Lessons Learned Travelling In 2020

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Lessons Learned Travelling In 2020 Will Change Many Things In The Future

While the year was a bust in so many ways, there were many lessons learned travelling in 2020. We were thankful we did some travel in a year when so many did not. And we feel blessed that those close to us stayed safe and employed. While far too many people got sick, died or suffered financial loss.

Normally our year end wrap- blog provided a summary of and links to all of our travel in a year. But as 2020 drew to a close, we reflected back on more than just travel this year. And we thought about the lessons learned. We expect a very slow recovery in 2021. And it may take many years before life returns to a new normal. But some things may have changed forever for us.

2020 By The Numbers

2019 was a big travel year for us. We were away from home almost 6 months. Compared to that, 2020 paled. But even in a year that was a travel bust for so many, we travelled over 89 days. Our cruise around South America at the beginning of 2020 took us away for 60 days. On our short local trips later in the year we were away another 20 days.

We made little headway with loyalty points and status in 2020. There were only 2 flights – to Miami and back for our cruise. At the beginning of our South America trip we stayed for 9 nights in a hotel in Miami. And on local travels we added only 12 hotel nights. It was a good thing that most loyalty programs extended our status into 2021.

Our cruise around South America took us to 29 cities/towns and 12 countries. We crossed the milestone of 100 countries visited!

South America Cruise Map.jpg

We travelled by car, cable car, train and boats. There were small boats, fast boats, slow boats and a large cruise ship. We travelled from 47°N latitude in Northern Ontario to the bottom of South America at Cape Horn (56°S latitude). This meant we celebrated crossing the the equator twice in 2020.

In total, we travelled about 39,000 km (31,000 miles) this year. It was quite an amazing feat in a pandemic year! If not the really a busy travel year we originally planned for 2020.

Fly                          2,000 km         1,600 miles
Drive                     5,000 km         4,000 miles
Cruise                32,000 km         25,600 miles

We certainly headed out enough to have some lessons learned travelling in 2020.

Travel Became A Priority Well Before 2020

Sadly, we had many reasons that drove us to live a bit as every day may be our last. Far too many people we knew died very young with so many dreams left unfulfilled. Cancer wrecked havoc throughout the family and changed life for our son. It took many hits over the head before we finally semi-retired early in our 50’s. We lived frugally enough that we had the financial means to travel well. And we continued to work when we were home.

We travelled extensively for more than 6 years and did many amazing long journeys. We were amazed this year when we visited our 100th country!

Each year we added many new places to our travel wish list. But we also ticked off some big ones. When the travel world stopped in 2020, we were happy we had so many amazing travel memories. The travel pictures streamed to our Apple TV every day.

We are still not at retirement age. And we truly believed we might never have had many of those experiences if we waited to start travelling after 2020 at retirement. If we had not gained the travel experience we did, we are sure that adventurous worldwide travel would have looked far too scary to begin when we retired at some future date.

Don’t Put Off The Big Dreams

One of the long trips we put off for years was to travel around South America with Oceania Cruises. When we boarded the cruise ship in early January 2020 we were so happy to finally be on this trip. People had just started to talk about Covid-19. Little did we know that Covid-19 would chase us around the continent.

We were one of the lucky cruise ships that completed this 2 month trip with no disease on board. The ship almost made it into the last port in Peru before we were stranded at sea.

Our cruise around South America provided us with so many amazing port stops. We sailed up the Amazon River for a week and saw pink dolphins. There were some interesting ports and great beaches as we cruised along the Brazil coast. We loved our brief stops in Buenos Aires and Uruguay.

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South America Brazil Beaches.jpg

On our stop in the Falkland Islands we wandered amongst the penguins at Bluff Cove Lagoon. The weather co-operated as we circumnavigated Cape Horn. And our trip through the Chilean Fjords was one we would love to repeat. We even got an amazing trip through the Panama Canal which meant we circumnavigated South America. And then we were re-routed back to Miami and finally finished our cruise.

Falkland Island King Penguins - Lessons Learned Travelling In 2020.jpg

South America Chile Volcano - Lessons Learned Travelling In 2020.jpg

South America Panama Canal.jpg

While we successfully ticked off one dream trip in 2020, we cancelled our planned cruise around Australia. That trip would have included another month or more as we explored New Zealand. And might even have taken us back to SE Asia.

When travel becomes safe again, we will not put off booking our dream trips to Australia, New Zealand, Antarctic, Galapagos and the South Pacific. One of the lessons learned traveling in 2020 was to make sure to prioritize our big dreams.

Learn To Appreciate Things Closer To Home

By the time we returned home to Toronto in Canada, the country was locked down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was not until the summer before things in our home province of Ontario started to open a little. But throughout 2020 there were still many parts of Canada even we could not visit.

We were at higher risk of serious impact from catching Covid-19. So we developed a set of comprehensive considerations for every time we left our small condo. We took our responsibility seriously and kept ourselves and others safe. But we needed a break from what felt like our small condo prison. And the economy needed local spending.

We were delighted to visit old favourites and new gems throughout Ontario for the short period when travel was a bit safer in 2020. In the summer, we did short day trips and visited the small communities along Lake Erie. The delightful area along Lake St Clair and up to Lake Huron was a treat to discover.

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Local Travel Lake St Clair.jpg

In the early fall, we headed north and enjoyed the beautiful fall season. Two trips to the Lake Rosseau area brought a relaxing family break and then a fun trip as we explored the Cranberry Route. We headed further north to Lake Superior and enjoyed the stunning outdoor scenery. And we finished with a stay in Kingston as we explored the Thousand Islands.

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Local Travel Ontario Johnstons Cranberry Plunge - Lessons Learned Travelling In 2020.jpg

Local Travel Ontario Thousand Islands.jpg

We only travelled for 20 days and spent 12 nights away from home on our local travels. But we discovered so much in our local area. It was a wonderful break when we escaped for a few days. We will value the places closer to home more in the future. Definitely one of the lessons learned travelling in 2020.

Travel Planning Will Be Harder

Even as we planned our small local trips, we learned that travel planning will be harder and more complicated in the future.

In the past, we often went weeks without looking at news. We certainly did not watch the news in the morning, at noon and at dinner as we did in 2020. But in 2020 we learned that it was important to keep better informed about situations abroad and at home. It was often hard to filter out the noise in 2020. And facts changed quickly. But facts guided our actions.

When we planned in the past, we did not always plan for all contingencies. We bought travel and health insurance and figured that covered us if we needed to make changes. But we rarely considered more. When we started to book travel in 2020, we chose to leave travel decisions to the last minute. We always checked on cancellation policies. And we were always prepared to return home immediately. When we resume major travels, we know we will always think through our escape plan.

In the short term, the continually changing requirements at home and abroad will make longer term travel planning a challenge. The long list of things to do will make spontaneous travel harder. And longer vacations face the risk of rules changing when away.

Planning for travel will take more time and be a bit riskier in the future. Good planning can reduce but not eliminate all risk. Yet another of the lessons learned travelling in 2020.

Planning To Travel Forever Needs To Be Reconsidered

When we semi-retired early, we planned to start with adventurous travel and long trips. We were healthy and had the means to work through our travel wish list. And we wanted to do as much as we could before health or age slowed us down.

We knew that over time our travel would change. We would travel slower, enjoy more luxury and engage in less adventurous activities. But our travels to-date taught us that even as we aged there were still ways to travel and see amazing things. We wondered if one day we might be those people who lived on a cruise ship. We never thought we would be snowbirds that travelled to the U.S. south every year. But we thought we might live somewhere else in the world for part of a year.

This pandemic has forced us to face one reality. We are older and that puts us at more risk for this and future diseases. We really missed cruising but it may not be the safest choice. So we may not continue to travel 6 months a year until we die.

That meant we needed to consider what the next stage of our life looked like. We certainly won’t stay in a small condo in a large city. But we have no idea where we might settle down. When we resume our travels, we will continue to search for where that final home destination might be.

Lessons Learned Travelling In 2020 Informed Future Travel Plans

Normally our year end review talked about travel for the coming year. We often had travels booked, some idea of where we might travel and some aspirational travel ideas in planning. Sometimes a year like 2020 happens and that blog post was pure fantasy.

At this time we have only one trip booked. When we got stranded at sea in South America, we got a future cruise credit with a time limit. So we booked a cruise for the last possible date before that cruise credit expired. Hopefully we will be able to return to re-visit the ABC Islands by March 2022.

We are pessimistic about the timing of the recovery in 2021. It was wonderful news when the vaccines arrived and were approved. But the rollout of vaccines in Canada is expected to run until late summer or early fall. We are sadly not old enough, sick enough or essential enough to get the vaccine early. Covid-19 safety precautions and travel limitations will exist for some time for us.

So for now we have no travel booked in 2021. Everything is still so uncertain. And requirements for travel will continue to evolve at home and abroad. We also remain concerned about the financial viability of many travel companies and don’t want our money stranded.

But that does not mean we have not dreamt of travel. As the winter set into Canada, we recalled our past escapes from the cold. We daydreamed of wandering through our favourite places in Europe at a slow pace. And we started to get those dream trips on the planning board.

Many Lessons Learned Travelling In 2020

We were part of the small group that actually got some travel in 2020. So there were many lessons learned travelling in 2020. We remained happy that we started our big travels many years ago. Those memories kept us entertained. And will spur us to travel again when it is safe for us to do it.

We learned that travel will not be as easy or spontaneous as it was in the past. But we will perfect new travel planning skills. And will plan for contingencies. But we will keep travelling as long as we can. We have learned to appreciate the great places we have close to home. And will not put off getting our big dream trips booked!

Thank you for following our travels in 2020 and using the RetiredAndTravelling for travel inspiration. We will continue to publish blog posts with new travel content. Best wishes to everyone for a better, safer 2021!

What were your lessons learned travelling in 2020?

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About TravelAtWill 721 Articles
Travel blogger and photographer! Scuba diving, luxury cruising, chocoholic, sea and sunshine addicts, camera attached and just generally curious! Join us on our adventures!


  1. You are so right, we all learned so many this in 2020. We started to appreciate places closer to home and not make too far away plans, lol! Hopefully travel as we know it will resume in the future, but probably not any time soon. What a year this was!

  2. The cruise sounds like a dream. I hope I get to do something like that too. And you are right, the way we travelled pre-covid was far more fearless. We will have to rethink and replan.

    • Ambica, I am confident that people who want to explore the world will find a way to do so safely. We have so many more adventures ahead of us. Can’t wait to get back when safe to do so. Linda

  3. Its great that you managed such a long cruise before the world got turned upside down and wow visiting your 100th country – what an achievement! It is good that you also managed to get away for 3 weeks during 2020 – I would have loved to do the same but wasn’t ready to risk taking an international flight anywhere from the UK. Hoping that 2021 brings happier times and that your round-up at the end of the year will be able to feature a few new destinations to add to you list!

    • Angie, We were so glad we started our South America cruise before Covid struck and we sailed safely for 2 months. Getting home by plane from Miami certainly convinced us we were not getting on another plane too soon. Good thing there was lots to see close to home by car. Linda

  4. Wow, that 2 month cruise around South America at the beginning of 2020 sounded awesome. We thought about doing something similar from Argentina to Antarctica and then to Chile for our honeymoon but nixed it when we heard their boats cant land on Antarctica. So instead our 2020 was a bit like yours as Darcee & I also started with a cruise for our honeymoon up the Rhine River for the Christmas Markets & New Years Eve.
    I am glad you got more active around your own backyard once the pandemic hit though. So many people wasted so much time waiting and doing nothing when they could have been exploring and learning like you both. I still say that my favorite adventure you guys had was at the cranberry bog!

    • Eric, So great that you guys got some amazing travel to start the year too. We were slow to get out and sadly got stopped by lockdown in the fall. But glad we found so many local gems while we could. Linda

  5. Last year was remarkable, to say the least. Glad your South America cruise was at the beginning of the year otherwise you would have missed it. Those empire penguins look huge! Last year, like this year, I don’t anticipate much travel because of the situation. Thankfully I have a huge backlog of blog posts from past travels so I can post those. ?

  6. What an interesting year! Especially the cruise ship experience sounds so much more fun than the stories in the news. Glad you’re able to get a booking March 2022. Hope to hear your story of the next cruise then.

  7. It sounds like you had quite the year despite the pandemic! I’m glad you were able to travel a little bit and able to finally do that cruise you wanted to! It sounds like a great itinerary! And I hear you on chasing your dreams now, you never know what tomorrow will bring. That is one of the main reasons I decided to stop putting off traveling and doing it as often as I can. Hopefully 2021 will bring you more adventures!

    • Melissa, We were so glad this year that we had so many great trips to look back on. We are still holding off making 2021 plans. But will we ready to move quickly when we can do so safely. Linda

  8. I totally get it. We are very much alike and are of course dealing with all the same questions and issues. Trying to stay positive, travel locally and avoid getting sick. Wow, what a year to remember and its not over yet. I always enjoy following you guys!

    • Laureen, I am glad you enjoyed our travels this year. We are sadly not that optimistic on 2021 yet given how slow vaccinations are going in Canada. But we will see. But if we don’t get away from our home province, there is still much to explore once it is a bit safer at home. Hope you have a good 2021 too. Linda

  9. Fortunately you got to do the cruise in the beginning of year. Followed by local trips around Ontario during the pandemic, and you have found so many local gems. We were lucky to travel for a long weekend in February and later during Spring Break in March although we had to cut it one day short because of the pandemic started to get wild. Then we could go to Colorado for the summer and visited small towns and state parks around where we live until today.

  10. Wow thats amazing that you still got to travel in 2020. Unfortunately, I could not travel anywhere after March and still had many lessons like you mentioned. I did a lot of backyard exploring in Sydney and found many hidden gems that have never been talked about anywhere. And I also realised that we need to cherish whatever little we have and be grateful about it. Hopefully 2021 has better plans and I get to travel a lot.

    • Raksha, Local travels certainly have saved many of us. And our ability to share our local spots will help others when they can visit one day. We will see what 2021 brings. Linda

  11. Wow, that is crazy that you were in South America and on a cruise ship. I got stuck in Peru when the borders closed on March 16, 2020 (within 24 hours). I was house sitting in the Sacred Valley and stayed until the borders finally opened on November 2, 2020. There were so many lessons learned this year, thank you for sharing your story!

    • Megs, It was a wild time after we got stranded off of Peru. But the 2 month trip was still one of a lifetime. I can’t imagine being stranded inside a country and not able to get home. I am sure you learned much about Peru in this time. Linda

  12. OMG! I’m sorry to hear about the cancer history in your family. Health issues can play a havoc in the lives of everyone around. I’m so sorry that your son had to go through some difficult time. My deepest condolences about those who passed away. I can understand how important living life to the fullest everyday has become a priority. Indeed traveling is so different now and after vaccines it might get a bit better, but I doubt if it will ever become like before!

    • Bhushavali, It will indeed be interesting to see how things change in 2021 and beyond. We will continue to make travel a priority. But we know it will mean some changes. Linda

  13. You can tell that you are so passionate about travel. To reach all of those milestones- 100th country, crossing the equator and all those Kilometres by sea, air and road. I agree, we will never take travel for granted again. Until such time, you certainly have many memories to reminisce and stories left untold.

    • Renee, We are certainly feeding on our memories these days! But we love to discover new parts of the world and can’t wait to got again when it is safe to do so. Linda

    • Mimmie, Our South America trip certainly was a trip of a lifetime. So glad we did not put it off. And that we finished virtually all of the trip before things came to a halt. Linda

  14. So sorry to hear about the tragedies that struck amongst your loved ones, mostly a long time ago, but pleased to see it had a positive side too in that it made you live every day like your last and travel so much even during difficult times.

    That cruise during the beginning of the year got you to a whole lot of our dream destinations. Those volcanoes, the dolphins and the penguins. The Panama Canal looks so teeny-tiny!!

    I agree with most of the lessons and insights you mention. We definitely learned to enjoy our surroundings and nearby destinations much more.

    Not sure, though, if travel will necessarily be less spontaneous for everyone. In many ways, I think for Ellie and me it might become a lot more spontaneous. We do not want to book far ahead of time anymore. We will probably just book something on a whim and hope that the situation does not deteriorate during the one or two weeks before our departure. 🙂

    • Stefan, I do agree with your comment about booking at the last minute. With so many changing regulations it is so hard to book too far in advance. For us it will mean a good process for quickly being able to make a risk assessment. And always being prepared to abandon if needed. At least for awhile! Linda

  15. I’m so glad you were able to get your South America trip in! My mother and I have talked about doing that for a long time now. I would love to see those penguins, and the pink dolphins! Adorable! You’re right about all the changes we’re making to travel. The escape plan is something we keep in mind now too. If we got sick while traveling, would we be able to get home? Traveling will forever look different, I’m just hoping we can get back to it! I don’t care if I have to make changes to how I travel, as long as I get the opportunity to again! ?

  16. You sure got a lot of travelling in even though it was not as much as you’d hoped, and you were so lucky to have completed that cruise with no virus on board!
    I think 2020 has had a lot of us thinking about future travel and how different it’s going to look; no more spontaneous trips and planning on the road like before 🙁
    Here’s to a better 2021! And an even better 2022. I really hope that you’ll be able to do that cruise you’ve got booked for then!

  17. It’s nice that you still had the chance to travel last year despite the pandemic. I think 2020 made us appreciate those things that we have and those places that are not away from home. Hopefully, we can still travel this 2021 despite what’s happening around the world.

    • We were indeed happy we got as much travel into 2020 as we did. Sadly we are not that optimistic yet about 2021. We will see what the vaccine rollout produces. But we are sure hoping! Linda

  18. Love your passion for travelling, and kudos on taking the decision to travel more so much before retirement! Your travel stories are always inspiring – whether they are local or from an amazing cruise. Circumnavigating South America is the stuff of bucket lists – glad you could do it just in time!

  19. As I was reading your experience, I had to read what happened in Peru. It sounds like such a nightmare to have to rebook and cancel plans. I too, usually book things on my own for the points, but I could see in this situation it would have been less stressful for the cruise line to rebook everything. Let’s hope our travels will be more predictable in 2021 🙂

    • Candy, Our South America experience was certainly interesting – an awesome trip and an unexpected set of lessons when we got stranded. Many of these lessons will carry over for travel in 2021 for sure. Linda

  20. A really interesting read & I have a very similar outlook on why I have dedicated my life to travel. I am sorry for the losses which caused you to reevaluate but it is great that you have taken the opportunity to explore the world as a result. It has been a challenging year & I agree that it may be longer than we expect for the world to return to whatever the new normal looks like. It is a strange feeling without anything in the plan for this year. I hope you get to travel & fulfil that list of trips you have before the end of this year, or at least one of them.

    • Sue, We will see what 2021 brings. At least we don’t have a full set of travel booked that we may have to cancel and chase refunds again. We will be opportunistic as the year proceeds and travel when we can safely. Hope you get some travel in too! Linda

  21. My last pre-covid trip was also to South America. Then I found two gaps to go away in summer. Right now, it looks as bad as never before. I’m sure that 2021 won’t be better than 2020. It’s hard when you mentally have to skip an entire year already beginning of January….

  22. Wow! A 60-day cruise! Sounds like it was a fantastic trip! We also did a 5-week trip in Europe at the end of 2019, so we have those memories to look backon as well. I agree with you, it’s going to take some time for travel to get more normalized, and I think it’s forced us all to look at what we really want to experience in the future instead of just grabbing travel deals.

  23. Really interesting compilation of travel & life wisdom. Agree that living each day as if your last has more urgent appeal…also prioritizing dream trips has added importance! Your photos are absolutely beautiful ?

    • Cindi, Thanks for the comments on our photos. We do love to share the great spots we visit. Despite this year or more of travel challenges, we know we will head out again when it is safe. Life really is too short to miss. Linda

  24. 2019 was a big travel year for me too, we crossed off a lot of bucketlist points that year. It was so easy in 2019, just book your flight and off you go.
    I miss traveling so much and I can’t wait for this pandemic to ease up a bit so it feels safe enough to travel!

  25. Very exciting article. 2020 was a different year for everyone, and it wasn’t easy to travel during a pandemic. But you had amazing trips. You travelled over 89 days, which is impressive. Congratulations on crossing the equator twice in 2020. You had such a beautiful wildlife adventure when stopped in the Falkland Islands and wandered amongst the penguins. For me, 2020 was also a year when I learn to appreciate things closer to home. I made many short and local trips to support locals companies to help them in these difficult times.

    • It was indeed great to start 2020 with a great adventure before the world crashed down. But we too were glad we got in some local travel when it was safe. Some great gems discovered close to home that we will definitely re-visit. Glad you too were able to support the local businesses.

    • It has been very start and stop. We are trying to travel locally and within Canada when a window opens. But on this trip with the numbers rising, we have planned for contingencies and to pull the plug and head home if we need to.

  26. Great, that you managed to travel quite a lot in 2020 despite the pandemic. Reconsidering a lifestyle you felt comfortable with is hard, but you will eventually find new solutions. We will see how travel we develop over the next year. I am working in the travel industry (writing guidebooks and do tourguiding work) and I also started looking for alternatives.

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