My 2021 Travel and Life Round Up
I didn’t write a round up in 2020 because I spent most of it stuck in a strict lockdown in Goa, all my work projects and travel plans, including running my first group tour in Kerala, were cancelled so I didn’t feel I had much good to say! (I did get to go on an amazing trip to Sri Lanka in February 2020 before the world changed though)
But despite the odds 2021 turned out to be a great year of travel for me so I wanted to write a round up post, firstly for my own memory, but also to give you a peak behind the scenes of what looks like a glamourous life on Instagram and to show that travel is possible in these challenging times!
I saw in the New Year, as usual, watching the fireworks on the beach near my home in Goa, India. It was a bit of a lonely Christmas and New Year and a strange season for me as many close friends who would normally spend the winter season in Goa were unable to come as India was not open for tourists.
But while the rest of the world was back in lockdown, India was reporting herd immunity and most people thought Covid was finished in India. Goa was incredibly free – enjoying parties, workshops and social events under the sunshine without any restrictions and busy with domestic tourists.
With no international tourists some businesses had closed and where there used to be noisy beach shacks was instead fishing boats and nature.
A small, intimate community had formed as most of the remaining foreigners had been (happily) stuck in Goa since the country closed in March 2020, while Indian’s who could now work from home began to move to the beaches of Goa. Without my regular circle of friends there was a lot of space for personal growth and I also ended up making a lot of new friends.
Just after New Year I had a small scooter accident which led to me having to stay home for a few weeks while my foot healed. As I spend so much time in Goa it kinda felt like a road accident was inevitable at some point so I’m just glad it wasn’t too bad, plus it gave me time to stay at home to get lots of work done and just to be still and alone with myself.
Random road trips to ‘real India.’
As each state in India has different entry rules I haven’t travelled around India as much as I would have liked recently. One of the highlights of the season was a random 2 day group road trip to Karnataka and Maharashtra.
A group of friends from our writers club were missing ‘real India’ so we headed out on scooters along the backroads of Goa, up and over Chorla Ghat to Karnataka.
We stayed at the cute Red Hills Nature Resort and went for lunch in the town of Belagavi (also known as Belgaum) before driving on across the farm lands of Maharashtra and discovering Tilari Waterfalls. There was no traffic or checks on these back road borders. It was exhilarating to be so free and exploring again!
While heading back down the Ghats into Goa, under the light of the full moon, I saw a sight that will stay with me forever when a leopard crossed the road and disappeared into the jungle right in front of me! What a blessing, I almost couldn’t believe my eyes!
This road trip reminded me of the feeling of freedom that travel gives me and the excitement of exploring and new place, even when it’s not a touristic destination. I love exploring random places where I have no expectations the most! Especially discovering new places that are so close to home.
The second wave
By April the heat had intensified and Covid cases were rapidly on the rise due to a new variant. It felt like dejavu – but this time alot worse with no oxygen or hospital beds available. I feared getting stuck in another strict lockdown with no food or flights out. So I started to make plans to leave but didn’t get there in time before the UK announced arrivals from India would have to undergo hotel quarantine.
The only flights operating to and from India we within the air bubble scheme and with most countries banning arrivals from India and UK options were very limited. It was a stressful time with rules changing constantly. I booked flights to Egypt and The Maldives but both were cancelled as more borders closed.
Literally the only country that would let me in at that time was Mexico! It was somewhere I’d always wanted to visit and sounded a lot more exciting than an expensive hotel quarantine! I booked a ticket and 3 days later flew with Air France from Mumbai via Paris to Mexico City.
Two long flights to the opposite side of the world but it was one of the best flight experiences because I had a whole row of seats to myself and entering Mexico was easy – No visa, quarantine or test required (I did a test anyway before I left India to be sure I was safe)
Mexico City was so alive! It was captivating, intoxicating and unlike anywhere I’d visited before. I loved the historic Spanish architecture, the buzz of the modern city, the hip neighbourhoods, parks, cafes and museums, the ancient pyramids at Teotihuacan and of course the food, colour, music and exuberance for life that the Mexicans have.
After a week in fascinating Mexico City it was time to escape the city life. Instead of the popular and touristic Yucatan Peninsular I headed to the scenic and little developed Oaxaca Coast. First to the surf town of Puerto Escondido and then to Mazunte and Zipolite – Mexico’s only nudist beach!
These laidback, hippie, yoga hotspots felt like the Goa of Mexico and were hard to leave. After a few weeks I prised myself off the beaches to explore the colourful city of Oaxaca before heading back to Mexico City.
The only problem was I didn’t speak Spanish and hardly anyone spoke English. I picked up basic survival Spanish on the road and the Mexicans are friendly, helpful and tolerant so I managed but if I’d had more time to plan I would definitely learn some Spanish first! Read more of my tips for Mexico here.
Also See: My Mexico Itinerary and Route and My Tips for Traveling Mexico
The downside of the traveling and digital nomad lifestyle
While I loved Mexico and wanted to explore much more I couldn’t shake this feeling that something was missing. There were plenty of travellers to connect with but I still felt lonely. I was missing a certain someone and it seemed meaningless to experience all these beautiful places without someone special.
One of the biggest downsides to the traveling and digital nomad lifestyle is that it’s hard to form and maintain long term relationships. Sure, you meet many interesting people on the road but they come and go. All too soon you have to say goodbye as people continue on their own journeys. It can be a lonely life.
I met Damien in Goa a few years ago. He was staying in a hostel that my friend was working in so we became part of the same friendship group and gradually progressed from being friends to more.
We had been separated for 7 months due to travel restrictions. As Mexico was not on the UK’s hotel quarantine list, I could now head back to the UK and reconnect with Damien and my family after just home quarantine.
Even though I love to travel as much as possible, I think it’s really important to go home at least once a year to have a break and catch up with family, friends and my roots.
Reconnecting with my roots and family in the UK
I was nervous to return to the UK but I found it really wasn’t as bad as the news made it out to be. For the first time in ages I actually enjoyed being in my home country that I had been running away from for so long!
Instead of going to my home in Suffolk, I stayed with Damien in Canterbury and enjoyed exploring the historic Cathedral city, the quaint, oyster mad, seaside town of Whitstable nearby and the countryside and castles of Kent. It was great to have someone to go exploring with again.
We took a trip to Glastonbury town and discovered the town had so much to offer than just the famous festival with sacred sites and a high street of eccentric characters and spiritual shops – it felt like the Goa of the UK!
We also enjoyed the buzzing atmosphere of the hip seaside town of Brighton during a heatwave as the UK celebrated ‘Freedom Day’ when all restrictions and mask mandates ended and the nightclubs reopened.
The UK seemed like the freest place to be and it was great to be with my loved ones again, enjoying family visits in Suffolk and Wales, seeing my sister’s first home and meeting my friends new babies. I even attended a weekend music festival with friends I hadn’t seen for 10 years – an almost surreal experience after recent restrictions.
Also see: My Guide to Canterbury and My Guide to Brighton
An epic Spain and Portugal road trip
In September we set off on an epic road trip around Spain and Portugal. I felt like so long since I had been in Europe and it was nice to fall in love all over again, both with Europe and with Damien finding our flow traveling together.
We took a 24 hr ferry from Portsmouth, UK to Bilbao in Northern Spain and spent a month feeling the freedom of adventure and driving 3,500 km across Spain and Portugal!
After exploring San Sebastian, Madrid, Granada, Orgiva and Seville in Spain, we drove across the bridge from Spain to Portugal without any checks or paperwork required.
Once in Portugal we explored the Algarve, Lisbon and Porto. We spent some time with friends on their farm in central Portugal and discovered the historical village of Monsanto and even met a relative’s two week old baby in Braga before heading back to Spain to catch the ferry home.
An unexpected highlight was the beautiful, alpine like, regions of Austrias and Cantabria in Northern Spain with the elegant, laid back city of Oviedo and the beautiful harbour town of San Vicente de la Barquera.
I also rekindled my love for Andalusia and totally fell in love with the architecture and flamboyant style of Seville. What an epic trip!
Feeling bad about the effect on the environment of all this travel I researched Carbon Offsetting. The Gold Standard offsetting program is backed by green groups including WWF. Their website makes it easy to calculate your carbon footprint and choose where your money goes to help offset the carbon. I chose to donate to renewable energy and cleaner cooking stoves projects in India and take steps to reduce my footprint where I can.
Back to the sunshine – together this time
Coming back to the UK from Spain and the weather was already feeling dull and depressing. To avoid being stuck in different countries over winter again we made a quick stop in the UK to sort out visas and paperwork for India and headed back home to Goa in November just in time for another season in the sunshine of the place I love the most. This time together!
Plans for 2022
We plan to work together on the blog; Damien’s working behind the scenes on a modern new look, we will be adding more on couples travel and trying not to get separated by borders again!
Solo travel has been an amazing and transformational journey that I highly recommend everyone tries at least once. But to experience the beauty and adventure in the world with someone special to share it with adds another dimension to my passion for life and travel.
We hope to explore more of Goa, hop across from India to the Maldives, and to travel more in Europe, Mexico and Central America.
2022 looks like it might be another year of changeable travel restrictions but Mexico and Central America are currently the best bet for hassle free travel and such beautiful and exciting places to explore.
Who knows what kind of challenges 2022 will throw at us but whatever happens at least we will face it together.
Here’s to the next chapter and a fabulous 2022!
What was your 2021 like? Did you travel anywhere and what are your hopes and dreams for 2022?