Anna Hartley

A blog about travel, books and navigating your twenties in one piece

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Wednesday, 17 October 2018

The 52 Lists Project // Week 42

Happy Hump Day gang, it will be the weekend before we know it now! I'm writing this on Tuesday evening and am feeling a bit sorry for myself because I've just had three jabs for travelling in my right arm and the aching is really not the one. As a complete digression I just want to share that I had the *loveliest* nurse sorting them out for me and as someone who hates needles it made all the difference. It just reminded me that the NHS is bloody brilliant and I feel so grateful to live in a country which has one.

Anyway, now that that tangent's over, this week's prompt is: "List the things that make you feel peaceful." 


Sitting down and having a little think about what makes me peaceful was such a great exercise to do because over the past couple of weeks I haven't been feeling all that peaceful tbh. I've been super busy (doing all fun things so I can't complain) but also I've been feeling quite angry at things going on in the world: Brexit, Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the US Supreme Court, need I go on...

Because of that I haven't taken enough time to make sure that I do the things which help me to relax and I'm definitely going to carve out some time this weekend for them. I know self-care comes with some mixed connotations at the moment but I personally think that when the world is full of so much uncertainty you can't beat taking some time out to make sure that you're ok; that you have inner peace despite anything that may be going on. There's absolutely a time and a place for anger, outrage and action (more on that in my next post in a few days' time) but you still have to make sure that your own oxygen mask is on first before you tackle those things and taking the time to do the things which calm your mind a little are perfect for doing just that.

So, with that said, here are the things which make me feel peaceful:


  • Being by the sea - This one is the ultimate cliche but it's a cliche for a reason. The sea itself, the sea air and the sound of the waves never fail to make me feel calm, contemplative and at peace. I need to spend more time by the sea this year for sure.
  • Listening to a podcast - It's no secret that I'm obsessed with podcasts and listening to particularly good ones while getting ready for my day ahead really relaxes me as I tune out of my brain and into whatever's being discussed. 
  • Chamomile tea - This is a very specific one but I love a cup of chamomile tea before bed, if I've got an upset tummy or if I just feel like I need to chill. It always relaxes me - it's honestly a herb with magical powers. 
  • Headspace - I have a subscription to the Headspace app and find that taking ten minutes to do the guided mindfulness sessions really refreshes/resets me and makes me feel like a brand new person if I'm having a hectic day.
  • Yoga - Much along the same lines as Headspace, doing some yoga or pilates is the perfect level of intensity for me while completely resetting me if I'm in a bad mood or stressed. I always leave the mat feeling better than when I came to it, no matter my mood beforehand.
  • Lavender - The smell of lavender completely relaxes me, especially before bed. I used to have lavender bags which I put in my bed and now I have a sleepy spray which smells of it which I use if I can't sleep. The smell always calms me. 
  • Reading a book - Much like listening to podcasts, reading books takes me to another world and allows me to really switch off and chill out. Reading with a cup of chamomile tea before bed is the ultimate way for me to feel at peace.
  • Going for a walk - If I'm feeling stressed, taking myself outside and just walking always gives me perspective and makes me feel better. It's so so good for you and I need to do this more often!

So those are the things that sprung to mind for me. It's funny that none of them are 'scrolling through Instagram and the like', which I stupidly spend so much time doing and which never calm me down at all - just an observation I had! What things make you feel peaceful?
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Saturday, 13 October 2018

The 52 Lists Project // Week 41

Happy weekend everyone! I'm spending mine in Exeter with my uni friends and I couldn't be more excited to see them and be back in one of my favourite places. Anyway, this week's prompt is: "List your favourite things about Autumn."


Before I get to my favourite things about Autumn, I have to admit that it isn't one of my favourite seasons at all. I know for so many people you can't beat this season, but it just doesn't do it for me. I prefer it to Winter which is funny, given that I'm a Winter baby, but I just hate the dark evenings and late sunrises. They make me feel so sluggish, I hate the cold and all in all I just think nothing compares to how happy I am in the Summer. But there are still some things I love about Autumn so here they are....


  • The leaves falling from the trees - Even though the trees blossoming in Spring is one of the highlights of the year for me, I do appreciate how stunning it is to see the beautiful red and orange leaves falling from the trees preparing for Winter. 
  • Conker collecting - I don't do this any more really but when I was younger I was completely obsessed with collecting as many conkers as was humanly possible for a little one to carry (much to my Mum's delight I'm sure) and every year seeing the hundreds of conkers reminds me of that time and puts a smile on my face.
  • The feeling of a fresh start Autumn brings - Autumn will always signal a new school year for me. Even though this year for the first time I'm not starting a new school year, I have started a new job and the changing of the season marking Summer's end always feels like a new chapter is beginning and I really love that.
  • Guy Fawkes' night - November counts as Autumn right? Some of my favourite memories ever are from bonfire nights spent watching beautiful fireworks, having hot chocolates, and toasting marshmallows. It's one of my favourite nights of the year and one of the rare times when I really appreciate the dark and the cold of this season. This year sadly I'll be just recovering from an operation to have my wisdom teeth out so I'm not sure I'll be able to go to a firework night so I'll just have to save it for next year.
  • Bowls of warm porridge for breakfast - This might not be inherently specific to Autumn for everyone, but for me it usually marks the time when I switch from something like overnight oats to making porridge for breakfast and I just love how a bowl of porridge warms you up and fills you up for the morning - the perfect Autumn breakfast.

So there you have it, my favourite things about this funny (to me) season. What are your favourite things about Autumn?
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Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Recently I'm Reading // Places I Stopped On The Way Home by Meg Fee


I have read Meg Fee's blog for probably around seven years. In that time I have read of her ups and downs in New York City, how she's navigated both an eating disorder, dating and figuring out who she is. She has been my one of my favourite writers ever since I discovered her blog and, having been lucky enough to meet her when she was in London last year, I can confidently say that she's just as wonderful in person as she is in her words.

Two years ago she released an e-book consisting of sixteen essays which I devoured and wrote about here. Since then Meg has developed and extended those essays and in May of this year what was originally an e-book became a published book of the same title. I am a little bit obsessed with Meg's writing and so not only did I read this the month it came out, but I have just re-read it over the past couple of weeks. Now I very rarely re-read books and almost never re-read one so soon after my first reading of it. But Meg writes about navigating your twenties with such raw honesty that her words are such a comfort to me and while I'm currently at the start of my twenties and experiencing the uncertainty (and excitement) of them for the first time, I wanted to come back and lap up her writing all over again.

If you haven't heard of this book, here is its blurb: "In Places I Stopped on the Way Home, Meg Fee plots her life in New York City - from falling in love at the Lincoln Center to escaping the roommate (and bedbugs) from hell on Thompson Street, chasing false promises on 66th Street and the wrong men everywhere to finding true friendships over glasses of wine in Harlem and Greenwich Village. Weaving together her joys and sorrows, expectations and uncertainties, aspirations and realities, the result is an exhilarating collection of essays about love and friendship, failure and suffering, and above all hope. Join Meg on her heart-wrenching journey, as she cuts the difficult path to finding herself and finding home."

It is a stunningly beautiful book, split into chapters based on places Meg associates with what she's writing about. Everyone knows that living in New York in your twenties is something of a dream. I imagine it to be incredible, with opportunity on every corner and adventures wherever you look. But, like anything in life, the reality does not always live up to the dream. And this book feels like a love letter from Meg to this city in which she grew up and in which she learned some of the toughest lessons life can give. It is a love letter in which Meg writes about her journey to discovering what she deserves, what she wants out of life and love and how difficult it can be to honour that.

Along the way Meg describes friendships, both toxic and foundational, love that goes wrong, with men who are not in a place to love, and the searching for a home in the city that never sleeps. It is most simply an account of what it is like to go through your twenties as a woman in this world and I appreciate so much that Meg does not hold back in describing how difficult but also wonderful it can be at times. Meg writes:

"The twenties are hard. Everyone who is not in their twenties says this. And everyone who is in their twenties knows this. But when you are in the middle of it, hearing people who are not, say, 'Yeah it's rough', isn't terribly helpful. But then you start to crest upon a new decade and you think, 'Holy shit! The twenties are so, so hard, but the view from up here is incredible!'... There is not one thing I wish I had learned sooner. There is not one thing I think I was meant to know before I knew it. Because I learned about trusting my gut only after I didn't. And I learned about love in the trenches of heartbreak. And I understood the value of showing up only after I failed to do so. But it is how I learned each thing that has shaped the woman I am today, and the woman I'll be tomorrow, and the day after."

I can't recommend reading this book more highly. As the incredible Emma Gannon writes, "Reading Meg Fee's writing is like an act of self-care. Her words will fill you up and make you press pause." If you've ever felt unsure in life, uncertain of where you're going or what you're doing, you will relate to this book. If you've ever been through heartbreak, loved someone who for whatever reason doesn't have the capacity to love you back in the way you deserve, you will relate to this book. Above all, if you're wondering what your home will look like one day and what a sense of home even is, you will relate to this book.

Do yourself a favour and pick it up as soon as you can. And thank you Meg for having the courage to share your 'memoir of chaos and grace', I don't think I could love it more.

Sidenote: If you don't already, go and follow Meg's Instagram. She's currently studying for a Masters in Public Policy at Duke University and shares such important articles and opinions. She's just an all-round badass incredible woman.
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Saturday, 6 October 2018

Why It's Ok To Change Your Mind & Making Decisions in Your Twenties


If you've read my recent post updating you on the key parts of what's gone on in my life over the past nine months, you'll have seen that up until late August I was set to spend this next year doing a masters in International Relations at Exeter University.

Fast forward to now, and I'm living at home with my Mum and Gran in London, working in a temping job at Wimbledon until the 7th December, and flying out to New Zealand to spend around six months travelling on the 10th December. Oh, and I should probably mention that I had only decided to do my masters in April this year. Before that I wanted to spend this year travelling but didn't really have a clue how I was going to go about it.

It's safe to say that that's a lot of changing your mind and today I want to talk about why that's ok.

Those who know me in real life will tell you that I am characteristically not a spontaneous person. Sure, I sometimes love to have a spontaneous night out or unexpected plans every now and then, but I'm a planner through and through. I love lists and I love being organised. If we're talking Friends characters I am definitely a Monica, not a Phoebe... I could go on but I'm sure you get the picture. And so I always thought that when I graduated from uni I would very much have a plan worked out and be raring to get straight to it.

In reality, three years at Exeter went ridiculously fast and before I knew it it was the Easter holidays of my final year of my undergraduate degree and I wasn't anywhere close to having that plan.

As I've mentioned before, I've wanted to travel for years but I always assumed that by the time I got to third year I'd have found someone to do those travels with. But it just worked out that none of my closest friends wanted to do the trip I dreamed of after leaving uni and I wasn't keen on the idea of doing it alone. More importantly, by Easter I was *terrified* by the fact that I didn't have this plan that I always thought I would and by the fact that uni felt like it was ending far too quickly for my liking and I just didn't feel done with it.

At that point I was hugely panicked but quickly dismissed my Mum's suggestion to do a masters to give myself another year by saying that it would be a classic 'panic masters' (where a student suddenly faced with the horrific thought of having to face graduate life decides to do a masters to postpone facing said life) and that no one would take me seriously.

But then, of course, over those weeks of Easter the idea of one more year to 'get my head straight' and enjoy studying in Exeter became more and more appealing. I mulled over the decision for a few weeks with my closest friends and family and eventually concluded that doing this MA would be a good option for me - it would be in a subject I'm hugely interested in, it would be another qualification and most importantly, it would give me another year of structure. Really, from the outset it was clear that this masters was not going to be done purely for love of learning, but it was going to be done because I thought I would enjoy this extra year of being a student and figuring out what I wanted to do after university.

And so I went full steam ahead, slightly scared that people would judge me but also aware that it wasn't like I was about to announce to my friends and family that I'd decided to pursue a life of crime - I was going to do something that is largely very respected. While this decision clearly wasn't one my heart was fully in from the get-go, I want to emphasise that it wasn't an inherently bad decision and I'm sure it would have been fine had I gone through with it - it just wouldn't have been following what I really wanted (but was afraid) to do.

In the meantime, I met my boyfriend Liam. Liam who told me when I met him that he was going to New Zealand in September and planning on spending nearly a year out there. Yep, Liam was going to the one place that has been top of my list since my sister moved there when I was thirteen and that I'd just a couple of months ago chickened out of doing myself. I'm not gonna lie, that was difficult to swallow. But I just thought from the very start of us dating and with this knowledge that he was going away that I had made my decision to do this MA and I was obviously going to see that through because I had committed to it. And you can't change your mind once you've made a decision like that, right??

Wrong. Of course you absolutely can.

Do you want to know one of the best things about being twenty-one, with the privilege of being able to live with family rent-free, having no children, no husband, no mortgage and it being the twenty-first century? You can easily change your mind. You can make mistakes and then correct them. You can try new things and make decisions that might seem a bit crazy and not really know what you're doing but go full steam ahead with them anyway. You are not trapped in any one direction.

Revolutionary, I know.

But two months ago, I could not for the life of me get my head around that. I was anxious and miserable for a few weeks and felt so lost, not realising that it was because my eyes had suddenly been opened to the fact that, you know what, I could actually do this travelling thing that I've always wanted to do. I wouldn't have to wait another year and I could actually do it now. And I could try to make it work with this boy who I really, really like and want to be with, whose plans kind of fit in with what I had originally wanted to do with this year. But I was so scared of changing my mind, of what people would think, that for a few days I let myself be a ball of anxiety refusing to acknowledge that I had a choice to make in front of me.

That is madness. In hindsight, I can't believe that at that point I was considering spending a year of my life doing something that no longer appealed to me at all and that would cost me an arm and a leg just because I was scared of what other people would think. When you hit your twenties you've spent almost your entire life being conditioned to think that life is highly structured and that you have to know what you're going to do after what's right in front of you and always be working towards the next thing. It's how the education system works. But it's not how life works. And if you are lucky enough to be in a position like I said before where you don't have many responsibilities, now is the time to put yourself first. Now is the time to think about what you really want, and not be afraid of it but to go out and go for it. And I was afraid to do that.

As a Monica, changing your plans last minute, going travelling to the other side of the world and not really knowing what it's going to be like when you get there and committing to a new long-distance relationship is far from the done thing. But, I have finally (for the moment) stopped caring about what people may think - and, side note: nobody I have told about my new plans has been anything but thrilled for me at finally getting to live what has been a dream of mine for years. And if they hadn't been then (unless it was because of genuine concern) screw them. Whatever I thought the 'done thing' was is just not in the slightest worth doing solely for the reason that it is the 'done thing' or because I was afraid to stray from that.

And so I have learnt that this period of my life is this amazing time in which I'm not tied down in any way and that I can go out, explore and try new things and live a life that isn't structured in the way it has been up until now, but that's one I've been wanting to experience for the longest time.

I am *so* lucky to have such supportive people around me and to have realised that I have the freedom to make decisions like this and, in case you needed to hear it, I wanted to share today that you have every right to change your mind and that you are not trapped on one path. Obviously that is hugely dependent on privilege and on personal circumstances but, if you have that privilege, by all means make the most of it. I am grabbing my freedom with both hands and, while I'm still a bit scared of what's to come over the next few months, I could not be more excited for this next chapter and to see where it takes me.

I also think it's important to note that even if changing your mind turns out to be terrible, you can change it back again. There's such a fear surrounding changing your mind which has caused a belief that you have to be so sure of whatever decision you're making. But life is not always that simple, circumstances change and you can only plan so far ahead. I might hate travelling and want to come straight back. I don't think that will happen, but you never know. If it does, it won't be the end of the world and I'll still have learnt some huge life lessons from it.

So know that it is ok to change your mind - the world won't stop turning, if it's a decision that's right for you the people who matter will be nothing but happy for you, and your twenties are the time to explore, change your mind and make a million mistakes. And I definitely plan to do just that.
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