AN OPEN LETTER TO MEGHAN MARKLE FROM AN AMERICAN EXPAT

Dear Meghan,

So you’re marrying a Brit and about to embark on the adventure of making a life for yourself in the UK. Congratulations!

As a fellow American who fell for the charms of a subject of the British crown (although not quite so close to the crown as your bloke), allow me to share a few words of advice about living in this green and pleasant land.

First, one of the reasons it is so green and pleasant is because it rains. A lot. I know this is a stereotype of the country, but I do recommend investing in a robust umbrella, even if you’ll never need to carry it yourself. I favour the American brand GustBusters, but the British design company Balios may be a better match for your new position. And it’s not just rain: weather in the UK can politely be described as changeable, and it is worth investing in a wardrobe that takes into account fog, wind, and, on occasion, scorching sun (seriously). Oh, and snow. You may have already gotten a taste of this earlier in the year, but whenever there is a dusting of snow the entire country shuts down, grabs anything that can be used as a sledge, and heads for the nearest hillside.

That word “sledge” brings me to another aspect that I suspect you’re already getting acquainted with. It’s said that America and England are two countries separated by a common language, and I would agree with that to a great extent. Spelling varies with a proliferation of extra Us, and Z (pronounced zed and not zee) transforms into an S when describing how to personalise an organisation or dealing with similarly prefixed words. The letters R and E switch places in words like theatre and centre, and then there’s programme, which I can’t really explain.

And the accents! While that is often part of the appeal of the British to an American audience, they (we) tend to lump everything all together into a general “Downton Abbey” category. But Brits can use accents to pinpoint where someone is from at the city level (and don’t get me started on the class aspects—I recommend Kate Fox’s Watching the English as a cheat sheet for social cues). The voice and dialect are just as important a way to learn about a new person as smells are to a dog … and potentially just as invisible to an outsider. There is a dizzying mix of names and sounds: Brummie, Geordie, Scouse, Mancunian. My recommendation? Start with larger areas: if you can manage to successfully separate and identify Irish, Welsh, Scots, English, Australian, and New Zealand in your first year, you’r doing well, and can consider graduating to regional accents before taking on the final challenge: deciphering Glaswegian.

Over the years, the words themselves have developed different meanings. I have been here nearly 15 years now and I am still learning new vocabulary on a regular basis. The main thing to remember, whether a royal or not, is to never discuss your pants in public. When ordering food, fries are chips, chips are crisps, and cookies are biscuits (and, sadly, buttermilk biscuits are not scones … but do try the scones, preferably with clotted cream and jam). It’s a shopping trolley, not a cart. A sidewalk is the pavement and the pavement tarmac (or simply “road”). It’s not a faucet but a tap. And so on.

Photographs of buildings in the Cotswolds

Speaking of taps, there are a few quirks you may need to get used to. First, mixer taps, where hot and cold water are combined to form warm water from one spout, are considered a radical innovation in building design. My house is practically brand new, being built post-2000 AD, but even it insists on having a hot tap and a cold tap, so your choices when washing your face are either bracing or scalding (it’s called a flannel here and not a wash cloth, by the way).

Then there are showers. There has been a cultural shift from tub to shower within my lifetime, but for some reason the Brits of the past were inordinately fond of baths, and many old buildings (and, if I remember correctly, you’ll be moving into a rather old building) still hold on to these relics, with showers of varying effectiveness bolted above the tub.

You’ll also notice when it comes time to dry your hair that there are no electrical sockets in the bathroom. This is a safety feature and I completely understand it … but it does mean you need to find another place to do your hair or invest in an extension cord. You will also have to get used to remembering to turn the electricity on and off at the socket. And don’t get me started on the fondness for storing the washing machine in the kitchen (although I suspect that your new abode will have a separate utility room or three).

When leaving the house, your choice of how to get from A to B is far broader than in the US, although I am assuming that you will not be taking the tube to get around London. Beyond this pretty efficient metro system (a subway is a pedestrian tunnel under a road), there are also buses and trains. There tends to be a lot of grumbling from the British about public transportation not running on time (and it often doesn’t), but compared to where I grew up in the US, which had zero public transportation options, it’s a decent system and means you don’t really need to own a car unless you want one.

If you do decide to drive/be driven, British roadways may take a little getting used to, and it’s not just because they drive on the left: from largest to smallest there are motorways, A roads, B roads, and country lanes, the latter which my SatNav system tends to insist are the quickest way to travel (they are not). Even when sticking to larger roads, it’s not always possible to get from one point to another easily; for example, covering the 25 miles from my house to my in-laws takes an hour (speaking of which, your in-laws’ house at Highgrove is lovely; I hope you and Harry get to spend some time there). However, I suppose if you’ve had practice on the LA freeway, you will be used to a skewed perspective of time and distance.

Making things a little easier for the American transplant is that distances are given in miles and not kilometres, although gas (petrol) is measured in litres and not gallons. Other measurements may take some getting used to. Inches and feet are still used, but weights are typically given in stones (14 pounds) or kilograms. Time can be given using the 24-hour clock, and dates are typically given before the month.

Photographs of the English landscape

All of these little titbits (yes, that’s the British spelling) can be learned.  Where being married to a Brit—and immersed in a different culture, no matter how similar—can toss up problems is with a lack of a shared background. While much of the popular culture of the US and UK is similar, driven, as you know, by Hollywood films and television, there are a lot of British quotes and characters that are likely to leave you drawing a blank, from childhood staples like the Magic Roundabout and Postman Pat and his black-and-white cat, to the cunning plans of Blackadder’s Baldrick.

Oddly enough, much of these cultural touchstones revolve around the famed British sense of humour. While Monty Python, Mr. Bean, and Benny Hill have been more or less successfully exported around the globe, Father Ted, Fawlty Towers, and the Two Ronnies and their four candles are less well known abroad, but are almost part of the national DNA. And it works both ways. I’ve had to introduce my husband to the joys of Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on first?” sketch, I Love Lucy and the classic Vitameatavegamin and assembly line numbers, and Carol Burnett’s curtain dress, although we did manage to find a common language in Friends.

Pivoting to another area of culture that tends to get overlooked, the British take their holidays seriously, in both senses of the word. After all, “holiday” does double duty in the UK, meaning both “vacation” and “a seasonal event”. There are Bank Holidays, random days off beloved of office workers everywhere (we were rather disappointed not to get one for your wedding, but the Late May Bank Holiday will suffice). Then there’s Christmas, which is celebrated with a secular joy starting around September. The day itself sees much attention paid to the humble Brussel sprout, which is virtually ignored the other 364 days of the year. Then there is the Christmas cracker, a party favour filled with bad jokes, cheap toys, and a paper crown that everyone wears until it tears or you get tired pushing it out of your eyes. Oh, and Father Christmas (a.k.a. Santa) tends to get sherry and a mince pie instead of milk and cookies.

Fireworks occur on 5th November instead of the Fourth of July. While this means that it gets dark early and the festivities can begin sooner, you will likely be freezing and huddling around the bonfire for warmth rather than a sense of celebration. It is also likely that you will spend a lot of time explaining Thanksgiving. “Thanksgiving is bigger than Christmas, right?” is a question I’ve been asked more than once by British friends and colleagues. This causes me to imagine a ranked list of holidays: Christmas at the top, Arbor Day at the bottom, and perhaps Presidents’ Day somewhere in the middle While Black Friday sales have crossed the pond and taken root, it still takes time to describe the potent concoction of pilgrims and Indians, family and friends, food and football, and their hold on the American psyche.

The pilgrims remind me of the final topic I wanted to mention, and I admit it’s the elephant in the room: immigration. What I find odd is that if you were to ask the average person on the street, neither you nor I are likely to be considered immigrants. I’m not sure why when we most definitely are according to the dictionary definition of the word. I tend to use the word “expat” because it has less baggage and there is an element of choice in it, but there’s no getting around that you are considered a foreigner by the government. My assumption is that you will need to go through the same hoops as any spouse: a two-year temporary visa (what I call the probationary wife stage), then you can apply for indefinite leave to remain after taking the Life in the UK test, which tests whether you can memorise information that no person born in Britain actually knows or needs to know to function on a day-to-day basis (actual practice question: How many children and young people up to the age of 19 live in the UK?). Each stage of the process will cost a great deal of time and money.

So, is it all worth it? Even without the addition of HRH to my name, I can say, without a doubt, YES. Providing you’re marrying the right person (I did, and I hope you are too), the rest of the country is a bonus.

History is written on the land in a way that, for an American, is both novel and exciting. It is a place where you can stumble over the distant Neolithic at places such as Stonehenge and Avebury, see the outposts of the Roman Empire at Hadrian’s Wall or Bath Spa, visit medieval castles in the Welsh or Scottish borders, experience the luxury of stately homes and gardens (admittedly you may get a slightly more privileged view than the average National Trust member), and enjoy the technological and scientific marvels provided by the Victorian age and beyond.

Then there’s the natural beauty. The compactness of the country belies the sheer variety of landscapes: ancient woodlands, rugged coasts, moors, mountains, and gently rolling hills can all be found within its borders. Added to this is the olde worlde charm of thatched cottages, black-and-white timber framed buildings, and dry-stone walling that dot the countryside. The sights of London are just as enthralling as when Samuel Johnson made his famous proclamation.

It’s a country of learning and literature, having given the world Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, and Dahl. As an introvert, I feel right at home with the British reserve and stiff upper lip, but the modern Brits are generally a pretty friendly bunch. And politics? Well, nobody’s perfect. The colonialism of the past and Brexit of the present are of course deserving of the serious attention they deserve, but that’s something you can catch up on after the honeymoon.

I have to confess that I will not be watching your wedding tomorrow. Instead, I will be out with my own husband enjoying the best of what my patch of the UK has to offer, but I just wanted to officially welcome you to your new country – you picked a good one.

With best wishes,
Elaine

Wedding Photographs

PS: Thank you for selecting Surfers Against Sewage as a charity recipient for your wedding donations! As someone who has been battling against litter in my own community for the past several years, anything that helps draw attention to marine rubbish and littering in general is much appreciated. Could I ask a teensy-weensy little favour, from one American to another? Please use your position to advocate for behaviour change policies that will help break the country’s litter habit. The UK is a beautiful country, but some of its residents need to be reminded of that.

PPS: And if you can do anything to encourage people to use reusable water bottles and coffee cups, that would be marvellous, thanks!

PPPS: The answer is 15 million.

FIRST!

 

I don’t know when or why the tradition began of gracing a website’s comment section with “First”. It’s something that I’ve always found it a bit silly. I mean, it’s not so much a comment as a territorial marker! However, I had my own first moment recently that, while it hasn’t convinced me of the merits of staking a digital claim, has shown me the power of beating the crowds.

After Britain basked in several days of sun and blue skies, I finally had the chance to slip away myself and enjoy it when MrElaineous and I descended on our local National Trust property, the village of Lacock. With its mixture of architecture from across the centuries and historic abbey that served as the location of the first photographic negative (and a few of the Harry Potter films), it is a popular site with locals and tourists alike.

This is a site we know very well, so it was with some surprise that we turned up just before 9:00am to find the visitors’ car park utterly deserted. Considering we usually have to hunt for a spot or head to the overflow parking, this was sheer parking perfection. First indeed!

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Our luck continued as we walked through the village. The coach-loads of tourists that normally fill the streets were absent, and even the residents still  seemed to be asleep or, at the very least, were laying low. It was quite magical to have the village to ourselves, with the golden morning light on the old stones and the most prominent sounds being the local birds making their own territorial claims.

The walk around Lacock is a two-mile circuit that takes visitors past picturesque thatched cottages, along the Avon, through fields, and back to  stunning views of the abbey. We usually joke about needing to “hit the people button” when taking photos here, a desire to remove the crowds and focus on the scenery, but there was no need. While it is usually overrun with day trippers and dog walkers, this day it felt like we had the entire landscape to ourselves.

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As we returned to the village itself at 10:00am, our luck ran out. Cars peppered the lot, and the first influx of sightseers began to make their presence known. Although we were no longer the only people there, it felt like we had been let it on a secret: the early bird may get the worm, but the first visitors get something even better.

CARPE TEMPESTAS

The stereotype of British weather goes something like this: it’s cold, it’s grey, and it rains a lot. There may or may not be fog. And I have to admit the last few weeks have fit that description to a T. Constant drizzle, thunderstorms, and the occasional hailstorm have served to keep me inside, daydreaming of warmer temperatures and drier days.

Because of the tendency of the British weather to live up to its reputation, good weather is an excuse to toss out the to-do list—or at least hit pause—and take advantage of every moment of blue sky and sun. And that’s exactly what I did before the recent deluge. Three perfect days beckoned and it was an absolute joy to get out and about, even if a coat, scarf, gloves, woolly hat, and pair of thermals were required.

First, a trip to the Georgian city of Bath. Having once lived here, I feel I can vouch for its seductive charms, from the buttery stone that glows in the light to its rich historic centre, once home to residents ranging from Romans to Jane Austen. Modern Bath is filled with winding side streets and tempting shops, yet one of the things I rarely did as a former resident was just wander. There was always a reason for being out and about, and errands were carried out with military precision. But on this day there was no real plan. MrElaineous and I had a general goal—plastic-free shopping—but for the most part we just let our feet take us where they wanted, popping into the shops that caught our eye. This is why we now own an hourglass made from an industrial bobbin, an artefact from a bygone age that fits perfectly into the living room, where my decorating style can best be described as 21st-century Victorian study.

Pulteney Bridge: A stone bridge crosses a river in the English city of Bath
A red British telephone box is filled with flowers against a yellow stone background

When the next day dawned bright and clear as well, it was off to one of our favourite local walks, the charming Castle Combe. We last visited as part of the birthdaversary celebrations when we completed a nearly six-mile circuit around the village and surrounding countryside. On this particular day the Castle Combe Racing Circuit was in full swing, and the buzz of motorbikes echoed off the hills. It still made for a lovely walk, giving us the opportunity to see the first signs of spring beginning to appear and testing our memory as we set off without a map or guidebook.

A yellow building with four gables in the English village of Castle Combe
Grey stone cottages line a single street in the English village of Castle Combe

Finally, after three days without hardly a cloud in the sky, let alone rain, it was back to Malmesbury. I wanted to overwrite my earlier memories of struggling through the mud, so with a pair of wellies firmly in place we set off on a two-mile jaunt around the outskirts of the town. Despite the dry weather, it was still muddy (and I have been reliably informed by a local that it always is), but enjoying the historic sights and peaceful river walk under a blue sky more than makes up for this minor inconvenience. Indeed, if living in the UK has taught me one thing, it’s that carpe diem is all well and good, but that you should really carpe tempestas: seize the weather.

Malmesbury, England: A stone bridge crosses a river in the forgeound and a mill building with many windows sits in the background
Malmesbury, England: A large stone abbey and graveyard stand out against a blue sky
A male mallard duck with with bright green feathers on his head

A LITTLE LIGHT READING

Reading list header showing Trinity Library, Dublin

I have found myself thinking about the library of Alexandria lately. It’s usually when I hit the button on Amazon that says “Deliver to Elaine’s Kindle” and I marvel at the fact that the written word, which for thousands of years could only be accessed in certain places by a tiny fraction of the population, is now available on demand, anywhere, at any time.

After all, there has never been a time on our planet when so much information is literally at our fingertips. We can fact check the news and urban myths, see the weather on the other side of the globe, and access a dynamic encyclopedia on a device that weighs less than a deck of cards. Books, once written by hand, can be downloaded at the touch of a button to a laptop, mobile phone, or eReader, and reading is cheaper than therapy for stress relief and better for brain cells than television.

Although I grew up with a love of fiction, much of my current reading material has been more eclectic. Indeed, those who know me are familiar with my tendency to say “Oh, I just read this great book that says …” and then spouting off the latest factoid that caught my attention (sorry about that, I’m trying to stop). I decided to continue to publish an annual list of what I’ve been reading, in part to help me keep track, but also to share some fascinating books that may be overlooked. They’re (mostly) in no particular order, and for full disclosure Amazon Affiliate links are used … but spare a thought for those ancient Alexandrians who could only dream of such easy access to information!

  • Barking up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong (Eric Barker): With its engaging writing style and sound scientific backing, I have to admit this was one of my favourite discoveries of 2017. Barker shows that there is evidence to support conflicting claims about what makes someone successful, then demonstrates to the reader how a balance can be achieved for greater happiness. If you’re looking for a book that is both interesting and uplifting, I highly recommend this one. At the very least, get on over to his website and sign up to his mailing list for a weekly dose of inspiration and information.
  • One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way (Robert Maurer): While I cannot say this book has changed my life, it has changed how I think about things: namely, important goals cannot be achieved overnight! If you want to make long-term, lasting changes, then small and steady really seems to be the way forward. When coupled with Stephen Guise’s Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results, this is a good foundation for making positive changes.
  • Mini Habits for Weight Loss: Stop Dieting. Form New Habits. Change Your Lifestyle Without Suffering (Stephen Guise): Amazon is a clever corporation. They saw I had purchased Better than Before, a book about habits, and recommended this one as well. And I am so glad I fell for their marketing trick as I enjoyed this one so much more than BtB. It has a kaizen-esque vibe (start small) and I really like the underlying philosophy behind it. It can basically be boiled down to choose a small goal and carry it out every day. This might be running in place for 30 seconds or doing one push up (or reading two pages of a book or writing 50 words a day if weight loss isn’t one of your goals). You can of course do more if you want, but the idea is to change your mindset and use the momentum of small wins to carry you forward.  After all, a full year of running in place 30 seconds each day is better than running for 30 minutes three or four times a week if you abandon the latter after a few workouts because it doesn’t fit into your schedule.
  • Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness (Richard Thaler, Cass Sunstein): Finally! This one has been on my should-read list for a while, and the authors winning the Nobel Prize for Economics finally encouraged me to take the plunge. It was an interesting look at the world of “choice architecture” and how careful design regarding defaults and decision making can be used to help people (or for evil … your choice). I still haven’t figured out a way to make not littering easier than littering, but it’s always useful to have a bit more evidence in my arsenal.
  • The Happiness Hypothesis: Putting Ancient Wisdom to the Test of Modern Science (Jonathan Haidt): Improving well-being, a spot of history, and scientific backing all rolled into one book—what’s not to like? While some of the writing is slightly more academic than other books listed here, I found this one to be quite enlightening, and worth a read if you’re looking for ways of better understanding and improving your mood.
  • 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Laura Vanderkam): I wouldn’t exactly call this a time-management book. It’s more about being aware of your time, where it goes, and how you can use it better to achieve your goals. While I greatly enjoyed it overall and would definitely recommend it if you’re trying to figure out how to prioritise your activities, the author doesn’t really discuss the fact that time is not created equal. If you spend a day doing a mentally exhausting job, trying to complete your own project(s) in the evening is not necessarily going to yield the best results. Which brings me to …
  • Two Awesome Hours: Science-Based Strategies to Harness Your Best Time and Get Your Most Important Work Done (Josh Martin): This book fills in some of the gaps of 168 Hours, and is overall a good reminder that (1) multi-tasking doesn’t exist, and (2) be aware of your peak times so you can get your most important work done then, not during the times you’d prefer to be taking a nap.
  • When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing (Daniel Pink): I love the author’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, so queued up his latest book that delves into chronotypes, the importance of harnessing the power of beginnings, middles, and ends, and basically goes beyond what to looking at when is the best time for certain activities. With its engaging writing style and useful summaries, this is a good introduction to the power of timing.
  • Pre-suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade (Robert Cialdini): I am a big fan of the author’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (in fact, I read it again this year), so it was great to see this new one out that also deals with the importance of timing, especially as regards influencing. If you are short on time, however, I’d recommend starting with Influence.
  • Miracle Morning: The 6 Habits That Will Transform Your Life Before 8AM (Hal Elrod): I’ve written about my experience with Miracle Morning before, and in general I still think highly of it. I have to admit I fell off the early-to-rise wagon with the arrival of autumn and darker mornings, but I am hoping that spring will set me back on the right path.
  • The Art of Thinking Clearly (Rolf Dobelli): If you liked Daniel Kahnehahn’s Thinking Fast and Slow, you should enjoy this book that collects various fallacies and biases into one place. Clear, concise writing and bitesize chapters makes this book great for dipping in and out of while commuting or on the loo.
  • Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions (Dan Ariely): I found Predictably Irrational to be a solid companion to Kahnehahn and Cialdini, and one that had me nodding along as he explained the psychology behind seemingly irrational decisions that everyone makes. If you’ve ever wanted why people tend to choose things that go against their own best interest, this is a good book to start with.
  • The Dip: The extraordinary benefits of knowing when to quit (and when to stick) (Seth Godin): The problem with being in the middle of something is that you don’t often know exactly how long this phase will last. The enthusiasm of starting something has worn off, the
    finishing line is not in sight, and you don’t know whether you’ll soon be hitting your stride or hitting a wall. Godin’s book shows how powering through can take you to new heights … but also to be aware that sometimes it’s necessary to abandon ship to stop from going round in circles.
  • The Long Tail: How Endless Choice is Creating Unlimited Demand (Chris Anderson): This is a book that is often cited as a game changer, and its title is regularly used to describe the opportunity offered by digital technology. I found it interesting to an extent, but with of an original publication date of 2006, it already felt out of date. Overall it’s a decent reference, but I would suggest looking for more recent take on the long tail phenomenon.
  • TED Talks: The official TED guide to public speaking: Tips and tricks for giving unforgettable speeches and presentations (Chris Anderson): This was a book that popped up on Amazon as a result of reading The Long Tail, and since I had my own forthcoming talk to give at the time, I decided to give it ago.  I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to give their own powerful presentations, learn what goes on behind the scenes at TED, or is just interested in what some of Anderson’s recommended TED talks are.
  • Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Life (Gretchen Rubin): Occasionally books just don’t work for me and this was one of them. The author’s tone comes across as holier-than-thou, and what she typically describes aren’t habits but behaviours (yes, there is a difference). She lost me with an impassioned defence of diet soda, despite current scientific studies showing that they’re equally as bad (or worse) than regular cola (carbonation alone is even shown to increase calorie consumption). This cherry picking of evidence doesn’t sit well
    with me, so I moved on to Mini Habits, which I would recommend instead.
  • Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway (Susan Jeffers): This is a classic of the self-help genre and there is a good reason for that: it is the one book that I would recommend to anyone feeling a bit stuck. It simultaneously serves as a kick up the backside and a warm hug.
  • Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life (Susan David): Some may find Feel the Fear a tad too New Age-y. In that case, I would recommend Emotional Agility as it is an engaging, practical book grounded in psychology and academic research. If that still seems too airy-fairy for you, may I recommend …
  • The Chimp Paradox (Steve Peters): There’s a very good reason the author is used by a number of athletes to help improve their
    performance: this is another classic that will help you look at your brain and emotions in a completely different way. If neither of the previous two books worked for you with regards to reprogramming troublesome thoughts and breaking out of existing ruts, then this one should do the trick.
  • Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long (David Rock): I loved this book. Rock uses storytelling to get his point across about how the brain works, especially when dealing with problematic work situations. This blend of fact and fiction works incredibly well together to help the reader remember the neuroscience and lessons he is trying to impart.
  • Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice (Matthew Syed): Both this and Gladwell’s Outliers make the point that often what we perceive as talent is in fact the result of hundreds or thousands of hours of practice. But not just any practice or rote activity: it must be deliberate, with feedback, so that improvements can be made. I enjoyed both books, so would recommend reading them back to back to aid in remembering the points made by the authors.
  • Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell): See above.
  • Smartcuts (Shane Snow): First of all, I have no idea why this book is considerably cheaper as a paperback than on Kindle, but if you’re interested in it, get the physical version instead. Second, this is a fun, fascinating read through real-life ways of skipping up the career ladder. Even if you’re happy with your current rung (and quite frankly half of the books listed here are about being happy where you are now), I strongly recommend this as it is an entertaining read.
  • Never Split the Difference: Negotiate As If Your Life Depended On It (Chris Voss): As a former FBI hostage negotiator, Voss has
    written a compelling book that makes you re-think how you interact with people. This was another favourite and one that I am already planning to read again sometime over the coming year.
  • Dear Fahrenheit 451 (Annie Spence): This is a bit of light reading that I absolutely loved. Quite simply it’s a librarian’s letters to her books, and if you are an avid reader or book collector then you’ll understand it perfectly. 
  • Rivers of London series (Ben Aaronovitch): The only proper fictional entry on this list, but one which I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who is looking for a laugh (with a bit of darkness thrown in).  Imagine Harry Potter crossed with Law & Order and a soupçon of the best sci-fi comedy writing and you’ll get close. Start with Rivers of London, then proceed to Moon Over Soho, Whispers Underground, Broken Homes, Foxglove Summer, and The Hanging Tree.

I also squeezed in a few old favourites:

  • The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg): I am a bit obsessed with how habits can be used to improve lives, and the underpinning neuroscience behind habit formation and changing habits is absolutely fascinating.
  • Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth about Success (Matthew Syed): If you haven’t read this, you’re missing out. Both
    it and Syed’s Bounce work well together to underscore that perfection doesn’t exist, but that constantly striving for improvement is a better way forward.
  • 12 Week Year (Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington): I am currently using this system to help me focus on goals I want to accomplish and prioritise activities; it uses the psychology of small wins and short time periods to motivate, and it’s one that I would ecommend if you want to accomplish a lot in a limited period of time.
  • Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Robert Cialdini): This is a fascinating view of common compliance techniques and ways around them; very useful for the next time someone offers you a free sample.

What are some of your favourite books of the past year? Drop me a line or share them on Facebook.

Disclaimer: Affiliate links are used in this post.

ANTICIPATE, EXPERIENCE, REFLECT

Lizard at the Botanical Garden in Kandy, Sri Lanka

If you follow me on Instagram you’ll have seen that I’ve been sharing photos from a trip I went on several years ago to Sri Lanka. I confess there was an ulterior motive to this: the plan was to use these photos to build up some followers, encourage them to visit the blog and then perhaps head over to my writing and design pages. As far as a social media strategy is concerned, I admit it is probably a little on the weak side. However, the outcome has been far different—and far more thought-provoking—than I initially intended.

The very act of going through the photos and choosing which to present brought back some great memories. It encouraged me to think of how to tell my story in bite-size pieces, and provide information that would be of interest to complete strangers. With the closing of Indian River by Air last year, I had fallen out of practice at keeping up with the rapid social media treadmill. This experience is helping me get back in shape.

Beyond these benefits, I started sharing my selections for the day with MrElaineous and we had fun each morning making predictions about which ones might be popular. This grew to daily reminisces about the incredible sights, the lovely people, and the delicious food we encountered during our stay in Sri Lanka. I have my souvenirs—a wooden carving from Anuradhapura, a batik wall hanging from Kandy, a few seashells from a beach in Galle—but revisiting the photographs has helped remind me of the things that caught my attention at the time, those moments that would otherwise have disappeared as the months and years have gone by.  And isn’t this what travel is ultimately about—experiencing a place and carrying it with you?

Yet so much has become about the right here, right now insta-lifestyle that I wonder if that time for reflection is being lost. The mantra of “Experiences not things” is one I believe in, but are we potentially in danger of collecting vacations like Beanie Babies, without enjoying the ones we have already taken? Are we taking the time to see where we’ve been and what we’ve learned … as well as planning where we’re going next?

This simple exercise has encouraged me to re-think my own attitude to travel. Besides enjoying the anticipation of a trip to come and the actual experience of being in a new location, I will be making sure I build in time to reflect, remember, and appreciate what came before.