2020 started with the biggest bang.
3 and a half years since leaving New York to start Away Lands as a commercial photography and film business, as well as an influential social media presence, we were thriving. Through daily hard work, and a good amount of luck, we had grown this dream of ours from filming our first trip to Hawaii on an iphone to directing big production commercials, traveling the world over, moving to LA, working with some of the biggest names in travel, and building hundreds of thousands of followers. It has not always been easy - we've been extorted and arrested, my passport was stolen abroad, we've visited hospitals in multiple countries, got in car crashes and wild fires, didn't win jobs that we put hours of work and everything we had into getting. But in between disasters and setbacks, we built a steady and growing business, and lived so many of our dreams.
At the start of this year, it felt like we were ready to explode. Just days after celebrating New Year's Eve and naming 2020 as OUR YEAR, we signed with a new commercial agent, and started getting inquiries and potential projects almost immediately - things that never typically happen until at least a few weeks into a new year. Work was starting to come in faster than we could handle and we were exhilarated - this was it!
Oh, and after 7 years together, our dream Big Sur wedding was finally booked for September.
We planned to do as much work as we possibly could until September - and then take off on a honeymoon around the world. Was this the most extra honeymoon we could possibly think of? Absolutely. Our plan was 6 continents in 6 weeks - to take off from California to the South Pacific and then just keep traveling West throughout the fall. We were going to return to the Cook Islands, attend a friend's wedding in Bali, Go on Safari in Africa, trek to Petra in Jordan, island hop in Greece, cross back down into South America, and finally end at a resort in the Caribbean. We had been saving all of our hundreds of thousands of airline miles and AmEx points for this for years, and I was going to only wear only white the entire trip. We had a serious plan.
January came and went and a couple of bigger projects didn't come through, but that's how it always goes. Commercial film and photography work is always a numbers game and we're constantly bidding on work that we don't ultimately win - that's normal. Then February came and we jetted out to Hawaii for a wonderful project with The Ritz Carlton Kapalua, it was to be the first in a campaign of 5 properties. We traveled to the Dominican Republic with Club Med, Portland with Hotel Tonight, we shot some film projects here in California, we booked our wedding hotel and coordinator and photographer, I picked out my wedding dress, and we started putting together all of the pieces.
Then March came, and plans became delayed. Clients weren't writing back, campaigns were being suspended, news of the virus was getting more prominent, my siblings were talking about cancelling our (first ever) family trip to Europe, we were starting to get nervous that the next couple of months wouldn't be what we were expecting.
And then around March 15th - the bubble burst. It felt like an atomic bomb ripped through our life. Just a few days after returning from our last press trip, lockdowns hit seemingly overnight. On a Sunday, we were at a restaurant with family celebrating Brandon's brother's 30th birthday. And then on Monday morning, the gyms, the restaurants, shops, practically everything but the grocery store never opened. This is crazy! We kept saying to each other. Our March and April projects were officially cancelled. My family pulled out of our spring trip. We were of course disappointed, but we figured this couldn't last very long, right?
We adapted. We made banana bread. We watched Tiger King. We downloaded home workout apps. We bought new sweatpants - and we immediately started working on launching our online course, Master of Photoshop. I had wanted to develop Photoshop trainings for years now, after spending a few years in the Social Media industry and seeing how so many even big-time creators didn't know anything about Photoshop or proper retouching. At the beginning of the year, I had an idea to turn that into a completely comprehensive online Masterclass, with lessons covering literally everything I know from the very basics through to complicated retouching techniques.
So in Week 1 of lockdown - I outlined a curriculum, we bought some new audio equipment to make the recordings as polished as possible - and I just got to work. I recorded close to a third of the lessons in the entire course within the first 2 or 3 weeks - we wanted to launch as soon as we possibly could, to get the course out into the world while people were still motivated on bettering themselves with their newfound time at home. I predicted that after a few weeks, if this kept going on, that enthusiasm would wane. We hired a marketing team, we made a sizzle trailer video, we launched a presale, we kept going and going... and then I couldn't.
Around two months into a Coronavirus World, I stopped functioning. I just felt... broken. I stopped working out. There was just no end in sight to any of this. And when we made the devastating choice to cancelled our wedding - something that we had so much work into and I had been dreaming of for years, I couldn't take it anymore. I cried at every turn. I've struggled with depression since I was a kid, but after slogging my way through so many hardships in my twenties and years of therapy, I had been doing really well the last number of years. Usually, if I got up every morning, exercised and got outside, I could keep myself centered. But not this time.
As the months dragged on, and every source of happiness seemed to be taken away, my hope drained out of me. We kept having loss after loss - our income, our business, our wedding, our future, our plans to buy a home, even the roof garden I built was destroyed by roof rats and we had to dismantle our entire beautiful deck. Money kept pouring out, and nothing was coming in. Every launch we participated in seemed like a disappointment. We watched videos of people getting killed in the streets and supported the uprising against racist, but even that took a deeper emotional toll. How long could we survive? What is going to be left of the travel industry? Will there be any place for our work at all? Will Americans ever be let into another country?
We couldn't work, we couldn't travel, we couldn't get married, we couldn't buy a house, we couldn't see friends, we couldn't trust our government, we couldn't even grow tomatoes. I was so overwhelmed with all of the loss and heartbreak and the feelings that my entire life had been stolen from me.
I tired to be rational, I tried to appreciate the good things i my life, but I could barely get out of bed. I tried to be somewhat honest about what I was going through publicly on Instagram, but it was difficult to find the right words.
By July, it seemed like the lockdowns were finally easing and the states were starting to open up and we took off on a road trip through the American South West - the trip lasted less than a week but it reinvigorated our souls so profoundly - we were desperate for a change, for a feeling of normalcy, to recognize our own lives, to create and find passion again.
But that spark didn't last long. It felt like anything we did was met with backlash. How dare we leave our home - even if it was the safest way possible to do so, and if I was dying inside. Even when we were invited to stay at a local LA hotel, there were hateful comments on that as well. But the reality in a pandemic world is that the reverberated effects of a shut down world still seem to only be beginning. The travel industry - the industry that I work in, and love, and has given me so much is decimated, and it's an industry that directly supported hundreds of millions of people all over the world. In some countries, tourism is practically their entire GDP. There has to be a balance in it all, right? I had been trying to say the right thing and do the right thing for months, but nothing was good enough for the world. The days dragged on and on in monotony. The last 5 months have felt like if I blinked, a day would go by. July flew by, and then August, and how is it September already?
And I know that I'm not alone in feeling this deep depression and desperation in 2020. Just in the past couple of weeks, I've finally read the best description of what I've felt all these months in this Medium article: Your ‘Surge Capacity’ Is Depleted — It’s Why You Feel Awful.
Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems — mental and physical — that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters. But natural disasters occur over a short period, even if recovery is long. Pandemics are different — the disaster itself stretches out indefinitely.
“It’s harder for high achievers,” she says. “The more accustomed you are to solving problems, to getting things done, to having a routine, the harder it will be on you because none of that is possible right now. You get feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, and those aren’t good.”
I'm someone that always had a plan - I chose to pursue acting on my own at the age of 8 (I had to convince my parents to let me go on auditions - not the other way around). At 16 I knew that I would move to New York and become a fashion photographer. In our late twenties, Brandon and I put everything he had into making Away Lands happen. I've been going and going for so many years - and this endless uncertainty and loss just broke me apart.
And now... how I am? Did I recover?
I'm doing the best that I can. I started getting up early and working out every morning. I started seeing an online therapist when I just couldn't sit in my depression any longer and knew I needed to make a change. I started getting out more - going out to the beach, driving a bit around California, seeing a few friends, finding joy and happiness and fulfillment in the places that I could. I'm still not very good at getting through my to do lists these days, but I'm really trying. I published this post, didn't I?
So... what is a traveller to do in a Coronavirus world?
The hard reality is that there is no "going back to normal." The world is going to be forever different than it was in 2019, and I don't think we've begun to figure out what that looks like yet. I'm old enough to vaguely remember travel in a world before 9/11 - when you could bring your own drinks, keep on your shoes, meet your family right at the gate to their flights. All things that feel like anathemas now.
And even when we get accustomed to "the new normal" and travel starts to return, how much time will we have lost? 2020 just feels like a year lost in time. I've been mourning the complete trajectory of my life. The wedding we worked so hard to put together and never got to have. The savings we had built that slowly whittled down as work stopped coming in - but bills did not. These last years of our youth where I wasn't able to do anything I had planned. It's awful, but you have to feel it all. And then figure out what to do next.
2. Get Help
When I realized that I wasn't going to snap out of it, I got help in the form of an online therapist via BetterHelp. While therapy doesn't solve every problem, seeing a therapist in my twenties was a HUGE factor into getting beyond so many of my demons and where I am today. It didn't solve my longstanding issues, but it made them smaller, milder, more easy to quiet and live in spite of. I chose BetterHelp because our life schedule is so chaotic and it's easy to make and move appointments and be in touch with your therapist in a 21st century way, while having regular weekly appointments. There are even "Groupinar" discussions with experts on topics such as life after loss, coping with rejection, relationship communication, and the process of change. Without having to deal with insurance and co-pays, the cost is reasonable (less than $200 a month), and having an outsider - especially a trained one - look at your life makes a huge difference. Find out more information here.
For those of us that make our income by traveling, this year hit like a ton of bricks. Especially because almost no one gets into traveling full time accidentally - so not only is it your income and your career that has taken this huge hit, it's your deep passion as well. But when bills still need to be paid, it's the income part of it that matters the most. I adapted by launching my online course - a huge undertaking that I am very proud of. If I force myself to look on the bright side, that bright side is that without this crazy year, I never would have had the time to bring Master of Photoshop to life. And even if it wasn't how I would have wanted to do, I'm proud that I did. It's not easy, but look at yourself, your business, your life, and think: what are alternative ways to use and monetize the skills you have? Can you teach, mentor, launch products, blog every trip you've ever done? How can you adapt and earn in this chaotic version of the world?
4. Travel Locally
I've heard a phrase repeatedly recommended to new travel bloggers: "everywhere is a destination to someone." Where are you - and where can you travel within your own country, state, or city? Our Southwest road trip was something that we had always wanted to do, but never made time for when more exotic locations were always just a flight away. There are still so many places within California that we have never been to or shot (Napa Valley, Paso Robles, many of the National Parks and forests!) While places like this might not seem as exotic or exciting to us, they are to others. As much as you are likely in desperate need to get out and go anywhere, the travel industry is in desperate need of support right now. Book a staycation, take a road trip, explore your closest hiking area or National Park or beach or the next city over. We've found that even driving an hour away has felt reinvigorating.
In this coronavirus world, every one's comfort level for risk is different, but my best advice is to find something outside of home and your regular routine to explore. And even now, there's practically nothing safer than being out in nature.
5. Don't Make Plans
Almost every plan we've tried to make has fallen apart. Rules, travel restrictions and openings and closings are just changing so rapidly that it's almost impossible to predict on a regular timeline. We just booked our first ever flight since this all started in March - for next week. Anything farther out is just too unpredictable for right now. Have you ever travelled spontaneously? Booked a flight without a hotel reservation and just made it up as you've gone along? This was a way of travel that Brandon and I had never really done - we're both natural planners - until we started traveling with a couple of friends that had a more chaotic approach. It made us nervous at first, and then became a really fun way to travel when we weren't working. With how easy it is to plan and book everything from your phone on the road, sometimes there's just no need to plan in advance - and right now you have to be prepared to be flexible as every turn, since circumstances, rules, and regulations are changing literally daily. If you're comfortable flying, book one only a few days before. Plan your road trips and book stays as you go. If you choose to travel again, embrace a spontaneity and sense of unexpected adventure in a way you might never have before!
Did I miss any big ones? How are you handling this new world? Let me know in the comments below!
And then one day... we'll find a way back to this life again.