here at home in the Toronto area anyway. I write about lots of local travel as it is on this blog, and many of those adventures involve one of my favorite activities: hiking.
I realized that my second Canada travel blog was not going to happen anytime soon. So, I thought it might be fun to start a second blog devoted entirely to hiking in Ontario. I had lots of past hiking trips to write about. Plus, hiking is one of the safest, most socially distanced outdoor activities that you can do. People were itching to get outdoors after being trapped inside for so long. It made perfect sense to devote my time to starting a hiking blog!
And…Ontario Hiking was born!
There was a little learning curve to start a new blog. After all, I hadn’t set up a blog since 2013 when I started Justin Plus Lauren. But, I was much more well equipped to blog and write and not make any of the newbie mistakes that I once made in my early days of travel blogging. The audience for Ontario Hiking grew quickly. I started an Instagram account for Ontario Hiking, along with other social media channels.
Then, I established the Ontario Hiking community on Facebook. As more and more people longed to explore the great outdoors close to home, this Facebook group grew and grew. By the end of the year, the group has more than 17,000 members, and I expect that it will hit 20,000 at some point in January!
Back in October, over 600 members took the first Ontario Hiking challenge where I challenged participants to hike at least five times throughout the month of October. The Facebook group was flooded with beautiful fall photos from hikes all over the province. I’m running a similar challenge this January if you’re interested in joining.
And then I decided to create my own physical products for the first time! The Ontario Hiking shop was born! I taught myself how to design my own t-shirts and apparel. Then, I ended up buying an iPad and took some courses on Procreate to design my own stickers. I also created pinback buttons, too. Having my own merchandise created a separate income stream during a time when my travel blogging income had dropped, so this was an excellent pivot.
I have so many great plans for Ontario Hiking in 2021. I can’t wait to grow this blog even more. Even though we’ve entered a second phase of lockdown in Ontario this December, I imagine that I’ll be exploring more of the province as these lockdown restrictions ease with the vaccine rollouts in the new year.
Local Travel for the Rest of 2020
As the restrictions started to ease ever so slightly, Justin and I took a lot of local hiking day trips. It was amazing to explore places that were anywhere from a 5 minute drive to an hour’s drive from home. I couldn’t believe that so many of these beautiful spots existed right under my nose. It took a global pandemic to see that there were so many places to visit right here at home.
Justin and I took our first overnight trip in August to Ramada Jackson’s Point, a hotel nestled on the lake about an hour from home. Later that month, we ventured to the towns of Elora and Fergus for an overnight getaway. I’d been meaning to spend some time there for so long, and it was a great opportunity to visit these local gems.
During the rest of the summer, I worked with local tourism boards to explore and promote the spectacular 1000 Islands region of Ontario, I visited Woodstock, Otterville and Tillsonburg (more local gems!). Later in the year, I explored Brighton and the Bay of Quinte, as well as a final trip to Stratford before entering a full lockdown in the Toronto area once again.
Justin’s 30th Birthday
Justin had a milestone birthday this year – he turned 30! During a global pandemic, birthdays kinda suck, as I’m sure you’ve realized. When my birthday rolled around in June, I met one of my best friends in a park for a picnic. I visited another one of my best friends in her backyard to celebrate. It was all we could do at that point in time, and we made the best of it.
Back to Justin’s birthday. In September, we were seeing record low virus numbers in Ontario and the rest of the country. We decided to take a road trip to Montreal, which is about as far as we felt safe traveling. Justin and I had three amazing days in Montreal where we spent all of our time outdoors.
We hiked to the top of Mont Royal, wandered around Mile End to see the street art, biked around Parc Jean Drapeau, and had yummy food and drinks out on the patios. It’s kind of funny that these socially distanced outdoor activities are probably what we would have done anyway, pandemic or no pandemic.
Even though we couldn’t have a big bash with friends for his 30th, I am happy that he was able to have a memorable couple of days in a city that we both love.
Personal Highlights for 2020
In March of 2020, I was excited at the prospects of having all kinds of free time. I could learn languages, I could read more, I could cook and bake more, I could do all of the things! As it turns out, we don’t exactly have any more hours in the day as before. Now that I’m running two blogs, I find myself with even less free time than before! It’s been a balancing act of writing for both and allowing myself to have free time to enjoy other things in life.
Making Time for Friends and Family (At a Distance)
During the height of the first lockdown, Justin and I got to spend more time together than ever before. We went hiking together quite often. We watched a lot of TV and played video games. While we weren’t taking any of our usual international trips, it was nice to spend lots of lazy days at home together that we wouldn’t normally get. I settled into becoming quite the home body, and I didn’t mind it at all!
I also got to spend lots and lots of time with our cats, Chickpea and Tiny. These two have really kept me going when I have long days at home. They are my little floofy cute buddies. I adore these two so so much.
For a number of months, I had a regular Friday Night Game Night with my pals. We got together over Discord to play Jackbox TV (thanks for always setting this one up for us, Jam!). It evolved at one point into making up our own trivia games with various categories and questions. These game nights brought so much laughter and good times during very isolating days. A couple of weeks ago, we got together over Zoom to play a virtual escape room game that was loads of fun – so much that we’re doing a new one for New Year’s Eve!
Over the last little while, I’ve talked to my Granny on the phone more than ever before. We aren’t able to see each other at all (she lives in long term care), but we will chat for hours on the phone to one another. I’ve always loved my Granny so much, but she’s actually such an amazing friend of mine, too. I am very grateful for that.
We had lots of backyard visits with Justin’s parents every weekend throughout the summer. We set up backyard games like corn hole, croquet, and others. While we all stuck to our “bubbles” (when we were allowed to see a small group of people in Ontario), I was really grateful to see my small bubble of family and friends in person.
I’m also grateful for my blogging friends who I meet with over regular Zoom calls and chats online. It’s always great to bounce ideas around in my blogging mastermind groups. But, on a personal level, it’s amazing to connect with others who are going through similar things (not being able to travel or work in the same ways as before). And I feel very fortunate to have met so many wonderful, caring, and supportive people through this crazy world of travel blogging.
What Will 2021 Bring?
Who knows! This world is a very surprising place. I hope that we can work together to stop the spread of this terrible virus. I can’t wait for this vaccine to get rolled out to health care workers, front line workers, elderly people living in long term care, those who are vulnerable, and eventually to the general public. I will get the vaccine as soon as I am able to, once it is my time to receive it.
I am happy that 2020 brought up so many important conversations about racism and brought about the beginnings of change. Black Lives Matter. We must stand up and speak out against racism, be anti-racist, educate ourselves, and support those who face daily obstacles due to the color of their skin. Support Black-owned businesses. Support Black creators in the travel community. As a white woman, I am willing to do whatever I can to contribute to an inclusive society, no matter the color of your skin or your sexual orientation.
I’m not sure what the future of travel will be. I’m hoping that people will connect things like a global pandemic to issues surrounding climate change, the environment, and sustainability. There are ways to be more mindful and eco-friendly at home and when traveling.
One of the best things you can do for the planet is to adopt a vegan diet and lifestyle. A lot of people decide to go vegan in January (“Veganuary” as it’s called!). 2021 might be your year to look into this kind way of living. Going vegan changed my life in the best way possible. It’s been over 11 years and I’ll never look back.
I am cautiously optimistic that we’ll travel internationally again in 2021, even though it might not be until later in the year. For now, I’ll continue to explore my own backyard. There’s still so much to see here!
Wishing you a Happy New Year and all the best for 2021.
If for some reason you’re interested in reading my past year in review wrap-ups, they’re all listed on the Start Here section of this blog.