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Our 2020 in Review

written by Sam and Veren December 24, 2020
Our 2020 in Review

Oof, it’s time to talk about 2020! In our annual review, we’ll dive into our year. We discuss the pre-pandemic part of the year (shocking to remember), how the travel lockdown affected us as digital nomads, full time house sitters, and travel content creators, what we’ve been up to throughout the pandemic (and where), and our biggest lessons and takeaways from this crazy year. We’ll also touch a bit about our thoughts and plans for 2021.

Subscribe and listen to The Alternative Travelers Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or any podcast app to stay informed and updated on our latest episodes.

Or simply listen to the episode below – no need to download anything, just hit the green play button! =)

And now, onto the blog post!

Previous Year in Review Posts:

3 Months House Sitting in Salt Lake City, Utah

We were house sitting in Salt Lake City, Utah for the first 3 months of the year. It was a very serendipitous series of events that led us back to where we all started back in 2016. We did our first house sit ever in Salt Lake City, Utah and it just so happened that this recent house sit was for the same homeowner (previously a pet owner).

Want to hear the story of that first house sit? Tune into episode 10: House Sitting Stories: Hot Tubs on the Roof, Road Tripping with a Cat, and More!

We had just lined up another three month house sit (in Berkeley, California) and we were also doing great with our website, Alternative Travelers. We actually had hit some blogging goals, which was exciting and encouraging.

So the first half of 2020 was already planned, in motion, and we were super excited. We were supercharged for the new year and we felt like we were finally hitting our stride. 2019 was a really difficult year for us personally. There were some things that happened in 2019 that we had been dealing with, and then 2020 had felt like more of a fresh start.

Salt Lake City was definitely about coming back full circle, for a couple of reasons. It was the first place that we ever did a house sit (aside from friends and family here and there). On January 1, 2016 we Skyped with the guy, connected immediately, and agreed to come house sit for him and his cat. Then on January 1st 2020, we flew to Salt Lake City, literally four exact years later!

Salt Lake City has been a really special place for us. We started our blog there back in 2016, and then we started our podcast there earlier this year. So it’s been a very creative place for us.

More Salt Lake City Goodness:

Enter: The Covid-19 Pandemic

So all in all, we felt like things were finally coming together and then the pandemic kind of just crushed all of that, or at least momentarily. While we recognized we have been very fortunate overall, to watch our business (that we had been working on for years) crumble overnight really took the wind out of our sails.

We hear a lot of stuff in the world about supporting small businesses and we see how hard it is to run a business. Of course this is nothing new, but the pandemic has certainly exacerbated how difficult it truly is.

Read more: How to Support Creators in Difficult Times

So all our upcoming house sits were cancelled, our blog and business was decimated, and all upcoming plans were put on hold. For example, we’d just released our book, The House Sitting Handbook, and were about to go full steam ahead with promoting it. Then the pandemic happened, and of course we weren’t going to be promoting travel and house sitting when it wasn’t possible and we weren’t doing it ourselves!

It’s been difficult for us to say the least, not to mention that sometimes it’s hard to even allow ourselves to feel down about that, given that there are people out there suffering much more than us. While we understand that comparative suffering isn’t helpful, and everyone’s circumstances and feelings are their own and valid, at times this can be hard to remember. Sam especially can be prone to despair.

But overall despite all the difficulties, the pandemic has made us even more certain of our life path and reinforced that we are doing what we want to be doing. We want to stay afloat until travel comes back again (which it surely will, and with a vengeance). We both value the freedom and control of being our own bosses and deciding how to spend our time. If we are despairing or feeling anxious, we can gift ourselves a mental health day. That is absolutely HUGE and something we do not want to give up.

Lockdown in SLC and Starting Our Podcast

Once all our upcoming house sits were cancelled, we were left without a place to live, which (needless to say) was super stressful. We ended up working out a deal with the guy we had been house sitting for, and stayed for two months in the basement apartment of the house we’d just been house sitting in! We detail that whole experience and time in the second episode of our podcast, recorded from the depths of that initial lockdown.

Once the lockdown hit and everything was upended, we realized that we needed to do something to lift our spirits. That’s how we started our podcast! At first glance, it doesn’t seem that smart to launch a travel podcast when there’s a travel lockdown and no one can travel. But it was something we had been thinking about for a long time actually. Looking back at our 2019 in Review post, that was one of our goals for 2020. 

So we had been thinking about it already, but when the pandemic hit, we realized we needed to do something different. We said to ourselves, let’s just start the podcast now!

It’s been a great experience, both for us as a new place to put our creative energies, but also to connect with our audience in a different, more intimate way. There’s just something about listening to someone in your earbuds that makes you feel like you’re right there with them. We’ve received messages from listeners saying that we kept them company in lockdown, while cooking, or on their daily runs to get out of the house. Others have said that it’s helped them feel like they’re traveling virtually, even if they couldn’t travel.

So overall, starting our podcast has been a very positive experience, and we’re very glad to have started it! Ironically, it was a travel lock down that gave us the push that we needed to start it, so who knows if and when we would have started it if the pandemic hadn’t happened. While of COURSE it goes without saying that we would rather that the pandemic didn’t happen, we gotta try to look on the bright side.

Check out all our episodes in the player below or find the Alternative Travelers Podcast in your favorite podcast app!

Landing in Buffalo, New York

After a couple of months, we needed to move on from the apartment we were staying in. Travel was opening back up in Utah, and the apartment was normally an Airbnb that the owner wanted to open back up to guests paying the full rate (we had been paying a much discounted rate and couldn’t afford the typical Airbnb rate).

We went back and forth on what to do, and tried to find some long term house sits were we could maybe weather the pandemic storm. None of them panned out, as pet owners were (and still are) looking for local sitters, not ones that had to travel to get there.

We were realizing that we were at a disadvantage not having a stable place to live, so we shifted gears to start looking for a longer term place to rent, where we could stay as long as we needed and leave on our own terms.

Some full time house sitters went back to house sitting at this time, but they’ve had to fill in the gaps with expensive Airbnbs and deal with cancellations left and right. We had already dealt with having to scramble for a place twice, and weren’t keen on doing that again.

After bouncing around a lot of ideas and trying different paths, we made the decision to come back to New York State, which is where we have residence and are fully covered by health insurance. We eventually landed a place in Buffalo, New York, where Sam spent 10 years growing up (ages 8-18) and still has a community.

The decision to settle in Buffalo for a bit has been a pivotal and smart decision that we’re really glad that we made. We’re really glad to have the stability. It doesn’t mean that things aren’t still going to be hard going forward, especially with the winter that’s looking to be very long and arduous. But at the same time we can count our blessings and see that we’re safe, we’re not trying to scramble for a place because all of a sudden we had a house sit canceled.

Read more: How to Handle House Sit Cancellations

We’re loving Buffalo so much. It’s been interesting for Sam to rediscover as an adult, and Veren loves so much about the rust belt city. It’s affordable, it’s lively (even in a pandemic), it’s got great food, our apartment is in a great location, and so much more. We’re really grateful for our situation here. We’re not planning on leaving until widespread international travel is allowed again, so it could be quite a while. Stay tuned or more podcast episodes and blog posts on exploring Buffalo!

Local New York State Travel

Just because widespread travel hasn’t really been allowed (or if allowed, responsible) for most of the year, doesn’t mean we’ve stopped traveling! Local travel is absolutely possible and a great thing to do to get out of the house.

We’ve been busy bees exploring Buffalo and the surrounding areas. There are so many things to do in this underrepresented area. We also have made a couple trips to New York City to do some house sitting and visit my dad’s side of the family who’s all in New York City.

Read more: Tips for House Sitting During a Pandemic

We still have a lot of close friends there too, so we’re doing that, following all the safety precautions (getting tested, seeing people outside, wearing a mask, etc.). We basically drove from our isolation chamber in Buffalo to another isolation chamber in NYC, so our contact with other people has been very low.

But we realized that it can be very difficult, especially for Sam, to just be cooped up all the time, especially in winter. Mental and emotional health is important, and so we have been going for hikes, safely visiting friends and family, and practicing a lot of self care.

Lessons Learned from 2020

Our biggest lesson from 2020 has been to truly prioritize mental and emotional health and practice self care. Its never too late to do that.

Prioritizing your mental and emotional health is not something that you figure out and get done, and then you don’t have to work on it anymore. It’s a constant refining of things. People change, things change you over the passage of time, whether you have to confront aging, whether you have to confront a change in situations, whatever it is. Things change and with that you change. Your values might change and you need to kind of stay on top of those things.

Taking care of yourself is the one thing that’s gonna always be with you. No matter what else happens in life, you’re still gonna be there with yourself. That is the one constant. So you better learn how to live with yourself and take care of yourself, because there might be times when no one else is or can. People have different things going on in their lives, and when it comes down to it, you’re the person that you got to rely on. That can be really difficult.

So we’ve definitely put more self-care practices into place this year.

If you want to help make the world a better place, you’ve got to take care of yourself first and foremost. Only then you can help take care of other people. It can’t be the other way around. So don’t beat yourself up for struggling with things. Everybody’s got their struggles.

The pandemic has forced lots of us to look inward and realize that that self care wasn’t high on our list of priorities. It’s really easy to bury ourselves in work. Most Americans are workaholics. A lot of us could choose to work less and still get all our basic needs met, but don’t do that. We just keep working more and more over time.

So if there’s one takeaway from this post, it’s this: take care of yourself!

Pssst… want part 2 of our year in review? Join our Patreon community, where we share exclusive bonus content, every month!

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