2020 in review: 7 wasted months and future challenges as a Digital Nomad

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What a year it has been. I hope that everyone is staying healthy. In times like these, that matters most.

I could not have chosen a worst time to launch a travel blog back in November 2019! Unlike 2019 in review, there isn’t much to look back on in 2020.

However, I was really lucky to have spent almost 6-weeks in Europe earlier this year. Walked around without a mask too! Remember how that felt like? ‘Cause I honestly can’t.

I also did a Business Class joy ride from Singapore to London and back in mid-March when it wasn’t mandatory to have masks on.


Mar – Sep 2020: Locked down

Getting on that flight to London was probably my biggest regret this year. Malaysia closed their border for a “two weeks” lockdown on 18 March 2020, just hours before I arrived in Singapore. They were among the first in the world to have done that. International borders all over the world started closing in the weeks to come.

If I knew how everything would unfold, I would have positioned myself in Malaysia, Thailand or Vietnam then.


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Sep – Dec 2020: “Escape” to Malaysia, UAE

I wrote about my Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) travel to Malaysia a few months ago. I’ve done it once more since then and flew out to Dubai from Kuala Lumpur last month.

Dubai has been opened for tourism since early July 2020 with strict entry requirements and also strictly-enforced COVID-19 laws. I won’t go into that much details but if you are caught not wearing a mask here in Dubai, you will be fined AED 3,000 ($1,085). This is over 3 times more than the $300 fine that the Singapore government is imposing.

Hotel experiences and prices in Malaysia in Dubai have been amazing. I have been writing reviews on my stays and shared how much I paid for all of them. November to February has always been the peak holiday season in Dubai because of cooler temperatures (14 to 25°C) but not this time!

I have also shared via Suitesmile’s Instagram story that food delivery services are really cheap in Dubai. I’ve seldom paid over S$6 (inclusive of delivery) for a delicious, high-quality meal.


14-pc Sushi and Uramaki set for $10

14-pc Sushi and Uramaki set for $10


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Jan 2021 onwards: Staying out

I’ve mentioned in a recent article that I do not intend to return to Singapore in the near future and would try my best to stay out. Firstly, I would be a burden to my country and fellow residents if I return as a positive case. Secondly, I do not want to waste 2 weeks locked in a random quarantine hotel at my own expense.

However, the new strain of the virus is giving me a headache as my tourist visa in UAE is expiring in mid-Jan 2021. Most of Europe is back into lockdown, Turkey started to re-tighten their border and Indonesia announced a few days ago that even business travellers will not be allowed into the country for the next couple of weeks at least.

Thankfully, the Prime Minister of UAE announced a couple of days ago that all tourist visas here will be extended by 30 days for free because of the airport closures around the world. Yay!

UAE has been offering free Sinopharm vaccinations to ALL local residents for a couple of weeks now. AV Geek Sam Chui got his first shot just yesterday! Unfortunately, tourists are still not allowed to receive them, even if they choose to pay for it. Yes, I’ve checked. 😔


Hotel goals


End-of-year status with Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt

End-of-year status with Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt

Most hotel loyalty programs, including Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt, have removed re-qualification requirements this calendar year. Without having to worry about requalification, I focused on milestone strategies in the past 3 months.

Marriott Bonvoy
Marriott only has 2 key milestones. I chose 5 Suite Night Awards upon reaching 50 nights and 40k Free Night Award upon reaching 75 nights.

I’ve enjoyed my stays with Marriott in Dubai so far. I’m also excited to spend a night at Al Maha Desert Resort in two weeks’ time. That will be 1 off my list of Marriott Bonvoy sweet spots!

Hilton Honors
I arrived in Dubai with 36 Elite nights with Hilton. With the current double elite night offer, I needed 12 actual nights to reach the 60-nights milestone to collect a total of 60,000 bonus points (worth $420) by the end of the year.

However, I have to say that Hilton doesn’t have many exciting properties in Dubai. Most are really old and/or are not priced competitively enough for me to pick over lovely Marriott properties here. I ended up accumulating those 12 nights in the newer Hilton Garden Inns.

P.S. Very excited to stay in the new DoubleTree (opened 3 weeks ago) this weekend.

World of Hyatt
As my loyalty status with Marriott and Hilton are locked in for at least 2 more years, I decided to start my World of Hyatt journey to take advantage of the latest offer that only requires 15 actual nights by February 2021 to achieve Globalist status.

I’ve spent a lot of time learning Hyatt’s way of handling Best Rate Guarantee (BRG) claims and I must say that I am disappointed. A number of claims were handled by inexperienced (or dishonest?) agents and required 2 or 3 reviews to get approved.

However, the 5,000 points reward (worth $100) that Hyatt is offering for BRG claims is extremely generous! I’ve had two 1-night stays with Hyatt recently and have received 5,000 extra points for each stay (as shown in the screenshot above). As both stays costed me about $100 each, those BRG stays basically paid of themselves.

These nights will carry into 2021 and I’ll now need 14 actual nights by Feb 2021 to be a Hyatt Globalist. Really excited to share how it compares against Marriott Titanium and Hilton Diamond.


Best and Worst

Best
Premium airline seat: AMS-DOH in Qatar Airways Qsuite Business Class
Hotel: Sheraton Grand Dubai
Airport lounge: Al Mourjan Business Lounge Doha Hamad Airport
City: Den Haag, Netherlands
Decision: Temporarily relocating to Dubai

Worst
Premium airline seat: SIN-LHR in Singapore Airlines 2006 Business Class
Hotel: Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah
Airport lounge: Ambassador Transit Lounge Singapore Changi Airport T3
City: Luxembourg City
Decision: Getting stuck in Singapore during global lockdowns

Here’s to a great recovery year ahead. 🤞🥂

Happy new year everyone! Stay safe and healthy. ❤️

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