Two days after I flew home to Michigan in December, I found myself sitting on a cold Doctors office table, being pricked with injection after injection of neon-red liquid. No, I hadn’t returned from some jungle expedition with a rare tropical disease. I was returning from three years of living in England, and four months of traveling within Europe. Every country I traveled to was considered “developed,” none had health warnings or required vaccines which I didn’t already have. So no, I wasn’t being treated for some rare condition…. unless you count the health impact of travel itself as a condition. Which, after dozens of painful injections, I was starting to.
What was wrong with me?
It turns out that my body had stopped absorbing some important vitamins. In particular, I had a severe deficiency in Vitamin B12 (which helps produce red blood cells, nerves, and even DNA) which can lead to numbness, extreme fatigue, memory loss, and more. It also explained my low blood cell count. Hence… the injections.
With such a severe deficiency, my doctor asked me how I could have not noticed that something was wrong. And the truth? I did know something was wrong.
My body hadn’t felt right for a long time, but I had attributed this to the stress of living abroad and finishing a Masters degree. When I thought it might be something more, I went to my NHS doctor in England, and started undergoing tests, including the lengthy investigations for Crohns. And although I’ve mentioned my love for the NHS, if your life isn’t in imminent peril, it can take a long time to get tests done on the NHS. Add to the equation that I started traveling longterm in August, spending weeks working for the refugee camps in France, traveling to Italy, Slovenia, Iceland, you name it. There wasn’t a lot of time for doctors appointments.
Along with all my long-term gastroenterology symptoms, I began to feel fatigued, low in mood, antisocial, foggy brained, and more. But this was normal, right? I mean, nobody expects you to be depression or anxiety free when you are working in the high-stress and high-trauma environment of a refugee camp. And solo travel is exhausting – it would be weird if I wasn’t tired, right?
Travel was my priority. And somewhere along the way, that meant that my health stopped being my priority.
Are longterm travel and maintaining your health mutually exclusive?
No, I don’t think so. But I will argue that it is very difficult to maintain your health when you travel longterm. Especially if you have preexisting conditions that can be exacerbated by travel. Consider this:
- Travel makes it difficult to attend or schedule doctors appointments
- Different countries don’t dispense the same prescription drugs
- When I moved to the UK from the USA, I couldn’t get my long-term prescription medication on the NHS. The NHS doctor flat out refused to give me this medicine I had been taking for years. The truth is that different countries have different research and professional standards. Not being able to access my medicine had a significant impact on my health.
- Irregular eating schedules and unusual cuisines
- This means different access to vitamins
- Difficult to maintain a regular exercise routine
- Travel can be stressful!
- Sleep deprivation: unfamiliar sleeping environments, staying out late…
- Extreme environments: Travel (in Europe!) exposed me to environments with scabies, lice, even hostel bed bugs.
- Emotional stress: It can be difficult to be away from family, friends, and have to constantly meet new people
- Everything is go, go, go: less time for self care
- Always splurging: More drinking, eating out, partying, and more because you’re “on vacation” – even if this is a longterm vacation
- NB: I think it’s also important to note that despite these physical symptoms, travel can also have a positive effect on health because it is a meaningful occupation 🙂 It can enhance mental wellbeing, and this exists alongside the other health impacts, not in-spite-of.
For many people, longterm travel is the dream. But what we often see are glossy, filtered representations of longterm travel. You’re not going to read on Pinterest:
I quit my job to travel the world!
And then I developed severe vitamin deficiencies, extreme fatigue, and unidentifiable gastroenterology disorders!
Lol. But seriously, somewhere in that blush-pink, saturated internet vortex on travel, we miss out on the really important health effects of travel. So what does this mean for me now?
Am I giving up on travel to focus on my health?
I’m enjoying the slower pace of being back in Michigan. Sleeping in the same bed for more than a week at a time. Having a routine. Going to the gym. Spending time with family and friends. And I’m going to the doctors! A lot! The blood tests and other things aren’t so fun, but I’m making progress on my health and have already had one new diagnosis.
Although it is comforting to get names to my symptoms, it is also very overwhelming. It is upsetting to be finding more and more things that are “wrong” with me – but at the same time I am grateful and hoping this will only help me manage my health better in the future. Which also means managing it better when I travel in the future.
What does this mean for the future of Endless Distances? My new niche!
I’m still going to be writing about travel. This is me, after all. I have lots of adventures to share from my longterm traveling in Europe, and I will also be bringing more Michigan and USA travel content to the blog.
However… I am also going to be entering a new niche: wellness.
I am a yoga teacher and have a Masters degree in Occupational Therapy, so although I’m not sure you can ever be a master on this topic, it is definitely one I am qualified to write about! This is also something you guys have been asking me to write about for a long time, so I am excited to finally start bringing some wellness content to Endless Distances.
What do I need from you?
I like this blog best when it is a two-way conversation, so it would mean a lot to me if you guys let me know what kind of content you want to see. Do you have specific requests for health and wellbeing content? You can comment on this post or email me at email@example.com.
I am also hoping to do another giveaway in the coming weeks, and will link this to a survey asking what you guys want to see from me in 2018. In the mean time, please stay in touch.
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^^^ LOL SORRY I COULDN’T RESIST