Branwen is an avid global traveler who has been to over 35 destinations to date. She suffers from an undiagnosed chronic illness but, that hasn't defeated the wanderer in her. Be it Tricks or Tips, her experiences penned on her blog, Chronic Wandering, is potential advice that one may want to gather to optimize their travel time, both domestic & international. The conversation follows her quest to find the root to her name, how she has managed to travel amidst all odds, volunteering and more.
Tell us something about yourself. Your passions and interests.
Hmm well, I'm a pretty average 24-year old I think haha just trying to figure out "life" as I go. But I'm definitely passionate about traveling & meeting new people. I moved a lot growing up & my parents made sure we went abroad often so I think it stems from there!
How many countries have you ticked off so far?
So far I've been to 35+ countries and US states.
When did your affinity towards travel first trigger to you?
It was for sure when I went on my 1st solo trip. I was 13. My parents signed me up for a community service trip with Go Beyond Travel (highly recommended!) & it was hard the 1st week but after that, I truly found my groove & have never had issues with flying/homesickness again.
Costa Rica service trip. PC- Branwen
Can you elaborate on Go Beyond Travel and why you highly recommend them?
Yeah absolutely! So, it's a little conflicting to me now because it was such an incredible experience & I wouldn't change it for anything and I learned so much from it about myself and the world. But, as I've gotten older I've learned more about "voluntourism" and what that means.
I vividly remember when I was on these trips that our guides were very diligent, especially when we worked with kids in Costa Rica making bunk beds for kids living in the slum La Carpio. One of them explicitly told us we were making them too attached & had to stop playing with them. At the time I thought was it was mean but, now I totally understand. I still really appreciate that they truly care for the people we helped on these trips and worked with local organizations.
What do you think was your parents motive to send you on a community service trip?
My parents wanted my brother and I (he went to Thailand in the same program) to gain life experience & see what life is like for others outside of the suburban bubble we lived in at the time.
Do you think travel is big when it comes down to becoming attached & building relationships?
Travel absolutely is about building relationships! My favorite part of it- I still have the drawings those kids made me! But I think if there's a lot of people coming in to help a community often & kids already don't have the stability it can be really harmful to their growth.
Skopje, Macedonia. PC- Branwen
Volunteering was introduced with the purpose of benefiting local communities of a region. How has Volunteering abroad as a concept, evolved in your mind since your teenage years?
Its evolved in that now I'd do more research about the organizations before I jump into it. Make sure it had local ties to the community & if kids are involved that I'd actively be there for awhile & before I mean, at the time it wasn't as common, so I was mainly excited!
At the present date, how do you judge whether a volunteer program is legit or not?
That's such a great question that I genuinely don't know how to answer haha I personally looked it up because I wanted to know for my blog post that I wrote on the topic called "the other side of travel" & like nothing came up!! I couldn't believe it. The best thing I found was this:
- Is this organization locally run & well-supported?
- What specific activity does this organization do regularly? Will these be up & running while I'm there?
- Are my skills and interests an obvious fit for this organization? Are they mutually compatible?
- Is anyone liable to be harmed in any way by my temporary involvement?
Your name, Branwen, is really unique! Have you ever attempted to go on a quest (travel) in order to find its roots?
Haha it is unusual I know! I'm named after a Welsh princess actually and I went and saw her tower/castle in Harlech, Wales (pics attached) you can also see her story in English and Welsh - the Welsh language is pretty wild!
Story of Branwen (EN). PC- Branwen
Branwen's Tower, Wales. PC- Branwen
What was your takeaway from the quest?
Oh, I loved it!! My family is from Wales and I haven't remembered a visit before. It blew me away it was so beautiful - plus, everyone could pronounce my name, haha and My name was also up on restaurants/pubs - it really made up for missing out on key chain souvenirs my whole life!
Why the name Chronic Wandering? What’s your objective behind the blog?
To make a long story as short as possible: my 1st semester of college I got mono & got really sick. Now 6 years later I have chronic nerve pain and often have difficulty keeping food down. I can't really walk more than 1-2 miles per day & was bed-bound for a year. Even though I still struggle daily I still love traveling & want to see this beautiful floating rock we all call home but it's really hard to travel with chronic pain/illness & even harder to talk about. But, I've connected with so many lovely people & it really kept me sane. When I was really stuck in bed but even now it's so great to connect w/ people & "travel" through their stories on IG. It's definitely not the same but it's better than nothing! I can't even express how great it is when someone reaches out & says that my story helped them!
What do you mean when you say that chronic illness is even harder to talk about?
By it being hard, to talk about (at least for me personally!), I mean that talking about it can feel as though I'm trying to ask/seek "attention" on social media, etc. when in reality that's really the furthest thing from what I want. Hopefully, that makes sense!
Would you want to share an instance where your health condition disrupted your travel plans?
Oh yeah - from getting sick in airports to having to be physically carried by classmates in the Balkans bc I couldn't walk anymore to having to leave my job in London because I got too sick and needed to be hospitalized. But I met the most amazing people on those trips. So, it was worth it!
Left: Boston, USA; Right: In Amsterdam. PC- Branwen
Do you ever feel defeated or have you accepted mononucleosis as a part of yourself (over the years) that cannot break your passion for Travel?
Whoops! I should've clarified that I don't have mono anymore. It just was the catalyst to the downward spiral of my medical mayhem, haha. I don't have an exact diagnosis though, which makes it tricky. It's a vague "chronic neurological pain" - no doctor has been able to find the source of my pain. It's spread a lot & gotten worse. So in that sense, I absolutely feel defeated a lot. But I'll always want to see new places. It'll definitely take longer than before but I'll travel as much as I possibly can when I'm able to!
“Traveling with chronic conditions” - how vital a role do you think travel insurance can play in this case?
It's essential. I know it's annoying and it's an extra expense but especially for those who may need to see doctors more than the average person - it'll more than pay for itself. Well, you also never know. Better safe than sorry! It is also true for flights - saved me a ton too!
What's that one travel memory, so special and still vivid in your mind, that you can easily get teleported to in a blink?
This is tough! Tie between: Mt. Pilatus in Luzerne, Switzerland- looking down the mountain and feeling like a giant but, it was the most beautiful view & The Milky Way while hiking in the Andes Mountains. Didn't have a good camera, but never forget peeking out of my tent to look more.
Define your travel personality?
I'd say my travel persona is "open" - & by that, I mean open to meeting new people, experiences & foods!
And, I know it may sound a bit weird but my absolute favorite thing about visiting a new country is going to the grocery stores - I especially love the cereal aisle because the designs are so different! I find it fascinating, haha. An aspect of traveling I enjoy the most is:
Traveling in groups is when I've had the best times and really gotten to know a country the best & made lifelong friends and experiences.
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