2020 tested our patience, resilience, and life as we know it. It made us realize the freedoms we took for granted…spending time with friends, dining in restaurants, rocking out at festivals, traveling where we please, and countless other “normal” activities. The global shutdown also showed us how blue the skies can be without all the flying, driving, manufacturing, and hustle bustle. Basically, Mother Nature sent us all to our rooms, made us self-reflect, and gave herself time to heal. As travelers, we have to admit that over-tourism was a super spreader, not just of disease, but bad behavior. Mega resorts, 5,000-person cruise ships, and cheap package tours were at the expense of the environment and the communities they visited. And while that wasn’t our preferred style of travel, we were certainly offenders of flying more than necessary and visiting touristy places that were busting at the seams. And some may say, that in 2020 we traveled more than we should have, but when your full-time job is a travel writer and your only residence is a house on wheels, it’s virtually impossible not to move. That said, we did our best to travel safely and give people hope that adventure can still be had with the right planning, precautions, and frame of mind. Like when Europe’s border closures trapped us in Poland for seven weeks and we turned that travel disaster into an epic backwoods camper trip. Or when our plan to road trip the east coast of Canada was forcibly canceled, it made us appreciate our home country. We rolled with the punches, and had a surprisingly good 2020. Here are some of the highlights from a year we’ll never forget.
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for 2020, we hosted the 4th Annual Travel Blogger Throwdown in NYC on Jan 25th. Of course, we didn’t know the world was about to implode, but we did know that a pact for increased sustainability was in order. Mike gave a beautiful speech to 100+ bloggers to raise our voices and use our influence for responsible travel, and it was met with an outpouring of love and solidarity. It has been a hard year for everyone in the travel industry but we still share that same optimism that, together, we’ll come back stronger than ever.
Buddy Goes South of the Border
Even though we have spent extensive time in Mexico (housesitting, vacationing, and road tripping) and consider this country one of our favorites in the world, we were a little nervous about RVing here. Well, let us tell you, after a 2,100-mile road trip to the tip of the Baja peninsula and back, there was nothing to fear and soo much to love! Flanked by the big surf of the Pacific ocean and the tranquil Sea of Cortez, with three mountain ranges and a cactus-studded desert running up the middle, Baja is what camper dreams are made of. We boondocked on white-sand beaches, island-hopped by kayak, whale watched up close to spyhopping mamas and babies, danced our way through Carnaval festivities, glamped in a UNESCO biosphere reserve, tried our hand as ranchers with a traditional homestay, and ate our weight in veggie tacos. See this blog for our adventures in this incredible corner of Mexico (one of the few countries presently open to Americans!)
Campervan Quarantine in Poland
In early March, before COVID-19 hit the global fan, we flew to Europe for two travel conferences and two months of exploring. On the way to the airport, one event got canceled and the second was called by the time we landed in Berlin. While this was alarming, we take pride in our adaptability and positivity as travelers, so fear wasn’t going to hold us back. We sparked up Plan B and an adventure we’d long been dreaming about…a camper trip around Eastern Europe (where very few cases existed at the time). We rented a van from Indie Campers and plotted a journey through Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, and Croatia. The first week in Poland was blissful, retracing Mike’s family roots, wandering medieval streets, and connecting with locals (before “social distancing” was a thing). We continued to the Czech Republic, and while celebrating our 9th wedding anniversary at one of the country’s top restaurants, we heard whispers of the borders closing. We weighed our fate, “Do we cross into Slovakia or go back to Poland where we have a few friends and can live off pierogies?” Some Americans were scrambling to return to the States, but for us, that meant $4,000 in flights, quarantining at our camper storage facility in Texas, and resurfacing in a country with even higher rates of coronavirus. And while staying in Poland had so many uncertainties with an entirely shutdown tourism sector (hotels, restaurants, tours, visitor centers, and not a single campground to get water or recharge our camper), we stayed for seven weeks and 3,200 miles of Polska off-grid road tripping. What could have been a disastrous time in Poland turned out to be an unbelievable journey through the magnificent Carpathian Mountains, Baltic Sea, remote medieval villages, Mike’s ancestry, and our own self-resilience. See this blog for the whole crazy story and the beauty of Poland.
In addition to the two conferences, we came to Europe for a big glamping photography gig for one of the world’s leading tent manufacturers. LuxeTenten reached out to us, as glamping experts, photographers, and storytellers, to help launch their new brand…YALA Luxury Canvas Lodges. The plan was to photograph their tents in camps across Spain, France, Italy, Croatia, Austria, and the Netherlands. By April, the pandemic had squashed all hope of this coming to fruition but then we got a call. “If you two can be in the Netherlands on Tuesday,” said the YALA head of marketing, “we’ve lined up six camps around Holland for you to shoot.” We gave her a resounding yes, despite the big unknowns of crossing the closed borders of Poland and Germany to get there. It seemed nothing short of a miracle but, five days later we made it to Amsterdam, loaded up their work van with luxury decor, and set out on a cross-country photo shoot. Styling and photographing everything from overwater bungalows in the far south to safari-style lodges on the outskirts of Amsterdam, we pulled 16-hour days and covered a thousand miles. It was one of the most challenging and rewarding projects we’ve ever done.
HoneyTrek Glamping Consulting & Creative Services
In spring, the American Glamping Association invited us to be on their Board of Advisors and we were honored to join the ranks of industry leaders. They believed our experience reviewing over 200 boutique hotels and glamping camps on our global honeymoon and Comfortably Wild journey would help their members better understand the guest experience. In addition to fielding questions and giving presentations, we decided to go the extra mile and craft one-on-one workshops for new property owners looking to create unforgettable camps. To help them and more glamping companies stand out from the crowd, we also started offering our photography and social media services. It’s been a joy working with the glamping community—from covered wagon makers to luxury campgrounds—and we can’t wait to use our consulting and storytelling skills to help more of them thrive! Check out our glamping consulting and creative services!
While it’s a serious bummer not to be able hang out with our circle of friends, the pandemic has sparked some quality family time! As soon as we got off the plane from our three-month Europe craziness, we got COVID-tested and quarantined so we could reunite with our sister, bro-in-law, and nieces for a camping trip…something we had never done as a family! We had an incredible time hiking, tubing, and campfire-cooking along the Buffalo National River and vowed to do it again in a few months with our cousins (covid-tests permitting) in the Lake of Ozarks and it was a blast! To connect with Mike’s family, we found his bro, sis-in-law, and their new camper Lucille in New Mexico for an awesome adventure in the badlands and mesas of the Navajo Nation. We saw our family more this year than the past three years combined and shared experiences that we wouldn’t have done without these social distancing restrictions, so we’ll call that a small win for the pandemic.
Great Lakes Road Trip
The Great Lakes were always a region of the country that evaded us. There is no quick way around the world’s largest fresh bodies of water, you have to slowly explore and savor the shoreline. Starting with Mike’s home state of Pennsylvania, we ventured west to the Allegheny Mountains, the National Wild & Scenic Clarion River, and old-growth Cook Forest. Motoring over to Ohio, we checked out the highly underrated and unique Cuyahoga Valley National Park and followed the historic canals out to Lake Erie. In Michigan the lakes feel less industrial and more tropical with turquoise water and sandy beaches. The beachcombing was off the charts from Lake Michigan’s Petoskey stones to Lake Huron’s coral fossils. We spent three weeks in the wild Upper Peninsula then continued our Lake Superior exploration, through Minnesota and Wisconsin, hiking to remote lighthouses, midnight mineral hunting by blacklight, and freighter spotting this great inland passage to the Atlantic.
Reaching our 50th State
After 3.5 years and 74,000 miles of road tripping around North America, we reached our 50th state! We started this USA odyssey in April 2017, ventured everywhere from the Arctic Circle to the Florida Keys, and finally made it to every single state! For our grand finale, we went big and partnered with Travel Wisconsin for a multi-week road trip—in peak fall foliage, no less! We kayaked the famed sea caves of Apostle Islands, hiked sections of the National Ice Age Trail, romped around cranberry bogs, mountain biked their coveted IMBA trails, and splashed out at the five-star American Club to celebrate in style. Get our best Wisconsin road trip tips.
3 Years in a Camper & 3,000 Days on The Road
2020 was a milestone year in the HoneyTrek journey. To commemorate our 3,000th day of this renegade honeymoon, we gathered some of our funniest, wildest, most romantic, and favorite travel stories. In 2017, Buddy the Camper joined our journey and April marked our third anniversary as a band of gypsies. It was also a year that RVing exploded in popularity for its unforeseen physical distancing and self-quarantining benefits. To help travelers looking to safely hit the road during the pandemic, we distilled our road-tested knowledge into a handy guide, including lots of resources for seasoned RVers too, have a watch. We also created an easy camper decorating video to help your house on wheels feel a bit more like home.
Comfortably Wild: An Award-Winning Guidebook!
Glamping for the win! The Society of American Travel Writers’ Lowell Thomas Competition named Comfortably Wild one of the Top 3 Guidebooks of the year! We’re incredibly honored to receive one the most prestigious awards in travel journalism. Glamping may sound like a silly topic to some, but we knew its ability to connect people to the outdoors through creative spaces, heartfelt proprietors, and immersive experiences had legs!
Island Hopping the Azores
Ever received an invitation so good you thought it had to be spam? That’s how we felt when Azores Getaways offered us an all-expenses paid tropical island-hopping trip during a travel ban. Turns out the Portuguese archipelago’s main tour operator was preparing for their re-opening to the US market in 2021 and they were inviting a handful of journalists to showcase the islands’ unique beauty. We couldn’t argue with that and embarked on a three-week journey around São Miguel and Terceira islands. With volcanoes shooting out of the sea, fishing villages perched on sheer cliffs, calderas nurturing exotic forests, hot springs warming the waterfalls, and centuries-old architecture layering on the charm…the Azores had us smitten. We easily put it as one of our top 10 destinations in the world and hope you can check out our extensive storytelling on Facebook.
Route 66 from Start to Finish
A road trip to all 50 States wouldn’t be complete without getting your kicks on Route 66. It was such serendipity that A) Our flight back to the States landed at the starting line of Chicago, B) We needed to get to LA for the holidays, and C) that the Mother Road connects the two with an iconic road trip. Despite being rerouted multiple times and decommissioned as a national highway, the 2,448 miles of circuitous road can still be traced—if you’re determined. Unlike driving the Icefields Parkway or Pacific Coast Highway, where the dramatic scenery plasters your windshield, Route 66 is more of a treasure hunt. With a trained eye, you’ll find glass-tank gas pumps, neon motel signs, abandoned classic cars, hole-in-the-wall diners, and wonderful people keeping the spirit of the road alive. The more we drove, the more 66 endeared itself to us. What could have been seen as a lonely road through dusty Oklahoma, flat Illinois, and barren Texas felt like a piece of living history and an invitation to add a page. See our Instagram Stories Highlight Reel for some of our favorite videos, photos, and moments from this eight-state road trip down the Main Street of America.
Completing the National Parks Grand Circle…with Mom!
For my mom’s 77th birthday last year, we wanted to give her the gift of national parks. We did a Utah road trip to the sandstone beauties of Arches, the dramatic desert of Canyonlands, and sacred spaces of Bears Ears National Monument, and when we wrapped up she said, “Where to next?” While she was ready to hitch a trailer to the back of Buddy, we decided that in 2020 we’d complete the Grand Circle road trip we started. This iconic drive connects Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches, and the Grand Canyon National Parks, offering some of the country’s most dramatic scenery. This December we loaded into her Subaru (a car that hadn’t left Los Angeles County in the last year) for a 2,419-mile road trip to the five remaining national parks, plus Escalante National Monument, Monument Valley Tribal Park, and Goosenecks State Park. It was so fun to share some of our favorite destinations, take her glamping, and share some true firsts…like ice trekking slot canyons and sleeping on the rim of the Grand Canyon, covered in a fresh blanket of snow.
HoneyTrek in the News
Between our Poland campervan saga and glamping and RVing being all the rage, we’ve gotten a good bit of press this year. Lonely Planet asked us to write about campervanning Europe in a pandemic, Emmy-award-winning host Eric Hastings interviewed us on his show Beyond Your Backyard NOW, another Emmy-award winner and travel legend, Samantha Brown, interviewed us about the future of travel, USA Today did a feature based on our favorite glamping destinations, as did Outside magazine. Then perhaps the wackiest of all was “HoneyTrek Goes Viral Highlighting North Dakota Gems,” when KVRR News Fargo saw our ND Facebook album reach a million people and they brought us on TV for a two-part interview about our road trip and safe travel practices.
2021 HoneyTrek Travel Preview
So what’s next? Isn’t that the million dollar question for us all. It’s going to be a slow road for international travel but we’re keeping optimistic and putting a few trips in the hopper…
Bloggers Give Back mastermind in Costa Rica. Back in 2019, we joined forces with a few power bloggers to start donating more of our time, money, and influence to supporting environmental and humanitarian non-profits in the places we visit. We’ve long wanted to do an in-person mastermind retreat and, pandemic permitting, we’re hoping to make it happen this spring! This is the time to reinvent travel for the better and we’re gonna do our part!
Panama, our final country in Central America. If we make it to Costa Rica, we might as well explore our last of seven countries in the region. Panama is supposed to be beautiful!
Eastern Canada Road Trip. This was a 2020 plan that got thwarted by border patrol, but summer 2021 we’re hopeful to road trip up to Quebec, New Brunswick, Labrador, Nova Scotia, PEI, and Newfoundland. Neighbors to the North, we miss you!
Vineyard life in Burgundy, France. Mike’s best friend from high school bought a vineyard in Burgundy…clearly he needs our help doing quality control!
TBEX Italy. Our speaking gig at 2020’s Travel Blogger Exchange in Sicily has been tentatively rescheduled for fall 2021. Fingers crossed!
A Second Edition of Ultimate Journeys for Two. This is in very early stages, but an updated hardcover edition of our couples travel guide has been met with great enthusiasm from the National Geographic team and we have an outline due next week! This would allow us to add a dozen more of our favorite countries and visit some far-flung regions we’ve always dreamt of exploring.
What was the best part of your 2020? We hope you were able to turn this lemon of a year into a few glasses of lemonade, and that everyone’s 2021 will be a whole lot sweeter!