Here’s what’s in my suitcase. So far, everything seems necessary, except perhaps two items of clothing, which I have not used yet. Initially I had one big suitcase for check-in and one little suitcase for taking on the plane – so that I could wheel around my laptop, plug, wrist braces, sweater, and poncho, instead of carrying them on my back. My big suitcase, however, ended up overweight, so I repacked and distributed the weight between the big and little suitcase, checking them both in. I ditched the sweater, power cable, and wrist braces, to keep the backpack light. I’ll probably continue like that for the rest of my journey, although in larger airports, I will have to take my wrist braces and electrical plug, so that I can work on my laptop while flying. Every little bit of weight counts when it’s on your sensitive little back, and you’re on foot! We’ll see how it goes. For now, here’s what I’ve got:
I plan on renting bikes wherever possible, so I brought my helmet, biking gloves (for the colder environments), fleece jacket (which is just an all-around useful item of clothing but especially good for biking in colder climates), yellow windbreaker, and biking shorts, and bike top, which doubles as a dance top.
Of course I’m going to dance all journey through! My laptop provides my access to my music subscriptions and doubles as my work station wherever I am; my headphones enable me to rock out without disturbing neighbors – although I originally packed them for Skype use, and only recently discovered their benefits to my dance routine; and my portable speakers enable me to rock out anywhere that there is an electrical outlet. I also brought my dance shoes, so that I can dance in nightclubs and on hard floors. And all my clothing doubles as dance clothes and pajamas – honestly, I can pretty much dance and sleep in everything I brought.
A significant part of my suitcase is filled with supplements. It takes a lot to blast the system with immune boosting power, and I take many different supplements prescribed by my integrative oncologist. Some of them are in big fat bottles. I also have echinacea spray and other over the counter supplements that help prevent and heal from your basic cold and flu symptoms. In addition, I have an S-hook, which is a self-massager; a dry brush (which helps with itchy back as well as exfoliating the skin – a detox tool); a self-applier for sun lotion; an eggshell-carton style camping mat, which can save my back if I end up in a situation with a bed that is too hard or too squishy; a sleeping bag, if I end up in a situation with insufficient blankets; a battery-operated, lightweight, tiny fan, which is awesome in hot climates and doubles as a hair drier; a heating pad, in case I end up in with a pain flare; an eye cover for sleeping, to block out light; wrist braces, which I use daily when typing; all the requisite toiletry stuff – face lotion, body lotion, dental hygiene stuff, and so forth; a quick-dry towel, for beach trips and in case I end up in a situation without towels; and, of course, earplugs.
As mentioned before, my clothes are multi-purpose, for dancing, sleeping, and otherwise walking around like a properly-clothed person. I have two long flowy dance pants, one ¾ length dance pants, one pair of quick dry, Indiana Jones style shorts, one skirt, three summer dresses (two of which I seem to be wearing most of the time – you just throw it on, and voila, you’re dressed!), a swimsuit with a skirt, which I can wear anywhere, because it’s basically another summer dress; a flowy white top that will serve me well for services during High Holidays; and two t-shirts, one sleeveless shirt, and one long-sleeve shirt – which double not only as my pajama tops but also as my eye cover, when my official eye cover is in the wash. I also have a wool sweater and wool poncho, which are good for cold climates, including airplanes. The poncho also can serve as a blanket in a pinch, which is actually how I use it on the plane. I also have a pair of running shoes, which are my basic walk-around shoes; a pair of flip-flops, which are perfect for beaches; and a pair of boots, which will come in handy when I get to Scandanavia.
I have a camera and tripod (the latter of which is for creating multimedia programs – ie, working while traveling), MP3 recorder for when I create music or want to journal without having to write, international electrical adaptor, plug strip (so that I can plug all my American stuff into that, then plug the strip into the international adaptor – amplifying how many electrical things I can use around the world); and MP3 player and lightweight headphones – which I plan on figuring out how to program so that I can dance on the beaches and in the mountains and so forth.
Traveling provides the opportunity to release – our baggage (literally), our personas, our habits, our “stuck”ness, and as the umbrella of all these things, our control. I love traveling. I am adventurous soul, someone who dives into the fray, who – as one quote says, grabs life by the lapel and says, “I’m with you, kid, let’s go!”
I surf on the waves of life. Which is why I am perpetually frustrated by those who judge me by external circumstances. Another blog post for another time, but the gist is that I feel that many people live by some script by how life “should” be and that if your life is not running according to that script, they decide all kinds of things about you. It’s the very kind of rigidity that festers health challenges, and ironically, these people impose these judgements as a way of (mis)guiding you on healing from said health challenges. It’s a load of crap.
But I digress.
I believe that healing necessitates flow, release, boldly stepping into a new and expansive world of possibilities. And yet, it also requires an incredible amount of control – over what food we eat, what products we use, and what tools we have. That’s why I was so terrified of and out of mode from the prospect of this globe-trotting adventure: The past eight years of my life have been all about extreme discipline, in the interest of facilitating my mom’s healing and my healing, and footing the bill for all of it.
Last night, while staying at my first AirBnB, I dried my face on a towel and nearly choked from the intense smell of chemicals. It has been so long since I have used conventional products, I forgot what they smell like. Why would someone put this crap on anything that comes near their body? Then this morning, I discovered that the only dish soap is the Ajax brand. Since I have no dish soap of my own, being that I’m traveling and trying to keep everything light, I ironically need to use this chemical crap (which may contribute to cancer) to clean out the blender to make my smoothie with all my immune-boosting supplements (which heal cancer).
Where do I say fuck it, and where do I work hard to ensure that everything in my environment facilitates my healing? Where does the stress of controlling matters while traveling in itself undermine my healing? Where does letting go – even if I’m eating pesticide-sprayed produce and using chemical-laden products – facilitate my healing?
The other challenge is that the more things I lug around with me, in the interest of controlling my environment, the heavier my bags are. Not only does that dampen the fun and spontaneity factor, but it also makes it damn near impossible to lift my bags – in turn, making me dependent on others, kindness of strangers and all that. It also makes traveling more expensive, because – in good form – I need to tip the shuttle driver, taxi driver, or whoever may be helping me lift those heavy bags in and out of vehicles and lodgings.
In other words, the best way to travel with health issues is to 1) have as little to carry as possible and 2) bring as much holistic healing stuff as possible. How does one resolve this inherent conflict? Stay tuned…
On the face of it, all I need is a firm bed, hot shower, safe space to rest my head, and access to healthy food. But as I have been traveling, it’s become evident that I need quite a bit more than that, which makes traveling a lot less footloose and fancy free and a lot more strategically designed. Thank goodness for Air BnB and VRBO, which enable me to have a home-like environment while seeing the world.
Here’s what I’m discovering are some basic needs to keep myself thriving while traveling:
A place where I can dance
While I’m super adaptable – I can dance in small spaces if necessary, and with headphones on – I need the freedom to boogy my woogy, so as to stay well. The first week, I was in an environment that was not conducive to my dancing, and I couldn’t get rid of the ankle pain that was triggered by a Delta flight attendant’s errant ways (more on that in another post). The one day I managed to dance, said ankle pain vanished. Dance is non-negotiable in my life. It is as essential to me as breathing.
Access to a pool and/or bike
I have had neither recently, and I’ve turned into a sloth. While I’ve been swimming in the ocean, it’s been cautions swimming, as opposed to the full-force swimming in a lap lane. And while I’ve been walking as much as I can, said ankle pain – which has been an issue, on and off, for many years – leaves me needing alternative forms of physical activity at my disposal. I can’t rely on walking alone.
A functional kitchen
In areas with organic markets and restaurants, I can more or less get by, but often these places use heaps of raw kale and spinach, both of which are goitrogens and therefore neither of which I can have. In addition, a lot of places use soy, gluten, dairy, and other things that I more or less keep out of my diet. The best, not to mention least expensive, way for me to function and maintain my awesome diet is to buy raw ingredients from an organic market, and prepare my food myself.
These are necessary, I have come to discover, to correctly portion out my supplements for my morning smoothie.
Speaking of my morning smoothie, I need to blend all my supplements and other goodies, including frozen berries, together every morning – ergo, the need for a blender, never mind a freezer and refrigerator for numerous smoothie ingredients.
To stay healthy, I need to drink good water. Not quite sure yet how to handle this one, as I go from place to place and attempt to keep my luggage to a minimum (more about that in another post, too!) I know REI had a water bottle with a water purifier built in, but there’s no REI in Hawaii, and I’m already here. I may see if I can scout out something like that somewhere.
I have come to understand that even the most well-intentioned, loving, and understanding people can still not get the reality of my life on some level. It just does not compute that when I look and seem so “robust,” as one woman put it, I can end up in pain for days or weeks when someone careens past me and cuts into my body space, without touching me. I find that it’s easier to remove myself from people, and that I therefore need a good chunk of time away from people each day, so that I am in nonnegotiable, freeform, truly safe space, with me and me alone to contend with, and so that I have recovery time from navigating through an insensitive world with a very sensitive body.
Environments free of allergens
I have spent hours and hours researching housing options as I travel, because this one has a cat, that one has a dog, the other one has feather pillows, those people use pot (which gives me a nasty headache to be around), and on and on. So I’m not just looking in a particular area for a particular price, but I’m also looking for numerous other items on my checklist. Obviously, the more you have on a checklist, the more difficult it is to find a place.
Environments free of loud noises
I need somewhere that I can come and go as I please, as well as sleep whenever I need, without having to worry about avoiding loud noises (like construction work). My little body needs to nest and feel secure.
I love the thrill and adventure of a bus. You see the gritty city, you meet people, you strike up conversations, and you have experiences. You just cannot have that same level of engagement in new places, when you are driving around in your own little car. And yet, taking the bus, I discovered on this first leg of my trip, is a major pain in the ass, for the same reason it is a total delight: I have no control over my environment.People may smoke at bus stops; there may not be seats available to wait for the bus; there may not be seating available on the bus; even if there is seating, it may with inadequate space – leading to pain; and pushing through a crowd, especially while the bus is moving, is a recipe for disaster in my sensitive little body.
I know. I tried it for a few days. And concluded that I absolutely must rent a car, or hire drivers, to get around during my global wanderings.
All these needs add up to a major investment of both time and resources. Among other things, I will obviously function better in single-space dwellings like studio apartments or guest houses, which are typically twice as expensive as shared spaces, and as I mentioned, I need a car. That adds up to a lot of cha-ching, never mind the Benjamins that go toward organic food, supplements, and the like. Which leads me to another blog post for another time, about the economics and politics of healing.
The past eight years have been super intense. I was the caregiver for my mom, through multiple life-threatening emergencies; I myself had two back-to-back medical emergencies that unraveled my life and left me on the verge of homelessness; I self-healed from cancer through rigorous self-care strategies, not the least of which were a couple of month-long juice fasts (brutal – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise); and, this past year, I survived living next to the neighbor from hell, whose aggressive and passive-aggressive behavior sabotaged my progress over the previous five years, leaving me feeling devastated and facing far more to overcome than when I had started the journey of self-healing from cancer in 2010.
After his most recent act of aggression, I decided that I had to get the fuck away from him immediately. My lease was up, and I was in a position where it seemed I could buy my own house. So I planned on asking my landlady if I could rent month-to-month until I could find a home of my own – one which I really wanted to invest in, not one I rushed into so as to get away from the jerk next door.
Of course, I needed to prepare for what I would do if my landlady said no – ie, giving me the options of leaving immediately or renewing my lease. That’s when I got the idea of putting all my belongings into storage and traveling the world. I didn’t feel the Universe was “calling me” to go on the journey, and in fact, the prospect felt downright terrifying. In addition, it brought up the inner admonishment that I “don’t get to do something like that.” I had to keep my nose to the grind, the voice in my head told me.
I was stunned by my reaction to the idea of being footloose and fancy free. What had happened to me? I used to be fun, spontaneous, free-spirited. The past eight years of my life, I realized, had required such an extreme level of discipline, with no room for fuck-up, because every action or non-action had someone’s life at stake. While I was feeling burnt to a crisp, and while traveling the world seemed like the best possible way to overcome that feeling, I had gotten into a habit of working-working-working, to make enough money to cover my mother’s and my expenses for healing-healing-healing.
I talked to people in my circle about the idea of traveling the world, regardless of what my landlady said. Everyone thought it was a fantastic idea (kudos on whom I surround myself with!) and expressed that if they had the freedom I have, by running a company virtually, they would leave in a heartbeat. For weeks, while the idea seemed great in theory, I couldn’t shake the feeling that 1) I was not allowed to have that kind of freedom and fun and 2) I was “too small” for doing something that big and bold. While self-healing from chronic pain and cancer made me a powerhouse in one sense, you see, it also required the kind of focus and rigorousness that made my world very small and left me, in turn, feeling very small.
In addition, I had anxiety about how I could manage to travel the world, given my various health needs. Among other requirements, I need a firm yet soft bed; hypoallergenic bedding; an environment without furry pets; and access to organic, vegan foods (preferably raw) and juices. Organic vegan establishments love and over-use raw kale and spinach, neither of which I can have, as their cause goitrogens (which I’m getting rid of). In addition, I am hypersensitive to noise and movement; and as a result of said hypersensitivity, walking through crowded airports and sitting on crowded planes are hell. What’s more, given my various health needs, I would not be able to pack light – which, ironically, would make it extra challenging to get around, given that I would have to lug a heavy suitcase full of supplements and various health-related products and contraptions.
Ultimately, I decided fuck it, I would just go for it, despite my resistance and fear. Not taking the opportunity to travel, and otherwise continuing to do the same old shit, instead of doing something extraordinary when I had the opening in my life, just seemed sad to me, especially considering I was completely burnt out from the intensity of the past eight years. In addition, I had the instinct that, in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, I had to do the thing I thought I couldn’t do. Besides, I reasoned, I could approach my travels as an adventure – exploring and blogging about how someone with multiple health issues can get around the world. What kinds of obstacles would I encounter? How would I creatively overcome them? What healing resources would I find? How could I help other people identify and access them?
Ultimately, I decided, this adventure is exactly what I need to heal; to shed my old skin like a shake; to release what no longer serves me; to reboot, regenerate, and revitalize; and to step into a new, glorious, healthy, and vibrant ME.
A few things pushed me over the line: First, a friend of mine said that when I momentarily decided to take the plunge, my face lit up and was full of life, in a way she had not seen before. Second, another friend of mine advised me to “dance [my] way across the globe,” which was super appealing. It also reminded me that back in 2012, I had a vision of traveling across the world, exploring and engaging in all manner of natural healing, and writing a book about the experience and resources. Third, when I once again decided for the afternoon that I would take the plunge, I felt a surge of freedom and power that I had not felt for I can’t remember how long – leading me to twirl around, lift my face and arms to the sky, and ululate on a crowded block in downtown Seattle, once again not giving a fuck what passers-by might think.
This is me, I recognized. So while I don’t feel the courage yet, I know this is the step I need to take, and I am going to take it, terrified and all.
My landlady ultimately offered me a six month lease, with the option of leaving with 30 day notice and no penalty – which was, essentially, a month-to-month lease. I nonetheless decided that on July 4, which would be marked as my personal Independence Day, I would walk out on the life I had been living and step into the unknown, allowing the journey to shape itself and unfurl me. Before, I left a friend said that she hopes my trip meets all my expectations. “I don’t have any,” I thought.
In fact, I only planned 10 days ahead. I have a close friend who is an organizational genius and spatial mastermind, so I hired her to fly from Honolulu to Seattle, to manage a team who packed up all my shit and put it into storage. I then flew back with her to Honolulu, where I’m staying with her for 10 days. I’m halfway through this first leg of my trip, and I still have no idea where the fuck I’m going next. Which is kind of awesome and kind of unnerving.
In addition, the past week has been pretty rocky, with my friend and me clashing at least half the time, and with me unable to find a decent café where I could plug in and work – which, I discovered, leaves me feeling disoriented, frustrated, and cranky as fuck. The week also, however, has taught me about my weak spots in relationships and has given me a crash course in what I need so as to function properly while I travel – namely, a car and a good café, as well as a firm bed, hot shower, and healthy food.
The first night I spent at a hotel in Seattle, before flying to Honolulu, as I was falling asleep, I thought, with a spike of anxiety, “What the fuck did I just do?!” The next morning, however, I woke up thinking, “I’m free!” Since that time, I have wondered if I made the right decision, and honestly, I have felt a bit clueless and lost – which is uncharacteristic of me. Then again, I have kind of loved that sensation. Stepping into the unknown not only brings with it confusion, but also extraordinary possibility, as well as the opportunity to find out some things about myself, which I otherwise might not know.