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Looking back on 2021: my goals and travels in year two of the pandemic

Happy New Year!

Before I dive into my plans and goals for 2022, I love to indulge in some reflection on the year just past, following in a tradition of reflective posts, which I’ve published ever since starting this blog back in 2012.

In a whistle-stop, my year went as follows…

January-April was spent almost entirely hibernating in London in the UK’s third lockdown: working hard from home, looking after our family cat, countless socially distanced park walks, seeing my boyfriend at weekends in my ‘social bubble’, trying to explore new parts of London, and eating in chilly restaurant gardens. In March I sold my first painting, and proceeded to sell 4 more paintings throughout the year! Things then started looking up post-lockdown, as we spent a fortnight in May in Cornwall, with a week in Mawgan Porth on the west coast, and a week near St Michael’s Mount on the south coast.

I then bade farewell to my job in late May, squeezing all the previous year’s postponed annual leave into a month away in Kefalonia, the sixth largest Greek island (luckily my boyfriend also had lots of leave). We flew out in the first week that British borders opened and we found the island blissfully empty, with all the beaches, hikes and waters to ourselves. Pure heaven – hear more about it in this podcast episode. I also went paragliding for the first time over a dreamy blue bay. While there, I was thrilled to be awarded the University of Exeter’s Alumni Volunteer Award and I interviewed to become a trustee for charity Raleigh International, and subsequently I joined their board in July!

In late June I started my new job in the UK Civil Service, in a role that has challenged and stretched me, but which combines two of the things I love work-wise: Europe and international engagement. July was filled with lots of birthdays, an anniversary, Wimbledon, friends’ hen parties and weddings, and a week down on the south coast of England, in Dorset, the New Forest and West Sussex. August began with Wilderness Festival in the Cotswolds, another wedding and Henley Regatta, and ended with a week of digital detox on the south-west coast of France with my mother. In September I had a health kick, got back into running, and hiked in Dartmoor with my father.

In October I got a 10km running PB along Richmond Riverside, I almost adopted a cat, spent a weekend in north Devon, worked on a G7 Ministerial Summit and had a surprise trip to watch the Romeo and Juliet ballet at the Royal Opera House. November’s highlight was a week in southern Italy, road tripping 1,000km from Calabria, through Basilicata, into Puglia with my boyfriend, before he moved abroad for six months for work. My own work trips to Berlin and Brussels were sadly cancelled by Covid restrictions. December was a flurry of parties, until Covid spread like wildfire and everyone hunkered down, and I escaped to Hampshire and Surrey for Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

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While that summary sounds quite packed, in some ways it feels like 2020 was more eventful than 2021. 2021 felt like a long year, monotonous to the extreme during the third lockdown, and travel was fraught with stress and last-minute plans, meaning I didn’t enjoy that oh-so-sweet anticipation of a trip-to-come. They say that half of the enjoyment of a trip is in the period looking forward to it, which is eliminated when you’re unsure if the trip will actually go ahead, or if you reduce the uncertainty by waiting to book at the last-minute. I wrote in May that the pandemic had extinguished the true traveller in me, and I really do crave that feeling of pre-trip excitement – that buzz when you first book flights or first flick through a guidebook and start day-dreaming. Fingers crossed this uncertainty can soon be put behind us…

At the start of 2021 I wrote about “My 10 Goals and Projects for 2021, and 10 tentative travel goals”. In reality I have 50+ such goals, and these 20 were just a handful of the 10 biggest personal goals, and all of my travel goals. So, how did I do?

Looking back on my 10 biggest personal goals:

  1. Find a trustee, non-exec or school governor role: COMPLETE! I was thrilled to join Raleigh’s board of trustees, the charity I volunteered with in 2016 in Nepal.
  2. Continue learning French: COMPLETE! I was a bit slow off the mark, but I did an autumn evening class at the Institut Francais and I completed B1 level, so in January I’ll be moving into B2 level (upper intermediate).
  1. Catch-up on blogging and get back to writing more often, with at least 2 blog posts a month: FAILED. I published just 18 posts in 2021, only 2 of which can be classified as ‘travel’. I blogged instead about my paintings, about wellbeing, careers advice, gender equality, trustee roles, goal-setting and interior design. Ultimately this is partly because I didn’t travel much, partly because I’ve been desperate to reduce my screen-time while I’m WFH, partly because I know that travellers now turn to Instagram rather than blogs for their inspiration. I did record one podcast episode, although I had intended to record others from the all destinations I visited (my bad). I’m forgiving myself for not achieving last year’s goal, and instead I’m gracefully deciding to let this blog evolve and grow up as I do. I haven’t abandoned blogging, but I can’t honestly adopt the label of ‘travel writer/blogger’ any longer. Despite that, I’m reluctant to close down The Well-Travelled Postcard altogether, as I like having this record of my memories and this outlet for sharing my various projects and passions from time-to-time, so I want it to continue as a personal platform for whichever topics I fancy. Maybe that will include travel again at some point in the future, or maybe it won’t. Sorry to any disappointed readers who have only ever been here for the travel content, and I hope you’ll understand! A tiny proportion of the travel bloggers I met in the 2010s still ‘write’ in a blog format like this, and understandably so, as the media landscape has long moved onto other platforms. It’s high-time I cut myself some slack and gave myself permission and freedom to do the same.
  2. Publish a visual representation of my research into Brexit & EU citizens in the UK: FAILED. I got as far as picking quotes from my thesis and taking photos of London for this collection, but unfortunately this project also fell into the trap of ‘requires-too-much-screentime-while-WFH’, and it just didn’t make it up the priority list.
  1. Decorate my flat with my postcards and other artwork: COMPLETE! I blogged about this here, finally displaying my famous postcards on the walls of my flat, and sparking some of my favourite travel memories. I didn’t attempt a mural, but I did buy lots of prints while in Cornwall and have set about improving my flat in all kinds of ways, in my signature blue and white colour scheme.

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  1. Spend at least 12 days painting to improve my technique: SORT OF. I managed 8 days of ‘arty’ painting and 3 days of furniture painting, but I definitely improved my technique, confidence, and I sold 5 pieces in total – better than I could have hoped at the start of the year!
  1. Boost my career: COMPLETE! I started a new job in June, leading a larger team, with greater responsibilities, more international and Ministerial exposure, and it’s a big step closer to my dream job. I also started a brilliant 12-month development programme for female civil servants called Crossing Thresholds, I gained a new mentor, completed a few work-related courses and feel like I learned lots, so I’m very pleased with this one.
  2. Read at least 16 books: 4 classics, 4 foreign language, 4 non-fiction, 4 self-improvement: COMPLETE! Lockdown and 5 weeks of chilled summer holiday in Greece and France certainly made this an easy goal to reach, and I managed 28 books in total. My favourites from the year were: ‘West with the Night’ by Beryl Markham, ‘Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay’ by Elena Ferrante, ‘Shadow of the Wind’ by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, ‘New Europe’ by Michael Palin, ‘The Panic Years’ by Nell Frizzell (who I met at Wilderness), ‘How to Own the World’ by Andrew Craig, ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert, ‘The Interior Design Handbook’ by Frida Ramstedt, ‘Ghosts’ by Dolly Alderton, ‘Cartes Postales from Greece’ by Victoria Hislop, and ‘Villa in Italy’ by Elizabeth Edmondson.
  3. Grow my investments and improve my financial literacy: COMPLETE! There will always be more to learn of course, and more potential for investment growth, but I’m happy with how my pot is developing. I was late to the game and only started investing in 2020, so swotting up was much-needed. I can’t say I’ve ‘got the bug’, and I don’t follow the markets religiously, but certainly more than I ever did before.
  4. Work on my 10-year-plan: SORT OF. Getting the new job was a big step forward along my longer-term plan, although it ruled out for the short-term another dream from my 10-year plan: another sabbatical. My last sabbatical in 2015-16 might sound quite recent to some, but I’ve been working in London for 4 years now since my Master’s and I’m itching for some adventure!! Not good at staying put!

Looking back on my 10 biggest personal goals:

  1. Visit Italy: COMPLETE! In November my boyfriend and I visited the new-to-me regions of Calabria and Basilicata in southern Italy, getting a fix of the Mediterranean at Tropea and Maratea, and exploring famous sassi of Matera, as well as Alberobello and Polignano a Mare in Puglia.
  2. Visit 3 new places in the UK: SORT OF. Although I didn’t make it to Pembrokeshire in Wales nor anywhere further north than the Cotswolds (my bad), I did explore a new part of Cornwall (the southern coast), hiked around a new part of Dartmoor, visited more of Dorset and the New Forest, and a few country walks closer to London. Not hugely adventurous in terms of distance, but all still lovely places!
  1. Explore a different part of London each month: SORT OF. I mainly wanted to escape Wandsworth where I live, although I ended up spending a great deal more time there during the 3rd lockdown. However, some new-to-me places included Hampstead Heath, Maida Vale, Dulwich, Kingston and Windsor, Morden Hall Park, and I re-visited a few other lovely spots including Regents Park for the open air theatre.
  2. Hike more sections of the North Downs Way: SORT OF. Disappointingly I only managed one more section of the North Downs Way, so must try harder next year.
  1. Weekends away with old friends: COMPLETE! While none of the three friends’ weddings due to be held abroad happened (two in Spain and Ireland were re-located to the UK, one in Italy is postponed until 2022), I did enjoy trips around England with friends for hen parties, weddings and Wilderness Festival, which was just brilliant! The summer had a fantastic mood of celebration surrounding the Covid restrictions lifting and the vaccine rollout – it really did feel like the end of the pandemic, and I’m glad we made the most of it while it lasted!
  1. Visit 2-3 new countries: FAILED. Zero new countries visited – as it’s been very hard to plan adventurous or far-flung trips around ever-changing red-lists and border restrictions. It certainly makes my ‘100 countries before age 50’ challenge increasingly difficult…
  2. Plan lots of skiing for winter 2021-22: HOPEFULLY… Fingers are tentatively crossed, as who knows how this winter season will unfold, but I do in theory have 2.5 weeks of skiing planned for this winter: some in Zermatt, Verbier and another resort TBC.
  3. Go sailing: COMPLETE! Day trips into the Solent and a few days’ dinghy sailing with my father. It felt so invigorating to leave land behind and surround myself with water, and ‘blue spaces’ are known to give an incredible boost to our mental wellbeing.
  1. Visit the Christmas market in Strasbourg or celebrate New Year’s Eve 2022 abroad: FAILED. Wishful thinking, but Covid was sadly back with a vengeance by early December and made this tricky to orchestrate.
  2. Plan a few bigger trips for the future… COMPLETE! I managed a whole month away in Kefalonia, which fell between two jobs, so it felt like a mini-sabbatical of sorts, without any work piling up in the background. I had accumulated a lot of annual leave during 2020, so it was a relief to finally get a badly-needed break. The island was like paradise, and although we moved around the island, it felt like we really lived there, and got to know the island inside-out.

On balance, 2021 was a good year for me: periods of WFH monotony in London were balanced out by a brilliant summer of freedom. Nothing extraordinary but equally nothing dreadful happened in my life this year, and that is something to be grateful for in the current climate. I spent 6 weeks abroad, and another 7 weeks outside of London, in other parts of southern England. Including the ‘sort of’ goals, I reckon I achieved 7 out of 10 big personal goals, and 6 out of my 10 travel goals. Given the circumstances, I’m very pleased!

Looking towards 2022

I hope you’ve had some downtime to reflect on your own year in the same way as I did, before we hurtle into 2022 with all the best intentions and a refreshed set of goals. Even if I don’t write a huge amount about travel in the year to come, I know that I will always cherish these annual recaps, as an excuse to reflect and celebrate.

On that note of celebration, I wish you a very Happy New Year!

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