Getting unstuck

The noise and clutter of everyday life can often be overwhelming. Tired with the constant buzz of our lives we seek a respite from our daily troubles in travel.  From the moment the ticket is booked, everything becomes just a little bit easier, a little bit less numbing. Suddenly the project that was giving us such a hard time becomes less of an issue – after all, there’s now light at the end of the tunnel. Booking the tickets to China felt exactly like that.  My husband and I kept on talking about this trip for months. We planned we would go to China, visit Japan and stop over in South Korea. But it was May and our June trip still remained unbooked. I began to think it wouldn’t happen. And I desperately needed it to.

The truth is, I was feeling a bit stuck in life.  I felt overwhelmed, lost in the chaos that seemed to surround me, I knew I needed to find a way out of the rut I managed to get myself in, but I wasn’t sure what my options were. I got a coach. Read the books you’re meant to read. Talked to the people you’re meant to talk to. My mind was still stuck on repeat.

I like to think about myself as someone who gets excited about life and yet here I was  – completely devoid of enthusiasm. I wasn’t depressed. Far from it – I felt grateful for the life I have and the amazing people in it.  And yet I felt disillusioned. I wasn’t where I wanted to be in life and wasn’t feeling particularly hopeful about the future either. Until I got unstuck.

I’ve got my husband to thank. The state of inertia I seemed to inhabit in those days meant that had I been left to my own devices I would have given up on China. Luckily he seemed to intuitively know that trip was exactly what I needed.

Ignoring my sleepy “let’s wait till tomorrow” plea, my husband insisted on keeping me up till early morning hours, dispelling my sleep with grunts of despair on high prices of the flights and occasional excited “look at these flights” (soon to be followed by groans of disappointment).  By 2 am I was fully awake, watching my husband’s changing face expressions reflected in the blue light of the laptop. A decision had to be made. “Let’s book this one”, I pointed. Few clicks later, we were going to China.

My first reaction surprised me. Instead of the expected excitement I felt relief. Has my joy button been permanently broken? I decided to postpone the pondering till next day.

The next day the excitement I anticipated still wasn’t there, but I started noticing a shift. Suddenly the noise didn’t matter as much. There was a notion of impermanence to all those things that frustrated me into inaction. All of it would soon cease to exist. There would only be China.

The more I planned the trip, the more I felt unstuck. The ticket not only provided the promise of a break I needed to have, but more importantly, it brought movement back into my life. With it, other things begun to move too. We finally realized the place we wanted to move to was actually within our reach. The more I read and thought about our destination, the more options for life my mind would create. I didn’t HAVE TO be stuck. It was me who was trapping myself before. My reality was temporary. My world was only one of the worlds. And if I could visit those different worlds, I didn’t have to be stuck in mine. I didn’t buy just a ticket, I bought hope. I brought movement back into my stagnant reality and nothing was going to be the same anymore. It was time for a change.

 

Learning from the best – discussing travel, writing and self-care with Sarah Barrell

It was 6 pm and my usual Canary Wharf view has just become replaced by a magical white curtain of falling snow. I have just finished my Skype coaching session after a full day of working from home and looking at the weather outside I felt grateful for not having to leave the house. I had wanted to attend a Travel Writing Masterclass held that day by the National Geographic Traveller (UK), but have by that point reluctantly accepted that the tickets had long been sold out. I was about to cozy up on the sofa with a cup of tea and a good book when I heard the beeping sound of an incoming Facebook notification. I couldn’t believe my luck! Because of the snow one of the attendees has just cancelled  and there was one last ticket left for the NGT Masterclass I so badly wanted to attend! Without giving it much thought I booked the ticket and ran out of the house, zipping up and putting on make up as I hurried to Covent Garden. I didn’t notice the cold, didn’t mind the snowflakes crushing coldly into my face. The universe gave me an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.

After the inspiring evening with NGT’s writers and editors, I gathered up the courage to walk up to Sarah Barrell, their Associate Editor and Travel Writer. I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah once before, at the London School of Journalism where she was giving lecture on travel writing, yet the idea of bothering her with my questions still made me uneasy. Despite feeling shy, I decided to approach her. I thought someone who has traveled to so many countries and has built an incredibly successful career around her life’s passion would be a wonderful person to write about for my January travel inspiration series. To my great surprise and even greater pleasure, Sarah was kind enough to agree to do an interview for TravelPsyched!

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

TravelPsyched: So, Sarah, you’re one of the most inspiring travel writers in this country and your articles have been published in all the leading newspapers and magazines, like The Times, The Guardian, Wanderlust, Marie Claire, or National Geographic Traveller (UK), and you also held a few editorial positions in some of these great papers. How did you get on this path and is this what you have always wanted to do in life?

Sarah Barrell: I think in some way – yes. I always loved writing and reading as a way to escape.  As a kid I picked adventure books, whether that was “The Famous Five”, “Swallows and Amazons” or more magical stuff. At school, I wasn’t that good at anything else – maths, science, whatever. So it was a self-fulfilling prophecy that I ended up studying English and publishing at university, and working on university magazines and radio stations. Travel writing didn’t really happen until I realised I was pretty much constantly travelling. From the age of 16 I had always had a job so was able to save a little bit of money, and used this to fund trips. Once I graduated from university I got into a cycle of doing any job I could in order to fund my travels because I’d become addicted. Getting a “proper” job became something that was on the horizon but never quite happening. Then, a radio editor said to me: “why don’t you just go travelling properly rather than going backwards and forwards?”

I had toyed with the idea of working in radio for a while, and finally decided there wasn’t really any future in it. I didn’t want to be a DJ, and while I loved programmes such as “Excess Baggage”, opportunities for making radio documentaries and features were thin on the ground. So I went travelling for a couple of years, and when I came back I was lucky enough to find that one of my former university friends had started work at The Independent, originally as an intern, then as a freelance on the Arts Desk. The Independent on Sunday was just launching a standalone travel section headed up by a brilliant writer, called Jeremy Atiyah. I got work experience on the desk and ended up hanging around like a bad smell, making myself useful, doing some filing, writing bits and pieces, researching, fact checking, doing boring radio listings. All the stuff journalists (we’re talking mid-nineties), generally did to earn their stripes.

Eventually I got myself a job, and I learnt almost everything I now know about travel writing from that experience. I could write but it was a bit of an ambition over talent situation. I learnt everything, really,  by reading and editing other people’s copy. When I read something good, I looked at how was constructed and asked myself, how am I doing this differently? I was also lucky to have great advice from my editor, who went through my copy with a red pen. Brutal but invaluable. I learnt enormous amounts in the time on that desk and after a few years became Deputy Travel Editor, and Travel Editor when Jeremy Atiyah left. However… I didn’t really like being chained to the desk, and that’s what it ended up being, so I eventually left in early 2000 to go freelance, and more or less haven’t looked back.

T: Were there any specific personality characteristics that you’ve had or skills that you’ve learnt along the way that really enabled you to get where you are right now?

SB: You’ve got to be really thick-skinned, especially when people turn down your pitches or ignore you, because that’s just standard, unfortunately. But I think you need to understand how busy everyone is, it’s not something to be taken personally. You have to be extremely self-motivated to keep the ball rolling because nobody is going to be doing that for you. It’s a highly competitive area. You have to keep generating ideas, keep generating pitches. And more than anything, you need an insatiable hunger for the world. After doing this for almost twenty years you might think I’d get bored. But the more you do it, the more addictive it becomes and the more you realise there is to see out there. So: you need that drive that makes you want to do it more than anything else, as it’s really not a sensible way to earn a living [laughs].

T: You’ve been traveling for so many years and you’ve been to so many wonderful, and I’m sure beautiful, places. What’s the most inspiring place that you’ve visited?

SB: That’s a really hard question to answer. It’s the one I have to ask interviewees sometimes and it’s a pretty impossible question, for me at least. I’m a very fidgety person, as I think many travel writers are, and there’s usually nothing that’s inspired me as much as the last place I’ve visited. Especially if it’s somewhere new. You’re full of the smells, the flavours, the things you didn’t know about it, the things you’d wish to learn more about. And this for me is most inspirational. It’s finding myself charmed and curious and seduced by something. I mean, I have favourite places – I love Bali for its utter sensual overload, seductive colours, pungent smells. I love Italy and Greece because I lived and worked there. I love the buzz of New York, that never gets old. But I think if we’re talking about places that inspire me, it’s usually the last place I’ve been. It’s very rare that I would go somewhere and come away without having that travel bug reignited.

T: I think travelling can often be a wonderful way not just to reignite that hunger for travel, but also a way to develop yourself, to learn more about yourself when we find ourselves in new situations, among new people that often challenge us. What would be the most important lesson that you’ve learn during your travels?

SB: I think you have to be very open. I think the minute you start travelling with a preconceived idea of what you want to get out of the place, you’re going to end up having a disappointing experience. I think you have to have a sensible idea about where you’re going, to be safe and understand what the destination is basically about. But ultimately you need to be open about itineraries. I try to plan as little as I can, without wasting opportunities. I wouldn’t want to miss out on something important just because I hadn’t known about it. But in general, I don’t like to be pinned down too much. You have to be open, really want to talk to people and meet people. I think all those wonderful experiences, the stories, the leads, the quirky things you find out – for me, they almost always come from unexpected conversations.

What I’ve learnt more than anything is the innate kindness of people. It was always been something I took for granted as a teenager and twenty-something. I think I ran around the world like an overexcited puppy, expecting everyone to be the same and surprisingly I’ve never really been kicked back. I’ve been lucky I guess but I think if you approach someone with kindness, usually you get that response back. Obviously there’s been a few cases when that didn’t happen but I’ve never had a significantly bad experience. I’m always amazed how similar people are. It doesn’t matter whether you live in a hut in the Serengeti or a skyscraper in New York, the same things basically drive us, and I truly believe (despite the way the world can seem from a distance), that there’s an infinite kindness in humans.

T: You’ve talked about the infinite kindness and how you’ve never been kicked back, but what would be the greatest challenge you’ve had to overcome while traveling?

SB: I think sometimes travelling can be quite lonely. It can be hard when you’re travelling solo. Some days you just don’t feel like it, you’re tired, you’re jetlagged, having a down day, feeling a bit more introverted. To keep yourself motivated all the time can be quite challenging, and I think you need to learn to acknowledge and accept when you ‘re tired and low on energy. And just let that happen – don’t  beat yourself up too much about it. But also try to find a way to re-inspire yourself. That might be through reading some great travel writing or thinking: “where do I really want to go next?”, and trying to fire up that enthusiasm again. So I think being self-motivated is the toughest thing to master, and that comes down to something as practical as being able to fund your trips: making travel writing pay.  I mean, in all honesty, it doesn’t always work,. It’s a very rare person who can fund their way around the world exclusively by travel writing.

T: Do you have any tried and tested ways of looking after yourself to keep that energy up? Either while you’re travelling or between your travels?

SB: Yes, I do. I’m not brilliant at always doing it but for me it’s finding the time to go outside. If I spend too much time indoors, whether it’s an airport, a hotel or an office, I can start feeling a bit trapped and frustrated. But I’ve learnt that it doesn’t take that much to pick me up again. Just going for a walk or a run or a swim; even better if I can do an outdoors yoga class. Yoga is that really works for me, although I don’t do enough of it! Outdoor swimming also really works for me, makes me feel better about myself. It’s also vitally important to get enough sleep (I don’t), and to not try and pack in too much in.

I have also started to travel with particular items. I never used to understand this habit in travelers, and found it a bit sad, this need for a sort of a security-blanket. But as I’ve got older, particularly when I travel by myself, I have come to realise the importance of having little things that make me feel at home wherever I am. For example, I always travel with a particular brand of tea, as tea often tastes rubbish in other countries, the water is different, the teabags are often not very good. I also travel with a particular type of throat spray. The air conditioning on planes can leave you with a sore throat, and I’ve got a spray that seems to banish that quickly. I always having little care package of books, DVDs, downloads and music that I love. More often than not, I go away with these things but I don’t use them as I’m too busy  but just having them there for that downtime or a delay, or when I’m in need of some mood enhancement is invaluable. I never, ever travel without a ton of downloaded music. Music really makes me feel better about myself, it’s a simple, quick fix.

T: Thank you. The final question, then is about the advice you would give someone who would like to make their life all about travel?

SB: You have to ask yourself why you want to do this? If it’s got anything with money or becoming famous in whatever way, don’t do it. I think if you want to do it because you find you can’t not do it, then you’re probably in the right place. It’s something you have to be a bit addicted to. If you have any other skills, my advice is to use them elsewhere, because it’s tough to stay alive as a travel writer. If you have the option to become a doctor or a lawyer, my suggestion would be to fulfill that, and then use your spare time and money to travel and write. Travel writing is a little like being in love. If you can’t not be, then you’re probably in the right job.

[[ends]]

You can find out more about Sarah on her page and blog: https://sarahbarrell.com/

The tracks to freedom

There comes a time in everyone’s life when we need to escape. We run for various reasons. For some it’s a rebellion, for others a chance to find themselves. We can run towards something or run away, even if we are not exactly sure what that something is.

Fourty years ago, 25-year-old girl decided it was her time to break free. She was running away from boredom, a series of unfinished repetitions her life was becoming and her “self-indulgent negativity“. This petite blond decided to leave everything she knew and move to Alice Springs with a dream in mind. She would walk 1,700 miles across Western Australian desert, accompanied solely by Diggity, her loyal dog, and a few camels.

Thus began the story of Robyn Davidson, author of one of the best traveling books of all times. In “Tracks”, Robyn not only describes her remarkable expedition from the centre of Australian outback to the Indian Ocean, but tackles her personal journey and a process of discovering the person she was meant to become.

Although many came across Robyn’s story thanks to the magnificent movie starring talented Mia Wasikowska, for anyone interested in a true journey within the book is a must. Throughout the pages Davidson vividly depicts not only the crude magnificence of Australia’s wilderness, but she also honestly portrays the strenuous and less poetic points on her life’s map.

Before she takes us on the desert together with Dookie, Bub, Zeleika and Goliath, Robyn has to learn how to train her camels. She must acquire all her skills and knowledge from scratch, in a world she hates, among people who often either try to use her or ridicule an idea of a woman trying to accomplish such an arduous trek alone. She has to endure the ever-present racism, chauvinism and drunken brutality that prevailed in Alice Spring in the seventies. But it’s a part of her journey and she must persist.

Setting out on this brave travel, Robyn was not planning to write a book. She did not plan to sell her story, she wasn’t doing it to prove anything to anyone. Her escape was her way of minimising, a means “to pare away what was unnecessary“, as she put it in “Tracks”. She instinctively felt she had to leave things behind to make space for the new. She didn’t always know where the tracks she was following would take her, but she hoped that the journey from desert to the ocean would change the landscape within her as well.

“So I had made a decision which carried with it things that I could not articulate at the time. I had made the choice instinctively, and only later had given it meaning. The trip had never been billed in my own mind as an adventure in the sense of something to be proved. And it struck me then that the most difficult thing had been the decision to act, the rest had been merely tenacity – and the fears were paper tigers. One really could act to change and control one’s life; and the procedure, the process, was its own reward”.

Robyn made a decision. A decision many questioned, scorned, failed to believe in. But despite everyone’s opinions, she patiently prepared and worked towards it.

What will you decide to act upon? What process will be your reward?

Wherever your decision takes you, I hope you find your tracks.

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Museum unlike any other

Istanbul has always had a special place in my heart. It’s a city I return to over and over again, each time finding a new piece of magic. Traveling to locations you’ve visited before has a special attraction – you can once again experience our favourite food, see the sights that have mesmerized you  and look forward to these rendezvous with memory long in advance, prolonging their spell. You can also relax and and really absorb the place – the chances being that you’ve already ticked off all the “must see” tourist landmarks during your earlier visits.

It was on one of such meetings with Istanbul that I encountered the Museum of Innocence.

I cannot recall what came to my life first –  the museum or the book.But that foggy sequence is actually quite poetic in itself, because they were created by Orhan Pamuk hand in hand.

The Turkish writer, mostly known for My Name is Red and Snow,  decided to take fiction to a new level. While working on his novel of the same title, he created an actual place called the Museum of Innocence.

The Museum is home to more than a thousand real objects Pamuk has collected over the years that depict the life of Instanbulites between 1970s to the early 2000s – when the novel is set. Instead of providing a cultural context however, Pamuk included in his notable collection items specific to the lives of his book’s characters.

The “Museum of Innocence” follows a story of Kemal, a man from a wealthy family who despite his engagement to Sibel, a lovely girl from his social circles, starts an affair with young Füsun, a distant relative he unexpectedly meets when buying bag for his fiancee.

What begins as an sensuous escape from his everyday life soon turns into a maddening obsession. Kemal cannot accept losing his beloved and find consolation in surrounding himself with items that belonged to her. Drifting further and further away from reality, Kemal loses himself in the world of memories.

Pamuk’s actual museum features what would have been Kemal’s collection. “I began to set my sights on things like ashtrays, cups, and slippers (…)during my eight years of going to the Keskins’  for supper, I was able to squirrel away 4,213 of Füsun’s cigarette buts. Each one of these had touched her rosy lips…” admits Kemal in the book while we find each of his stolen treasures in the museum.

Although the book was not my favourite, I found it somewhat spellbinding thanks to Pamuk’s creative idea. I loved that I was reading fiction yet knowing everything on the pages I was holding in my hands existed in real life. I could go to Istanbul and see Füsun’s lost earring that features in the book in such a vivid way, I could visit the museum and experience my beloved city’s past. To me, that’s a whole new level of literary genius.

Next time you’re in Istanbul please make your way to Çukurcuma district. Wander around its narrow streets admiring old houses and quirky cafes. When you come across a reddish 19th century house on the corner, do step in and immerse yourself in Istanbul’s memories and Pamuk’s fiction. And when you’re there, ask yourself: how far would I go for something I’m passionate about?

museum-of-innocence

 

 

No ordinary life

“oh Mary!- how I crave to write book already

-one that’s big – interesting

-and one of the very first copies with my own hand dedicate:

to my beloved Marysienka“.

But this is still a dream only…”

This is what in 1934 Kazimierz Nowak wrote in a letter to his wife. At the time of writing it, this 37-year-old man was in Clanvilliam – 3 years into his trip across Africa. On a bike…

Kazimierz Nowak is one of the most inspiring travelers I’ve ever come across. Born in 1897 in Poland, young Kazimierz moves to Poznan after first World War to assume an office work. Soon after he marries Maria Gorcik, with whom he has two kids – Ela and Romuald. Despite his professional and family commitments, Kazimierz finds time to travel through the country on his bicycle, pursuing his passion for travel and photography.

Soon however, Poland is no longer enough. In 1925 Nowak decided to leave the country and support his family through the work of a foreign correspondent and photographer. In this capacity, he travels through Europe, all the way to Turkey. His second cycling trip through the continent takes his to Tripolis.

He is almost there now. He has reached his beloved Africa. The dream of little Kazimierz to see this enchanting continent is now almost true. Almost, because the war in Tunisia, health and money problems stop his from going further. But Kazimierz decides he will come back.

On the 4th November 1931, Kazimierz Nowak sets on the most extraordinary journey – he will cycle all the way across Africa –  from Algier to Cape Town. Alone.

Traveling through the savannas and deserts on his rickety bike, Kazimierz stops by the local villages, photographing the people he meets on his way, and capturing the breathtaking landscapes. He sleeps in a tent he brought with him, feeding with food he exchanges with the locals or received from the missionaries. The photos and articles he sends back home, make their way to the travel magazines in Poland, allowing Maria to support the family that Kazimierz misses painfully each day.

Despite the loneliness and hardships, Kazimierz persists in his voyage, reaching the most southern point of Africa in April 1934. Yet even that is not enough. To everyone’s astonishment, Nowak decides to go back to Europe the same way he came – on a bike. The British colonizers he meets on his way admire his bravery and offer him a first class ticket home, but Kazimierz prefers his 7-year-old bike.

Returning to Poland in December 1936, after 40 thousand kilometers and five years of travel, Kazimierz Nowak becomes one of the very first men to cycle through Africa -twice.

Although the surgery he had to undergo a year after his return exposed him to pneumonia, causing a premature death of this astonishing man, Kazimierz got the book he dreamed of – almost 70 years after he set off on his extraordinary journey.

Remembering the stories of Nowak’s adventure from his grandpa, young man, Lukasz Wierzbicki, collects and publishes Kazimierz’s letters to his wife. A book “Rowerem i Pieszo Przez Czarny Lad” makes its way to the bookstores in Poland and to the hearts of all travelers and dreamers. On the cover – picture of Nowak pushing his bike and the name of the author: Kazimierz Nowak. He got that big and interesting book after all. One with the first page reading: “to my beloved Marysienka“.

                            desert_in_africa

We all have Nowak’s spirit in ourselves. Kazimierz needed a financial crisis to give him the courage to purse his passions and a childhood dream. He needed family he loved so much to be the catalyst of his motivation. He set off on a journey that was difficult. Maybe even more mentally than physically. Many thought it was not possible – a man born in a Polish countryside cycling alone on a rusty bike across Africa? But Nowak proved that if we believe, we can achieve anything.

What will you choose to believe in?

The ideal place

Once upon a time there was a postman. Every day, Ferdinand Cheval, for that was his name, set out on his 18 mile country round, delivering the long-awaited letters.

One spring day of 1879, on his usual route in Hauterives, in south-eastern France, Ferdinand stumbled across an unusual stone. He stopped to pick it up. Holding the oddly shaped pebble in his hand, the 43-year old postman decided to take it home.

The next day, walking more slowly than usual, Cheval began to look for other unique pieces of sandstone.With every day, his walks became longer and longer, and his stone collection grander and grander.

Bringing home from his postal walks more and more treasures, Ferdinand soon had his entire garden filled with his findings. Yet he pursued this strange hobby of his for 33 years.

You see, our postman had a plan. Each day, after tiring work, he would get home and mixing the pebbles with lime, cement and water, he would build a palace that he saw few years earlier in his dream.

And this is how the Palais Ideal came to life. Born from patience and persistence of a postman who devoted half of his life to build a breathtaking palace in his own backyard with the stones collected on his way to work.

facade-est

Despite spending his entire life in France, Cheval’s style was influenced by ancient Egyptian and Hindu  architecture, medieval castles, mosques, mythology and various exotic animals that he knew only from magazines and postcards.

This little architectural marvel known as the Ideal Palace is a true tribute to the power of a dream. It is an ideal place to pause and reflect on our own perseverance.How determined are you to bring your dreams to life?

Why not go to Lyon, rent a car and drive to Hauterives to find out?

 

New Year. Old Dreams.

First of January is one of my favourite days of the year. While to many the first day of the new year is a chance to recover after the New Year’s Eve craziness, to me it’s a new beginning.

I prepare for this fresh start for weeks, beginning to plan my resolutions as early as October. I look at my progress since the previous January and review the lessons learnt. I frantically clean the apartment and ensure I don’t carry any unresolved projects into the New Year. I vow to be better come January 1st.

This year was no different. I made my list of things to focus on. Alongside daily exercise and other noble pursuits, I add my usual – travel to five new countries each year. Except that this time it’s not enough.

2016 has brought some truly unforgettable moments that I will cherish forever. But it also brought a variety of other things. Things I don’t like to remember. While I managed to visit some amazing places, spoke at a travel conference and delivered my own bespoke travel psychology workshops, I also let life take over a little. A little too much.

Travel has always been a part of my DNA. It’s always been there, I’ve always taken my wanderlust for granted. Until 2016 when for the first time in life, I felt too tired to travel. Me. A travel obsessed person, dreaming of visiting every country in the world, suddenly had to have her husband convince her to spend money on honeymoon. Me. A travel writer, who instead of waking up with excitement at the thought of flying to Mexico arrived at the airport dreading the long journey.

That’s when I realized that I begun to let life take over. Reality was starting to win over dreams, exhaustion began to conquer wanderlust. Luckily, not for long.

Mexico woke me up. This colourful country rubbed off my soul and slowly I started to emerge again, my hunger for travel stronger than ever before. Had it not been for this one flight however, have my husband given in to my pragmatism, things could have been very different.

Look around you. Are you doing what you thought you would be doing in life? Have you pursued that dream career? Is your life the way you wanted it to be? If not, what are you doing to reclaim those dreams of yours?

Few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of spending my Sunday afternoon with a group of people who came to my travel psychology workshop. They all shared the same dream of traveling, but all were stopping themselves from making it come true. Money issues? Sure, maybe you can’t afford that trip around South America at the moment, but what are you doing to save up for it? Are you reading travel guides and making notes because one day you know you’ll make it there? Or is your fear stopping you? We can’t always make our dreams come true right now. But it doesn’t give us excuse to stop dreaming.

In 2017 I wish all of you to reconnect with your dreams and start making even the tiniest steps to helping them come true.

To help you reignite your travel spirit, for the next 7 days I will be posting here a little dream related travel treats.

Let us keep on dreaming and never let the everyday life take over.

Happy and hopeful New Year.

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Have yourself a hyggelig Christmas

We spend weeks preparing for Christmas. We run around shops in search of the perfect gifts for our loved ones, fill our homes with Christmas decorations and stack our fridges with delicacies to be enjoyed with the family. We dine with our families on the 24th December, or excitedly unwrap our presents on the morning of the 25th – depending on the customs of the country we live in. The Christmas traditions may change depending on our geographical location, but around the world the one Christmas-constant is the special atmosphere we are all hoping to create.

People across the globe agree that Christmas is a time of togetherness. It’s that special time of the year when we pause everything, when work comes second for a change, and we focus on our loved ones and we try to be present.

In “The little book of hygge: the Danish way to live well”, Meik Wiking describes Christmas as one of the most hyggelig seasons. Hygge is a Danish term used to describe the cozy, warm atmosphere of safety and connectedness. Think fluffy blankets, hot chocolate and board games by the fireplace. In the words of the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, hygge can be “everything from the art of creating intimacy to cosiness of the soul to taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things”. Following this definition, it’s easy to understand how Christmas carols, mulled wine, eating good food in the company of your loved ones, pine scent and cracling fire while it’s snowing outside, are full of hygge (or as the Danish say, hyggelig).

The very concept that hygge represents is nothing new –  most people in Europe are naturally drawn to beautiful interiors, warm lights, smell of freshly baked cake, natural materials and comfotable clothes, things that are hyggelig. The difference is that we do it subconsciously, while the Danes turned it into a conscious choice. They deliberately fill their homes with candles (very hyggelig!), make time for their friends and surround themselves with interiors that are high on the cosy-factor. As described by Marie Tourell Soderberg, hygge is “the danish art of happiness” and has been found to be a significant factor contributing to our wellbeing.

While many of us are still finishing off the leftover Christmas food and re-watching all the Christmas classics, some are busy hunting bargains in the shopping centres. England in particular is famour for its Boxing Day sales. Thousands of people prefer to spend their day off work shopping to staying home with their families, driving up sales and helping retailers make profit. Sadly, what started off as a medieval tradition of giving boxes of money and little gifts to the poor, has now become one of the most lucrative selling days for the years.

This Christmas, I wish you to spend this day in a more hygge way.  Instead of spending money on goods you’ve been tricked to belive you need, how about you focus on people instead? Maybe call a relative you have not spoken to in a while,  snuggle up underneath a fluffy blanket with your spouse or a child while watching “It’s a wonderful life”, ask your grandparents to tell you how they used to spend Christmas when they were little, invite a friend home for some remaining cake. Be present. Spend time, instead of money.

Merry Christmas and have a hyggelig time.

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Hold on to that holiday feeling

You go away. You explore another country, marvelling at everything. You notice new things around you and within yourself. You make promises, when you go back life won’t be the same anymore. You’ve been to the other country, you saw a different way of living is possible. You’ve changed.

You go back.

Nothing changes.

I believe traveling open our minds, it helps us to see things in a different way. It supports our development and allows us to pause and reflect – maybe life doesn’t have to be the way it’s always been? Maybe you don’t have to be the way you’ve always been?

I got back from Mexico filled with its energy. I brought its beautiful colours and sunshine with me to London, but soon after the old life took over. Work took over. Rain and cold took over.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

There are ways to not give in to the post-holiday blues. Let me present:

10 ways to prolong that holiday feeling

  1. Listen to the music

When I’m abroad I love to check out youtube.com as the page picks up on your location and suggests songs popular in the country you’re visiting. It is a great way to learn about the local music scene and to add a few new songs to your playlist to cheer you up on those gloomy days back home. I also like to find local digital radio stations. I might have come back from Mexico but when my kitchen sounds of rancheras and reggaetón, life feels much better!

2.Eat like a local

One of the best souvenirs you can bring from a country is its food. Choose items that can last long, such as spices, coffee, tea, drinks or sweets. From Mexico I brought, amongst other things, spiced chocolate and a local coffee. Now whenever going gets tough, I can sit down and let my little Mexican treat transport me back onto those white sandy beaches and mysterious jungle. I recently visited a friend who had just returned from Uzbekistan, drinking the aromatic tea she brought from her trip brought to life her description of the places she’s seen, allowing me to travel with her.

  1. Print out the photos

 Most of us take photos when traveling, but only a few actually then go through the trouble to develop them. Filling your house with the photos from your trips is the best way to travel back in time, plus seeing your own smiling face triggers a positive response in your brain as it remembers that feeling of genuine happiness. I personally love photos and my current Facebook display and the phone wallpaper feature me and my husband in Mexico – I can’t help but smile at the memories these images always trigger.

  1. Tell your story

Don’t wait for people to ask you about your trip, when asked how you are mention your journey at the earliest opportunity. Many of us keep our travel stories to ourselves, worried that the other person may not truly care. Forget about what others think for a minute and keep on telling your story. Most people love traveling so the chances are that the person you’re speaking to will find the very topic interesting and it might even give them an opportunity to add a thing or two about their own travel experiences. Talking about your trip will help to solidify your memories – the more we think or talk about something, the stronger that neuronal pathway in our brain becomes, making it easier to retrieve memories later on. So keep on talking about not just your latest, but about all your travels. If your friends are fed up of your stories, find a group interested in travel, join a new community, go to travel related talks. Anything that allows you to share your experience or inspires you to at least think about it, will help to keep the place alive in your memory. If you’re not really a talkative person or find sharing your travel experiences too personal, write it! Writing, aside from helping you to retain your holiday memories, has got a therapeutic value. And who knows- maybe one day your travel journal will help to inspire that travel book you were always meant to write? Maybe sharing your experiences on a blog will inspire someone else to travel, help them to avoid mistakes you’ve made or help them make the most out of their trip?

  1. Fill every day with travel 

Make your every day reality about travel. Buy travel magazines, watch travel shows, go to the travel meet-ups or photo exhibitions. Eat in foreign restaurants and make friends with people from other countries. We don’t always have to leave our home to travel. 

  1. Books are your travel tickets

Before any trip, I like to stock up on books about or set in the country I’m going to visit. I never buy the travel guides, but I do enjoy reading books written by someone who travelled to a given country, or something by a local author. Having someone describe the places you’ve visited allows you to re-experience them, but also challenges you to compare and contrast your opinions with another person’s perception. One of the places on this planet that are very close to my heart is Istanbul and every year I don’t get to visit it, I feel like something important in my life is missing. I then grab one of the books by a Turkish author (especially my favourite, Elif Shafak) and disappear in the streets of Istanbul.

  1. The cinematic travel

Movies are great for a short trip away from the reality. You’ve been dreaming of visiting Japan but don’t have the time or funds at the moment? Watch a movie set there! I find movies a really great escape, allowing you to travel without leaving your house. When I was missing Australia, movies such as “Tracks” really helped me to feel the energy of the outback and feed my wanderlust.

  1. Invite friends for a themed dinner

Upon our return from Mexico, my husband and I invited our friends for a themed dinner. We made Mexican food and drinks, played local music and told them about our trip while showing photos. Hosting a travel-themed dinner is a great way to get together with your friends, but also to share knowledge of a country with others, break a few stereotypes and maybe inspire their next trip.

  1. Plan your next trip

A return to reality after being away can feel quite painful. Something you’ve been looking after for so long and then thoroughly enjoyed is now over. In moments like this it is crucial to have another trip planned. Usually after a long travel I no longer have the resources for yet another great venture, but a weekend away, if planned well, can be a perfect alternative. As soon as I got back from Mexico, I browsed internet for affordable tickets to a place my husband and I haven’t visited yet. The perspective of going for a weekend to Norway, gave us something to look forward to this autumn. We have also started discussing our travel plans for 2017, making the year to come exciting already!

  1. Find your inner Mexico

My trip to Mexico proved to be a very reflective time that helped me to realize a lot about myself. Traveling is a great tool for self-developement as it provides a space to see yourself from a distance, notice the personal journey you’ve been on, what’s been happening to your energy and relationship with your inner self. Mexico made me realize that somewhere in the stress of everyday life, I lost my zest for life and spontaneity. After reconnecting with that part of myself there, I didn’t want to return to my pessimism and worrying. But I did. Just few days after coming back to London, I found myself repeating the pre-Mexico patterns, returning to my old ways. Habits are difficult to change, but the first step is to observe and keep yourself in check. I might not be fully there yet, but I keep an eye on myself and try to embrace life. There are days when I give in to stress and tiredness, but I’m actively fighting for myself. I do more in my spare time and put more energy into my personal projects that I had before. I say “yes” more to opportunities that come my way and I try to enjoy the present moment. To keep that relaxed, happy Mexican Anna closer to my heart.

Keep traveling, wherever you are

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The sacred well

The sun began its descent, informing us that it’s time to call it a day. We picked up our books and towels from the beach and headed towards the swimming pool bar for one last drink before making our way back to the hotel room. We sat on the swings replacing bar stools and waited for our order. I could feel the last rays of sunshine gently drying my wet bathing suit as I swung slowly back and forth.

“Hi!” said a man with a clearly American accent. His name was Dominic and he was a New Yorker of Italian origin. His girlfriend, Luz, soon joined the conversation. Although this Colombian woman didn’t initially say much, there was something interesting in her silence. Luz just radiated a certain kind of warmth. The special kind  that only really good-natured, genuine people have. There was something very real and honest about both of them and I knew this was not  the last conversation we were going to have with these two.

Next day, after an evening and an afternoon spent with our new friends, Luz mentioned that she heard about a nearby cenote and suggested that we visit it before dinnerShe didn’t need to convince us – we grabbed our flip flops, Dom took the remaining bottle of champagne and speakers and we were ready to go.

Cenotes are one of Yucatan’s natural landmarks. These natural pools filled with crystal clear water are a result of collapsing of the porous limestone bedrock which reveals the groundwater captured underneath it. In a land surrounded by salted water with no overground lakes or rivers, life in the peninsula often centered around the cenotes, which provided access to freshwater supply. Many Maya villages and cities, like Chichen Itza, were formed in the vicinity of these reservoirs. The filtered ground and rain water not only sustained the lives of the local people, but  was also believed to be a gateway to the afterlife.

The Maya believed  cenotes to be the home of Chaac, God of Rain, as well as the entrance to the underworld. At times of drought a popular practice was to offer Chaac precious stones, wooden idols, textiles and human lives. The Sacred Cenote in Chichen Itza in particular was famous for its ritual sacrifices and archaeologists found a large deposit of human bones at its bottom. Many of the discovered remains have been dismembered, burnt by fire, and bear signs of violence suggesting that before the victims were thrown into the well, they were subject to various sacrificial rituals.

Luckily for the Maya people’s health, the ceremonial wells were mostly kept separate from the domestic ones used for bathing and as a source of drinking water. An interesting one is Ik Kil, a cenote situated 2.5 km east of Chichen Itza, which was most likely a bathing place of the city’s rulers . A long curved staircase carved in stone leads to this beautiful natural pool. The 40 meter deep well is surrounded by vertical cave walls and lit by the sunshine entering through the green opening 26 meters above. Although very popular with tourists and cave divers, the place is breathtaking and has a truly magical atmosphere.

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Cenote Ik Kil seen from the top

The Casa Cenote, to which Luz was leading us through the beach was quite different. Our walk turned out to be longer than we initially expected, but with the setting sun and local fishermen waving at us with their smiley “hola“s, walking on the shore, listening to Radiohead coming from Dom’s speakers, we did not mind the delay.

After about a half an hour walk, we turned into a sandy alley situated between two guest houses. As we crossed a dusty road, we saw a little shabby gateway. We walked in and greeted three young men sitting outside a little hut. It was past 5 and the place was officially closed, but after a short conversation in Spanish and the entrance fee, Ernesto, Antonio and Armando lend us some snorkeling masks and we got into the water.

As I stepped onto the well, I began to move slowly down the stone shelves leading to the deeper part of the pool. The water was ice cold, offering a pleasant cool after the day’s heat. Through the clear surface we could see the little fish swimming underneath. The cenote was an open air one and surrounded by the vivid greenery of the mangrove forest.  I lied on my back and looked up. Nothing but the sky and green tree tops. Except for the gentle song of a bird hiding in the branches, the place would have been enveloped in complete silence. Despite its depth, the clean water allowed us to admire the world underneath, uncovering the mysterious caves and mangrove roots suspended motionless in the water.  I felt peaceful and enchanted with the magic of this place. I now understood why the Maya believed cenotes to be the gateway to the other world.

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