My International Travel Promise To Myself

Copyright : Sebastien Decoret

Back in 2014, I made a promise to myself that I would visit a foreign country, preferably one I had not visited before, every even-numbered year. I designated every even year primarily as a means to give myself enough time to prepare my schedule and my finances to be able to travel every other year, and I also chose that interval because I felt a strong itch to visit a foreign country in 2014.

Why was I struck with this idea in 2014? One reason was that I suddenly realized that year that I had not taken a bona fide vacation since 2007. The second and more compelling reason stemmed from deep conversations I had with my dear friend and meditation teacher, who was quickly succumbing to a very aggressive and deadly brain tumor. On more than one occasion during my visits with him, he told me, “Don’t wait to do the things you have always wanted to do, because you might run out of time to do them.”

What Rob told me really got me thinking. I thought of how my mom had a number of big dreams dashed because she had always pushed them to the side, believing that she either didn’t deserve to pursue them, or that her dreams would never come to fruition. For example, she had entertained a strong interest in travel, but she always made excuses for why she couldn’t go on vacations or getaways. In fact, the only “vacations” she ever took were when one of her siblings fell ill or died, and she had to fly to Hawaii to visit. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t think such trips should ever count as vacations, especially since they are so emotionally difficult. It’s not like my mom went to Hawaii and had a grand time at the funerals she attended.

Though I had traveled to various destinations for reasons other than the death of a relative, I knew that I had also fallen into a similar trap of making excuses about being too busy to take a vacation. So in the Spring of 2014 I decided to travel to Prague to compete in an IFBB Pro event, and figured that I would also visit Hungary, which was on my bucket list of destinations to visit.

My friend Rob passed away on April 29, 2014. After spending several weeks grieving for him, I decided to act upon my proposed travel plans to Eastern Europe. As I was planning the trip, I realized that since I would be in prep for a bodybuilding show, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy Prague as a vacationing traveler, and also realized that I would only have a couple of days to explore Hungary. I ultimately decided not to compete, and instead booked a 7-day trip to Hungary which I completed in September of 2014.

Hungary turned out to be just as magical as I imagined it to be, and I honestly felt like I was honoring my dearly departed friend Rob when I was there. By an incredible stroke of luck, I was able to travel to Sydney, Australia and Bali the following month. Satisfied with having traveled to 3 new countries, I resolved to go somewhere new in 2016.

In March of 2016, I flew to Costa Rica, adding to my list of foreign destinations and keeping my promise to Rob and myself to travel internationally in an even year. After my Costa Rica trip, I wasn’t able to save money consistently for a trip in 2018, but whenever I had a chance to set something aside, I did.

I’m proud to say that I have fulfilled my promise yet again this year, when I traveled to the Maldives in September, and to Thailand earlier this month. Both trips were absolutely amazing, and I feel spiritually richer because of those experiences. I love the fact that I am able to say that I added six new countries in the last 5 years to my foreign travel roster, and I have every intention of adding to the list in 2020. My goal is to save up for a trip to Japan in 2020, but if I am unable to save enough money to travel to that destination, I will select a more reasonably priced excursion so that I can stay on track with my travel goals.

For those of you who are curious about what foreign countries I have visited, here is the list:

England (1980)
France (1980)
Switzerland (1980)
Italy (1980)
Germany (1980)
Austria (1980)
Greece (1980)
Turkey (1980)
Hungary (2014)
Mexico (1986, 1989, 1992)
Costa Rica (2016)
Australia (Sydney) (2014)
Bali (2014)
Maldives (2018)
Thailand (2018)

It will be exciting to think about what countries I will visit in the future. Some of the countries on my list include: Fiji, Bora Bora, Spain, Egypt, Vietnam, Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, Scotland, Kenya, New Zealand, Nepal.

For those of you who dream of traveling, but who always seem to find a roadblock when trying to plan a trip, how about setting a similar goal to the one I have set for myself? You would give yourself at least a year to save up money between trips, and you would be able to travel to destinations you’ve always wanted to see.

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To Compete, Or Not Compete…That Is The Question

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The experience of being onstage at an NPC or IFBB bodybuilding contest is unique and exhilarating, and I miss it. What I don’t miss, though, is the maddening prep which precedes the event, and the constant self-scrutiny which always surfaces during prep. I remember when I couldn’t wait to step onstage again, and would always make sure that I had a contest lined up to prep for, but my priorities have shifted dramatically over the past year. One thing I grew tired of with prepping for contest after contest is that I had to be so disciplined all the time, and was unable to ever let loose and have fun for fear of messing up my prep. A few of my closest friends even remarked that I no longer knew how to have fun, and they were absolutely right. Though I understand that the sacrifice is essential for success onstage, I don’t want to live in a constant state of physical and spiritual deprivation. Life is short, and I certainly don’t want to look at my life and think, look at all that fun stuff I missed!

last Fall, I visited Hungary, Sydney, and Bali, and quickly realized during these trips that despite all my efforts to maintain clean eating and regular exercise, there was no way that I would be able to hold onto a goal of competing once I returned home. I had been struggling with significant metabolic issues, and though I ate relatively clean during my travels, I didn’t follow the seven daily meal regimen I had been accustomed to. Here’s another shocker: I had wine while in Hungary because that country is known for its wine, and I am a wine lover. I wasn’t about to deprive myself because of some orthorexic thought process which in previous years would have had me convinced that the fermented libation was evil. I also had little to no access to weight equipment, and though I made every effort to use exercise equipment whenever it was available to me, I didn’t follow the six-day workout regimen which I follow when at home. Was that a bad thing? I think not. I was able to see parts of the world which I had always wanted to see, and I had an amazing time. Thank goodness I didn’t obsess over what I was supposed to do and complain about the lack of resources in these countries.

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Though I always want to win, I am not going to have a nervous breakdown over the fact that my placings as a Pro have been underwhelming. I don’t feel pressured to step onstage, and I honestly wouldn’t have a problem with retiring completely from competing if that is what I decide to do. Yet I still get that question, “When’s your next show?” One person (NOT a competitor) went so far as to say, “Hey girl, you need to step up your game!”, which I thought was extremely rude and presumptuous. I am tired of trying to balance a very busy schedule with two-a-day cardio sessions and double training. At the peak of my contest prep, I was training FIVE HOURS daily, six to seven days per week. Every part of my body hurt. I did plyometrics with a foot strain, and trained nonstop with hip bursitis, sciatica, a rotator cuff tear, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel, and a wicked skin reaction to the latex corsets which I would wear. I have been through the paces and have paid my dues. I AM good enough, I just choose to focus my efforts on showing off my brain now. So please don’t tell me that I need to keep running in the race when I already won.

In case you are wondering if working towards a personal best and finally winning my Pro Card was worth all the sacrifice, I can say without hesitation that it absolutely was worth it. Would I do it again? Absolutely. But I will no longer sacrifice balance in my life for the sake of getting to the next level. I have come to terms with the fact that I won’t ever qualify for Olympia, and to be honest, I wouldn’t want that pressure anyway. Life is good, and I have settled into a really nice groove.

Some very well-meaning people in the industry have warned me that the competition in the Pro ranks is getting even stiffer, and I have seen proof of that with my own eyes. Let me be very clear: I am NOT going to get myself all worked up and feel self-conscious because other Pros have raised the stakes. I am quite content to avoid the stage if need be. To be honest, the vast majority of IFBB Pros don’t even compete, so I feel no remorse over my casual attitude towards competing in future events.

Life is about balance, and the way I choose to maintain balance now is by working on my careers, passions and talents fully, without being distracted by notions of returning to the stage. Yes, I love the bodybuilding stage. But I also love my life and the freedom which I reclaimed after shifting my priorities.

Travel Outside Of Your Comfort Zone

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Traveling abroad is a wonderful way to break out of established patterns and comfort zones, become exposed to new cultures, and press the spiritual reset button. I have always been interested in doing more international travel, but because of financial and time constraints, the extent of my visits to other countries has been confined to Mexico and parts of Europe. I don’t feel challenged culturally when I visit Atlanta, Miami, Dallas, Sacramento, Columbus or Chicago, because the primary language is still English, and American customs are relatively consistent around the country. When I return home from any of these places, I don’t feel a shift in my perspective like I did when I visited Europe.

I will be traveling to Europe, Australia and Indonesia within the next two months and am exhilarated and somewhat terrified. What will I encounter in these places? What kinds of people will I meet? What will I learn about myself? Even the process of gathering information on my upcoming trips to Hungary, Sydney, and Bali is causing my life’s perspective to shift. I have mostly been focusing on the trip to Hungary since it is scheduled a month before the other two locations, and have been making a concerted effort to learn the Hungarian language before I arrive there. In my efforts to learn Hungarian, I have experienced a shift in my cerebral cortex which not only helps me with the language, but to also think like a Hungarian, at least to a certain extent. When I practice the speaking drills, I imagine being in the middle of Budapest, having to ask for directions, struggling with a very difficult language to make my thoughts understood.

In addition to the language barrier, I have no idea how to navigate through Budapest and imagine that I will need to learn the public transportation system or take a taxi to certain areas, while backpacking and walking through other areas. This will be an adventure unlike any other I have experienced. Things I am incredibly reliant on like clean food sources and a gym will be somewhat hit or miss when I am out there. I know I will feel a bit like I got drop kicked into a very unfamiliar territory, and I know I will be well outside my comfort zone during the trip.

Some of the greatest breakthroughs have come from challenging existing patterns. Perhaps I will have an epiphany while in a foreign land, trying to find my way and struggling with a language which I am rather unfamiliar with. I am certainly up for the challenge and the adventure. It has been far too long since i have thrown myself out into the big wide world, at risk of stumbling over every little thing. It certainly doesn’t help that my brain is more like a stone than a sponge when it comes to learning languages now. However, I have made a concerted effort to learn Hungarian. At least I can say things like “szeretnék valamit enni” (I would like something to eat) while in Hungary and hopefully understand the response I will get to that statement.

I am excited for the adventures ahead and fully expect them to influence how I view the life I have built for myself. It’s always good to shake things up a bit!

Traveling Is Hard For Fitness People

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Ever since I began competing in 2009, I have become a high maintenance traveler. It’s almost impossible to avoid becoming high maintenance when things like finding a gym and locating clean food are foremost in one’s mind. I’m not saying that it’s not possible to stay on track with workouts and food while traveling, but foraging for certain “fitness” resources becomes an essential part of prepping for a trip in a fitness person’s life.

I honestly believe that it is always possible to create intense workouts in any location by performing plyometrics, calisthenics, climbing stairs, running on the beach, etc. However, I also know that those of us who love lifting weights go through iron withdrawals when a gym is not available during travels. My first question when a trip is being booked is, “Where is the closest gym, and how is it equipped?”, rather than what sights there are to check out. No hotel room routine or outdoor workout will ever feel as good to me as weightlifting.

Road trips are the easiest since a car can be loaded up with meals and water, but I am always concerned about whether there is a refrigerator in the hotel room at my destination. Though I am resourceful and can put my food on ice, food spoilage is almost inevitable after a couple of days. Packing food when traveling by plane is much trickier since certain food items either travel poorly or are not allowed by TSA. If you need to bring a lot of food and decide to check in your food bag, be prepared for the possibility of lost luggage. My food bag was lost for 24 hours on one trip when I was traveling to a national contest, all because the airline had cancelled a flight, yet had neglected to reroute my food after they booked me on a replacement flight! I also had to spend the night in a freezing cold airport terminal during that trip, so by the time I got to my final destination, I was exhausted and frustrated. When I discovered that my food had been lost, I literally began crying. Eventually my bag was found and delivered to me, but 7 pounds of chicken and beef were on the verge of spoiling by the time the bag was back in my possession.
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Traveling abroad holds even more challenges for the fitness person, since many countries don’t offer clean meal prep services. Even if a local market is located, how will food be prepped if your hotel room lacks a kitchen? I am currently facing this challenge as I prepare for a trip to Hungary. I will make sure to pack a bunch of whey protein, Quest bars and nuts to at least ensure that I meet my body’s daily protein needs. I have also looked into purchasing prepped meals and having them shipped to the hotel on the day of my arrival. Thank goodness I will be staying in a room with a kitchenette when I travel to Sydney, and can cook up a bunch of fish and chicken once I arrive there.

I know that those of you who are not involved in the fitness industry must be reading this and thinking that I am nuts, while those of you in fitness will be able to relate to what I have been saying in this article. The thing is, I don’t want my body to rebel from radically different eating habits or food choices, so I will uphold my high maintenance perspective and do everything in my power to eat clean. Most countries tend to consume whole foods and aren’t in the habit of eating copious amounts of fast foods, a fact which I am thankful for. I look forward to consuming the local produce and trying new foods while staying clean.