Travelling with…IBS

Ah the glamour.

No, it’s not a made up disease which you can deep breathe away. Unfortunately it’s a very real, very debilitating issue which can ruin days of your holiday. From my calculations I’d say I’ve been dealing with IBS for around 17 years now. While it’s definitely not completely under control, I have far fewer ‘episodes’ (episodes: hospital trips, x-rays, cramping to the point where I can’t stand up, breathing hurts, lower back ache, nausea, fatigue, multiple trips to the bathroom) than I used to have when I was less aware of the food I was putting in to my body. I’ve read so many books and blog-posts on this topic now, taken so much advice from every. single. person I know (really something I don’t love to share about myself!). I’ve taken stock of what happens when I eat certain things and I thought if this could help somebody else then I should share. I’ve just put together some tips I use both at home and when travelling and although every individual is different, hopefully this helps somebody out there 🙂

IBS is more common in women and from my experience there does seem to be a link between IBS and the menstrual cycle. Here’s some of the most useful information I’ve come across on the gut, menstrual cycle and hormones:

Giulia Enders: Gut – the inside story of our body’s most under-rated organ

I picked up this book and basically swallowed it whole. Logical and relatable, Giulia, a German microbiologist, provides a detailed look at the gut, the brain-gut axis, and the world of gut bacteria. We went to see speak at the Sydney Opera House a couple of years ago and she just seems like the nicest person in the world too! There are plenty of videos out there of Giulia talking about her work but I like this one.

Alissa Vitti: WomanCode – Perfect your cycle, amplify your fertility, supercharge your sex drive, and become a power source

The first I heard about WomanCode was from health blogger, Lee from America, on her post about Cycle Syncing. Honestly, it’s like the penny dropped for me. Lee explains the theory behind Cycle Syncing very well so I’d advise having a look at that post (or this one) but the piece that resonates with me is incorporating particular foods during each given week of your cycle which can help your body function optimally by getting it the right micronutrients at the right time. My copy of WomanCode is highlighted, pages cornered and looks about a million years old but the information in there is so helpful. I’ve posted a copy of the foods Alissa suggests incorporating in each week of my cycle on my fridge so it’s easy to refer to when I’m whipping up a meal 🙂

Belinda Kirkpatrick & Ainsley Johnstone: Healthy Hormones: A practical guide to balancing your hormones

This one is a recent addition to my collection. It’s an odd feeling, but I don’t think I know quite enough about my hormones. They say PMS doesn’t actually have to happen – I WISH! This book, from naturopath and nutritionist Belinda, and food stylist and recipe developer, Ainsley, walks us through the menstrual cycle, offers practical advice for dealing with common symptoms, provides a huge selection of recipes and a section on supplements – what they’re used for, how much to take and usefully, where you can get these naturally in the food that you eat.

Steps I take which seem to help:

  • Arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare. Elevated stress and anxiety levels definitely don’t help IBS. Actually deep, controlled breathing can help if you’re stressed or anxious and want to just slow your body and mind down.
  • It’s especially difficult when travelling but the thing that works most for me is a food routine. Rain, hail or shine at home I have porridge/oatmeal (made with water and oat milk) with chia seeds (soaked overnight), cinnamon and turmeric warmed up in the morning. I top this with different nuts/seeds/nut butters (desiccated coconut, almond butter, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, walnuts or pecans) depending on what’s on the cycle syncing list that week or what I’m feeling. I don’t tend to top with fruit as I rather fruit on it’s own. If we’re staying in a hostel or airbnb it’s pretty easy to make porridge but if we’re out and about I’ll try to order something along these lines from a cafe. I love using Instagram to find new foodie spots to try.
  • Water, water, water. That age-old trick that helps with everything. Drink way more than you think you need. If you’re thirsty it’s already too late and you’re dehydrated. I wouldn’t recommend drinking local tap water and I do. I only drink the tap water at home. If we’re abroad we’ll pick up a huge bottle of water and fill up our S’well bottles for days out and about exploring. I won’t drink ice-cold water if possible though as it’s a little too harsh.
  • Very little dairy. No cow’s milk. I usually drink oat milk (Oatly), but I’ll also have almond milk or coconut milk. It’s pretty rare that I’d have yoghurt. I do like butter though. I love ice-cream but have it on very rare occasions as it really is an aggravator. Also, no soya milk – it’s a known hormone disruptor.
  • No coffee. Very difficult for most of the world I know, but it just instantly upsets my tummy. I ADORE the smell but I just cannot deal with the taste. My husband on the other hand travels with his Aeropress, grinder and weighing scales 🙂
  • Tea. I’ve cut way down on black tea – it’s quite caffeinated so if I fancy some I will still have it but I’ll make it very light. I tend to stick with herbal teas now – Spearmint is my absolute favourite and it really seems to help with hormonal (cystic) acne. Peppermint tea is good for cramps and  Ginger tea can help with nausea. Chamomile tea is supposed to be good to help relax you in the evenings but I haven’t really taken to the taste of it. I like light Earl Grey or Chai tea. I always pack tea-bags in my suitcase. Must be an Irish thing as most people I think bring a box of tea-bags even if they’re just going to Spain for a week’s holiday!
  • Hot Cacao – I warm up oat milk and then add raw cacao, cinnamon, turmeric, a little black pepper and a little maple syrup if I need something chocolatey. I’ll often add spirulina to this for a little green kick too. Such a cosy, hyggelig drink.
  • Fizzy drinks – I don’t drink them – too much sugar. Also, 0range juice – it’s very acidic so if I wasn’t feeling well I’d steer clear.
  • Greens – baby spinach is my holy grail. I love, love, love it and would eat it for every meal given half a chance. Lambs lettuce is a close second. I think greens play a huge part in keeping IBS at bay so I try to incorporate some with both lunch and dinner.
  • I don’t eat white bread. Yes, I eat brown/wholemeal bread – love it. I’d been missing Irish Brown Soda Bread in Australia but now that we’re back living in Dublin I’m really getting back in to it!
  • I also don’t eat most breakfast cereals. Cornflakes are like mini blades in my tummy.
  • No potatoes. So sad for an Irish girl and I don’t know what it is about them but I’ll eat one and instantly look about 6 months pregnant. Sweet potatoes all the way for me. Pop one in the microwave for c. 3 minutes, top with anything (butter, salt and pepper or shredded chicken with spinach,  sweet pointed red peppers and an egg. Perfection!)
  • Probiotics. I always travel with a probiotic. Digestive enzymes before a meal also help. I’ve tried out a lot of different brands and not all of them had an effect so I think this is a very individual decision.
  • I try not to eat on the aeroplane. Easy when the flight is under 5/6 hours but obviously I’ll eat if it’s long-haul. If we go on long-haul flights we always request the vegetarian meals – you’re given your meal first so you have time to go to the bathroom and brush your teeth or change or whatever before everybody else finishes their meals and starts queueing. You’re nestled back in ready for your movie or sleep. Pre-ordering vegetarian meals for the flight is my number 1 travel tip!
  • No packet food – none of those sauces from packets or those ready-made frozen meals.
  • No smoking. Zero interest.
  • Red meat – there’s a huge amount in the media about red meat all the time. I choose not to eat red meat but I will eat poultry – chicken and turkey are staples for me.
  • Fish – I eat most fish – salmon topped with chia seeds and popped into the oven – so delicious. There’s always a fish dish on a menu!
  • No big meals – yes, we go for dinner when we’re travelling but we never order 3+ courses as it’s just too much food. Little and often 🙂
  • Exercise – it’s actually easier for me to get exercise in when we’re travelling. John and I love to walk and rarely take public transport in a new city. We love to get lost and luckily, we always happen upon a must visit site! Some airlines have seated yoga sequences in the on-board entertainment system so I highly recommend doing those!

Foods I don’t touch (no matter what):

  • Onions, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale – that brassica family and I just do not get along.
  • Carrots. I’m sure some people are fine but nope, can’t even.
  • Popcorn 😦
  • Chinese or Indian cuisine – from takeaways. We were only in China for a short amount of time but I ate rice (white rice. Brown rice has too much fibre for me) with vegetables and no sauces and I was fine. I’m honestly put off going to India because of the food. It’s supposed to be a must-visit destination but it is one that scares me a little…
  • Fast Food – McDonalds, Burger King, Hungry Jacks etc. Not worth it!
  • Risotto – the actual devil.

I don’t think any of the drugs out there do much to alleviate this condition. I keep Buscopan in my wallet all the time just in case of cramps but it’s really a last resort – I’d much rather deal with my symptoms with food. Also, if you’re packing a suitcase – add a hot water bottle 😉

What it boils down to for me, is hydration, movement and 90% good decisions.

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Setting up a life in Australia

Well, here we are again, back in Australia mate. This was definitely not something we considered when we were shipping all of our stuff back to Ireland. We had expected to set up a little closer to home after our stint in South America but alas Australia called…again. It’s definitely easier the second time around but I thought I’d note a few things in case our experiences could help anybody else out there 🙂

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Bank Account

This is obviously one of the first things you’ll need here. We actually set up an account before we even left Ireland back in 2011. The process was simple. There are a few big hitters in terms of banks in Australia and we went with National Australia Bank/NAB, mainly because they offer fee-free banking. We didn’t need a Sydney address to get our cards either. Really helpful. The other main banks here are Commonwealth Bank of Australia/CommBank/CBA and Westpac.

Finding a Home

Sydney is known as the City of Villages and picking a place to live is exceptionally difficult! I came across this City Hobo site, which has an (awesome!) index of all of Sydney’s ‘burbs, and includes an ‘if this suburb was a shoe it would be…’ section. Hilarious…and bloody true! Paddington = Jimmy Choo; Newtown = Converse/Campers; Woolloomooloo (just wanted to type that to be honest) = Puma.

Honestly, finding somewhere to live was an absolute nightmare first time around. We went to loads of estate agencies and it’s seriously like they can’t get you out of their offices fast enough. It’s quite a stressful experience coming to a new country and staying in a hostel waiting to find your ‘home’; they definitely don’t make it easy for you… We actually ended up in our first apartment in Sydney by accident. We went to see an apartment and saw a sign outside the building advertising another open viewing so we went along and ended up being the only people viewing it. Obviously the agency had done just put the sign up outside and hadn’t done a thing online! Thankfully though…one week later it was ours. So we didn’t move until we left Sydney 3 years later… This time around things couldn’t have worked out better. I spotted a place on Domain (a pretty good site but it’s very easy to get sidetracked and start looking at million dollar listings) on a Tuesday, we went to the open-house on Wednesday, applied on Thursday about 1.30pm and got it about 4.30pm – unbelievable! The word delighted doesn’t even come close. We move in this Saturday – soooooo excited 🙂 RealEstate is another great website for finding accommodation. If you’re looking for a share-house then gumtree is the way to go.

Finding a Job

Before looking for a job you’ll need to apply for a Tax File Number/TFN…otherwise you’ll pay waaay higher tax than necessary. Seek is probably the most used job search engine – they also have a pretty useful app. LinkedIn is excellent if you’re looking for a professional role. Indeed and ApplyDirect are also worth checking out. Recruitment agencies definitely have Sydney employers tied up in a bow here – many roles honestly don’t even get openly advertised (I work in HR so I know this is true!) so it’s absolutely worth signing up with agencies. Generally, I find that specialised agencies are better to deal with as they know the roles and businesses they’re dealing with inside out so they’re more likely to do more for you…It’s also important to find a recruiter that you’re comfortable with – they’re working for you as well as the employer.

Some recruitment agencies I’ve had experience with in Sydney are:

General – Chandler Macleod, people2people, Hays, Robert WaltersMichael Page

Administration – OfficeTeam

Construction – Constructive Recruitment

Human Resources/Learning & Development – Tandem Partners, The Next Step

Financial Services – Robert Half

Next: You gotta get out there and do things! Time Out Sydney and What’s On Sydney are pretty good for diary dates 🙂

Essentials – Packing List for South America

South Ameria

What do you bring on a season-spanning trip to a continent when your daily outings could be in tropical rainforests, on beaches, climbing ridiculously high mountains or traversing glaciers? Here are our essentials!

General

  • Packing Cubes. I used 3 packing cubes (similar to these) and rolled everything into them and they slotted perfectly into the backpack. I don’t think I’d travel again without packing cubes; you can fit so much into them and you can pack and unpack them really quickly.
  • Venturesafe Pacsafe 25 litre daypack – we chose this as our day-to-day bag; it was comfortable enough to wear sightseeing every day, strong enough to withstand a 3 day adventure in the torrential rain and humidity of the Colombian jungle and is supposed to be slash-proof (thankfully, I can’t attest to this but that’s actually why we bought it).
  • Water Bottle/Flask. We went with this one from Hydro Flask, great for keeping glacial water cold and boiling water hot (tea time!)
  • Travel Hairdryer. I had to pick one up on our travels. BIG mistake not packing this first day…it warmed me up after many a cold shower!
  • Eye Mask – Papinelle in Australia have the loveliest eye masks made with Liberty of London fabrics (filled with lavender and complete with silk ties which won’t ruin your hair – since you’ll obviously be spending hours straightening your hair whilst backpacking…)
  • Ear Plugs – I’m what I would honestly call an ear-plug connoisseur (can I put that on my CV?) and definitely recommend Ohropax wax earplugs – there’s no noise getting through these babies.
  • Portable Battery Pack – we used this one by Anker, you won’t have electricity everywhere in South America and it’s really handy to be able to charge your phone or camera in your backpack whilst you’re on the go.
  • Universal Adaptor Plug. Non negotiable.
  • Neck Pillow – I brought a velour one with me on this trip (thanks Mum); last time I had one of those blow-up ones which was definitely easier to carry but way less comfy. You need some comforts on this type of trip.
  • Travel Towels – you know those microfiber ones you can pick up Penneys (or Primark or any sports store actually) – they fold up really neatly but get so manky – they’re the one thing you’ll want to get rid of the second you get home!
  • OzForex Travel Card – we used this for currency in a few countries (you can only have a certain number of currencies on it) but we found it had the best currency conversion rates around (from Australia) and all the ATMs we went to accepted it.
  • Ziploc Bags (medium and large size) – probably the most useful thing you could pop in your bag – great for preventing spillages, keeping passports dry, storing coffee beans, keeping wet clothes separate – the list is endless!
  • TSA approved travel locks – we used these as a deterrent more than anything but if you stay in hostels you’ll need them for the lockers provided.
  • A Pen – don’t overlook this one; you’ll need it at every border crossing.
  • Bose Travel Speaker; we used this with our phones and iPad to listen to music and watch movies. Surround sound in a tent baby!!
  • Tea. I brought a box of Harney & Sons Paris Tea along with us and savoured each and every single cup of tea.
  • John’s Aeropress has to be included on this list – I think he used it along with his mini coffee grinder more than he changed his socks. True story.

Clothes

This isn’t the entire list but the pieces I’ve pulled out over and over again:

  • Rain Jacket – unfortunately this one’s a necessity. We needed these every single day down in Patagonia. John bought a Mac in a Sac on Amazon and mine is from Marmot (a wind-breaker is a great idea).Black Leather Trousers – I couldn’t believe how many times these came out. John doesn’t want to see me wearing them every again but I care not!
  • Jeans – I went with a deep grey pair (only 1 pair of jeans, yes!) and I wore them all the time. Do not travel without jeans, seriously.
  • Hiking Boots – these are not a luxury, particularly in wet season – there are slippery stones and mud all over South America. You’d be crazy not to pack these! Mine were by Merrell and John’s were by the North Face. If I never see mine again I’ll be happy though…yep, don’t think I’ll be getting over all that climbing any time soon…
  • Trainers – good for days you’re not doing a major hike. I brought Nike Lunar Flyknits (like these) and got a lot of wear out of them.
  • Converse – way nicer than wearing your hiking boots or trainers with your jeans, and good if you want to look a bit more dressed up than trainers allow.
  • Havaianas – absolutely essential (for the beach and manky showers alike)
  • Sun Hat.
  • Bikinis – I brought 2 but Colombia is a fantastic (albeit expensive) place to pick up really pretty swimwear.
  • Pashmina/Scarf – great for all modes of transportation (why are aeroplanes always freezing?) I had a light grey one with me but also purchased a warmer scarf in Otavalo, Ecuador and wore that a lot.
  • Yoga Pants – not for morning yoga sessions (way too disorganised) but they’re great for hiking/trekking/keeping warm/relaxing and…sleeping in a tent! I packed 2 pairs.
  • Sports Top – I just brought one but could have used two; especially useful for trekking as they dry really quickly.
  • Sunglasses – not sure it’s necessary to actually mention this but John left his in the car in Ireland so just in case…

First Aid Kit

  • Plasters/Band-Aids
  • Paracetamol
  • Malaria Tablets – we went with Malarone as they’re the only ones that don’t seem to have any after effects. However, we brought a ridiculous amount with us – I don’t know what some doctors are doing recommending malaria tablets for everywhere in South America (our doctor in Dublin did); it’s just not necessary – check out the WHO website for where you actually them.
  • Insect Bite Cream – I’d recommend a proper one instead of just a normal cream – those mozzie bites can be seriously bloody annoying…and scarring.
  • Anti-histamines – as above.
  • Nausea Tablets – boat trips and long bumpy bus journeys. Enough said.
  • Eye Drops – you can get these along the way but it’s always nice to be able to read the packaging in your own language!
  • All Purpose Balm – I used C.O. Bigelow Rose Salve but Lucas Papaw lotion or Elizabeth Arden 8 Hour Cream would be good too.
  • Little Scissors (absolutely indispensable)
  • Tweezers
  • Sun Lotion – SPF 50 – the rays are incredibly strong in this part of the world
  • Bug Spray or Lotion with Deet to keep the mozzies away (OFF! is good as is Nopikex which you can purchase in Colombia)

Key stats from our South America trip!

So, I kind of thought it might be a good idea to keep an account of some key statistics from the 6 months we spent in South America (also including Cuba here):

Countries: 9

Passport Stamps: 30. Mostly from all the criss-crossing Argentina and Chile!

Aeroplane Trips: 19

Long-haul Bus Journeys: 69

Boat Trips: 17

Hostels: 59

Mosquito Bites: 81. Buggers.

Pizzas: 45

Photographs: 13,266

Phones Broken: 2

Favourite Country: Colombia (both of us)

Least Favourite Country: Bolivia (agreement again!)

Favourite City:

Favourite Place Overall:

Least Favourite City: Agreement on La Paz, Bolivia

One item we’re glad we packed:

  • Ciara: Earplugs (technically 2 items but you know what I mean!)
  • John: AeroPress (for making his coffee!!)

Most useful Travel Apps

Most useful travel apps

Just thought I’d mention some travel applications that we’ve been using to make travelling a little easier. Get them whilst you still have wifi!!

Duolingo – Handy little app to learn Spanish if you have none. Super annoying reminders about how long you’ve spent not looking at it though. It’s a bit of a smart ass of an app to be honest but it gets a job done.

Google Translate – with offline language pack (don’t think the offline pack is available on iPhone but John has it on his android phone). This is so useful when you have no idea how to communicate with a local – just show them the screen!

Maps.me – Google Maps hasn’t been great in South America. Maps.me had come up trumps for us on a number of occasions – it even has a map of within the grounds of Macchu Picchu! You just need to remember to download each country to your phone before you get there. It’s not great at pinpointing your exact location if you don’t have wifi but it’s very detailed.

OneDrive – 15GB of storage for free (more if you pay). We upload all our photos here just in case we lose our camera/camera card. It’s useful to get the space back on the camera card anyway.

Pinterest – I wasn’t going to add this in but it’s useful to search for the country you’re in to see pictures of the places you’d like to visit (also I’m addicted to Pinterest). Same goes for Instagram.

Pocket Expense Personal Finance – We’ve just started to use this to keep account of our budget. Bit late I know but what you gonna do. It’s very simple to use and you can see charts of where your money’s going. You need to play around a little with this when you get it first but it’s very handy once you’re used to it.

Skype – As we have an Australian account for Skype we got an amazing deal of $38 for 12 months with 300 minutes of calls to landlines and mobiles per month. This has been very handy for calling banks when we’ve had issues! (again wifi permitting).

Spotify – You can download your favourite songs to your phone; it’s an easy way to keep up to date with new music or listen to oldies even if you’re in the jungle.

WhatsApp – I use WhatsApp every single day, wifi access permitting, to keep in touch with home.

XE Currency App – Very useful when you have currencies with many zeros…my head isn’t great for maths so I’d have no idea what I was paying for anything if it wasn’t for this current currency exchange guru of an app…and John.

Tupiza, Bolivia and the Bolivia/Argentina Border Crossing at Villazon/La Quiaca

We just stayed in Tupiza for one night to break up the trip to Salta in Argentina. The trip from Uyuni to Tupiza began at 6am (we went with a company called 11 de Julio and we had to change a few hours in to another company, 12 de Octubre. Both buses were terrible and there’s no toilet stop or toilet on the bus. Fun!) We stayed at La Torres Hotel in Tupiza which was lovely (120 BOB).

Border crossing from Villazón, Bolivia to La Quiaca, Argentina

Collectivo’s leave from the back of Tupiza’s bus terminal from 5am every morning. So we were actually told that it would take hours to get through this border but a sleep in until 6am was required! We hopped in a collectivo at 6.40am and only had to wait 10 minutes for it to fill up. At 8.10am we pulled into Villazón (our driver was certifiable mind). From here you need to walk down to the border crossing although there are no signs so you basically just need to follow everyone else. There are plenty of currency exchange offices on the Bolivian side of the border. We were told that Bolivianos get a good rate against the Argentinian Peso; we got 1.91 for the Bolivianos we had left and 13.5 Argentinian Pesos (ARS) for each USD we had acquired (January 2015). As the Argentinian economy isn’t doing too wonderfully at the moment there’s a ‘blue dollar’ market – the actual rate should be about 8 ARS for every USD. Result! We’ve been told to try not to take any money out of banks in Argentina as the charges and rates are astronomical.

After changing our money (and asking directions from 3 different people) we found the bridge or border crossing to take take us from Bolivia to Argentina. You’ll see a sign with the numbers 1-4 in front of you. Firstly, you have to queue at number 4 (Migracion). This queue (down an uncovered bridge – sunburn central) took 2 hours. There was one person working to stamp us out of Bolivia. Next, you go to queue number 3 where you eventually get stamped in to Argentina (you’ll need the forms that are being handed out. The person handing them out told us we didn’t need them and then we had to fill them out at the control point). There were 2 people working on the Argentinian side of the border so it was only another half and hour of a queue here. You then have to queue up at queue number 1 and put your bags through an x-ray machine…which is in a van. Then you’re done! We wandered straight down the road to the town of La Quica (about a 10 minute walk) and found the bus station (3 blocks uphill from the main pedestrian street). We hopped straight on a Panamericano bus to Jujuy (115 ARS, ended up taking 7 hours) for a connection to Salta (We ended up staying in Jujuy for the night and caught a bus the following morning at 11am with Flecha Bus for the 2 hour journey to Salta). You have to  pay to store your bags underneath the bus in Argentina. Anyway, 2 hours into the journey from La Quiaca we were stopped by police officers and everyone had to bring their luggage into a room (women queue with women and vice versa) and show our passports. Some people had their bags searched and 2 people were detained. This added nearly another hour to the journey. I wouldn’t recommend Panamericano to be honest – we must have stopped 30 times on that trip.

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Changing our money in Bolivia

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Leaving Bolivia; Entering Argentina

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Only a few in front of us 🙂

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How far?!

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Welcome to Argentina! So pretty.

Next stop: Salta!