Reflections on 2020 and hope for 2021
I wanted to look back at 2020 in order to think about how 2021 is going to be better, but I quickly realized 2020 gave me plenty to be grateful for...even if things were different. I find looking back therapeutic any year--to see how far I've come and to set goals and aspirations for the future--this year it all seems more important.
The photo above is from Seaside, OR. Henry (the dog) and I took a spontaneous trip last January to the beach--low season prices were too hard to resist. We had the beach almost completely to ourselves and while chilly, it was really nice. I will take worse weather over crowds any day :) We made our way from Seaside up the coast and into Washington State. We stopped at Olympia and headed to the Olympic Peninsula. All a great time for reflection and long walks.
February brought me to Chicago. You may be asking who in their right mind goes to Chicago in February?? My reason was my dad's 85th birthday and I am so thankful we could all get together to celebrate before the world changed. The idea of having 25+ people inside at a gathering feels crazy now, but just 10 months ago, it was business as usual.
I took advantage of leap year to use the extra day to fly to Africa. Very productive use of an extra day in my opinion :) I used the quiet and reflection of my January trip to plan this last minute trip of my dreams. I couldn't shake the feeling that if I didn't go now, I wouldn't go (or wouldn't go for awhile). I was thinking more of simply life being busy with work and I knew we were moving again in 2020, but I am so grateful I took that nudge to make it happen.
Thinking back to my time in Rwanda and Uganda brings a smile to face and I hope it continues to for many years to come.
I was on my scheduled flight from Kampala, Uganda to Amsterdam en route home when President Trump announced the travel ban to Europe. I knew COVID was becoming a larger problem, but I didn't imagine the world would change so dramatically...or so quickly. I was on the second to the last flight from Amsterdam to Portland and took an Uber home thinking I was exhausted and perhaps I shouldn't be around that many people. As we all know, what has happened since mid-March is....sitting here thinking for the right word...perhaps unbelievable sums it up.
I was scheduled to be home for a couple of weeks and then head to Guam to see my husband. This would have been my last trip to Guam before our scheduled move in the summer. Each day we thought the next would bring good news and somewhat surprisingly, the flights between Hawaii and Guam never stopped flying. The challenge for me was how to get to Hawaii. I almost went for it since I thought COVID would pass in the time I was gone. Guess I don't have a career in fortune telling, huh?
So, I stayed home like the rest of the world. I cancelled dozens of trips for clients and each week brought more. I love being a travel advisor so I can help people experience wonderful places around the world. I don't imagine there is an advisor out there that enjoys seeing those trips get cancelled (and for some, cancelled 3, 4 or 5 times). I tried to be hopeful and I continue to be hopeful for a better travel future.
As I mentioned, we were scheduled to move this summer (my husband is active duty military). I was in Oregon and we were headed to Washington, DC. Just a short little drive :) I missed my husband and decided I could travel safely on the road---choosing hotels that were doing the best job of COVID precautions and with a couple bags of snacks and microwave meals in case restaurants closed again while I was en route.
July and August were spent getting settled in our new home of Alexandria, VA. I had clients begin to travel in the United States and Mexico and the glimmer of hope was getting brighter. I wanted to see if it was possible to fly safely and see what the precautions looked like in reality (plus, you know me, I was itching to travel). I booked a trip to Mexico about a week before I left. That is one travel trend that seems to have stuck during COVID---the average booking is now made 2 or 3 weeks out instead of 2 or 3 (or more) months in advance.
My first flight post COVID was to Cancun. They had been open for months and seemed to have their act together and data suggested COVID transmission wasn't happening at resorts or on airplanes, so I felt confident. Yes, I had to wear a mask. Yes, things were different. In my experience, different wasn't bad. My trip was literally a breath of fresh air---I could be outside most of the day and since resorts are capacity controlled, there was more room to spread out and less waiting in lines. The local tourism providers were very thankful for visitors.
Up next was a little road trip with Henry to the Delaware Shore (Dewey Beach). Henry had his first ice cream in a dog ice cream parlor (didn't know they existed!)...sometimes it is the small memories that make a trip.
October had more clients traveling and I explored the Dominican Republic for the first time...and had so much space to myself. Travel was just starting back up and resorts were at limited occupancy. November was a time for me to explore DC a bit (outdoors and wearing a mask) and as COVID numbers increased again, I weighed the pros and cons and decided to continue on with my planned trip to Sandals Grande Antigua. Antigua was the first destination I visited that required a COVID test, so I had my first test the end of November (the requirement was within 7 days of arrival). Antigua was beautiful and Sandals did an excellent job with COVID precautions.
2020 was certainly a year, but on reflection, not all bad. I visited places I probably wouldn't have under other circumstances. I also had to be creative to help find clients who wanted to travel spaces that would be safe and responsible to travel to under the circumstances. I'm grateful for the things I've learned this year and am hopeful that 2021 is the year we can all get back to travel. I am here to help you whenever you are ready to start planning. Happy New Year!
Beautiful isle of Antigua
I recently visited Antigua and fell in love with the island. Antigua is currently (as of the time of writing) a CDC Level 2 destination which means they have excellent COVID-19 precautions in place and the number of infections are considered low. I was required to have a PCR test within 7 days of arrival and travel with my negative test result (I printed multiple copies and saved the file on my phone).
Upon arrival at the airport, you need to fill out some forms, have your temperature taken and answer a few questions. The process from getting off the plane to walking out of the airport took about 45 minutes which is very good (not much longer than pre-COVID).
I had the pleasure of staying at Sandals Grande Antigua which is a 15 to 20 minute drive from the airport. If you are not familiar with Sandals they are a chain of exceptional adult only, all inclusive resorts. They are all 5 star resorts and have nearly everything included---even scuba diving. Airport transfers and most staff gratuities are also included (if you have a butler level suite, tips for the butler are not required, but encouraged). The dining options range from a pastry shop to high end fine dining and all are included in the price, as is premium top shelf alcohol (you can also get local drink options). Sandals also has many on-site entertainment options throughout the day from beach volleyball, yoga, Hobie Cat sailing to live music and themed parties at night. Each resort has a little different vibe with Antigua being on the quieter end on the party scale (perfect for me and my husband!).
Sandals is also known for its service. Staff are there to help you with whatever you need and it is certainly service with a smile. I'm not a huge drinker, but felt like something while I was relaxing at the pool. I asked the bartender for a suggestion for something frosty, refreshing and not super sugary. She said I have just the thing and made me an amazing mango mojito. The staff to guest ratio is high, so there are plenty of chances to chat and get to know the staff and ask their recommendations. As many of you know I am a vegetarian and that can be a challenge at some resorts, but Sandals did an excellent job. They had at least two vegetarian options on each restaurant menu and the chef was always willing to create something for me if I didn't like the options (they have many veggie options with fake meat which isn't my thing). One lunch my husband had the Thai fish curry and they made me Thai tofu curry. Perfect and very tasty :) My husband enjoyed being able to have surf and turf each day if he wanted...the food is truly high end and ordering off the menus feels like you are at a gourmet restaurant (except there is no bill at the end). For those of you that love going to Europe, the crepes at the pastry shop were very, very good. If I closed my eyes, I could almost believe I was eating my Nutella and banana crepe in France :)
Sandals has many different room categories------something around 30 to 40 of them at each resort. Each category is based on the location of the room and the amenities offered. As your travel advisor, I'm here to help you figure out what is the best fit. Even the lowest room categories have access to all of the restaurants and activities. You won't have access to room service for free or have liquor in your minibar, but a bar is only a couple minutes away. Some rooms are large with a separate sitting area and/or even your own private plunge pool and hot tub (sign me up!). These rooms come with a butler who is there to help you secure the best loungers at the beach and pool (with a cooler of drinks waiting) and get you priority dining and spa reservations. You barely have to lift a finger :) Many couples choose to stay in these suites and villas as part of their destination wedding or honeymoon (contact me for more information about having your wedding at Sandals).
I also like Sandals because as part of their Sandals Foundation, they give back to the local communities where the resorts are located and encourage guests to participate in Pack for a Purpose. This is a program (not limited to Sandals) where local agencies upload a wish list of items that guests can bring in their suitcase from home or purchase locally. COVID has impacted communities around the world and these donations are needed more than ever---the staff at Sandals Grande Antigua were very appreciative of the small items I brought. If you are a shopper, this gives you an opportunity to bring needed items from home and then gives you space for your new purchases on the way home.
I did leave the resort for a private tour, but Sandals has plenty to do on resort to keep you busy for days. Each location has a little different COVID precautions or restrictions in place---for Antigua, I was allowed to leave property with no additional testing or restrictions. Everyone in the car (driver and passengers) had to wear masks and capacity was limited (a mini van now could hold 3 passengers for a tour). I will leave you with some beautiful island photos. Please get in touch to plan your trip to Sandals (I have some exclusive promo codes for a limited time!).
Tracey is the owner of Unraveled Travel and has traveled to every continent (thanks to the recent visit to Antarctica!