Reflecting on my 2021 Travels

jana meerman gdansk poland (8)

After a completely strange year in 2020 which saw our plans completely uprooted, we finally made the big move from New Zealand to Europe in the autumn.

We focused much of the early part of 2021 on seeing as much of Belgium as we could, given the restrictions and the inability to leave the country for much of that time. Then, come summer, as vaccination rates increased and cases went down, countries cautiously began to reopen with a variety of restrictions - some needing a negative COVID-19 test, some needing quarantine of varying lengths of time, some needing both, some needing neither - meaning I was finally able to check off some things from my European bucket list that I had been yearning for. The restrictions constantly went back and forth all year long, adjusting to the rise and fall of case rates, so I spent my year being as opportunistic as I could with my travels, jumping at every chance I could.

By far the hardest year I've had, this year I struggled through heartbreak, loneliness and complications, and after a summer of lows, I left Belgium in September and moved to Austria solo. Less than a week later, I embarked on a one-way flight to Portugal where I ended up staying for three months in pursuit of a fresh headspace and was able to focus on finding happiness, strength and a renewed joie de vivre. As a result, I'm closing this year on a much better note than what most of it entailed and am optimistic for what 2022 has to hold.

Despite everything, I still managed to visit eleven countries over the last twelve months - the most I've ever seen in one single year. I celebrated my one-year work anniversary in Europe; I love my job, am able to do it completely remotely and even earned a promotion! I focused on my fitness and health in 2021, continuing to experiment with yummy vegan recipes, running 300 km this year (!!) and of course, hiking in the mountains, adding nearly 100 km this year as and when I could get on the trails. I continue to share my life on YouTube, a fairly new and still sometimes nerve-wracking place to document my adventures, but a nice way to show what my travels are really like behind my Instagram highlights. I finished the year with my parents in California for Christmas, after the US borders finally reopened after nearly two years of COVID-related closures, and along the way, I read fifteen wonderful books.

Here's a summary of everywhere I went in 2021, with some of my favourite accompanying blog posts for you to peruse alongside:

1. Belgium

January - September

We spent much of the early part of 2021 stuck inside Belgium as the borders closed to all non-essential travel. While we felt trapped at times, we made the most of it by spending our weekends exploring near and far, discovering the nuances of this little country.

While living in Belgium was never something I would have envisaged for myself, I am grateful to all the lessons learned, the vivaciousness and proud stubbornness of the culture there, and the hustle and bustle of daily Brussels life, the world's second most diverse city.

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Posts to read from our time there:

You can also check out all my blog posts and our YouTube videos from Belgium!

2. Netherlands


jana meerman dutch passportWhen Brexit officially came into play on January 1st, 2021, I decided to properly look into my part-Dutch, part-German heritage to see if there was any chance at all of being able to secure an EU passport, given that my British one was rendered practically useless for all my European travel/living/working plans. So I spent the first months of the year nose buried in research on how I could score one of these nationalities for myself.

As my mother had given up her German passport before I was born, that one was already ruled out. On my father's side, I had always assumed that it would be impossible to get Dutch nationality in addition to my other two, since the Netherlands does not typically recognize multiple nationalities (i.e. permitting Dutch citizens to hold more than one passport), so my dad has never picked up more nationalities from where we've lived around the world.

However, there appears to be a way to get around it, if you meet a whole list of exceptions, such as having a Dutch father at birth, who was not married to your non-Dutch mother, and who formally 'acknowledged' you as their child after birth (with a certificate) and who had never given up his Dutch nationality! Whoever wrote the list of exceptions clearly thought it was a one in a gazillion chance that someone would meet them all, because on top of that, you also have to have received your other nationalities in only two possible ways: by birth (that's how I am British), or by living in that country for at least five years and having received citizenship before the age of eighteen (that's how I am Canadian). Oh, AND you must not have lived outside the Netherlands or the EU for more than ten years after the age of eighteen. Confused yet? Imagine me trying to navigate this system... at least it kept me occupied during lockdown!

So after lots of back and forth correspondence with various embassies in Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK, a very expensively tracked birth certificate shipped over from my parents in California and then sent off to London to have apostilled, and stacks of forms filled out, we drove across the border from Belgium to Maastricht in the Netherlands to submit my passport application. Two weeks later, we drove back to claim my latest prized possession: my third passport, granting me access for life to the EU. Take that, Brexit!!

3. Luxembourg


When the ban on non-essential travel was lifted, I used the May long weekend to escape by train and headed a few hours south to wander the Luxembourgish countryside. Having visited the city in 2017, I focused this trip on getting out into the more far-flung regions, visiting castles, tiny fairytale towns and hidden caves.

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New Castle of Ansembourg

Posts to read from my time there:

You can also check out all my blog posts from Luxembourg here!

4. Malta


Desperate for a proper holiday and a change of scene, the moment flights were available for negatively-tested passengers from the EU to visit Malta, I hopped on my first flight in over nine months for a week-long getaway to the sunny island in the southern Mediterranean. I booked a room in a large and peaceful AirBnb in the heart of Sliema, across the river from the capital of Valletta, and spent my week exploring the island - from boat trips to the Blue Grotto to wanders around sandy-coloured towns and hikes along the beach with fresh ocean swims, plus a day trip to the neighbouring island of Gozo, and of course, countless opportunities for photos; some of my best photos from the whole year were taken during this week.

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Riviera Beach

Posts to read from my time there:

You can also check out all my blog posts from Malta here!

5. Germany


The day I got back from Malta, I received my first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and suddenly, the possibility of traveling around Europe safely opened up again. I celebrated this with a weekend escape to western Germany, with a day each in Cologne and Heidelberg.

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Heidelberg Palace

Posts to read from my time there:

6. Poland


Belgian borders finally reopened to US visitors in July, and my mum was able to get on a plane from California and fly across the Atlantic to visit me after eighteen months apart. It was surreal to be reunited after so long apart - the last time I had seen my parents was Christmas in 2019 on a quick visit from New Zealand!

My mum spent six weeks with me in Europe, mostly being there for me after my break-up in the late spring and helping me to get in the flow of preparing to leave Belgium. Together we started to sort out and pack up my apartment and look for a new place to live on my own.

To make some new memories together, we spent ten days traveling by train throughout Poland, a trip that was not without its challenges. Due to immense flooding in eastern Belgium and western Germany, getting to Poland in itself was completely derailed (literally, the trains stopped running) and then as the trip went on, lots of things continued to go wrong, from AirBnbs being cancelled on us, to all our plans being upended. We made the most of it by visiting seven fascinating spots and uncovering the raw, rich beauty and history of a country that is absolutely nothing like what you might expect. Even though the trip itself was a challenge, the country was an incredible eye-opener.

We spent the trip eating yummy traditional (vegan!) Polish food, hiking in the Tatras mountains, taking one of the best guided tours I've ever experienced at the museum at Auschwitz, and hearing about the tumultuous history of the key cities across the country. I cannot recommend this underrated travel destination enough.

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Auschwitz-Birkenau, Oświęcim

Posts to read from my time there:

You can also check out all my blog posts and YouTube videos from Poland!

7. Germany II


My mum left and I spent the rest of my summer wrapping up my time in Belgium, packing up my apartment, getting my second COVID vaccine and preparing to leave. My dad flew over in mid-September to help me with my move from Brussels, Belgium, to my new home in Salzburg, Austria. I am forever grateful to my parents for loving me unconditionally and supporting me limitlessly.

On the drive down from Brussels to Salzburg, dad and I stopped in Germany's self-proclaimed cutest town: Rothenburg ob der Tauber, where we snapped photos of every adorable building, street and square we could find, and visited the famous Christmas village (even though it was September).

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Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Posts to read from my time there:

8. Austria


I moved to Austria in mid-September and spent five days in Salzburg at my new place getting my Austrian registration sorted, building Ikea furniture, unpacking boxes, trying to set up internet connections, getting three parking tickets for not understanding the confusing new parking rules and trying all the vegan restaurants in town. Apprehensive about the move, it will take some time for Austria to feel like "home".

You can watch my YouTube video about leaving Belgium and moving to Austria here:

9. Portugal

September - December

Just five days later, I set off on a one-way flight to Portugal that I had booked months earlier. I ended up spending three months there.

Based first in Porto - one of my new favourite cities in the world - I settled into the laid-back way of Portuguese life, watching as many sunsets as possible, exploring the streets, spotting the iconic, pretty tiles and orange roofs and taking day trips every weekend to reinvigorate my love of traveling and documenting it. After a month in Porto, I took a week off of work and went island-hopping first to the Azores and then to Madeira where I stayed in hostels, made traveling friends and threw myself into island life.

After Madeira, I had a three-day work trip in Brussels and found it strange to be a visitor, no longer a local, in my old home.

I felt relieved and grateful to head back to Portugal, where I settled into a new rhythm in Lisbon for a few weeks, exploring the highlights, eating plenty of (vegan!) pastel de nata and uncovering the beautiful little towns of the surrounding countryside. I finished my Portugal trip down south in the sunny Algarve, where the skies are always blue, the ocean lovely and icy cold, the mood always peaceful and the sunsets always dreamy. It was the perfect finale to my time in Portugal, and I spent two weeks wandering up and down the coast finding beaches, viewpoints, sunrise and sunset spots and listening to the sound of the ocean as I reflected back on my time here.

Being able to work remotely from Portugal for such an extended period of time really made me appreciate how I get to combine the best of both worlds: a stable job with the freedom of being out in the world. It was liberating. During my time there, I rediscovered what makes me tick, and started rebuilding my strength and happiness.

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Posts to read from my time there:

You can also check out all my blog posts and YouTube videos from Portugal!

10. Spain


While I was living in Porto, I took a day trip by Flixbus to Vigo in Spain, just across the northern border of Portugal, from where I took a little ferry to spend the day in the Cíes Islands, which was once named as being home to the world's most beautiful beach. It was thrilling to add another country to my list, and I spent the day hiking all over the island and taking in the incredible ocean views from the highest peaks.

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Cíes Islands

Posts to read from my time there:

11. Austria II


After my time in Portugal came to an end, I returned to Austria in mid-December where I discovered Salzburg covered in a layer of snow and with freezing temperatures, so different from the warm weather and endless sunshine I had been so spoiled with. I made the most of these December days in Salzburg by visiting Christmas markets, going on a couple of snowy hikes and for runs by the river. I also finally finished unpacking from my move, building furniture, figuring out how to wire lights into my ceiling, getting my third COVID booster shot and locating my missing residence certificate at the local registration office!

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Posts to read from my time there:

12. France


Ten days after I got back to Austria, I packed my suitcases again for my last trip of the year - a long overdue return to California to spend the holidays with my parents. The trip was a pretty intense one, involving thirty-four hours and three separate flights. My first layover was in Frankfurt, where I finished up my last work of the year by working remotely from the airport. My second layover was a ten-hour overnighter in Paris. This time, instead of hanging around Charles de Gaulle airport, I hopped on the metro into the city to watch the 1:00 am sparkling light show at the Eiffel Tower. Having seen the beautiful structure in daylight during my backpacking trip through France in 2017, this was a magical moment to witness.

Unfortunately, the metro stops running just before 1:00 am in Paris which, for those of us enthralled by the twinkling lights, is a real pain to get back to where we came from. Instead, two and a half hours on three different night buses finally saw me back at the airport at 3:30 in the morning, where I waited for border control to open at 5:00 am and then, after a night gallivanting all across Paris, I promptly fell asleep at my gate.

jana meerman eiffel tower light show

Eiffel Tower, Paris

13. United States


The US borders were shut for nearly two years, FINALLY reopening in November and so, after my long journey involving strict testing rules with a one-day turnaround and multiple forms to fill out, it was a wonderful feeling to be "home" for the holidays.

Aside from getting the chance to spend Christmas with my parents, this trip allowed me time to finally go through all of my stuff that has been in boxes for the past three years while I've been traveling the world. The boxes were initially in a storage unit in Vancouver as I had only planned to travel for a few months; when we all realized I wasn't heading back to Canada anytime soon, my parents picked it all up and stored it in their house in California where it's all been patiently waiting for me since 2019. I donated and sold lots of it, repacked and reorganized the rest and packed up two suitcases worth of stuff to take back to Austria that I figured would be nice to have again after all these years. Oh, plus a brand new ski bag that would bring all my ski gear to the European mountains!

We also took advantage of the quiet time between Christmas and New Year's to check another national park off my list, by hiking around Pinnacles National Park and scrambling through the famous caves of the park.

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Bear Gulch Trail, Pinnacles National Park, California

Posts to read from my time there:

In summary, I think the word I would use to describe my 2021 is opportunistic. I took every chance I was given to get out there and do what I love, at a time when that was increasingly harder to do. Despite the many setbacks, struggles and restrictions, I still managed to achieve so much this year. In 2022, being based out of Austria with my remote job that I love and with three COVID-19 vaccines under my belt, I intend to keep spending as much time as possible exploring Europe.

And, before you go, check out my 2019 and 2020 travel round-ups, too.

Jana Meerman

Hi! I’m Jana, a British-Dutch-Canadian with a dream of seeing every country in the world. I am a storyteller, photographer and adventurer passionate about documenting and sharing my travels.

Find me on: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook


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