It’s been a long two years. I have been fairly silent on here and on social media for a number of reasons, and I’m finally ready to share them.
Like so many of you, the last couple years put a hard stop on my plans. I went from traveling every month — most of the month — to staying at home for weeks on end. It was a shock to my system that had repercussions on every facet of my life.
Staying at home, I confronted things that I had put on hold for years. For one, I had been neglecting my health: traveling non-stop had taken a significant toll on my body, and I didn’t have a constant doctor as I was never in the same place. My impending burnout was another piece I ignored. It became apparent after a few months that momentum had been keeping me going up until this point, and I had been pushing myself to the limit; never stopping to rest, reflect or allow myself time to recover. And lastly, I had become so wrapped up in the constant need to produce more, I had lost sight of my ‘why’. Facing a full-blown identity crisis (who am I, if not a traveler?) was not something I had planned on, nor realized would be an important part of understanding myself. It had always been easy to keep going, and the stillness drove me crazy.
Health-wise, I’ve always struggled with ongoing, unexplained issues. Back problems, headaches, muscle aches and joint pains that come and go without any explanation, sometimes debilitating enough to keep me in bed for days on end. I also have a tendency to get sick constantly while traveling. The idea that these seemingly random issues could keep me from traveling was enough to make me ignore them completely, until they worsened to the point where I simply couldn’t anymore.
For some context here, let’s go back to late 2018. Jacob, my husband, and I were living out of a suitcase and had taken on a job that had us traveling between Mexico and The Caribbean to shoot photo and video for a series of hotels. Days into the first shoot I developed feverish symptoms. I powered through 16 hour days on little sleep, promising myself I’d go to a doctor when the shoot was over (I didn’t). On the second shoot I got food poisoning. By the third shoot I was exhausted and managed to make it through without getting sick, only to return back to the U.S. and discover I had contracted a bacterial infection. This was around Christmastime — I went to the doctor, took a Z pack, and recovered for a week before jetting off to what would be our final shoot. I was sick again by mid-January, fainting from dehydration and landing myself in the hospital. Understandably, Jacob was ready to pursue his career outside of this non-stop traveling lifestyle, and we decided living out of a suitcase wasn’t for us. We settled in New York City, and I resolved to be more careful with the jobs I took on.
In the months leading up to the pandemic, I ended up in the hospital again. This time though, I received a diagnosis: Crohn’s Disease. I had never had a true diagnosis before, only symptoms and tests that didn’t add up. I was skeptical, but sure enough, the evidence was there: real damage to my intestines. I also tested positive for campylobacter, a bacterial infection that I had likely been picked up during my travels to Mexico. While I sat with my doctor to discuss treatment, he looked me in the eye and told me that my non-stop traveling was making me ill. Not only could the bacterial infection itself cause significant damage to my body, it could be what actually caused me to develop an autoimmune disease (Crohn’s).
Unfortunately, this didn’t even begin to explain the decades of my symptoms. It was just the tip of the iceberg into the next couple of years that would become me chasing a true diagnosis.
When the pandemic hit, things worsened quickly. I struggled with daily headaches; muscle aches and debilitating pain that kept me in bed. I experienced brain fog and memory issues, muscle spasms, and constant stomach pain. I started to lose hair and experience changes with my skin, and develop seemingly random food intolerances. During this time I received an additional autoimmune disorder diagnosis, a diagnosis of a rare form of arthritis (which was only recently retracted), and treatments for other possible ‘complications’ from an overactive immune system. For anyone who struggles with an invisible illness, I’m sure you can relate — not all of these diagnoses have stuck, and none of them quite fit.
Finding motivation to work was near impossible. Besides the fact that I felt sicker than ever, I also couldn’t fathom writing about travel or trying to take photos. I’ve always prided myself on being a motivated person, clear on my goals and next steps. For the first time in years I found myself doubting everything I had worked towards and what I was doing with my life.
As time wore on it only became clearer to me that not only would I be unable to travel for the foreseeable future, I wasn’t sure I wanted to. The news about my health (and my physical turn for the worse) also made me fearful of catching covid. The recommended treatment for Crohn’s is an immunosuppressant, which would also put me at greater risk for becoming severely ill if infected. I decided to do everything in my power to get my health back with minimal intervention — incorporating a new diet under guidance of a nutritionist, starting a strict exercise regimen, practicing daily meditation. I stayed home and spent hours each day researching ways to get better.
With offices closed in New York and across the world, we moved back to Amsterdam and soon found ourselves in a full lockdown. If I wasn’t going anywhere before, I sure wasn’t now.
Being at home all day every day, I was forced to confront the reality of my situation. Words can’t describe how lucky I felt to be able to travel with my partner the past few years. I was completely in love with being able to travel for work, experience new cultures and ways of life, pursue photography, and write about all of it. I had met amazing people who inspired me. I had also started a business, something I never thought I was capable of. I had lived abroad and created a life that made me happy. I felt so grateful.
On the other hand, I was living and breathing work. The bulk of my days were spent on social media, not something I ever planned on or wanted. I was also faced with the reality of what this job truly entails, and the ugly pieces that come with it: I found myself constantly chasing perfectionism, obsessing over minute details, always focused on creating more and doing more. I was constantly comparing myself to others and feeling like a fell short for not measuring up to the unrealistic measures of success I had identified for my business. The reality of this work is that it’s only exacerbated by how extreme social media can be: one perfectly executed post means potential purchases means sustaining your business means continuing to travel. I could never do enough, and my work was never done. It knew it was unhealthy, yet I couldn’t stop.
Beyond that, it was impossible to ignore that people were no longer using Instagram in the way they were when I created my account to share my photography back in 2016. The travel niche in particular was driving overtourism, unrealistic expectations of destinations, a ‘bucket list’ approach to trips, and overall unhealthy and unsustainable travel habits. I had fallen into a career that didn’t even exist years ago, and I had mixed feelings about sharing so much of my life. Truthfully, I had started to resent it. I always thought travel would be what pushed me to learn and grow, but I started to realize the hard work began when I stayed home. With this new outlook, how could I continue to inspire anyone to travel when I was both fearful of what it had done to my health, and unsure of what I stood behind?
With this true identity crisis playing out, I explored other career paths. I took on a full-time job in the travel industry, only to find myself back to spending most of my days on social channels (I gave notice after three months). I played around with different types of photography, shooting friends and local businesses in Amsterdam. I entertained the idea of going back to school in psychology (my original major in college). I joined an online business course for women, with a focus on self-growth and discovery. The list goes on and on.
One of the hardest parts for me has been showing up when I’m lacking clarity on my next move. But lately, I’ve found myself missing so many aspects of what drew me to sharing my travels in the first place. I have spent so much time thinking (and overthinking) about what to do, what’s right, and what will lead me to the next phase of my career. Giving myself permission to pursue other passions and to step back and re-evaluate my decisions has been healing; and for the first time in a long time, I’m not as worried about figuring it all out before I move forward. My health is on the right track and I’ve started to plan trips again, with a focus on traveling slowly and being present.
The question I find myself thinking about each day now is how I can do better and be better. I firmly believe travel gives us the opportunity to look beyond ourselves. It shows us how we can learn from others, and how we can use travel to enrich our lives and connect with the world on a deeper level. This truth is what motivates me to keep looking at travel and how I want to contribute to it in a meaningful way. I still plan on sharing my travels (when it makes sense) and I hope that while doing so, I can explore how we can all be more responsible and conscious travelers.
I’m so grateful to all the people in this community who have supported me over the years. From using my travel guides, to messaging me about photography, to booking a trip or making a purchase. It means more to me than words can describe. At the end of the day, hearing that you’ve been inspired to travel somewhere new or pursue a passion like photography or writing has been what fulfills me most. I felt lost but hopeful when I first started traveling in 2016, and this blog opened my eyes to so many possibilities. I am eternally grateful for all that it has taught me, and it wouldn’t be here without you.
I’d like to think it’s only the beginning.