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In the past six years I have moved over ten times. Five of those moves have been in the last two years. I have become an expert at packing and an inadvertent minimalist, continuously avoiding buying many new possessions because it will be less to pack in the next move. Whilst these moves have coincided with some of the most exciting times of my twenties; travelling, moving to Amsterdam and leaving the job I detested, in the past year I have had a longing to plant my roots, to settle down and to find a place to call my own.

I have no problem with renting. I do not necessarily think renting is “money wasted” as we humble renters are repeatedly told by the conceited home-owners, but I do dream of being able to put a nail in the wall without asking the landlord first. I long to have my own furniture that isn’t a dark brown colour, lighting that is actually cosy rather than decrepit and a sofa that doesn’t make guests rub their bottoms in pain after they have flopped onto it at the end of the night and found the sofa is more wood than cushion.

I know, I know. It’s shallow, but there you are. My point is, that this gap has not been helped by social media. As I gently scroll through some rose-tinted squares of house interiors, instead of inspiration I feel a sting of self-doubt. I feel like I am the only one renting a 50m2 apartment, instead of having purchased my own baroque and beautifully light, plant emporium with florid walls of different sized art prints. I have a feeling of under-achieving, that somehow, I should have been able to afford a mortgage once I left university, on-top of a growing pile of student-loan.

The reality, of course is very different. I discovered after wailing out loud to my sister-in-law that my brother and his wife “were so lucky have their own place” that in actual fact, they felt rather envious of me, being free of any responsibilities and being able to pack up and move to another country without the financial anchor of a mortgage. Friends who have broken up since buying a house together have said their housing situation is giving them serious anxiety. Other friends have confessed that they have had financial help from parents for the down payment of their place. Everyone is on an entirely different path due to different circumstances  and the worst thing we can do for our own state of mind is compare ourselves to others.

At the moment, housing is my vice. For some, it may be scantily-clad fitness models that affect our body confidence (let’s face it who hasn’t been there), friendship group sizes that far surpass our own, travelling photos, jobs that look better than ours, people who have children, people who don’t have children. We can all look at each other’s lives and see something we don’t have. My boyfriend recently told me in all earnest that he has the same feeling when he sees photos of someone who has recently got a new puppy or a very handsome dog. Hey, we all have our weakness.

Self-comparison is an inevitable part of the human condition, and never before has it been so easy to access “real” people’s lives. Through social media, we can be in the knowledge of a huge amount of information of someone we have never met. We can get hooked living voyeuristically through someone else’s experience. If that is your bag and you don’t feel crap afterwards then that is great. We owe a responsibility to ourselves though, to self-preserve. We need to be aware of our mood after we’ve spent time on social media, and look out certain triggers that make us feel sad or depressed. Maybe self-preservation means giving ourselves a bit of time offline (Venetia Falconer is a great advocate of weekend digital detox). Maybe it means unfollowing/ muting certain accounts. Maybe it just means giving ourselves a good shake afterwards and telling ourselves  that that photo of the beautiful dining table with a group of smiling friends all crowded round for dinner, is just one part of the story. The person behind that photo probably has a million things they are personally insecure about and would envy about us. Let’s be kind to ourselves.  Let’s see the glass as half full and being grateful for all of the things we have accomplished no matter how insignificant they seem.

Let’s stop comparing and start and focusing  on everything we do have,  and giving ourselves a well-deserved pat on the back.

 

 

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We talk until the cows come home to roost about the effect of  meat consumption on the planet. We discuss in length the impact of plastics on our oceans and we rightly shame the fashion industry and refuse to buy new clothes. Hell, we’ve even started to pick a fight with avocados and almond milk. The one thing, I have noticed us eco-warriors don’t seem to want to talk about quite so loudly is aviation.

Since the Wright brothers invention in 1903 we have been perfecting the aircraft. It is now possible to acquire a “hotel suite” on the fancy Emirates Boeing flights and, if you please, a spa shower, a fully flattened bed that is turned down for you and a separate bar area in case you want a little nightcap. It really is one of the greatest human inventions, and even conceptualising something so heavy being able to fly very long distances at such great heights, is pretty phenomenal. It is no wonder that we are not flocking to cut out fast flights quite as quickly as we are cutting out fast fashion. As a form of transport, it is extremely convenient and has never been so economically accessible.  Thirty years ago, you would need to be on a pretty good wage packet to take a flight, these days flying can often be the cheaper option, particularly for short distance flights (Amsterdam to London Eurostar I am looking at you here).

 

Nevertheless, using an aircraft, because of its carbon emissions, has one of the most detrimental effects on our planet.  It is no wonder that aviation is creating a huge carbon footprint. Global tourism now counts for 8% of carbon emissions. According to drawdown you could drive 336 cars from Heathrow to Edinburgh for the same CO2 as one full plane to the same destination. It is contentious topic. We want to be environmentally friendly, but we also want to see the world in as little time as possible. Since moving to a rookie eco-warrior lifestyle I have really tried to clamp down on my flying and only fly when I really need to. Living in Amsterdam has not helped this, but for our next trip to the UK we are taking a train and we try to combine as many things as possible in our trips to result in less travelling.  Whilst skipping the flight is definitely one of the greener things to do, there are some great ways we can reduce our tourist emissions:

  • Do you really need that trans-Atlantic flight? Go local and explore somewhere closer to home. This could be a shorter flight or maybe you could even take the train, particularly if it is within Europe.
  • If you do need to take a flight see if you can invest in bio-fuel. Bio-fuels are combustible fuels created from recently living plants as opposed to fossil fuels. Biofuels are a good way to off-set your emissions, and lots of airlines are now offering them. There is an argument that the land used for biofuel is taking over land for crops, so be aware of this. Also be careful; eating a salad after your burger does not cut out the unhealthy burger
  • Get in touch with nature. Look into booking a camping/ glamping trip, or do some research on some eco-friendly hotels in the area. Ask your hotel what they are doing to reduce their impact, the more you ask the more they feel the pressure to make a change
  • Wear sunscreen. But make sure it’s a biodegradable one. That film of oil you see floating on the water after you have been for a dip? That can be very harmful for the marine life and can result in coral bleaching. Look for “reef friendly” or biodegradable sunscreens.
  • Don’t go out and buy a whole new wardrobe for your holiday. Instead look at what you have got, look into secondhand shops and even ask friends if you can borrow their clothes. Let’s be honest, these are clothes you can probably only wear for a few months of the year
  • Avoid single-use plastics at all costs. Say no to straws with those cocktails, take your own Tupperware and reusable cups and take a tote bag when shopping
  • Eat local; eat foods that are sourced locally, and better yet have a meat-free holiday!
  • Go for a nice beach walk, and pick up plastic on the way. Imagine if everyone picked up one handful of plastic when they travelled and stopped it going directly into the ocean.

 

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My bathroom cabinet is one of the things I am slowly (and stubbornly) trying to minimise.

I’m a sucker for a good skincare product. I think beauty products make us all (including my heterosexual boyfriend) feel a little more shiny. It is these small luxuries that lift can us in our moments of despondency, that can make a terrible day slightly better. A pump of Drunk Elephant face cream can make all the difference when confronting a day requiring you to rise before the sun, a squirt of Neom bath oil can really take the edge off a night-shift, a May Lindstroom face pack can calm post-party social anxieties and be our arsenal for the coming week.

I will never eradicate these precious minutes of self-love. These are my treats to myself, and as someone who does not live a particularly indulgent life, as someone who continuously strives to reduce their environmental impact, I feel justified that a couple of my pieces of my skincare routine come in plastic packaging. It is important for me to keep them, they is a little bit of what makes me happy.

I have, however, found myself swapping a few things out and hardly noticing they have gone. They have saved me time and money and have made my bathroom cabinet a little less cluttered. Here are the swaps I have found useful:

  1. Swapping my disposable razors for a reusable one. My reusable razor is definitely sharper than the disposable razors, so if you get one yourself take care when you first use it. Forget the environmental impact, I have saved so much money/time with my reusable razor (no last-minute nipping out to the shops to de-fuzz before the party).
  2.  Reusable cotton pads. I have said it before and I will say it again, if you haven’t already got these then what are you waiting for? I have four, which last me throughout the week until washing day (but I don’t wear makeup everyday) and then I just bung them in the washing machine. Look for organic cotton, particularly if they are going on your face or hemp. Most importantly, ditch the face wipes, it’s 2019 people.
  3. Bamboo toothbrushes. 8 million tonnes of plastic are ending up in our oceans, and plastic toothbrushes take around 100 years to decompose, compared with 6 months for a bamboo toothbrush. Need I say more?
  4. The menstrual cup. Seriously. Ladies. I have written about this before but the menstrual cup just makes sense. I haven’t bought a pack of tampons in a couple of years (kerching!) and my period just seems to be more manageable and seems to be over more quickly.
  5.  Swapping my shower gel to soap. It’s cheaper, it’s (mostly) package-free and bars of soaps contain way less harmful chemicals than most shower gels. I am still to find a good shampoo bar (I will try the Lush bars next) but I will not give up.
  6. The cotton bud. Using the cotton buds to clean our ears is apparently actually the opposite of what we should be doing, as the wax is technically the cleaner and cotton buds can really damage your ears. We have swapped ours to wooden cotton buds ( I know these are not perfect) but there is a new Danish initiative called LastSwab which is a reusable cotton bud (I would be more inclined to use this for makeup than my ears).
  7. Have a makeup-free day. I’ve started wearing less and less makeup to work with a couple of days make-up free. It gives my skin a chance to breathe and has saved me money and packaging as I use less makeup. I have to say this attitude is helped by the lack of makeup worn by Dutch women, and the more natural approach my the Dutch community. Of course, if this is not something you personally feel comfortable with, I get it.

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27015056_Unknown.JPGWhat are my clothes made of? Which textiles should we avoid? What materials are derived from which products? It is no wonder that we are all getting overwhelmed with the jargon on our care labels.

I have created the below post to try to bust what the names mean, how sustainable they are, and most importantly, gives you the information to make your own decision when you’re next looking into the composition of materials in something.

Polyester:

One of the main players in our threads. A lightweight, and durable material that is cheap to produce. Polyester is actually derived from petroleum (crude oil), and is environmentally harmful as it is energy intensive to make and most polyester is not biodegradable. Polyester is also a plastic, that’s right a plastic. Synthetic materials like polyester are one of the main contributors to micro-plastics.  So, ideally you do not want polyester this in your clothing. However, there are lots of companies now using recycled polyester within their clothing, so look out for this.

 Cotton:

Cotton is a very thirsty crop which makes this natural material pretty water intensive. There is a lot of ethical considerations with cotton. There are huge issues with the use of pesticides around this crops and farmers dying from overuse of pesticides. The pesticides are also very damaging for the wildlife and soil. Always look out for organic cotton and for the Better Cotton Initiative (most clothing companies, if partnered with BCI will put this on their hangtags). You can also extend this to all your cotton materials; denim and bed linen for example.

 Linen:

Derived from flax plant. Linen is three times stronger than cotton and pretty durable, a nightmare to iron as it wrinkles easily. Look for organic linen. Linen uses less water than cotton, but look for organic linen to avoid the pesticides that are used in the process. On the whole, this material is more expensive due to the process being quite long to turn flax seed into linen, but the flax plant retains C02 (this is a good thing) and naturally produces soil quality.

Viscose

A semi-synthetic material also known as rayon. It feels a bit like silk, but slightly sturdier and is apparently derived from trees, the cellulose from these trees is combined with manmade chemicals to create the material. This manufacturing process is very pollutive and wastes 70% of the tree and the chemicals used are very harmful to textile workers. Viscose  is actually made on such mass (and very cheaply) today that it is not environmentally friendly.

Nylon

An entirely synthetic material (one of the first). The process to make nylon is very water intensive and creates nitrous oxide (terrible for the environment). It is very durable but unfortunately nylon is a plastic that made from crude oil and goes through an intensive production process. It has a very long life (as far as we know it is not biodegradable) so look for recycled nylons as an alternative or even better, check out Econyl .

 Leather

Leather is a tough cookie. From an ethical standpoint it is horrendous. Leather is also not always a byproduct of meat (there are lots of differing viewpoints around this). Leather usually comes from animals that are killed solely for their skins. It is probably more likely that meat would be a byproduct of the leather production. Farmers can make a lot more money from leather than they can meat. Because leather is “natural” it is biodegradable, but the processes to dye leather (tanning) are usually pretty chemical intensive.  The good news is that there are lots of great alternatives out there; Pinatax (pineapple leather) apple leather, rubber, tree bark leather. The list is endless. However, if you are looking for a vegan leather do your research first and make sure you are not just buying plastic. Or, of course one of the most sustainable things you can do is buy secondhand leather.

Silk

Silk is natural and biodegradable- it comes from the cocoon of silk worms but the process is cruel and sometimes involves boiling the worms inside their cocoon so as not to break the silk fibres. The production of silk is laborious and has been very strongly connected to child labour. As silk is mostly produced in China and India, it has probably had to travel quite some miles to reach you. There are, however some methods of silk which do not harm the silk moth/worm such as Peace Silk, but these are more expensive. There are now some vegan alternatives to silk such as Bolt Threads (silk made from yeast)  or Art Silk ( a silk made from bamboo).

Wool

Wool is another tricky one. A lot of vegans won’t touch it, as there is a lot of controversy around shearing animals and the treatment that these animals get when sheared. Wool is, however, biodegradable, durable, very warm and long-lasting. Cashmere wool has been condemned recently for the degradation caused to the land by rearing too many goats, the treatment of the goats and the pressure on the cashmere goat herders to produce the cashmere wool at a low price. When buying brand new woollen items, look out for standards on these wool items such as Responsible Wool Standard, ZQ Merino Standard and the Soil Association Organic Standards.

As always, for the more sustainable approach the best thing seems to be to scour vintage shops and buy secondhand. To me it seems like the obvious choice, we have enough clothes in the world now! I hope this guide has given you the information you need to make your own decision and just give you an idea of the components of the materials in your wardrobe.

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Whilst in Sri Lanka, the bombings of Easter Sunday took place. We were very fortunate to have left the area of this horrendous act by this time but it felt really weird to be continuing our holiday at this time. The reason I want to write this blog post is because it was still one of the best places I have ever been and such a wonderful country. I hope that you enjoy the blog post and that are able to visit Sri Lanka one day.

What a country. Such diverse landscape. From rolling green hills that remind me of Scotland to sandy, tropical beaches. This is the itinerary we took around the country. The only thing I would have changed is to have stayed in Dambulla for one night instead of two, and I feel like we managed to see a lot of the country lot without being overly exhausted or travelling too much.

Sri Lanka:

  • Population: 21 million
  • Language: Sinhala, Tamil and English
  • Capital: Columbo (commercial) & Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte,

What to pack (aside from the usual):

  • Take at least 2 clean t-shirts per day. Sri Lanka is a very hot very humid place and I have never sweated as much as I have during my time there, particularly if you are planning to do any trekking (which you should)
  • A warm jumper. I know it sounds crazy for a country that reaches 40 degrees celsius most year round,  but we were actually really cold in the mountainous area and our guesthouse even lit a fire in the evening
  • A couple of pairs of leggings/ and comfortable trainers and a sports bra (ladies) for the trekking
  • A thin waterproof. This country can be pretty rainy and when it rains, it pours but it is still warm
  • A more conservative swimsuit as well as a bikini (just incase you go swimming in a public area)

Flight time: Roughly 10 hours from Schipol airport. You do need a visa which can be purchased online.

Our first stop was Negombo. We wanted to relax for a couple of nights after the long flight. There are beaches here and whilst not as beautiful as in the South, they are worth a visit. We stayed in a small guesthouse called  Villa Dominikku which I would highly recommend. The owner Dulshan is wonderful and helped us to relax and properly plan our holiday. He also organised the local prices for tuktuks for us as opposed to the tourist price, which saved us a lot of money. For food try rice and curry at Sea View restaurant, samosas, coconut rotti and all the tropical fruit juices. Sonny’s restaurant was also VERY good for fresh and local fish and seafood. I heard great things about Mr Burger (not a burger joint but much more local fried snacks) but unfortunately it was not open when we were there due to the holidays.

 

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We then moved onto Dambulla for two nights. I do not recommend the hotel we stayed in, so I will not include it here and I also think you could spend one night in Dambulla as opposed to two if you wanted more time somewhere else. This area is close to Sigiriya which has a very famous rock that people climb. Try to go in the morning because it gets very hot and it is quite a tough climb. Wear trainers and take plenty of water. Our tuktuk driver actually took us to another rock opposite Sigiriya rock which was a quarter of the price, and was not nearly as crowded and meant we could still see Sigiriya. For food here we went for Sri Lankan curry buffet called Athula restaurant.

 

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Just the sweatiest we have ever been

We then spent 2 nights in Nuwara Eliya. One of my favourite places during the trip. The  verdant landscape is full of tea plantations. The town itself is a bit odd, the temperature is a lot cooler so during colonial times this was where the British liked to escape the heat. This is evident in the tudor-style housing, the British style parks and the post office that looks like it is straight out of a village from the English countryside. We stayed in Misty Mountain hotel, the Sri Lankan owner lives half the year in Australia and was a total dude. From here we hiked to the nearby mountain called leopard rock, and were told only afterwards that leopards still reside here, I tried to act casual about it. You can also do the Horton Plains trek from here but takes an hour in the car to get there. We decided against it as we had had a long car journey the day before. Take a long walk around Pedro’s tea plantations, and head up to Lover’s Leap waterfall. Afterwards, get a tour of the factory and a free cup of tea.  For food here you have to try Indian Summer restaurant, a bit more pricey than the average food in Sri Lanka, but the food was DELICIOUS, like Dishoom delicious.

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We took a wonderful (but cramped ) train journey to Ella that cost us about 70p each. The train goes through the tea plantations and you get the best views as you go through the mountains.

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Ella is a strange one. I recommend staying outside of the town, to avoid the backpackers delight that seems to have taken over the town. If you ignore the touristy town centre, there are some of the most amazing hikes here. We stayed at Lucky Star guesthouse and really enjoyed ourselves. From here you should definitely do the railway walk (it is a tough one so start early) and see the famous Nine Arches Bridge. Truly incredible. For food head to Rotti Hut for some delicious stuffed rotti.

 

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We then went to Udawalawe national park for a safari. We opted for this safari as opposed to Yala national park as we read that this safari was a bit smaller and less busy. We stayed at Sri Lanka has the highest number of wild elephants in the world as well as a number of other animals; mongoose, water buffalo, alligator and monkeys were all spotted on our safari trip (thanks to my incredible eye by the way). There is nothing like seeing an elephant in the wild tucking away a good bit of branch for lunch.

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Finally, we headed to the beaches to Tangalle. We spent four glorious nights here, doing almost nothing except swimming, eating, drinking margaritas and the occasional spa treatment. It was wonderful.

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