Paper Airplanes: Plastic Free Travel on a Budget

In honour of Earth Day/Week recently, I thought I would do my part and talk about something I tried to actively practice earlier in the year. For 2 and a half months I travelled around Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia and one of my missions upon embarking on this trip, was to try and live and travel as sustainably as I could on a backpacker budget.

Now, here comes a massive disclaimer – I am very aware that it would have been more sustainable full-stop if I just didn’t go on this trip. The carbon-footprint I accumulated alone, I am sure, makes this post seem incredibly hypocritical. However, in a world where nothing any of us does is 100% right, I will accept the fault in taking a 14-hour trip across the world. It was a trip I had been longing to do after finally graduating. Nobody is perfect, and I try to do small and big things in my day-to-day life to offset things like taking flights – hence this post. So, I guess that disclaimer is a bit of a ‘I accept the criticism, I am fully aware of the problematic nature of taking flights, but give me some credit, I am trying to do the right thing, please don’t hate on me too much’.

Disclaimer aside, here I have listed out some of the things I did and invested in out on my travels in order to either reduce my single-use plastic consumption or travel sustainably. Hopefully, if anyone is planning a trip or just trying to make some differences at home, it might provide a little inspiration.

 

  1. Take a reusable water bottle and reuse/fill up bottles
    Out in Asia, tap water is a total no-go, so it is no surprise that single-use plastic bottles were the standard, and for me that was pretty heart-breaking. At home, I pride myself on having a stainless-steel water bottle which I try and take wherever I go, including on my travels. I kept this bottle with me at all times and at any opportunity I could find a fountain at an airport, in a restaurant or at a hostel I was first in line to fill it up to save me from buying a bottle. Not only this, but my stainless-steel bottle actually keeps the water cool, which is a massive bonus. Sadly, sometimes buying water bottles were inevitable, and when I did have to do this I made sure I bought as big a bottle as I could carry so I was only buying one, and I reused it wherever I could along-side my own bottle, ie. filling it up any day I could at hostels.

My stainless steel bottle is from Chillys – for sure worth the investment…  

Top tip: Sometimes hostels specify if they have water stations so you can tailor your trip to staying at those, or equally if a hostel provides breakfast, cash in on filling up your bottle/ several bottles at breakfast so you are stocked up for the day.

2. Packing cubes not plastic bags
I wouldn’t just advise packing cubes because they’re more sustainable, but also just because they changed my packing game, FOREVER. Essentially just fabric zip-up cubes you can pack all your clothes in, it kept my backpack organised and stopped me putting everything in plastic bags etc. I made sure I even had one dedicated to dirty or wet clothes, they cost next to nothing and can be used trip after trip, or even at home to keep underwear or socks organised.

3. Safety razor
One of the biggest things I felt guilty about at home fell to the fact I had been using handful after handful of plastic disposable razors. It’s all very well having a reusable water bottle, but the bathroom and beauty cabinet is where a lot of plastic hides. Not only would travelling with 2.5 months’ worth of razors be a rubbish thing to lug around, but it’s also just horrendous for the environment. After doing a bit of research and watching a lot of YouTube review videos I took the plunge and switched to a metal safety razor. I can’t lie, it terrified me, and still to this day the look of it is a little intimidating as I felt like I was for sure going to end up a bloody mess. However, this was one of the best sustainable swaps I made. Not only does investing in this razor and the blades cost a fraction of the price of buying disposables in the long run, but it means no more throwing out plastic razors and the bonus, it gives a super close shave (no major blood disasters yet). It takes a little getting used to, but I am so here for it.

A safety razor kept my pins looking pretty smooth round the pool 

4. Refuse straws/ take own metal straws
In places like Indonesia I was pleasantly surprised to find I was not once given a plastic straw. All were either paper, metal, bamboo, glass or biodegradable which was so wonderful. Even a couple of places in Thailand did offer biodegradable straws, however, on the whole places like Vietnam or Thailand are a little slower to jump on the hype. To counter this, the best thing you can do is simply to refuse the straw. You don’t really need one, and if you need to give your drink a stir, ask for a (metal) spoon or use the end of your own cutlery. Otherwise, think about investing in some metal straws, I always have one in my bag and at home, simple and easy.

5. Switching to monthly contact lenses
Admittedly I did this just before I left for Asia and so had a lot of daily ones to use up on my trip. However, I have now made the switch from daily to monthly contact lenses. Not only is it more cost effective and for me personally, has made my vision better, but it also stops you throwing away the plastic casing and the lenses every day, much better for the planet.

6. Refuse plastic bags
Pretty simple, but I’ll say it anyway, you can carry that keyring souvenir or that bottle of vodka without a bag just fine, don’t accept a plastic bag and if you need a bag, bring your own!

Drinks at hostels were metal straws and cans of mixer, not plastic!

7. Solid shave/shampoo/shower bars
Along with my safety razor I also took a solid shave cream bar out with me. This saved me taking a can or plastic bottle or tube, and actually worked incredibly well and lasted my entire trip. Bit of a mess and a faff to store, but if you invest in a metal case or just wrap it in something waterproof you are pretty good to go. One thing I wish I had also taken with me were some solid shampoo and shower bars, but sadly classic me didn’t get around to ordering in time before I left. However, I have used the Lush solid shampoo bar before and highly recommend you invest, you need barely any to get a lather and means you don’t have to buy the plastic bottles all the time.

8. Do a little beach clean wherever you go
Pick a couple of things off the beach as you leave, not too much effort and makes the beach nicer for you and for the next person, easy.

It’s a mad plastic world out there, but the tides are changing. We can all do a little bit that collectively will make a huge difference, so I hope this provides some inspiration! 

What they don’t tell you about graduate life

Since graduating from university in July this year, life for me has been a bit of a confusing rollercoaster. Filled with relief I finally finished uni, joy I never had to write another History essay again, and terrified that now I was no longer under the academic safety blanket with no job, and no clue what on earth I was going to do with my life. I can’t speak for all, but I know for a fact that no-one quite prepared me for how weird this time would be. So, I suppose this post is my small attempt at saying I think a conversation should start about how, while life as a graduate has its undoubted perks, it also holds a lot of struggles that I wasn’t quite expecting and that we need to talk more honestly about it. This isn’t all light-hearted, but I do hope at the very least this makes some of my fellow graduates feel less alone.

  1. Whatever decision or path you take, it’ll always feel like the wrong one
    Whether it be jumping straight into a grad-job, picking up a panic, (or not so panic), masters or taking the year out, what no one tells you is that whatever you do, it always feels like you picked the wrong path. I decided to take a year out to relax, do some travelling, get some experience, and work out what the hell I want to do with my life. But almost none of my friends have done that; most have gone straight into jobs, gone back to uni for their final year, or started a masters. I have never doubted myself so much as to whether I should have taken a different route. I know many of my friends who have chosen different paths to me have waves of feeling the same. Ultimately, no one told me that I just have to take a step back and realise no choice is the right choice, and that’s totally fine too.
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  2. Being at home has major plus points
    Washing day at uni was always a drag, and coming home from a day on campus to remember you have no food in the house was the worst thing in the world. Being at uni has made me totally appreciate how good I have it at home. My washing is always done, food is always in the fridge, I’m not wearing 50 layers of clothing to save the heating bill, and for the time being, I am living rent free. It won’t be much more time before that all ends, so I am fully on team parent-appreciation-society in the meantime. I don’t think I say it often enough, but my parents are the best.

 

  1. Life is a lot lonelier than you realise
    Suddenly moving out from living around the corner from your best friends, seeing course mates on campus every day, or even having relatable experiences, like essays to discuss, just seem to disappear. Since moving back home I felt like I didn’t have anyone in the same position who seemed to be going through the same feelings that I could talk to, and that was super isolating. As much as my parents are amazing and supportive, they didn’t quite understand why I just felt like crying a lot of the time even though I have a part-time job and plans to go travel. There was genuinely no real rhyme or reason to any of it. This period of life is super confusing to go from high stress and deadlines to suddenly nothing at all. For whatever reason, it just meant that if anyone asked what I was doing with my life, if I watched an episode of Bake Off, or just couldn’t find my glasses, I’d cry. Not ideal.

 

  1. The world is completely your oyster
    You’ve got a degree, no one can take that away from you now. So even though every decision you make may not feel like the right one, the beauty is you HAVE the decision. If I want to get a job I can hustle and apply to loads. If I want to take time out, I can book a flight. Although I may not be able to snap my fingers and have my dream job, or have the money to go travel, the only thing that matters is I have all this time and all these opportunities in front of me which is part of the whole reason why I worked so hard at uni in the first place.

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  1. You cannot rely on Instagram to give you the full story
    With our generation, it is so easy to open Facebook or Instagram and feel like everyone is #livingtheirbestlife, totally happy, and doing exactly what they want. But honestly, I am never going to post a photo of me crying mid-dissertation, or of me pouring my 100th pint of the day behind the bar, or even when I get my 3rd rejection of the month from an internship that would have barely paid my travel expenses. My point being, we only post the highlights, and so while everyone might appear to be living like life is peachy, remember it’s only for a moment, and often reality is a little more complicated than a perfectly filtered square photo.

 

The left is an actual image of me post-20 minute breakdown in the toilet close to my dissertation deadline, the right image is what I posted on Instagram instead. 

  1. You’ll be even more careful with your money
    Gone are the days of that juicy student loan, and now those Friday night beers are totally self-funded. If you’re like me and trying to save for travels, then suddenly happy-hours are a lot more important, birthday cards start to look a lot more ‘homemade’ and a night in with Netflix seems a lot more tempting than a night on the town. Every penny counts in the grad world as you’re either saving for travelling, saving to move out, or just straight-up trying to stay afloat in this new scary adult world.

 

  1. Everything is, and will be OK
    I’m fairly sure people do tell you this about grad-life, but it’s worth hammering in anyway. Everything is, and will be OK, even when it feels like it’s not. Things work themselves out, you will find the money, you will find a job, you will finish that masters, you will have an amazing time traveling, and you will see your friends.

Top-tips for: Making your work-day productive

We all know the feeling, student or 9-5-er, you have an essay is due at the end of the week, a major presentation to do tomorrow and probably a mega to-do list which is just staring you in the face and all you can think is ‘where has my motivation gone?’, ‘how am I going to get this all done?’. So, I am by no means an expert in the field of productivity, right now alone I am writing a blog post when I should be planning an essay, and my Instagram feed gets more attention in a day than my emails do. However, I am getting better, and it’s all thanks to a few life hacks I have discovered along the way.

  1. Pomodoro technique

A more recent discovery, the Pomodoro technique is perfect for anyone who can’t leave their phone alone, or struggles to stay focused for long periods of time. In essence, it works as a ‘work for a bit, break for a bit’ system, I have an app that times 25 minutes, after 25 minutes it alarms and times 5 minutes. The idea being you work solidly for those 25, and then take 5 minutes to get up and walk, look at your phone or go to the loo. After 4, solid, 25 minute sessions, it then gives you a 25-minute break to properly stretch your legs and refresh. This technique really made me learn just how much time I spend on my phone, and how easy it is to work if you are just giving yourself small manageable chunks.

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  1. Prioritise your to-do list

Dad taught me this one a while ago. It’s really easy to make a long list of things to do, stare at it and the freak out and try and frantically tick things off as soon as possible. But, as hard as it is to accept, it isn’t effective and means all the big important things or things you don’t want to do, get shoved to the bottom of the list until its almost too late. The aim instead, should be to make a list of what you need to get done, and then rank them first by importance and then by urgency. Then order your to-do list by placing the most urgent and most important tasks at the top of your list, and the things you have more time for or aren’t as important further down. This forces you to be more effective and stops you from ignoring the things you don’t want to do.

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  1. Break it up with achievable goals

Along with your to-do list, make sure you set yourself achievable goals for the day. Rather than setting yourself broad tasks to ‘write an entire essay’, or ‘research for a presentation’ in just one day, break up whatever you have to do into manageable goals. Having unrealistic goals will stress you out and drain your motivation if you don’t get it done. If you have an essay due, each day set a minimum amount of words you need to have written by the time you go home, if you meet it, you are on track, if you exceed it then not only do you feel great, but it takes the pressure off tomorrow. The same with anything else you do, instead of ‘researching for a presentation’ tell yourself that by the end of the day you need to read 15 articles, or by 2pm you need a plan for a meeting, or 10am you need to reply to 10 emails; that way you have a tangible goal which gives yourself a sense of achievement.

  1. Eat away from your desk

I can’t stress enough how much better it is for your mental wellbeing and productivity to take regular breaks away from your computer screen. As I have already explained, the Pomodoro technique really helps you stick to taking regular moments away from your desk to stretch your legs or check your phone. The same should be said for lunch time. It’s so easy when you have so much to do to just eat your lunch as you read emails or proof an essay but in the long run it just tires you out. Set a time with a friend to grab lunch and go somewhere else to eat it, even if you just take 30 minutes, you can even plan it so it fits with your 25 minute Pomodoro break. That 25/30 minutes away from the screen, mixed with some human interaction, calms your mind, brings you back to work refreshed so you focus better and means you enjoy your food rather than shovelling it down as an after-thought.

Extra top tip – Bring a packed/ prepped lunch to campus or work – that way you don’t waste time waiting in queues, and bonus, you’ll probably eat something healthier.

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(Full disclosure: This was not healthy, this was a reduced melt in the middle salted caramel muffin and it 100% made my day!)

  1. Know when to move on

So, you have set yourself a task, but you’ve been working on it for hours, you feel tired, everything you do is taking much longer, and you aren’t really focusing properly anymore. Know when to stop what you’re doing and move on. So many times, I have sat and proof-read an essay over and over again, changing things left, right and centre to the point where I just don’t read it through properly and miss obvious mistakes. Once I notice it is taking me what seems like hours to read one document, I know I need to switch it up. So, I might be proofing at 5pm and I’ve lost the will to keep reading but, I still want to be productive, this is the time I close down the essay and do something mindless like write up my bibliography, reply to some emails, or write tomorrow’s to-do list. There is no shame in leaving a task till later that day or the next morning so that you can come back to it with fresh eyes and produce something better. Doing something quick and easy in the last hour or half hour of your day instead of packing it in, means you’re still productive and you save yourself a job for tomorrow by prepping your to-do’s the day before or replying to one or two emails.

So these tips might not be revolutionary, but I hope at least they serve as a reminder to some of you who are stuck in a rut of deadlines and to-do lists!

 

5 Eco-Conscious Brands To Watch

Making more ethical and eco-conscious choices has been something I have been working on and becoming more aware of over the last two years. Simple things such as making more ethical food choices, being more conscious of the amount of food waste and general waste I produce, and working to reduce my plastic usage.

It seems that the world has also started to take note, more and more big name brands and small independent companies are priding themselves on producing ethical products or managing their waste more effectively.

This post is a shout out to a few brands and companies doing their bit to help the planet, whilst also producing some amazing products!

Toast (Beer) 

Beer lovers rejoice! You can now drink to your hearts content whilst also supporting the reduction of food waste. With the realisation that 44% of bread is wasted, Toast made it their mission to produce an ale using unsold loaves from bakeries and unused crusts from sandwich makers. In every bottle there is a slice of surplus bread – and better still, ALL of their profits are given to the charity Feedback to help tackle food waste.

So far they have saved over 6000 kilograms of bread, and are a fast growing and pioneering brand of conscious living. Their hierarchy in dealing with the surplus bread is Reduce, Redistribute, Brew, meaning that even before they use the bread to make their beer, they try to see if what they have collected is suitable to give to food redistribution charities first.

http://www.toastale.com/

Bees Wax Wraps 

Having only just discovered this company, I am now SO excited to share what Carly and Fran do. Everyone has at least one roll of cling-film or tin-foil in their home, constantly wrapping sandwiches, trying to preserve last nights leftovers can produce a lot of unnecessary plastic use. Enter handmade brand, Bees Wax Wraps, 100% natural made from cotton, bees wax, pine resin and jojoba oil, these wraps act in the same way as regular cling-film. Place over a bowl or wrap round a sandwich and the heat from your hands helps mould the wrap and makes it seal.

But wait for the best part, they are completely reusable AND biodegradable. Once you have used a wrap, you can give it a wash in some cold water and soap and its good to go again, and after a month stick them in the oven to re pasteurise and its like they’re brand new! I am definitely looking at investing in a few, and with such beautiful and funky colours, lunch will never be boring again!

https://www.beeswaxwraps.co.uk/

Pela

If you own a phone and admit to being as clumsy as me (or just don’t want to take the risk with your £400 phone) you will inevitably own a case, and like most of the population, it will probably be plastic. Traditional cases are made with a lot of plastic which contain toxins and are chucked away once we get bored of the design, meaning they sit in the ground or ocean for potentially thousands of years.

Pela have created a set of phone cases which not only protect your precious phone, but is also 100% compostable, BPA free and non-toxic, so you can save the world even when you’re taking a selfie.

https://pelacase.com/

Antibad

A friend I used to go to college with has been interning for this brand for a while and if you are a fashion lover, this is the place for you. Antibad are an online store and magazine which brings together sustainable clothing and accessories to challenge fast paced fashion and promote that sustainability can also be stylish.

From vegan bags to bamboo bras there is something for everyone. The website launches on October 1st so keep an eye on their social media and sign-up to their newsletter for offers and information.

http://antibadstore.com/

Chilly’s

The pinnacle of plastic use and waste comes in the form of plastic bottles. America throw away over 35 billion plastic water bottles every year. It is a huge waste of plastic, super damaging to the environment, not to mention it actually costs us lots of money. Chilly’s is a water bottle brand which aims to reduce single-use plastic bottles with their stainless steel ones.

The bottle is expertly designed to keep your drinks cool for up to 24 hours and hot for 12. With so many beautiful and stylish designs, you will want to be seen with this bottle, let alone that you’ll have that warm fuzzy feeling that you are saving the planet while you hydrate.

https://www.chillysbottles.com/

There are so many more wonderful brands out there but here was just a handful for you to check out if you want to do your bit for the world, enjoy!

Caring is Cool, and so is Voting

Well, today is the day. And yes, sorry, I am going to be another one of those people who add to the noise on social media and write about today’s General Election.

I haven’t posted anything online up until this point. In all honesty, as much as I try and stay educated on the matter as much as possible, I don’t know enough about politics and parties to start a debate in person or on social media, much less would I want to, as 9 times out of 10 you are arguing with a person that isn’t going to change their mind and suddenly vote a different way because you gave them a statistic. I also hold very strongly, that people should make their own minds up, look at the evidence, and vote for a party they truly believe in.

And so this is not a ‘vote for this person’ sort of post. This is a ‘whoever you want to vote for, just make sure you go out and vote’ post. Today is an opportunity to exercise your right to have your voice heard, and even if it ends in a result you didn’t wish for, you can have comfort in the fact you DID vote and that your vote DID matter. It has been a bit of a mental year for the world, and I know that the last few months have been a terrifying time for all of us, and while sometimes we feel so helpless in situations such as these, the one thing you can do that is guaranteed to make a difference, is vote.

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So wether you’re voting for ‘the many, not the few’, a ‘strong and stable leadership’ or anything in-between, make sure along with that decision, you also make the decision to actually vote.

I realise this might be a bit like white-noise to all of you at the minute, with everyone and their dog shouting politics at you over the last few months, so to lighten the mood a little, here are some General Election ‘facts’ for your entertainment.

Ladies, June 8th is important

104 years ago, on the 8th of June 1913, Emily Wilding Davidson died. She was an active suffragette who spent her life fighting for women to have the right to vote. She went to prison, endured horrific force-feeding and even hid in a cupboard in the Palace of Westminster during the 1911 census so she could list her place of residence as the ‘House of Commons’. On the 4th of June she stepped out in front of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby holding a suffragette scarf, was struck down, and died 4 days later. Emily Davidson died fighting for my right to vote, for the women of future generations right to vote. Voting is a right that thousands of other women had to struggle to obtain and today, the 8th of June marks the anniversary of Emily’s death. So ladies, honour the fight that these women had, and make your voice heard, it was only 89 years ago that universal suffrage was even made law!

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^ How being allowed to vote makes me feel ^

 

Why Thursday? 

Turns out, that until 2011, voting on a Thursday was not law, it was just a customary tradition. Many have claimed that Thursday was chosen to try and reduce the numbers of drunk and disorderly voters, since pay-day was traditionally Friday. This was also to avoid voters from becoming influenced by ‘conservative-leaning brewers’, the same as a Sunday was off the cards due to a possible influence from a ‘liberal clergy’. Regardless, the last General Election not to be held on a Thursday was way back in 1931, and unless there are particular special circumstances, it is now law that they are held on a Thursday.

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Liquid Courage 

Following on from ‘drunk and disorderly’, it is actually acceptable to have a few pints before voting, and polling staff can’t actually turn inebriated voters away. However, it isn’t the best idea to get Saturday-night blackout drunk, as if you appear incapable to vote you will have to answer a series of questions to prove you are capable, fail, and you get sent away to sober up.

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So maybe just the one pint then.

Can I bring a friend? 

So guess what, dogs are allowed to come along to the polling station with you! Well, so long as they don’t disrupt the vote. Look out for the hashtag #dogsatpollingstations to get your fix of politically active furry friends.

X marks the box 

So it turns out, although your voting slip will ask you to put an ‘X’ in the box of your chosen candidate, you can actually put pretty much anything. As long as your voting intention is clear, your vote will still be counted, even if its a tick or a smily face. So you could get creative this year, but it might be better to be safe than sorry.

 

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So whatever you do today, spare 5 minutes to get down to your polling station and make your voice heard!

Much Love x

Self-Care is Selfless

Everyone has those days. You know, THOSE days. Those days when you get a bit overwhelmed, a bit tired or stressed, those days when you just want your bed, your mum, no human contact, a hug, or a combination of them all. It’ll often just be a shocking day at work, a series of unfortunate situations, or in my case at the moment, revision and exam stress.

Days like these are such an infinitely small part of our lives, yet at the time they seem so overwhelming and never ending its really hard to take a step back and realise that, this too, shall pass. With the advent of Mental Health Awareness Week last week, I fully realise that sometimes ‘those days’ aren’t just ‘days’ they can be weeks, months, or even years. And while there is no quick fix for things as all-consuming and often as devastating as mental illnesses, I very humbly offer my small contribution to this matter. I, very fortunately, do not suffer from any mental health issues, and so this post is not directly aimed for ‘people who suffer with a mental illness’, because that would be wrong of me to even attempt to assume I know what you are going through, how could I possibly know! But this, very respectfully, came out of my having a bit of a tough day, and a wish to share some love for anyone else who is having a tough day too.

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Team West always cheer me up x

This is for the people who have had a shocker of a day at work, for the students who feel like exams are getting a bit too much, for the people who just felt a bit under the weather today. I think it is a very British thing to just power on and ware yourself down, to martyr your hard work and never stop to breathe. And so I guess, in particular directed at my fellow revising students at the moment, I preach one message to you today – self-care is selfless.

Its something I have really realised, especially since moving to university, that self care is so so important, and I implore you all today, this week or whenever you feel like its all getting a bit too much, to take a step back and look after yourself.

With that in mind, here are some super easy and mostly free ways to just take some time away to look after number one:

  1. Get some Headspace

Ok, at risk of sounding a bit ‘new-age’, everyone should download this app right now. Headspace is a free meditation app which has genuinely changed my life. The app just asks you to take 10 minutes out of your day whenever and wherever you are, and all you do is listen to ‘Andy’ guide you through breathing exercises and channels you to be more aware of yourself and your surroundings. At first I was sceptical, but by following its guidance this made me feel calm when I have been in my biggest panic modes, and while I might forget it sometimes, it has really changed my perspective on life.

  1. Take me to bed

This is basically my go-to thing to do every day during exam season, but it works wonders. Change your sheets so they’re fresh and get out fresh pyjamas. Take a super long shower, light some candles/ put on some music or a film and then crawl into your clean bed. Simple, but satisfying.

  1. Time for tea

So I might be biased because I am British and I adore tea. But even something as simple as taking time out to slowly and mindfully make a cup of tea and then sit down and enjoy it can occupy your mind for a while, calm your thoughts and just forces you to step back even for 2 minutes. Plus, it just happens to be super comforting and delicious.

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  1. Go on a walk
    (Or do some exercise)
    Things can very quickly escalate and spiral in your mind if you’re stressed and overthinking work etc. When you feel like you are about to reach panic mode, just stand up and leave your desk and go on a walk. Even if its only 10 minutes. Switching your focus even for the briefest of moments will bring down your stress levels significantly and might just give you a clearer mind when you return.

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  1. Food glorious food

Now this tip can go one of two ways. Cooking, for some, can be an extremely therapeutic ritual. Home baking is comfort food at its best, so if you love to cook, take a couple of hours out to bake your favourite treat and after sit and really enjoy it. For others, the thought of cooking after a long day is possibly the last thing that you want. If that is the case, order in your favourite takeaway or even pick up a ready meal from the supermarket. Anything which makes your life easier and helps you unwind.

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  1. Detox, without a green juice in sight

The world online can be a bit of a stressful place sometimes. I do very strongly believe if you are having a bit of a moment, one of the worst things you can do for yourself is scroll through the narrow and deceiving world of social media to make you feel even worse. I have witnessed many times when social media can be a wonderful place for support, however, sometimes taking a step away, even 15 minutes before bed can help you realise that the internet is not always accurate and the world will not implode if you don’t refresh Instagram every second of the day.

  1. Face-mask and chill

Girls and guys, there nothing wrong with a cheeky facemask. Or just a pamper in general. Whack on a face mask, pour yourself a glass of wine and just congratulate yourself that you got through the day. What’s that you say, its only Monday? Even more reason to treat yourself.

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  1. Rhythm is a dancer

A good old dance around in my room to some upbeat music always puts me in a better mood. (If it’s wrong, I don’t want to be right). So if dancing isn’t your thing, even if you are revising hard, take 5 minutes to play some happy tunes to keep you motivated.

  1. Treat yo self

Pair of socks caught your eye? Maybe you’ve ran out of your favourite expensive shampoo. Fancy a pint? Whatever floats your boat, treat yourself to something nice just because.

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  1. Sleeping beauty knows what’s up

Simple. The day can’t end soon enough, so get some rest. Tomorrow is a new day, so wake up fresh and smash it.

So whatever state you are in today, I hope these help. In general, I think this is just a message of do whatever makes you happy, and you deserve to look after yourself as much as anyone else. Self-care is selfless.

Also, genuinely true, as I was typing this my housemate came upstairs and gave me some flowers she bought from her trip to the shops. It made my evening.

Much Love x

Can You Like My Selfie?

I’m not really sure where I am going to go with this one. It’s a Thursday afternoon and should be packing to go home, but instead I decided I wanted to write a blog post and I wasn’t really sure what on, so here I am, bare with me.

I, am a 19-year-old university student who is glued to my phone, the internet, and social media 98% of the time. This probably makes me a walking stereotype, the most clued up, yet the most susceptible to the world of social media and image.

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A lot has been written about this, so I don’t claim that my opinions are revolutionary, but they are my opinions none the less. I am also not going to pretend I am some ’above everyone else’ guru on this subject either, because I too, almost daily, fall into the trap of flicking through Instagram and despairing at the fact I am not a tiny, tanned, bikini wearing, green juice drinking, always holidaying model. But here is where I do differ to some girls my age, I know that is not the full story or real life. And on the flip side to that, I fully believe in girl power, so where we shouldn’t ‘fat shame’, we equally shouldn’t berate women who are slimmer or enjoy their kale liquefied. I realise I am full of contradictions on the subject, but the world of social media is sadly not black and white anymore.

Girls my age sigh and tell each other their life ambition is to just get paid to post pictures on Instagram, to get sent products from exclusive brands all the time, sponsored to go to the gym and make appearances at certain events. Is this what I should aspire to? Is this what we have been reduced to? If you don’t get a certain amount of likes on a post, are you even liked, if you don’t take the perfect picture of your brunch and post it on Snapchat, how will anyone know what you did today?

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I’ve tried to write a post about something like this before but I always have so much to say and not enough eloquence to really say it, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Recently, and I don’t judge them for this, some of my friends have said things like ‘can you like my Instagram picture’, ‘is this selfie worthy of uploading’ or, ‘can you like the video I shared so I don’t look like a loser’.

And I think it took me aback a bit. I knew that obviously, social media can be quite immersive sometimes, and I am honestly one of the biggest culprits, I am always uploading things to Instagram. But it really got to me how much validation some of my friends were seeking from it. Almost as if a post didn’t get over 50 likes they weren’t pretty or popular, and I know that for the most part, my friends aren’t like that, they’re super strong and amazing women. But if even they were asking for likes and validation online, what would other girls who weren’t as strong and secure be thinking?

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I do it, I post a picture from when I went on a night out, showered, with a full face of makeup, hair done nicely looking happy. But no one saw that the next day because of deadline stress I was covered in spots, hair a mess, headache from hell and I ate marmite toast all day in my pyjamas – most of what is on Instagram is a tiny snapshot of our lives, and people go mental for it.

To throw another spanner into the works, I think everyone should be allowed to upload the pictures they want, all of the selfies that make them feel good, the bikini pictures from their favourite holiday, the gym shots because they’re proud they worked hard. But what I really want, is for people to stop thinking that the things they see online translate onto real life. That everyone has their shit together just because they can stick a filter on a picture they took a week ago, that less than 50 likes mean they aren’t liked. Do you genuinely know 50 people that you regularly hang out with, who you value the opinion of that much? So why care so much about it online?

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I guess what I am really asking for here, is that everyone should be allowed to do whatever they want on social media, upload pictures, voice their opinions, share their happiness – but just don’t feel like you need that validation.

The praise, validation, opinions and compliments that are truly of value, will always get to you in person, from the people you surround yourself by, who actually mean something to you. It’s really lovely when that girl you went to college with likes that arty shot of your avocado on toast, but if she doesn’t like it, should it matter that much? You’ve spoken to her a total of 3 times in your life, should her opinion affect your happiness?

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So that was just some word vomit on a page for you thank you if you stuck with me. But essentially,  be happy with you, and support each other online and in person, do what makes you happy on social media and don’t care what anyone else thinks – life is far too short and so much bigger than your IPhone screen.

Much Love x

Lent: Rebranded

As Shrove Tuesday has come and gone as quickly as we could shovel down ten pancakes dripping in lemon, chocolate and all things delicious, you wake up on a Wednesday morning, with a food hangover. Memories are blurred from the night before, where you seemed to be drunk on maple syrup, and as you look down at your stomach, disgusted, you vow, ‘I am giving up chocolate/ sugar/ fat/ carbs etc. for lent!’. Six whole weeks you spend torturing yourself at the sight of a crème egg, crying internally when a friend offers you a biscuit and then when it’s all over, you scoff six weeks’ worth of your beloved, in one sitting, feeling just as grim as you did on pancake day.

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I mean, six weeks without this?!

 

Now don’t get me wrong, lent does have a genuine and significant meaning to those who follow Christianity, however, as in line with many occasions on the British calendar, religion doesn’t really play a part for much of society today. We give up chocolate because we want to be healthier, have a detox, or just to set ourselves a ‘challenge’. Some attempt to be more inventive, they proclaim six weeks without Instagram, Netflix, alcohol etc., and I highly admire a lot of people that do deny themselves of something they probably do daily, because it’s really hard!

 

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And really, how can you give up booze when you are a student

 

But here is where I differ in 2017. Every year, many of us will spend six weeks having pangs of misery not being able to enjoy something when they want, guilt when we fall off the wagon, and more often than not, feel worse once we binge at the end of our struggle. Why would we put ourselves through this pain and discontent to then inevitably reverse the effects on Easter Sunday?

 

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I’d love to say this was after indulging in too much chocolate, but sadly, it was after too much wine. And it wasn’t even for lent…

So my decision is to do something positive with lent. Every day I am not going to deny myself of anything, I am instead going to DO something. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all use those six weeks to do some thing positive, such as learning a new language, creating a new (good) habit, de-cluttering your house (for a few off the top of my head examples!).

And so, for lent this year, I have decided that I am going to perform a random act of kindness every day. Be that as small as complimenting my housemate’s hair, or as charitable as helping my university donate food to the homeless. But my aim is simple, to remove the typically negative uses of lent and make it positive. That is 42 days I can use to perform 42 acts of kindness to make someone, a group of people, my family, friends and myself, happy, even for the briefest amount of time. And the same goes for any of these ‘positive lent’ actions, after 42 days you could be able to say a few sentences in Spanish, able to juggle on one foot, or have a stupidly clean downstairs cupboard, my point is, you’ll finish those six weeks not being glad it is all over, but perhaps glad it happened.

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Example: This was in a library book I took out a few weeks ago which made my afternoon infinitely better.

 

And so I challenge you all not to give up something for lent, but to start something new, do something positive, and make your life, or someone else’s better for six weeks, not miserable! Now go and have that chocolate biscuit you have hidden in the cupboard, guilt free and happy.

Much Love x

P.S. I’ll be posting all of the acts on my Instagram feed/ stories so for anyone who is interested, bored or just plain nosey (I would be) – go have a look https://www.instagram.com/hollyambwest/

Scientific Monday Blues

So, its Monday 16th January 2017. In my eyes, and I am fairly sure to the rest of the world, a fairly normal Monday, the same kind that comes and goes every seven days, and the same kind that marks the start of a new week. However, I was surprised to realise, that this Monday was apparently not an ordinary Monday, it was in fact the annual occurrence of ‘Blue Monday’.

So I feel like I am a bit behind the hype of this anniversary, but with the help of some quick googling, today, or most specifically the third Monday of the month has been SCIENTIFICALLY labelled the most depressing day of the year. A group of scientists actually came up with a formula back in 2005 that calculated when the population of the Northern Hemisphere would be feeling at their lowest. And I am not sure about anyone else, but my goodness the fact someone wanted to calculate that made me sad!

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But it wasn’t until about half-way through my day that I knew Blue Monday was a thing, and before and after then I had actually had an alright day. I woke up, (however I had a small adult headache due to enjoying a couple glasses of wine last night to celebrate finishing my exams and getting some good essay results), walked onto campus and sat and did some uni work, went to a lecture about something that genuinely interested me (that was however interrupted by a fire alarm half way though so we had to stand out in the cold), and then I went to do some more work before walking home and retreating to my room to write this. Now, while that doesn’t seem like a spectacular day, and I could have done without the headache and the fire alarm, and the uni work to be honest, I didn’t once think ‘ugh well it’s blue Monday so that explains it’. It got me thinking, if we weren’t aware of it being said dreaded day, would we see the not so great things that happened to us as bad and depressing? Or would we do what I did and not even register them as anything.

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Me enjoying that wine…

But there are two outcomes I have seen come out of today, one of which I found frustrating and the other filled me with a bit more hope.

  1. The first, sadly, goes back to good old consumerism. Whilst flicking through my Instagram feed I noticed that any company/ clothing brand/ anyone that sells anything had latched on to this ‘Blue Monday’ idea with a firm grip. All would tell you that if you’re feeling blue, buy some clothes to cheer yourself up, grab some product to make you look or feel better, buy some food to comfort your sorrows. Anyone and everyone had used this ‘scientific discovery’ as a marketing push to get you to bust those blue with spending money – something which seems illogical because the ‘formula’ actually takes into account your debt at this time of the month.

I guess the real point I’m getting at here is it made me pretty sad that once again, like many things, this piece of research has been turned into a mass marketing campaign set to drive us to spend money.

 

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But if there was a cocktail deal on this evening, I probably would have been there quicker than you can say ‘2 for 1’ 

However, in a very non-cynical frame of mind, people have to make money somehow and its actually quite clever of them to use this to ramp up their numbers after January sales finish, which sort of leads me to my next point…

2. Blue Monday is actually going quite far in raising awareness for mental health and just the populations’ general well-being. So, its sad that someone has formulated when the most depressing day of the year is, but, does that not mean that people can look out for each other at this supposed ‘trying time’ in our lives? Charities are promoting mental health awareness, universities are offering free yoga classes, bloggers and websites are offering their tips to help beat the blues and promote healthy mental well-being.

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I go for walks with my family to cheer me up and have some thinking time.

So, yes, it seems as if Blue Monday has fallen prey to the world of consumerism and marketing just as all things do. But not all marketing is bad, to see that people were using this research to try and help and support others, filled me with an enormous sense of pride and hope in people, which made my ‘Blue Monday’, decidedly less blue.

So if you’re feeling glum, hug a friend, hug a pet, do some yoga, eat a pizza, call your mum, have a nap, talk to someone, read a book, dance around your house naked, you get the picture. Do whatever you want to do and what makes you happy, don’t sweat the small stuff and look for the positives in life, no matter how much adversity you face, but ultimately, stick together and support each other.

Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.

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But sometimes staying positive can be really tough so here are some really great people/charities to call, get in contact with or check out if you ever need that extra support:

Mind: A charity and place for advice and support for anything mental health related http://www.mind.org.uk

Young Minds: For information and support for anyone concerned about a child or young person http://www.youngminds.org.uk

Samaritans:For anyone feeling distressed, needs support and someone to talk to http://www.samaritans.org

PANDAS Foundation: A charity focused on helping mothers with pre and postnatal depression  http://www.pandasfoundation.org.uk

Nightline: For students who need someone to talk to if they are walking home alone or just need someone to listen http://nightline.ac.uk

(Note there are a lot of worthwhile charities that help with mental health and these are just a small selection and mainly UK based)

I realise again that this was a pretty hefty post, so thank you if you stuck with it, but I hope that at least one of you found it interesting or helpful… It’s my first sort of ‘opinion’ piece that I’ve ever really written/posted so its a new adventure for me to write and you to read!

Much Love x

My Week With No Internet

 

It’s enough to make people breakout in a cold sweat, riddled with nerves. You cry ‘what am I supposed to do all day’ and despair how you could ever live without it. Internet. The all-mighty wifi. So freely available to us in this technological age it really is hard to imagine life without it.

We check our phone when we wake up like we would a daily newspaper. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, E-mails, Messenger, Snapchat etc. then we can finally go about our daily routine, showering, brushing teeth and eating breakfast (while refreshing all theses apps and flicking through again). We live in a time where it is quicker, easier and more common to get a hold of our friends on WhatsApp, or where we find out the worlds biggest breaking stories through Facebook or Twitter rather than watching the news.

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The internet is amazing, connects us in so many ways and gives us access to a universe of knowledge, but we all fall prey to being wired up so much, we see life through a computer screen. I know I struggle to feel at ease when I don’t get to check my messages every half hour, we all do. So while on holiday this summer with my family the wifi unexpectedly went down for a few days, I like many, felt at a loose end, here is how my week went…

 

Day One

Mid-morning the internet suddenly stopped working. This initially caused only little panic as the wifi was pretty shocking here, and so it wasn’t uncommon for it to stop working for half an hour or so.

It got to lunch time and nothing was happening. This was followed by asking each of my family members several times if theirs was working ok, which it wasn’t, and even having a conversation with the people living in the same apartments if they were having the same issue.

Then came the obsessively switching on and off the wifi, forgetting and then re-joining the network, turning on and off my phone, walking round the complex to see if anywhere had better signal, but to no avail, it was truly RIP to my beloved wifi.

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Day Two

Day two of wifi-gate started much the same as day one ended, obsessively connecting and reconnecting with the hope that if I did it enough times it might give in and work.

My dad laughs and claims he wanted to set us a challenge to go without wifi anyway, and jokes that he asked the apartment owners to cut the cords just for his amusement. However, this was no laughing matter, as I had undoubtedly lost my Snapchat streaks with my housemates and that was a tragedy in itself.

More attempts to reconnect are made throughout the day, but less frequently than the morning, my detox had begun and I was starting to accept my fate. I even turned to reading an old fashioned book, shock horror, which I began and completed in one afternoon.

 

Day Three

The morning check for wifi was becoming a ritual just as checking Facebook once was, my friends back home had probably filed out a missing persons report by now, as it was uncommon for us not to speak for a day, let alone 3.

But then I went about most of the morning and afternoon barely touching my phone, knowing it wasn’t worth checking for internet, it was left to the side while I went about my unconnected day.

It still played on the back of my mind when I would finally have wifi that I would have so much to catch up on, but it then became sort of accepted that there was nothing I could do but wait and yet another book was started and finished within a matter of hours.

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Day Four

Still no sign of my beloved, and even dad who laughed at first is getting agitated that he can’t read the surf reports or check us in online for our return flights. Reduced to family card games such as rummy or uno would I ever see an end to this torture?

After despairing again this morning, my phone got left for the entire day, untouched and forgotten, it seems my detox is taking an effect as I am not breaking out in a sweat every time I think of all the notifications and emails I’m missing out on.

 

Day Five  

Yet again my phone was left on its own for the entire day, knowing there wasn’t much point in trying anymore.

However, although I had become less dependant in wanting to check my phone every two minutes, getting to day five in this traumatic experience, we were starting to get stupidly fed up with not being able to google things we couldn’t remember like the name of a random Argentinian football player (Diego Maradona btw) or even check the weather for tomorrow.

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Day Six

It was our last day in tropical paradise, and how bitter sweet it seems, the internet magically began working as we began our departure.

I’d like to say I had detoxed so much that this didn’t phase me, but I, like so many would, spent a good hour catching up on emails, Facebook messages, Instagram notifications, etc. etc. Which may beg the question, had I really learnt anything?

I can safely say I won’t be going a week without wifi again any time soon, but as I returned to England, and quite shortly after, to uni, I did feel time away from the connected world had done me some good. I learnt the universe would not implode if I didn’t hit refresh every minute, and that being on holiday was supposed to be about disconnecting and it shouldn’t matter if I have internet or not. But most importantly, I learnt how to have a bit of switch-off time at home. Dad (and many others) call this ‘mindfulness’. Every day, I have a 20-minute walk to uni, and in those 20 minutes I turn off my internet. I might have some music playing, but other than that I have no contact with anything or any one for 20 minutes to uni and 20 minutes’ home, I am alone with my own thoughts, I can look at the beautiful sunset or sunrise around me and I can just, for those 20 minutes, remember that the world does not need to revolve around my phone.

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If you stuck with me for this long, then I applaud you, it was a lengthy one! This sort of came out of avoiding revision and trying to be more productive with my time when I’m not doing uni work, so where this is not a promise to be posting more regularly, it is a promise to myself to make use of my time doing things that I enjoy or are productive.

I hope you all had a wonderful 2016 and move into 2017 ever more positive as I am.

 

Much Love x