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?