Who are you and how long have you been travelling for?
I am Olivia Christine and travel has been my passion for many years. I started identifying myself as a “traveler” in 2012, while juggling my wanderlust with work. I quit my job in early 2014 to travel full-time and pursue my own definition of happiness.
Who or what first inspired you to start the life of travel?
My longtime mentor, Dr. Kesten, first exposed me to travel and it’s been a domino effect ever since. Dr. Kesten came to my (under performing) public school in the South Bronx when I was about 8 years old and put a number of children like me under her wing. Her goal was to provide an outlet to the youth of this failing school so that they could realize not only their own potential, but a world of opportunity that awaited them. Her and her husband valued exploration and learning, and were big travelers. I adored their stories, souvenirs, and photos. She even pushed us to apply to teen travel programs like “The Experiment”. When I got sick, though, I had to cancel my trip and felt a huge void afterwards.
What made you decide to let your readers know about your condition?
When I started my blog I didn’t know what to talk about. I was having more of an identity crisis as an Afro Latina, feeling like I didn’t fit in with either black or hispanic people.
I was having a crisis with the media’s portray of women.
I was having a crisis with my own job and life.
So my health was a sore spot. I didn’t want to acknowledge my crisis with wellness. I didn’t completely avoid it, but I certainly didn’t market it. Then one day I was reading a Lupus support forum and realized: these people are afraid to leave their homes! I have to show them you can still live LIFE! So I contacted numerous Lupus organizations, asking to work with them (gratis) to help encourage these women. Not one responded to me. NOT. ONE. So I thought, wow – you are too concerned with fundraising dollars to actually help the people who are suffering (for free!). I knew it was time to “come out”. Once I started writing about Lupus, my sense of purpose started to form.
How have you found travelling with Lupus?
Travel can sometimes be a struggle. I get tired and worn out… a lot. My boyfriend joined me on my latest adventure and I initially felt pressured to make sure he was having a good time / didn’t feel like we are always resting. But once we talked about it, I learned his priority was my health and he was okay with slowing down. So, I travel slowly now. No more bouncing from one city to the next. At least one or two weeks in every place.
As your medical condition is not visible, do you find that it is easier travelling with Lupus, than as a WOC?
I knew this question was coming! It is really hard to say… Like, with Lupus there is a lot of misunderstanding.
For example: I have trouble with the sun because of Lupus but I don’t get sunburn, so when I express a need to get into the shade people always have something to say because they don’t understand it’s not about tanning it’s about flare-ups. The struggle is mostly having people question and tease me about certain things, not knowing it’s because of my health. Happens a lot with my frequent napping.
I don’t want to get defensive, so I just take the teasing silently. That gets overwhelming after a while.
As a WOC, it is a completely different ball game. Generally, younger people are super nice and friendly. But a lot of old people (especially elderly women), man… they suck! They can sometimes be so racist! I don’t even think they realize it so I just try not to interact with them if I feel bad vibes.
Have you faced any weirdness travelling as a woman of colour?
Other than in the States, in Europe I’ve experienced weirdness (to my face) . Like I would be at the cash register paying for something and actually get pushed to the side so they could ask a question. And younger people would stare, shocked and embarrassed. Or I get that look of disgust from some (older) people as I walk with my white boyfriend. It’s draining sometimes and makes me feel like a circus act. It’s hard because sometimes I think other people feel I’m looking too deep into it, but unless they’ve lived a life where people look at them like their God-given appearance is offensive and they’re less of a human, I don’t think they could truly understand.
On the other hand, there are other countries that think I’m marvellous with my beautiful brown skin and afro curls, so it’s all relative. Travel helps improve awareness and we can’t fight ignorance without exposure.
Were you an avid traveller before your condition began? Or was the diagnosis the catalyst for travel?
No, I wasn’t a traveler pre-lupus… only because I became ill so young. It is actually ironic because I had never been on an airplane before (minus at 1 years old but I don’t remember that) when I applied to my first volunteer abroad project in high school. Once I got accepted I needed to take a physical: that physical was the first piece of evidence showing I had malfunctioning kidneys. If I hadn’t taken the step to experience travel for the first time, I wouldn’t have known I was sick until my physical the next year!
So you lived in the jungle for a while, what was that like? How were you able to cope?
Ah, the jungles of Costa Rica. This was partly the nice side of the jungle (as luxury as a jungle can get, I suppose). I volunteered at a yoga resort outside of a town called Puerto Jimenez, near Corcovado National Park. I lived in a furnished shipping crate, and ate delicious farm to table meals everyday. Wifi was an issue, because I could only get it in one area, so my blog suffered greatly; but I loved the experience. I showered outdoors and got used to boa snakes, lizards, and howling monkeys. I did get stung by a scorpion though, and was not happy about that at all.
How has your love of yoga impacted your love of travel?
It was initially the other way around. My love of travel created my love for yoga. I met so many inspirational and influential people along my journey and learned that yoga was the key to releasing a lot of harbouring negativity. Now yoga helps me reconnect peace and centring along the journey, as it is easy to lose focus and get caught up in the adventure.
You are now travelling with your boyfriend, what are the main difference you have noticed? Between travelling by yourself, and with a partner.
I have to share my bed! I also make a new type of friend now… mostly couples. A lot of them are a few years older than us too (we’re old souls). I love it, though! We are at new phases in our lives and the backpacking / hookup / hostel culture isn’t for us anymore. We actually recently stayed in a dorm hostel where we made great friends but we couldn’t sleep together, and everyone just wanted to drink and party non-stop. Like, call me when your body turns on you and you can’t do all that anymore – goodnight!
Where are your upcoming travels taking you?
I am so excited to be interviewing with you all the way from Asia! We started in South America in April and are on the last leg of our trip in South East Asia. I am in Thailand now and head to Laos next week, with Vietnam and Cambodia to follow.
When you are not travelling, what do you do?
So far I’ve only been traveling. While traveling I also manage my blog, www.ochristine.com, which talks travel, inspiration, and wellness. It’s really growing and I am so excited to see what’s in store down the line. I also do freelance work as a content writer and social media manager for a few private clients, and travel / brand consulting. I do this all remotely as I travel.
What piece of advice would you give to other travellers with medical conditions?
Take care of yourself. Don’t push. You are not here to count countries, you’re here to embrace experiences. Rest well, eat well, and set your alarm so you don’t forget to take your meds!
Olivia is a traveller with a unique story to tell, as a woman of mixed heritage who combines her love of yoga and travel while managing her medical condition. She has many tips and hints for those ready to start their own adventures, including how to avoid getting your stuff stolen!