The Story Behind our Travels

gina gizaHello!

My name is Gina and I am an avid traveler and escape artist! I have been in love with travel all my life! Here is the real story behind my travel obsession – I hope you enjoy it!

I was born with a very rare bone disease that affects the growth in my right leg and left arm – leaving them up to 12 inches shorter than the other side. I spent all of my childhood in and out of hospitals to lengthen my leg and fix other ailments associated with my disease. I would spend months and sometimes a year recovering from numerous surgeries, unable to walk and confined to a hospital bed or stuck at home. During these times, I would feel trapped and wanted to be like the other kids who got to run and play outside. Since I couldn’t physically run and play, my imagination would take me places and soon I was escaping on imaginary adventures that sparked my love for travel.

When I was about 10, my doctor told me that with my disease, I had a very high chance of having bone cancer by the time I was 40. At that moment, the clock began ticking in my head and I was on a mission to enjoy my life while I still could!

Not only was I having to deal with the physical pain of my surgeries, the stress of knowing that cancer was looming, and the feeling of being trapped and unable to escape, I also had to deal with the emotional pain of looking very different from everyone else. I would get teased and bullied at school for my strange shoe with a 6 inch “lift” to help me walk and for my short and curved “baby arm.” I would be stared at by strangers, young and old, who would often make faces of disgust as they looked at my scarred and “different” body. And I would be surrounded by everyone, at school and at home, who I thought was “perfect”.

In those darkest of times, I would escape from my world by dreaming of far away places and adventures I would love to take. These dreams sparked my spirit and helped me get through many very difficult years.

I would write stories about my future life of exploration, read history books with a passion, and watch as many travel documentaries as I could. I loved history and archaeology, and after I saw “Raider’s of the Lost Ark” at 13 years old, a spark lit up inside me like never before and I was determined to follow my dream and EXPLORE THE WORLD!

From that moment on, my life became centered around all that the world had to offer and planning my imminent escape into it! This passion kept me ALIVE and EXCITED about life and helped me look past all my current circumstances and look toward my future. My confidence soared and my life became exciting and full of surprises.

In university, I met my husband and we immediately bonded over our love for travel and our dreams of escaping our normal lives and traveling the world. After we were married 5 years later, we bought one way tickets to Europe and went on a year-long honeymoon exploring 8 countries in 4 months and then settling in Barcelona, Spain.

We scraped by on as little as $20 per day so that we could stay abroad as long as we could. When our money finally ran out, we returned to California with a new goal of living and working in Europe. After one year of working in San Francisco, my husband and I was hired to work for an IT company in Amsterdam, and off we went!

Two years later, our daughter Kaitlin was born and we felt guilty for having the only grandchild in both our families so far away. So, even though we had the most amazing life and jobs in Amsterdam, we returned back to Los Angeles to be with our families. Well, once a traveler, always a traveler, and within 8 months, we were back in Europe, living in Germany, France, then back to Germany.

When our daughter, Cassidy was ready to be born, we returned to Los Angeles again to “settle down” – because that’s what people do when they have 2 kids, right? Well, this time we made it almost 2 years, but when my husband got offered a job in Rome, Italy, off we went again!!

We spent 4 years in Rome, then moved to Paris for 6 months, and then to Venice, Italy where we spent 7 years. During our second year in Venice, our son Trevor was born and we were enjoying the benefits of finally getting our Italian citizenships and melting into Italian life.

When Trevor was one year old and I was just ready to turn 41, my dad, who had always been my rock, died of lung cancer, and 10 days later, I got the news I had expected, but hoped would never come – I had bone cancer in my left shoulder blade.

I had to have my entire shoulder and part of my collar bone removed and was virtually unable to use my left arm. And since my arm was basically sewn onto what was left of my collar bone, I was unable to lift anything heavy with my right arm either! No more lifting or carrying my baby, doing everyday chores, normal beauty maintenance (like putting my hair into a ponytail), carrying heavy bags on my adventures, or a hundred other things we all take for granted!

Needless to say, I was overcome with grief and the “Why Me?” that had overwhelmed me as a child came back in full force. My greatest passion (besides my family, of course!) was traveling and how was I supposed to go on these grand adventures with 3 kids without using my arms to lift anything heavy??

Also, my husband had to give up a great job in London (where he would be gone all week) and take a much lower paying job to work from home and help take care of the kids. Living in Venice, Italy where there are no cars and bridges are everywhere with a baby in a stroller is VERY difficult, and now here I was unable to use my arm! My husband had to do everything – work, kids, shopping, and emotional management – all with the added stress of barely scraping by financially. It was a very sad and stressful time, to say the least!

Little by little things got better and I was able deal with my new reality and climb out of the hole I had been living in. Life became bright again and full of possibilities. I learned to live only using one arm and realized that I could still do quite a lot thanks to my little helpers who I had raised as travelers. Soon the adventures resumed and we were enjoying the amazing sights in and around Italy.

However, now that I had become a cancer survivor, my passion to enjoy my life multiplied by a million! I wanted to do MORE while I still had the chance! Living in Italy was incredible, but what about all the other countries and people I had yet to see and meet? I became restless and wanted to escape and explore the world – ALL OF IT!

So, in September, 2013, we packed up all of our life into a storage unit and embarked on an indefinite journey around the world! Since our journey began, almost 2 years ago, we have stayed in 78 cities in 26 countries on 4 continents and we are just getting started!

We have learned so much from the world and our kids are having the best education possible – having the world as their classroom and all the people we meet as their teachers! And… I am living my life-long dream of exploring the world!

Now, as I look back on my life, I realize that my disability has actually become my ABILITY – creating the strength and perseverance that I may have never had if I had been born without it. It encouraged me to live everyday to to its fullest – never knowing how long I have to enjoy my health, my family, and all that life has to offer. It has taught me to always look for the best in others, for I do not know what they are going through. And it has inspired me to take on life’s challenges with courage and excitement – knowing that they may lead me to somewhere beautiful and amazing!!

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