In December 2016 I travelled to Europe for the first time with Patrick and our baby boy, Gabriel who was only 8 months old at the time. I had always dreamed of travelling and Europe was definitely on my bucket list so I felt extremely grateful for the chance to do this trip with my boys. It gave me the opportunity to see Patrick’s home country (Germany) and meet all of his friends and family which was really wonderful. Gabriel spent plenty of time with his Oma and Opa which was so special and that gave Patrick and I the opportunity to have some quality couple time together.
It has taken me a long time to make the decision to write this travel blog, for a few reasons…
By now you’ll probably know that I‘m all about positivity & gratitude and I’ve promised to always be open and honest with you, sharing my experiences from the heart… and this is where I find my struggle. I so want to write an article that inspires you to travel too… words that ignite your imagination and motivate you to see new places and try new things. Part of the reason why I’ve been so hesitant to share my experience in such a real, raw and unfiltered way is because I fear that the honesty of my first experience might in fact deter you from the idea of travelling to Europe and I would NEVER want that!
Gorgeous, please keep an open mind as you read through this travel blog and stay with me until the end… I promise that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Patrick organised the most wonderful holiday for the three of us… four weeks in Europe, starting in Germany with three days in France and a day-trip to the Netherlands. Over our trip we visited incredible cities including Köln, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam and many more. Patrick arranged a baby-free spa day just for the two of us and bought tickets to the Moulin Rouge Show as a surprise for my birthday! We went to magical Christmas markets in Germany, visited iconic sites such as the Berlin Wall and saw the most incredible buildings and structures like the Eiffel Tower. It would sound like the absolute dream European holiday, however, through the majority of our trip I felt extremely unhappy and now looking back on the experience I can see where I went wrong, how much I’ve grown since then and what I‘ll be doing differently next time. I want to share this with you in the hope that you can learn from my personal struggles and have a much better experience than I did on my first trip to Europe. (Thank goodness it won‘t be my last!)
In the lead up to our holiday Patrick and I had quite a full schedule… I was working part-time, completing my Health studies, starting my blog & creating my website, packing up our home in Brisbane and getting organised for our move to Melbourne which would take place on our return, all the while still trying to find my feet in my new role as a first -time Mama… let’s just say we had a lot happening all at once and I barely had time to think about our trip, never mind get excited for it or be involved in any of the travel planning. To be honest it was a very stressful period in my life and by the time we arrived in Germany I felt completely burnt out. I generally have a strong immune system but whenever I experience times of high-stress I tend to come down with a cold or flu and because my immune function wasn‘t optimal at this time I did end up getting sick… When we arrived in Germany we had a jam-packed schedule right from the get-go. Our days and nights were full of exciting activities and lots of socialising but I didn‘t get a chance to give my body the rest it desperately needed and because of this (and the freezing weather of course) my cold hung around for the majority of our holiday.
I knew that I would face a few challenges on our trip, particularly with the language barrier, winter weather and food options. As we had such a full schedule before our trip the thought of adding a language course into the mix just seemed too much for me to take on at the time and I wasn’t looking forward to the cold temperatures… winter is something that my body just doesn’t seem to cope well with AT ALL! I‘d packed plenty of stylish coats, trendy boots and cute scarves but I soon learnt that when it‘s winter in Europe it‘s a matter of function over fashion! By Day 2 I swapped my stylish outfits for comfort and literally lived in a knee length, black puffer jacket for the remainder of our trip… I looked like an inflated burnt marshmallow but at least I was warm!
At the time my hormones were a mess… I‘d stopped breast-feeding our little one from the time we touched down in Germany and I didn‘t realise the massive affect that would have on my body. As my hormones then had to adjust to yet another big change I experienced crazy mood swings and often found myself feeling very low, even in moments where I thought I would have been ecstatic. Our first day in Paris I found myself curled up in bed, balling my eyes out for no particular reason at all. I was unhappy to the point that Patrick wanted to book a flight back home to Australia for me!… now let me tell you girls, this is NOT what I‘d imagined my first visit to France would be like. My hormones were on a roller coaster ride and it wasn‘t too much fun going through all of the ups and downs while we were on our holiday.
I struggled a lot with the language barrier and felt very isolated (although I know this was not the intention of my new family). It takes a lot of energy to smile and look interested in a conversation when you have absolutely no idea what is going on and this became quite exhausting everyday for the month we were there! Of course this was 100% my own fault as I hadn‘t learnt any of the language at that stage and this really knocked my confidence and caused me to feel extremely insecure, uncomfortable and out of place.
I tried my best to go into our holiday without any expectations or preconceived ideas and rather approached it with an open mind… ready for new experiences and adventures. However, I told myself one thing… that no matter what I’m going to stick to my healthy eating habits and refrain from having any gluten, dairy, sugar or alcohol as they don’t agree with my body. I believe in honouring my body and nourishing it with foods that only make me feel my absolute best… however because of the very strict guidelines I put on myself at the time I experienced a lot of anxiety around meal times and stressed about the food options available to me… keep in mind that I was visiting countries including Germany, known for its fresh bread, pretzels and beer… France, famous for its croissants, baguettes, macaroons, crème brule, champagne and the Netherlands, renowned for its cheese and wine… sticking to my usual eating habits of light salads and fresh green juices was going to be a challenge in Europe… and not only that, it was winter so the meals were particularly heavy.
We stayed with Patrick’s family for a large part of our holiday and his Mama, Papa and Oma made beautiful dishes for us, that were filled with love… however many of the dishes contained gluten and dairy, which I knew wouldn’t do well in my system. Out of fear of offending my new family and not wanting to be an inconvenience to anyone I ate the foods anyway, knowing full well that I would suffer the digestive discomfort later. Of course, I experienced bloating, cramps, terrible skin breakouts and it really disrupted my gut, particularly with the alcohol I consumed in excess around the Christmas and New Year celebrations. Now I’ve learnt to have the confidence to speak up and not be shy to say if I can’t eat certain foods. It‘s also important to remember that healthy eating doesn’t mean “perfect” eating! It‘s what you do everyday for your health that matters, not what you do sometimes. I believe that eating everything in moderation (without guilt) is key. Stressing over a not-so-ideal food choice is much worse for your body than the food itself. All you can do is make the best choices available to you at the time.
So what did I learn from this experience and aim to improve on for my next trip???
1.Rest in the lead up to a trip!!!
It can often be a busy and stressful time leading up to a holiday. I always like to have everything in order and finish off any incomplete jobs before I leave for a trip so that I‘m not thinking about unfinished work while I‘m away. However I‘ve learnt not to put soooo much pressure on myself to have everything “perfect“. It‘s not worth feeling stressed and getting sick by the time you reach your destination.
2. Build a strong immune system.
Now I focus on my health in the lead up to a trip, rather than my To-Do-List. My health is a priority, so I make sure to eat optimally for my body and drink plenty of green juice. I set-aside time for gentle exercise and get plenty of sleep before I travel.
3. Rest again!!!
Allow a couple of days to rest and recover once you reach your destination. Whenever I plan a trip now, I consciously leave the first few days free of activities. This gives my body a chance to recover from the journey and time to get-over jet-lag if need be. If you plan this recovery time into your trip from the start you won‘t feel like you‘re missing out on anything and you can simply relax and just enjoy the rest!
4. Find a healthy balance.
This is something that I believe is so important in all areas of life. Finding balance with food is essential ALWAYS but especially important while you‘re on holiday. Don‘t be highly restrictive with food… just make the most of the options you have available to you at the time and eat with pleasure, not with fear or guilt!
5. Function over fashion.
If you‘re in Europe during winter prepare yourself to dress accordingly! There‘s no point walking around looking fabulous if your absolutely FREEZING!!! I couldn’t think of a more un-enjoyable way to spend a holiday…
I can‘t encourage you enough to get familiar with the local language and learn a few common phrases in advance. If you have time, try to do a language course or download a language app. I‘ve used Duolingo to improve my German. Not only is this going to boost your confidence and make your life a lot easier it is also really appreciated, you‘ll find that people will be even nicer when they see that you‘re at least trying!
7. (This one‘s for any breastfeeding Mamas)
If you‘re planning on weaning your bubba prior to a trip, make sure to do this well in advance to give your hormones plenty of time to adjust and balance out again. I highly recommend that you don‘t stop breastfeeding on the very first day of your holiday like I did! It can take months for your body and mind to adjust to this big change so be patient and gentle on yourself.
I have learn‘t so much from my first trip to Europe and grown immensely from this experience. Patrick and I are heading off to Europe again in just a few days to enjoy the end of the European summer with our two babies. I‘m feeling positive that it will be a very different experience this time!
If you would like to know more about our trip to Europe then make sure to keep an eye on this space! I‘ll be posting (in detail) about my experiences in each of the countries we visited along with recommendations of things to see and do in each of my favourite cities.
So beautiful girl, I hope that this post has given you some insight and will be a useful tool for you to refer to before your next holiday.
If you can think of someone who could benefit from this article then please share it with them now! That way we can spread the message together and inspire many more women to be happy and healthy travellers too!!!
Love Kat Xx
P.s – I’d love to see where your next adventure takes you! Take a pic of your healthy travels and don‘t forget to tag me when you share your post on Facebook or Instagram! @kathryn.chandler #kathrynchandlerwanderlust