It’s fair to say that 2020 has not turned out to be the year most people were hoping it might be. From the celebrations that didn’t happen, to the friends and family members we couldn’t see, the year may feel as if it’s slowly trickled away without many cherished experiences or events to be joyful over.

But, flicking back through the Lonely Planet archives, it’s clear that the spirit and enthusiasm for travel lives on – "feel-good stories of 2020" isn't a complete oxymoron. The themes of 2020 have been staying put, health-related concerns, and missing out on the fun stuff, but there’s still plenty to encourage us to get up and on the move again once it’s safe to do so. Here are some of the most inspiring travel stories from Lonely Planet this year.

Ranulph Fiennes on an expedition, wearing Arctic gear with snow and ice forming around his head
Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the world's greatest living explorer © garysalter

Industry trailblazers and explorers

The intrepid people who keep pushing boundaries, trying something never done before, or pushing for social change can challenge preconceptions and help us see there are different ways we might want to live our lives. Take Sir Ranulph Fiennes as an obvious example: some of his monumental efforts, such as traveling around the world's surface vertically, crossing both its poles in the process, have yet to even be attempted by anyone else since his doing so. This incredibly resilient man even cut off his own frost-bitten fingers in his garden shed (perhaps something you would be less keen to attempt yourself). Sir Ranulph spoke with Lonely Planet about what inspires him, his “holidays”, and the role of luck in his success. 

A black woman stands on a large rock above a stunning clear blue lake in a mountain landscape
Lonely Planet spoke to Jessica Nabongo, the first Black woman to visit every country in the world © Elton Anderson

Someone else who also believes that luck plays a big part in their travels is solo traveler Jessica Nabongo who was the first Black woman to officially visit every country in the world, which she achieved by the age of 35. “We’re all born where we were by pure luck. Why should you create separation because you got lucky?” Dignity and respect are central themes of Jessica’s travels, and she urges her followers to put their cameras away for at least part of their travels and instead look at the places with a lens of curiosity and a desire to understand what everyday life is like there.

A black woman in ranger uniform smiles for the camera
Park Ranger, Leigh Gardner, works at Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park © Courtesy of Jeff Hall of TN Wildsides / TN Department of Environment and Conservation

Leigh Gardner is a park ranger at Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park who promotes diversity in the outdoors. As one of only three Black rangers working in Tennessee’s state parks, Leigh explained to Lonely Planet how important it is for people to see themselves represented in a place: “It's really nice when you get to see someone who looks like you, because… it gives you more of a sense of family… a sense of place and a sense of belonging. So yeah, it's nice being a park ranger. But I'm really glad that I get to – by the way I look – give a little bit back to my community.” Leigh hopes young people of color will see that being a park ranger is also something they could consider

A man sits in a seat adapted for disabled travelers, as he rides on the back of a camel
Cory Lee's blog is a fantastic resource of travel info for wheelchair-users © Courtesy of Cory Lee

In Meet the changemakers of the travel industry, Lonely Planet spoke with people who keep diversity in the travel industry central to their goals. Evita Robinson, leader of NOMADNESS Travel Tribe, is helping people of color see themselves in the marketing and representation of the travel industry. Today she has built a community containing a large percentage of BIPOC travelers, LGBTQ+ vacationers, and people with disabilities. Also dealing with under-representation in the travel industry, wheelchair-user Cory Lee runs a blog that is a resource to help "other wheelchair users plan their future travels." He has also published a children’s book showing a young wheelchair-user navigating the world. Another changemaker is Richard Gray, Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau (GFLCVB). He says "Diversity and inclusion are part of this destination's DNA," and his marketing campaigns aimed at LGB and particularly T travelers have given a significant economic boost to Fort Lauderdale. We also spoke to diversity and travel consultant Martinique Lewis who wants to "change the face of tourism forever". One of the many ways she has tackled this was through publishing the ABC Travel Greenbook, which highlights Black communities and businesses worldwide. 

Three kids hang from the main mast on a yacht, with two other people sitting on it in the centre
Alan's family has lived at sea for over three years, and they encourage others to do the same © Alan Wood

Those living life on the move

Simply through living their lives in a less conventional way, some travelers have inspired others to try something a little different too. Alan Wood told us about his experiences living at sea with his wife and three children, and their friendships with other boat families they’ve met along the way. After over three years on a yacht in the Mediterranean, lightning storms, dog attacks and a pandemic, Alan still loves life at sea and encourages others to consider it too. He asks, “Will the recent acceptance of remote working coupled with a rejection of high density living/working environments result in a focus on the important things in life and revitalize our community as more families choose to sell up and sail away? I do hope so.”

A white man wearing a red helmet smiles at the camera from high altitude with rocky terrain
Andrew spends half his time working in ER and the other half leading expeditions © Andrew Peacock

There are those whose career has been a gateway to traveling round the world. Andrew Peacock is an ER doctor and an expedition leader, who combined his medical skill set with the pursuit of adventurous outdoor activities. Volunteering to work in the mountains of Nepal and India was his first step into being an expedition doctor. Andrew told Lonely Planet how it's not just the medical emergencies that require his skills. During one expedition to Kilimanjaro, a woman developed high-altitude pulmonary oedema. “The diagnosis was straightforward, but managing resources and deciding on the best method, timing and route to get her down was the real challenge.” 

A selfie of a smiling family of five. Each one is holding up their hands, which are covered in soil from working the farmland
Karen's nomadic family had to stay put for a while, but they still have big travel plans © Karen Binedell

Obviously the travel restrictions that were necessary as a result of the pandemic meant an end to most people's adventures. Karen Binedell and her nomadic family, made up of husband Warren and three teenagers, had been making their way round Europe in a caravan since early 2019, volunteering as they went. Naturally, a pandemic wasn't factored into their travel plans, and they have returned to the UK as a result, but they keep working towards their travel ambitions, with volunteering central to everything they do. So, if you’ve ever considered shoving your favorite housemates into a tiny space and driving round the world with them all, then Karen’s stories might just be the motivation you need to plan that trip.

Two short-haired terriers on a Venice street
Dogs on tour in Europe, 2020 © Annie Groves

From caravanning with teens to road-tripping with dogs, Annie and Phil ditched their jobs in Manchester, England, and took their pups Toby and Sundae on the road with them. Annie’s rationale is “they aren’t meant to be locked up inside all day while we go to work. They should be given the opportunity to sniff out new smells and explore too!” Much like our furry friends, small humans shouldn't be kept cooped up indoors all the time either, but would you want to take them on the road for months? Jenny Lynn and her family didn't shy from the logistics when swiftly prepping for a massive 101-day self-drive and camping adventure across southern Africa with two small pre-schoolers and no 4WD experience. Were they utterly bonkers, or, when the time is right, might their story be the encouragement you need to take that big family adventure? 


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