Home Travel 2021 Year in Review: The Year of Metamorphosis

2021 Year in Review: The Year of Metamorphosis


Things are changing rapidly – please double check what’s open before your trip and follow all local guidelines to keep yourself and others safe! Also, ads are how we pay our bills and keep our blog free for you to enjoy. We also use affiliate links; if you make a purchase through them, we may receive a small commission at no cost to you.

Most of my year in review posts have had some sort of theme to tie them together. The year I went full time in my blog, or the year a pandemic hit and we almost went under … you know, juicy stuff. This year? This was like the year of its-still-2020 and also the year of its-not-2022 yet. It was also the year I had some extremely unpleasant health complications. So the original working title of this post was “the year of in-between,” and then I added “and puke” to spice it up (there is … a lot of puke in this post, fair warning).

But as I wrote, I realized there were some big highlights: like, we got vaccinated (!!), and I got pregnant (!!!). And as my mindset shifted and I started looking ahead to what my life post-baby will look like, I started making significant changes in my business. I stepped way back from the day-to-day of Practical Wanderlust, empowered my team to make decisions without me, and even began sending them on trips on my behalf. I also started a whole NEW blog (because why have just a human child when I can also birth a brand new business baby at the same time?). And at some point, I stopped thinking of myself as a “travel blogger” – because at this point, am I? I’m really not so sure anymore…

So I’m calling this the year of metamorphosis. Not only did my body go through a Kafka-esque transformation that completely changed it into a foreign entity that I hardly recognized and had almost no control over (so much puke) – more on that later – but because over the course of the year, bit by bit, almost imperceptibly, everything shifted.

But before we dive into 2021, we have to do a little bit of time travel. Because I wasn’t entirely forthcoming last year…

Looking for more year-in-review posts? We’ve been writing them every year since the beginning of our travel blog. Here they all are:


Long Term Travel: A Day in the Life of a Travel Couple

Lia and Jeremy being silly on the Big Four Bridge in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. Walking the Big Four Bridge is one of the best things to do in Louisville KY.
Flashback to Louisville, 2020 cue *time travel music*

What We Didn’t Tell Y’all in 2020

OK, so, quick recap: last year in August, there was this crazy lightning storm that lit 300 fires in California overnight. A few days later, the sun stopped rising, the air went a sickly shade of dark orange, air quality was 300+, and we were all hacking and coughing. A few weeks later, deeply anxious and worried about Mulan’s little lungs and our own mental health, we hopped on a plane to stay in Louisville with my family for 2 months. Which I wrote about in last year’s review, in detail.

But what I didn’t mention was that while we were in Louisville, Jeremy had the bright idea to go house shopping. He thought it would be fun. We’d been binging on House Hunters and late-night scrolling Zillow in a pandemic-induced, fire-crazed panic, and besides, we’d talked about maybe moving to Louisville one day for years. So why not just look at some houses? What harm could it do??

Well, my friends, 4 hours of house-hunting later, we’d put in an offer on a damn house.

Why, you ask? I don’t know. Like I said, pandemic-fire-induced terror. And I mean, this house was gorgeous – a fully refurbished 1870’s Victorian, all redone with brand new everything that same year. It was beautiful, and Jeremy fell in love with it immediately.

And I knew that if I was going to drag my California husband away from Lake Tahoe and Highway One and wine country and otters to go live in Kentucky, I needed to provide him with the perfect house, or (I feared irrationally) he would grow to resent me and we’d end up miserable.

Jeremy eating ice cream at Louisville Cream in Louisville Kentucky
Is this the face of a man who resents his wife for dragging him from California to Kentucky?!?! MAYBE?!

So we put in an offer on the house. Could we afford it? I honestly had no idea. I’d been staring at my financial spreadsheets for so long I’d gone cross-eyed, and we didn’t even have financing lined up. But what harm could it do to put in an offer and just, I don’t know, see what happened? We’d have some time to call banks and arrange for a mortgage, right?

HA. We had no f***king idea what we were doing. We literally did not realize that an offer isn’t just a “see what they say” kind of deal, or that in Kentucky – unlike the Bay Area – you aren’t competing with 196287836 people who all have more money than you.

So even though we offered LESS than asking, our offer was – to our compete shock – accepted. And we were now in a legally binding contract with a home that we weren’t even sure yet that we could actually afford.

What the hell were we thinking? 2020 jumbled up all of my practical-ness, y’all. We got caught up in pandemic anxiety and fire season panic, and that house looked like an escape.

So we spent the next few weeks scrambling. I have never Googled so many things I’ve never heard of in my entire life. What is escrow? What happens if a home inspector misses something important? What does a house appraisal actually evaluate? (To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure I understand the answers to any of those questions.)

We managed to secure financing – not at the dirt-cheap rates I kept reading about on reddit, but whatever – and somehow managed to arrange for home inspectors, roof inspectors, foundation inspectors, and appraisers – all from my sisters house in New Jersey.

By the time we closed on the house, we’d spent about an hour total in it.

And then came the next incredibly stupid, jaw-droppingly obvious question: now what?!

It was November 2020, and we’d just panic-bought a house in Kentucky. But we lived in California.

We knew we couldn’t up and move right away. We had a lease, and Jeremy’s job could call him back from working remotely any day (they didn’t, though).

So, we figured, we’d just move in the summer of 2021. Except now we had a mortgage to pay. And a pricey AF California rent (which was, incidentally, double our mortgage in Kentucky).

I furiously played with several more spreadsheets, trying to make numbers work. It’s not exactly like our business was doing well – in fact, we’d barely begun earning money again around the latter half of 2020 when folks started traveling domestically again – but we were doing okay, and thankfully, we had savings to spare, since for absolutely no reason, the stock market was doing weirdly well.

But then we finally came up with an actually decent idea (maybe the first of this whole, hare-brained scheme): why don’t we get a tenant?? If we can find someone to rent out our house for the next 6 months, we can cover our mortgage and pretend this whole house-buying debacle was just a totally normal, reasonable decision we made to I don’t know, invest in real estate or whatever.

Sidewalk on Tree Lined Street in Old Louisville neighborhood Louisville Kentucky
Consider this your warning: don’t go to Zillow and start browsing houses in Louisville. Because before you know it, you’ll be under contract for some ridiculously affordable, gorgeous Victorian from the 1800’s…

Cue more scrambling and calling people in Kentucky. A few weeks later, we managed to find a property manager with fantastic online reviews who seemed confident they could rent our place out at a rate that would cover our mortgage, property taxes, and home insurance. Only they recommended a longer lease than 6 months – a 6 month lease is really rare, especially in a market like Louisville where hardly anyone rents houses (because they’re cheaper to buy)!

So we thought about it. We couldn’t do a traditional one-year lease, because that would put us back in the middle of the school year. But we could do a year-and-a-half lease, ending in summer 2021. That would give us another year of Jeremy’s salary to make good and sure we were financially stable (since running a travel blog during a pandemic is not a safeguard for financial stability), and it would give us more time to say goodbye to our beloved California.

So, in mid-December we listed the house for EITHER a 6-month lease OR a year-and-a-half lease. We figured we might need to eat the mortgage for a month or two – I mean, who moves over Christmas? And we weren’t really sure we’d find tenants at all, since Louisville is not a house rental kinda area.

As we neared New Years Day, Jeremy and I both realized something: we were actually both ready to leave California and move into that big beautiful Victorian home in Kentucky. We wanted to move in the summer of 2021. And we really didn’t want to wait an extra year and a half.

But it was the week of Christmas, so we didn’t call our property manager to let them know that we only wanted to offer the house for a 6 month lease. The office would probably be closed anyway, and honestly, who rents a house on Christmas? So we figured we’d wait until after New Years Day.

We got a call on December 29th from our property managers. A tenant would be moving in on December 31st, and they’d already signed a 1.5 year lease.

We were shook. We honestly did not anticipate how quickly our house would rent, and we really didn’t think anyone would be spending their holidays looking at houses and moving! But the tenant was starting a job in January and needed to move to Louisville right away.

Honestly, we were gutted. It hit us then how badly we’d both been wanting to move, and how excited we were to move into this big, beautiful house we’d spontaneously bought.

So we did something kind of desperate: we offered to buy out their lease. Just throw cash at them so they’d forget they ever saw our house. It was unprofessional and probably made our property managers look terrible, but we were irrational and confused and emotional. (I cannot stress how much 2020 wreaked absolute havoc on my decision-making abilities, y’all, we were a HOT MESS).

But they didn’t want our money – they just wanted to live in our house! Turns out, they’d actually found ANOTHER home before ours, signed a lease, and were getting ready to move in – when they suddenly found OUR house listing, fell in love with it, and broke the other lease on the spot. They’d already lost a bunch of money breaking their lease because they were so into our house.

And I mean, we couldn’t blame them: this dang house has a logic-bending effect on people, it seems.

So, we entered into January 2021 feeling really, really sad. In addition to two close family deaths in the very last week of 2020, we’d gotten all excited about moving back home, being close to friends and family, exploring Louisville, and living in that stupidly beautiful house. A year and a half felt like a longggg time. And so we hunkered down to wait it out.

Psst: You probably want to see the house, right? (We’re not the only HouseHunters addicts, right?!) We’ve got a full walkthrough in our Instagram Highlights – feel free to skip the slides of me talking because I’m telling the same story you just read through!

2021 has to be better than 2020, right?

Although we began the year on a sad note, we also started 2021 with hope. A new president, a new vaccine on the way – surely, this would be the year we put this whole pandemic thing away for good, right?? HA.

But for the first several months of 2021, we were in a holding pattern, like the last year was just dragging on. We were still pretty much in lockdown, as we’d been since March 13, 2020. Jeremy was teaching remotely – both a blessing and a curse – and aside from the occasionally outdoor weekend day trip, we weren’t really going anywhere or doing anything.

Because, you know, horrifying terror plague lurked in the air all around us. Casually.

But with the rollout of the new vaccines, everything changed. Because he was a teacher, Jeremy was able to get vaccinated February, and because I have a pacemaker which makes me immunocompromised, I was able to get vaccinated in early March.

And honestly? Getting vaccinated was incredible. I honestly teared up both times. It didn’t hurt, but it was just such a flood of … overwhelming relief. The mental weight that had been tethering me released. We probably wouldn’t die every time we stepped within a few feet of someone! I hadn’t even realized how much constant, unending anxiety I’d been dragging around until the vaccine lifted it from my shoulders.

I would like to personally hug every member of the scientific community who made the vaccine possible. But I guess I’ll wait until the pandemic is really and truly over.

Getting vaccinated was the first step of our 2021 metamorphosis. With our newly vaccinated status, we were able to resume a level of normalcy that felt entirely foreign. We ate at restaurants again (still mostly outdoors, though). We took weekend trips and stayed in hotels. We saw friends!! Things we once took for granted came back in a flood of happiness and excitement.

And, of course, we started traveling again.

March-July: That Post-Vaccine Life

We started with a weekend getaway to Jeremy’s favorite place in California, Lake Tahoe. Snowboarding isn’t the riskiest activity even before we were vaccinated, but we waited anyway – we have a very low risk tolerance, y’all!

As spring blossomed, we foraged for flowers and celebrated the spring equinox. Jeremy made edible flower pasta and cookies, and we dyed eggs with cabbage and onion skins. Y’all, we have been sleeping on celebrating the solstices, and I’m so into it now! It adds a new holiday almost every month, and they’re so much fun!

For spring break in early April, we made what felt at the time like an extremely risky – but incredibly exciting – decision, to take a freakin’ vacation. Like an actual trip. On a plane! This would be our first vacation since 2019 , and we were so stoked.

We decided to visit Maui, Hawaii for a few reasons. First, because it’s a non-stop flight flight for us, and I wanted to minimize travel through airports (where mask wearing is not enforced like it is on a plane) as much as possible. Second, because it was one of the only places at the time requiring vaccines or negative COVID tests and enforcing quarantine. And third, because we had a free place to stay and a free car to use thanks to a family friend.

Besides, our first trip to Maui was only 3 days long, and it really wasn’t enough! I wanted to dive deeper and explore more of the island, and get to know more about Hawai’ian culture and history.

Back in 2019 I wrote about how I travelled so much, I’d started to take it for granted a little bit, and I wished for a break to help me regain my sense of wonder and awe for traveling (lol, f**k 2019 me). Well, wish freakin’ granted. I can’t remember the last time I had this kind of excitement for a trip, like, keeping me awake in the middle of the night levels of excitement. I savored it.

I packed like 2976827678 bathing suits and we were off. The plane wasn’t full, the island was blooming and half empty, and we took full advantage! We spent an absolutely heavenly week eating outdoors, snorkeling, swimming, taking a whale-watching cruise, watching the sunset, and taking long, luxurious walks on the beach in the warm evening air. You can see exactly what we did in this Instagram highlight!

It felt like we were finally, finally getting back some level of normalcy, and it rejuvinated us both.

For the rest of April, I reveled in springtime. I sat outside under our wisteria-covered pergola eating strawberries and painting or reading. We took Mulan to the beach almost every weekend and discovered several new favorite parks.

Around this time we received some incredibly disappointing news: the owners of our home were returning from where they’d been living abroad due to the pandemic, and we would need to leave our rental.

Honestly, we were gutted. That house was the perfect place to hole up during a pandemic, with its enormous, beautiful backyard, garden plots, lemon trees, and a spacious bathtub that I still dream about. It was where we’d brought Mulan home and the first place that really, truly felt like a home and not just an apartment we were renting!

But, that’s the life of a renter. So we started looking for a new place to live – thankfully, we’d been given 3 months notice, which was huge because finding a house to rent in the Bay Area is incredibly difficult. Most of the open houses we went to were so competitive we knew we didn’t stand a chance.

One place rented out while we were touring it – the property manager awkwardly kicked us out before we’d even had a chance to see the place. Another place promised us to send us the application to submit and we thought we had a good shot – only to email us an hour later and tell us they’d rented it to someone else. We were having no luck, even after raising the amount we were willing to pay in rent by a ridiculous amount over what we’d been paying!

In between house hunting, we took two more weekend trips in April and May, both times heading down Highway One to the Central Coast (where Jeremy grew up) for a weekend of wine tasting in Paso Robles and otter-spotting in Morro Bay. Like our trip to Maui, this was just for us – not for work. This year was definitely the year of revisiting places I’ve already visited and gloriously leaving my camera tucked away in the hotel room!

For our 5-year wedding anniversary in May, we took a staycation in San Francisco. We booked one of the hotels from our Where to Stay in San Francisco post, took a food tour through Chinatown, and bought tickets to a Giants Game (major kudos to them for requiring & enforcing vaccine cards)! It was romantic AF, and a ton of fun to be a tourist in our own home.

We spent Mother’s Day with Jeremy’s mom in Los Angeles – it was the first time we’d seen them since the pandemic began, and it was soul-quenching. Being able to see and hug our family meant the world to us.

Oh, and during the pandemic they’d put in a really baller pool, which I didn’t leave for the entire weekend.

In June, we were still scrambling to find a place to live, with only a few weeks left to go. We raised our rent comfort level even higher – cue me panicking and refreshing Practical Wanderlust’s financial spreadsheets – and begged our current property managers to help us out. Did they know of anything, anything that wasn’t on the market yet? We were striking out like crazy, and we figured knowing about a place before it listed would help our odds.

As it turned out, it did! Our property managers had a tenant moving out of a place in our old neighborhood, just a few blocks from the apartment we’d left only 2 years before. The house was bigger than our current home, still a 3-bedroom, but with a much smaller backyard that was shared by a tenant in another unit in the back. Oh, and it was about $1,500 more than what we’d been paying.

Whatever. F***k it. We jumped on it, signed a year-long lease, and moved for what we knew would be the last time in the Bay Area.

In June, we mostly stayed at home, unpacking and settling into our new place. Moving is stressful both for people and fur-babies, and we didn’t want to stress Mulan out further by leaving her at home(even though she’s quite used to it by now).

We did, however, take a glorious road trip all the way down to San Diego, stopping along the way to visit family again. We booked a lovely dog-friendly hotel near the dog beach and found an awesome doggy daycare to drop Mulan so we could spend a day at the Zoo. And we pretty much followed our exact 3-day San Diego Itinerary (which was already published, so again, very little work for me to do. Love it!)

I also picked up a new hobby: swimming! In our old house, we lived just down the block from a pool – but it closed down in March 2020 and didn’t open back up until over a year and a half later, when we’d already moved a mile away. And y’all, I was so damn excited to use that pool. I was going to walk there 3x a week – as soon as it got warm again, I said. But we moved in November, and the pool shut down in March. Dammit.

Well, the minute it opened back up, I was the first one in line, fully outfitted in my beloved swim leggings. I started swimming laps 2-3x a week and within a few months, I was swimming a mile at a time.

In July, we took our first big, international trip since 2019 and headed to Costa Rica for 10 glorious days!

At first, I was nervous – traveling is like a muscle, and I hadn’t exercised mine in a while. On top of the usual traveling-in-a-pandemic anxiety, I was worried about all the usual pre-trip things. Would we be able to communicate, or was our Spanish too rusty? What if we got lost? Would there be enough WiFi or should we get data plans? Did we pack everything we needed, what if we forgot something? Should pack our stuff in suitcases or would a backpack be better? It had been such a long time since I’d traveled internationally, I felt like I was brand new to it again!

But as soon as we arrived in Costa Rica, tired from the flights and thrown headfirst into a new place where we only half speak the language, we felt … at home. Stepping into the humid tropical air, speaking not-great-but-also-not-terrible Spanish to taxi drivers, and trying to navigate our way through a new, unfamiliar place together felt like slipping on a favorite pair of worn-out jeans thinking they might not still fit, only to find that they still fit perfectly.

Honestly, it was incredible. Since it was our first big trip in years, we splurged, booking all private shuttles rather than taking public transit (honestly, it barely even cost much more and was well worth it for how much easier it made everything) and even spending several days staying in a luxurious eco-resort.

The eco-resort was a place my parents took us on a family vacation when I was 8 is called La Paloma Lodge, and I’ve been dreaming of returning to it for literally over 20 years. It’s the kind of place you go on during your honeymoon, and in fact, my sister actually did honeymoon there! (During the part of our year-long-honeymoon that spent in Costa Rica, we only stayed in hostels.)

To my delight, it was as wonderful as I remembered it being decades ago – and although it was certainly much pricier than we usually feel comfortable paying, the price felt justified as it includes meals, activities, transportation (it’s in a fairly hard-to-access part of Costa Rica).

We went snorkeling, rode horses on the beach, attempted to go kayaking but got freaked out by rapids and crocodiles and wimped out, saw a bunch of sloths and monkeys and toucans, hiked through a cloud forest, crossed hanging bridges in the tree canopy, ate Costa Rican food in a treehouse restaurant, and revisited a hostel we stayed at during our honeymoon 5 years ago. It was heaven.

I am fully planning to write up our entire itinerary, but it’s a beast and I’m still slowly working away at it! In the meantime, you can see everything we did in this Instagram highlight, and I published 35 Things Nobody Tells You About Visiting Costa Rica.

The memories of our time in Costa Rica will stick with us forever, and we fully plan to return again. But I have no idea when the next time will be that we’re able to travel internationally, because ….


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here