Monthly Archives: March 2017

Traveling with an Anxiety Diagnosis

There are some things I’ve missed out on or know I cannot do because of my anxiety but solo travel is not one. I took my first solo trip abroad after my anxiety diagnosis. Although I had to work at it, I want to share the fact that I have anxiety and still travel abroad alone. Social stigma leads us (those with mental health conditions) to believe we are incomplete as people and inadequately manage our own lives. That’s simply not true! With proper preparation and coping we can travel, be brave, meet new people and break out of ruts.

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I cope on-the-go with sunshine, exercise and sleep. Many trips are focused on hiking.

Readers of this blog know I love an urban bike ride. Unfortunately biking can be dangerous and a few years ago I received a concussion after falling off a bike and landing on my head. If I hadn’t been wearing a helmet, I wouldn’t even have the ability to bike again, so I feel lucky being in the place I am. However, after my brain injury instead of responding to stress in a healthy way, I felt confused, panicked and moody.  I was soon diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and since have taken daily medication. Hopefully I will fully heal one day but I have adapted my life to fit my circumstances, although, still push to retain independence and feed my curiosity.

For years I thought about traveling abroad (studying abroad in college was economically out of reach for me) and visiting a Francophone country since taking French classes as a twelve year old. In my 20s I waited for an opportunity to travel on such a trip with friends, family or a partner but things just didn’t work out that way. Eventually it became clear that if I was going to visit France, or any other way away place, I’d need to go alone. After some research I chose to go to Paris; I couldn’t get bored with the art, movie theaters, live music, delicious food and day trip options. It wasn’t cheap (!)  but culturally France is not too different for an American to manage, with entire areas of the city geared toward foreign visitors. The idea of walking all day seeing sights in the sunshine and at my own pace seemed very calming and fun, not stressful at all.

Unfortunately, many people reacted negatively when I first explained my idea to travel across the ocean and stay a week in Paris by myself, and none of it had to do with the challenge of managing anxiety in a new place. I was warned about the dangers for woman traveling alone and some people even mentioned terrorism should keep me out of Europe. Some questioned why someone would want to go somewhere new and foreign by themselves (only a lonely person would do that). After sometimes being a person that skips things out of worry or fear, it felt strange to hear people come up with wild excuses about why I should be afraid to travel and see those comments as laughable and almost anti-social. It made me think about why I should even worry about traveling at all. I would be spending eight days traveling alone, not reinventing the wheel, so I decided to just focus on building the trip of my dreams and enjoying the adventure.

A few people were very encouraging and even shared their own stories of traveling alone. Hearing coworkers, neighbors, and teammates speak fondly about a period of military service, school, volunteer trips and just regular vacations and how they adapted and what they enjoyed about it was really cool. Listening to them made my plan feel more “normal” – if all these people did it before, then I can do it too.

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Paris at dawn and dusk is amazing.

Being concerned about becoming a person that gives up on things after a health setback, I made sure to go into the experience with an open mind and understanding that a smart traveler is flexible and prepared. If I didn’t enjoy the experience I’d never have to do it again. Even though some things did go wrong (my iPhone ended up falling into a sewer, lost forever), I loved the experience and will maintain that it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made – hence my enthusiasm for solo travel and this blog. Now I even make a point of taking winter trips to help stave off the winter blahs for a while and if I’m having a bad day, a future trip gives me something to look forward to. If you are battling moderate depression or anxiety and would like to travel, please do not feel discouraged. With planning it’s possible to have a wonderful, safe and healthy experience. If you are comfortable sharing, I’d like to hear your input on traveling with anxiety or depression.

Thank you for reading!

The Delicious Side of Travel

I’m very excited to visit Germany over Easter weekend – another quick trip, this time to the Frankfurt area. To prepare a bit and get in the mood, my weekend involved learning about wine from the Rhine and Mosel regions. Unable to name a German wine beyond Riesling and Gewürztraminer, I was desperate for insight into what is available and a nice choice for an Easter picnic (rain or shine!). No, this post isn’t to share wine secrets I uncovered but to ask if you have discovered a favorite food or drink while traveling? Have you ever planned a visit or day around a certain restaurant or hunting down a specific food? I’d love to hear what treats have made it into your personal memory book!

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Nun cookies in Toledo, Spain

Here are some of my favorite indulgences:

Portugal: Pastel de nata! A shop in Belem is known for making these pastries but Lisbon proper has dozens of bakeries with excellent versions that will be subtly different. I once brought some home, direct from Lisbon, to friends who love this treat. Also, in Portugal don’t miss you chance to have port wine; It’s easy to find and sometimes for only one euro.

Spain: Honestly, I think Spain is my favorite place to eat and I love Pulpo gallego! Be on the look out for convent bakery items as they are new and unusual for an American.

Belgium: Try as much beer as you can. From an American perspective the prices are amazing. Don’t be a fool and fall for a beer tour or head to an overpriced beer bar (especially in Brussels). Instead visit a brewery or head to a neighborhood bar. Going to a brewery alone doesn’t have to be intimidating and you don’t have to be a beer nerd to enjoy it. It’s the perfect place to go if you are still figuring out what you like. If you can convince yourself that you belong, everyone else will believe it too.

Germany: Another country with of too many excellent beers to name. I think  what stuck out to me in Germany was how people are always getting together outdoors for food and drinks. Whether on a mountain or in a city park, or the street corners like in Dresden, there are always people outside enjoying themselves drinking this or that and maybe having a bite too. This social element is completely absent where I am from and I really liked it.

Poland/Czech Republic: In both countries I ate a lot of wild blueberries – fresh blueberry juice, various desserts and even blueberries in savory dishes with meats to give subtle flavor and add a bit of color to the plate.

Thailand:  Beef larb and anything with curry (especially if there is pumpkin) is amazing. It was hard to eat so much hot food in humid, warm Thailand but it tasted so good I couldn’t help myself. This is probably the country I ate food that I loved most often.

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Egg coffee in Hanoi (cà phê trúng). Super delicious and not hard to find as coffee shops are all over, especially near the touristy French Quarter.

Vietnam: I’m a slave to coffee and Vietnam was an excellent place to try all sorts of it. There’s the egg coffee found in Ha Noi, strong Robusta coffee with sweetened condensed milk in most of the country and then there Da Lat, Vietnam, epicenter of the nations coffee farms. You can any kind of coffee in or around Da Lat, including Kopi luwak, or civet coffee (the famous “cat poop coffee”) which I tried!

Reading up on local food and drinks is a lot of fun and an easy entry point into learning about a place or culture before visiting. Savoring something you cannot find at home brings so much joy and adds a layer to a travel experience. When traveling alone, connecting with either local people or other travelers can be made so such simpler over food or drinks and if you’re with a friend or partner sharing something new together is a delicious way to just get closer. I’m excited to find out what you have to share.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Accidental “Salzburg on a Budget”

I’ve never written a How to Travel on a Budget-type post but after reflecting on a recent day trip to Salzburg, Austria, I see that the visit could definitely be described as “budget travel.” Thus, here is an unintentional How to Visit Salzburg on a Budget post. Keep in mind I did none of the traditional “top” activities – no visits to any palaces, fortresses and no looking for one of the glockenspiels, or eating Mozartkugel (Motzart Balls) or listening to Motzart. Without doing all those things Salzburg is still enjoyable. If you feel that these activities would enrich your visit, go for it, just keep in mind that it will add significantly to the cost. Hopefully your visit can be improved by avoiding my mistakes and notice some of my luck.

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Fun on the wooded hike

Being a hugely popular destination, Salzburg is not especially cheap for staying the night. I recommend visiting as a day trip or a stop-over between any number of regional destinations (Munich, Innsbruck, Vienna). I came via train from Munich and the ride is typically around two hours – nice for throwing together an itinerary, taking a nap or, if it’s a clear day, just enjoying the scenery from a window seat. Bus service is also an option from some cities and a bus runs between the Salzburg train station and Mozart Airport regularly if you intend to fly to your next stop. The main train station has coin operated lockers and is within walking distance from most major sights; heading about one kilometer South will get you into the older area of towns.

The first and most obvious tip I have for you: Visit outside of the high summer season. I went in February but made the mistake of going on a Sunday, although the day was chosen because it promised full sunshine and warm temperatures. Sunday was tough because some shops and restaurants are closed, not all, but it narrows your options.

The second tip: Save money on transport and admission fees with a walking tour of the old town. Wandering the old streets, through squares and along the river is very enjoyable. One of my favorite aspects of this was spotting old iron signs above shops that took many forms like an umbrella, belt buckle and whatever used to be sold during a time when many shoppers were not able to read. An abundance of self-guided walking tour podcasts and PDF maps can be found on iTunes or copied from travel books. Rick Steve’s has a basic free audio guide but it’s rather Motzart-heavy (as you keep reading you will notice that I’m rather indifferent about this favorite son of Salzburg). I recommend finding a few guides ahead of time and creating your own route. It will be more fun and you can count on running into small and unexpected things that will make your adventure truly unique to you. The historic area of town feels small so it’s very easy to plan out a route that hits all of your “must-sees.” Also, think twice before paying an admission fee to see the inside of some grand building as it might not live up to the hype.

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Lunch time view! Riverside picnics are always fun.

Tip number three: Have picnic meals. As expected for a Sunday, few shops and cafes were open but that kept me outdoors and spending less money than I likely would have otherwise; to my horror, no beer garden had outdoor seating, so a leisurely picnic of bread, cheese and beer on the East bank of the Salzach had to do and it was lovely! Aside from a planned meal, it can be fun to go around and gather a selection of food, treats and drinks unique to Salzburg (or all Austria, if this is your only stop) over the course of the day and try them all at once. If you’re a “people watcher” or on a long trip and need some peace, I recommend this as an opportunity to restore your energy and get some sun. The view of the old city and mountains beyond was unobstructed and gorgeous. I’d heard that Salzburg was a very beautiful city but wasn’t fully expecting to be dazzled by it.

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My last tip: Enjoy nature! If you read this blog with any regularity you know how much I enjoy a good hike. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that I recommend climbing Kapuzinerberg, the hill in the center of the city, which was the post-lunch activity. One can find several great hikes close to the city but if you’re crunched for time, money or just don’t feel up for something more demanding, visit Kapuzinerberg. If you take the route beginning at Linzergasse, you pass six Baroque Stations of the Cross, created by Salzburg artists between 1736-1744. You will also pass the Felixpforte (from 1632) which is a great place to stop to view the landscape. One cannot visit Salzburg without being constantly bombarded with images of Motzart but on the hill path is a marker noting that for about 15 years writer Stefan Zweig lived nearby – something I never knew. Continuing up the hill, it gets woodsy with leaves crunching under your feet and little purple flowers peeking out from the grass– in warmer weather it would make a nice picnic spot – and a webbing of paths extend over the top. If you want to reward yourself, there’s an inn and restaurant at the top for refreshments on a patio. This is also a place with a nice restroom. Going up and back down takes around two hours but isn’t very strenuous. Although I can’t guarantee it, you shouldn’t require a map for this. Paths are very clearly marked and you will be able to find your way. If not there will be enough other people out to help.

Final thoughts: Mid-February was a delightful time to see the Salzburg. Do take into account that in winter less sunshine means less time for some outdoor activities but lucky timing will allow you to watch the sun set over the city, and as little as 5 hours can give you enough time to get your feet wet.

Thanks for reading!

Ruby