Hi, my name is Ashley Schwartau and I have anxiety.

by Ashley
The author, Ashley Schwartau

I’m also a mom, a bibliophile, and most relevant to you: a travel addict.

I started this blog to write about my family’s adventures while working remotelyparenting a small child, and traveling with anxiety. I focus on affordable travel, work-life balance and mental wellness, and bringing the world to you when you’re not able to go anywhere. I also write a lot about Nashville and how to be a tourist in your own town.

Along for the ride are my patient husband Justin, a craft cocktail hobbyist and hot tub enthusiast, and our young son, Skyler, who is always up for an adventure.

My hope is to share what we’ve learned over the years to help you travel cheaper, travel more, and travel better. After all, travel is stressful.

I want to help you feel at home, no matter where you go.

Let me tell you my story

I’ve always been an anxious person. 

As a kid, my people pleasing and perfectionist tendencies made me worry about everything, from getting all As and impressing teachers to not leaving anyone out on the playground and making everyone feel welcome at parties. I put a lot of stress on myself, setting high expectations and enjoying the praise I got when I exceeded them.

My childhood was a happy one but the little things that can roll off the back of someone who does not have anxiety can easily add up and exacerbate an otherwise average situation. 

The magnet programs I attended were rigorous and demanding, compounding my stress. My little brother had undiagnosed ADHD, causing anger issues and stress for our family. In high school, one of my best friends tried to commit suicide and stopped talking to me and another friend after we tried to get her help. More stress. My parents were entrepreneurs, who ran their business out of our house, which breeds its own varieties of stress. Two of my grandmothers spent their final years living and dying in our home, requiring much care and attention from the family, adding stressor upon stressor. 

But I just saw all of that as regular run-of-the-mill stress, not considering that my brain might not be fully equipped to handle it all. I was just “stressed out”.

In college, a friend once asked me, “Do you have anxiety?” 

I laughed, surprised that he would ask.

Me? Anxiety?

College me, young, blonde, and in denial.

Wasn’t that, like, related to depression? Weren’t anxious people neurotic and loaded up on meds? My negative connotation of the word should speak volumes of what I knew back then.

“Of course not. How could you say that?” I said. Keep in mind, this was the early 2000s, before talking openly about such things was mainstream. “I just worry about everything all the time.” 

He looked me in the eye and said, “That’s literally the definition of anxiety.” 

I didnt know it then and wouldnt for a few years, but so many of the things that plagued me – from headaches and poor sleep hygiene to gut problems and skin picking – were all symptoms of my anxiety. And they impacted every aspect of my life, whether I was willing to admit it or not. 

Hello anxiety, my old friend.

Finally, in 2010, I consulted a doctor, admitting everything that I felt was “wrong” with me. It was one of the first times I’d openly acknowledged that I wasn’t just “stressed out”. 

I was diagnosed with general anxiety and IBS. These two things exacerbate one another, and together form a horrible feedback loop from hell. For years, I felt like my body and I were two separate entities, and that I was being held hostage by a body who refused to cooperate. 

There were days when I just couldn’t predict how my body would react to food or to stressful situations. Every time I’d have to leave the house – to go to yoga, to go to a party, to go to an event, to go to the airport, etc. – my body activated fight or flight mode. I was often late to local events, sometimes bailing entirely on things concocting various excuses, and my husband (bless him) got very used to waiting for me when it was time to go somewhere. Because I was waiting for my body to get its act together. 

Can you tell that I’d just had an anxiety attack 10 minutes before we took this photo in San Juan, Puerto Rico?

My anxiety triggers:

Things that set me over the edge: small spaces, large crowds, the feeling of being trapped and not able to leave, being confined to a space for an indeterminate period of time, not being able to find a bathroom, being stuck in traffic or long unmoving lines…. Are you sensing a theme? 

These situations send my body into fight or flight mode, initiating a series of uncontrollable physiological effects including sweating, overheating, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and urgent intestinal distress. I would often experience acute anxiety or panic, which only worsened the effects on my body, which caused me  more anxiety or panic. Everything was exacerbated by the things I ate, prolonged by too much caffeine, too much alcohol, too much sugar, too much dairy. 

My biggest stressors and the worst triggers were the things that could not be avoided when participating in the things I loved doing the most: going on everyday adventures and traveling the world. 

Add on top of all of this the fact that I tried to hide everything I was dealing with out of shame or embarrassment. People might think I’m weak or disgusting or incompetent. The stress of hiding what ailed me only made it worse. 

I want adventure in the great wide somewhere.

It would have been so much easier to just call it quits and stay home. Home is where I was safe. Home is where I felt comfortable. Home is cozy and familiar and easy. Home is my safe space, where I work and live and spend time with the people that I love. 

But I get antsy and bored and need to explore. I come from a line of travel addicts who gave me their thirst for knowledge and adventure. Staying put feels limiting and claustrophobic, yet every aspect of the act of travel was triggering. Another feedback loop from hell. 

So I needed to get some help.

In 2017, I made the conscious decision to stop allowing anxiety to rule my life. We had spent six weeks living overseas, and while that was an incredible trip that I reflect on fondly, there are many negative moments that remain emblazoned in my brain. I needed to get a handle on things or slowly lose my mind.

So I hired a health coach who guided me through a strict elimination diet and holistic goal setting exercises to help narrow down food and stress triggers. Over six months, I was able to redefine my relationship with food and deepen my understanding of anxiety and depression’s physiological effects on my body. Simultaneously, I worked with a new therapist to reduce stress and target specific anxieties related to my immediate travel goals. 

Since then, practicing what they taught me, I’ve surprised myself with what I’ve been able to do and the ways in which I’ve been able to conquer my fears. Public speaking? Check. Ride the subway without having a panic attack? Check. Give birth to my son at home? Check. Quit my workaholic tendencies and create healthy work-life boundaries? Check. 

I’m not cured by any means, and I still get triggered even when I’m at my most mentally stable or relaxed. But I have learned so much from therapy, working with the health coach, reading about psychology and self-compassion, and simply by pushing myself. I no longer feel like my body and I are working against one another, but that we’re a team.

The anti-anxiety toolkit that I’ve crafted for myself over the years has allowed me to continue pursuing the most important things in life: spending time with my family and traveling as much as possible. And doing so without losing that safe, cozy feeling of being at home.

You are not alone.

I know now that I’m not alone in my anxiety struggles. I am not the only person who has felt controlled by their mind or body. And I’ve gotten better! So I want to share what I’ve learned in case it can help someone else. 

Maybe you’re too scared to get on a plane or stressed out by big crowds or nervous about visiting a country where you don’t speak the language. Maybe you have an irrational anxiety that you don’t even understand. If you want to go places and do things, I’m here to tell you that you CAN. 

When I initially started this blog many years ago, inspired by my grandmother’s binders of typewritten travel stories, I wanted a place to document my own adventures. I didn’t have a clear goal. But I do now!

Travel can be so stressful.

Disrupting routines, unfamiliar languages and cultures, complicated logistics, high price tags….it can be a lot. Add in any sort of mental illness, physical ailments, or caretaking responsibilities, and suddenly the prospect of going anywhere seems daunting. But it’s not impossible.

I want to create a resource for people who want to travel but feel intimidated, overwhelmed, or stressed out by it all. Whether you’re a single lady trying to cope with your mental illness or a parent bogged down by dirty diapers and sleepless nights or a remote worker struggling with work-life balance, I’ve got you.

My mission is to encourage you to travel more, remove stress from your travel process, and empower you to feel at home no matter where you go.

My mission is to help others like me.

Travel is one of the best things we can do with our time and money. It’s a never-ending education, breeds resilience and flexibility, and expands our hearts and minds. Plus travel is fun 🙂 

BUT…

Traveling with kids is hard.

I want to arm parents with information that can make it easier to face the challenges of going places, seeing sites, and doing things with kids. 

Managing your wellness on the go is hard.

I want to share what I’ve learned about traveling with anxiety and IBS to hopefully make traveling easier for someone else who suffers from similar conditions. 

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance while working remotely is hard.

I want to inspire you to take advantage of remote work, finding more ways to see the world around you while still making a living.

Finding the time, money, and energy to travel is hard.

Whether it’s due to work schedules, caretaking obligations, debilitating fears, a global pandemic, or a barren bank account, jetting off around the world just isn’t always feasible. I want to bring the world to you through everyday adventures, by playing tourist in your own town, or enjoying a great travel book.

At the end of the day, I want to pass along what I’ve learned so that nothing holds you back from experiencing the world.

Feel free to subscribe to my site so you never miss a blog update. Connect with me on social. I would love to hear your story! 

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