What Travel Taught Me in 2020

Once again, I’d like to continue my tradition of re-capping my travels for the year and note all of the things I learned while I was traveling. 2020 was unlike any year ever in travel for me obviously because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Before flights began to be cancelled and states and entire countries started enforcing closures, however, I was lucky enough to go on a vacation in February.

Even though I had been to several different parts of Florida from the northern panhandle down to the very southernmost point and other parts in between, I had never been to St. Petersburg before. I was really missing out, too, because I loved this area. A friend of mine recommended the area, citing powder white sandy beaches and crystal clear water. Skeptical, I thought I’d check it out for myself.

Sure enough, the beaches are all of that and then some. The beaches are clean, not overly crowded, and not overly touristy. Beyond the beaches, there are interesting museums, a plethora of restaurants, and so many incredible outdoor areas to spend time in nature. I was impressed. What I learned about this vacation is to always keep an open mind to places you’ve never been to, even if you’ve been to other cities nearby, and think you “know” an area because you just might be surprised by how little you really know. A Brief Overview of St. Petersburg, Florida- Where to Stay, What to Do, Where to Eat and More Things to Do in St. Petersburg, Florida.


After that vacation, I was supposed to go to New Mexico in April to run a half marathon, my 48th state, in Albuquerque then do some hiking in Santa Fe. Thanks to COVID-19, I had to cancel that vacation. Then in June I was supposed to go to Minnesota to run another half marathon that was going to be my 49th state. That vacation was going to take place in St. Paul and then north of Duluth to spend some time in the little towns along the water. Again, that was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Vacation number four for 2020 was supposed to be a week in southern Spain followed by a week in southern Portugal in July. You guessed it, that vacation was also cancelled. At the time I naively thought the ban against Americans flying to Portugal would surely be lifted by August so I re-scheduled that vacation for August. The hotel in Spain cancelled my reservations and the airline in Spain cancelled the flight so I rearranged my plans to just spend time in Portugal and anxiously watched the news to check the international flight status every day. 

By now I had become a pro at cancelling flights, Airbnb reservations, and hotel reservations. Not that this was a good thing because it made me depressed to have to cancel all of my vacations, but fortunately the travel industry was flexible and generous with cancellations over the summer. Amidst all of the travel cancellations in the spring, I was able to take another short vacation, however.

For years I had heard about Greenville, South Carolina and had been intrigued. Since so many of my other vacations had been cancelled, I had plenty of vacation time saved up so I decided to plan an impromptu long weekend in Greenville over Memorial Day weekend. It turned out to be even better than I expected. There are art galleries everywhere, unique restaurants and shops, a huge waterfall in the middle of it all, and a scenic running/biking trail that goes for miles. What I learned from this vacation is when you keep hearing about a particular city, the universe is trying to tell you something- just go! You can find my post on Greenville here:  Long Weekend in Greenville, South Carolina- An Unexpected Surprise.

Of course I had to eventually cancel my August trip to Portugal since Americans weren’t allowed to enter the country (and still aren’t as of this writing). I have wanted to go to Portugal for years and that was a tough blow for that to be cancelled indefinitely. I hadn’t had a long vacation since February and I knew I desperately needed to get away. The highlight of my week being going to the grocery store was beyond old at this point. I realized flying wasn’t a great idea and frankly I was tired of having to cancel my airline tickets. I tried to find somewhere within a reasonable drive but I also wanted somewhere new. Although not exactly new, I decided going to Great Smoky Mountain National Park would be a good, safe option.

Although I had been to this part of Tennessee and North Carolina before (it’s right on the border between the two states), it had been several years since I’d been there. This vacation taught me that even though you’ve been to a place before doesn’t mean you’ll remember it when you go back. I had been to Gatlinburg and Great Smoky Mountain National Park not once but twice but there was so much about the park that I didn’t remember so it was like it was the first time for me. Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park- Redux and Gatlinburg, Tennessee.


This vacation in the mountains taught me it’s possible to have a great vacation even in the middle of a pandemic and still be safe. Since my daughter and I spent the vast majority of our time hiking in the mountains, we were able to socially distance ourselves easily. There were places in the town of Gatlinburg where we didn’t feel safe and we simply didn’t go there. I also learned that 1600 bears in the area is no exaggeration- we saw bears on multiple occasions but don’t let that stop you from going hiking in the mountains. Just be alert, make noise when you’re hiking, and if you do see a bear, don’t panic and most of all, don’t go screaming and running.

Not long after my vacation in the mountains, I had a beach trip that was planned many months prior to the pandemic. This was another vacation to a place, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, that I had been to many times but once again I learned there’s always something new to see or a new place to visit even if you’ve been there before. As I said in my post Fun in the Sun in the Outer Banks, North Carolina, the first time I went to the Outer Banks I was a teenager and I had been back a few times before this time as an adult.

We discovered some new restaurants that I hadn’t eaten at before, plus we went back to some of my old favorites. From this, I learned it’s nice to have a place that feels comfortable to you because you’ve been there so many times. As much as I enjoy discovering new places to travel to, it is nice to have a couple of places that I’ve returned to multiple times over the years, like the Outer Banks. That doesn’t mean it has to get stagnant or boring, though, because you can always mix in some new places along with the places you’ve been to before.


Finally, what was supposed to have been my final pre-pandemic-planned vacation for 2020, a half marathon Labor Day weekend in Iowa, and this was also supposed to have been my 50th and final state in my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, was cancelled. So I was zero for three for races planned and races actually ran for 2020. This had never happened, not in all of my 20 years of running half marathons in different states. I had been able to run each and every one of the 49 half marathons in 47 states over the past 20 years and now suddenly I couldn’t run all three consecutive races in a single year and I wasn’t even injured.

It took some time to fully sink in, but eventually I realized How COVID-19 Changed My Attitude About Running a Half Marathon in All 50 States. Initially I was sad that I hadn’t been able to finish my running quest in 2020 as planned, but finally I came to accept it and move on. That doesn’t mean I no longer have this goal, but I’ve accepted that sometimes things are out of our hands and we can either get upset and fight it, or we can realize it’s just not the right time but when the time is right, it will happen. I’ve had to adopt that mindset for other things in my life during 2020 as well.

I thought about taking some more relatively local overnight vacations to my home state of North Carolina or venturing into Virginia or Georgia. When I went to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina a couple of years ago I had taken a day trip to Savannah, Georgia and really enjoyed that. I thought maybe I could go back to Savannah and spend a few days. But there was the issue of crossing state lines and all of the potential complications with that.

Then my daughter mentioned how she’d like to go hiking again after her Christmas break started. Hiking in December? There are some fabulous places to hike in the North Carolina mountains, west of where I live, but they also get quite a bit of snow there in December, and since I don’t regularly drive on snow-covered roads, I wasn’t comfortable doing that (we barely get any snow where I live). The weather in the mountains can be extremely unpredictable in the winter and I felt like that was the last thing I needed at the time so I nixed that idea.

With 2020 winding down, it’s been a crappy year in so many ways, including travel. However, I was able to go on one nice vacation to a place I had been wanting to go to and explore my home state a bit more, which is always a good thing. I chose to live in North Carolina way back in 1997 and 2020 taught me what a good decision that was because it really is a beautiful state with so much diversity between the beaches and mountains and everything in-between!

How was your year in travel? Were you able to travel locally?

Happy travels!



Author: runningtotravel

I'm a long distance runner with a goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states in the US, which I completed in 2021. I also love to travel so I travel to other places when I'm not running races. Half the fun is planning where I'm going to go next!

21 thoughts on “What Travel Taught Me in 2020”

  1. Unfortunately no travel, except visiting new, close local places. And that was good, I found new places! There was only one trip in 2019, and even that one was cut short because my cat was doing poorly (although he passed a few weeks before the trip, as it turned out). I am long overdue for travel but I think it will still be a while. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer!

    NC has long been on our short list of places to retire to, but we’ve never even been there!

    I have no doubt you’ll finish your 50 states. Me, not so sure — but pretty sure I’ll add more eventually.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s been a rough year for travel. Finding new local places is always a good thing though.
      NC is a beautiful state with mountains, beaches, and in-between, so it’s got something for everyone. When you do start to plan a trip here, let me know.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great recap, I’ve had some of the same realizations that things are simply out of my control this year. My patience has grown immensely! I’ve hoped to incorporate travel into my life more often, but it just hasn’t been practical with COVID. I was wondering, how do you find races you want to travel to?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! As far as finding races, I think it’s a very personal thing. For me, I’ve always wanted my daughter to travel to the races with me, so the races I’ve chosen have had to meet more qualifications than possibly for other people because she had to be on a school break during that time. I also consider the race conditions (elevation, typical temperature for the area, course difficulty), if the race is within a reasonable drive to a place where I’d like to spend some time after the race, typical size of the race (I don’t like huge races), and things like that. In other words, I’m VERY picky which races I choose. Considering all of that, I look at races on halfmarathons.net, bibrave.com, runningintheusa.com, and if I have a specific area in mind I’ll just do a Google search (which often brings up one of the above-mentioned sites). Blogs are also a big help because they are more personal. I hope you’re able to travel more next year!


  3. Sad to say, there was not as much travel as I’d like.

    I did go to NYC and Bermuda before all hell broke loose – very happy about that.

    My annual Florida trip in May was cancelled.

    I am so happy that we decided not to cancel our NH trip even though the race went virtual. We had a great time.

    Due to time and $$, my travelling is mostly local and I did visit 72 different trails. I usually do a race-cation in the winter and one in the fall.

    Yo will finish your states. You are almost there!

    I agree, you can travel and be safe. Not everyone agrees with me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m a bit of a Scrooge about Midwest/local travel. I probably shouldn’t be but I am. I’ve spent most of my life living in either Wisconsin or Minnesota, so if I’m going to take the time, effort, and money to travel, I tend to want to go somewhere totally different. At least we got to road trip to UT/CO this summer. We’ve just been in touch with our Belgian friends. I’d emailed them to see what they thought our chances were of re-upping our planned meeting in the Pyrenees this summer. They’re uncertain and taking a “wait and see” attitude about it, but I doubt European travel will be in the cards for us this summer…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think so many of us have a lot to be thankful for despite how bad things have gotten. It’s certainly worse for others. You’re so close to that 50 State goal. The good thing is that you’re close enough to get there sometime next year (potentially). Best of luck to you in 2021.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Donna, we were supposed to go to Portugal in 2020 too. The end of March. Ugh! We rescheduled for September, because, of course, travel would resume by then. Nope! We still have credits for the Portuguese airline. Maybe next year. We can learn so much from travel. I hope you (and I) get to travel more in 2021!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The only trip I had axed this year was a long weekend in NYC which I had been there several times years ago on bus trips and our 2017 cruise left from there, so the disappointment was more in not getting to see my first Broadway show. We kept watching case numbers over the summer before confirming we felt safe enough to fly to Illinois to visit friends and our usual beach trip to Ocean City, MD stayed the same. We might’ve traveled elsewhere for our anniversary weekend but staying local worked out well. When we were in Illinois we talked about a couples trip to Savannah and Tybee Island GA next fall but I’m not holding my breath that it’ll happen; for now I’ll just keep Ocean City on the books as pretty much a guarantee! I think a lot of people took advantage of exploring places closer to home this year but are itching to get moving again in 2021!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really loved Savannah during the day trip when I was there and would love to go back. It’s a beautiful city with some of the best food anywhere. I’ve come so close to going to Tybee Island about three times but each time something fell through. I’ll eventually get there. If you’re able to go next fall, the weather should be perfect. I know I’m anxious to travel more next year, but I think it all depends on how many people get vaccinated. We’ll see.

      Liked by 1 person

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