Mailbag: health & wellness

Welcome to my monthly mailbag!

Here, I take your questions about a particular topic of my nomadic life and give you all the secrets about how I make this crazy existence work.

The theme this month? Health and wellness. Let’s be real, even when we’re stationery it can be hard to juggle all of our physical and mental needs along with work and social activities. Let me tell you, when you’re on the move, it can be even harder.

It took me a full year just to figure out how I could scrap together a daily routine in the midst of travel, even when my apartments, my cities and my work flow are constantly changing. (You can read more about that here.)

Here’s how I navigate everything else:

Do you have travel health insurance? Nope. I did for the first year-plus of travel, then I realized that the greatest perk of travel insurance is, in the case of extreme emergencies, being airlifted back to the U.S. for surgery. I REALLY don’t want that. Why? Well, for one, I don’t have health insurance in the U.S. anymore and I think we all know the financial realities of undergoing any sort of surgery, sans insurance, in the U.S. It can break you, financially. But the thing is, depending on how good your health insurance in the U.S. is, it might break you even if you do have insurance. The healthcare system there is expensive, folks! That said, if you’re only traveling short term, you have strong health insurance in the U.S., and you don’t speak the language in whatever country you’re traveling to, you might elect to pick up some travel insurance as well, considering it’s pretty cost effective (you can get about a year’s worth of coverage for about $300). If you are looking to get travel health insurance, you might consider a company like Yonder.

What do you do about healthcare emergencies? Someone asked me recently: if I broke my ankle, what would happen next? Well, first, I would say a little prayer of gratitude to the universe that it happened literally anywhere but the U.S., where not having health insurance is a real problem! Health insurance in most other countries doesn’t hold the same importance as it does in the U.S., and that’s because in general, healthcare is much more affordable. Many people here in El Salvador do not have health insurance, and costs of medical treatment, from minor doctor visits to major surgeries, are available at fractions of the price they would be in the U.S. What’s more, prescriptions are not required for MOST drugs and medications; rather, a patient can simply walk into a pharmacy, describe their symptoms and receive anything from antibotics to pain medication. (For example: I still take one medication daily; if I returned to the U.S. to refill it, I would be charged more than $175 for a doctor visit plus about $100 for a 3-month prescription. I got the same amount of the same drug refilled in San Salvador, without a doctor’s appointment, for about $30.)

What’s your emergency dental plan? Simply go to the nearest dentist! While traveling, the biggest concern is being able to travel to the nearest major city, where likely the biggest concentration of reputable dentists and regular doctor is located. If you know a local, ask for a recommendation. If not, you can use a site like What Clinic to browse reviews in various cities and countries all over the world.

Have you learned any alternative medicine practices in Central America? Love this question! While traveling and transitioning to an independent work lifestyle, I have learned, most simply, to better listen to my body; to rest when I need rest and to take the time to do yoga in the middle of the day if I’m hurting or tight or stressed. Apart from that, alternative medicines are quite popular and commonplace in Central America. Many countries have their own medicinal herbs and spices that you can buy in markets. Some pharmacies sell aromatic potions specifically tailored to individual functions (muscle pain, insomnia, fatigue, cardio vascular health, sinus infections, etc.). When people get the flu here, they often make a special tea with medicinal herbs, ginger, honey and lime. People BELIEVE in the power of herbs, ginger, honey and lime. And soup is one of the first go-tos for minor illnesses and fatigue as well — soups with lots of vegetables and good bone broth are a strong part of the culture in Central America.

Do you bring anything (ie. Mace) for safety? I don’t. First of all, you cannot fly with Mace or pepper spray. You cannot, of course, fly with any sort of weapon such as a knife or a keychain taser. Secondly, I don’t love the idea of carrying around those sorts of items. I don’t want to be eager to use them, nor have them used on me. For a while, I carried around an “ear-piercing” alarm keychain, but I stopped because I was terrified I would accidentally set it off. Instead, I use my built-in safety tools; I stay vigilant of my surroundings, take an alternate route if I feel uncomfortable, and do yoga to improve upper body strength. And I definitely talk to locals about where it’s not OK to walk and hang out. I do carry around, in my wallet, a handful of Guard Your Drink sheets. Basically, if you worry that you neglected a drink and you could have been roofied, you can dip a sheet inside your glass to find out. I’ve never used one. Here in El Salvador, the staff at bars and restaurants consider watching out for patron’s belongings part of the job. If I felt I was at a sketchy place, I would just leave. In general, I believe in my instincts and if something were to happen, I think it’s unlikely carrying Mace or an alarm or any other gadget would stop it. Sometimes you have to understand that you’re taking risks to simply walk through the world, in any place. Still, if you’re smart, the percentages are low, and I rarely feel very unsafe.

How do you balance work flow and normal life when you’re constantly on the move, in new, exciting places? Learning how to find this balance was the greatest struggle in the beginning. The fact is, as a budding entrepreneur, I need to work …a lot. I finally realized that I need to have “boring days,” a lot of them, where I act as I would in my old life back in the States, doing nothing but grinding and eating leftovers, and sometimes sleeping in or watching Netflix when I was emotionally exhausted. It’s tough, when you’re on the move, not to want to *do* everything. Everywhere I travel the locals tell me, you *have* to do this and this and this and this because it’s all amazing. I don’t doubt it. But the reality is, not every day can be about exploration and excitement. Not if I want to build something. Making that happen, for me, means staying longer in a particular locale and accepting that there will often be experiences I miss. I’m not a tourist. I can’t go see every cave and take every boat trip. I don’t want to miss them *ALL* but there needs to be some equilibrium between the two. 

How do you navigate self care/mental health needs? Everyone needs to find what works for them. For me, I’ve come to realize that daily yoga is *really* important to ground me and force me to take inventory of how I feel both physically and mentally. I also know cooking is important, in a therapy sort of way, so I make time and take effort for that even if it’s difficult or inconvenient (limited kitchen setups and ingredients; distant markets or grocery stores). I take 30 minutes to read a book almost every day. I literally put those things on my schedule, because I understand they’re just as important to my production as sitting with my computer. Since I’ve been in El Salvador, I’ve also rented a guitar, because I understand that musical creativity works wonders for my mental health. I try to leave some pockets of time just for walking or sitting in a beautiful place and thinking, sans my computer or my phone. And I take the time to relax/ veg out on Netflix if I need that, too. It’s all about listening to yourself and finding what it is you really need in order to be a healthy, energetic, productive human the rest of the time. In some ways, traveling makes that tough, because there is always so much going on. But in other ways, being independent for work makes it easier, because I can decide when to take a break, and how to make up for it later.

What about loneliness? I have found I make friends pretty easily while traveling, but even so, bouts of loneliness can hit, and for me that’s usually a product of being far away from my emotional support system — the people who know and understand me, and who have the context and background for whatever I’m feeling. When those moments come, I often try to schedule phone calls with people I love from back home. Other times, perhaps if I’ve been very busy with a lot of “boring” work days, I try to reignite the emotions of gratitude for being in the place where I am. Sometimes that’s a self date (maybe cooking a meal and buying a nice bottle of wine, walking in nature or treating myself to a nice restaurant) and sometimes it’s just reconnecting with the friends and acquaintances I have in a given place. Central America, in most places, is inherently more social; there are more interactions on the street, in the markets, in convenience stores, etc. than I tend to find in the U.S. Sometimes just walking around my neighborhood will remind me of that and do just the trick.

How do you deal with your period while traveling? Thanks for asking! We really should discuss this more. Before I started traveling, I opted to get a Nexplanon implanted in my arm. That means a) I don’t have to worry about birth control for 3 years and b) I don’t get my period anymore! It might not be for everyone, but I’m very happy with it.

What do you do about water? Is it safe to drink? No, the water is not safe to drink in most places in Central America. Most everyone here, unless they are very poor, drink bottled or filtered water. That’s because the tap water contains pathogens and parasites and could lead to serious, long-term illnesses. For a while, I carried around this UV-ray filtering device. It works well, and quickly, but it does nothing to mask the bad taste of water in some places. It’s a good option if you’re traveling in very, very remote areas or camping. But if I’m in a town or village that has stores, bottled water is much more preferable. I lug water jugs from the store at least a few times a week. It’s inconvenient, but I just think of it as part of my workout plan. 🙂

Have you adjusted to Central American heat yet? Well, it’s not that hot in El Salvador! The climate is pretty temperate here — yes, it can get hot during the days but the mornings and evenings are nice and cool and fresh. In general, I think I’ve adjusted because I start to freeze when it dips below 68 degrees (LOL), and my body handles hot temperatures and being in the sun much better. But especially when I was in Belize and Honduras, in much hotter climates, or when I’m at the coast here, I upgrade to places with air conditioning because I realize I won’t sleep well without it.

Biggest physical/mental change you’ve noticed about yourself? I think I’m calmer now. I think I handle redirection and upended plans better. I physically feel MUCH better than I did before— which I credit to being outside a lot (most restaurants and some houses are open-air in many parts of Central America), being in warmer, humid climates and also doing regular yoga and listening to my body.

Thanks for your questions! You can always respond to a post with a question for future mailbags or send me a message on social media. 🙂

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