How to conquer fear 

I have anxiety. It’s taken me a long time to be able to admit it, but in some small and undiagnosed form anxiety is always with me, nibbling away at my thoughts in the background. In Vietnam I found something that made me extremely anxious, it grew into fear, and started to impact my experience in a negative way.
When I arrived in Vietnam I had a few bad experiences on the back of motorbikes. If you haven’t been to Vietnam then you need to know that motorbikes (mainly mopeds and automatic scooters) are the easiest, cheapest, quickest, and coolest way to get around, therefore literally everyone has one. You also need to know that road rules are pretty much nonexistent there, you have to be prepared for everything. As with any vehicle, there are drivers who become over confident and end up driving dangerously. Unfortunately, and out of necessity I ended up on the back of a few of these people’s bikes. After a few incidences I was on the back of a bike through a busy round about, my driver drove straight at a car at full speed whilst looking the other way, he didn’t notice until we were a metre from crashing and luckily managed to swerve. That was the cherry on the cake, every time I got on the back of a bike I was convinced we were going to crash and I couldn’t take the anxiety anymore. I vowed never to get on a motorbike again.
For a few weeks I was content in my safe little bubble, and the other volunteers at the English centre I was working at completely understood my point of view. However, this did not stop them from going out and having amazing cultural experiences in places they reached by motorbike. I started missing out on things I may never experience for the rest of my life, and I started to realise that something had to change.

If this massive fear had sparked from something so small and I was unable to overcome it, what other fears would I develop in my lifetime and just how would they spiral and limit my life if I failed to conquer them. One of my friends at the project managed to convince me of her safe driving skills and track record, she had this amazing outlook on life where nothing was impossible and if she wanted to do something she did it, no thinking, no reservations, no fear. The first time she drove me on her bike I cried. There was so much pent up emotion from all the time I had obsessed over crashing that I couldn’t stop myself. I got through the life changing journey by trusting, breathing, reminding myself to relax, and thinking what’s the worst that could happen? Most people have had crashes there, and the city traffic means you can only drive slowly, and so most people just come away with a few scrapes. For that seemingly endless journey I just kept thinking: “What’s the worst that could happen if we do crash? A few scrapes”, and that really soothed me.
After that successful experience my confidence started growing daily, and I was able to go out to do and see some phenomenal things that would have been impossible before. I was even asking people to take me out and just drive around when I was bored. I was enjoying it.

Then we met a lovely couple from Texas who were planning a week long motorbike trip to Vietnams most northern province, which also happens to be extremely mountainous. They invited us along, the catch was that because of the dangerous terrain it was only possible (or safe) to have one person on each bike – I would have to drive. I was feeling adventurous, I was feeling confident, and I agreed. Me, the girl who a month previously had a crippling fear of even riding on the back of a motorbike. Then I read about the trip online, I spoke to the local people about the province, and the anxiety started to creep in. The language I was hearing struck fear into my heart: dangerous conditions, rough patches of road, uneven ground, sheer drops, roads carved out of the sides of mountains, hairpin bends, and steep inclines and declines. I had never driven a motorbike (or even a car) before, I was scared. The first time my endlessly patient boyfriend attempted to teach me, and the first time I drove, I knocked every bit of confidence I had out of myself. I couldn’t get the hang of it, I just wasn’t a natural, I couldn’t control the bike properly and it was frightening. I was on the verge of cancelling my trip. But for some reason, some reason that I still cannot pinpoint, I didn’t. Maybe it was because of my extreme inability to let people down, or a little bit of fight inside my soul that would not allow me to go back to an emotional place that I had just struggled so hard to get out of. A week later, I tried to drive again. This time was better but still not good enough, I practised every day until I was confident, I wouldn’t let it beat me – not again.
We got to the mountains, we rented the bikes, we set off. It was everything I had read about, but it was also so much more. The most beautiful place I’ve ever been in my life, ever. The most amazing, humbling, thrilling experience of my life. I can’t imagine feeling better than I felt on that trip: strong, independent and overwhelmed by nature. Yes it was dangerous, but wow it was worth it. As the days went on I became a better driver, I got more confident, I even drove up to 50 kilometres per hour!
About halfway through the trip, I was parking and I lost control of the bike, I panicked and I crashed. I was thrown from the bike and landed face first in a pile of rocks, my half visor saved my face. The whole thing was over in a second, my boyfriend maintains that was the longest second of his life. He thought I was dead when I didn’t move, but I just needed a second to breathe. Ritchie was still on his bike when it happened and so he had to park it safely before he could reach me, therefore he wasn’t the first one to get to me. I just remember what felt like hundreds of hands pulling me up in an awkward backwards position, the Vietnamese people were so lovely and helpful (they see this a lot) but Ritchie pushed them all away and became The Flash. I pride myself on how well prepared I am and boy did it pay off on that day, in my pack there were baby wipes, tissues and antiseptic cream. Ritchie (or The Flash) had them out before I even thought of it. He was like a tornado around me, checking, cleaning, putting pressure on wounds, and patching me up. I never had to say a word or tell him what I needed because he knows me better than I know myself, and I am so grateful for our bond. My chin, shoulder and hand took the worst of it and they took a long time to heal, but at the end of the day it was just a few scrapes and bruises over my body – although for the rest of the journey I felt like I’d been hit by a bus. Now, at this point it would have been easy for me to succumb to the fear and to quit. But after I crashed I got back on that bike an hour later not just because we were in the middle of nowhere and there was no other way to retrieve the bike, but because if I didn’t then history would repeat itself, if I didn’t my anxiety would grow and I would inhibit myself from ever riding again. So I got back on the bike, and that is one of the proudest moments of my life. I conquered my fear.

I’m a celebrity . . . and I want to stay 

It’s true that most people, at some point in their life, have dreamed of what it would be like to be a celebrity. Well if you really want to know (and you haven’t yet reached stardom in your home country) come to Vietnam. Being a “westerner” or “foreigner” here attracts A LOT of attention. Of course you have to avoid the more touristy places where diversity is more common, but where I have been for the last 2 months, Hai Phong city, I am a celebrity. I’m talking the whole shebang: people shouting at me on the street; people asking (or mostly not asking) for photos of or with me; people constantly staring; wanting be near me all the time and touch me for no reason; people inviting me to their parents houses and throwing me a parties; people being endlessly generous and feeling honoured to pay for my beer; people nearly falling off of motorbikes, or circling around to get a better look at me; and children are absolutely fascinated to see someone so different. You would think that all of these things would grate on a person and make them want to hide away, and at times it is a little daunting. For example whenever I walk with my Vietnamese friends, especially to markets, everyone is constantly asking my friends questions about me in Vietnamese – and that’s daunting. To know that everyone is talking about you in a language you don’t understand all the time takes a lot of getting used to, and in my culture this is very rude, but I’m not in my culture, I’m in Vietnam. As soon as I embraced that I realised that I could use the differences in my appearance to make people happy, and that’s what I try to do. When people say hello I smile and wave and talk to them, even if they can’t understand a word I say. When people offer me food I take it and try it in front of them, and I make yummy noises even if the taste is terrible to me. When I go to a cafe, or shop, or hairdresser and they want to take photos of me with their products to use for marketing I oblige. And when parents push their unwilling children at me to practise English with a native speaker I always make warm conversation. This has all become normal to me, but it’s not normal for them to see someone like me. Just by smiling at someone I can make them truly happy, and I will never get tired of that, it’s the least I can do for a county that has given me so much. I will never get tired of seeing a group of school children ride past, watching them fight over who is brave enough to say hello to me and when one does and I reply, watching their astonished faces turn to laughter and elation and disbelief that I replied, then they zoom off to tell their friends.

Don’t get me wrong there are downsides to being different here. If a go out alone or with other foreigners I know people will try to rip me off – the harsh reality is that they see white skin and they think I’m rich. Well I’m not. Sorry. I’m also not stupid, and after 2 months I’m pretty confident I can avoid getting ripped off in most situations. I just have to be firm, a good (but not rude and always fair) negotiator and have a rough understanding of what things are worth. To be honest, most of the time you are making them happy by trying their produce even if you do haggle the price down. 

Facebook is massive here, possibly bigger than in the UK, and those of you who know me will know that I do not have Facebook (SHOCK HORROR), well I’m glad! Because every foreigner I know has had at least 50 friend requests, and I can’t be dealing with that. People often ask us for our telephone numbers, why so you can call me? You don’t speak English, I don’t speak Vietnamese. They don’t care. It’s such an honour for them to call you their friend, they don’t even mind that they can’t speak to you, it makes them happy. Its very humbling. I know that it’s not me they idolise, it’s just the idea of western culture. I’m not special and people here react the same way to every westerner they see, I don’t want to be special, I just want to see people’s faces light up in that unique way and then I’m gone. 

Motorbikes and chopsticks

No one can prepare you for the culture shock that is Asia. Speaking as someone who was born and raised in western society, I can honestly say that Asia is a lot different to what I always imagined. Obviously in the UK we get a glimpse of what other cultures are like through the media and entertainment industries, and it was due to those outlets that I was convinced I had firm grasp on what life would be like in South East Asia. I was wrong. Having just celebrated 2 weeks of a 3 month stint in Vietnam I can tell you this: you need to visit South east Asia. I don’t mean go to some luxury resort on a Thai Island with full English breakfasts where everyone speaks English, I mean go off the beaten track and dive into the unique and immersive experience that you will only find in the East.

After arriving into Vietnams capitol city Hanoi and spending a few days as tourists, we made our way over to the less touristy city of Hai Phong where we were to begin our volunteering job teaching English. Before we left everyone was giving us their worldly advice, as they do, and making sure we were stocked up on Imodium because “everyone gets the runs in Asia”. Now I almost never get sick at home, I’ve always prided myself on having a near perfect immune system and whenever I have a dodgy tummy or a few sniffles I’m usually cured within 24 hours. So far Vietnam has smashed my perfect record. Because when your stomach gives you no choice and you need to ‘go’ and you’re in crazy bus station where no one speaks English and everyone is trying to get you and your 18kg backpack into their taxi, when you eventually find a toilet that is actually just a dirty hole in the ground with no toilet paper to speak of, the culture shock really hits home. 2 weeks in Vietnam and I’ve run out of: Imodium, hand sanitiser, and emergency toilet roll. It’s cool I’ve only got 5 months left in Asia.

After my “experience” at the bus station I was immediately shoved onto the back of a motorbike by a local volunteer from the English centre I was about to start work for, and I thought my life was over. I’ve been to a lot of places with crazy traffic and deathly drivers, but this is a whole new level. I think the difference is the sheer number of motorbikes on the road and the clear lack of absolutely any kind of structure or rules. I still don’t know what side of the road they drive on, and it is not uncommon to be on the motorway with a motorbike coming at you in the opposite direction. Everyone drives a motorbike here, not just a motorbike, a beaten down motorbike that is falling apart that has probably driven the entire length of the country multiple times. Now here is where the culture difference comes in, most Asian people believe in luck. They truly believe in it in a deep and spiritual way, meaning that if you are meant to be in a motorbike crash, you will be. Even if you were driving a brand new bike that worked perfectly, had on all the safety equipment and were driving super carefully, if you were meant to crash you would crash. Unlucky. I haven’t crashed yet, and everyone I know that has has just come away with a few scrapes and a good story (the amount of vehicles means you’re mostly driving under 35 k/h).My motorbike rides in Vietnam have been some of my most memorable experiences so far and I would definitely recommend having a go while you’re here, you will feel more alive than you have ever felt and you will have truly experienced part of a Vietnamese persons way of life.

Everyone knows that rice is a massive part of Asian cuisine, and I love rice (part of the reason I was convinced I wouldn’t get sick) but I didn’t realise just how much rice is eaten here. They eat rice for every meal of the day, and I’m living with Vietnamese people, so I’m eating rice for every meal of the day – everyday. It’s actually not that bad, rice is a great base for a meal, and by changing around the other components of the meal it can be pretty varied. The difficult part (at first) is eating rice with chopsticks. I can hand on heart say that I have not picked up a fork in a fortnight, actually I don’t think I’ve even laid eyes on a fork in that time, and I don’t intend to for the rest of my trip. IMMERSE YOURSELF. I have pretty much mastered the art of chopsticks in what I think is a very short amount of time, and when you master something so small that at first seemed impossible, the feeling you get is amazing. You feel like you can do anything, you feel like you have become part of a world that is bigger than you are – that’s why you go travelling.

There have been many other culture shocks and adaptations I have had to make in my short time in Asia, which I am sure I will get to in the future of this blog, and I hope there are many more surprises to come. Every small challenge or funny or scary thing I experience makes me a better person, excites me, and I am learning about life everyday – real life.

Look out for more posts to come on my Asian adventure.






Just do it

I have just finished a month of manual labour and it was hard. Well, 5 hours of manual labour per day ranging in difficulty, but as I said before it was hard. There have been some physically challenging times when I thought I may not be able to do this, which is absolutely due to having just spent almost a year in a desk job and not committing to much exercise during that time. Yes it has gotten easier as time has gone on, and luckily I have a strong boyfriend to lean on, and as I feel my body getting fitter I am thankful for all the raking and weeding and pushing wheelbarrows up and down hills. Although I am grateful for this daily workout, the thing I am most grateful for is the way my mind has reacted to working in this environment.


When I was in my desk job I was stressed, point blank, and it got to a point where my partner was noticing a big difference in me. I was snapping so easily at people over nothing, which is not me at all, and I let everything get to me. The job got to me. Not just the job but the lifestyle, I had a hell of a commute which took an hour and a half on a good day. There is nothing worse than having a super stressful day at work, having to stay behind for hours to sort it out and then having your train home cancelled, having to wait for another hour to board a train you can barely get on because it’s so crowded, then it crawling along at a snail’s pace whilst you hold your breath because you’re in someone’s armpit and you feel like you’re going to faint. By the time you get home, cram something in your face and get to sleep it’s time to start all over again. Don’t get me wrong, I loved living in London, but there are definitely a few things I’m going to do differently next time. Over the last month as my body and my mind have unwound from the city life I have noticed a big change, I’m not stressed anymore, I’m not angry I’m not snapping and I’m happy. I put this down to manual labour, 5 hours in the warm Italian sun with a view that looks like a painting has allowed me to differentiate what is important and what is not. However, the biggest lessons I have learnt since coming to Lake Garda have come from our hosts.


It is very rare in life to meet a person who truly inspires you, and even rarer to meet this person and be luckily enough to spend a good amount of time learning from them. A role model, a person you think of when something bad happens, what would they do in this situation? Well I met mine at Villa Castelletto. It’s cheesy but I wish I had better words to describe these perfect people, and just how much I learnt from them. These are people that had a dream and actually made it happen, it took them 13 years and a ridiculous amount of hard graft, but they did it. These people are living their dream. The best part is that they never take it for granted, they are at a point where they could simply maintain the land and it would still be amazing, however they continue to strive for something better. Not only are they constantly seeking to improve their garden, Villa, and produce, but also themselves. Our female host SOMEHOW made time to study English, a whole other language to her already fluent 2/3. Another word for every single word. She also paints, cooks, bakes, studies bee keeping and sews – all as hobbies. Easily the hardest working person I have ever met, she doesn’t stop – ever. And she is super happy, because she loves every aspect of her life having built it from nothing. Her and her husband have been together for over 30 years and they are so in love, so passionate and ready as ever to take on the world. She told me once in broken English “I think (growing old together) is beautiful.”. I agree, and if I am half the person Hildegard is when I am her age, I will be a very accomplished person indeed.


Nike got it right: just do it. That is what I have learned from my hosts, because if you want it, you will do it. The reason you haven’t achieved your dream yet (or at least are not on the way to achieving it) is because you don’t want it enough, I truly believe that. So maybe you are using the word ‘dream’ too quickly to describe something you would perhaps like to achieve if the opportunity came along, or maybe your dream was formed for the wrong reasons. Alternatively, (like me) you’re still not sure what your dream is, and that’s fine. That’s why I’m travelling and taking some time to get to know myself better, that way I can decide what I truly want from life. But I’ll tell you something, when I do discover my dream I’ll be ready to grab it thanks to all the lessons I have learnt on the way.


Fatter or fitter?

When I lived in Australia I gained 2 stone in weight, yep 6 months in the 40 degree Aussie summertime and I returned with a lot more than just happy memories. The reason for this extreme fluctuation? KFC. Among other things, but yes I ate a lot of KFC, like a lot a lot, like bordering on addiction a lot. Before I left I didn’t actually care for it, however it is different over there. I know I know the old ‘all the fast food is slightly different here therefore I must try everything to compare’, but KFC truly is a lot better. This wasn’t helped along by the fact that one of my cousins who I was living with at the time and his girlfriend worked there – and got free food. This need to try every junk food, as well as the generosity of my family who I stayed with equalled a fat Hope. To be fair I did (what I thought was) a lot of exercise, exploring new places, walking on the beach, I had a part time job in a shop, I even climbed a mountain (I threw up on the way up as I was so unfit). Alas I simply wasn’t burning the calories I was taking in, fair enough, my body reacted in the natural way to this and I gained weight. Fortunately I did have a bit of a wake up call after climbing the mountain and not being able to walk for 2 days after, literally. So I bucked my ideas up, cut the calories and upped the exercise, and I lost the weight. 
I have never done as much manual labor as I have in the past 2 weeks. I have gotten up at 5:30AM each day and got on with whatever tasks have been assigned to me, and it feels great. There is a lot of peacefulness in manual labor. It just so happens that the work is heavy duty gardening, on a never ending property, on a hill – a very very steep hill. There’s no, oh I left my gloves on the window sil let me go and get them a minute – ok see you in an hour after your hike up and down a very very steep hill. I definitely feel fitter and stronger in my 2 short weeks here, however I don’t feel any lighter. I know what you’re thinking, it’s only been 2 weeks, but humour me for a minute. My belly feels, if anything, bigger. The most plausible reason? Food. Since I have been in Italy I have eaten a large portion of pasta or rice EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. And I’m loving it. As well as the bread – there is so much bread. Is this going to be a repeat of Australia? I don’t know and to be honest I don’t care, I am just living in the moment. If I want it I will eat it (not that I didn’t before). Obviously with all the manual labor I am bound to be hungrier than when I was in my desk job, and I am also getting fitter and healthier with fresh fruit and vegetables from the garden.
In a lot of ways fitness and weight management are about routine: “I will walk this far everyday at 7pm”, “I will eat this much at this time”, and what happens when you travel? You break the routine. Not only that but as I have experienced, exposure to new and exciting food can also cause fluctuations. But you know what, why shouldn’t you be able try all the new and interesting foods you want? You may never return to this place again! Surely food is one of the best things about travelling. I guess what I’m trying to say is yes, my experience in America would not have been as good if I hadn’t eaten all those corn dogs. Did anyone care or even notice my weight gain in Australia? No. Did I have an amazing time? Am I currently having the most amazing time experiencing new and exciting foods? Yes. In my experience, travelling has made me fatter at some points and fitter at some points, but (most importantly of all) much much happier. 
Bon apetite!

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling . . . 24?

Almost exactly 2 years ago I was sleeping on my best friends sofa bed when she burst in at 8 am singing Taylor Swift’s “22”, it was my 22nd birthday you see and big things were about to happen for Larissa and I. She was about to head off to travel Canada, and I was about to leave for America where I was to work as a singing teacher. As I type I am rapidly approaching the anniversary of my 24th year on planet earth, and as cliche as it sounds, I have no idea how I got here so quickly. I still feel 18 years old, maybe I always will, hopefully I always will. Anyway, around my 22nd birthday I was about to embark on an adventure, and as it happens about a week ago, (2 weeks before my 24th birthday) I set off on another adventure. I’ve been thinking a lot about direction lately and what I want to achieve in my lifetime (see previous blog post), therefore this seems like a very appropriate time to reflect on the past two years of my life and assess if I am indeed going in the right direction.
I’m not really sad about getting older, there’s no way around it so why waste time being sad? I am however concerned about the increasingly lessening amount of time I have left. The truth is that every breath you take is one of a limited amount of precious moments you will have to live your life; to make your dreams come true; to be happy. And with every out breath that moment is over, gone, and you will never get it back. Life is one big countdown, are you making the most of it?
Inevitably as human beings we tend to compare ourselves with others, and possibly the most natural comparison we make is with people the same age as us. You know, people we went to school; or college; or university with. It just happens, and with social media thriving the way it is, the comparisons are even easier to make. How many times have you heard someone say in a whiny voice “everyone I know is getting married/having babies”, where did they get this information from? Probably Facebook. Social media has a way of gathering everyone else’s achievements and flaunting them in front of you like the donkey and the carrot. The good news is that you can have the carrot! If you want it. There was a running joke at my previous job that I am desperate to get married, this is because I have been with my partner for so long. Although I would not describe myself as desperate, it is true that I would love to get married. When I see people I went to school; and college; and university with that have been with their partners for a lot less time getting married, it does hurt a bit. However, as I keep telling everyone, what’s the point in getting married if we can’t afford it? Why spend money we don’t have now, when we can wait a few years and be financial secure. It’s not like we are not committed to one another, If either of us wanted out it would have happened a long time ago believe me. Over the years we have built an entirely unique, committed, loving, happy relationship that is still exciting and fun filled. We have the kind of relationship that people are jealous of, because we have put in so much care and attention and worked at it so much. My relationship with Ritchie is the greatest thing I have ever achieved.
About a week ago, before Ritchie and I set out on our backpacking adventure, my mum said something about us that got me thinking. She said: “Will they ever settle down?”. As I thought more about it, I started thinking about what it is about our life that appears so unsettled? What have I been doing over the past 2 years that is different to my peers who are ‘settled’? Sure I haven’t got married, or had a baby, or started a career that I am passionate about, but come to think of it in these 2 years I have done one or two things those ‘settled’ people may have missed. I have lived in 3 different countries and visited 7; I’ve had 4 jobs; I have lived in London for a year; I’ve climbed a mountain; I directed a musical; I got a tattoo in New York City; I’ve seen 2 west end shows and at least 4 professional comedy gigs; I’ve held a Koala bear; I donated 12 inches of my hair to charity; I’ve had Christmas in 40 degree heat; I’ve been on a speed boat: I’ve seen Whales up close in their natural habitat; I’ve lived in an 80 year old log cabin; I saw Mark Zuckerburg’s dorm room at Harvard; I’ve been to a thrift store; I’ve seen the Great barrier Reef; I’ve met Crocodiles and Cassowaries in the Daintree Rain forest; I’ve seen where they filmed the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit; I’ve been to the Red Socks stadium; I have made hundreds of smores; I have reconnected with long lost family members and bathed in natural thermal pools; I’ve stayed in a town that is famous for smelling like rotten eggs; I have made an astounding number of lifelong friends all over the planet; I have eaten corn dogs and corn bread and chilly cheese dogs; I’ve put on weight and I’ve lost it; I’ve been scared and lost and tired; I’ve been homesick; and above all else I have been truly, passionately and devotedly in love. I’m sure there is more but not bad for 2 years right? I do understand what my mum means about settling down though, and there is a huge part of me that wants that. However (and relating to my last blog post) how can I settle down if I don’t know where, when, how or why? That is why my soulmate and I have embarked on a journey of discovery, currently in Italy living in a Villa on Lake Garda, it’s only been a week but already things seem clearer in our minds. Hopefully, when we return from travelling at christmas we’ll have a clear direction in which we would like to take our lives. Maybe we will ‘settle down’ – but I hope not!IMG_0214.JPG

Travel and the search for purpose

It is very rare to meet a person who knows exactly what they want from life, sure there are people who have a general idea: “I want to change the world”, “I want to work with children” or “I want to be happy”.  However, to find someone who is absolutely certain of the route their life will take – almost impossible. If you are out there, kudos and good luck to you.  As for the other 99.9% of people in the world, knowing where to take your life is a significantly more challenging thought to get your head around.

For a long time, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. Then I moved to London and I didn’t anymore. And then I did, and then I didn’t. Not knowing what you want to be when you grow up can be very stressful if you let it, there is a certain stigma attached to not knowing exactly what job is right for you by the time you reach 21. And who doesn’t dread the big career questions from your Grandparents’ friends, the judging looks you receive when you give the wrong answer because you haven’t decided yet. I put this indecision, or indeed decision down to one thing: your surroundings. I truly believe we are a product of our surroundings.

Growing up I was unknowingly influenced by the people around me and the environment I was in. I thought I knew what I wanted, and if you had asked me at the time I would have had no doubt at all. So I followed my dream to the big city – away from the environment where I was certain of my future, and suddenly I wasn’t so certain anymore. With each new experience life brought me came a wave of new opportunity, and opened my mind to just how many different paths my life could take. Now I just had to choose one, to commit. That was the point at which I profoundly changed, I had the biggest realisation of my life.

How can you choose what you want to do with your life if you have no idea what life has to offer?

Seriously, teenagers are expected to make choices that will effect their entire lives before they have had a chance to live – before they’ve experienced life outside that bubble of childhood.  Up until the age of what 16 or 18 you are fed information instead of gathering it for yourself. Every book you’ve read, song you’ve listened to, TV programme you have watched has unknowingly shaped you into the person you are at that age. Perhaps we should go to University at 28 instead of 18, that way we might know ourselves a little better and therefore make more informed choices in regards to our career paths. After all, how many people do you know who went to University are in the career they studied for? Are you? Do you even want to be anymore? Do you really feel like you know who you are anymore?

So how do you find out who you truly are?

Change your environment! TRAVEL. Do things you would never have dreamed of, challenge yourself, read alternative books, listen to alternative music, eat all the foods you hate, make friends with people who don’t speak the same language as you, fall in love, talk to strangers. Discover who you are because that is the only way you will be happy in the end; you may think you’re happy just plodding along with your eyes closed but in the very end you will regret it. The world is gigantic, are you really going to spend 99% of your time in the same 5-mile radius? Come on.


Lesson 11: Appearance

For the majority of my life I’ve had long hair. Not just long hair, very long, super soft, super shiny, beautiful hair. (Not to blow my own trumpet or anything). My hair was a shining beacon of what it meant to be me, it defined me – it’s what people thought of when they thought of me. Especially during uni for example where most of my peers didn’t know I existed (mostly due to my lack of Facebook and my absence during freshers week), Hope? You know the girl with hair? Oh yeah! I’ve seen her around. It was not uncommon for people to just come over to me to touch my hair because they had heard it was ridiculously soft in one spot in particular, strange but true.

When I went to Australia I cut off my hair. I told myself that it was because of the heat, that it would be more manageable, but the truth was I got to that point that every girl gets to at least once in their life – a new me a new hair cut. Every girl at some point in their life will have a drastic haircut, and it’s a really big deal, such a big change to something that defines us so much can be make or break. For me it was break, I hated it, I cried for a week, I didn’t feel like me anymore, I felt lost. Now you might be thinking “it’s only hair”, but this was hair that I had hidden behind for years, hair that was such an enormous part of my personality. When I told people back home, most of them were gutted too although they said it looked good. They didn’t understand why I did it, and neither did I, I felt immediate regret. This was softened by the fact that I donated it to charity, and I put on a brave face, but ultimately I was crushed. I was about to start a new chapter of my life in Australia and I had no idea who I was. 

Then I met people who never knew me with long hair. I walked into a jewellery store for a job interview and was immediately complimented on my hair. How could this be possible? I got the job, I made friends, and all without my long hair. People actually talked to me because they liked my personality – without my long hair to hide behind. I was still me, and as far as my new friends knew this was the same me as I had always been. Growing my hair out has been a painfully slow process, but luckily my hair grows pretty fast. The awkward sitting on the shoulder and flicking out stage was particularly fun, however I was on the over side of the world from most of the people I knew so it wasn’t too bad. When I showed my Australian friends pictures of me with long hair they said it didn’t suit me, when I showed my English friends pictures of me with short hair they missed my long hair. It’s funny isn’t it. 

For a good 75% of the time I was travelling I didn’t wear make up due to the heat, another thing I assumed would impact upon my ability to make friends. I also gained some weight. In my eyes I had horrible hair, was fat and wore no make up – I felt hideous. My excuse was that it didn’t matter because the man I loved was half way around the world, I had no one to impress, no one to look good for. I had striped myself back to a bare version of myself, and I learned that that was ok. This culture of putting pressure on everyone to look perfect all the time is ridiculous. Why not go without make up for a day? Go out in public without make up. No one is going to laugh at you and think you’re disgusting – that’s in your head, that’s what’s been drummed into you by the media. I like being imperfect. It’s liberating. 

Appearance doesn’t matter, I had the best experience of my life. I was still me, people still saw my personality, I found out who I really was with nothing to hide behind. 
Lesson learnt:

I am more than just hair.

Lesson 10: Long distance relationships

Long distance love is possible. 

A long distance relationship however, slightly more tricky. 

I think the secret to a happy relationship that will go the distance is to have your own life. Everyone has seen those couples that live in each other’s pockets and can’t bare to be apart for even a second. No. We all know that honeymoon phase won’t last forever. On the other hand there are those that go too far the other way, leading lives completely seperate from their partners who eventually become redundant. It’s all about balance, and hard work. Last year I left my boyfriend behind and went galivanting around the world for 9 months. It wasn’t intentional, and there was a whole series of events that led me to take that decision, but I did. And we survived.
The truth is we both had essential and separate journeys to navigate in order to truly know ourselves, and therefore commit to a well rounded relationship. That sounds really serious and complicated and boring – it’s simple really. We’ve been together since we were 15, and worked through pretty much every issue a normal couple goes through. With the added fact that essentially we were children, growing up within the confines of a long term relationship. That sounds bad, I don’t mean it that way and I certainly wouldn’t change a second of it. I just mean that all we knew was each other, and it got to a point where we just needed to get to know ourselves. Anyway this led to an inevitable break up, during which we both ‘found ourselves’ and realised that we are meant to be together. Unfortunately by this point I had already bought plane tickets and there was no turning back. That’s how we ended up in a long distance relationship. 

It was heart breaking, gut wrenching, tear jerking and soul destroying – but necessary. We had just been apart for 8 months, back together for 1 week and off I went. It was actually exactly what we needed, a test of our decision to commit to each other for the rest of our lives. Of course no one understood our decision, I guess it does sound a little crazy, but we were so sure. And people were so mean. Everyone just seemed to have an unreasonable compulsion to convince us that we would cheat on each other. How harsh is that? Well we didn’t. There are more important things than physical relationships believe it or not. We were committed, we are committed. 

He promised me he would accomplish 3 seemingly impossible things whilst I was away, and he did. Whilst simultaneously dealing with grief beyond explaination. He was strong when he should have crumbled, he continued on when he should have broken down, he excelled when he should have been defeated. And I wasn’t there. I missed Christmas; his birthday; Valentine’s Day; even his graduation. It killed me. But it was ok, (we justified) because it was only for 9 months and what’s 9 months in comparison to the rest of your life?. I had a countdown to Ritchie on my phone which helped endlessly with the pain. The letters helped with the loneliness. In America the communication to the outside world was a little trickier but I found sneaky ways to hear his voice everyday, and when I got to Austrailia it was twice a day. In New Zealand I was on the road a lot and sometimes we didn’t speak for days at a time – that was the killer. When we talked we talked of the future, which helped a lot I think. We made plans, updated each other, but we lived separate lives. We made it work. 

I never want to be away from him again. I will also never give up the person I found when I was travelling (me). Now we are living our lives as two strong personalities in a damn near perfect relationship with a limitless future ahead of us, instead of being one personality with two bodies. And that’s better I think. 

Lesson learnt: 

Relationships take A LOT of work, and distance means nothing when you’re committed. Love is worth it.

Lesson 9: Nature

I’ve never really seen myself as an outdoors kind of person. I mean I got into hiking a bit in my teens but that faded after a year or so and I became the indoor kind of person I was always meant to be. Or was I? 

When I first arrived in rural Vermont last summer I got attacked by bugs, bugs like I’ve never known before. Before I knew it I was covered in spots of blood, mainly around my face and hair line that quickly turned to swollen lumps, I was told these bites were down to black flies which I had never heard of. I wasn’t the only one they hunted, they seemed to be drawn to to the new foreign blood that had just walked into their natural habitat and they couldn’t get enough of us. I remember one dinner time I was sat opposite one of my English friends when I noticed she had some ketchup running down her neck, it turned out it wasn’t ketchup, it was blood. Blood! These things were like vampires! Luckily this only lasted for about a week at which point I was told the black flies became out of season. Yay! Then it was time for the sunburn. Now I’ve had sunburn before, but this time I got caught out worse than ever. My whole body was burnt, from my ears to my toes. You know that horrible case of sunburn you get every now and then where it hurts to shower, put on clothes, or lie down – that was me. Only I was in unfamiliar surroundings without the comforts of home. Then came the second round of bugs which I turned out be allergic to and had to be taken to a Doctor because my ankle swelled up so much I couldn’t walk. By this point I was seriously wondering if I could do this outdoorsy thing. The showers were located on the other side of camp from my cabin and by the time I got back I was dirtier than when I set off! I ended up giving up on make up as it just sweated straight off, and the nearest washing machine was a 30 minute drive away so laundry was an issue. In America I learnt how nature can suck.

In Australia I learnt to appreciate nature. I think it was because of all the different wildlife I encountered over there. Of course I did the touristy things like holding a Koala and feeding the Kangaroos at the zoo, I watched the Crocodile shows and saw the all the poisonous Snakes and Spiders. It was amazing. But the wildlife I encountered in the wild was much more interesting. For example did you know that the magpies in Australia are extremely vicious? Yeah. They swoop at you and attack, there was actually a sign in my street warning of the dangers of magpies. Seriously YouTube it, there are some hilarious videos which actually made me respect these birds a lot.  One of the greatest moments of my life was when I went to Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef, it was phenomenal. But what was even more phenomenal was the other great thing I saw on that trip, during a walk through the Daintree rainforest. A wild Cassowarie with 2 babies. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Cassowaries but they are similar in size to an Ostrich, but much more colourful and rare, with a sort of horn on their heads which reminds me of dinosaurs. They have a bit of a bad reputation because of some fatal attacks upon humans in the past, they are dangerous animals. I was walking through the rainforest on a guided tour when all of a sudden the guide told us to freeze, that’s when I saw the giant bird, it came right up to us closely followed by its 2 babies. I was completely in awe, I’d never seen something more magestic and graceful. The guide said he’d never seen a wild Cassowarie with babies in his 15 years of taking groups through the rainforest. I felt humbled. In Australia I learnt to respect nature.

In New Zealand I learnt the healing power of nature. By this point I had barely worn make up for 9 months and one day it dawned on me that my skin actually looked better. It was acne free, it wasn’t dry or pale and it just felt generally better. Not just on my face but my legs too, the fact that they had actually seen the sun abroad instead of being hidden under winter clothes in England had done them the world of good. 5 months later and they are still tanned and smooth and feel great! I definately took advantage of the healing power of nature when I visited Rotorua NZ which is a town that smells of rotten eggs. It literally stinks, and the reason is the natural volcanic geizers that let out natural gas. These things are amazing and you can watch a video I took of them on my Instagram page. People collect the mud from the geizers and use it in beauty treatments, as well and bathing in the natural hot springs. I was lucky enough to bathe in the springs too. It was definately a strange experience as the water was nearly 50 degrees C and the pools were mainly filled with male Chinese tourists in speedos. But once I relaxed into it and looked out across the panoramic views of the volcanoes, I felt completely peaceful. It was breathtaking and awe inspiring and completely natural. People swear by the healing powers of these springs and travel from across the world to bathe their aches and pains away. For me the water healed my soul, how cheesy! At last I realised power of the natural world, the absolute purity and goodness that it holds, and I aspire to make the most it more. There are loads more encounters with nature I will tell you about one day, but for now I’ll leave it here.

Of course I’m back in London now and nature doesn’t play such a big role in my life. However I have great adventures planned, watch this space. Nature made an impact on my life that cannot be unmade, I need to be a part of it body and soul. 

Lesson learnt:

Nature giveth and nature taketh away, respect it.