Looking back, this year seemed like I did nothing but slip on unicorn poop: It was something that no one should have to experience. But was it?
I remember January when I started to pack my snow pants for Iceland and my safari-binoculars for a spring trip to South Africa. Then in the summer, I planned to head off to the USA to see my boyfriend and spend a few months with him. Just hop on an airplane and zip off. Like I always do.
Who could have known that there was a small, rotten little bat in China that had different plans for me? Who could have known that I would have to escape like a shot to Canada one night? Who could have known that in a world without apparent boundaries, it would suddenly be illegal to see your partner living in a different country? Who could have known that instead of traveling to glaciers and giraffes, I would end up driving 2,500 miles alone across Germany and later going to the Caribbean where I hung out with pink flamingos?
I remember also how I was so desperate and depressed in the spring that I did not even want to get out of bed in the morning anymore. And how I screamed at the moon on one hot summer night on my balcony while sipping a glass of wine. Or three. And how I threw my passport across the airport when I was finally reunited with my boyfriend of four long months of separation.
Oh, and then there was this thing with the book. The book I had always wanted to write, but figured that nobody would ever read, or even want to publish. But…?
This is my personal, dramatic, and thoughtful review of the year 2020: A huge Mess with Colorful Sprinkles. If my life were a movie, this year would be so unbelievable and crazy that it would be relegated to a midnight showing on the SciFi channel.
January 2020: Surprise! I am still a successful freelance copywriter and for photographer. I have been on my own for two years now and I am not broke or even banging on doors pleading for jobs. Quite the contrary. Quitting the day job and taking on life as a digital nomad is the best decision I have ever done. Well, next to deciding not to pay for 73 cents worth of milk with a $100 bill. I take off all the decorations from my Christmas tree, and then unscrew the tree itself, and store it all away. Artificial trees come in handy when you are not sure where you will be spending next Christmas.
February 2020: It is the evening of my birthday. I fly to the USA in the morning to see my boyfriend for two weeks. I celebrate with some of my close friends. There is only half an hour of sleep after cleaning up from the party until I arise to catch my 27-hour flight. But it works.
It is winter in Wyoming. My boyfriend and I rent a snowmobile and hurtle through Yellowstone National Park where it is only 7°F. As we stand by the side of the road, unable to move any further away, a group of bison pass by six feet from us. It is truly magical! We also get partner tattoos. Rings are okay, but we want something more permanent, things which cannot be tossed when life gets rugged.
March 2020: Life gets rugged. We had planned to go on a road trip to Iceland in March. But suddenly the virus from China appeared and I thought that it will simply be one of those bird-swine-flu things that will soon be forgotten.
Within a few days, this evil plague has spread all over Europe and the entire world. People seem to be dying like flies, and in Italy they are carrying out bodies by the truckload. The USA imposes a travel ban on Europeans. Then the EU imposes a travel ban on Americans. Great Scott! What next?
It is Sunday evening, and I am in the car with my dad driving. The news on the radio announces that Germany is going to close its borders with its neighboring countries. I have a meltdown. I scream and cry nonsense to my best friend on the phone. Then I apply for an immediate visa to Canada and book a flight to Calgary for the next day. On a whim.
Canada is still allowing both Europeans and Americans into their country. I feel this may be my last chance to see my boyfriend. The next morning, I grab my credit card, my passport, and my laptop and rush off at dawn to the airport in Frankfurt. I have no idea when I will return. Meanwhile, my boyfriend drives almost 650 miles to meet me in Calgary. (The whole crazy story of my escape can be found here.)
We now spend two totally wonderful weeks quarantined together in Canada. We enjoy the entire time, despite the omnipresent insecurity triggered by the new viral disease, and the widespread panic from the sudden shortage of toilet paper.
Then my boyfriend and I try to cross the border in his car into the USA. But the rules changed while we were isolating ourselves in Canada. I am denied entry into the USA, despite my 14-day quarantine. Now they are only allowing citizens of the USA and their spouses into the country. I am a German citizen, and we are not yet married. So, I am not allowed in. My boyfriend has to go back to the USA because of urgent family matters. We are separated at the border and my heart feels as is it is being ripped open. I feel like burning my German passport, screaming to the heavens (yet another time), and throwing myself into the icy Bow River in Calgary.
April 2020: I am back in Germany and feel like someone’s barfed up pizza. Iceland is cancelled. I toss my safari-binoculars under my bed as I cancel South Africa. But I still have hope of traveling in May for the summer to be with my boyfriend in the USA. I hope the world will be a wonderful place once more.
Then life slaps me with yet another insult: Many of my clients in the tourism and event business are in lockdown. Some of my scheduled jobs simply evaporate. When you are self-employed, your income disappears along with the jobs.
I sit in my apartment and stare out of the window. I cannot now follow my passion of traveling, even in Germany itself travel is restricted. I cannot see my boyfriend in the USA as the borders are closed with no opening in sight. I cannot earn an adequate income as my job has gone to hell, along with my entire life. But I do finally have time to finish this stupid book I am writing about my solo trip through the USA in 2017. Although I know that no one will ever publish it. No one will ever read it.
May 2020: My summer flight to the USA is cancelled. The border closures between the USA and the EU continue with no end in sight. When I realize what that means, something just breaks inside of me. I am feeling like a bobblehead on the dashboard as the car shoots too quickly over a speed bump. I think it is my joy of life that has been smashed to smithereens.
I continue to work on the few jobs I have left. I try to eat, but everything seems to taste no better than cardboard. I just sit lingering for hours on the couch. Someone visits and I manage a smile and am temporarily distracted. But then I start to cry. Again. And then the headaches start. And the anger. Yes, I slowly am starting to become angry. What is wrong with this rotten world? Is it going to be like this forever?
Despite my bitter mood, my boyfriend convinces me to send my stupid book, now finished, off to several agents to see if they will represent me. But I already know that the effort is futile. The agencies get 150 manuscripts every day from wannabe authors and they just use them for basketball practice with the trash can. Without reading them.
Then I get a note from one of the agencies in Berlin. They actually want to represent me in finding a publisher! I am so surprised as I open their email that I spit out my cornflakes.
But I still cannot travel, even in my own country. All the hotels and Airbnb’s are shut down. I feel trapped and still angry at the situation. I am considering buying a tent and going to camp in the forest.
Then near the end of the month, Chancellor Merkel announces that travel accommodations will be allowed to open again. I immediately find my backpack, car keys, and a map and I begin to plan a big road trip to Bavaria in southern Germany. I really have to get out of here!
June 2020: I am driving all the way down to Bavaria. Alone. My first stop is Garmisch-Partenkirchen for visits to Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze, and to the famous fairy-tale castle of Neuschwanstein.Next, I travel to Berchtesgaden where I visit its turquoise Königssee Lake.
Then I head to the former East Germany to find the beautiful Bastei Bridge in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Saxony. This bridge has been on my bucket list for a long time. My next stop is Dresden to visit a pen pal that I have written to for several years, then off to visit relatives that I have not seen since I was a baby.
Although this was the end of my planned journey, I am finding this so exciting, I just decide to keep on travelling to the Baltic sea in the north and visit the chalk cliffs on the Island of Rügen. On the way back home in the west of Germany, I stop at the home of some really nice friends.
After 2,500 miles, all four compass quadrants of Germany, and one month, I am back home. I am now filled with happiness, free, and ready to conquer the world if necessary, in order to make it possible to see my boyfriend again. Let’s GO!
July 2020: I stumble across the Facebook group “Couples separated by Travel Bans”. It already has more than 11,000 members. Suddenly I realize I am not alone in my situation. Many couples begin to report that Croatia has opened its borders to both Europeans and Americans. My boyfriend and I begin to figure out the necessary details needed to soon meet.
We book flights. My boyfriend has to have a recent COVID-19 test before he enters Croatia. We have been separated now for four months. The #loveisnottourism movement is making more and more noise around the globe. Of course, travelling as a tourist for fun is not the smartest thing to do in a pandemic, but serious relationships are NOT tourism, by gosh!
August 2020: It is the night before my flight to Croatia. My boyfriend is already flying across the Atlantic. I am so nervous that I am on my balcony, yelling at the moon at 11:00 PM. Luckily, I live on the countryside and my neighbors already knew I was prone to be a bit on the nutso side at times.
The next morning, I am riding to the Frankfurt Airport where I am to meet him so we can fly together to Croatia. Americans cannot stop in Germany, but they are allowed to transit through the airport to other countries. Crazy world!
When I finally spot him at the airport, after four months of separation, uncertainty, and panic, I am so excited that I drop my passport and jump into his arms. Crazy! It is like the fall of the Berlin Wall in my heart.
We spend two and a half incredibly wonderful weeks on a road trip across Croatia, finding turquoise lakes, many beautiful waterfalls, a spooky cottage, a balcony where we eat pizza over the rooftops of the city of Split, and lots of love.
September 2020: I am back in Germany for a large photo job, but now I want to go all out. I want to enter the USA this year to be with my boyfriend. I hope I will be able to spend Christmas with him. I am so tired of short, two-week solutions.
But how can I do that with the border closures? It turns out that the USA does not ban Germans, but simply people who have been in Europe during the previous two weeks. But if you are European and have not been in Europe during the previous 14 days, you can legally enter the USA. All this stems from the number of cases of COVID-19 that was running rampant through Europe in March. Of course, the dude in the USA with the orange face continues to ignore the fact that the number of cases went way down in Europe during the summer. But why change a travel ban that you secretly wanted to impose for a long time? Even before the virus sprung up.
I look at the short list of countries that will allow me entry and that are also allowed into the USA. The list contains, among others, Aruba, an island in the Caribbean. Hmmm. There are worse choices.
Not allowing grass to grow under my feet—again—I am on a plane to Aruba by mid-September. I now spend two weeks in paradise, although alone. Here I can swim with flamingos, run all over the backcountry in a Jeep, and snorkel with the tropical fish. The world-wide state of disaster and I seem to have found a way to coexist quite well. I thank heaven once again that I can work from the road.
October 2020: After my 14 days in Aruba, I am standing in the middle of a tropical storm waiting for them to open the doors of the terminal building. By the time I make it to the US immigration area, I, and all the other waiting passengers, are soaked and the terminal building is flooded.
On Aruba, they have a “pre-clearance” where you pass through immigration before you leave the island, and you arrive in the US as if the flight had originated in the US. How practical! Still, my heart is racing because I was called in to a room for a second screening and a horrible interview when I arrived in Minneapolis from Europe in 2019. But this time, the officer has only three short questions, and I am in! I am in the USA! Unbelievable.
Now my fear of flying and the storm still raging outside are only minimal annoyances.
2020 has finally put many things into perspective for me. I found that it is not a given that you can always see your loved ones. It is not a given that you can travel. It is not a given to be healthy. My old fears are now just a distant and blurry mirage.
Twelve hours and three flights later, I finally arrive in the Rocky Mountains at my boyfriend’s home. Hallelujah! A few days later we celebrate our second anniversary. I am so glad that we did not toss anything when life got rugged.
November 2020: During the fall, we spend a wonderful time in the mountains, in Yellowstone, and on endless roads. We hike, talk, laugh about silly things, and simply enjoy being together. We had wanted to be together in Germany for Christmas. Germany now has an exemption for foreign partners so they can enter the country despite the border closures.
But the COVID-19 cases in Europe begins to shoot up. I cancel my flight. I have fought the virus now for months and I just want to be with my boyfriend in peace, without constant worry. While in the Rockies, I experience my first Thanksgiving.
In all the hustle and bustle of the USA, I have almost forgotten about my book. My agent had sent my book synopsis to several publishers. That was weeks ago and of course I have not heard anything. But that was to be expected. Who wants to publish a travel book during the pandemic? Especially one written by me?
I grump about it. I tell my boyfriend that I will never write anything again. Almost the next day I get an email from my agent. I spit out my cornflakes as I read it—again. There is a publisher interested in my book. A well-known and respected publisher. Alas. I cannot yet tell you more details right now. ;) But it is truly a long-standing dream come true. I will be an author next year. An author of a published book. Officially! Holy smokes.
December 2020: We bake Christmas cookies together that mysteriously seem to disappear rapidly. It is snowing and the temperature drops to below zero. But in our house, it is cozy as we sit between our small Christmas tree and paper lanterns.
Even though Germany is going into a hard lockdown, everything here remains open. There is supposed to be a mask requirement inside stores, but it is widely ignored. So, we just keep away from people. It would be very silly to die right now, after all that has happened this year.
A few days before Christmas, I get the confirmation that a big copywriting job will continue for another two years. That means I will have at least a minimal income for the next two years, even if I do not find any more work. That means also that I can work from the road for two more years without being broke or even banging on doors pleading for jobs.
I will stay in the USA until mid-January. Then I will fly back to Germany to avoid using up too many days of my US visa in 2021. I will finish my book’s manuscript by spring. I hope that my boyfriend can come to Germany for a while, but I am not making big plans right now. I have discovered that life happens. No matter what.
2020—A huge mess with colorful sprinkles. This was a year during which a load of shite happened, but also a load of great stuff. I have learned to be more grateful for things that happen. I am more laid-back. And I have found that when I throw everything into my plans, I am able to achieve almost anything. Instead of giving up, I do not hide, but rather I fight for things I believe in. Even when life gets rugged and I have to yell at the moon.
I wish you a happy 2021.
Thanks to everyone who constantly, or every now and then, or just once by accident, read my blog. It is my passion. Not just to share my adventures with you, but also my spirit. And to share encouragement, happiness, hope and laughter with you—and even to kick your ass so you may be able to for your own wishes and dreams. You can do it!