6 countries (2 of which were new to me), 21 cities, 6 sims, 9 flights, 19 beds slept in, 131 blog posts, seemingly endless dalgona coffee, adapting to a ‘new normal’ under the guise of a pandemic, and a relocation to start a new job in Ireland.
For so many of us, 2020 started as any other year- full of possibility and hope. Very quickly though came fear, anger and a collective hopelessness.
In the early months of 2020, I remember sitting at an outdoor cafe under the Colombian sun, listening to news podcasts about a new virus in China. I vividly recall discussing with my travel companion how odd it was that more outlets weren’t talking about the virus spreading around the world when it seemed to have worked its way so quickly through China.
Normally, during the last month of the calendar year, I look back at my travels- the highs and the lows, my favorite places, and those I wouldn’t be as quick to return to. In a year where I spent so many months in tight lockdown in Ireland’s capital, and where the world collectively lost so much, it feels odd to reflect on the places I was able to visit, despite the pandemic.
But, even in the face of so much grief, so much loss, I believe pausing to find gratitude, to acknowledge the glimmers of good is more important than ever. And so, as with any year, as the days in December dwindle, I’m reflecting on some of the places I was fortunate enough to visit in 2020.
My 10 Favourite Destinations of 2020
The international travel I’ve highlighted below occurred before the world locked down in March. Travel around Ireland occurred when cases were low and the government cleared inter-country exploring, with safety precautions observed.
Accepting an offer to relocate to Ireland at the end of 2019, I figured I’d see more of the country over my time living there (had visited twice prior), but it wasn’t a priority per se- not with so many other fantastic places in Europe and Africa to visit.
Although I enjoyed seeing a bit more of Central and South America before COVID-19 struck, my time adventuring around Ireland turned out to be my favourite jaunts of the year. During a year where repeat, month-long movement control orders kept me within a small radius of my flat in Dublin, I was grateful for the chance to see more of the Emerald Isle when it was allowed. Travelling at a slower pace than I normally would, the adventures were beautiful.
Mexico City, Mexico (January)
Mexico’s capital city is dripping in history, culture, and street eats.
It’s hip. It’s creative. The food is incredible. It’s home to beautiful, leafy parks and more tree-lined avenues then you’d imagine. It has perfect weather – ‘year round spring’. There are tons of great museums. And, the coffee scene is off the hook. All said, it’s no surprise this metropolis attracts digital nomads from around the world. With two weeks in the capital, there to work and explore, I left eager to return for more. In only a matter of days, I started to see Mexico City as a place I could live- it’s the kind of place where a short journey just doesn’t suffice. Like any metropol, the city’s layers could easily take a lifetime to fully appreciate.
Seattle, Washington (January)
Every time I visit Seattle, I’m reminded of how eclectic of a city it is. Having visited the Pacific Northwest a few times, I’ve had the chance to explore many of Seattle’s neighborhoods. On my first trip of the year, I planned on visiting Seattle for a week, and while I knew I’d visit Pike Place Market, Capitol Hill, and a few other Seattle classics, sightseeing wasn’t my main objective.
Hanging with a three month old munchkin (the daughter of my best friend from childhood) was the main thing on the agneda. As such, we spent most of our days just hanging out- cooking together, watching thick flakes of snow fall while snacking on CBD sparkling water and cookie dough, re-watching (for the hundredth time?) Sex and the City, and catching-up on literally everything. It was a perfect few days, and something I hope I’m able to resume with regularity when leisure travel returns.
Antigua, Guatemala (January)
Once the capital of Guatemala, Antigua’s colorful streetscapes are nestled between three volcanoes. Easily, it’s one of Central America’s most charming destinations.
With a small, quaint vibe, you’ll want to throw any notion of an itinerary out, and just spend your time leisurely exploring. At the end of our three days in Antigua, we found ourselves wishing we had even more time to spend sipping jugs of iced coffee in lush garden spaces, or on rooftop terraces, admiring volcano views and getting lost in good books. It’s the kind of place, where real beauty is found in slow moments around town. It’s not for travelers keen to hop from one activity to the next- Antigua is brilliant for slowing down, chilling out, and reveling in the natural beauty all around.
Walt Disney World, Florida (January)
Some people may question the logic in flying from Antigua to Orlando for only a few days, but when I found an affordable, direct flight that aligned with dates my mom would be at a conference in Disney World, I decided to make it happen. When you live abroad, you take advantage of any chance you get to see family and friends you care about, and with how 2020 panned out, I’m so glad I cut my time short in Guatemala.
I may have only been able to see my mom for a few hours each day (when the conference wasn’t happening), but I’ll always treasure that time. During the breaks she had, we sought out the tastiest vegetarian meals (hummus wrap @ Wolfgang Puck Express in Disney Springs), checked out Disney’s latest transportation options (hello, Skyliner), and meandered resorts we normally don’t have time to visit when we’re at Disney to visit the parks (notably, Caribbean Resort and Riveria Resort).
We stayed at the Yacht Club, which is Disney for adults. After spending the year backpacking by way of countless budget accommodations, a few days at the Yacht Club felt like ultimate luxury. My days in Disney were the ultimate observance of laid back. While my mom was at her conference, I worked from the plush hotel lobby, poolside, or on the expansive back deck. Nothing quite like reading seated in a giant rocking chair with palms swaying overhead.
Known as Colombia’s second largest city, Medellin is also one of the world’s most innovative. Nicknamed ‘The City of Eternal Spring’: the weather is generally good year around. Most travellers fall head-over-heels in love with its perfect climate, friendly locals, ace coffee and offbeat attractions. Medellin is fast changing, it’s a digital nomad haven, and somewhere I’d seriously consider living for a while one day.
Although my main reason for travelling to Colombia was to post up in Medellin, check out the cafe and co-working scene, and naturally, work for several weeks, I’m glad the trip was capped off with three days in Cartagena.
Cartagena is one of the most beautiful and colourful cities I’ve visited. Situated on the Caribbean coast, it’s got a decidedly different vibe to other places in Colombia. Pronounced Car-tuh-hen-uh, there’s truly something for everyone in the city, whether you’re visiting to roam the pastel streets, shop or sail the coast.
New York City (February)
After accepting a job offer to move to New York in 2012, I rationalised I’d stay for two years max. Then, something I hadn’t expected happened- I fell in love with New York. When I moved to London in 2017, I figured I’d be back in New York with some frequency- to visit friends, of course, and my favorite spots in the city. Somehow though, I didn’t make it back to New York until the end of December 2019 (then for a whirlwind holiday attraction tour with my sister and her boyfriend).
Over a long weekend, I fell back in love with the city and admitted just how much I’d missed everything that makes New York, well, New York. In February, flights from Colombia to New York were less than flying to Pittsburgh (where my parents reside and I’d have to stop before relocating to Ireland). And so, plans started to form for a long weekend in the big apple to coincide with Presidents Day, when so many of my friends would be off work.
It was a joyous weekend of roaming city streets; seeking out the best bagels, pizza slices and breakfast tacos; and losing hours in conversation with friends in cafes and dimly lit bars, over Valentine’s Day pints, and in stores that could double as literal plant jungles. Leaving New York at the end of that weekend, I found myself questioning just how long it’d be before I moved back- the pull to rediscover my big city rhythms was (and still is) powerful.
Dingle, Ireland (July)
The Dingle peninsula is, inarguably, one of the most beautiful places in Ireland. The small town, and surrounding area, quickly became one of my favorite places in the country. It’s a one hundred percent must-see on a jaunt around the Emerald Isle.
Ireland may be full of colorful towns, but Dingle really shines. It’s small town charm, rugged mountain vistas, gorgeous seascapes, and isn’t as touristy as some of the larger Irish cities, so it’s easy to get a bit more of a taste for Irish flair. Although my time was short in Dingle (only one day to avoid heavy showers), it was grand. Exactly what I needed to root me in the best parts of Ireland- small town wonderfulness, and dramatic landscapes.
Waterford, Ireland (August)
While many visitors to Ireland haven’t even heard of Waterford, this area is one of my favorite places to visit in the country. Known as the Déise (pronounced “Day-sha”) County, the area takes its name from the ancient Celtic tribe who inhabited the land years ago. Dating back to the start of the 10th century, the city itself is Ireland’s oldest.
What’s there to love in Waterford? So much– a brill mix of medieval ruins and beautifully preserved castles, coastal drives, colourful street murals, and a lush greenway, say nothing for the actual city of Waterford itself or other quaint, smaller nearby cities like Dungarvan. My weekend in Waterford was the escape from Dublin I needed- a chance to disconnect, explore more of Ireland’s history, and take refuge in nature.
Achill Island, Ireland (July)
Achill Island, a place where sheep rule the roads, and one most beautiful beaches I’ve seen in Europe. Achill is the biggest of the Irish islands, and the most populated, likely because of easy access between the island mainland. Yet, Achill remains virtually unknown to tourists. It’s often omitted in the tourist guides about Ireland, and there are no tours available from Dublin.
To say it’s got a lot to offer would be an understatement- natural beauty with rugged coastline, mountainous peaks, and in my opinion, the most spectacular beach in Ireland. It’s the beauty of the ‘wild Atlantic way,’ but without the crowds.
Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland (September)
Northern Ireland- Game of Thrones country. Even if the series isn’t your thing (I’ve only watched up to season six), there’s no denying the beauty of the Causeway Coast. Regarded as one of the most beautiful drives in the world, it’s the kind of rugged coastline you won’t see anywhere else in the UK, Ireland, and even most of Europe.
I’d been to Northern Ireland two years prior to this September visit, but only for a weekend, and had only seen the coast on a guided tour. While this trip was also short, I rented a car for flexibility to move at my own pace and see things as I wanted. After a weekend with epic vistas to keep me company, I returned to Dublin feeling refreshed and clear-headed. In so many ways, and for so many reasons, nature is the best medicine.
If you were able to travel anywhere (even within your own town!) in 2020, what did you enjoy about your adventures?