Lessons to 16-year-old me

pink toilets like her type 16 year old me

Maybe it’s because I turned the grand old age of 27 yesterday, or maybe it’s because 2016 has brought about the most growing up I have EVER done. I’m ENGAGED for God’s sake. I just can’t stop thinking about how much can happen in a decade.

This has got to be the most distanced I have ever felt from my teenage self. Particularly me at 16, who thought she was really cool and knew everything, but who had never experienced much of anything and had the world’s worst hair cut. There are so many things I wish I’d known then, but am secretly quite glad I didn’t because the journey is hilarious, moving and valuable to look back on. I have learned so much it’s actually quite disturbing. I feel like a completely different person, in the best way imaginable.

So I guess this message is for anyone – 16 or not – who’s struggling to picture themselves in the future. There’s a good chance that in 10 years time you will be completely unrecognisable and sometimes this is a blessing. Do not be afraid to change as you age. Learn from every experience and it will shape you into something more resilient, understanding and wise. As a 27-year old, I empathise more with everyone I knew at school whose parents were divorced. It’s hard to take as an adult, and must have been impossible to digest as a child. You were going through something traumatic. Tremendous upheaval. I get it now. The saddest things help us to reconnect in some indirect way eventually.

All I know is that I can look back and smile at 16-year-old me, but I no longer know her well enough for a tearful embrace. We are different, we are grown apart and we are much happier that way; existing not as each other’s shadow but as something amicably separated. The past, after all, is a separate entity to the present and the future is a complete and utter stranger. So here’s some advice from one stranger to another. Here’s 10 lessons to 16-year-old me.

1. Save your love

Sometimes first love lasts forever, and sometimes you find something much, much better. You’ll think of him/her, sure. That’s ok, but mostly you’ll learn how it feels to have your heart broken and you’ll become a better person for it. At 16 I fell in love, at 17 I thought love was mostly about playing games, at 20 I was cheated on, at 22 I learned the hard way never to date a friend. Then I found him. And I realised it was all just building up to meeting that person. It was worth every horrible breakup. Happiness rarely lies in settling for a relationship filled with secrets and doubts. Give things time to unfold before you give up on finding love.

2. Think carefully about your career

Although I love my job, I still wish I’d thought about my career options a lot more carefully at school. I knew I wanted to write but I didn’t know how that translated to an actual career if you weren’t, like, an author. I didn’t know what a copywriter was or how much it paid. I knew nothing about marketing, sales, SEO, or CRM. They literally don’t teach you the things you could really do with knowing. I thought ‘I’ll be a fashion journalist’, and then got sick of working for free in the hope that it might pay off eventually.

3. Use the Internet for something other than videos of cats

Dear all 16 year olds of today, I know that careers advice is still incredibly shit 10 years down the line but you do have this wonderful thing called WiFi. Believe it or not, we still had dial up Internet when I was 16, and that meant not being able to use the Internet and the home phone at the same time. I mostly chose the phone. Or MSN messenger. And back then mobile phones were literally just mobile phones. With no 3G or Wifi. Ever. Whaaaat? Crazy I know. Take full advantage of your nifty information-filled phones – the choices you make now really do affect the rest of your life.

4. Stop comparing yourself to other people

At 16 I was obsessed with labelling myself as something, probably because I had no idea what category I was supposed to fit into. I felt like I knew who I was at school, but then I went to Uni and I wasn’t top of the class or well known anymore. I was average. Competing to stand out at Uni when you come from a small town and a shit school, and even harder when you eventually try make it as a writer in London. My advice? Don’t rush your identity. It forms with experience, the people you meet, the places you visit, the books you read, the films you watch, the shit stuff life throws at you. Be interested in things and fight for your cause. Your signature look and persona will materialise eventually.

5. Be kind to yourself, and to others

Don’t compare yourself to charismatic extroverts when you’re the opposite, don’t force yourself to wear clothes you’ve copied from someone else, stop thinking everyone is prettier, cooler and cleverer than you. And equally, never assume you’re better than someone. Sometimes you might be, but mostly you’re not. There will always be someone out there who is much better at something than you. It’s called competition. It makes you want to be better. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and when you’re struggling, don’t be too proud to learn from other people.

6. Thinner/prettier/richer doesn’t = happier

At School and Uni, I genuinely thought that if I was just a bit thinner, with clearer skin and better clothes I would be happy, like, forever. Obviously these things can make us feel more confident, but they’re so superficial we take them for granted almost instantly, and that longing can only be replaced by something else depending entirely on your own vanity to work. It’s a bad circle to get stuck in. As you get older, you really do discover what makes you happy, like hearing live music with friends, elaborate family meals, sunsets in exotic places, recognition for working hard, cuddling up in bed when it’s raining, finishing a great book, the love from your pets, or just a plain old cup of tea in your favouritemug. These wonderful, familiar things are what we must cling to in our darkest moments, not perfect hair or pristine teeth.

7. Don’t long for a life of sunshine and rainbows

I grew out of puppy fat, acne and terrible hairstyles but my happiness didn’t blossom in the same way. It became far more complicated than I ever would have imagined. And that’s just how is it. I was a very fortunate teenager, and not at all equipped for some of the things life would throw my way some 10 years later, but I know from the bottom of my heart that prettier/skinnier whatever does not make you happier. If that was all you had, all any of us had, the world would be an awful, boring place. Treasure your friends, work hard, say yes to opportunities, support your family, and be grateful for what you have. That is where true happiness lies.

8. Look after your body

I’m still learning how to implement this long-term because I love a party but nothing makes me want to vomit more than the thought of how I drank at uni. Drinking all the time is part of uni culture and hilarious to some extent, but it also makes you lazy, forgetful, overweight, tired and depressed. Lying in bed hungoverall day is not making the most of some of your best years. Your free-to-do-what-you-want years. Try to strike a balance. It really doesn’t hurt. You will look back and wish you tried harder. Believe me.

9. Don’t force friendship

First off all, it’s lovely when you stay BFFs with everyone from school, but sometimes it doesn’t work out. You won’t believe me now, but in 10 years time you might have a completely different friendship group. You might have gone to uni away from home, moved to a new town, travelled, partied, put yourself out there in various shapes or forms, and eventually found yourself with a whole bunch of new mates. Somewhere along the line, you will work out who your true friends are. Here’s a hint: staying in touch with them and seeing them regularly isn’t something you have to factor in, it’s just part of your life. Friendship should be completely effortless, but at the same time you’ll both want to make the effort.

10. Do crazy things

When I started a new job once, I was asked to state an interesting fact about myself. Although most of the things I wanted to blurt out were highly inappropriate at the time, I was privately happy to recall so many silly, funny stories. It’s true what they say, your best memories aren’t going to start with a salad an an early night. Take chances, party and say yes to things, just be smart about it. You’re only 16 once, after all.

 

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Are some risks good for your health?

Oh hi, remember me? It’s been a while I know. Let me explain.

Somehow, one of the most eventful months of my life just passed me by. Whoooosh! Gone! I didn’t consciously decide on a digital detox (although it has been rather nice in some ways). Nope, I accidentally used up every teeny ounce of spare time on getting my life back on track after my sneaky six-month stint of unemployment. New job, new home. That sort of thing. My poor little blog (and therefore my sanity) has taken a back seat. But all for a good cause. Promise.

I’ve only just taken a minute to consider that this wonderful, crazy, busy time in my life is a product of the challenge I set myself to follow a dream. Last year, I quit my job to travel, and the positive repercussions of taking that chance are still resonating right now. Taking the time, saving the money and having the confidence and determination to act on a dream you’d deeply regret ignoring is surely what it’s all about? I’ve ticked a huge thing off my list, but if anything, the satisfaction gained from pursuing a dream comes from the chase itself. The freedom. The gamble. The excitement. Last year, I took a huge risk and won, and I want you to you do the same.

I’m not saying that you should drop everything and go travel. It’s on the list for some people but it definitely isn’t the answer for everyone. I’m not advocating shirking your responsibilities either. Only you know where they truly lie. This post is to encourage you to follow your dream, challenge yourself, and live outside your comfort zone – whatever those things may mean for you. I embraced my biggest fear. I ventured into the unknown. And it quite literally changed my life.

You know the story by now. This time last year, I was in a permanent state of panic. Things weren’t going right, and I couldn’t bear the lack of control. My family experienced massive upheaval and sadness. I felt worried, lost, anxious and scared. My OCD reared its ugly head, and suddenly the entire world frightened the shit out of me. Leaving the house each morning became a bit of a challenge.

Think, for a moment, about doing something scary. Like public speaking or a terrifying roller-coaster ride. You feel unstoppable afterwards. So, picture embracing your BIGGEST FEAR. Actually standing up to it. Imagine how euphoric you’d feel then? Now imagine spending 6 months deliberately doing things that terrify you. Imagine how you’d feel then. Good things happen when you challenge yourself in the right way, and amazing things happen when you learn to see things from a different perspective. It becomes so much easier to see the positives in everything. It’s cheesy as hell, but changing your life can’t happen unless you do something that profoundly changes your mind.

My blog has always been about sharing life lessons, because learning from the hardest challenges and the darkest moments is one of the best ways of getting the most out of your life. Your one precious life. If my legacy as a writer could be anything, it would be getting people to squeeze every last bit out of the time they’ve been given, to reassure everyone that the bad stuff isn’t supposed to hold you back, it’s supposed to help you grow into something more beautiful and more inspiring than you would have ever been without it.

So what’s the key to success? Look. Forward. Never back. Life moves in one direction, and if you want to be successful, you have no choice but to move with it. When something goes wrong, you can wallow in self-pity for a while. But when you’ve gathered a bit of strength, you have to fight back and move on. Survival will kick in eventually, and when it does, use the adrenaline to actually thrive, doing something you love.

Remember that everyone you know, even the successful, happy people, are ‘going through something’ right now. Everyone. In some shape or form. Because absolutely everyone has to deal with life. You are not different or unlucky, you are alive. Everyone is born into more or less fortunate circumstances, sure, but that doesn’t mean you are predestined to win or lose. Your happiness, your progress and your attitude are completely your choice. And your responsibility.

Look at TV presenter Katie Piper for example. I am so inspired by her. Something evil happened to her and she refused to let it win. It isn’t luck that’s made her a successful, hugely inspiring person; it’s will power and an incredible amount of passion for what she does. She wasn’t about to let getting acid thrown in her face get in the way of her dreams, so what’s stopping you from following yours? If you want something badly enough, you have to fight for it. You have to be strong and brave.

I’ll allow myself this little break from blogging because since the last post I wrote, I have spent proper time with my family, started a new job, been to the most memorable festival with friends, moved into a new house in a new area that we love, and actually got round to throwing an engagement party. And I did all these things because in December 2015 I left my job and followed my dream – my dream of living a full and exciting life. To look forward no matter what.

Why it ALWAYS pays to be patient

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Living in limbo is not fun. It is, however, often a stepping-stone to a much nicer place, as long as you’re patient, optimistic and prepared to push yourself. I hope this little anecdote shows how important it is to let a timeline of events unravel before submitting defeat. It’s goes back to that age-old saying I love to overuse – who knows what’s good or bad? 

Last week I was miserable. I was jobless, living at home for the foreseeable future, and full of doubt. I was losing perspective, and fast. Six weeks of not having an awful lot to do may sound like bliss, but it plays havoc with your identity and relationship with the world around you when you’re not convinced it will ever end.

Less than seven days later, I’ve found myself an exciting new job and secured a beautiful two-bedroom house to rent in London. Initially I thought how the fuck did that happen? But I really gave myself no other option, even when all I wanted to do was stay in bed and eat cake. Good things don’t just happen; they take hours and hours of hard work and sacrifice. I wasn’t lucky, emerging from limbo unscathed. I made this happen. And I did so when a voice in my head started telling me I wasn’t good enough. Ignore it. You have to keep going.

 I could feel depression starting to weigh me down, stealing little segments of hope and energy. I had so much time on my hands, and the world had started to feel pointlessly endless. The longer I stayed in the house, the less I wanted to go outside. I’d felt like this before only much worse, when I graduated during a recession and had more chance of capturing a unicorn than landing myself a paid writing job. My degree and all that I’d worked for had no immediate purpose, and I felt my identity wear away with each passing day spent applying for unpaid jobs I was unlikely to get.

This challenging time became one of my most significant life lessons. I hit a really low point. I drank A LOT. But I kept on writing for anyone and anything that would let me. Unpaid writing filled up a portfolio, which landed me an unpaid internship with an online magazine in London Bridge, and another one writing from home. I wrote articles for free by day and worked nights in the local pub. I was promoted to Editorial Assistant and promised a proper salary, and then just weeks later the company went bust, and I began to give up hope.

My spirit somewhat broken, I became a customer service advisor in a call centre and wondered why I ever believed I could write for a living. But soon enough, friends I studied with started to get proper writing jobs, or jobs in PR or marketing. They got paid to do something interesting. Inspired and unforgivably competitive, I held on a little longer.

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15 months after graduating, I started to write for New Look on a basic salary and felt like the luckiest, happiest person alive. It didn’t matter that I was writing product descriptions for pittance, I was a copywriter! I was saved!

Four years on, when I quit my most recent Senior Writer job to travel, it struck me that I was deliberately throwing away something I would have died for just a few years before, but the other option – not going travelling – was completely out of the question.

Returning home to Brexit, uncertainty and unemployment brought back horrible memories. One of the worst times of my professional life gave me the mental tools I needed to carry on believing in my work and ability no matter what. The really shitty times prepare you for doom and gloom in ways you never even expect.

It’s July 2016, which means I graduated five years ago. I have achieved more in those five years than I ever thought possible. I’ve taken risks, and they’ve paid off in the long run. I’ve let time run its course before giving in, and I’ve subsequently doubled my salary, and quadrupled the possibilities.

This story is for anyone who feels like I did five years ago, for anyone on the brinkAL on something brilliant who needs an extra push. I doubted whether I would ever find a job, let alone one I enjoyed with a decent wage. If you work bloody hard and believe in yourself despite everything you’re up against, amazing things will happen. Five years ago I had ideas, a bit of willpower and absolutely no money. A week ago, I had the same. By the end of the month, it will all be a distant memory, and one I’ll no doubt return to next time I find myself in Limbo again.

3 beauty products that will change your life

Living out of a single bag for 6 months and not having a great deal of extra time or cash to spend on my face has taught me two major things: 1) you don’t always have to spend a fortune, and 2) you will discover amazing new products. Here are 3 new additions to my daily routine that I need to share with the world.

White Flower Oil

£6.65, Amazonwhite_fl_OilA potent blend of eucalyptus, lavender and menthol oils, this is honestly the best thing on the planet when it comes to multi-purpose products. It has so many uses. I discovered White Flower in the Philippines. A kind taxi driver pulled over and handed me a bottle when I was feeling ‘car sick’ (hungover). The calming aromatherapy helps prevent dizziness. Reading the box a bit later, I noticed a long list of ailments White Flower claims to relieve: sickness, headache, muscular pain, blocked nose, itching, insect bites, and (best of all) acne. Inhale the oil for calmness and rub a small amount onto red bites and spots for a powerful anti-inflammatory. It. Really. Works. And although it did only cost about 50p in Asia, it’s available on Amazon.

 

Natural Collection ‘Barley’ Eye Shadow

£1.99, Boots

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Before I went away, I treated myself to MAC’s Extra Dimension Eye Shadow (£16) in ‘A Natural Flirt’. I wanted something that wouldn’t crease on my eyelids or slide off my face in humid climates. It was rubbish. My backup, a pale gold, shimmery eye shadow from Natural Collection was a million times more resilient. It stays on all day, blends well with other eye shadows as a base and even doubles as highlighter for your cheeks. The colour also looks lovely with a tan. I still wear it every day now.

 

Bare Minerals Complexion Rescue

£26, Boots£26, Boots

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This ‘Tinted Hydrating Gel Cream’ is the answer for anyone looking to wean themselves off foundation. The silky, light formula manages to hide spots and dark circles whilst boosting skin tone. Plus, it won’t dry out your skin or clog your pores. I have oily skin, so I still apply a touch of Smash Box primer to my T-zone and around my nose beforehand. I then finish with a sweep of Max Factor ‘Crème Puff’ pressed powder. Using this combination rather than thick foundation has dramatically reduced the amount of time I spend applying my face, and it’s 100 times better for my sensitive, oily skin.

I would love to hear about any amazing new products you’ve come across recently! Please feel free to share your discoveries below.

Why your imperfect life is more inspiring

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A few months ago, someone said to me: “Your life is literally goals right now,” after I uploaded some recent photos: white-sand beaches, tanned smiling faces, an engagement ring, friendship, love, excitement.

I hadn’t really considered my life outside of my own ‘goals’ and thought about the significance of ‘right now’. In all honesty, I was too happy to stop and consider just how lucky I was, and how maybe, those photos were a bit of a kick in the teeth to someone not having the best month of their lives. I was clinging to my ‘right now’, unaware of the permanency it might appear to have on Facebook. Like everyone, I only really share the good things. The photos that make my life look great, because, for a couple of days, it really was. It’s nice pretend it’s always like that.

I didn’t think twice about showing off how much fun I was having, because not long before that, before I went travelling, I was actually having a pretty terrible time. So much so, that if I’d seen photos of people who seemed to have what I was missing, I would have felt significantly worse.

I’m writing this post to highlight that life ‘goals’, happiness and hardship are as temporary and changeable as travel itself, so it’s incredibly important not to assume someone has a perfect life just because it always looks that way in their photos. Perfection isn’t always inspiring. Sometimes it’s very, very fake.

The truth is, not only do we refuse to share our bad times as much as our good times online, there’s actually a pretty huge stigma around sharing anything negative, ugly or depressing. The result is a catastrophically one-sided selection of perfect lives for us to compare our sometimes-crappy lives to.

To even things out a bit, I wanted to show how much my life has changed since I returned home from travelling. I’m pretty sure it isn’t quite ‘goals’ at the moment, and that’s completely ok. It’s really fucking normal, actually.

I am currently in the midst of what can only be described as terrible, endless come down. The repercussions of travelling have hit me like a train; I am living back home, slightly reclusive, completely penniless and confronted with endless days of job hunting and rain. Oh, and Brexit. And more rain.

My tan is fading, I have to say “sorry, I can’t afford it” constantly, and I’m met with the reality that all the amazing things I learned and enjoyed whilst away, like giving up makeup, speaking to children I don’t know, eating out every mealtime, having spontaneous adventures, drinking every night, and discovering a new city every three days; all these things have absolutely no place in the society I find myself in today, so what was the point in spending all my time and money? I am full of doubt, anxious at times, and I feel like a stranger in my own country, which has only been amplified by said country leaving the EU.

The fact is, I have knowingly brought this state of being on myself (apart from Brexit, obviously). I KNEW I would feel like this. I was ready for it. I decided I wasn’t afraid to live a life of extreme ups and downs for a while. And the memories of the ups will get me though the downs. Whatever happens, it was worth it. Pretty soon things will even out, and while the bad moments fade, the good will remain stronger and more powerful than ever before. Nostalgia is clever like that. I refuse to feel sorry for my unemployed self, because I know this is temporary, just like whatever you might be experiencing right now is temporary too. Life is an imperfect but continuous stream of highs and lows, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Would I travel again knowing how hard it is to adjust afterwards? Well, would you give up drinking and having fun after a really bad hangover? Thought not.

 

 

 

Why you should still be proud to be British

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I managed to refrain from writing a post about my decision to #voteremain in the EU referendum. In all honesty, no matter how many articles I read, or how much I believed it was the right way forward, I never felt properly equipped or qualified to offer advice to others.

I became deeply concerned about mass xenophobia, Nazi-influenced propaganda, isolationist reasoning and the racist undertones of ‘make Britain great again’, but the arguments surrounding economic security went round and round in circles, and I am no economist. How is anyone supposed to fight against the history of racial and social prejudice without facts they truly believe and understand?

I know immigration and the threat of terrorism weren’t the only influences. There were (and still are) plenty of reasonable arguments for leaving the EU, but, unfortunately, the leave campaign knew they wouldn’t have to highlight these in the same way to successfully scare recruit enough people. Fear is incredibly powerful.

I also didn’t want to provoke a debate on a blog that serves to unite people.

Either way, as a divided nation we were facing an obvious stride into the unknown. There was no possible way of guaranteeing a positive outcome either way. I believed in my vote, but I never believed much of the ‘evidence’. I voted remain on principle, not practicality. After all, it’s our morals that give warmth and depth to flat, cold facts.

As a compassionate, hopeful, forward-thinking 26-year-old who voted in London and works in creative circles, I woke up to devastating news on Friday 24th June. As a life-advice blogger, I’m always looking for ways to offer doses of written comfort.

I wanted to write a post that would ease the pain so many of us have shared on social media, because when anything goes wrong for anyone, as it always has and always will, it’s essential to focus on the good things. It might not currently feel like it, but we are still incredibly lucky to be British in 2016.

Here’s why.

We were actually allowed to vote

It’s tempting to wish David Cameron never agreed to a referendum, and for many people the outcome was completely unexpected, but it is far, far better to live in a country that involves its inhabitants shaping its destiny. It should never be down to a small group of socially distanced leaders. Democracy has its flaws, but the alternative is much worse.

We have access to world-class education

Many, many people do not. More than 20 countries still prevent girls from getting the same education as boys. According to www.gov.uk, ‘31 million girls of primary school age around the world have never been to school.’

We have London

Which is, without a doubt, the best city in the world.

We have a healing sense of humour

In years to come, future generations will be laughing about the referendum and all the grizzly consequences, going to fancy dress parties as Boris and Nigel.  Actually, this is probably already happening.

We have same sex marriage

And a thriving LGBT community that helps set an example and inspire other communities around the world.

We have great style

And so many amazing brands to chose from. The British High Street is a wonderful blessing, and our liberal, inspiring, much-copied dress sense is something to be proud of.

We have constant access to clean, running water

Just, for a second, imagine a life where you do not. Water Aid says that 1/3 of the world’s population do not have access to adequate sanitation, and ‘650 million people live without safe running water’.

We have a brilliant music scene

And there is nothing like a British music festival. Give me mud, live music and hundreds of happy Brits and that’s enough to lift the spirits.

We have pubs

Otherwise known as cosy, inviting, microcosmic societies everyone is welcome to join. Nowhere else on the planet has quite nailed the fine art of our favourite drinking establishment and the way it appeals to all walks of life. When I was travelling, I mostly missed going to the pub.

 We are gloriously and irrevocably multicultural

And our national dish is Chicken Tikka Masala. My best friends are British. They are also Mauritian, Turkish-Cypriot, Indian, Irish, Jewish, and Iranian. Leaving the EU might instil racist thoughts in a narrow-minded minority, but the rest of us will unite in our love of Britain’s inspiring, well-established multiculturalism, appreciating and upholding it’s importance more now than ever.

Hold onto the fact that it was not a vast majority that wanted out, and it is not a vast majority of leave voters that are an embarrassment to humanity. Most had valid, positive, game-changing reasons for leaving (I urge you to come forward with words of comfort). It was just a few miserable leavers (that the media has decided to focus on) that have showcased racial prejudice, and who are hopefully, slowly coming to terms with just how brainwashed they’ve been.

 

 

The best books I’ve read this year

Summer solstice is fast approaching, provoking, as always, nostalgic thoughts of the year so far. As well as travelling, writing and getting engaged, I have thankfully found the time to read some bloody good books. So whatever your plans are for the next six months of 2016, I urge you to reserve time in your diaries for these life-enhancing reads.

The Secret History, by Donna Tartt

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After I fell helplessly in love with The Goldfinch last summer, I decided I had better read Donna Tartt’s hugely successful first novel, The Secret History. The plots couldn’t be more different but there is the same strong undercurrent running through both novels: how far is too far? How necessary is it to push moral boundaries? And what are the consequences? The story is told by Richard, who unexpectedly finds himself as part of an elite, mysterious group of misfits in his first year at Hampden College. He becomes the otherness he used to observe, and is heavily involved in the brutal murder of a friend as a result.

Mrs Hemmingway, by Naomi Wood

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If you have ever loved been obsessed with someone you know is bad for you, please read this book. Played out between Ernest Hemmingway’s four incredibly different wives, Naomi Wood focuses sacrifice, identity, power, and all the cloudy areas in between for her chosen account of the character’s real-life intimacies. She unveils the human heart as the most complicated contraption. I spent most of the book loving to hate Hemmingway, and then I accidentally fell in love with him myself.

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

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As someone who frequently experiences déjà vu and whatever the hell the actually is, I found the concept of Life After Life quite fascinating in a ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ kind of way. It depicts Ursula Todd, who lives her life over and over again every time she dies, with the added benefit of ‘knowing’ what might come next, without really knowing at all. The result? Killing Hitler, of course. I absolutely loved this book. It’s so clever. The heroine is such an inspiring character. She reminds us of the good we are capable in darker times, and that the unknown is not always something to fear.

A God In Ruins, by Kate Atkinson

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Not a sequel but a ‘sister book’ to Life After Life, A God In Ruins tells the full story of Ursula’s brother, Teddy. I would definitely still recommend reading Life After Life first; the juxtaposition between Teddy’s character as a boy in the first book and a (sometimes elderly) man in the second is too stark and purposeful to ignore. This book contrasts mundane routine with the ‘glory’ of war, reminding us of the discomfort and detachment there is to be found in both. Atkinson no longer plays God, but continues to play with time in a slightly unnerving way.

Reasons to Stay Alive, by Matt Haig

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Reasons To Stay Alive perfectly expresses all the things you wish you knew how to say to someone suffering with depression, as well as to yourself. It also addresses and includes anxiety, bi-polar, OCD and many other mental conditions in the same breath. Acclaimed author Matt Haig wrote this book about his battle with depression and anxiety as a way of proving to other sufferers that a) talking about depression and anxiety is the first step to controlling it, b) there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and c) you are never alone. Even if you think you know it all, reading this book will change the way you think about depression and anxiety. It is honest, funny and beautifully written.

The Last Act of Love, by Cathy Rentzenbrink

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Easily the best book I’ve read this year, purely because it’s the bravest. Brace yourself before you embark on this incredibly moving journey with author Cathy Rentzenbrink. She wrote this book about love out of the purest love there is. She wrote this book about her brother, Matty, and how a car accident turned their lives into a living nightmare. Cathy Rentzenbrink is my newest idol. I suddenly saw sense in the ‘bad things’ in my life; the painfully uncontrollable things. Reading this book encourages you to accept more than you’re think you’re capable of, simply because the possibility of a love as strong as Cathy’s exists.

I would love to know your reading recommendations for the rest of the year! Comments below welcome, as always.

How would you spend 3 weeks in South East Asia?

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I don’t know about you, but before I went away, 3 weeks used to pass me by like that. Blink and it’s gone, with not an awful lot to show for it. Numerous hangovers and some new shoes from Zara. My break from the clock-distorting rat race has thankfully taught me this: I was wishing time away, and not really considering what I spent it on. Never, ever do this. Time is our greatest asset. The more we have the better. I’ve had the absolute priviledge of doing something amazing for the first half of this year. I turned all my money into time. 6 months away from my life. The result? I know full well how much you can do with your time if you spend it wisely.

Now, there’s the small fact that most of us have a job. This takes up a great deal of our time, I know. I really do. I might have been unemployed since January, but once upon a time I had a real job. Time and your weekends are literally the most precious things in the world. Which is why I struggle now more than ever to understand the relationship we have with our phones, the TV and the internet. Myself included. If time is so valuable, why do we spend hours scrolling through Instagram and watching ridiculous videos of things that may or may not be real pandas? We might not be able to hike to the nearest waterfall, but surely there’s still a whole world out there to explore? Even if it’s just a stroll along the river and dinner with friends.

So anyway, as you know, our time away was cut short when we sadly flew home for my dear Grandad’s funeral in May. Our weeks away suddenly felt finite and we realised that if we flew back to Asia (which we did) we could only afford to go for just under 4 weeks. Having already travelled for 4 months, we knew full well just how much you could see of the world in that short space of time, so we repacked our backpacks and flew back to Bangkok.

I’ve written this post to demonstrate how much you can see and do if you really put your mind to it, and to show that it is possible to ‘go travelling’ for less than a month, which is much more achievable for most people. Last year Joe and I spent close to £2000 on a week in Ibiza. This year we spent roughly the same on 10 days in Northern Thailand and 2 weeks in Vietnam. Here are some of the most memorable things we were able to do in that time.

Watch the sunset over Pai’s famous canyon

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After a night in Bangkok, we flew to Chiang Mai and then took the 3 hour bus to Pai. A notoriously chilled out, tourist-friendly town in the mountains. The scenery is incredibly beautiful and it was so easy to get back into the swing of things.

Look after the elephants

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After our day with Wildlife Friends Foundation at the very start of our travels, I was determined to visit a similar elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, one that stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of actually caring for the animals. So many of the parks claim to be rehabilitation centres when in fact they still let ignorant tourists ride on the elephants’ backs, scaring them into submission. Elephant Nature Park provides a safe haven for rescued elephants, and does a huge amount to educate tourists on the painful and complicated history of elephant tourism in Thailand, particularly when it comes to elephant riding, trekking, logging and shows. None of which are OK.

Learn to cook Thai food

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I’m so glad I did a cookery class in Chiang Mai. I was worried it would be too complicated for someone as useless in the kitchen as me, but it was so easy and chilled. ‘A’, the teacher at Thai Orchid Cookery School made it really fun. We cooked a load of Thai classics: spring rolls, pad Thai, green curry, yellow curry, sweet and sour vegetables and tom yam soup. AND we got to eat everything we cooked.

Visit lots and lots of temples

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Chiang Mai is absolutely surrounded by temples. You can’t walk down the street without spying a looming golden Buddha, turret or passageway.

Drink cold beer after dark

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The thing about it being 40°C in the day is that it turns you into an even bigger night person. I’m not ashamed to say that my favourite part of the day was generally sundown with a beer in my hand.

Spend the night somewhere beautiful

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A must-do trip from Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, we stayed on a boat at Halong Bay with Viola Cruise. We had a really nice room, amazing food, trips to the floating village, beach and cave, lovely company on the boat and the most incredible view as far as the eye can see.

Cycle through rice fields

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You’re never far from scenic rice fields in Vietnam, and some tours include a spot of cycling if you’re after a dramatic backdrop for photos. We went to Ninh Binh from Hanoi, which took about 3 hours by bus.

Always take the scenic route, by boat

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Also in Nihn Binh are local people wanting to take you down the river in their boats. The scenery is astounding and it was a lovely tranquil ride but they did demand more money from us after we’d already paid so be prepared.

Help local students with their English

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We were approached by a group of students wanting to practice their English, but there are opportunities to volunteer with young adults if you’d like to lend a hand during your trip. These particular students study in Da Nang and have a drop in centre…

Find the best views

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Never exactly hard when you’re somewhere as scenic as Vietnam, but sometimes finding natural beauty when you’re staying in the heart of the city is hard. Bach Ma National Park is under 2 hours drive from Hue, and the view from the top of the 300 ft waterfall was one of the best I’ve ever seen.

Trek through the jungle

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Whilst at Bach Ma we also trekked through the jungle, ticking off 5 different waterfalls, each filling a crystal-blue pool. The national park is 2km up in the mountains, so the air feels cool and clean  after the stifling heat and stickiness of the city.

Get caught in thunder storms

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Despite visiting during the start of the rainy season, we only saw a couple of storms. One of them trapped us under the bamboo roof of a beach bar and the other soaked us on an hour-long motorbike ride back down a mountain.

Explore ancient ruins

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We originally wanted to spend a week in Cambodia as I’ve always wanted to see Angkor Wat, so Vietnam’s Mỹ Sơn was a bit of a substitute. Nowhere near the same scale, but a really interesting architectural site none the less, particularly because it was bombed in the war.

Visit a local village

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On the way to Mỹ Sơn from Hoi An there’s a small local pottery village overlooking the mountains. Stop for a coffee and test your skills on the pottery wheel. I was terrible.

Buy a custom-made suit

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We went to a wedding in the Cotswolds the day after we flew home, so it made sense for Joe to get a custom-made suit in Vietnam. Hoi An is famous for it, and it’s shockingly cheap. Joe’s was made by Yaly, and I was so impressed. You choose the colour, fit, fabric etc and they do the rest. £120 for a high-quality suit and shirt.

Eat incredible Vietnamese food

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In Hoi An, we stayed with a Vietnamese family who had just opened their homestay, Flame Flowers. We were their guinea pigs, and every day they served us a different Vietnamese breakfast to see what we liked best, usually consisting of coffee, noodle soup, green leafy vegetables and fruit. It was honestly some of the freshest, tastiest food I’ve ever eaten, along with the Pho, Com Ga, Bun Bo and Bahn Mi street food of course.

Fall in love with a city

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My favourite place in Vietnam, Hoi An is a beautiful, historial, ancient town. Every road is lined with flowering trees and decorated with lights and paper lanterns. French architecture in pretty pastel shades line the walking streets, with plenty of arty cafes, shops and restaurants overlooking the river. It is very touristy though, so we really enjoyed staying a short bicycle ride away from town with the locals.

End on a high

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Ho Chi Minh is either where you’ll start or where you’ll end up if you visit Vietnam. We ended our trip here in the chaos. Once you get over the insane traffic and noise you’ll notice the shopping, museums, bars and restaurants. We went to Pasteur Street Brewery for beer tasting, Hum Vegetarian Restaurant for a lovely last dinner, and Snuffbox Lounge 1920s themed bar for the best gin cocktails.

Whether you’re planning a trip of your own or thinking of ways to make this summer count, I hope this post puts into perspective just how long 3 weeks can be! Making every day count isn’t easy when you’re faced with an all-consuming job and daily routine, so remember to make time for the moments that will stay with you long after.

10 common fears travelling helped me conquer

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Two years ago, when I promised myself I would save up and see the world, I didn’t fully predict the mammoth effect it would have on my future happiness. I felt the weight of the importance to travel, but I didn’t really know why. I wanted to address the other-culture ignorance I was born with as a fortunate westerner, but I wasn’t aware of the sheer impact travelling would have on the way I interpret things. Going away didn’t help me ‘find myself’ (the beauty of travelling aged 26 is that I have a pretty good idea of who I am), rather, it helped me to have faith in the world.

The fear and anxiety I was living with a year ago, and have talked about a lot, always felt very separate to my personality. It was alien to me. Travelling didn’t encourage me to shape my identity, it reaffirmed to me what I already hoped was a myth. That fear and phobias are not truths, and they can be overcome. In short, travelling made me see that I was scared of things for no reason. OCD-induced anxiety is not ‘me’ or a product of a messy world, but an ugly phenomenon all of its own. One that can be confronted with a little will power and courage.

I am the same person as before, only calmer and less worried, with a much better perception of people, politics and environmental affairs. I have learned to look outwards, rather than forever seek for the answers within. I have broken the spell the media and my mind cast over me, that the world is a scary place. So here are 10 incredibly common fears that travelling finally helped me address.

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1. The fear of flying

Very few people actually enjoy flying, and plenty of us are completely terrified by the idea. But, quite simply, if you refuse to board that plane, you will never see the beauty that awaits you on the other side. Yes, there is a minute possibility something terrible will happen. But there is also a possibility that you will be (God forbid) hit by a car today. One is incredibly slim, and the other is even slimmer. It is always, always worth the risk. Which is barely a risk at all. I have boarded a plane every couple of weeks for 6 months. At first I feared the worst, and now a bad thought barely crosses my mind.

2. The fear of losing things

Being fairly (very) absent minded, I often misplace things. I have also been robbed in broad daylight in London. Combine the above with a once very materialistic attitude and you have a pretty persistent worry of objects you love going missing. Travelling makes you more mindful of what you really need, which turns out to be not a lot. As long as you have your passport and some money, you’re ok. When my backpack got  lost on the flight from Bali to New Zealand, I was distraught at first, but soon realised that it wasn’t the end of the world. I still double check I have my phone every few minutes, but more for the fear of losing precious photos, rather than the phone itself.

3. The fear of being attacked

Obviously it’s important to keep your wits about you when you’re in a new place or walking about at night, and there are some places you cannot go alone or even at all, but worrying people are out to get you is a waste of time and energy. I used to convince myself every stranger might want to kill me, which seems ridiculous now. The best way of proving yourself wrong is to compile a load of evidence against your own theories. I must have walked past thousands and thousands of perfect strangers, in hundreds of different neighbourhoods in 10 different countries, and felt threatened by absolutely no one. Not a soul wanted to hurt me, so what was I so afraid of?

4. The fear of embarrassing yourself in front of strangers

People do not analyse and criticise you the way you do yourself. Remember that next time you’re worried about giving something a go. Better to try and do something badly than sit back and watch. Because you’ll never learn anything otherwise. Try saying hello in a new language, play beer pong when you’re rubbish at throwing and never be afraid to ask questions that might seem silly. The satisfied feeling of getting over the initial embarrassment lasts much longer than the embarrassment itself. Travelling and meeting people from different walks of life has taught me that everyone worries about how they’re perceived from time to time, but the the most inspiring people don’t let it get in the way, or give a shit what people think.

5. The fear of not looking your best

My relationship with makeup, clothes and general self maintenance has gone round and round in circles over the last 6 months. I still want to look my best if and when I have the time, but the pressure to look perfect has definitely been lifted. There are so many better ways to spend your time and energy. Yes I still like to shave my legs and brush my hair, but I don’t feel uncomfortable about wearing the same outfit two days running or foregoing mascara. Life is too short for perfection. Look after yourself for God’s sake, but don’t let your day revolve around it.

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6. The fear of eating contaminated food

Whilst in Asia, do not assume that street food will give you the shits. Some of the best food I’ve ever eaten cost 50p from the road side. Having said that, do not take the importance of hygiene for granted. There is a balance. I would avoid anything that hasn’t been cooked fresh in front of you. Sometimes you might be unlucky, but don’t let the fear of getting ill stop you from trying new foods. Use your common sense. Common sense is much more finely tuned when fear is absent.

7. The fear of being in a fatal accident

When you’re travelling, it’s kind of weird how much you trust your life with strangers. From bus drivers to scuba instructors to tour guides, your knowledge of a situation is often completely dependent on someone you hardly know. The best piece of advice I can give is to trust that it’s better to be in the hands of an expert stranger than fend for yourself, but also to stay alert to any potential danger. Do not assume you are going to die on a choppy boat journey or dodgy drive along a cliff edge. Fear will inhibit your mind. Simply go with it until you feel in your heart something might be wrong. Be open about anything you’re concerned about, and make educated decisions with the help of others in the same situation.

8. The fear of not being in control

One of the most impactful products of OCD is needing to feel constantly in control. This often provokes habits, rituals and ways of thinking as a way of regaining any control that has been lost. Even if you’re travelling alone, you will never feel completely in control. This is a blessing. Your boat is supposed to leave at 2pm but doesn’t leave until 4pm, you’re covered in insect bites even though you’ve rinsed a whole bottle of DEET, you only had three G&Ts but you threw up over the side of a tuk tuk, you lost your backpack even though you spent so long deciding what to take, you burnt your face even though you tried really hard to stay awake, you came straight off your moped even though you were driving as safely as you could, you got caught in a storm but the weather app promised it would be sunny. Shit. Happens. To everyone. No matter how careful you are. The more you stop trying to control everything, the better you will feel. Things can’t go right all the time, where would be the fun in that? Where would be the stories?

9. The fear of heights

When I think of being up high, my toes go numb and a frenzied caterpillar of fear crawls up the back of my ankles. I’m not sure when I developed this. Probably with age. The cure? Jump out of a plane. Go on roller coaster rides, bungee jump, ski and climb mountains. Find enjoyment in fear and learn to interpret the adrenaline as a good thing. Fear makes us feel alive, so we’re lucky to be able to experience such an intense feeling. The feeling of coming face to face with your fear is sometimes enough to make you overcome it. You will feel powerful, alive and in control, but only because you first felt afraid. Turn negative feelings into positive actions, because they’re the strongest of all.

10. The fear of things going wrong

One of the most important and life-changing things travelling has helped me confront, is the need for everything to be a certain way. Before, if something didn’t go exactly to plan, I felt so uncomfortable I would rather go back to bed than face the unpredictable day ahead. As you can probably imagine, during a loosely planned and long trip around the world, things frequently went wrong, or our plans changed, or we had to act very spontaneously. The beautiful thing is that when something went ‘wrong’ or differently to how I imagined, it often worked out for the best. It very quickly became apparent that just ‘going with it’ and not sticking to a strict plan opened the most amazing doors along the way. For example, in El Nido, we booked ourselves onto a ‘party boat’ tour of the islands, only to discover it had been cancelled after we waited around for 2 hours. We were pretty upset. Time is precious and all the other tour boats had left the bay. Then quite out of nowhere we bumped into Tom and Maddie, who owned a boat and offered to take us anywhere we liked for a fraction of the price. We loaded up the boat with food, beer and speakers (and Lydia, their puppy) and sailed off to the most beautiful islands, where we had our own party. It was the best afternoon imaginable and we were so sure the day was ruined just hours before. The lesson? Things can always get better, and sometimes better than ever. But first, sometimes something has to go wrong.

I am not fear and worry free, but I can honestly say have learned the value of acceptance. What happens to you is often completely out of your control, so better to fret less and live more. If I can do that, you definitely can too.

10 must-do things in Japan

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Determined to satisfy an obsession with all things Japanese, we sidestepped the usual travellers’ trail and went from the South-East Asia all the way up to Japan. Best. Decision. Ever. Japan is overwhelmingly different from anywhere else you’ve been before, retaining a rock-solid sense of identity through it’s unique culture, rituals, history and beliefs. There is so much to see, from beautiful artistry to the down right weird. It’s also nowhere near as expensive as I thought, catering for every type of traveller (if you book in advance). Mind blowing architecture, seriously good food, the very latest trends, incredible scenery, technology to make you look twice, gaming, shopping, wildlife and art.  Japan is a Mecca for those who find intrigue and wonder in the very idea of otherness. I’ve narrowed down our 3-week trip into these 10 amazing must-do things.

1. See the bright lights of Tokyo

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That image of Tokyo you have in your head, of neon signs towering up to the skies, as far as the eye can see? That’s Shinjuku (see also Shibuya and Ueno). Go there at night and walk around in amazement. I felt starstruck, like I’d walked onto a film set. We drank whisky with strangers in Golden Gai, a hipster-heaven composition of about 200 tiny bars crammed into a few narrow backstreets. I had one of the moments where you just feel like you’re precisely where you’re supposed to be.

2. Picnic under the cherry blossom

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We chose to visit Japan during cherry blossom season (Late March to April), which is one of the most beautiful times to go. Soft pink confetti fills every other tree and what was just a plain grey street is decorated with paper lanterns and treated as a premium picnic destination. There are loads of great places to see the cherry blossom in its full glory. My favourites were the Meguru River and Kanazawa Castle grounds, which are both spectacularly lit up at night.

3. Ski the Japanese Alps (and see the snow monkeys)

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Exploring Asia for 6 months, we didn’t exactly expect to see snow, let alone go skiing, but realising we’d catch the end of Japan’s ski season, we spontaneously made our way across to Yudanaka and rented absolutely everything from a hotel in Shigakogen’s Inchinose ski resort. It was amazing to have such a massive change of scenery and we pretty much had the slopes to ourselves. Whilst in the area, we also went to visit the snow monkeys, you know the ones on snowy nature programs that bathe in hot springs? Definitely go and see them in real life.

4. Spend all your time (and money) in Kyoto

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Whether you’re looking for fine dining, hip wine bars or a bit of serious shopping, Kyoto has got you covered. This fashionable city has a really cool vibe and there is so much to do. Get drunk with the locals down buzzy Pontocho Street, raid the vintage wonders of Three Star retro clothing and eat the best Ramen of your life at 1000 winds (just opposite). We also spent the day wondering up and down Philosopher’s Walk, bathed in the beauty of the golden pavillion and found the most amazing bakeries along the way.

5. Take in the temples of Koyasan

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A train, cable car and bus ride away from Kyoto or Osaka (roughly 3 hours), you’ll find the spiritual mountain town of Koyasan. An area completely dominated by beautiful temples and home to many Buddhist monks. Some of the monks run their temples like guest houses, giving you the opportunity to spend the night. We stayed at Fukuchi-In, which is the most incredible Japanese building and felt very much like sleeping in a museum. We were served a huge Vegetarian dinner and breakfast in our rooms, relaxed in the lovely Onsen and attended the morning prayer ceremony at sunrise. Be sure to walk through Mount Koya’s woodland cemetery.

6. Walk with wild deer in Nara

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In Japan, deer are considered messengers of the gods. In Nara, they are everywhere. It was a really surreal wandering around the temples, being followed by wild deer. You can buy crackers and, believe it or not, the deer bow for you, asking to be fed.

7. Pause for thought in Hiroshima

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A volunteer tour guide took us around the Peace Park, and I’m so glad he did because it gave the attack on Hiroshima and the significance of the park the proper context, hearing the story and facts from an older Japanese person. I wasn’t quite ready for the horror of the museum. The remnants, memories and actual artefacts from the bombing are chilling, but essential for really driving home what happened. The park represents the importance of never letting something so awful happen again.

8. Take the ferry to Miyajima

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Just 10 minutes by boat from Hiroshima, Miyajima is undoubtedly one of the prettiest places in Japan. Deemed a world heritage site because of its natural beauty, the floating shrine and famous temples sit in harmony with the surrounding, somehow managing the enhance the landscape even more. We followed the three-hour walking trail to the top of Mount Misen and took in the astounding views of the mainland from across the sea.

9. Spend the night in a Ryokan

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If you’re looking for an authentic Japanese experience – the slippers, the kimonos, the onsen, the futons, the tatami mats, the tea – book yourself into a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese guest house. Be prepared to sleep on the floor, change your slippers every five minutes and bathe naked with strangers.

10. Eat ALL the food

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Obviously the food is what attracts most of us to visiting Japan. We didn’t have a single bad meal. Even supermarket sushi is amazing. Ramen from Ichiran (Tokyo) and 1000 Winds (Kyoto), conveyor belt sushi, Tako-Yaki  (octopus pancake balls) on Dontonburi Street (Oskaka), deep fried oysters, grilled eel, green tea ice cream, yakitori (meat on a stick), tempura, Udon from Omen (Kyoto), yakiniku (cooking your own meat at your table), shojin (vegetarian buddhist cuisine), just to name a few favourites.

If you’re planning a trip to Japan and need any more tips, please don’t hesitate to ask!