Ah, what a year.

I think most of us are happy for 2020 to be done and over with. 2021 can only be better, right?

At the end of last year, we published a post about the travel lessons learned in 2019. Writing it was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed thinking about our travels and all the great things we had experienced. So we decided to make it a habit and publish a similar post for 2020.

This year is a bit different. Needless to say that quite a few of our travel plans didn’t happen. But we count ourselves lucky that we were able to go to the Baltics in February, shortly before the pandemic hit. Plus, we visited Neuschwanstein Castle in summer. And of course, we also learned from all the travel that did not happen, so we have a few lessons to share with you.

Stay with us, as we relive the year 2020 with all its ups and downs and reflect on what will come in 2021.

Travel lessons learned in 2020

#1 Visiting typical summer destinations is fun even in winter

Sign at the entrance of Uzupis, Vilnius, Lithuania
Entrance to the Republic of Uzupis, in the middle of Vilnius

Most people who visit the Baltics go in summer. After all, that’s when the weather is nice. You can explore the beaches on the Curonian Spit, hike through the woods around Sigulda or discover Estonia’s biggest island.

But you know what? Even though the Baltics are a classic summer destination, they are a lot of fun to visit in winter.

In some places, we didn’t see any other tourists. At all. Sometimes, there were only two or three, and we would run into the same people over and over again.

Are you thinking about travelling to the Baltics? Then find out how much we paid for our trip and how much you’ll likely need!

We discovered Lithuanian cuisine, explored Riga without the crowds and even saw Tallinn on a snowy day. You don’t always need to travel in high season or shoulder season. Off-season can be just as fun.

#2 Night trains are amazing

The Santa Claus Express Train

Okay, so we already knew that one. We had taken night trains in Asia before and always loved them. There’s just something about going to a train station in the evening and waking up at your target destination.

Unfortunately, night trains in Europe are either non-existent or unaffordable – except in Scandinavia. Even though Finland was one of the most expensive countries we had travelled to, we could book an affordable night train to Lapland.

The train is appropriately named the Santa Claus Express. When I researched, I found a similar night train in Sweden. So if you’re planning on going to Lapland, check out the overnight trains. They are a great way of crossing the country while sleeping.

#3 -30ºC is not THAT cold

The Northern Lights seen in Lapland

That’s -20F for those of you who work with Fahrenheit.

Yes, it’s cold. But you know what? If you dress up nicely, you will barely feel it. Combine it with a tour to see the Northern Lights, and you won’t even notice how cold it is.

Before we went to Lapland, Daniel was worried about the cold. I had lived in Canada when I was 16 and was used to temperatures below freezing. But as a Spaniard, Daniel had never experienced such temperatures, and neither had he seen large amounts of snow.

We both ended up loving Rovaniemi. The snow, the Santa Claus Village, the reindeer – all of it was a lot of fun. The highlight was seeing the Northern Lights, a magical experience that made the trip to Lapland perfect.

#4 Don’t let failed plans wear you down

Skyline of Frankfurt

Like many others, we had a few travel plans fall through. We were supposed to explore Brussels with friends the week before Easter. Then, we were supposed to fly to Mallorca to meet up with my parents and my brother for Easter.

None of that happened.

Instead, we spent Easter at home, only leaving the house to buy groceries. As we live right in Frankfurt’s centre, in a crowded area, we were afraid of going out too much. We later discovered neighbourhoods nearby where we now regularly go for walks, but back then, we mostly spent our time in our small apartment.

Despite everything, we can count ourselves lucky. We got refunds for our flights to Mallorca, and we also got a voucher for the train tickets to Brussels, so we didn’t lose any money. And while we haven’t managed to travel to either of these destinations in 2020, we are convinced that we’ll go there one day.

#5 You can explore the world from your living room

Woman reading a travel book

Did you know that today, you can visit many museums online? Not just that, but you can even visit zoos and national parks.

While researching a post about the best tourist attractions to visit online, we were surprised how many sites offer a virtual tour for curious people. No, it’s not the same as going there in person. But I still enjoyed clicking myself through Yosemite National Park and reading up on some of the British Museum exhibits.

We also cooked lots of food from all over the world. As we love trying local cuisine on our trips, it was nice that we could at least recreate some dishes back home. And at the end of the year, we then went into a baking frenzy and learned everything we could about German Christmas cookies.

We also dreamt about upcoming trips, wrote about our past experiences here on Top Travel Sights and edited many photos. And to top it off, we even put together a post about the best things to do when you can’t travel. Until things get better, we hope that it inspires you to “travel from your living room”.

#6 We can explore so many places close to home

Half-timbered houses in the Old Town of Bad Homburg

Since we couldn’t travel far in 2020, we decided to explore closer to home. And you know what? It was amazing.

Who would have known that the area around Frankfurt is so beautiful?

In summer, we visited Bad Homburg, a cute spa town that was once very popular with the King of Thailand. We also went to the Rheingau, a region nearby known for its vineyards. And we explored lots of places in Frankfurt.

Don’t worry, we’re still going to inspire you with articles about far-away places. Once travel becomes possible again, we have a few trip ideas. But until then, we will stay closer to home because we now have a long list of places in the area that we still want to explore.

#7 Flexibility is more important than ever

Wing view of a plane

If 2020 taught us one thing, then it is to stay flexible. You never know what’s going to happen and travel plans tend to fall through these days.

That’s why we’re trying not to make too many plans for now. We’re staying in the area, and we’re going to see when things get better. Then we’ll explore the region, maybe visit a few castles or the Rhine Valley. And if things get really good, then we’ll go further away.

For now, that also means that we’re not going to book anything. And once we start making travel bookings again, we’ll make sure that they either offer a flexible cancellation policy or that we don’t pay more than we are willing to lose.

#8 Take care of yourself, no matter if you travel or not

Ilona looking at a lantern in Japan

Yes, that one always applies. But we feel that it’s more important than ever. 2020 was a challenging year for all of us. Daniel and I can count ourselves lucky. We both have stable jobs that allow us to work from home. But even then, being stuck in a small apartment all day long can quickly get challenging.

Therefore, it’s important to take care of yourself.

This year is taking a toll on everyone and actively working on good mental health is more important than ever. It’s not a topic here on our blog, but we feel that this roundup is a good moment to remind us to take care of ourselves.

Did you know that this is also a problem on the road, by the way? Travel fatigue is real. We haven’t explored the topic much yet on this blog, but Daniel already has an idea for a great post about it, so stay tuned.

#9 Nature is amazing

Ilona enjoying the views in the Alps in Southern Germany

Okay, that’s another one that we already knew about. After all, we’ve done hikes in all parts of the world and seen lots of wildlife on our trips.

But this year especially, we loved going outdoors. That’s why we were excited to explore Southern Germany and the Black Forest last summer.

We rented a car and based ourselves in a small town near Neuschwanstein Castle. From there, we visited the castle, relaxed at lakes and hiked up to Germany’s highest alpine lake.

The best part? Social distancing was much easier outside than inside.

Even though many tourist destinations were full of German tourists last summer (everyone had stayed in Germany, after all), we only came into one situation where there were too many people around us.

I’m hoping that once spring comes, we can explore some hikes near Frankfurt. We have some fantastic hiking trails in the area, and they’re perfect for getting away from the city and the crowds.

#10 Health is the most important thing we have

View from Red Cross Hospital, Osaka, Japan
View from Daniel’s hospital room in Japan, where he spent 11 days after an emergency surgery

I know this sounds cheesy. But 2020 has made us realise once more how important health is.

This year, despite everything, Daniel has managed to join his parents for the holidays. I was supposed to join him shortly after Christmas.

Then I started getting a sore throat and a runny nose. Fortunately, the COVID test came back negative. The symptoms were also not typical for COVID, so it seems like it was just an ordinary cold. But considering the consequences, if I went to Spain and infected Daniel’s parents, I decided that it’s best to stay home this year.

Yes, this meant spending New Year’s Eve by myself in Frankfurt (though at least not alone – we were having a virtual costume party with friends). But sometimes, health is just more important than our travel plans.

So what’s going to happen for us in 2021?

If we’re honest, we have no idea. It’ll all depend on how quickly the vaccine comes out and how soon the situation improves. We have a very low priority for getting vaccinated, so we’ll probably have to wait a while.

Despite that, we have, of course, already talked about a few places where we’d like to go. The most realistic one that I really hope will happen is a trip to Germany’s Hanseatic cities. I lived at the Baltic Sea for 13 years, and I would love to show Daniel the beauty of the area.

Daniel and Ilona in Fussen
Exploring the beauty of Southern Germany

Besides that, I have the hope that we can travel in winter next year. I’d love to go to Zakopane in Poland to experience some snow. Daniel has mentioned that he’d love to visit Greece. And we’ve both been talking about a weekend trip to Lichtenstein.

Let’s see what the future brings.

Do you have any plans for 2021? What lessons did you learn in 2020? Leave us a comment, we’d love to hear from you.

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Ilona is a world traveller passionate about sharing her experiences and giving advice to fellow travellers. Having visited over 70 countries, she is always excited about her next trip.

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