It feels a bit rich calling this year’s final post a 2020 Travel Roundup as like most of you I’ve spent most of 2020 staying at home due to the ongoing threat of COVID-19. But tradition is tradition and I feel it is important to try and retain some sense of normalcy in all the madness this year has brought.
So, despite this being a rather unconventional year of travel for me, here is my 2020 Travel Roundup.
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In 2020, prior to COVID-19 basically shutting down international travel, I did manage to make it to my 31st country – South Korea. Travelling with my parents, we explored South Korea’s two biggest cities: Seoul and Busan. I’m so excited to be including South Korea in my 2020 Travel Roundup as I’ve wanted to go there for so long.
Flying on Australian low-cost carrier, Jetstar, we travelled to the Gold Coast for an overnight stay before taking off for the Korean Peninsula. Immediately on landing in Seoul at Incheon Airport, we hopped on a train to Busan (thankfully lacking in zombies) and travelled south to explore the country’s second largest city.
Busan amazed me. From the colourful artsy village of Gamcheon to the incredible Jagalchi Seafood Market, this beachside city had me in awe around every corner. Two days in Busan just weren’t enough and to be honest, I’m not sure I’d ever be ready to leave this vibrant and eclectic region. Other amazing places to check out in Busan are the Busan Tower for amazing views of the city, Haeundae Beach (even in winter) and the cliffside temple of Haedong Yonggungsa.
Then it was back on the train venturing north to spend three wonderful winter days in Seoul. The temperature between the two cities felt drastically different, with the coldness in Seoul the kind of face-tingling freezing that I’d experienced the year before in Chicago or in Toronto in February.
Seoul proved to be quite different to what I had expected, likely because I chose to stay in the more historic Insa-dong area where the royal palaces are located. Here, the streets are full of tiny plastic tents containing small street dining options and the laneways are narrow and windy, just like the old towns in Europe.
In Seoul, one of the most coveted tourist attractions is the DMZ, however due to an outbreak of African Swine Fever, the DMZ was closed. The subsequent outbreak of COVID-19 has obviously meant that this area has remained closed for the duration of 2020.
The good news is that the alternative DMZ tours offered are still informative and still worth undertaking for an understanding of the very sad history of the divided Koreas (with the added bonus of being able to see North Korea across the river from the Odusan Unification Observatory).
Other wonderful attractions in Seoul include wandering through the traditional Bukchon Hanok Village where historic Korean houses still exist in a living, breathing neighbourhood of Seoul and taking in the incredible urban sprawl of the city from the NSeoul Tower.
Visiting South Korea can be a bit of a culture shock and there are some things that you should know before you travel, so I also created a little bonus post with some tips for exploring the country.
All this travelling took place in January and who could have ever known that as I was sitting in Hong Kong Airport on my way back from Seoul that the airport announcements paging anyone who had been to Wuhan in China were far more sinister than they sounded.
I did manage to squeeze in two more trips from Sydney to Melbourne prior to the craziness being unleashed – one for my birthday at the end of January and one to see the musical Come From Away with my mum and sister in the first weekend of March.
And then lockdown hit. Here’s where the 2020 Travel Roundup becomes more like the 2020 Stay At Home Roundup.
In Australia overall, we’ve done quite well at containing the virus and in Sydney we experienced a comparatively brief lockdown of around 6 weeks. Unfortunately, because the approach to the virus is managed by each state of Australia individually, our internal borders (as well as our international ones) were slammed shut as each state fended for themselves in the fight against the virus.
This meant that domestic travel was off the table and for me, with an interstate family, it meant that I couldn’t see them at all between April and November. My family are based in Melbourne, which was hit by COVID-19 the hardest and they endured an incredibly lengthy lockdown – much stricter than anything I experienced in Sydney.
Outdoor activities became the norm – finding new walks and hikes to undertake around Sydney was a bit of a 2020 obsession and national parks worldwide got a bit of a workout as people flocked to the wide-open spaces to get their travel fix in a safe way.
In late November, state borders started to open, and I was able to get down and spend time with family and friends in Melbourne for four days. I’ll be completely upfront and admit I bawled my eyes out when I saw my mum and my best friend.
Matt and I also managed to squeeze in a little road trip to the gorgeous Hunter Valley wine region a couple of hour’s drive from Sydney where we spent a couple of days tasting wine and enjoying the lush green of the grapevines in regional NSW.
At this point, things were looking up. Australia as a country was seeing consecutive ‘doughnut days’, all our borders were open and despite a very small outbreak of a couple of cases in South Australia, all signs were pointing to a COVID-normal Christmas.
Then 2020 hit with a vengeance. Totally on brand for this absolute shit sandwich of a year. An outbreak in Sydney’s Northern Beaches region occurred which caused all states to close their borders to NSW. This meant that my usual family Christmas spent in Melbourne was completely off the table and after a year of hardly seeing my family, I was absolutely devastated.
Luckily, in a silver lining, Matt and I spent our first Christmas together with his family (though his uncle was sadly in lockdown on the Northern Beaches). A couple of days later and we’re still in the throes of this latest cluster, hoping every day that the case numbers have reduced and that we’re on the way to recovery when borders can open again.
As we head into 2021, let’s keep our fingers crossed for happier times where we can jump on a plane or in the car to explore without a second thought. Let’s make sure we stay virtually connected to friends and family, though we may have to be physically distant. Let’s wear a mask when necessary to protect ourselves and others. And above all, let’s be kind to ourselves and those around us. This pandemic has impacted us all in very different ways and I truly don’t believe anyone will ever be the same.
Goodbye 2020. We won’t miss you!
Top 3 Travel Misadventures
1. My baggage being lost on the way to the Gold Coast where I was due to fly out to Korea. It was a very nervous wait to see if the bags made it in time.
2. Cancelling my Italy and Malta trip in April due to the outbreak of the pandemic.
3. Missing our return flight from Korea (we were on standby) and having to go back via Hong Kong instead – though we did score a business class upgrade from Hong Kong to Sydney, so it wasn’t all bad!
2020 Travel Destinations by Month
- January: Busan, Seoul, Hong Kong
- February: Melbourne
- March: Melbourne
- April: Sydney
- May: Sydney
- June: Sydney
- July: Sydney
- August: Sydney
- September: Sydney
- October: Sydney
- November: Hunter Valley, Melbourne
- December: Sydney
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