Gosh, who would’ve thought, at the start of the year, that 2020 would turn out the way it did? My heart goes out to those who lost a loved one or suffered from this crisis financially and emotionally. I also have nothing but the utmost respect and gratitude for the frontline health and social care workers who have endured so much. It all feels so surreal yet, here we are, at the end of a year that many would rather just write-off and forget. As tough as 2020 was, to me, it was a year of reflection, surprising positives and change.
My own little health crisis
In November 2019, while attending a conference in Barcelona, I suffered a severe case of vertigo. I was scheduled to speak at the conference but instead spent five days in hospital. The recovery was slow and in the end, it took several months for the dizzy spells and concentration lapses to dissipate. Due to the slow recovery, I decided to visit a psychologist, and after several sessions, it was clear that I had actually suffered a burn-out, and vertigo was most likely my body’s urgent warning to slow down and take better care of myself. As the global health crisis unfolded, I sometimes thought of how its timing was a bit of a blessing in disguise for me. The ensuing lockdown meant that I could rest and focus on my recovery without the pressures of work.
Early in 2020, I decided to continue my recuperation with my family in Malaysia. In hindsight, that was one of the best decisions I made in 2020. I spent three fantastic weeks with my family and returned to Amsterdam in late-February. On the return leg, I treated myself to a side trip to Singapore to see the new Jewel mall at Changi Airport and a Business Class ride on Air France (arguably one of the best Business Class experiences in the sky).
Things rapidly changed in just a matter of weeks. There was hardly any sign of trouble when I left Amsterdam in early-February. When I landed in Paris from Singapore later that month, I was met by a group of security personnel at the gate. My temperature was taken and I was given a face mask with strict instructions to wear it. A few weeks later, with the COVID-19 virus spreading at lightning speed across the world, countries responded by closing their borders and thousands of flights were cancelled. I returned home in the nick of time!
Creating a plan
My earnings from the blog shrunk quickly as visits tanked and projects I had in the pipeline were postponed or cancelled. It was evident to me that this crisis was not going to end soon so the first thing I did was look at my personal and company finances. I was thankful for being prudent in the past few years so I had sufficient reserves to lean on. I shed non-essential costs and created an 18-month plan. Having a plan that governed my income and expenses certainly gave me peace of mind.
With the daily barrage of bad news from around the world, the next thing I knew I had to do was keep busy, if I was to maintain my sanity! During the spring lockdown, I spent weeks working tirelessly on my blog, updating old posts (this blog is 12-years-old) and re-editing/reformatting photos. During this time, I also thought it would be useful to learn a language so I purchased a Spanish language course, which kept me occupied for all of two weeks. 😉
With lots of time to spare, I found myself constantly reflecting on the events happening in the world, my lifestyle and if there was something I could do to make a positive contribution. Looking back, I’m beginning to realise the number of tweaks I’ve made as a result of my reflections.
Focusing on the positives
Like everyone I guess, I found it increasingly difficult to maintain a positive attitude. There were so many things that infuriated me; from people refusing to wear a face mask and some countries’ irresponsible response to the health crisis, to racial injustice. I kept my sanity by choosing to focus on the positives.
When I started looking, I found many inspiring and uplifting stories and initiatives, and I began to support some of these initiatives to help the travel industry, the elderly and frontline health workers in one way or other. One initiative I’m particularly excited about is Local Purse. Co-founded by my friend, Lola Akinmade, Local Purse aims to support local tour guides and artisans around the world by providing a platform for virtual (shopping) tours. The pilot was done in Marrakesh, the perfect opportunity for me to stock up on argan oil products straight from the Medina!
In my endeavour to stay positive, I started to appreciate and find joy in small, every day things. A robin hopping around in my garden, a stream of sunlight piercing through the branches, sending a friend a surprise gift or successfully trying a new recipe – once I got myself into that frame of mind, I found countless little things that made me feel happy. If there’s one thing that really helped me get through the year, it’s this.
Another thing that had to change was my handling of conflicting opinions (and grumpy, irritable people). It was hard at first but I worked on accepting differences and digging deeper to gain a better understanding – as I said, I had plenty of time to ponder! Haha! Initially, this was my way of dealing with my feelings about our increasingly polarised world. Acceptance and trying to understand sure helped me to cope mentally. After a while, I started to realise that this coping mechanism was also helping me to build healthier relationships at home and in my circle of friends. As I was spending so much time at home, this was a welcome shift.
Staying active and healthy
After my health scare late last year, I knew I had to make some lifestyle changes to stay healthy. I love walking so I started going on long walks in my neighbourhood or in the city. I’m fortunate to live in an area with expansive parks so I got to enjoy a bit of nature without having to go far. In the city, I would choose a neighbourhood and spend several hours exploring on foot.
In addition to these walks, I started working out 3-4 times a week and I made some changes to my daily diet. I greatly reduced my consumption of beef and dairy products whilst adding a lot more vegetables and fruits. Curly kale (cavolo nero), leafy vegetables, mushrooms and blueberries are things I now eat (almost) every day. I’m sure these changes (and keeping my distance from others) has to do with the fact that I didn’t get sick once in 2020!
Exploring places closer to home
As I wasn’t travelling, I filled my blog with content from previous trips, even publishing comprehensive travel guides on Costa Brava, Emilia Romagna and the Markermeer region near Amsterdam. When the lockdown was lifted in early-summer, I decided to explore more of my country – I went on multiple road trips around the Netherlands and published posts on Alkmaar, Gouda, Dordrecht and Utrecht. The health crisis sure forced me to look for places closer to home to explore, and that has resulted in a greater appreciation of the country I live in!
As restaurants were closed during the lockdowns, I started to cook more. I’ve always enjoyed cooking so it was great fun to try new recipes, cook with different ingredients and experiment with new techniques and flavour combinations. I even started to bake, and ended up making cakes for birthdays and the festive season for my family. I think they liked my creations. Haha!
I also continued to support my favourite restaurants, frequenting them when they were open or ordering a take-away. It’s my sincere hope that they’ll still be in business when we can eat out again.
A summer getaway
When the borders opened across Europe in the summer, I allowed myself one trip: ten days in the Languedoc region in the south of France. I chose a remote place, surrounded by vineyards, and had a great time with my partner exploring the area, eating delicious local specialties and drinking wine! I also got to visit one of the most impressive infrastructure projects in France, a site that was high on my bucket list: the Millau Viaduct.
We made sure to follow the local rules such as keeping sufficient distance, wearing a face mask indoors and disinfecting our hands frequently to keep us and those around us safe. It was quite nerve-wracking at times but we steered clear of crowds and pretty much kept to ourselves. Despite this awkwardness, I felt so alive and I was so happy to be able to travel again. Needless to say, I enjoyed and cherished every moment.
On to 2021
So, in retrospect, 2020 wasn’t all bad. It was an opportunity for me to take a step back, reflect and make some positive changes. Who knows what 2021 will have in store for all of us? COVID-19 will still be around for sure so we have to stay vigilant and patient. I’m sure looking forward to visiting my family in Malaysia and getting together with my closest friends in the new year. I can imagine the outburst of joy when we can all hug one another again, and I can’t wait!
Here’s wishing you a Happy, Healthy and Successful New Year!
And please stay safe and positive!