A lesson on loss and gain

They say that grieving the loss of someone who’s still alive is one of the most difficult things you can go through. Death, however cruel, is beyond the realms of human control. It gives life meaning. But to lose person who’s still alive? That’s hard to get your head around.

I’ve experienced this in so many different ways this year that I don’t really know where to start. One minute I knew myself – I knew my life and my friends – and I relied on these things, trusting them to be true. And then new truths started to unveil themselves. The real, hard shit you go through reveals painful information about the foundations of your whole life. Mainly that unconditional love, understanding and forgiveness are precious and rare.

What happens when the things you’ve lost were as a direct result of your own actions? Because that creates a different type of pain and grief altogether. Let’s think of it in simple terms. Imagine your partner worked hard and saved up to buy you a really expensive watch, the watch you’ve always wanted, to signify how much they think you deserve. You go out one night, you get really drunk, you wake up and the watch is gone. You feel like maybe you didn’t deserve it after all, but deep down you know you still do, simply because you feel so sad and guilty about the fact it’s gone. It’s your fault, but it still hurts. In fact, it hurts more because you beat yourself up about it over and over. Loss is loss, in whichever way it materialises, whoever’s at fault.

In all honestly, I haven’t really recognised myself in many of the things I’ve done this year. I’ve made some pretty bad decisions. But at the same time, everything I’ve learned and been exposed to has become incredibly precious to me. I’ve shed a lot of skin in the form of bad habits, bad choices, bad influences and bad company.

This year I have felt my most human. Vulnerable is an understatement. And in many ways I’m kind of starting from scratch. There’s a belief that you feel able to interact more deeply with the universe during the aftermath of loss. When you’re hurting you’re changing. And when you embrace change you grow. I can’t tell you how much I feel this right now. It sounds a bit out there, but I honestly feel like the universe will always be on your side if you accept and internalise the lessons it’s trying to teach you. 

A few nights ago, I dreamt of fire in a way that apparently signifies transformation and starting over. I woke up in pain with a bleeding nose. The intensity of what I’m going through right now is like nothing I’ve ever felt before. The only way to move forward is to embrace and acknowledge every emotion, and have faith that the negative feelings have the potential to manifest as positive lessons.

So despite the fact that I feel detached from who I was, I’ve also felt a huge shift and a sense of stepping into a better version of myself. Something big happened and it shook my whole world. I’ve revaluated everything I care about, everything I believe in, realigned my truths, and with time and hard work I’m starting to feel more in tune with who I actually am.

It’s been a long road. It still is. So how to start turning loss into gain?

Mindfulness sits side by side with gratefulness. And let me tell you, learning to feel grateful for the bad things you’ve done, or the bad things that have happened to you, and the things you’ve lost as a result, will truly bring you freedom. You have that power inside you. You determine the interpretation of your life experiences, both good and bad.

And better still, once you’ve found peace with those experiences, you’ll also be able to use them to help others. One person’s loss will always be another’s again. Energy cannot be destroyed, only passed around, so it’s inevitable that your negative experience can be converted into something positive and just as strong.

I tried to replace emotional loss with emotional gain too quickly. It’s too confusing to feel conflicting emotions at the same time, or to mask one strong emotion with an opposing strong emotion. I realised that I needed to make a statement of physical gain instead, while dealing with the emotional loss. I asked myself, right now, what I’d like to gain more than anything. The answer? Independence and stability. How to make it physical? I bought a flat in London.

Next time you find yourself becoming fixated on something you’ve lost, try to identify something positive that you might gain. Even if it’s just that it made you realise how much you fucking loved that thing. It’s really hard sometimes, I know. This year, I’m grieving the loss of an almost-life, but in doing so I have to believe that I’ll gain something bigger and better.

It’s important to dwell on loss for a while and allow yourself time to grieve for something you love. But it’s just important to pick yourself up and move on, stronger, braver and wiser than ever.

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Lessons to 16-year-old me

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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.

 

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.

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.

 

 

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.