On Taking Risks, Following Dreams, & Moving to London

Gates to Buckingham Palace

Today is Tuesday, and for the first time in two years I didn’t wake up and go to work. I didn’t hit snooze five times, scroll through Twitter until the last minute possible, run three minutes late out the door and smoothly make a buzzer beater into my office. I didn’t fret over my outfit being conservative enough for corporate America (the cape blazer didn’t go over well), miraculously avoid the Chik fil A breakfast in the break room, and I didn’t settle into my comfortable routine with my work friends that have become my salvation from the day to day office minutiae.

You see, Friday was my last day at my job in my little cubicle home that sometimes too much resembled Office Space, and to the surprise of many (sometimes even myself) I’m moving to London for grad school next week. Well, actually, not everyone was surprised because this gypsy attitude (ugh I hate that oh I’m such free-spirited millennial, yay wanderlust cliche), this somewhat impulsive and very BIG move for life experience over stability is not entirely out of character.

The day after graduating from Arizona State, I packed my life into a UHaul and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in entertainment PR. After achieving that goal and assisting an A-list publicist for Oscar winning actors, I decided that even the love of my job couldn’t overcome depression, my own self-doubt, and the soul sucking effect of the Hollywood scene. Almost as quickly as I chose to move to LA, I again decided to cram my life into boxes and return home to the Midwest. I had no idea what I wanted to do for my career, but at that point I knew if I couldn’t achieve a rock-star job, I could at least achieve some personal happiness while surrounded by family and friends.

That cozy feeling of home restored me, and soon I regained my sense of self-worth, positive outlook and that Midwestern belief that you truly can make your own happiness. Once that space was filled, however, a different hole appeared, or perhaps just became more noticeable. While I enjoyed many things about the sales job I fell into here at home, little by little cracks started to appear in the edifice. I started to question my motivations and what truly made me happy in my work. Could I help people? Well, some days yes, but my career relied on lots of money motivation, as most sales jobs fairly do.  I realized that, while I’d like a certain lifestyle, I also have artistic, cultural and intellectual needs that need to be nurtured and grown. Simply, money isn’t all that motivates me, and I’ve been longing for the fulfillment I get out of something creative like blogging, except beyond just a hobby for nights and weekends. (Sidenote: I realized that I’m very lucky to be able to take this world-view and not everyone can afford to be motivated by things other than money. I’m just speaking from my own situation and place of privilege).

So, this is where London came in. During my first visit in 2003, I immediately was entranced by the city. Long after my family had fallen asleep, I’d sit up in our hotel room, staring out at Big Ben and the city lights, sure I was missing out on something exciting happening.  That energy stayed with me, and when I visited again in 2014, I again fantasized about moving there.  It seemed the perfect mix of the historical, multicultural, and cosmopolitan. Still possessed by the negativity of LA, though, I was beyond considering silly childhood dreams and tossed that idea quickly aside.

Brother and I in front of Big Ben in 2003My brother and I in London in 2003. Notice I’m wearing the pinnacle of middle school fashion: A North Face jacket and Paul Frank t-shirt.

Finally, after taking care of my attitude and returning home, I revisited the dream and researched it more seriously. I’ll probably go more into the logistics of my move on another day when I’m not feeling so philosophical, but after looking at applying to jobs, I decided to apply to one year master’s programs, as attaining a student visa is not nearly as impossible as getting a company to sponsor your work visa. More importantly, the program I was accepted to is relevant to my career aspirations, and I think will allow me to pivot toward a creative life again that will fulfill me not just monetarily, but in my heart and soul.

Also, I think a one year program affords me the opportunity to “test” the city and see if it’s somewhere I’d thrive beyond a vacation or middle-schooler’s daydream. LA taught me that visiting somewhere or seeing it on an episode of The Hills or Entourage is very different than living there on an entry-level budget, so for London I’ve put my British Lauren Conrad fantasies away and truly want to size up the city before a more long-term commitment.

Even if I end up hating living there, I’ve arrived at a mindset where I can accept this outcome and have no regrets. Trust me, it took a while, and I’ve had several nights tossing in bed with anxiety over student loans and “not making it” in a new city again. Like so many of my friends I’ve feared that I’m somehow “behind” in life because I haven’t stayed at the same company since graduation or gotten engaged, or whatever those invented societal expectations of life milestones are. It sounds so simple, but if it doesn’t work, then so what? I’ll move somewhere else. I’ll have a relevant graduate degree from a top university and a much richer life experience. Experience that will force me to grow as a person, get outside of my suburban, privileged American bubble and expand my world view.

My mantra has become “There are no failures, just lessons,” and I’ve realized at the ripe old age of 26 that my life doesn’t have to follow a grand pre-destined path that I mapped out as an overachieving high schooler in between National Honor Society meetings and AP classes.

So, I’m moving to London in almost a week. I’m going to savor every minute of it and hopefully share the highs, lows and day to day life as an American in the UK with you. Maybe I’ll love every minute of it, find a job and marry my own Prince Harry. Maybe I’ll love it, but not be able to find a job to sponsor my visa. Or maybe I’ll decide I loved  the experience, but living there is just not for me, so I’ll find a job back in the States. No matter what the outcome, I’ll share it with you here, and I won’t have failed. I’ll have learned.

There are no failures, just lessons; inspirational quote

 

If you gotten this far, thank you for taking the time to read this. It’s tough to feel vulnerable, but I’m hoping to get better about sharing more personal topics. Please leave any feedback in the comments, especially if you have any experience moving abroad or places I must visit in London and the UK. Thank you again!

Linking Up With:

Wanderful Wednesday hosted by Lauren of Lauren on Location, Van of Snow in Tromso, Isabel of The Sunny Side of This and Marcella of What a Wonderful World. Click on the button below to check out more great travel content!

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What to Know Before You Visit London

London is one of my favorite cities in the world, and should be added to the top of your travel list. I’ve been there twice now and still feel like I’ve barely cracked the surface of all there is to experience, do, and see in the cultural and historic epicenter. Through my visits, I’ve made mistakes including getting lost on the tube when I was 12 and packing the wrong currency. Because of these rookie mishaps, I’ve gathered some top tips to know before you visit the beautiful English capital. Learn from my mistakes and be sure to check out my top tidbits to know before you visit Londontown below.

1. Pack an Umbrella
Unless you are visiting during the few gloriously sunny days of the year, you are going to see rain while you’re in London. Luckily, rain showers tend to be light and sporadic, so don’t worry about a steady downpour. Pack an umbrella (a brolly, if you will) small enough to fit in your purse, so you can continue sightseeing uninterrupted in the event of a surprise shower.

2. Don’t pack rain boots
While you should definitely pack an umbrella, rain boots are unnecessary. Rain isn’t usually going to be heavy enough to cause large puddles or mud, so boots will be cumbersome and waste much needed suitcase space. To protect your shoes, try a water repellent spray like this one.


3. Download City Maps 2 Go
London is sprawling and, frankly, has quite a nonsensical layout. You’ll think your headed in the right direction on a grid, just to find yourself stumbling down a dead end street designed in the Middle Ages. I didn’t purchase a short term phone plan while visiting, so I felt lost without access to data and Google Maps. City Maps 2 Go came to the rescue! Download this app before you go, save locations, and you’ll be able to access and search a map of London even without cell phone service.

London from above. Gorgeous, but easy to get lost in.

4. Drive (and walk) on the right (correct) side the road!
Cars drive on the other side of the road than America  (so the left hand side), and most people walk on the other side as well. Luckily, when crossing the street, there are handy signs telling you which way to look, so you aren’t hit square on by a double decker bus. Similarly, if you’re taking the Tube, walk on the left hand side of the escalator and stand on the right. Don’t be that annoying tourist and stand in the way of rushed commuters


5. Get out of London
You could easily spend a whole week or two exploring London and still not see all the highlights, but I also recommend getting out of the city one day during your stay. There are many classic British towns within an hour or two’s train ride, so why not explore the English countryside when it’s within reach? I visited Bath (read more about my visit here), and the enchanting storybook town stole my heart and was one of my favorite days in England. Either book a train ticket on your own, rent a car, or join a guided tour through a company like London Walks. Bath, the Cotswolds, York, Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford, Cambridge and Brighton are all perfect for a day trip.


6. Take an open bus tour the first day
In some cities like Rome (read about that negative experience here), these open bus tours can be a waste of time and money. In London, however, we found the tour to be great for getting out bearings and the lay of the land. We used London Sightseeing and had a clean bus, great choice of seating and informative in-person guide. Do it on your first day when you’re jet lagged and would prefer relaxing in a breezy open bus to walking everywhere. You’ll also be able to get around much easier during the rest of your trip and know the basics of the top sights.



7. Museums, parks and markets are FREE
London is an amazing city, but boy is it expensive. Lodging, flights and food can set you back massive amounts of cash, so save some money by visiting its FREE attractions. Most of its famous museums (the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, the Tate, etc), are free as are its picturesque parks. Check out a list of the best parks here and its free museums here. You should also explore its many markets including Borough Market on the south bank, Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill and Camden Market in Camden Town. They’re free to browse and have many inexpensive wares and food for sale.

Lazing about in one of London’s many public outdoor spaces. The chairs were free, and I could have spent the whole afternoon relaxing in the sun and people watching.



8. Get used to sparkling water
You may not care, but I’m a diva and love my still water. The Europeans, including the English, on the other hand are fans of sparkling water. If you have a preference, just check the labels before buying bottled water – I made this mistake a few times and my peasant taste buds couldn’t get accustomed to the elegant carbonated option. Alas, I prefer my simple American beverages.

9. They use pounds, not Euros
This seems like another no-brainer, but my mom and I managed to make this mistake during our last trip. We assumed because England is in the EU that they accepted Euros, but we found out the hard way when trying to pay for snacks outside of Westminster Abbey and being promptly corrected. Oops! If you’re doing a multi-city tour of Europe, be sure to trade your Euros for pounds before making it to the UK and avoid being left cash-less.

10. Must-know pronunciations
To avoid looking too much like a tourist, learn the correct pronunciation of major landmarks and locations.

Thames River = The Tems
Leicester Square = Lester Square
Warwick = War-ick
Greenwich = Gren – itch
Buckingham Palace = Bucking-em Palace (not like ham as in pig!)

See you’re already on your way to being a proper Brit!


11. Emergency dial is 999!
Hopefully you won’t need to use it, but always good to know how to call for help, should you need it.

Happy travels, my friends! Let me know if you have any other great insider info for London. I love collecting useful tips and tidbits for my next trips there. Thanks for stopping by!

 

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Travel Tuesday: Things to Do in Storybook Bath

Want to escape London for the countryside?  Obsessed with Jane Austen and looking for your own Mr. Darcy? Or maybe your fascinated by ancient Rome? Perhaps, you just want to feel like you’ve fallen into a storybook? Well, look no further than the rolling English countryside and town of Bath.
No matter your interests, the beautiful town is sure to capture your imagination.

Only two cities in the world are deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site – Bath is one of them.

I had low-ish expectations when we made a day trip during our vacation to London (how can the countryside top London for goodness’ sake?!), but the day spent in Bath was one of my favorites of the whole trip. This little town is simply that captivating. I wanted to share some tips and wisdom from our journey, so you’re sure to stop by this idyllic spot during your next trip to Great Britain.

HOW TO GET THERE

From London, the easiest way to get to Bath is by train, as ride time is only 1.5 hours. We went via a London Walks Tour, and they booked our train via Paddington Station for us. The tour cost 52 pounds, and booking a ticket yourself will run 56 pounds at the cheapest, off-peak rate. You can book train tickets here.

Your journey starts in the hustle of London’s morning commute. As soon as you arrive at the Bath Spa station, however, you are merely steps away from feeling like you’ve stepped back in time. Simply follow the river Avon into town. Try not to get caught under its spell and sidetracked from your destination.
WHAT TO DO

THE ROMAN BATH
Well, you can’t come to Bath and skip the baths can you? The ruins are so well preserved and are formed by a natural hot spring. You can learn all about the baths history and Roman public bathing and socializing in the museum and then tour the actual baths. They date back to 70 AD! You, unfortunately, cannot actually take a bath. Tickets are 14 pounds for adults and 9 pounds for children. Book here.

You can also visit a modern day spa (The Thermae Bath Spa), that still utilizes the mineral rich water of the hot springs.

 

TAKE A RIVER CRUISE
The river Avon runs through the city of bath, so why not explore the city by boat? You can take one of the many river cruise options and bask in the city’s historical sights and wildlife from the water. What better way to spend a sunny day then lazing about the countryside on a boat? Options include a bespoke canal charter, a narrowboat, or even a floating restaurant. Check out several boat options here.

 

 

VISIT THE ABBEY
This late Medeival church has a Victorian interior designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott. It’s nestled on the Kingston Parade, an open square surrounded by benches that can be filled by tour groups, street performers or festivals. You can pop in the Abbey for one of their services or festivals or explore its gorgeous exteriors. For a more thorough discovery, you can take a “Tower Tour” and even trek the 212 steps to the top of its tower. A steep hike, but it could be worth it for some of the best panoramic views of Bath. Tour tickets are 6 pounds for adults and 3 pounds for children. Book here. 

TAKE A WALKING TOUR
As I mentioned, we visited Bath on a day trip through Walks of London. This is a great option if you want to cram in the town’s highlights in a day’s time. We toured the Austen sights, the Roman Baths and walked the majority of the main town. It was a long day, scheduled to the minute, and we had about one hour of free time to grab lunch. If you want to explore on your own or take in Bath at a more leisurely pace, book your own tickets, but the guided tour was perfect for us tourists with poor senses of direction and no access to Google Maps. Plus, our knowledgeable tour guide, in the “you can’t miss it” red hat, taught us almost everything we could care to know about Bath.

 

 

 

STEP INTO THE WORLD OF JANE AUSTEN
Prolific author and hero of independent women everywhere, Jane Austen lived in Bath for several years and set Persuasion and Northanger Abbey in the city. In Jane’s time, Bath was a fashionable health resort town. You can even see where she would have socialized in the Assembly Rooms. These rooms hosted many balls like the ones described in her novels. The chandeliers are original, and were thankfully removed before the Rooms were bombed during World War II.  We also stopped by the Royal Theatre, that Jane frequented with her parents.  You can still take in a performance there, if you’d like.

If you’re a big fanatic, you can also visit the Jane Austen Centre or join the Jane Austen Festival that happens every September. It’s ten full days of all things Jane, so let’s hope you are a diehard fan.

The Assembly Rooms and Theater Royal.

EAT AT SALLY LUNN’S
One of the oldest houses in Bath, Sally Lunn’s is home to a tea house and the birthplace of “Bath buns.” These regional delicacies are a cross between bread and cake and are supposedly very similar to brioche. All I know is, I have yet to meet a carb I don’t like, so be sure to wander around the corner from the Abbey, pop in and give these cheeky buns a go.

TAKE IN THE STORYBOOK MAGIC
I could have simply wandered Bath for hours and taken in its architecture and natural charms – free of charge. Visit the attractions I’ve mentioned above, or just stroll through Bath’s streets, rolling hills or gardens. It’s easy to forget you’re in the 21st century, and you’re bound to long for your own Mr. Darcy to round a corner. We visited on a clear summer’s day, and the Royal Crescent was full of tourists and Bath residents feasting in the afternoon sun and the city’s storybook energy. They had the right idea.

 

 

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DISCLAIMER:
This is not a sponsored post and all products were purchased with my money. Affiliate links are occasionally used when linking products. This gives me a small percentage of a purchase total through these links. This does not affect the price you pay for items through these links. All ShopStyle & AirBnB links are affiliate links.

 

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