As much as I enjoy reading “year in review” posts from other bloggers, it’s been a minute since I sat down at my computer and wrote one myself.
I almost didn’t write one (it’s nearly February, after all), but 2020 was just too big of a year to let it come to a close without a little reflection. From a global scale to a personal level, a lot has happened this year.
It was important to me that I took some time to write about it. You know, for posterity.
The Start of 2020
Just a few weeks after I rang in the new year in Querétaro, I traveled to Michigan to help my mom recover from shoulder surgery. As I have so many times during the past few years, I felt grateful for the ability to work from anywhere so I could be with my family when they needed me.
If you follow me on Instagram, then you know that my evening routine while in Michigan consists of drinking wine and watching PBS NewHour with my mom. She makes a mean charcuterie board.
While spreading Boursin on my beloved Triscuits and sipping Joel Gott cabernet sauvignon, I watched as Judy Woodruff reported the initial rumblings about the coronavirus. At the time, as I’m sure many of you will agree, it seemed like just another news story.
I drove my mom to her physical therapy appointments, completed my freelance assignments and daydreamed about all the trips I’d take in 2020. Certainly, this would be the year I finally went to South America.
The news grew steadily more troubling, but I was far from panicking. When borders started to shutdown, I began making plans to return to Mexico. JUST IN CASE THE VIRUS CAME TO NORTH AMERICA, I didn’t want to get stuck in the U.S. (away from Taylor).
The Last Few Weeks of Normalcy
When I got back to Mexico at the end of February, we made a trip out to Wal-Mart and came home with the largest shopping haul of my adult life. For the most part, we never buy more than a week’s worth of groceries at a time, but I thought stocking up was a good idea.
Just in case…
Unlike in the U.S., there was still plenty of toilet paper. But even though Mexico had yet to report its first case of the virus, the shelves that normally hold disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer were empty.
With our house stocked, we made the decision to stay home as much as possible (which turns out to be *quite a lot* when you work online like both Taylor and I do). It wasn’t long until the rest of the country followed suit.
In mid-March, Mexico started to shutdown. As in the United States, the federal government left restrictions and mandates up to the individual states.
Querétaro never imposed a super strict lockdown, but if it had, it probably wouldn’t have mattered to us.
From the second week of March until July, we rarely left the house. When our stockpile got low, we ordered groceries instead of going to the market. Together, Taylor and I cooked all our meals (yup, no Uber Eats).
We exercised in our makeshift home gym and sat on our patio to remember what it was like to be outside. The furthest we ventured was to the corner store for water. I stopped wearing my FitBit because it was simply too depressing to see how few steps I was getting each day.
Getting Temporary Residency
I did my best to stay busy and make the most of my time in quarantine (more on that later), but as the months went by and the pandemic showed no signs of slowing down, I started to worry about our tourist visas expiring before it was safe to travel.
The 180-day tourist visa served me well for the first 2.5 years I lived in Mexico. Leaving the country every six months was never a problem. In fact, it usually worked out perfectly so I could attend a summer wedding and spend Christmas with my family.
But, the pandemic changed everything. Being forced to leave Mexico when I wasn’t comfortable traveling made me realize it was time to pursue residency.
I made an appointment at the Mexican consulate in Detroit for the end of July. If you’re interested in that process, I documented the whole thing for my YouTube channel in a three-part series.
With my visa appointment on the books, I flew back to the U.S in mid-July. Having barely left the house in months, traveling was an overwhelming experience to say the least.
Travel, something that I love so deeply—an activity I consider part of my identity—terrified me. Even with my mask, face shield and sanitizing wipes, I was so scared that I’d get the virus and give it to my mom.
Fortunately, that didn’t happen. I spent four weeks in Michigan and flew back to Mexico in August without incident.
Backpacking Brunette as a Business in 2020
As I mentioned earlier, I made it my mission to stay busy during quarantine and use the time productively.
I knew that the months would pass regardless of how I spent them, and for my own mental health, I focused my energy on a project I’d talked about for a long time:
I launched a YouTube channel.
In June, I put myself through a YouTube boot camp of my own making and challenged myself to have three videos ready for each of my first two upload days (July 2 and July 9).
When I started my YouTube channel I wasn’t sure if my niche would be living in Mexico or walking the Camino de Santiago. At the time, my most-read blog posts were about the Camino.
Rather than committing to one or other other right away, I decided to alternate between topics to see which one did better on YouTube. It didn’t take long for my Mexico content to pull ahead.
As much as I enjoy helping people prepare for the Camino, I feel much more fulfilled sharing what I know about moving to and living in Mexico. Refocusing my niche and branching out to a new medium has reignited my passion for creating content.
While I still consider myself first and foremost a writer, YouTube has opened my eyes to the power of video. Thanks to video, I’ve been able to connect with people and start to build the community I’ve always dreamed of having.
In November, I hit my first big YouTube milestone: 1,000 subscribers. About a month later, I became eligible for the YouTube Partner Program and am now earning money from my channel.
It feels good to make videos that help people and even better to get paid for it. Getting monetized on YouTube is one step closer to my goal of becoming a full-time content creator.
In order to reach that goal, I know I must continue to provide value and serve my growing community. That’s why I put together the Move to Mexico Quickstart Guide. It’s a free 25-page eBook that includes answers to FAQs about moving to Mexico, tips for apartment hunting and a renting in Spanish cheatsheet.
Since I launched Backpacking Brunette in 2014, this is the first year that it has genuinely felt like a business. I challenged myself to do something different and no longer have to ask myself “what if I started a YouTube channel?”
I still have a ways to go to reach my goal of being a full-time content creator, but 2020 was a big step in the right direction.
Amidst the global pain and suffering of 2020, I made an effort daily to find the silver linings of the situation.
I’ve never identified as an optimist, but while witnessing the tragedies taking place all over the world, the good things in my own life shined brighter than ever.
The events of this year reaffirmed my decision to move to Mexico. In March, Taylor and I talked about how we would handle one (or, possibly, both of us) losing our jobs.
The affordable cost of living in Mexico helped us to feel more secure, and we were confident we could weather whatever came our way.
Luckily, nothing changed with work for either of us. In fact, 2020 was a really good year for both of us professionally. Unlike many people who had to adjust to working remotely, it was business as usual in our house.
Taylor, who last year transitioned from teaching English online to working as a web developer, has made some huge strides this year. He’s the hardest working person I know, and I couldn’t be prouder of all he accomplished in 2020.
In April, Taylor and I celebrated 10 years as a couple.
After all that time, I didn’t think it was possible for us to grow any closer, but the pandemic proved me wrong. I’ve never felt more grateful for my kind, loyal and thoughtful partner.
We got engaged in December.
What will 2021 bring?
Well if that isn’t the million dollar question, I don’t know what is.
When this post goes live, I will have only been back in Mexico for about two and a half weeks. Taylor and I spent three weeks in Michigan visiting family for the holidays.
In a way, it felt like 2021 started when our plane landed in Querétaro.
As far as Backpacking Brunette, I plan to keep going with YouTube. I have no shortage of ideas for videos and would like to increase my upload days to twice a week.
My blog writing has slacked off in favor of time spent on YouTube, and I’d like to get back to publishing regularly here. Even though they’re not SEO-friendly, I’m toying with the idea of sharing more personal posts like the ones I wrote about being an au pair in Spain when I first started this blog.
This year in review is a good start.
While I did manage to take a few trips in 2020 (Puerto Escondido, Bernal & the Sierra Gorda), I—as I’m sure is the case with pretty much everyone—didn’t travel anywhere near as much as I would have liked last year.
In 2021, Taylor and I plan to buy a car. As much as I love public transportation, it seems like road trips will be the way to go for the foreseeable future. When we have our car, it’s already been decided that the inaugural trip will be to the Huasteca Potosina.
I suppose I will also need to plan a wedding, although I really don’t think we will do anything until 2022.
Of all the things the pandemic has changed my outlook on, having a wedding is probably the most surprising. I used to think Taylor and I would get married at the courthouse, but after going so long without seeing family and friends, I’m ready for a big party if just to see everyone I love.
My word of the year for 2021 is growth.
In 2020, I laid some solid groundwork for everything I hope to accomplish this year. I know who I am, and I know who I am meant to be.
This year, I will be (and already am) pushing myself to make my dream of becoming a full-time content creator a reality. Growth isn’t always comfortable, but I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get where I want to be.
I’ve never felt more sure about what I’m doing,
If you’re still reading this, thank you for joining me on this journey. Thank you for reading my blog and watching my videos.
Whether you came here to learn about teaching English in Spain, backpacking Europe, walking the Camino or moving to Mexico, I’m both humbled and honored that you trust me to help you.
Here’s to growing together in 2021.
Your aunt Ellen says
Wondering if you have any trip planning tools or links for such to recommend. Specifically I would like to see different wardrobe planners and maybe a little notebook with dividers for different subjects including wardrobe, locations, etc.