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Around the World with Chelsea Gilson: How Travel Changed This Blogger's Life

By: Grace Gavilanes

Chelsea Gilson (@organictravel on Instagram) wears many hats. She’s an L.A.-based actress, yoga instructor and creator of the hit travel blog, Traveling Fig. Gilson first fell in love with traveling during her junior year of college when she studied abroad in Spain, and explored neighboring countries on the weekends with friends. She’s been dreaming of her next adventure ever since.

We caught up with Gilson, who answered our questions about the countries she can’t wait to visit again, how she makes healthy-eating choices on vacation and her advice for women who are on the fence about booking a solo trip. Fun fact: she spoke with us while on a quick Hawaiian getaway. (No big deal!)

Lively: How do you feel travel has changed you as a person?

Chelsea Gilson: Travel has deeply humbled me. It has made me more tolerant, more compassionate, more empathetic. Each place I have traveled to has left a unique imprint on my heart, expanded my mind and asked me to take a deep look at myself. You know, I do my best travel writing on the return flight home, where I can really delve into how a place affected me, how it shifted my perspective, how it made me appreciate this beautiful, but fleeting, life we have been given. But I think one of the most vital and surprising effects of travel is that it has made me intolerant of complacency. Yes, I am always planning that next trip, but I also find myself constantly looking for ways to rediscover Los Angeles (and myself) when I am home. 

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L: Is there a country you can't wait to get back to?

CG: The world is so vast, and my bucket list is so long, I rarely long to return to the same place twice. However, I just returned from leading a yoga retreat in Cusco and Machu Picchu, and I would love to explore the rest of Peru's diverse landscape. Oh, and Vietnam; there's a lot more I'd love to see and the food is arguably the most delicious in the world. And Antelope Canyon in the U.S. – now that I've got a nice camera, I'd love to return to this magical slot canyon. And of course, Switzerland. Wouldn't it be nice to experience every season in this fairytale landscape? And Rome – but just to go to Roscioli’s for Cacio e Pepe pizza.

L: How do you stay healthy while traveling? Are there particular foods you look out for?

CG: Before I visit a new place, I've already curated a list of recommended restaurants that have at least something on their menu that won't derail my diet completely. There are always a few vegan restaurants I throw in the mix, knowing I can get something plant-based and rich in nutrients. At non-vegan restaurants, I generally find fish dishes to be the lightest and healthiest options on most menus, with veggie and grain bowls coming in a close second. For breakfast, I love yogurt or oatmeal with fruit. If I end up in Switzerland at a restaurant that only serves buckets of cheese with dipping bread, then I enjoy each and every fondue-licious bite without one bit of guilt. To truly travel is to fully immerse yourself in another culture, so get the gelato in Rome, try the ramen in Tokyo and sip on pisco sours in Cusco. But do so mindfully and in moderation. Having a charcuterie board, baguette and wine in the south of France is part of the experience. But it's not the whole experience.  

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RELATED: Why You Should Plan a Solo Trip at Least Once in Your Life

L: Do you have any go-to workouts for when you're on the go?

CG: The morning after I first land, I love to get out and explore my new surroundings. Whether it's a jog through a bustling city, a bike ride through a peaceful countryside or a hike high into the solitude of the mountains, moving outside helps me fully acclimate to my new surroundings. I will often visit a local yoga studio when I travel to try out a class. It's funny how something so universal really differs from place to place, but the yoga community is always inviting, warm and readily willing to divulge local hangouts and hotspots. 

L: Do you have any advice for women who are on the fence about taking a solo trip?

CG: The morning after I booked my first solo trip to Bali, I woke up in a panic. A month alone on an island I'd never been to?! And I leave in two weeks?! It felt wildly impulsive and erratic, yet I couldn't stop smiling. The truth is, just booking the trip made me feel empowered. And, of course, the experience proved to be one of the best in my life. There is something about solo travel that is deeply therapeutic and grounding, and I really couldn't recommend it more. My most useful piece of advice for women looking to embark on their first solo trip is to choose your lodging wisely.  Aim to stay in the safest area you can, so your hotel room or Airbnb can feel like a peaceful retreat after a long day of traveling. I also recommend joining some of the online Facebook groups for solo women travelers and asking for helpful tips about the particular destination you're interested in before you embark. I believe every single woman can benefit from traveling independently. It's a truly liberating experience! 

Photos: @organictravel/Instagram