Interview with Anita from Passport Down South!
Traveling with a chronic condition like psoriatic arthritis takes some extra planning, but it hasn’t stopped our latest interviewee from seeing the world.
Anita Shuler is a Southern mom from Charleston who has traveled throughout the United States, Ireland, Canada, and the Caribbean. She started her blog Passport Down South to detail her adventures, and she hopes to inspire others to take on the world regardless of their medical challenges.
1. What inspired you to create your blog Passport Down South?
I absolutely love to travel anywhere. I had a child on a competitive gymnastic travel team for 15 years, so we traveled all over the place for different competitions. We were going on a mini-trip several times a month for more than a decade so that really satisfied my desire to see different places, even if it was only a college town a few hours away. The car rides were such bonding time.
When my daughter graduated high school in 2017 and travel sports was over, I was actively planning a trip to Ireland with my son, so I was pretty excited and engaged. Many friends and co-workers commented on what a good job that I did planning the entire trip on my own.
When the twins went off to college in the Fall on 2017 I felt lost. All of a sudden, I had no plans to go anywhere. It was a boring time.
A few months later, my parents wanted to go on a family cruise to celebrate their 50th Wedding Anniversary so they asked me to plan [the trip for them]. It was so exciting to compare options and be on the go again! While on the cruise in June of this year, my family suggested that I find a way to share my experiences to help others, and my travel blog was born.
I chose the name “Passport Down South” because many people have joked that "you need a passport to come down here.” I didn't want it to be strictly about Charleston, SC, but I wanted the ability to highlight much of the South.
2. Have you struggled with body image issues while traveling and, if so, how have you overcome them?
I absolutely have struggled with body image issues while traveling. It was difficult to travel to sports venues with toned and thin "gym moms." Many of the mothers wore leggings and exercise outfits that showcased their physique. I would wear team t-shirts and jeans and many times a hot sweatshirt just to camouflage my tummy.
I went on a lady's getaway to New Orleans two years ago to support my twins in a National Beta Club convention. I was paired as roommates with a wealthy, thin mother who always looked so put together. She is always in very expensive clothing with a Louis Vuitton bag. I bought an entire new travel wardrobe to make me look thinner and more affluent. I spent as much money on those clothes as I did the airfare! I packed a new bathing suit but did not join the other moms in the pool because of embarrassment. I feigned the need to make a phone call home. I had fun, but it was tempered by not wanting to be in pictures or stand with the group of attractive and toned moms.
Additionally, when my son and I went to Ireland last summer, I purchased hiking pants to trek through the national parks and ride horses. I felt silly in those silky pants that buttoned snugly against my body. I chose long polo shirts to cover my waist but I ended up looking like somebody's plump mom that was trying too hard (which is exactly what I was!).
I know my son loves me and didn't care, but I was self-conscious of appearing as the obese American trudging through the castle ruins and being unable to make it up a tiny staircase. I was very careful of the pics that I shared on social media so that I would focus on landscapes and our faces. I covered my waist with my backpack or coat to minimize the size.
3. How has suffering from psoriatic arthritis affected your ability or desire to travel? What would you say to someone with a chronic condition who wants to travel but is worried about experiencing flare-ups or bad days while traveling?
Psoriatic arthritis has changed how I travel. The desire is still there but now I must plan for my health. I get very stiff after a couple of hours in a car or plane, and I do much better when I keep moving or stretch often.
I had only been diagnosed for about six months when my son and I went to Ireland. I wanted to purchase first-class beds to lie down on, but the several-thousand-dollar increase was cost-prohibitive. Instead, we would be sleeping upright in our economy coach seats! I kept getting up on the long overnight flight to walk around the cabin every hour.
I was also administering Humira injections weekly and had to travel with the medication. The medication has to be refrigerated, so I had to pack a cooler, ice packs, and prescription information to take on the plane and to our bed-and-breakfast accommodations.
I hated being questioned about the cooler and meds in airport security. Our first landlord was wonderful and offered to freeze additional ice packs for our next journey. It was awkward to explain to people you just met that you needed a medication freezer and refrigerator.
Even so, I climbed all of those mountains, hiked in parks, and rode the horses. You can make it work!
My disease has since progressed, and I am doing IV infusion therapy every 8 weeks. This requires several hours in an infusion clinic hooked up to a medication drip, so I must now plan all travel around that. I planned our June cruise for the week after the infusion so that I would be "tanked up" and fully functional for the trip. It is hard to accept that you may not be able to do all of the activities how and when you want to.
I would suggest that everyone travel no matter the medical challenge. Somebody has done it and you can too. When we were on the Royal Caribbean ship, Harmony of the Seas, we went down to the medical deck and I saw a dialysis clinic for people to get their treatments while on board. It can be done!
I also suggest building in some downtime on your vacation to rest and recharge. I have always been the one that is in the amusement park from opening to close. If I don't do everything possible I tend to feel like I missed out. I am having trouble with this [change], but I am learning to relax more and rest in order to be able to keep going.
4. You’re a busy working mother with three kids, so how do you find the time or energy to travel solo? I’m sure all the moms who read my blog want to know!
I am a busy working mother, but I work shift work in a pediatric hospital intensive care unit. My schedule is three 12-hour shifts per week and I can cluster them at the end of one week and the beginning of the next week in order to get a week off. I will often pair working Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, then I’m off until the following Friday.
During the school year I was off many times when my kids were in school and I would make "day trips" to destinations. We live outside of Charleston, SC and there is so much to do nearby. I even left at 5 a.m. one morning and drove 4 hours to Chimney Rock State Park and spent the morning sitting on the side of a mountain. I drove home by dinner and felt completely fulfilled like I had been on vacation!
My kids still live here but they are older now and less interested in any activity with mom. The twins are sophomores in college and my oldest is 23 years old and works full time. I wanted to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway last year and nobody wanted to go with me. I had a few days off, so I took off alone and drove the scenic road for hours.
I stopped along the way and took pics and played in mountain streams. I rode the Great Smokey Mountain Railway and shopped for trinkets at roadside stands. My husband I have GPS on each other's phones, so I would call him often and Facetime the beautiful scenery. He reported checking my progress along the way via the app to make sure that I was safe. It worked out fabulously. I could go at the pace I wanted and didn't have to deal with whining and complaining about the route, the food, the lodging, etc.
I recharged my spirit in two days.
I am also in school working on my master's degree in Public Health. I’m taking online classes and can study anywhere. I’ve written term papers on the beach, at a mountain lookout, and on a park bench in Charleston. The key is doing whatever it takes to meet your family, work, and school obligations while still nurturing your soul.
5. Which destination has impacted you the most as a traveler and why?
Ireland impacted me the most. I felt like I was "home" when we arrived. I am not sure if I have Irish roots, but I think that I must! The stress of everyday life melted away and my son and I were just doing what we love: exploring.
We had no set agenda and we stayed at each attraction as long as we wanted. There was no conflict about food, lodging, driving, etc. We were excited and happy to be there the whole trip.
I was thrilled to have this experience with someone to share it with. I’m now more determined than ever to experience other cultures, see different countries, and understand how other people live, but it is so nice to have a travel buddy to experience it with you!