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A Year in Review: 2020

A Year in Review: 2020

I usually start these yearly posts by saying something cliche like, “I can’t believe it’s already December!”

But 2020 feels a little bit more like, “I cannot believe it’s ONLY DECEMBER!”

This year has felt like 10 years. It has felt like I have lived a hundred lives and a hundred different emotions and a hundred different experiences.

It’s a year that I will look back on for a long time for all of the things it taught me and for the way it has undoubtedly changed my future.

I lived in South Korea for a year between 2014 and 2015. I always refer to that year as the best worst year of my life. I think 2020 may have just topped that.

It’s been a year of growth. Personal, professional, mental, physical, emotional growth.

I have faced challenges that I never could have expected and I have fought internally on a near-constant basis to figure out who I want to be at the end of all this, who I want to be in the moment, who I want to be today and tomorrow.

In the past, these blog posts have been a reflection of my travels for the year, my business goals and whether or not I’ve reached them, and what my future plans are for the following year.

Let’s dig into what they’ve looked like in 2020.

2020 Travels

LOL.

I spent the New Year in the UK after celebrating Christmas with Luke’s family. We flew back to Mexico City during the first week of January, blissfully unaware of what the year was holding for us, full of travel plans for 2020.

In February, we spent a week in Guanajuato, where I finished the research for what was my third Mexico guidebook.

In March, when countries around Europe were beginning to talk of shutdowns, there were still no cases in Mexico. So we went to Puebla for a long weekend and we hiked Iztaccihuatl. It was one of the best and most invigorating experiences I’ve had in Mexico.

It would be our last adventure for the foreseeable future.

We got back to Mexico City and that Monday, Luke’s boss closed the business for a week, then two weeks, then months. It has yet to reopen.

March 16th was our first day of lockdown. We started ordering everything online to be delivered. We went out once a day for a walk around our neighborhood.

For three months, we didn’t get in an Uber. We didn’t take the bus. We didn’t go on the metro. We didn’t leave our suburban neighborhood. We didn’t even go inside a grocery store. The only store we actually went inside of was Oxxo.

It was such a strange few months and when I think back to them I feel my chest tighten. We felt so afraid – afraid of the outside world, of our neighbors, of the news, of the present moment, and definitely of the future.

the malecon in barra de navidad jalisco

Escaping the City

We knew we needed to get out of Mexico City. 

Our lease was going to be up at the end of June and we both agreed there was nothing keeping us in the city. We couldn’t stay in our apartment for another year wondering when things were going to go back to normal.

So we didn’t resign our lease and time ticked down until we absolutely had to make a decision.

With the help of a very good friend and her incredible family, we were able to spend the summer in Barra de Navidad. A town I have never heard of and knew absolutely nothing about.

We naively thought, like many no doubt, that we could “ride it out” for a few months and return to Mexico City in September in order to get back to work and resume living.

We spent the summer taking Spanish lessons for a few hours a day. I wrote a lot. I wrote personal essays like this one about my great-grandma. I wrote poetry and long-form narratives that will never be read and I read as much as I possibly could. I avoided looking at my website, avoided looking at how few people were reading my blog. I avoided the news, social media, and anything that might remind me of what was going on outside of this tiny little beach town. For two months I pretended like everything was fine.

It felt like a vacation and also like purgatory.

June turned into July, July into August, and with September looming we realized we needed to make a decision.

travel in 2020

Nomadic Living in 2020

We booked an Airbnb for the month of September in Mexico City. Then we booked another for the month of October. 

A few more people started reading this blog again. My YouTube channel was somehow going from strength to strength. I was starting to receive emails from companies who wanted to work together. The country seemed like it was opening back up again.

We spent a week in Guadalajara exploring areas that we’ve never been to before and eating Uber Eats in our hotel room at night. 

Then, after four and a half years of waiting, we finally went to Chihuahua. We spent a night in downtown Chihuahua before hopping on a bus into the most stunning region of this country that I have ever had the pleasure of visiting.

We spent five days exploring Creel and the surrounding towns and then we finally took El Chepe. This train ride is one of the most magical things you can do, but what really stands out for me was our experiences hiking in the canyon.

Every guide we had, every person we met on the trails, every family-run hotel we stayed in, we just met the kindest and warmest people I’ve ever met in all of my time in Mexico.

But we knew we had to stop moving around. We had to try to stay in one place if for no other reason than to stop running from the fact that we need to make a decision about what’s next.

Since then, we’ve been in Mazatlan working and sleeping and eating healthy and walking along the Malecon trying to figure out what 2021 will look like. I still feel like I’m somewhere between a vacation and purgatory.

mazatlan mexico

Eternal Expat as a Business in 2020

Business has been how you might expect it’s been for most of the travel industry this year.

Around the third week of March, my blog traffic came to a very abrupt halt. 

Through most of January and February, I was seeing more visitors than ever before. Well over 3,000 new people per day were visiting Eternal Expat and reading about Mexico amongst my other articles about Teaching Korea, traveling to Cartagena, or House Sitting in Germany.

I was earning more than I ever had before month-over-month and I was planning for what would surely be the best financial year of my life. 

In April I made a whopping $186 USD. In May I made $215. June took me closer to $500, as people in Europe began traveling internally again.

The majority of my income comes from running ads on this website that you see scattered throughout blog posts, at the bottom of each page, and on the right side of each page. The more people that read, the more eyes that see ads, the more money I make.

However, I also make a large chunk of my income from selling guidebooks and through affiliate links that I place in this blog like when I recommend the best Airbnbs to stay in or the best tours to take. If people book those things (it costs them no extra), I receive a small commission.

All of those streams of income stopped. Many companies actually stopped offering affiliate commissions because they couldn’t afford to pay out anymore. So even if people did use those links to buy something, I received nothing.

The readers are returning slowly, but with the uncertainty of travel now and in the future, most people still aren’t making any bookings.

Even as the numbers slowly climbed back, in September and October I still felt complete and utter fear.

What will the future of travel be?

Will there even be a future to Eternal Expat?

A decade of financial insecurity was quickly creeping back up on me and I was petrified that somehow all of my savings that I’d accrued over the last four years was about to fly out the window.

They were irrational fears, and looking back at my reactions, they were over the top and dramatic in a lot of ways, but they drove my decisions for most of the Spring and Summer of this year. They consumed me. I spent most of April and May escaping reality. I read the entire Harry Potter series. I wrote fiction in my journal because writing what was really going on took me to places that I didn’t dare go.

I didn’t know what to write on my blog and I didn’t know what to share on my YouTube channel, which up until that point was such a small part of my business anyway, that I mostly let it fall to the wayside.

Until I had an idea for a video. I decided I wanted to talk to my friends that lived around Mexico. I missed them, I missed traveling to where they were, I missed travel. I missed connection.

I was getting so many emails from readers who were asking about what was happening in Puerto Vallarta or Merida or Cancun and I didn’t really have the answers. So it seemed like a great chance to not only speak to fellow bloggers and friends, but also to share what was happening around the country with all of you.

I recorded our conversations (with their permission of course) and I turned it into a video that changed the trajectory of this entire year (for my business and for my sanity).

It sparked conversations, it brought my channel to the attention of lots of new people, and it made me realize that I could still have a purpose through this whole thing. 

Since April, my YouTube channel has grown by over 4,000 subscribers (it didn’t even have 4,000 subscribers back in April and I started it in 2017!). I have made over 50 videos, I have had genuine conversations with people and I’ve even met up with several of my newer subscribers. 

And if we’re talking about Eternal Expat as a business, my YouTube channel now matches the income that this blog brings in (mostly because I’m still not making any affiliate income or selling any guidebooks).

sunsets in mazatlan

New Projects

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you may have already seen that Luke and I started a completely new business.

I needed something to focus on that had nothing to do with travel and he wanted a new project to push him outside of his comfort zone. 

We are both incredibly passionate about the environment and we also wanted to figure out how we could give back more to charities, small businesses that we love, and figure out along the way how we could be more environmentally conscious. 

So we created a business that encompasses all of that. It’s called Consciously Green.

We sell all-natural and eco-friendly products for your body and your home. For every product we sell, we are giving $1 to charity. We are working towards zero-waste for this business and overall in our lives thanks to how much we have learned since starting to put this business together.

It’s not even the end of the year and we already have over $20 to donate to our chosen charities

We’ve both been so pushed outside of our comfort zones since we started actually figuring out how to start and run this business.

We are also so incredibly excited to share this business with the world and help others work towards chemical and waste-free living. 

Finding the Silver Lining

For all of the things that 2020 has thrown at us, I have felt more gratitude this year than ever before.

I am so grateful for the support network that I have around the world.

I am so grateful to have such a strong life partner who keeps me sane, anchors me when I need it, and knows when I just need to have a good cry.

I am so grateful for a job that I can step away from and come back to at will. 

I am grateful to this country and all it has given me in the last four and a half years.

I am grateful for friends who fight to help me even when they can’t be close by. 

I’m grateful for sunsets and beaches, cold oceans, and really delicious food.

I’m grateful to all of you who read, share, make purchases, click links, hit like buttons, watch my videos and amplify this business whenever you can. So much of this year has been saved by YOU and I cannot thank you enough.

grateful for the sunshine in sayulita

What Does 2021 Hold for Us?

Who can say?

We’re leaving Mazatlan and making our way to New York to spend the holidays with my family.

It will be a quiet, at-home affair with my parents and I’m looking forward to it so much. 

It’s been over a year since I was last back here and boy oh boy have I missed my family.

We have zero plans past our return flight to Mexico which lands in Mexico City in the first week of January.

After spending a month in Mazatlan, we’re pretty sure we’re going to come back here and find a short-term rental for at least a month.

Mexico has been our haven and our home for the last four years, but this year in particular she has embraced us when we needed it most.

It has been a place I am so grateful to call home and one that I’m happy to be able to return to and continue living as we wait for what this next year has in store for us.

I know for certain that I will continue to write on this blog. I will continue to share our stories through Instagram and Facebook and monthly newsletters. I will continue to make videos on YouTube. 

I will also be spending plenty of time working on Consciously Green and figuring out how we can share it with more people around the USA. 

Beyond that, we wait. 

Karsten Elsaesser

Tuesday 15th of December 2020

Beautifully designed blog/website. Easy to read and easy to understand. This is the first website in 25 years in the US that advertising didn't annoy me. Everything is tastefully done. My compliments and good luck for your future work. Karsten Elsaesser