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On the Luce in 2020

On the Luce in 2020, the annual review featuring the highs and lows of travel blogging in the year the world turned upside-down and the travel industry was grounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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On the Luce in 2020

Since I started blogging in 2011, I’ve done a review at the end of each year – a look back at the last 12 months in travel and on the blog, to see what’s changed and remember the people and places I’ve come across along the way. Some years have been more memorable than others, but there’s no chance any of us are going to forget 2020. It was the year the world stopped – when travel, life, work and relationships were all turned upside-down.

I came out of 2019 broke and bruised after slogging through a degree, divorce and house purchase. So 2020 was going to be my year. A year of getting back out there, visiting new destinations, signing up to Flight Free 2020, building up my blog and using my sustainable tourism qualification. Well that didn’t quite work out quite as planned!

Painswick Beacon in the Cotswolds
Walks in the Cotswolds

2020 on the road (to nowhere)

Rewind to the start of March and I was in London for a big media travel show, speaking with representatives from destinations around the world about possible trips for 2020. That added to travels already booked to Malta and Austria, a return to Canada and big European rail trip in the pipeline, and it was shaping up to be a pretty good year.

But Covid-19 was already hanging over us, with the show full of chat about how the virus was spreading across Europe. And within a week the UK went into lockdown. Shops and restaurants were closed, travel was prohibited and every 2020 plan I had was cancelled.

Cat by a woodburner and lights at Cotswold Farm Park at Christmas 2020
Christmas 2020

Instead I ended up not leaving the UK for the entire year – and not travelling further than I could walk for a three months. 2020 ended up as the year of staying home, of lockdowns, tiers and ever-changing restrictions. Of Zoom quiz nights, prosecco across the shed roof, Clap for Carers, toilet roll stockpiles, sourdough starters and daily walks.

It’s been a rollercoaster of a year. Frustrating, scary, lonely, bizarre and boring at times – and sometimes all at once. I’m grateful to have made it through in one piece when people have lost loved ones, jobs and livelihoods. But what’s it’s like being a travel blogger who can’t travel? Here’s a trip though the highs and lows of 2020 On the Luce.

The Cotswold Lavender fields
The Cotswold Lavender fields

The highs

Time at home

Tempting as it might be to write 2020 of as a bit of a disaster, it’s actually had some really good moments. I’m a bit of a planner who has to have lots of things in the diary – and then inevitably wishes I had a weekend off. But not being able to plan meant enforced downtime, a chance to build a routine, enjoy my house and hang out with the cats.

The first UK lockdown really limited what we could do – you could only leave your house to shop for essentials or for exercise once a day. So I spent a lot of time at home, fulfilling all the lockdown clichés from baking to gardening (and inevitably failing in the big plans to learn a new language, make my own clothes or catch up on four years of photo albums).

Although I’ve been more distanced from friends and family and spent more time alone than ever, it’s also brought me closer to people. Whether it’s getting to know my neighbours, Zoom drinks with friends or a Sunday night quiz with the family (still going strong 35 weeks on!). It’s been a year of finding connections where you can, on and offline.

Lockdown life – shed roof proseccos and cats in the garden
Shed roof prosecco and hanging out with the cats

A new love of walking

I’ve always liked a walk (a shortish one, preferably involving a pub), but lockdown restlessness pushed me to explore my local area, and I fell in love with hiking. Over the last nine months I’ve followed every footpath I can find from my house out into the hills around Cheltenham, watching the weather, wildlife and landscape change with the seasons.

There’s something meditative about walking alone, and I could feel myself getting fitter and stronger as the weeks went on. Then once restrictions were lifted over the summer I started the challenge of walking the Cotswold Way with my mum, aunt and cousin.

The route runs for 102 miles from Chipping Campden in the north to Bath in the south. We’ve split the route into 10 sections and managed the first seven before local restrictions stopped us, but the plan is to finish it off in the spring. And next on the long-distance walking wishlist is a week-long trip along the Great Glen Way in the Scottish Highlands.

Views from Haresfield Beacon on the Cotswold Way
The Cotswold Way ladies

Exploring the Cotswolds

I’ve lived on the edge of the Cotswolds for almost 10 years, but have still seen embarrassingly little of the area (and written about it even less). So in that sweet spot where relaxed restrictions met long sunny days I took full advantage and explored as much as I could, from lavender fields to country houses, gin distilleries to hilltop viewpoints.

Add that to walking the Cotswold Way and it means I’ve seen more locally in six months than in the last 10 years. And the result is a brand-new website – Explore the Cotswolds.

Part of me wondered if a national lockdown was the best time to launch a new travel site, but it’s motivated me to get out when I can. I’m also working with local experts to share tips and although the site’s only a baby I’m hoping it’ll grow into a useful resource in 2021.

The homepage of the Explore the Cotswolds website
The new Explore the Cotswolds website

UK travels

Looking back on previous annual reviews when I did two or three trips a month seems like a different world – that was my sum total of my 2020 travels. Even when restrictions allowed it, it’s been a balancing act between supporting the travel industry and managing the risks, the ethics of whether we should go and the likelihood of trips being cancelled.

But when it worked out it felt amazing to get away. Although I didn’t leave the UK in 2020 I had four days of sea air, sunshine, coast walks and ice creams in Falmouth in Cornwall. A weekend in Windsor exploring the royal borough on a press trip. And an autumnal, wild and windy week in Scotland on the beautiful Isle of Skye.

Even though nothing was ‘normal’ – with mask, social distancing, contact-free check ins, pre-booked time slots and restaurant curfews – those tasters were a preview of how fantastic it will feel to be able to travel again, something I’d started to take for granted.

St Mawes near Falmouth in Cornwall
St Mawes near Falmouth

Graduating (at home)

The actual graduation ceremony might have been another victim of coronavirus, but I’m still really happy and proud to have graduated with my Master’s in sustainable tourism this summer – even if I did get the certificate in the post and celebrated with a glass of prosecco in my garden rather than on campus at the University of Glasgow.

And although plans to try and build up my work in sustainable tourism ended up getting shelved for now, I’ve still managed a few more media appearances in 2020, talking about travel restrictions, Brexit and staycations for BBC national and local radio.

Sunset from Leckhampton Hill, Cheltenham
Sunset near my house in Cheltenham

The lows

Blogging as a business

So what does a travel blogger do when they can’t travel? When it’s not just something you love to do but your business and livelihood too? Page views on the blog started to plummet in March and haven’t recovered yet. Advertising revenue crashed and affiliate income disappeared as trips were cancelled, and at worst I was down by 90%.

After the shock there were the big work plans – catch up on posting about past trips, update all my old blog posts, create an ebook. But that mini burst of enthusiasm didn’t last long. It’s hard to motivate yourself to write about travel when you can’t do it, and posting about travel, whether on the blog or social media, started to feel a bit wrong.

Windsor Castle
Visiting Windsor

So in the end I stepped back – publishing only 24 posts in 2020, the lowest since I started blogging. Among them were in-depth itineraries for rail trips in Europe and Britain, a look back at how travel has changed in the last 10 years, a film location walk around London, a guide to choosing an Alaskan cruise and a trip back in time in my home region.

I’m hugely grateful I still had some non-travel work as well as some self-employment government support. And in the gaps between lockdowns blog traffic has started to pick up. But it’s been a precarious year and who knows when things will recover.

Travel blogger working at home
My home office (for a project I did for Teletext Holidays)

Travel industry fears

Millions of people around the world rely on the travel industry to live, and after nine months of restrictions it’s on its knees. It’s been heartbreaking to see so many businesses struggling, with even big name companies and airlines folding or teetering on the edge.

Talking to small business owners in Windsor brought home how hard it’s been for people to run a travel business when they’ve lost most of their customers, and although they’re doing everything they can to make things safe they still might have to shut down at any minute.

Although plenty of people are champing at the bit to get on a plane and jet off, well anywhere, there are a lot of others feeling nervous about travel. A year of cancellations, chasing refunds, last-minute changes to rules and quarantines have left a lot of us understandably jumpy, and I can see travel near home being most popular for a while.

The Old Mill in Lower Slaughter in the Cotswolds
Local travel in the Cotswolds

A Flight Free failure

Back at the start of last year I signed up to Flight Free 2020 – a pledge not to fly for the whole year to reduce my carbon emissions. And on paper I couldn’t have picked an easier year to do it, being as I’ve done all of three trips. But embarrassingly I still failed!

Travel restrictions have hammered rail services, with reduced numbers of trains and socially distanced seating meaning prices have gone up hugely. So when I’d booked my trip to Skye and naively assumed I’d pick up a cheapish train fare I was brought back down to earth fast and ended up booking a budget flight for a quarter of the price of a train ticket.

After a few years people when became more aware of their impact on the environment, it feels like the pandemic has undone a lot of the good work. The push to cars over trains, a return to single-use plastics, disposable masks. The reset of the travel industry could be a chance to rebuild in a more sustainable way, but will money pressures put paid to that?

Although I think it’s a good idea, I probably won’t be signing up for Flight Free 2021 – I suspect this year’s going to be restricted enough as it is – but I am going to try and keep the number of flights I take to a minimum in the future and travel overland wherever I can.

The Quiraing on the Isle of Skye, Scotland
Swapping the Cotswold Way for the more dramatic Quiraing on the Isle of Skye

And so to 2021…

So as we start 2021, what next? With vaccines starting to be rolled out across the world, things are looking a bit more hopeful – but with the UK heading into another lockdown I won’t be making any plans (other than a few more local walks) for a while yet.

Catching up with all the friends and family I’ve missed in 2020 is going to be my big priority this year. But I’ll still be dreaming of sunny days on Greek island beaches or rail trips through snowy mountain peak. Thanks so much to everyone who’s joined me on the ride in 2020 and fingers crossed for the happiest, healthiest 2021 possible for all of us.

Autumn sunset walks on Leckhampton Hill near Cheltenham
Autumn sunset walks

Read more annual reviews

Joanne Clark

Sunday 31st of January 2021

Hi Lucy, I found your site somehow as I sit here on a cold and another very snowy night in Canada. My sweet granddaughter born 2019 lives in Australia with my daughter and son in law Thank goodness I visited twice in 2019 and left in March 2020 just before flight cancellations began worldwide. Of course now, I’m dying to go back as soon as it’s safe to do so. As a long ago travel counsellor in the early 1980s, my heart goes out to you and so many others in the tourism industry impacted so harshly. Travel has always been to me a passion of mine; and one where learning and appreciation of other cultures and parts of the world is so important. I truly wish you well as you continue your journey. The Cotswolds has always been on my wish list. I truly hope I get the chance to explore your beautiful part of the world someday and walk that trail you show. Joanne

Lucy Dodsworth

Thursday 4th of February 2021

Thanks Joanne. Yes it's been a tough year but here's hoping that things will start to improve as we go through 2021. Hope you do get to make it over to the Cotswolds soon, it is a lovely area – and I can't wait to finish off the Cotswolds Way and write about it!

Patti O'Reilly

Sunday 17th of January 2021

Lucy, I found your site and love it! It's been a though year for all. I'm a retired Flight Attendant w/flight benefits. I've sure missed Europe! Last year I was in Paris in December w/the Transportation strike and we thought that was tough...silly! That was a walk in the park! :-) I was dreaming about Marrakesh and that's how you popped up. Blessings to you, Darling! Stay and healthy until the norm returns! Warm Regards,

Lucy Dodsworth

Monday 25th of January 2021

Thanks Patti! Yes it's been quite a slog of a year and really hoping we can all get back out there and seeing the world before too long – fingers crossed!

Mark Warrick

Thursday 7th of January 2021

What a year, Lucy. I only blog for a hobby so much less hinges on my being able to travel, but it has become increasingly hard to find anything to say (as you can see from my blog!), but I did buy a bicycle with the refund from one of my planned trips, and that kept me going for a while in the summer. I also dug up photos from trips long ago and realised that I have actually been doing this all my adult life, but without the social media to write about it!

I sometimes get to Cheltenham - we may bump into each other some time, you never know!

Lucy Dodsworth

Friday 8th of January 2021

It's definitely been a year to remember! Strange how quickly staying local has become a habit, it's going to be quite the adjustment to get used to travelling again when we can. Do let me know if you're ever in Cheltenham too!

Jill Wiggins

Thursday 7th of January 2021

This makes me yearn to travel back to the U.K. We were last there in 2013. This year we stayed in our bubble in the Texas Hill Country, with the exception of a trip to the Gulf coast with my granddaughter and a friend. We stayed in a Vacasa condo, ate all our meals in, and observed all the protocols, returning safe and healthy. South Padre Island is a beautiful beach community you might want to visit if you ever get to this part of the world. Hoping for a better '21!

Lucy Dodsworth

Friday 8th of January 2021

Thanks Jill, here's hoping you can make it back to this part of the world in the not too distant future! I'd not heard of South Padre Island before but it looks a lovely spot, one for the travel list when things get going again. Hope you have a happy New Year!

Marilyn Brazel

Wednesday 6th of January 2021

Love your guides Lucy. Maybe when we get to travel again from Australia I can use some of your expert tips. Meanwhile online shopping has become the rule rather than the exception, mandatory use of plastic rather than cash etc has become the norm.

The biggest downside is I have a son in the US that I haven't seen for two years now and one in Victoria that I haven't seen since January last year. Covid permitting he will be home for a week in February. 2020 was my year to travel and see them.

Lucy Dodsworth

Thursday 7th of January 2021

Thanks Marilyn, yes being separated from friends and family has been the toughest bit of the last year, hopefully things will start looking up by summer. And it'll be interesting to see the way society has changed to manage the pandemic with technology etc, I can't see it going back to what it was before entirely.