This tour was gifted by Tourist England

The Cotswolds is hands down one of the most beautiful parts of the UK. Picture perfect villages, babbling brooks and cottages that are worthy of starring in a rom com. The only problem with the Cotswolds is that public transport is essentially non-existent there, and given that the main activity is hopping from village to village it poses quite a quandary. Without a car, you are pretty much locked out of the area. Tourist England offered me the pick of one of their tours, so I of course chose the Cotswolds – the place that I would have no other way of seeing without grand theft auto.

Tours in general make my skin itch. I don’t follow instructions well at the best of times, and the rebel in me just can’t deal with conforming to a group. But given that this was my only option for seeing the Cotswolds, and not only that but it would allow me to see four villages in a day, it was time for me to suck it up.

The fear was real when I saw the 50 seater tour bus. I instantly felt like the type of tourist that I hate. But in for a penny, there was nothing for it but to sit down (at the back, because I’m a cool kid) and enjoy the ride. The Cotswolds is quite a drive from London, between 2.5hours and 4hours depending on traffic. But I was prepped, I had enough coffee (read: 3 shots minimum) and podcasts to keep me going.

The tour was going to take us to four of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds; Burford, Bibury, Bourton-on-the-Water & Stow-on-the-Wold. The first stop was Burford where most of my tour fears were assuaged, as soon as the bus stopped I wandered off by myself to find a coffee. Yes, even in the Cotswolds I managed to find good coffee (4th shot of the day for those playing at home). I also managed to find a crystal shop in every village, yes every village. Turns out if you want rose quarts but don’t want to pay London prices then this is the tour for you.

At every village I wandered off and did my own thing, which to be honest was mostly taking photos and eating snacks. The only village I went to an actual tourist attraction in was Bourton-on-the-Water (nicknamed the Venice of the Cotswolds) where I went to see the Model Village, an exact replica of the village in miniature form. There was even a miniature Model Village in the place of the real model village. It was trippy.

The only downside of the tour for me was lunch which wasn’t the best quality. I just gulped it down and then spent the time wandering through a bluebell field next to a babbling brook – idyllic.

The villages are absolutely worth a visit, especially if you can time it for a sunny day. If you are car-less and in need of a day trip then this tour ticks all the boxes.

 

I get my work ethic from my Dad. Long hours, being emotionally invested and getting a buzz from seeing others do well is either part of my genetic makeup, or grew from seeing how much enjoyment Dad got from a job well done. But work and career hasn’t been a smooth or logical journey for me. I arrived in London 6 years ago off the back of an aborted career. I was a tax accountant for a year* before running away in the hope of finding a life that I actually wanted to live. I hated looking at job adverts, because I had no idea what my strengths were let alone what I wanted to do.

The only parts I knew for sure was what I didn’t want. After the last year accounting was off the table (yeah, my accounting degree was callously tossed aside), and with a fear of highs, being trapped, the dark and low grades in science being an astronaut was also a no. Faced with the Reeds, the Guardian Jobs and every other soulless job listing site, the only thing I could filter by was ‘Not: Space Accountant’**.

I won’t go into my entire career history here, but suffice to say that a path that in hindsight looks deliberate (and I’m sure from the outside looked deliberate), was more me taking roles out of desperation, happenstance or ego – which just happened to build my skillset into a cohesive picture that was ideal for my dream job. Life is funny like that some times.

Its been my belief for a while, and one that has got me through many an existential crisis, that my only responsibility is to give myself more options tomorrow than I have today. I don’t actually need to know what my end goal is (I envy those with such a clear vision), I just need to make sure that tomorrow I have more choices than I do now. Which is how my career ended up. All of those little threads, those skills built along the way, ended up in a career as a Business Analyst.

And more than that, I ended up as a business analyst in a role and company that was the dream. On paper, it was every single thing that I wanted out of a job. I had exciting travel, a passionate and dedicated team that gave a damn about me, a company with solid morals, fun projects, intellectually challenging, and a place where I could truly be myself. All good right?

Turns out, a hard lesson that took me far too long to learn, is that what is good on paper is not always good for you.

Really annoyingly it took a very millennial thing to make me realise how out of control, and out of happiness, my life had gotten. That god damn Instagram top nine was my turning point. At the end of last year I, like many of my fellow avocado munchers, hopped onto the Instagram Top Nine app to look at my most engaged photos of the year. Every other time I had done this it was a beautiful highlight reel of the last 12 months. This time? I had no emotional connection with any of it. It was like I was looking at someone else’s grid.

I had put so much of my energy into work. So much time. So many emotions. That I had forgotten to live my life. I was out of the country 2-3 weeks of every month. My friends got totally used to me flaking out on plans, because even when I was home I just wanted to hide in my flat. I was stressed constantly, I couldn’t go more than ten minutes without checking my phone for emails (the side effect of a global business where due to time zones someone is always online and working). I was on such a knife edge that I was irrational about everything, I overreacted to the smallest inconvenience and to be honest I lost the ability to find joy in anything that previously brought delight to my life.

It was bad, but I didn’t realise how bad it was until saw those stupid nine photos of a year of my life I had lost to work.

I think it got this bad for a few reasons. One would be that my work ethic means I get a kick out of working this hard. I got twisted good reinforcement for taking that conference call at 11pm, or working the weekend. I felt like I was fighting the good fight. Felling positive from working hard is a brilliant thing, but I didn’t have any balance in my life to stop it becoming all-consuming. It also didn’t help that I am single and live on the other side of the world from my family, I had no one to shine a mirror on my behaviour earlier, no one to gently suggest how unhealthy my obsession with work was.

So what actually happened? Well, that Instagram top nine let me reflect on a year wasted. I then did a course of CBT that helped me examine it all in depth. And finally, I quit my job.

No matter how good it was on paper, and how amazing that job would have been if I was in a good place, it was not right for me if I was feeling that unhappy.

I had somewhere along the line forgotten that I could quit a job. It is a totally normal part of a long and healthy career to work in a variety of businesses. You learn different skills from each, meet new people and can help you to consolidate on what you have learned and how you have grown. Quitting helped me to really check some of my behaviours around work, and start my new job as I meant to continue***. Yes, since I have started my new job I have taken a lunchbreak every single day – revolutionary.

I am only 8 years out of university. A short moment in the scope of a working life that at this rate will stretch to 75 before retirement (thanks austerity measures). For the amount I have learned about work and myself so far, I can only goggle at the thought of where I will go in the next 45 years. I guess the point of this post is to say that you are totally in control of your career. I would not treat it flippantly, after all you need to give yourself more options tomorrow than you have today (and lets be honest, especially at the start of your career sometimes you just have to shovel shit – its boring, no one listens to you and anything else sounds better), but also you need to check in with yourself and ask the question – is this still right for me?

 

*my god a year is nothing, I wouldn’t even have had time to get my feet wet. I maintain that it might not have been the actual job itself that I hated so much, but more working in a big aggressive corporate at that stage in my life that was so bad. I could probably cope with it now, but back then  could not have come up with a situation more likely to set me up for failure.

** for any other graduate or career hopeless in a similar situation, I really recommend searching for companies that you like. If you genuinely don’t know what you want to do, then putting yourself in an environment that you are inspired by can be a great way to find out. For me this meant searching for start up type companies, which had two main benefits. 1) most of these look like cool places to work 2) because start ups are a little more chaotic than a normal company, you can experience a lot of bits of a job which will help you get the flavour for a future career.

*** There is a fantastic podcast called ‘Eat Sleep Work Repeat’ that I listened to during the transition from one job to another. There is so much research out there about workplace happiness and I highly recommend anyone who is worried about their career to take a listen.

This blog post has been a long time coming. While some bloggers are writing outfit of the day posts, or getting trips to far flung destinations, I know what you are all truly after. As I have been watching people in bathrooms for the last few years (we all do this right? Totally normal behaviour) I have noticed that most of you don’t have a clue about the best way to dry your hands when the method available is paper towels.

There are many approaches, and almost all of you choose the wrong one, these include:

  • Grabbing one paper towel and then being surprised that your hands are still moist enough to require a thigh wipe as you exit the bathroom
  • Grabbing two paper towels and still being surprised that their combined power leaves your hands moist enough to require a thigh wipe as you exit the bathroom
  • Grabbing an abundance (estimated to be between 3 and 6) of paper towels and leaving the bathroom with completely dry hands but with the psychological torture of knowing David Attenborough would be disappointed in you for destroying the planet.

You. Are. All. Wrong.

I now present to you the correct method for drying your hands when the drying method available is paper towels. I have come to this conclusion after many years of scientific research (NB: if anyone wants to fund future research I have some GREAT ideas), and to be honest I am awaiting my Nobel Prize nod.

Step 1: Take one paper towel and use this to get the majority of the water off your hands. It is important to note that the purpose of this step is not to dry your hands, but to remove as much water as possible. The paper towel at the end of this step should be sodden.

Step 2: Take a second paper towel and use this to take the remaining moisture off your hands. This is the finishing step, and should leave your hands completely, and delightfully, dry.

And there you have it. Your hands are completely dry, your thighs unmolested, and David is happy because you avoided unnecessary planet destroying paper wastage.

Happy days.

This is a sponsored post by Aetna International

“When you are tired of London, you are tired of life” – the one phrase that would make most expats living in London want to push you into the Thames and then dump a pint on your head. The reason this phrase causes such an extreme reaction is London by its very nature is an exhausting city. I’ve written about it before, but the reality continues to be that London is a city that is not kind to the people that live here. The air quality sucks, the transport options are hard work (the average commute for someone in London is 81 minutes in and out of work, this equates to 38 working days a year stuck in someone’s armpit), the rent is crippling and in the last couple of years the news is permanently dire*. Living in London is in a word, tiring.

This exhausting state of London is why self-care so often crosses my mind. I’m not talking buying bath bombs and going on retreats in a country mansion; the self-care I’m thinking of is remembering to wash your hair every few days, eat vegetables at least once a week and that a combination of sleep and tea can solve almost any problem. After 6 years I am finally getting my head around why I take such shocking care of myself while I live in London, it is the question of permanence.

I don’t know how long I will live in London for. I just don’t. I don’t know if it will be one month, one year or ten years more (although I do know which one my Mum would prefer!). It took me living here for 5 years before I purchased a piece of furniture. Purchasing furniture seemed like something someone who was settled would do (apparently 5 years didn’t count as settled in my head), and while wholeheartedly committed to London the question mark always lurked in the back of my mind.

I really REALLY want a cat. But again, the main reason for not getting one (aside from the whole London anti-pet-landlord cartel) is that they live for 10+ years, and I don’t know how long I will be here for. Aetna International picked this up in their Wellness Survey 2018, they found expat life can shift your thinking in terms of how to make the short term easy rather than long term happiness.

What this does to an expats state of mind is it makes all the thinking alarmingly short term, even when that is sometimes (often) the worst thing you can do in terms of wellness. Of course I can drink every night, eat Pret for lunch and street food for dinner – I don’t want to miss out on a second of London life. Of course no one would expect you to go out and exercise when it gets dark at 3pm and you just want to hibernate, or when it is sunny until ten and you need to suck up enough vitamin D to last you through the next 8 months. Work hard, play hard: future you will worry about your wellbeing.

Of course that is in no way sustainable. The vegetables, the full night’s sleep and taking time for quiet chats with friends are needed to survive the exhausting London existence. But that takes time to recognise. Time, and experience. In the Wellness Survey 2018 a big point is around mindfulness, to be happy as an expat you need to find a way to be “happy and content with your situation and being appreciative in that moment”. Regardless of how long you plan to be in London, it is so important to your happiness to be able to enjoy the city for what it is. Book those amazing theatre experiences even though you know you will be tired after work. Walk along the river from Tate to Tate just to enjoy the momentary Spring sunshine. Revel in the fact that you live in one of the best cities in the world, leading a life that past you could only hope for. It’s hard to appreciate that moment, we are always looking ahead to the next step, but it can make all the difference to your overseas experience.

From a Granny Expat to any of you young kids, take care of yourself. The more you look after your wellness, the more energy you will have to take on London. Check out Aetna International’s Expat Wellness Survey here.

*There are beautiful, positive and inspiring aspects to living in London as well which is why I still live here.

I like to think of Disney World as one of those corporate personality tests. You arrive fresh faced and full of hope, and leave crushed by the stark openness of your soul laid bare. In other words, it really helps you figure out what you like in a park ride. We spent ten days in the parks in total (8 in Disney World, 2 in Universal Studios), and did very little planning in advance.  As someone who arrived super chilled about the different rides I now have VERY STRONG OPINIONS on which are good, bad, magical and horrific. For example, I hope the Good Place looks like the Tiki Room – many would disagree. I could go on and on about this (lord no one give me a podcast) so I have made things simple and broken it down into the best worst and mildly entertaining per park. AND because I love an overshare, I have included our full ride itinerary at the end.
Fun fact: I loved rollercoasters as a kid, but then got really really scared of them as a teenager. Now, at 29? Forking love them again. I seriously could not get enough of that almost out of control feeling as your stomach sits in your mouth and all of your senses are assaulted with speed and noise.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Best 
Avatar Flight of Passage
This is the ride of Kings, seriously I don’t think there is another ride on the planet that can top it at the moment. The concept is you are flying on a Banshee across Pandora, which in reality means you are sitting on a motorbike type contraption (which ‘breathes’ underneath you) and you watch a 3D movie as the bike moves a little in place. But holy James Cameron it actually feels like you are flying through another world, the effects are just that good. So good in fact that we did this one twice even though the wait time was 2 hours a piece. Even the waiting is not that bad since the theming of the queue is superb (you walk through the forest, caves, and labs of Pandora). If you are going to Disney you can’t miss this ride.
Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain
A more traditional rollercoaster but at some point a yeti turns up. Its fast, you go backwards and the feeling of going through and around a mountain adds something extra.
Mildly Entertaining 
Kilimanjaro Safaris
You sit on a safari truck and go and look at actual real life animals. I mean ones that aren’t plastic and controlled by a server in the basement. The Disney animals are no different to what you would see in any other zoo, but if you want a good 20minute sit down and a chance to see a rhino butt..then this is the ride for you.
Festival of the Lion King
A live action show with all the songs you know and love AND some acrobatic monkeys (well…very good looking humans pretending to be monkeys). Very good fun and again, a good chance for a sit down.
Bad
Dinosaur
What the hell Disney. Why is this ride still a thing? It looks like a paper mache class project from the 90’s that has been combined with a track so jerky that even biltong is wondering why Dinosaur is so extra. I’m sure a micro human would enjoy it, but don’t wait more than 10 minutes and for all that is holy don’t waste a fast pass on it.

Magic Kingdom

Best
Space Mountain 
Loved it so much we rode it twice. Its an almost pitch black rollercoaster with surprising twists, a space theme and games you can play in the queue. Whats not to love?
Splash Mountain
This is quite simply a classic log flume with excellent music, characters and a good old fashioned soaking at the end.
Mildly Entertaining
Pirates of the Caribbean 
Its amazing that Disney somehow manages to turn raping and pillaging into wholesome family fun, where even the domestic abuser cameo at the end seems delightful. That aside this is a great ride that takes you on a pirate adventure and will leave you singing ‘yo ho’ well into the next ride.
People Mover
This was great, not sure of the point of it, but a nice place to eat some snacks.
Bad
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
Fantastically smooth rollercoaster but it did not make up for the horrific wait time. This was the only queue that felt painful (compared to Avatar for example which was the same time but went by in the blink of an eye), it was hot, long and full of children (#thatswhatshesaid). The ride is just too short to overcome the horrors of the line. I would say it is worth doing if the line is under 1.5 hours…which it never is so just give up and ride something else.
Haunted Mansion
Not a bad ride in itself, but both times we rode it broke down for not insignificant amounts of time. I can now say Madame Leota’s monologue off by heart. It haunts my dreams. Oh god why wont it stop.
Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin
This is a point and shoot ride where you need to hit the targets. The problem is that it is impossible to see what you are shooting at which rather takes the fun out of it. Worth it if you have a fast pass, not if you have to queue.

Disneys Hollywood Studios

Best
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith
Basically its Space Mountain but with music. It may be even more fun if you know who Aerosmith is. Is a Spice Girls roller coaster too much to ask?
Tower of Terror
I don’t think I have ever been this genuinely scared on a ride, which I guess is the point. It was Dad’s favourite so we rode it twice. I didn’t know anything about the Twilight Zone so the theme was a little lost on me, but the final random drop sequence is terrifyingly brilliant. If you are ever feeling a bit blue send me a DM and I will show you the ride photo from this – the look of terror on my face will make you happy again.
Toy Story Mania!
Think 3D carnival type games where you are trying to knock down plates and toss rings. So much fun and very well executed as a ride.
Mildly Entertaining
Star Tours
This was a good concept and great if you are into Star Wars, but now just feels a little dated in comparison to Avatar and the like. Oh and there was a family on the ride with us that SCREAMED the entire time, I was very close to turning to the dark side by the time the ride ended.
Bad
Where the hell are the rest of the rides? Ok I know they are building them, but right now Hollywood Studios just feels empty. I would recommend getting fast passes for the three ‘best’ ones above and then you only need a half day in the park to see everything.

Epcot

Best
Living with the Land
Ok your kids may hate this one, but as a grownup it is fascinating. You learn all about agriculture across the globe and get to see some of the growing techniques up close. Much fun. Much learning. Much growing.
Frozen Ever After
Basically a modern version of the Pirates ride but with more ice and less rape.
Mildly Entertaining
Spaceship Earth
The overall vibe for Epcot is ‘stuck in the 80’s’ and nothing says that better than Spaceship Earth (it is the ride inside the big ball). Spaceship Earth is a look at how we may all live in the future but from the past i.e. think the Jetsons with flying cars instead of all just hoping WW3 isn’t started on Twitter.
Bad
Nothing? They were all mildly entertaining and vaguely educational. Although it is telling that we only spent a day here and it was the only park we didn’t double dip on.

What we did, day by day

Saturday: Animal Kingdom in the afternoon

– Avatar: Flight of Passage
– Dinosaur
– Its a bugs life
– Avatar: River Cruise
Sunday: Disney Springs & Epcot
– The Void (Starwars VR experience)
– Living with the Land
– Journey into Imagination with Figment
– Test Track
– Mission Space
– Spaceship Earth
– The Seas with Nemo & Friends
– Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros
– Soaring over the World
– Frozen Ever After
Monday: Universal Studios
– Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
– Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
– Men in Black: Alien Attack
– Men in Black: Alien Attack
– ET Adventure
– The Simpsons Ride 🙁
– Transformers the ride
– Revenge of the Mummy
– Revenge of the Mummy
– Minions 3D
Tuesday: Universal Studios Islands of Adventure
– Cat in the Hat
– Poseidon’s Fury
– Flight of the Hippogriff
– Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
– The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad Stunt Show
– Skull Island: Reign of Kong
Wednesday (Valentines Day): Magic Kingdom
– Carousel of Progress
– People Mover
– Jungle Cruise
– Tiki Room
– Pirates of the Caribbean
– Fireworks (Happily Ever After show)
– Its a Small World
– Haunted Mansion
Thursday: Magic Kingdom
– Big Thunder Railroad
– Buzz Lightyear
– Bells Enchanted Tales
– The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
– Space Mountain
– Splash Mountain
– Train Ride
Friday: Disneys Hollywood Studios
– Tower of Terror
– Indiana Jones Show
– Star Wars
– Toy Story Mania
– Rocking Roller Coaster
Saturday: Kennedy Space Center!
Sunday: Animal Kingdom
– Expedition Everest
– Safari
– Lion King Show
– Avatar: Flight of Passage
Monday: Magic Kingdom
– Space Mountain
– Haunted Mansion
– Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (rage)
– Pirates of the Caribbean
Tuesday: Disneys Hollywood Studios
– Rocking Roller Coaster
– Tower of Terror
– StarWars Fireworks