Surviving the year of COVID: an update on the silent months, the prospect of safely resuming travel, and the announcement of a new direction for Backroad Planet.


The Year of COVID Update featured - Surviving the Year of COVID: A Backroad Planet Update

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The Year of COVID


Things have been pretty quiet around Backroad Planet the past few months, and I am sure you know why.

No one escaped unscathed in the year of COVID . . . from those who lost their lives, their loved ones, their livelihood, to those who were merely inconvenienced.

Travel came to a screeching halt, and members of our industry were dealt a crushing blow.

Travel writers, bloggers, and influencers watched with dread and disbelief as pageviews plummeted.

I was one of those travel writers, and this is the account of how I survived the year of COVID, both personally and professionally, and how Backroad Planet emerged with a new direction.

2020 Travels Begin . . . and End


In January of 2020, I hopped a flight to New York City to attend the International Media Marketplace, an annual conference for travel writers and PR managers to meet up and discuss potential partnerships.

Howard Jennie IMM 2020 - Surviving the Year of COVID: A Backroad Planet Update

I did not know then that the flight home would be my last for a long while.

In late February, I embarked on a weeklong journey through the Southeast. I toured historic quail hunt plantations in Thomasville, explored African-American heritage sites in Hattiesburg, and viewed the works of three unconventional artists in Coastal Mississippi.

Gulf Coast Scenic Byway - Surviving the Year of COVID: A Backroad Planet Update

I had no clue that it would be my last working road trip for more than a year.

My flights were already booked to attend a black tie media event in New Orleans where they would announce the new Viking Mississippi River cruise routes. The event was canceled, and an upcoming trip to Mexico was indefinitely postponed.

If my memory serves me correctly, Saturday, March 14, was the last time I ate inside a restaurant, at Azteca D'Oro in Lakeland, Florida. As I write, I have yet to resume inside dining.

In July, Jerry and I did a sponsored day trip to promote safe outdoor activities in Lake County, Florida.

Howard Jerry CatBoat - Surviving the Year of COVID: A Backroad Planet Update

But for the foreseeable future, travel was put on hold, and life as we knew it would drastically change.

I continued to publish authentic stories from my travels until I literally ran out of content in October of 2020, with the publication of Outdoor and Historical Things to Do in Eufaula, Alabama.

Shorter Mansion Eufaula AL - Surviving the Year of COVID: A Backroad Planet Update

Life in the Times of COVID


I had decided early on that I would follow the science, honor the advice of qualified experts in virology, and abide by recommended safety protocols. I imposed these rules on myself in spite of what so many others in my circles chose to do.

Howard Voting 2020 - Surviving the Year of COVID: A Backroad Planet Update

Even while in line to vote in the 2020 General Election.

Howard and Melody at Fence rotated - Surviving the Year of COVID: A Backroad Planet Update

Melody Pittman, from Wherever I May Roam and Travel the South, is my closest and dearest friend in the travel industry. She continued to travel by her own set of rules during the pandemic. In fact, she showed up in my driveway unannounced one day, and we had a lovely visit over the fence. We are beyond ready to travel together again.

I am not grateful for COVID-19, but thankfully, I personally fell into the “merely inconvenienced” category. In many ways, for me, it produced blessings in disguise.

For five years, growing Backroad Planet had been my mission, traveling relentlessly and working incessantly managing my website and social media.

The pandemic shutdowns forced me to take a much-needed break.

I am grateful that financially I did not suffer like so many of my colleagues. Although Backroad Planet is a business and revenue was reduced to a trickle, other streams of stable income kept me afloat. The positive effects of not traveling nor eating out was reflected in my bank balance. I was able to increase charitable giving and grow my savings, as well.

Howard Walking Cemetery - Surviving the Year of COVID: A Backroad Planet Update

I developed a new routine, walking an hour every day and listening to audiobooks. In 2015, when I went full time with Backroad Planet, reading for pleasure had been relegated to the back burner. I picked up print books, as well.

As a result of my daily walks and intermittent fasting, I lost nearly 30 pounds. I am still a work in progress, hoping to drop a few more.

With fewer distractions, I tackled things around the house, downsizing and organizing, although not so much deep cleaning.

Estate planning was the task I had avoided and put off for years. Today, minus a few loose ends, the dreaded chore is basically done.

That is not to say that 2020 did not have its challenges. On a personal level, it was one of the most emotionally devastating periods of my life. And that is all I will say about that.

Pinebox


When I said I did not travel for more than a year, that did preclude trips in April and August to Pinebox, my cabin in the North Georgia mountains.

It is true I was able to get away, but I don't always put trips to Pinebox in the “travel” category. To me, going to my cabin is like going home.

Pinebox - Surviving the Year of COVID: A Backroad Planet Update

Fall is my favorite time of year at Pinebox, and I typically schedule my stay for the last week of October and first week of November in an attempt to hit leaf season at its peak. But due to a family emergency, that trip had to be canceled.

When I am not at the cabin, it is available for short term rentals. If interested, you can book your PInebox stay on AirBnB.

A New Direction


Approaching the one-year anniversary of a year with no travel, I began to consider ways to safely resume travel, because frankly, the backroads were calling and I was chomping at the bit.

It became increasingly clear that an RV would be the safest and best way for an avid roadtripper like me to get back on the road.

Although RV travel had intrigued me for years, I had only done it once, and even then it was an impulsive decision.

I saw a news story about how unseasonal rains had prompted a California Desert Super Bloom, and the stunning videography set my mental gears in motion. I had to see it in person before it was gone. Without giving it much thought, I booked a flight, rented a camper van, and booked a spot at an RV resort. On day trips, I explored Joshua Tree National Park, chased wildflowers in Anza-Borrego State Park, and hiked up Tahquitz Canyon.

California Desert Super Bloom - Surviving the Year of COVID: A Backroad Planet Update

I had an absolute blast, and although I enjoyed my first taste of RV life, the rental camper van was a bit small for me. Next time I would need a rig that would allow me to stand up and stretch out.

After more than a year with no travel, I needed to find a way to safely get back on the road.

And so I did.

I devised a plan. As soon as I was eligible, I would get my COVID vaccine, and I would buy an RV.

As I write, I have received my first Pfizer vaccine, and by the time most readers see this post, I will have received my second dose.

Stay tuned for upcoming posts including my RV purchase story, a tour of the Thor Sequence 20L, essential accessories for outfitting an RV, and my “shakedown” trip to two Florida State Park campgrounds.


I Would Love to Hear From You


I enjoy dialogue with readers, especially when they share personal experiences and useful travel tips. How did you survive the year of COVID? I would love to hear about your experience. I invite you to leave your comments and questions below, and I always respond!


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Howard Blount is founder and editor of the travel website Backroad Planet. He has traveled internationally since boyhood and lived abroad in Mexico, Chile, and Paraguay. Now his passion is navigating the roads-less-traveled of this amazing planet in search of anything rare and remote. On the stuffy side, “Mr. Blount” has been a writer, consultant, and published author with houses including Simon & Schuster and McGraw-Hill.

Retired from a 35-year career as a middle school teacher, Howard enjoys spending his time on anything that includes mountains, waterfalls, dachshunds, gospel choirs, books, classic movies, autumn, sandhill cranes, Florida springs, rain, gloomy days, log cabins, abandoned sites, unearthed history, genealogy, documentaries, To Kill a Mockingbird, castles, cathedrals, Civil Rights history, cold sheets, National Park Passports, quotes, Reba Rambo, Dionne Warwick, most things Apple, all things British, Jesus, and lists.

And on a random note, Howard is a fourth cousin once removed to Truman Capote.

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