"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

2020: The Highs & Lows of a Nomadic Travel Blogger.

2020 The Highs and Lows of a nomadic Travel Blogger.

2020: The Highs & Lows of a Nomadic Travel Blogger.

I’ve never done a post like this before, so you’ll have to bear with me. Truly, I hardly know where to start. Except to say, and forgive my language…

What a f****ing crazy year!

It blows my mind to think that a year ago today, right at the very moment you read these words, I was flying from Scotland to Cambodia. For a myriad of reasons, I felt incredibly excited. First and foremost, Sladja and I were going to spend a whole month together, the longest period so far of our young, blossoming relationship. She was coming from China a few days later and we had lots of travel projects planned.

2020 The Highs and Lows of a Nomadic Travel Blogger.

2020: The Highs & Lows of a Nomadic Travel Blogger.

Moreover, after years of daydreaming about it and six months carefully laying the groundwork, I was… at long last… a fully independent digital nomad! I could work in the comfort of my own apartment in the country of my choice. Finally, I would have the time to develop Leighton Travels from a fun hobby into something more substantial.

From Cambodia I was going to head for Laos, then Myanmar, perhaps a month or two in Nepal towards the end of the year. When Sladja finished her teaching contract in China she could come and join me and we’d travel the world together. Yes sir, we had it all figured out. No wonder I was so giddy when I exited the airport at Siem Reap on January the 1st.

2020: The Highs & Lows of a Nomadic Travel Blogger.

Leighton Travels Cambodia travel blogger.

You wanna tuk tuk?

Within a matter of weeks the world had turned upside down. It went from, “Oooh there’s a virus in China” to a rapid, unstoppable global outbreak. Suddenly, thousands of people were fleeing Siem Reap. As Sladja and I weighed up our limited options, her school got in touch, telling her she couldn’t come back because the city was closed. Instead, she should sit tight in Cambodia “until things improve”.

I won’t go into all the details of those stressful weeks. Of how we were determined to stay together, but found giant, immobile obstacles at every turn. Of how we lost money on a flight and how I sustained a second degree burn to one of my fingers due to a cooking mishap.Rather, I’ll save it for a future short story collection about our time in Cambodia. What I will say, is that our eventual, almost accidental decision to stay in Siem Reap and sit things out was the best thing that could’ve happened to us.

Apsara Greenland Boutique.

Living the Dream at Apsara Greenland Boutique Hotel

Apsara Greenland Boutique, Siem Reap.

I’ll be honest with you, we were pretty scared in those early months. Having decided to largely self isolate, we subsequently decamped to an incredible boutique hotel called Apsara Greenland. The people at Apsara really looked after us, going above and beyond to create a cocoon from which we could happily hibernate. Mr. So… Mr. Kim…. we’ll never forget your kindness.

The management team at Apsara Greenland Boutique Hotel

2020: The Highs & Lows of a Nomadic Travel Blogger.

For three months we slept, swam, ate and watched a shit load of movies. The rest of the time, I worked on the blog. I began the long and arduous process of rewriting and redesigning my travel reports and short stories. There were (and still are) hundreds to do, hence it certainly kept me busy. In time, Sladja became my proofreader, idea bouncer and all round confidante.

2020 Nomadic travel blogger.

Sladja working her magic.

Together, we  came up with the idea of writing a series on The Cafes & Restaurants of Siem Reap. The focus firmly on expat and local business owners, their life stories and the devastating effect of the pandemic on their livelihoods. It was the most rewarding travel work I’ve ever done, as we got to meet a bunch of inspirational people. Folk who gave us some perspective on our own, so-called difficulties.

Som Sovannary Ivy Guesthouse Siem Reap.

Meeting Som Sovannary at Ivy Guesthouse, Siem Reap.

Furthermore, I was both surprised and humbled when one of Britain’s most successful travel blogs Global Grasshopper asked me to write a guest post based on the series. It was an incredible amount of work, keeping me occupied around the clock. But hey, I had literally nothing but time.

2020: The Highs & Lows of a Nomadic Travel Blogger.

Leighton Thomas on Global Grasshopper.

Eventually, Sladja got an online teaching job and we found ourselves even busier. From the outside, we seemed to be living the dream. But of course it wasn’t all plain sailing. Wifi concerns constantly threatened our online income and the good relationships we’d forged with our employers. One week, we were both feeling under the weather and for a hairy day or two we began wondering if we’d been infected.

Then, Sladja’s tourist visa expired and for a while there was much confusion over the legality of her status. In the end, the Cambodian government announced a waiver on all stranded tourists and we breathed an almighty sigh of relief.

Teaching English online with Freebao.

Sladja and Elmo waiting for a student.

By the summer we were starting to feel more relaxed about the virus. There was very little Corona working its way around Cambodia and we felt confident we could keep ourselves safe while out and about. As a result, we resumed our forensic explorations of Siem Reap Province, now virtually devoid of tourists. These were some amazing adventures, particularly the day we spent discovering the deserted, ancient temple ruins of Koh Ker. All the while, I kept on developing Leighton Travels, including my finished 34 article guide to Siem Reap.

2020: The Highs & Lows of a Nomadic Travel Blogger.

Killer views from halfway up the Pyramid Temple in Koh Ker

Koh Ker, Cambodia.

In late July we decided a change of scenery was in order. After seven months in Siem Reap, we hired a private car and made the cross country trip to the sleepy, southern outpost of Kampot. There, Sladja and I continued our lives as digital nomads. Teaching, blogging, exploring, movies, repeat.

Like Siem Reap, Kampot has been devastated by COVID-19. Thus there were mixed emotions during our two months in the region. I’ll be publishing my guide to Kampot and the seaside town of Kep in the new year, hopefully mid to late January.

What to See and Do Kampot Cambodia.

Bokor National Park, Kampot.

In mid September, we reluctantly agreed that our time in Cambodia was drawing to a close. We both had health concerns, which couldn’t be dealt with locally. There was also the case of Sladja’s passport, which had now edged into its final six months.  Once again our research revealed very few countries we could travel to together.

Luckily, Sladja’s home country Serbia was one of them. With no entry restrictions, I’d be able to enter visa free for 90 days! After that, I’d need to be out of Serbia for 90 days but hey, we’d cross that bridge when we came to it.

Singapore Airlines.

2020: The Highs & Lows of a Nomadic Travel Blogger.

Finding a way to Belgrade was a nightmare. For weeks we saw nothing but no route found messages, cities we couldn’t transit in and astronomical prices. Not to mention the fact that everything seemed to be changing on a daily basis. And then, one afternoon, hallelujah!!! We found a set of reasonably priced flights from Phnom Penh to Istanbul, via Singapore. From the Turkish capital we could get cheap, one way flights onto Belgrade. Everything was in place, all we had to do now was not catch COVID.

The Long Journey Home.

2020 Highs and Lows of a Travel Blogger.

Phnom Penh International Airport.

I’ll never forget that long trip to Turkey. Our flight from Phnom Penh to Singapore was packed, as was the awful transit lounge at Singapore Changi Airport. They’d reduced the transit area to a single hall, where many people had to sleep on the floor. No restaurants, no cafes, nada.

Consequently, we bit the bullet and booked into a disgustingly overpriced hotel room for our 24 hour layover. Despite my initial anger at this blatant opportunism, it was worth every last penny. We slept, showered, napped, blogged and wolfed down the meals they brought us every four hours.

2020 The Highs and Lows.

2020: The Highs & Lows of a Nomadic Travel Blogger.

Joy of joys, the flight from Singapore to Istanbul was deserted, with no more than a dozen passengers onboard. At this point I should probably come clean and admit that we couldn’t resist the temptation of seeing Istanbul before we flew onto Belgrade. So we booked an 18 night stay and rented an apartment in the city centre.

Each day, as we headed out to explore, we were as careful as possible in terms of mask wearing, hand washing and distancing. It was definitely a risk and perhaps one that appears foolish in the eyes of many. But I’m glad we did it, as Istanbul is an amazing city and I know we’ll always cherish the memories of our time there. I hope to publish my Istanbul series sometime towards the end of 2021.

2020: The Highs & Lows of a Nomadic Travel Blogger.

2020 The Highs and lows of a digital nomad

Views across The Bosphorus in Istanbul.

Within just a few days of touching down in Belgrade on October the 12th, Sladja and I were ready to hole up for the winter. And that’s what we’ve been doing for the better part of these last three months.

Frankly, it’s been a much needed period of stability and personal renewal. Taking care of all those things you can’t properly attend to when you’re living out of a suitcase in Asia.

Highs and lows of 2020 global pandemic.

Hibernating in Belgrade.

Our main project has been trying to get me a temporary residence permit for Serbia. From start to finish the entire process has been absolutely hellish. Unfortunately, despite months of tedious paperwork and plenty of costs, it still isn’t clear if I can stay in Belgrade beyond the first week of January.

If I can, hooray (!), we’ll stick around for at least 6 months. Continue to rebuild, get vaccinated and plan our next big adventure. If we really have to leave, so be it. We’ll take it on the chin and find another city to call home for three months. Such are the punches one has to take when you choose this kind of lifestyle.

Park of Friendship Belgrade the highs and lows of 2020.

Park of Friendship, Belgrade.

Which brings us to New Year’s Eve 2020. When all is said and done, I have to consider myself exceptionally fortunate. Sladja and I truly found each other during this crisis, while the fact that we could work online through it all has been a lifesaver.

What’s more, all that free time in self quarantine enabled me to develop Leighton Travels from a highly amateurish blog into something I’m starting to feel really proud of.

2020: A Year in Blogging.

Leighton Travels travel reports short stories.

2020: The Highs & Lows of a Nomadic Travel Blogger.

At the time of writing I’ve reworked and republished 421 articles of my Travel Report Library, with another 308 still to do from my back catalogue. I’ll continue to work on that throughout 2021, in addition to putting out several brand new collections.

In the past twelve months I’ve also increased my WP followers from around 300 to 733, while the total visitor count now reads at just over 161.000. All the while, my online domain and page authority makes gradual progress and search engine traffic is on the up.

2020 a year in blogging.

Bloggedy blog.

This is thanks, in large part, to the wonderful community here on WordPress. 2020 was also the year that I started engaging with other bloggers, which has definitely helped me improve and grow.

I really do appreciate every single person who likes, comments, shares and messages. A special shout out goes to Memo in Mexico and Rebecca Goes Rendezvous, who read and comment on just about every single post I put out. Elsewhere, cheers to Emmanuel at Ericotrips, who interviewed me for his blog back in March.

2020: The Highs & Lows of a Nomadic Travel Blogger.

Leighton Thomas travel blogger interview with Ericotrips

I should also tip my hat to a number of loyal, long term readers, such as National Parks with T, Chalk and Cheese Travels and Salsa World Traveler. A Monkey’s Tale, rkontheroad, Lyssy in the City, Journey Junkies, 100 Country Trek and Wandering Canadians. Oh and Jyothi, Lookoom and I’ve Bean Travelling. And soooo many more, ah, I really have to stop!

I’ll simply sign off by wishing you a Happy New Year and all the best for 2021. Touch wood, but I think it’s going to be a better year for all of us. Stay warm, safe and healthy, wherever you are!

Leighton Travels logo travel reports and short stories.


  • Little Miss Traveller

    What an adventurous year, I’m sure that 2021 will work out better for all of us, take care and let the journey continue!

    December 31, 2020 - 11:43 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for your support! Take care too and have a cosy New Year’s Eve.

      December 31, 2020 - 1:00 pm Reply
  • Shanise

    Thanks for sharing! It has definitely been an interesting year! I think everyone has become more flexible and patient

    December 31, 2020 - 12:02 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Absolutely, “character building” one might say. Thanks for reading Shanise and Happy New Year!

      January 1, 2021 - 10:02 am Reply
  • bublelady

    You certainly made the most of this god awful year with plenty of adventures, an awesome blog and cementing your relationship. I am very proud of you Leighton. x

    December 31, 2020 - 12:19 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thank you! It’s definitely been the king of year where you feel much stronger by the end of it.

      December 31, 2020 - 1:02 pm Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    2020 has certainly been a strange year. Glad you were able to get some travelling in before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, but I can’t imagine how stressful it was to have been abroad when all this went down. Glad to hear you stayed safe and were able to spend more time on your blog. Looking forward to reading more about your adventures (past and present) in 2021. Cheers!

    December 31, 2020 - 1:37 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks guys, appreciate your support of the blog over the past year. Have a great night tonight and a fantastic 2021!

      December 31, 2020 - 1:38 pm Reply
  • Sheree

    What an amazing year! Here’s to an even better one in 2021.

    December 31, 2020 - 2:26 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thank you Sheree, I really appreciate that! Hope you’ve had a good Christmas and all the best to you and your family for 2021.

      December 31, 2020 - 2:28 pm Reply
      • Sheree


        December 31, 2020 - 2:28 pm
  • natty4t

    So much has happened in this year and I’m sure one you’ll never forget. Big love to you and Sladja for 2021 x

    December 31, 2020 - 2:52 pm Reply

    What an ordeal! Glad you can roll with it and mold into more content! Happy New Year!

    December 31, 2020 - 3:44 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks guys! Happy New Year to you too!

      December 31, 2020 - 3:44 pm Reply
  • Diana

    Sounds like you really squeezed quite a lot into a year full of unknowns! Happy new year!

    December 31, 2020 - 5:54 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Diana. Happy New Year to you too and hope you have a fantastic 2021!

      December 31, 2020 - 6:00 pm Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    Such a crazy year, and to be abroad when it was happening sounds crazy. Happy New Year! Hope for travels in 2021!!

    December 31, 2020 - 5:56 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks guys. 2021 has got be a better one, right? Hope you get to do exactly what you want.

      December 31, 2020 - 6:01 pm Reply
  • Jyothi

    2020 has been tough and different for most of us. Lets hope 2021 will be a better and peaceful year! Happy New Year to you all!

    December 31, 2020 - 6:22 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Happy New Year!

      December 31, 2020 - 6:23 pm Reply
  • Lookoom

    This nomadic life is certainly exciting but has its drawbacks. It is a dream life that we often avoid living. Congratulations for holding on and persevering. The very personal tone of your articles always gives them extra value and adds to the reading experience. All the best for 2021!

    December 31, 2020 - 6:34 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Appreciate the kind words, all the best to you in 2021!

      December 31, 2020 - 6:36 pm Reply
  • Memo

    The picture of you sitting on the tire in the middle of a road says it all. It was terrific to read such an upbeat look back on a very trying year. And your teases about future series really gives me something to look forward to. Próspero Año y Felicidad!

    December 31, 2020 - 7:32 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Memo. Hope you, Mary and the extended family have a lovely evening! Speak soon.

      December 31, 2020 - 7:39 pm Reply
  • salsaworldtraveler

    2020 sucked, but that’s life. Keep on keeping on!

    December 31, 2020 - 11:42 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Good advice. Have a great year guys!

      December 31, 2020 - 11:42 pm Reply
  • Rebecca

    Glad to have discovered your blog this year, Leighton! Despite the travel limitations due to COVID-19, it’s remarkable that you’ve managed to continue traveling quite a bit…all the while not getting the virus! Hope you’re able to stay in Serbia, and I look forward to your future posts in due course. Happy New Year, and stay safe!

    January 1, 2021 - 4:00 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Happy New Year Rebecca! Hope you’re able to reach all your goals in 2021!

      January 1, 2021 - 8:55 am Reply
  • 100 Country Trek

    Happy 2021 ! Looking forward to getting back to traveling soon 😊

    January 1, 2021 - 5:17 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Happy New Year! Hope you get to do everything you want, and more!

      January 1, 2021 - 8:57 am Reply
  • Gilda Baxter

    I have enjoyed this recap, you guys had quite a year. Sounds like we were in SE Asia at the same time in early January/ February. Siem Reap is not a bad place to stay still for a while. I hope your visa for Serbia will come soon and good luck with the blog and new adventures in 2021.

    January 1, 2021 - 12:03 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading Gilda and for your well worded wishes. Wishing you all the best for 2021 too!

      January 1, 2021 - 12:04 pm Reply
  • Jeric Urbayo

    Wow! Your 2020 was full of adventures. Behind the pandemic, you managed to travel with fun! Keep blogging.

    January 3, 2021 - 2:45 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Jeric, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. All the best to you in 2021!

      January 3, 2021 - 2:57 pm Reply
  • Alison

    A very adventurous year for you both. Great post and enjoyed reading about your trials and tribulations

    January 5, 2021 - 1:40 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Alison, thanks for reading, commenting and indeed following Leighton Travels. There are plenty more articles to dive into. Look forward to checking out your blog later today!

      January 5, 2021 - 1:45 pm Reply
      • Alison

        You’re welcome 😎

        January 5, 2021 - 2:20 pm
  • Vincent Roche

    I’d love to be a travel blogger. It is so good to visit places and know cultures!

    January 6, 2021 - 5:08 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading, Vincent. This kind of life certainly has its ups and downs, but I feel the positives outweigh the negatives.

      January 6, 2021 - 5:12 pm Reply
  • AndysWorldJourneys

    everybody has had some sort of year! i think we all just need to be thankful we are still alive I guess! Thanks for sharing Leighton – speaking of interviews I would love to do one with you for my blog. Please email me if you would like to –

    January 8, 2021 - 11:12 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Yes, definitely ah overriding feeling of gratitude. No matter what most of us have been through, it could have been so much worse. Thanks for the interview offer, I will drop you an email later today.

      January 8, 2021 - 11:20 am Reply
  • Tanja

    Yes, what a year! Here’s to a happier 2021! Cheers.

    January 8, 2021 - 3:31 pm Reply
  • Eromonsele Emmanuel

    Happy New Year Leighton and Sladja!!! I must say, I’m super sorry for just reading this. I’ve been on a brief break from blogging and I haven’t been able to keep up with everyone as I’d want to. Plus, somehow I missed the notification. I guess that’s on WordPress. Haha.

    It’s amazing how much growth you recorded this year. I enjoyed your Siem Reap series, all the temples and beauties.

    Good bless Leighton Travels and cheers to an amazing 2021!!!

    January 8, 2021 - 5:00 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Emmanuel, you are a star! All the best to you too, Sladja and I look forward to your literary return!

      January 8, 2021 - 5:11 pm Reply
  • Abigailsique

    This was such a good read!!

    January 18, 2021 - 5:17 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hi Abigail, thanks for reading, commenting and indeed following! Hope you enjoy exploring my site.

      January 18, 2021 - 8:12 am Reply
  • Sherlyn

    2020 was indeed a crazy year especially for travel bloggers, but seeing your post, you still had one heck of a year, travel-wise. Highs and lows indeed!

    February 15, 2021 - 5:32 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading Sherlyn! So far 2021 has been much calmer.

      February 15, 2021 - 6:01 pm Reply
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