2020 - The COVID year in travel - Rusty Compass travel blog

2020 - The COVID year in travel

| 20 Jan 2021
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20 Jan 2021

How do you make sense of a year like 2020? There were lockdowns, travel was wiped out globally, there was political chaos. I had a few unexpected personal challenges too.

My 2020 was first impacted by COVID with the collapse of the travel industry. I was in Sydney when the pandemic really started to take hold around the world. 11 months later, I'm still here.

This is longest time I've spent in Australia for 30 years. The longest I've been away from Vietnam in 30 years. The first time I've been redundant ever.

June 2020 marked the 30th anniversary of my first visit to Vietnam. I missed it. I was in hospital recovering from my own personal medical catastrophe.

On May 4, after a magnificent swim in Sydney Harbour at Neilsen Park, I headed home for dinner. Soon after, I felt some discomfort. At first I thought I'd overdone the baked potatoes.

Eight hours later, the pain was worse. I decided to head up to Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. I had no idea how serious things were. I had an aortic dissection that would kill me in a few hours without urgent surgery. It was on.

You can read more in previous blogs about this experience.

Happily, I dodged death. I was very lucky. And I received amazing treatment from wonderful compassionate professionals at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney. And wonderful care from family and friends. That was a life changing experience in so many ways.

Not a well pup... but in excellent hands. Aortic dissection. Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Sydney.
Photo: Joe Nash Not a well pup... but in excellent hands. Aortic dissection. Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Sydney.


Since then I've been recovering. I'm happy to say I feel great now. I'm swimming, cycling and walking again. So much to be grateful for.

My health disaster just added another level to the craziness of this crazy year.

But here in Sydney, we were spared the worst of the COVID catastrophe. Cases and deaths have been kept in check. Our lives have been far from normal, but far from impacted like those in Europe and North America. We've been lucky.

My other home, Vietnam, has also done very well. Life is near normal there. The Old Compass Cafe is quiet but open. I can't wait to get back.

There are some big lessons to learned from COVID about government, trust, competence and culture.

As 2020 ended, I felt mostly grateful. Grateful to be alive. Grateful to be in Australia. Grateful for the quality of life I enjoy - even in a global crisis. I even got to make my first visit to Tasmania. It was breathtaking.

Tasmanian beauty
Photo: Mark Bowyer Tasmanian beauty
Getting to know Sydney again.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Getting to know Sydney again.


I produced a video on the momentous year of 2020 that I've posted above.

January is already rushing by. And plenty has already happened. The US is a mess - even before you think about COVID. We're all gonna need that country to sort itself out. A broken US will impact all of us. The lies, broken trust and dysfunction that have surfaced in America can take root anywhere - especially where profound economic injustice is combined with the poison dispensed by Australia's very own Murdoch family.

May 2021 be a year of healing. And remembering the glue of justice and tolerance that creates harmonious, functional societies.

It seems likely that we'll get to travel again sometime in 2021. It may be a way off.

But we probably won't ever return to 2019 travel habits. And that might be a good thing. Some of the lessons of 2020 in favour of local travel and local neighbourhoods will be worth holding on to. And a more environmentally conscious travel movement may be coming too.

Thanks for staying in touch through 2020 and for the kind messages when I was unwell. May 2021 bring better things to all!


Australia, Sydney

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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