Remarkable Traveler Kirstin Larkin is a force to be reckoned with. A member of the travel bug community, Kirstin has traveled throughout the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, the Bahamas, as well as Belize and Honduras. When she isn’t packing up her 15 passenger van for a weekend getaway in the US National Parks, she and her boyfriend are flying out to immerse themselves in a new city or soaking up the sun on a beach. Remarkable Traveler
What makes Kirstin remarkable is her ability to balance multiple medical conditions with the life of a traveler. I had the privilege of interviewing Kirstin as she shared her struggles, her favorite travel moment, and her advice for others with conditions like hers, looking to explore the world. Remarkable Traveler
Check out Kirstin’s interview below, and feel free to show her some love in the comments!
Do you consider yourself to be different from what some might call a “normal” traveler?
Definitely! I am not a ‘normal’ traveler by any means because I struggle with several chronic medical conditions. Seven years ago I was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), Ehlers Danlos Syndrome – Hypermobile (EDS), Gastroparesis, and Chronic Migraines. These invisible medical conditions affect me every day causing a variety of symptoms and makes itit even harder to do what makes me the happiest, traveling. Remarkable Traveler
What are some of the struggles you face when you travel?
My biggest battle I face when I travel is against my own body. Each day I have different symptoms so I am constantly trying to adjust to make myself as comfortable as possible away from home. My excitement tends to overtake me and the adrenaline rush of being somewhere new causes me to overdo it. When I expend too much energy I then become extremely fatigue and sometimes have fainting spells. Also, constantly eating out when I have a TON of food sensitivities is extremely hard on my system. Remarkable Traveler
Being a picky eater is one thing, but having to deal with food sensitivities, especially a large amount, is a whole new game. What do you look for when it comes to choosing a place to eat and how do you go about sharing your sensitivities with the cooks or staff?
Luckily, I only have food sensitivities and not allergies. So if I eat something that is off my ‘good to go’ list, I deal with pain and bloating; nothing serious like anaphylaxis.
Most of the time when I eat out, I stick to salads, meals that look bland, or I piece together my meals by ordering multiple side items. I also pack my own snacks and breakfast items to help cut back on the number of meals I have to eat out.
How do you deal with symptom flares while you are out traveling? Are there any hacks or tips you are willing to share with someone who may have similar symptoms or medical conditions?
When I am out on the road, I try hard not to veer too far off of my normal routine. I found when I do, I pay for it. So for me, that means always taking my daily nap, sticking to my diet, drink plenty of water and eat at my regular times.
When symptoms do rear their ugly heads, I try my best not to let my mind go down the rabbit hole of “what ifs”. Once I let fear in, then my symptoms only exacerbate. I learned a few years back, that if I take five slow deep breaths and repeat a mantra to myself like, “I am ok”, then calmness flows over me and my worries quiet in my head. By doing this exercise I am reminded that I am in control, not my body.
You label your illnesses as “invisible.” Have you ever experienced any judgement or disbelief from others (friends, family, strangers, doctors, etc.) when it came to your symptoms? What would you say to someone who deals with invisible chronic conditions and is experiencing judgement or disbelief?
I cannot tell you how many times I have not been understood, believed, miss -labeled, or looked at funny because one cannot physically see my disabilities most days of the week. The outside of my body looks well and “normal”, but unfortunately, it does not match the battles that go on internally that are hidden from the naked eye. This leaves me to defending myself when my fatigue is unbearable or my stomach is in severe pain making me want to curl up in the fetal positions. It does not matter how long I have dealt with my chronic medical conditions, I always encounter doubters.
I would tell my fellow warriors to trust themselves and what their bodies are telling them. All you can do is use your voice and explain your symptoms, what state you are in, and what you go through to others and then it is their decision to be open and have empathy. If they choose to not be receptive to your openness then it is not on you and say see ya! Remarkable Traveler
I’m incredibly impressed with your travels, especially given the number of chronic medical issues you are facing! With your treatments, are you required to bring medication while you travel? If so, how do you go about traveling with them?
Thank you so much! Traveling is definitely not an easy task especially when I have so many medical conditions which puts limits on me. It always takes me a few days to pack because I have to bring so many items to help prevent me from becoming symptomatic. Luckily, the amount of medications I have to bring along is not a ton, but I do have to make sure I don’t forget any.
Usually I bring my AM and PM pill cases full and then bring the original pill bottles with a few extra pills in them just in case I drop one or we get stuck somewhere. I also bring non-daily medications like heart burn tablets, migraine medicines, muscle relaxers, etc. just in case! Remarkable Traveler
Let’s say you are out hiking for the weekend. What essential items would you bring to make the trip as successful as possible?
If I took a weekend trip hiking, I would bring several essential items that would help me get through the adventure. Comfort is crucial for me so I do purchase name brand items because I have found they not only last longer, but they mold well to my body and provide me the relief I need to do an activity like this. Remarkable Traveler
- Osprey Backpack
- Camelbak Water Bladder
- Fitbit Charge HR – Important item so I can watch my heart rate and also my distance so I make sure I do not overdue it
- Keen Hiking Shoes
- Easton Hiking Poles
- CEP Compression Sleeves
- Appropriate clothing – My body struggles with temperature regulations so it is crucial I wear breathable, light clothes when warm and Cuddle Duds and Smartwool Socks when it is cold.
For some, even thinking of traveling with chronic medical conditions can be a daunting task. What advice would you give to someone who was concerned with the “what ifs” of traveling with medical needs?
When you have been confined to your home for a duration of time, the thought of leaving your controlled and safe environment to travel is scary! Naturally, your mind becomes littered with “what if” questions, but there is a way to overcome your concerns. Remarkable Traveler
My advice would be to start off small! Try taking a day trip to a state park or to the top 5 art museums in your city. Then extend your day trip to a weekend getaway to see how you do away from home for a few days. Next, try flying, riding an Amtrak or greyhound bus (something that is unpredictable). When you are ready, try extending the duration of your next trip a bit longer. Each adventure will reveal new things to you that you need to adjust to make your next trip more comfortable, less symptomatic and hopefully less fearful.
Try to not beat yourself up that you are not physically able to fly across the country or hike up Pikes Peak immediately. Stamina has to be built first. Just like babies, they have to learn how to crawl before they can run, and traveling with chronic medical conditions is the same way! Remarkable Traveler
What has been your best travel experience?
It is hard to choose just one trip because each place I visit, I take away a special experience. Remarkable Traveler
I think my favorite trip as of now would have to be New Orleans. My boyfriend and I visited this soulful city this past February and it resparked a fire that was starting to dim within us. The energy there was contagious, making us feel so alive, wild, and free. We danced down the streets and had an absolute wonderful time doing the unordinary together.
We got to kick off the Mardi Gras celebrations with their first parade, Krewe du Vieux which was a hysterical political parade, and ended the night hand in hand on Bourbon Street. Standing in the streets collecting beads and trinkets with glitter on my face was an absolute blast! I physically did the most I have done in a VERY long time on this trip! Remarkable Traveler
New Orleans gave me a glimpse of what I hope my future will be like – more fun and less symptoms! It showed me that with hard work of exercise I may be able to fulfill my dreams of traveling overseas and backpacking through Europe!
How has travel affected you overall?
Traveling has changed my life completely! When I was bedridden for months on end because of my chronic medical conditions, the one thing that kept me wanting to fight for my life was my world map that hung on the wall across my bed. I knew if I wanted to see different places, either near or far, I had to fight and push through hard moments, and I would get there.
Still, to this day, traveling is my motivation for staying stable. My determination to see this world is so strong, it feels like it is going to explode out of my chest. Truly, traveling has saved my life.
If you could choose a final thought you’d like to share with readers, what would it be?
The reason I am so open about sharing the good and the bad of my life is to encourage others to do what makes them happy. We all have limitations and fears, but we don’t need to let those dominate our lives.
Once we push past the walls we create in our lives, some beautiful moments of growth, experiences, and memories can happen. Remarkable Traveler
Kirstin Larkin is a dreamer and a doer. She sees possibility everywhere making her creative spirit always be alive. She does not quiet her dreams despite living with several chronic invisible illnesses. Instead, she preservers, pushing past fear and fulfilling her heart’s deepest desire: traveling.