Traveling with Chronic Illness: How To Not Let It Ruin Your Trip

Traveling with Chronic Illness: How To Not Let It Ruin Your Trip

Here are some scary facts for you. Autoimmune disease is on the rise, especially among women, and more than 50% of Americans are diabetic or pre-diabetic. Depression and mental illness are epidemic. And for too many women, our hormones are a hot mess of imbalance. The fact is, a lot of us Millennial a dealing with unseen, chronic illness, and it ain’t fun. But by and large, we also want to travel more than any generation before us.

I know from experience, the stress of traveling with chronic illness can ruin the best of holidays.

I have a condition called Reactive Arthritis. It means that a few times a year, usually triggered by illness or inclement weather, my joints get achey. Sometimes it’s annoying, sometimes it is painful. Luckily, I can easily manage it with Aleve and lifestyle choices, but it is still something that’s on my radar while I travel.

It hasn’t prevented me from traveling, but it certainly has impacted the way I travel. Long days of partying and nights in crowded hostels are not really my thing nowadays. Trust me, I’m not upset about that part! But in the past I’ve let the stress of worrying about my arthritis impact my life more than the arthritis itself ever has. Now, I like to think I have a system down for managing chronic illness  and stress while traveling.

So after years of traveling with chronic illness, I had a few words to say on the topic.

 

Bring All Of Your Medication

Duh, right? Packing for a trip to Mexico City, I was so stressed about bringing every gluten related supplement (I was on a gluten free kick) I totally forgot to pack my inhaler. Luckily, I didn’t need it, but Mexico City is not a place you want to visit without your rescue inhaler if you have asthma.

Get Your Own Room

I know at a certain age there is a temptation to do the whole hostel thing. And even when traveling with friends it is tempting to share a hotel room to save on cost.

It is so not worth it.

Whatever condition you might be struggling with, chances are there are going to be moments when you need privacy. Whether your stomach is upset, you’re feeling a wave of depression coming on, you have a migraine, or you just need way more sleep than the average person, knowing you have your own private, safe space to retreat to is going to bring you so much relief. Sometimes you just need to be alone and that’s especially true when traveling with chronic illness.

 

Consider Stress

Travel can be stressful. Scratch that, travel is usually stressful. Stress triggers flare ups, mood swings, and autoimmune disease. It can also fuck up our hormonal balance. That doesn’t mean you can’t travel, it just means you should consider your stress tolerance when making travel arrangements.

Here are a few ways I recommend for reducing stress while traveling:

  • Pay for your seat assignment ahead of time
  • Do NOT book basic economy seats (normal economy is fine)
  • Yes, it is worth it to pay for lounge access (I have Priority Pass Access with my Chase credit card)
  • Pack ample snacks so you know you have something you can eat on hand
  • Consider splurging on business class seats
  • Make sure you get to the airport early
  • Consider cruises instead of flying
  • Use a travel agent, specifically a travel agent for the differently abled if you need extra help
  • Make your hotel aware of your needs beforehand (there are actually agencies who will do this for you)
  • Consider leisure travel vs. adventure travel
  • Only travel with compatible travelers

Be Comfortable Doing Your Own Thing

One night on a group trip to Krakow I decided to stay in while everyone else went out. I relished in my personal space and spent the night journaling about the experience I was having traveling around Central Europe (also writing angry letters to my ex boyfriend, but that’s a different story!) It was quite literally my favorite night in Krakow.

If my friends want to go out drinking, that’s awesome for them, but I will probably opt out. Alcohol has a big impact on my mental and physical health. I also really love sleep. Likewise, my friends might want to get BBQ, while I don’t eat meat. I am certainly not offended if the group wants one thing, while I go do my own way. I won’t hold a group of people hostage to my dietary restrictions, but I also won’t sacrifice my comfort to please other people.

 

Know Who Is On Your Team

Even though I am totally comfortable doing my own thing, not everyone I have traveled with is. I once went on a trip to Vienna with someone who had no understanding of personal space or alone time. She also really couldn’t handle the planning and coordinating of travel, so every Uber, every subway ride, every museum ticket, ended up on my plate and I was a total grump about it. We also did not plan our days of travel the same way. She also wanted to wake up at 7 blow dry her hair, and get rolling. Whereas I like to take my sweet time to wake up, eat a huge breakfast, and take the day at more of a leisurely pace.

Another time, I went to Mexico with a guy I was dating. Likewise, he wasn’t much of a planner (or doer) so I ended up having to plan every detail of the trip while he played video games. He was also super indecisive about everything and got to the airport 30 minutes before our flight. I needed some privacy to have a meeting with a client and ended up having to bribe him to leave the Airbnb for an hour. It was all wildly stressful for me, but totally normal for him. We weren’t not compatible travelers and I learned the hard way that I can only travel with people who can share some of the responsibility and respect personal space.

I have also traveled with people who just don’t understand the literal needs of something with chronic illness (avoiding certain foods, less alcohol, more sleep) and that was a frustrating problem for both of us.

No judgement intended to other types of travelers, but it’s important to travel with a compatible traveler otherwise both parties be stressed out! You have to know that whoever is on your team is on the same page and supports what you’re going through.

 

Do Your Research

If you have dietary restrictions, come prepared with a list of safe restaurants nearby. Know where the closest pharmacy is and how late it’s open. If you don’t speak the language, at least learn or write down the name of your condition (in their language, duh), names of foods you need to avoid, and any other words related to your condition. I can’t tell you how many times I said GLUTENMENTES?! (gluten free) while I lived in Hungary. It was one of the first words I learned.

Remember to Enjoy Yourself

On my trip to Mexico City I was having a horrible time because I was sooo stressed about needing to know every ingredient I was eating while hoping and praying it wouldn’t make me sick. Then I said fuck it. I went to an incredible bakery and ate whatever the fuck I wanted. Seriously this bakery was out of this world. Even Gwyneth Paltrow thinks so. They have an open kitchen and I have NEVER seen so many sticks of butter in one place <3

So I ate some pastries. Guess what? Nothing happened. The gluten gods didn’t sweep down from heaven and damn me. My stomach and joints felt fine. I actually felt BETTER than I had the whole trip because I wasn’t obsessing and stressing about every small detail.

Here’s the thing, whatever you might be intolerant to or what might be a trigger, stress is way worse for you. It is so damn easy to spend your whole vacation worried about what could go wrong. Yes, so many things could go wrong when traveling with chronic illness. But you’re on vacation for a reason, to experience a new culture and get outside of your comfort zone. So eat the damn pastry and enjoy your trip.

A Single Woman Traveling

A Single Woman Traveling

I used to be the most ballsy solo traveler. In fact, my first solo trip was spending a month alone in Israel when I was 19. There’s just something so magical about being completely alone with yourself in an unfamiliar environment. You learn a lot about yourself, and get to spend that time doing whatever you want to do whenever you want to do it.

Recently though, I’ve stopped solo traveling. I haven’t wanted to deal with the stress of a solo trip and I’ve been super busy at work. But the honest truth is, I’ve gotten complacent. I haven’t wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone, talk to strangers, deal with culture shock, etc… The problem is, that also means I’ve been holding myself back from so much fun and tons of personal growth.

 

Which leads me to today’s interview with Melissa Byron, creator of A Single Woman Traveling.

Melissa is traveling the world as a single woman, and blogging along the way. Her platform, A Single Woman Traveling, is all about her travels, as well as useful guides for women travelers, since we do tend to have different needs and concerns when traveling.

Talking to Melissa reminded me why I started this platform, to inspire people to live the lives they really fucking want to be living. Not the lives that seem safe. Not the lives other people want for them. The lives they really fucking want.

So let’s dive right into this super empowering interview.

What inspired you to travel? 

10 years ago I visited Ireland for a friend’s baby christening. Since I would be staying in her family home, keeping costs low, I decided to go. It was my first international trip. As soon as I arrived and saw all the beautiful old villages and countrysides, my interest was peaked to start traveling. 

 

Why single? What inspired you to create this platform?

After visiting Ireland I knew I really wanted to see Rome & the Greek Islands. I tried so hard to find people who would join me on the trip. Sadly, I was unsuccessful, I decided to go alone. I learned so much on that trip on what not to do when traveling abroad, it stuck in my mind I should tell others. Not only did I make silly mistakes when booking hotels and transit, but I really didn’t like being alone. I looked at it as I was failing in life because I didn’t have someone to go with. 

At the time, I was measuring my success as a woman, on whether I was alone or not. I focused so incredibly hard on trying to find a relationship, I lost touch with who I was.

It wasn’t until I gave traveling alone another chance, and this time in a country where English was the official language, did I start to look at things differently. I did bike tours, walking tours, made some connections with people on the trip that I otherwise wouldn’t have met, unless I was alone. 

I really looked within and decided that only enjoying my life fully being a happy version of myself would attract the right person. 

Now, years later after traveling alone and knowing all the fears of what might be holding others back, I started my blog, designed to encourage and inspire women to travel. That is how A Single Woman Traveling was born. 

 

What has been the hardest things about traveling solo? The most rewarding thing?

The hardest part would be not having that other person to spilt the hotel costs with. But, these days there are so many options with Airbnb or higher-end hostels, with some planning it can be a non-issue. The most rewarding is when you get yourself through a mini travel mishap. Maybe you get a little lost, but thanks to the data phone plans and Google maps, you find your way. 

Visiting a foreign country on your own is a brave act, and it can feel quite rewarding when you go alone. I find that the time you spend with just yourself in a place you know not a soul, you get closer to you

 

What is the hardest thing about being the center of your brand and in front of the camera all the time?

This is a great question. Having to even answer it is part of what held me back for years from starting the blog in the first place. Being so public about who I am, opens me up to criticism and negative feedback. 

You have to be very confident in who you are and what you have to say to get in front of the camera. Recently I’ve started to do IG lives, talking to the camera, and that has been a huge challenge for me. I worry constantly, how do I look, do I sound stupid? I realize that if I want people to believe in what I am telling them, I have to believe in myself and just get out there. Unfiltered…ok, maybe a light filter, haha. 

Your favorite destination for solo travel?

I would say my all-time favorite is Copenhagen. It’s hard to make just one choice, as I love Amsterdam very much as well. Copenhagen is so easy to navigate. It’s safe, and has the best restaurants! 

 

Are you open to a relationship? What happens if you meet someone?

I am open to meeting someone, though I am not actively looking for someone. The work I continue to do on myself and my self-worth is still very much the most important thing to me.

I will say, that I think that I am emotionally healthy enough for a relationship. I am solid in who I am as a person, and what I can contribute to a relationship. I am no longer viewing it as the only important thing in my life, which is key to a healthy relationship. 

Someday I will meet someone, and when I do, I know that my experiences of getting to know myself through travel will have made me ready. I plan on always staying true to my passions, and if I felt like I needed time to connect with myself, I would still take a solo trip. 

Have you noticed different cultural perceptions around being a single woman?

I am always expecting that I will encounter some disapproving locals or onlookers. I’ve only ever received more praise for my bravery than anything else. Some people will be quick to tell you that they could NEVER travel alone or don’t want to. I respect all people’s views of solo travel. I only concern myself with how I feel. If I feel ok with, great, they can feel however they want. 

What advice do you have for single women out there?

I’m going to give the advice that I truly wish I had in my younger years. Get to know yourself. Really let yourself enjoy EVERY moment that makes you happy. Please don’t waste a minute in any moment thinking it would be a bit more special if you had someone there with you to share it with. You are ENOUGH. The kinder and more forgiving you are to yourself, the more you can evolve and grow. Don’t get stuck in seeing what others have and think what you have is nothing compared to them. 

If you want to go to Rome, go to Rome, eat the whole pizza. The only thing getting in the way of making that moment special is your perception that it should be different. It took me so many years to realize this. 

My promise to you is the more you celebrate yourself the more others will take notice and join in.

All photos courtesy of A Single Woman Traveling. 

My Fave Date Spots in Atlanta

My Fave Date Spots in Atlanta

As a matchmaker, I plan 25-30 dates a month for my clients. Having planned literally hundreds of dates, I’ve learned a thing or two about what makes a good date spot, and what definitely does not. I can’t guarantee that every date I set up is going to be a home run; chemistry is difficult to predict! But I can guarantee the date location is going to be great.

One of my favorite things about my job is planning dates. I have clients all over the country, so I feel like I get to explore all the cool nooks and crannies of new cities while I hunt for the PERFECT date spot. Seriously, I’ve been so surprised by which cities have it goin’ on.

Which brings me to Hotlanta. Turns out there’s more happening in Atlanta than filming scary TV shows, sweating, and eating brunch. Including good fucking food and cute ass coffee shops, making Atlanta date planning paradise for me!

Here are the tops picks!

 

Read Shop by the Merchant

Not all of my clients agree on this, but I am a big lover of a bookshop date. Sitting across from someone at a bar or restaurant can seem like a lot of pressure and quickly turn into a job interview rather than a date. Not sexy.

Bookstores make for a slightly more dynamic date without too many distractions. Plus strolling through the stacks is weirdly relaxing if you have anxiety and it takes the “who is going to pick up the tab” stress out of the equation. I tell my clients to pick out a book they think the other should read and buy it for them. Super cute! And don’t get me started on the importance of supporting independent booksellers.

Read Shop is hip and trendy in a minimalist way, with plenty of weird indy books to keep you intrigued and test your date’s taste. They also serve coffee and treats so you can transition into a more traditional sit down date if you find you have enough to talk about. Read Shop is located in Vinings Jubilee so there’s plenty of other shops and eats around to explore if you want to keep the date going.

 

Staplehouse

Are you bougie af, but also like to help people? Then 1. same and 2. boy have I got a restaurant for you! Staplehouse is a bit hard to describe. An upscale, reservation only dining experience with a cause, in homey digs about sums it up. 100% of profits after taxes goes to the Giving Kitchen, a non-profit supporting restaurant workers facing hardship.

Staplehouse offers an acclaimed tasting menu experience in their main restaurant, if you’re really trying to knock someone’s socks off. But if that seems a bit too intense for a first date, they also have have a killer cocktail bar, Paper Crane Lounge, that can be found above the restaurant. Really kick ass cocktails.

 

Queen of Cream

I personally am not a huge fan of ice cream. What I am a fan of is the casual day date. So much less pressure and no need to get alcohol involved. Seriously, why do we assume alcohol has to be a part of every date or social encounter?! I digress.

Meet your date at Queen of Cream for coffee or ice cream. Their ice cream is made totally from scratch with locally sourced dairy, so it’s delicious and sustainable. Grab a scoop of lavender honeycomb and take a stroll with your date. I promise walking around eating ice cream will make your date feel a lot more natural. Because that is the most stressful thing about going on a date, being aware that you are on one.

 

Kimball House

Do you like fancy cocktails? Do you like farm to table eats? Do you like pretending to be a wealthy stockbroker taking your mistress out for oysters circa 1928? You can have all this and more at Kimball House.

Kimball House is a creative old timey cocktail bar with a raw bar, locally sourced dinner, and absinthe service. When I hear a place is going for that vintage aesthetic, I think, “Ugh, not another speakeasy.” But that’s not the vibe at Kimball House at all. It’s comfortable and kind of homey, like your favorite pub, but with incredible food, Old World level service, and one of the best cocktail programs in the city. So if you’re looking for a more traditional date with light bites and killer cocktails, this is your place.

Real #Travelcouples: Steph and Shawn

Real #Travelcouples: Steph and Shawn

This past week, I’ve seen sooo many post on Facebook to the effect of “There are no good men out there!” “I don’t know any happy couples!” “Finding the right person is a matter of luck!”

Well, if you know me, you know I think all of that is BS. Finding the right person takes work. Being the right person takes work. Being in a relationship takes work. Having the life of your dreams take work. Welcome to planet Earth!

No, I don’t mean your life or relationship should be a struggle. The kind of “work” I’m referring to is working on yourself, being emotionally honest with your partner, taking big risks, being brave enough to love unconditionally. These things aren’t necessarily easy, but personally, I think doing your self work is a whole lot easier than playing the victim.

Anyway! The fact is trauma is real, depression is real. I know when you’re in the pits it can be hard to visualize a better relationship or better life for yourself. But it’s important to get your imagination moving in the direction of the life you want. And I think the best way to do that is by hearing the stories of real people who have accomplished beautiful things. That’s why I’m doing this series on real travel couples. That’s right. Couples who like each other enough to commit AND travel the world together. Wowza.

This week I had the pleasure to interview a Canadian couple Shawn and Steph. They are happily married and hold down “real” jobs, while still making the time to travel the world together and collaborate creatively. Follow them on Insta here for daily #relationshipgoals inspiration.

Their interview also reminded me that the real beauty of traveling with your partner isn’t the awesome shots for social media or even the incredible places you’ll visit. It’s in the experience of slowly uncovering deeper and deeper layers of intimacy with your partner. This interview is seriously beautiful guys!

Read on for their amazing story and awesome insights into love, life, and travel!

1) What has travel taught you about love? About intimacy?

Each and every time we travel together, we always come home with a deeper love, and deeper connection for one another. We think this is because it tones down the stresses and anxieties of our everyday lives, and allows us to be grounded and present to truly focus on each other. It gives us more time to be alone, emotionally, and physically & allows us to reconnect, especially if we’ve lost track due to the business of the real world.

When traveling together you get to see and experience all of the raw moments of another person’s life. Their insecurities, their fears, their excitements – there is no hiding it when you’re with a person 24/7. This is the true test. If you love them after seeing all of them, I think the relationship could be amazing. I’ll never forget bursting into tears because we were in an area of extreme culture shock and discomfort, and looking at Shawn gave me that sense of “home” I needed in that moment. That’s what love is.

2) How has travel shaped your relationship?   

Each time we went on a trip together while we were dating, those were the moments that solidified myself wanting to marry him.

I always thought, if we could get along for x number of days, and enjoy each others company, AND have fun while doing it, then I want this for life! What could be better than a life travel partner and a best friend all wrapped into one?

However, travel really does teach you if you are well suited for each other. Our interests and wants on a trip have always aligned and I think that helps immensely. I’m sure everyone can name a friend that they know they absolutely cannot travel with. We are by no means an athletic couple – so we opt for the shorter hikes. We LOVE food & drinks – so we always research neat places to eat etc. Discussing what you want out of a trip before you go, will really make it that much more successful. 

3) How did you know you wanted to travel together?

We didn’t, but we thought we’d give it a try! With Shawn, it always came naturally. I was the anxious planner, and he was the relaxed, laid back type. I think we really compliment each other well.

We’d just finished university (where we met), and had been dating for about a year. Our first big trip together was to Western Canada- to see Banff & Jasper. I remember thinking, if this goes well, he could be the one! (Spoiler: we got married last August!) It ended up being a very successful trip and one of our favourite memories together! If you’re hesitant, take the risk – it will either make you a stronger couple, or teach you what you need to work on together – either way an amazing learning experience.

4) What has it been like collaborating creatively with your partner?

We definitely have our parts when it comes to collaborating creatively. Shawn is more of a behind-the-scenes camera man. He takes the majority of our photos for us. I like to do the research for finding cool places to shoot, and the editing. He’s very supportive and definitely brings positivity, even when at times I get down on myself comparing our work to others and thinking its not “good enough.” He’s like our little cheerleader, always reminding us that we started our account for a reason – to share our love of travel with the world & inspire others to step out of their comfort zones – not to care about how well or not well a photo does on Instagram.

5) How do you balance working full time with travel?

So I am a teacher, and Shawn is an engineer. I have a very strict schedule for when I can travel – Canadas education system has fewer breaks than other countries. I have July & August off, 2 weeks at Christmas, and 1 week in March. This is when we travel. It also happens to be the most expensive time to travel, which is the only downfall to the time I get off.

Shawn has 3-4 weeks off a year. So while working, we save up as much as we can so we can go on our next adventure! Seems manageable but it is a struggle sometimes. It is VERY hard to produce content during the week. We come home exhausted from work and don’t want to film stories, or edit and post photos. We do the majority of that on the weekends.

One thing that REALLY helps us, is that we focus on creating and producing date nights and date ideas to share with others aside from just travel. We choose 1 weekend a month to explore or go to places near our hometown of Toronto. This gives us more content to share when we aren’t traveling, and allows us to go on a date – win/win!

6) What’s Your Next Adventure?

Our next adventure is happening in July – we are exploring France/Italy for 3 weeks! I’m Italian and have been to Italy once, but Shawn has never been. We are even staying with some of my family that I’ve never met before, so it will be quite the experience.

We are starting in Nice, France & ending in the Amalfi Coast. I am definitely most excited to explore Cinque Terre – it has been on my bucket list FOREVER!

If you want to follow us on our adventure, be sure to check out @thethompsontrotters for all of the pasta and bread and wine anyone could wish for!

Image creds: @thethompsontrotters & @durandstudios

Why Are You Still Single?

Why Are You Still Single?

“Why are you still single?”

A client once fired me for asking him this question

I know this questions can be painful. And it’s definitely loaded.

Loaded with shame for not being “coupled.” Loaded with the pressure of family, friends, people from high school. Fuck, even Facebook ads might be subtly letting you know it’s time to get married. 

But here’s the thing, why ARE you still single? 

I mean you’re probably a total catch, right? I’m sure your friends assure you the right guy will magically come along eventually. It’s just not the right time yet! 

 

I’m sorry to tell you this, but your friends are wrong. The right guy is not going to magically appear in your life “when the time is right.”

The right guy will only appear in your life after you have done the hard work to love yourself and to heal beyond the patterns that are keeping your trapped in chronic singledom and toxic relationship patterns. 

“Why Are You Still Single?”

 

To manifest your dream relationship, you need to seriously ask yourself this right now.

“I’ve been busy.” “I haven’t met the right person.” “Maybe when work gets less crazy…”

These are not acceptable answers. 

The answer I want, the answer that will lead you to your dream relationship, is in the place where you don’t want to go. The feelings you’ve been trying to outrun. 

 

What if I told you that the relationship of your dreams (and your emotional freedom) are in the parts of yourself that you are afraid to visit. The memories you’re afraid to touch. The parts of yourself you really really don’t like acknowledging. What if everything you wanted was behind the door you’re most afraid to open? 

It is. That’s what healing your way to love is.. going where you don’t want to go to bring healing to the part of yourself you have been trying to ignore and outrun. 

 

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” FDR 

 

I know your triggers are extremely visceral. I know trauma is probably living in your body and unconscious. I know you have good reason to be sad, angry, wounded…

Fucking scared. 

But you don’t have good reason to stay where you are. From where you are you will just keep reaching for relationships and finding the same dysfunctional patterns instead. 

 

 

 

You do have good reason to face your fears and do the hard work to heal. 

Yourself. 

The path to your soulmate starts today.

But it doesn’t start on dating apps, at a bar, with a makeover, at the gym… it starts in one place and that is in the moment you decide you love yourself enough to admit that it’s time to heal.

And that you may need some help to get there. 

It starts with loving yourself enough to ask the one question you’ve been avoiding all this time.

So why are you still single?