Well, here we are, at the end of another pandemic year.
For me, 2021 has felt both long and short, confined and freeing; better than 2020, but still far from normal. In my first blog post of the year, I didn’t even dare get my hopes up that travel would return after the shock that was 2020. “For now travel feels like just that: a dream,” I wrote, “something that belongs to a future we haven’t reached yet.”
It took time, but those tentative travel dreams did eventually come true. In 2021 we travelled locally, domestically, and internationally – I finally made it back across the Atlantic! Travel doesn’t look like it used to, and it requires a lot more planning and form-filling, not to mention multiple Covid tests, but it is possible, and for me, the hassle was more than worth it.
So here it is, my annual “year in travel” recap, from another very unusual year…
Appalachian Trail, New Jersey | March
Honestly, when I first looked back at my photos and diary notes to check where we travelled locally in 2021, I was surprised to realise we went to the Pochuck Boardwalk section of the Appalachian Trail this year. It feels so long ago, in a time when lockdowns were still a thing, that I had assumed it happened back in 2020.
But it did happen this year, and was our first foray out into the world after hibernating for much of January and February. We spent a glorious, chilly afternoon walking the trail, drinking in the fresh air, and bird watching. (My favourite pandemic pastime!)
Portland, Maine | May
We were both fully vaccinated by the first weekend in May (what a strange, emotional feeling of relief and gratitude that came with), so of course, we immediately headed out of town! We spent a week in Portland, Maine, at the end of May, a week filled with lobster rolls, beach walks, visits to various coastal state parks, and even a puffin cruise out of the town of Boothbay Harbor. Our time in Portland also marked the first chance I had to venture out solo somewhere new(ish) with my camera since before the pandemic, and it felt fantastic, almost like meeting an old version of myself I’d lost touch with.
Little Island, NYC | June
In turn, my morning at Little Island a few weeks later marked the first time I’d spent wandering aimlessly in Manhattan with my camera since early 2020 in any kind of “normality,” and again, it was thrilling. Isn’t it funny how things we took for granted as completely normal in the past now feel extra special?
The main focus of my day of exploring was Little Island, a newly opened “floating” park on the Hudson River, but I also enjoyed a solo alfresco cocktail in the West Village, an ice cream on the High Line, and lots of strolling down city streets on a whim in the sunshine.
Paterson Great Falls, New Jersey | June
Our visit to Paterson Great Falls is a prime example of how you can apply a travel lens to all sorts of situations. We were 30 minutes outside of NYC in an industrial area of Paterson on a hot June morning looking at replacement front doors (one of the joys of owning a house that’s over 100 years old is that a lot of things need replacing), and on our way out of town, we swung by this tiny historic park we’d heard of in passing – one that turned out to be incredible.
I was fascinated to learn that it was the power of these waterfalls that inspired Alexander Hamilton (yes, that Hamilton, for any fellow Broadway fans out there) to create the first planned industrial city here in 1792, and just couldn’t get over the surprise of coming across such a force of nature seemingly hidden just off the main road. It was the perfect reminder that “travel” experiences can often be a lot closer to home than you might image.
The Edge, NYC | July
I’m pretty sure my jaw physically dropped open when we walked out of the door on the 100th floor of 30 Hudson Yards to be greeted by the view from The Edge!
The partially glass platform is the highest outdoor observation deck in the Western Hemisphere, and it opened right before the pandemic hit in early 2020, so it has only really come into its own in 2021. While I was too nervous to sit (or stand) on the glass floor, I loved getting close to the slightly angled glass walls to see the city laid out before me. It’s definitely worth adding to your New York City to-do list if you’re ever visiting.
The Outer Hebrides, Scotland | August
It probably goes without saying that spending a month at home in Lewis was truly the highlight of my year. I am so truly, incredibly grateful that I was able to spend so much time with my family in my favourite place after we were forced to spend so long apart during the pandemic.
Those four weeks felt endless, they were so full: full of reunions; full of walks through the village in the light of late summer evenings; full of dips in the sea, walks up hills, and bike rides to the beach; and full of more Stag Bread, Delights cakes, and sausage rolls than I could shake a stick at. It was the reset I needed, and I think the memory of finally flying into Stornoway on a sunny day after the stress of the pandemic will stay with me for a long time.
Fife and Edinburgh, Scotland | August
During those four weeks, I also ventured elsewhere in Scotland, first of all to Edinburgh and Fife, where in two sunny days my brother and I managed to fit in a full day in Edinburgh itself, an evening in North Berwick, breakfast in Loch Leven (technically just over the border from Fife in Kinross!), and a day taking in the Fife towns of Falkland, St Andrews, and Lower Largo. It was a reminder that there’s so much of my home country I haven’t seen yet, even close to a city I know well and visit often – and a reminder I need to take to heart in NYC, too!
Glasgow, Scotland | August
Glasgow is a city I knew well as a child, but don’t visit as often as an adult, so it was an absolute treat to spend a weekend there with one of my oldest, closest friends. After two years of trading voice notes back and forth, it felt like such a luxury to be in the same place together! We caught up over a Harry Potter-themed afternoon tea at the Macintosh at The Willow tea rooms, pottered around the shops on Buchanan Street, and even made a quick pit stop at the Barrowlands to see the new Shuggie Bain mural, inspired by the final few pages of the book by Glaswegian author Douglas Stuart.
Acadia National Park, Maine | September
I was back in the USA just in time for the Labor Day Weekend (unofficially regarded as the “end” of the summer), so Mr. Stories My Suitcase Could Tell and I headed north to Maine again, this time for an active weekend in Acadia National Park with a group of friends.
I was delighted at the prospect of more time outdoors – especially after a month spent cycling and swimming in the Outer Hebrides – and was all set for our bike ride along the famous old carriage roads that snake through the park. Alas, my knees were not as excited about the beautiful, eight-mile uphill cycle route as I was, and I haven’t been able to cycle since! Aside from that hiccup, it was a great three days, and I enjoyed seeing the park in the summer, after my wild and windy spring visit there in 2015.
Seattle, Washington | September
Later in September, we headed west to spend time with Mr. Stories My Suitcase Could Tell’s family in Seattle to celebrate his grandfather’s 90th birthday. Seattle and the surrounding area is stunning – I’d say it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to in the USA – and the view of Mount Rainier as our plane landed at sunset was a pretty incredible start to the week.
The week was mostly spent relaxing and catching up with family, but I did manage a quick cold water swim in Lake Washington (it wasn’t nearly as cold as the Minch, and certainly not as clear, but it was fun all the same!); a visit to one of my favourite bookshops, Elliot Bay Book Company; and we also had a wonderful dinner overlooking the water of Elliot Bay at The Pink Door in Pike Place Market.
Fife and Edinburgh, Scotland | October
It felt like I had barely left, and I was back in Scotland again! After the uncertainty surrounding travel in the first half of the year, it felt like such good luck to be able to return so soon. This time, Mr. Stories My Suitcase Could Tell came with me, and we spent a week in the Edinburgh area with my family, as well as two days in St Andrews and Crail for a much-anticipated wedding.
Dancing the night away with my dear university friends to a ceilidh band after months of restrictions and lockdowns was an absolute joy, and we’re already talking about organising a holiday together, now that there are no more weddings left to bring us all together in the same location. Watch this space!
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | November
While this trip wasn’t actually a holiday – Mr. Stories My Suitcase Could Tell was in the city for work, so I tagged along and worked from our hotel room – it felt refreshing to get a change of scenery for day-to-day tasks. I walked through the cobbled streets of the Old City for a coffee before work each morning, spent my lunchtimes admiring the autumn colours in the parks, and we enjoyed dinner at fun new restaurants together in the evenings. Philadelphia is a city I love dearly (it’s the first city I ever lived in), and it’s one I need to make more of an effort to visit more often – it’s only two hours away, after all!
Seattle, Washington | November
Thanksgiving in Seattle marked our last trip for 2021. It was a long weekend of food, family, gingerbread houses, jigsaw puzzles, and friendly competition on Mario Kart on the Nintendo Switch. (I didn’t risk a swim in Lake Washington this time, though, given the time of year – I admired it from the window, instead!)
Of course, a recap like this can only really scratch the surface of a year.
For me 2021 was the year travel returned, yes, but it was also a year of post-lockdown reunions, house renovations, meeting friends’ new babies, reading lots of good books, gardening, bird watching, cycling on my new bike, and binge-watching lots of must-watch TV shows.
In terms of writing, despite feeling a lack of creativity for much of the year, it was still the year I celebrated Stories My Suitcase Could Tell turning ten, the year I wrote 40 articles (some favourites were my interviews with Libby Page, DS Murray, and fellow travel blogger Kathi Kamleitner), and sent out a handful of newsletters along the way, too.
Sometimes, 2021 felt like a slog, with all the uncertainty that comes with the ongoing pandemic. But at other times – times like the ones I’ve talked about in this blog post – it was wonderful.
So if 2020 was a year of lockdowns and closed borders, and 2021 saw the ever-so-slow return of travel but recurring waves of the pandemic, who knows what 2022 holds? We’ll find out soon enough. For now, I’ll simply wish you a Happy Hogmanay from my corner of the internet to yours, and a very Happy New Year when it comes!