Getting myself started with volunteering wasn’t as simple, quick and easy as I thought. The thing with volunteering is, the opportunities to do so are there but you do have to look for them. Most charities really need long term commitments and not one off days here and there. But I found this site useful in finding opportunities nearby that fits my skillset and availability.
Thankfully I have some good connections and so it wasn’t long before I had booked myself up for a few days. My workplace pay for up to 5 days a year of volunteering leave so I can volunteer without fear of losing out on a day’s work. I was able to take advantage with 2 of those days. Tip: If you are thinking of volunteering, why not ask if your work place would be open to doing the same? Charity has become a very important part of our society, especially to businesses and you will be surprised at how supportive your place of work can be towards you volunteering.
How did it go?
As promised, I gave time to Be@titudes, giving two of my Saturday mornings to hang out with Rosemary and be that extra pair of hands. It was there that I found out how much of a help it has been that the Duke of Edinburgh awards have included voluntary work as a mandatory. Two lovely girls were also giving up their Saturday mornings to help in the shop and really seemed to be enjoying it!
If you have a spare Saturday and want to do something good for the local Dorking community, consider volunteering here!
I was also lucky that Val (my partner in crime for all of my challenges) volunteers regularly at the The British Red Cross and so was able to contact the manager directly and arrange a time for me to come along.
I was given free reign to arrange the Bridal window as I please and organise the bridal room. I was also able to bring in my pre-loved wedding dress and donate it. I hope you think I did a good job:
If you are getting married, try popping in to the Red Cross, you will be surprised at the quality of the Wedding dresses in stock; some are even brand new!
Even if you aren’t getting married, pop in anyway – I put out some (otherwise) expensive designer bags and shoes yesterday; Ugg, Cos, Ted Baker and more! I may have nabbed a cheeky deal myself… shopping and working, what could go wrong?!
Sadly, I couldn’t volunteer at The LifeTrain Trust this time, but I will be doing so in the new year which I am looking forward to!
I was, however, able to volunteer my time from home by doing some admin work for The Natasha’s Project! This has been particularly good because it means I can fit it around my job and social life so it doesn’t feel as if I’m giving up an entire day. If you have any skills around fundraising, social media, general admin or even if you have some connections that will help this amazing charity to get some secure funding then get in touch!
Success rate: 100%
Hours given: 23
Will I carry on volunteering? Definitely! I already am looking at doing some hours with the LifeTrain Trust in January and I will continue to support Be@titudes, the Red Cross and the Natasha’s Project.
What can we do? Get involved! Give some time to any of the charities that I have supported this year, or any causes that are close to your heart. Whatever you do, whether it is giving a sandwich to a stranger, or lending a hand to a friend in need, the reward is the same; a little light of kindness in a broken world.
Volunteering at Spring Harvest
Friends giving a helping hand
If you can’t give time, you can always give dolla $$. Many companies are starting to do charity matching, whether they match a certain monthly contribution you decide to make to a charity of choice or they may match an amount that you raise for a charity through an event up to a set limit. Ask your employer about this!
Or if, as the new year looms, you are feeling super inspired by my 12 months of simple living, why not give yourself monthly challenges and wager your time/money to a charity for when you (inevitably) balls up!
I hope you have enjoyed following my year! Here’s to an amazing 2018!
This month, in spending time in reflection, being self-aware and harnessing positive thoughts, I’ve realised that it is important to define the things that matter most to you. And in doing that we need to be intentional about taking steps to respond to those things.
We like to complicate life and stray away from the simplicity of day to day “in the moment” living by creating barriers and being defined by other people.
But this year of monthly challenges is all about being more of “me” as I define it and less of “me” as current society decides it should be.
For that reason, here are the 12 steps that are important to me in my ‘Simple Living’ challenge.
12 Steps to Simple Living
1. Do not isolate yourself. It’s a big world out there but it gets smaller as you branch out more. Never be afraid to ask others for help, say “yes” to more invites, call that old friend up out of the blue! You will be surprised where this takes you.
2. Shh… listen, don’t speak – take time to listen, think carefully and work out what your mean before you speak. You cannot take words back once they are said, so guard your tongue. Show empathy and be compassionate.
3. Don’t let fear make your decisions. How many times have thoughts of what might go wrong got in the way of you pursuing the things you want to do? Fear is the number 1 dream-killer. Don’t let what might happen get in the way of what could happen.
4. Own your happiness – take responsibility of your feelings and emotions. Happiness is something you create within yourself and no person or circumstance should have the ability to take it away from you. Do what it takes to make you happier, you only have one life!
5. Change – you know you’ve been wrong, you know you make mistakes. Change! Always aim to be the best version of you and don’t make the same mistakes twice!
6. Be kind & understanding. You don’t know what someone has gone through to get where they are today, so assume the best in people. Give them a chance! So often we judge others from afar but when we get to know them, we wonder why we didn’t meet them sooner.
7. Have role models. It is good to have someone we look up to, but be careful not to put them on a pedestal or compare yourself to them. You are your own unique you and role models should be there to encourage us to be the best versions of ourselves.
8. Surround yourself with your goals. If you want to be a dancer, hang out with dancers, similarly, if you want to be more patient then spend time with patient people. You become like those you surround yourself with so choose carefully where you invest that time.
9. Release emotions creatively and healthily. There are many creative ways of expressing emotion. Things like painting, dancing, writing, singing and even cooking or baking. All of these are gifts to enable us to express ourselves and give an outlet for emotion. Too often we fold into ourselves or lash out when we are experiencing negative emotions, but next time try directing those emotions into something creative as a way of healthily expressing your feelings.
10. Be spiritual. See the world as more than just a physical place. Don’t stop seeking more. Whether it be more enlightenment, more love, more peace or more faith. Expand your knowledge, deepen your understanding, grow in wisdom.
11. Be healthy. Your body is a precious temple, look after it. It is our only “earth suit” and it isn’t easy to repair when it’s broken. So take very good care of it and invest in it. Choose to eat more veg and less meat, drink more water and less alcohol, exercise to keep everything mobile and strong, don’t take sleep for granted, make sure you give your body enough time too regenerate each night and keep up the personal hygiene (if not for your sake then for everyone else). It will be worth the investment in the long run!
12. Know who you are! – Finally, always remember, you are good enough, you are capable, you are strong; you will achieve your goals. Don’t ever let anyone else define your worth, know your value and don’t settle for being treated less than what you are. You are beautiful!
The monthly challenges I have set myself are all part of this journey. The hope is that by the end of this year, life will be more purposeful and intentional as I rid myself of complications and just simply be me.
Charity: Cancer Research
Total £ Accrued: £20
Status: It’s working!
The Fifth Challenge: To Exercise
As the month draws to a close, I’ve realised that I am stronger than I was before and my stamina has increased. Exercise is still not one of my favourite things to do but I am starting to see the appeal (in that it can start to be addictive as you realise that you are getting better and better).
The biggest challenge for me, especially with planning for my travels, has been time! I don’t seem to have enough hours in the day for anything – work spilling into overtime, organising consuming my every moment, socialising being put on the back burner whilst trying to balance the obligatory “let me just show my face” with the exhaustion that sets in.
When I try to extend my days, waking up earlier or going to bed later, it seems that sleep just overpowers me (a problem I am sure many wish they had), but seriously – I am literally dragged into sleep by my body no matter what I try to do to stay awake! It’s a real problem guys! But on that note – I am starting to believe those that say the cure for insomnia is exercise because it really does knock it out of you.
So, my suggestion is, if you are finding yourself short of time to do exercise, try splitting your 30 minutes into three 10 minute sessions.
As promised, I have put together my favourite 30 minute all-rounder routine that you could do daily. So without further ado…
Mary’s 30 Minutes of Simple Living Workout… Fun!
Pre-workout: Stretch (I don’t want anyone complaining to me about injuries) 2x 25 Squats 2x 25 Mountain Climbers 1 Minute Plank (can break this up by going into yoga down dog position half way through) 1 Minute Side Plank each side (can break this up by going into plank half way through) 2x 20 Bird Dogs 2x 25 Cycling Cross Crunches 20 Leg Lifts 20 Scissor Kicks 3x 10 Torso Lifts 20 Press-ups 2x 20 Knee Ups 1 Minute Jog on the Spot Post Workout: Stretch
I know it’s not fancy, and I had to look up the official names for some of these but it got me through and I definitely felt it!
When it comes to motivation I am definitely lacking, particularly in the running area. I’m just going to come clean, I hate running! Definitely will not be doing any more running after this month. But what I found (when I did actually go for a run) was that after being completely winded and slowing down to take a breather, I struggled to find the motivation to run again.
It was those times that mother nature stepped in and assisted me with some fresh motivation by sending a wasp to fly nearly into my ear! Don’t know where it came from but I was sprinting after that!
The point is, there is always a reason to push yourself harder and you always have the strength within you to do it. You just have to force that strength to the forefront and focus on each step in front of you.
Tip: What works for me when I am doing a 60 second plank is start counting in 10s when I start to feel like I can’t carry on. Because you can always do an extra 10 seconds of anything, can’t you?
Success rate: 87.1% (4 days failed out of 31)
Cost per fail: £5
Money raised for charity: £20
Overall, it was difficult (especially the 30 minutes a day) but worth it. I don’t have an eight pack yet but I do feel more in shape and I think I look more in shape. Have felt able to wake up earlier but do also want to sleep much earlier, also sleep like a log now!
Will I carry on? I would like to, but I know I will struggle with motivation. I will definitely try to incorporate more “surprise exercise” in my day to day activities.
Where To? Bangkok
How long? 3 days (don’t worry, I’ll be back)
Status: I was packed like two weeks ago…
13WoW – Destination: Heathrow
It’s 2 weeks until I set off on my travel adventure and I finished packing last week. Yes, you read that right, enjoy that glimpse into what it’s like to be me!
It seems simple when you first decide to go travelling. Step one: Purchase Flights. Step two: Pack. Step three: Go! But it’s not that simple and there were a lot of questions.
Hoping to save other potential travellers time in the future, I am going to go through some of my preparations pre-travelling.
Step One: Purchase Flights
Actually, step one is figuring out where you actually want to go and then when you’ve done that it’s finding out whether it’s realistic for you to go to all those places in the time (and budget) that you have.
My plan at first was not restricted to the locations listed above, wanting to include the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia and all sorts! But after speaking to some lovely people at STA Travel, I had a reality check.
Then the next thing, booking flights. My advice is to look on your own first to gauge an idea on how much flights will be and what the logistics are. It takes a lot of time and is really annoying but it helps you decide on the cheapest times to go and shape out your itinerary. When you are armed with your timeline with where you want to be and when, then approach the travel agents, they have a lot of knowledge and advice they can offer even if you don’t go with them. Having had an idea of prices when speaking to them, they would always try to compete with what I had found. Most companies would match if you could genuinely prove you found a cheaper fare yourself.
Spoke to Flight Centre and STA Travel and in the end went with STA only because they could sort out my internal USA flights as well as my international flights. Everyone seemed friendly and offered honest opinions on the cheapest way to do things. It was Flight Centre who advised me that booking a round trip to Bangkok and then doing USA as a separate trip would actually work out cheaper. And actually, coming back for a day means I have a chance to re-pack my bag and drop any souvenirs off before jetting off again.
So it turns out that the splashing out doesn’t stop at flights, but depending on where you are going and how long you are going for, you are going to have to shed even more cash on visas.
UK Passport holders currently (as at 17/05/2017) get a free 30 day visa on arrival in Thailand.
At first thought this meant I didn’t have to worry about it seeing as I was going to be in Thailand for all of about a day before shooting off to Cambodia/Vietnam and returning to Thailand in July to then get another free 30 day visa at the border.
But after speaking to the Thai embassy (strongly recommend speaking to the embassy where you are going), I was advised I would need a visa due to the round trip booked and my overall stay according to my flights being longer than 30 days. Otherwise would have to have flights out of Thailand within the 30 days to gain the free visa.
Now am having a bit of a mare because I’m not sure if I got the right visa having opted for the Single entry visa (which will expire upon entering Cambodia a day into my trip) rather than the much more expensive multiple point entry visa (£35 or £150… it was a no brainer). So hoping that I will get the 30 day free visa when I try to enter Thailand through Laos but will have to let you guys know how that goes.
Update: I think I could have got away without purchasing the visa above but I had no issues entering and exiting Thailand at all. On the way back from Laos (via train) I had no problems getting back into Thailand.
Have it on good authority (the internet and a couple of friends) that a visa will be obtainable at the border so long as I have at least two passport pictures to hand and around $35. I don’t normally do vague but as I have booked a tour, I know I wont be the only one in need of a visa so am going to just chill on this one.
Update: I had no issues entering Cambodia by foot, but that was all thanks to my G Adventures tour guide (read about it here). I’m sure you could wing it going by public bus or on foot yourself though!
At present, UK Passport holders can enter Vietnam for 15 days without a visa, but this is only until 30 June 2017 when they will be reviewing this and deciding whether or not to extend this. So after seeking advice from the consular, I applied for a Vietnamese visa online. It was ridiculously easy as you didn’t have to send your passport or anything, just fill out their documents and scan them over via email. It was also ridiculously expensive to do it that way. Say goodbye to £80.
Update: I definitely wasted £80, I could have easily got a 15 day visa on arrival at the border (which I crossed by foot) but things may have changed now so keep checking the gov.uk website.
There seems to be little information on the internet about getting a visa for Laos other than here. But it looks like UK passports get a 30 day visa on arrival and I should expect to pay around $42. Again, will need to be armed with mug shots.
Update: Getting a visa on arrival by public bus was easy enough, make sure you have plenty of cash as they seem to charge you for the most pointless things (read more here) and try to pay in kip if you have already converted your money by this stage.
UK passport holders do not need a visa but must apply for a visa waiver. Was lucky here though as I had a trip to the US last year and the ESTA visa waiver that I got for $14 actually covers me for 2 years.
As a UK passport holder, you can get an Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA), but if you’re travelling by land or sea, you won’t need an eTA when you enter Canada. However, you must travel with “acceptable travel documents and identification“. I hope that just means my passport… Update: Yes, it did.
Did you think that was it with the expenses? No, there’s more!
You should prepare yourself to spend around £200 – £300 on jabs and travel medicines such as anti-malaria tablets. And you need to make your initial visit to the travel nurse at least 6 months before your trip. My surgery has an online travel questionnaire you complete first before you book your appointment.
Again, was lucky because I had recently visited Ghana and got nearly all of my jabs then. So only needed a Hep A booster. However, I went in too late for my Hep B and Rabies jabs and was instead warned drastically not to go anywhere near animals, not to get any piercings or tattoos and to take my own sterile needles (which I got from amazon) in case I need a jab or stitches whilst I am there.
I am going to order my anti-malaria tablets (Doxycycline) online as they are available OTC but I will only need them if I enter certain parts of Cambodia and Laos. With Doxy, it’s cheap but you have to carry on taking the tablets for four weeks once you are out of the affected area. Always take them with food otherwise you can feel very very sick.
The final part to the oh so simple “stage one” is planning your adventures!
I’m travelling alone and so wanted something to kick-start my adventure where I would meet lots of people doing the same thing as me. So booked a tour with G Adventures (through STA Travel). It’s a 10 day adventure that will take me from Bangkok, through Cambodia and into Vietnam and it is £599 (or was when I booked it). If you want to look at the itinerary of this “Cambodia on a Shoestring” tour, you can do so here.
Hint: When you book with G adventures make sure you register on their site because there are a number of details that they require you to complete before they will send you the official voucher. It wasn’t until I called asking for more information that I found out; by then a lot of information was overdue.
The G adventure expert I spoke to was chirpy at first but seemed to get grumpy real fast with all of my questions. He then directed me to the wrong site to register. So in case you need to know, you register here.
That tour starts on 5th June, but I arrive on 4th of June so needed to book somewhere to stay for the night.
South East Asia are famous for their very cheap accommodation and food, so it was easy for me to find my first night’s Hostel @Hua Lamphong for only £9. There were cheaper options but this one stood out and I can’t wait to give you guys a proper review when I get there! I booked this one through booking.com and what I like is that it’s free cancellation up to 3 days before and you don’t pay until you get there.
The only thing I need to do is find out how I’m going to get there…
Step Two: Pack
This step starts with the right backpack. And I have no idea about backpacks, I didn’t even know until recently that they are measured in litres!
After seeking inspiration from other girls’ travel blogs, I saw a “how to travel on a 16L bag” post and thought “yeah, I can do that”! Thankfully a gentleman in Millets was there to talk sense into me and convince me to settle for the Eurohike Pathfinder 35L (£25 down from £35). My boyfriend still does not think it’s big enough, his argument being I won’t need to be carrying it for long periods of time as I will leave it in the hostel most of the time. He makes a fair point but #YOLO!
I nearly splashed out on a waterproof rain cover for my backpack but held back and then found out there is actually one that comes with this bag. Bonus!
I think the biggest struggle with this was deciding what clothes to leave behind, had to remind myself about the shopping heaven that Bangkok would be.
Now, I have a question for anyone really… How do you padlock a backpack?!?!
Anyway, here is my packing list for anyone curious, and you will be pleased to know it fits snugly into my backpack even with the sleeping bag inside!
Sleeping Bag (Update: Don’t take a sleeping bag!)
Waterproof rucksack liner & waterproof phone bag
Day Pack (Go lightweight foldaway)
Small Satchel Bag
Discreet Money Belt
Water Bottle (Water-to-Go 3 in 1 filter – be aware if you get this that it needs a 15 minute soak before you go)
Toiletries (incl. hand sanitizer, tea tree oil, suncream, spf lip balm, ear plugs & the usual)
Make-up, hair, nails & jewellery
Electricals (incl. phone, chargers, powerbanks, torch, worldwide multi adaptor & personal security alarm)
-Windbreaker Waterproof Mack
-Tank top x2
-Mesh top x2
-Maxi skirt x2
-Leggings (I went for sport/yoga leggings as these ones keep you cool)
-Underwear (incl. pop socks)
Made sure all of my clothes can mix and match/do double duty. For PJ’s could wear any of my tank tops, which is why I only took the shorts. The Brave Soul packamac was actually a men’s jacket but for £14.99 (down from £39.99) that didn’t matter to me, and it folds into it’s pocket!
The things that have taken up the most space (other than the sleeping bag) is honestly my toiletries – all those lotions and potions, and one maxi skirt which is really heavy but too good not to take.
I am going to take a moment to say how proud I am of being able to downsize my makeup mag drastically to my top 6:
Yeah, you’re thinking what more could there be? But somehow my normal makeup bag is the size of a large handbag!
Step Three: Go!
Speaking of “go”, I long debated whether or not to get a go-pro or whether to solely rely on my phone for photos. I procrastinated over this so long that by the time I came to make a decision, it was quite clear to me that money would not permit it. So took a bit of a risk and opted for a budget alternative, the Camkong Action Camera HD 1080P. I’m not a camera geek so no idea if it’s a steal being reduced from £109.99 to £34.99 or if it’s reduced because it’s shit. Either way, I suspect I will find out! UPDATE: It’s shit, don’t get it! I got the Ion Snapcam instead which was much better.
Before I go, there are a few essentials that I must sort out:
Charity: Cancer Research
Total £ Accrued: £10
Status:Who the hell runs for fun?!?!
The Fifth Challenge: To Exercise Continued…
It’s been a whole two weeks, that’s 14 days, of exercising every day (bar one day when I made the 5 hour drive up to Manchester and today where I cba) and I still don’t have a 6-pack. What do you want from me, life?!
Okay I know it’s not meant to be that easy but having said that, I am starting to benefit from daily exercise already. I feel more energetic, happier and more alert but the down sides are that I’m generally achier and hungrier…
Routine & Rest
My weekly routine is as follows.
Monday: Home Work Out 20 mins Tuesday: Wing Chun Self Defence Class 1 hour Wednesday: Home Work Out 20 mins Thursday: Pilates Class 1 hour Friday: Home Work Out 20 mins Saturday: Wing Chun Self Defence Class 2 hours Sunday: Home Work Out 20 mins
Now, I have recently been advised by a personal trainer that it is counter productive to exercise every day without a day off. He said it, not me! So, as of next week I will be introducing one rest day which is just as well because I will be raising the bar (pun intended, don’t judge me) with 25 minutes of exercise as a minimum and going up to the target of 30 minutes a day.
Strangely, I struggled to think of what to do for my 15, then 20 minute home work outs. I sort of found myself doing a panic plank and then following up with the typical press up/sit ups and squats.
It should be no surprise to you to find that I turned to pinterest yet again and was not short of inspiration. I will put together my favourite routine for the next post.
We can all feel like hitting that target of getting 30 minutes of exercise a day is not achievable, especially when you work a desk job and have no interest in exerting yourself. But I have some good news for you, you may be doing more exercise than you think! I call this the “surprise exercises”.
Do you do any of the following?
Touring or Exploring e.g. a day out in London or elsewhere
Climbing Stairs (extra points to you if you were also tricked by your best friend into doing the 193 steps in Covent Garden station… in heels)
Cleaning or Tidying (extra points if you’ve had to move house- that is pretty much worth a year of exercise)
If so, the good news is you have most likely been partaking in the act of surprise exercise! Who said keeping active had to be boring and inconvenient? There is so much in your daily routine that can contribute to an overall healthy lifestyle and sometimes just slight adjustments can mean that we live a happier and healthier life.
So I guess what I am saying is, go on that shopping day out in London and don’t feel bad- it’s all in the name of keeping fit!