life changes

Lifestyle: Redressing The Balance (and the budget!)

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Five months ago we set out our intentions for how we wanted to live after our amazing long-term travelling experience. It’s easy to say what you want to do, but actually doing it is a totally different matter and It’s safe to say the last few months have had a strong sense of ‘back to life, back to reality’! Returning to our old lives was a shock; mortgages, bills and high cost of living has been tough. Knowing that our outgoings are so high has definitely pushed us to make some big changes so that we could still afford to live in London, but with a significantly different lifestyle and outlook.

Our summer holiday, a week long wild camping expedition in the Lake District for £150

Our summer holiday, a week long wild camping expedition in the Lake District for £150

Luckily I was able to pick up a 4 day working week teaching at my old school. I wanted to spend the extra day off starting a new project with Ali, a new business we’d spent months dreaming about. Ali decided not to return to work applying her full focus to developing products under our Studio Mali name. With only one of us in employment, we’ve had to look to new ventures for cash and to rein in our spending, planning everything from our daily diets to what we can afford to at weekends. Luckily, London is full of free things to do and we both cycle to reduce our travel costs but planning food has been a lot more challenging.


Beans; surely the cheapest, healthiest, food source one can buy? To cut costs on food we’ve taken meat out of our diets and only had butter and cheese for treats. Those beans I mentioned are prepared in large batches which feed us for 2/3 dinners and lunches and are super healthy. Along with beans and pulses, we have been eating loads of whole grains and fresh fruit and veg, not only because is it healthy but it’s loads cheaper, especially when you do your fresh food shop at Aldi! We bulk buy long lasting food in a big monthly online shop, which is delivered for free during the day. Our luxury item is coffee that we buy in large batches so its cheaper, we have 4kg of coffee beans in the cupboard! We’ve been trying hard to avoid the pub, which has been a doddle in the warm summer but so much of what is special about the British winter happens in pubs, so we’ll likely have a little splash out during the darker months.

 
Ali’s weekly sourdough…It takes 3 days but it’s so tasty and made from just flour, water and salt!

Ali’s weekly sourdough…It takes 3 days but it’s so tasty and made from just flour, water and salt!

 

We have had to invest some of our savings into the business to buy a laser cutter, materials and to start organising the admin.  But with that equipment we managed to create 6 products and develop the shop on our website, build an Etsy shop and sold a few in markets, whilst also stocking some in a shop in Stoke Newington, the Design Store. Creating all these new objects has been a steep learning curve. From developing our brand, to how we market it and how we tell our story across social media, there’s literally always something to do. Ali has been exceptional in the amount of research, development and pure grit she has put into Studio Mali, maybe we should rebrand as Studio Ali!

One element of home life that has linked back with our travelling times has been Airbnb. It’s been a total revelation, we’ve loved having tourists, students, house-hunters and even wedding guests come and stay with us. Our visitors always teach us something new and love the fact we can always help them get the most out of their stay, we’ve been fully booked all of September and October! If you’re in London and you’d like to stay with us then here we are. Airbnb has given us the extra income to take risks with the business, we’d recommend it for both fun and finances!

 
We loved meeting Jiayi and Yuan through Airbnb. Discovering that we visited Yuan’s home town of Dali last year!

We loved meeting Jiayi and Yuan through Airbnb. Discovering that we visited Yuan’s home town of Dali last year!

 

So…. redressing the balance, life now feels very different to our 2017 pre-travel lives. A little more random, a bit riskier and certainly more exciting. The balance has come from assessing what we wanted from London life; to be more creative, to inspire others to make changes and to have some more adventures ourselves. Well we’re doing it, we’re poorer but happier and I truly don’t know what our lives will look like in a years time. Once the business kicks off a little, we will be able to get away a bit more often, even a weekend out of the city would suit us nicely. I imagine this might read like hell for some, but for us it’s bliss.  Bring on the beans! 

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Lifestyle: How We Changed Our lives

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When I left my job last summer I entered a strange state of loss and lack of direction. After 4 years at my school I had made good friends, was able to help lovely students, my teaching was pretty solid and the job was getting easier, perhaps I was starting to coast a little. All the pieces of a good life were in place; I recently married my best friend and Studio Mali partner of 10 years, had a great group of buddies and the financial stability of a mortgage of a London flat. We could’ve continued with our nice life but we felt it wasn’t right. We were worried about endless work, 30 year debt and wasting away the creative passions we’d had as teenagers, it was inevitable we would continue this life forever.  Or so we thought. After a life changing trip to Patagonia in 2015, we decided on a new plan to make changes to our lives. We are still in the process of making that plan a reality but we believe it’s been the best decision we’ve ever made, yet!

Patagonia 2015, we decided to making a change

Patagonia 2015, we decided to making a change

From the moment we all reach school, expectations are placed on us to work hard, study and get good grades. For some they continue to college or perhaps a degree. If you have a degree you are likely in debt, this was certainly my first experience of large debt. I believe debt is the system that locks us into a life of work. Let me explain my thinking, the government relies heavily on the taxes it takes from it’s citizens and it wants it’s people to work, climb the ladder and progress because it’s more taxable money coming in and consumer spending rises. If you start off your working life in debt, you inherently start working to stop the interest rising and pay off what you’ve borrowed, clever system. The only way to cheat it is not to work or not get a degree.

 

Graduate debt casts an immediate pressure to get working and earn a pay rise, scaling up to mortgages, credit cards, life insurance and so on. A tightly woven financial tapestry that you must pass through to have a decent life in the U.K. Or so it seemed. We started to question whether the life that was expected of us was an enjoyable one, did it give us joy, would we look back and be pleased with our decisions? When work dominates most of the week leaving you dead on your feet for the weekend the answer is no. So we decided to escape the big smoke, experience more of the world and come back with a plan to re-balance our lives.

 

Free from work and routine, eating blueberries in Slovakia

Free from work and routine, eating blueberries in Slovakia

So leaving school last summer wasn’t just leaving a job but leaving the life that I expected to grow old living. Ali and I stepped off the treadmill and into the unknown, free from work, routine and a ‘normal’ stable life. We saved as much cash as we could save in a year, combined with gift money from our wedding, boarding a flight to Norway in July 2017. Although it wasn’t the wisest decision to travel to the worlds most expensive country first! From then on, it’s been a rollercoaster of experiences, cool people, foods, sunsets and ideas and we are nearing the end with clear motivations on how to continue this free, happy and inspiring way of life. But how will we achieve this?

 

Travelling the world on £30 a day for the both of us means you’ll need to live like a local person. That means queuing up to use the same transport, eating in the same restaurants and shopping around for a good price. It’s fun, once you get better at haggling and putting on a front. Ali is much better at doing deals than me! We learnt that to be happy we didn’t need all the luxury we were used to at home. If we could scale down our spending abroad then why not do so the rest of the time? The first part of our plan for balancing our lifestyle is to cut our spending to what we need rather than want. This reduces our day to day costs and ultimately we’ll have to live with less. In comparison to the majority of local people we met travelling, we could see that life at home in London is not balanced, quite excessive actually and sometimes wasteful too. So living minimally is one of our goals.

 

Next, we want to be more creative in our daily lives and hope that we can return to London and put our creative skills into use. We can’t say exactly how or what this will look like but we’re convinced that if you’re driven to achieve something then it can be done. This attitude has been inspired by meeting so many crafty makers around the world who work so hard at their passion. We left Studio Mali open to grow and so we feel driven to make creative projects the centre of our new life by making objects that we hope people will love!  This goal could have only come from having time to think about it, talk about it and gather the confidence to actually do it.  Travelling has given us that time and led us to people making beautiful products in all corners of globe. We’re not interested in becoming mega rich by selling products, but we want to prove to ourselves that we can survive independently doing something we both love.

We want to make objects that people will cherish

We want to make objects that people will cherish

We setup our Studio Mali blog because we wanted a project to keep us busy on the road, we aren’t chasing fame, more an output to remember our trip by. But now it seems clear, we want to use Studio Mali to inspire others to re-think what they do in their lives. In just 7 months of travelling we feel like new people, excited about what’s next and driven to inspire others to think about changes they can make to their lives. It might be that you want to work less, or explore new places, develop a skill, start a new hobby, return a to sport you once played. These are changes or activities that can help you to be happy, live in the present and grow as people. Is a full-time, debt laden life worth the money that you’re paid? If the answer is no then what can you do to cut down your spending and live with less?

 

With 2 months until our return day, I’ve been considering what returning to structured life will be like. Ultimately I don’t want a five day working week so my plan is to work three days supply teaching. I’ll be planning to spend less, enjoy free fun like nature more, cook the foods we used to get takeaways of and be active and healthy. Ali and I love seeing our friends but perhaps we won’t meet them in the pub so much, perhaps the park instead. We hope to sell our flat and find something smaller, which is perhaps the biggest irony of our mortgage debt. The flat we purchased 4 years ago seems to have grown in equity in that time. Ali and I may be able to buy something small without a mortgage. We may be able to live a low cost, debt free life where we can concentrate on doing things we love, building a balanced lifestyle in the process. We hope our story inspires you think about what is important in your life, reflect and find your purpose.

 

Although half our a plan is theoretical, we hope you will check back to see if we can achieve our balance lifestyle goal!

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Minimalism.Life

Update April 2018: Our pals over at Minimalism.Life have published a slightly shorter, but just just as sweet and Americanised version of our piece on their website. You can peruse the article from the link then read some of their other awesome journal entries: How Travel Helped Me Change My Life

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Packing For A Round The World Trip

Here's the complete list of the kit we will be taking with us for our big trip! It's worth noting that the type of trip will you intend to have will greatly alter the type of kit you will need. We love outdoorsy activities; camping, walking, cooking on gas stove etc. Therefore we have a great deal of lightweight camping equipment and warm clothes, which many travellers wouldn't need. Our plan is to spend much of the first three months outside with nature but when Asia calls we fear it will be too hot and too buggy. So, our plan is to send our camping kit back home on our arrival in Beijing. How did we save for our trip? check our guide for saving for a around the world trip blog post.

Somehow we managed to fit all the stuff above into our two backpacks....

Here is a detailed list of the all the equipment we think we will need for our round the world trip:

Kit

1 x whistle - this can be handy if you need to call for help in an emergency, and can scare off stray animals

1 x compass

1 x lightweight 3 season 2-man tent

2 x good quality sleeping bags

2 x self inflating roll mat

2 x inflating pillows

1 x small saucepan set

1 x cooking stove

2 x cups

2 x plates

2 x sporks

1 x multi-purpose tool knife

1 x box of matches

4 x trekking poles

1 x Foil blanket in case of emergency

2 x head torches

1 x bar of washing soap (for clothes)

1 x plug for sink

1 x small scrubbing brush (for washing up)

1 x small bottle of washing-up liquid

 

Electricals (for 2 people)

1 x universal adaptor

1 x world USB charging plug 

1 x battery pack for charging kit

1 x Canon DSLR camera and charger

1 x Go Pro, waterproof case and charger

1 x MacBook Air laptop and charger (the website demands it!)

2 x earphones

1 x compact lightweight tripod

 

Medical

Water purification tablets

Plasters

Paracetamol

Ibubrofen

Syringes

General purpose antibiotics

Contraceptive pill

Diohorrehea tablets

Glasses / contact lenses

SPF sun glasses

Malaria tablets

Medical kit

DEET insect repellent

Mosquito net

Travel sickness pills

Highest factor sun cream

 

Money / ID / Admin

Credit card

Debit card  

Top-up pre paid bank card  

Passport

Drivers licence

Cash - we like to take a small amount of currency for each country, and US dollars as back-up

Travel Insurance info

E111 health card - for those that live in Europe only

Camping card - used across thousands of campsites across Europe (camping key)

Passport photos

Photocopies of passport

Full copies of medical history saved online

Maps - especially of any off grid places you are travelling to

Interrail tickets and interrail map

 

 

Clothes (for her)

1 x snood

1 x lightweight rain jacket

1 x warm fleece

1 x pair of warm quick-dry gloves

1 x warm fleece hat

1 x pair of walking boots

1 x pair of trainers

3 x pairs of trekking socks

2 x pairs of tights (ali's personal preference!)

1 x pair of shorts

1 x pair of synthetic leggings

1 x pair of thermal leggings

1 x sundress

2 x quick-dry sports tops

4 x pairs of cotton pants

1 x bra

1 x sarong / lightweight scarf

1 x swimsuit

1 x pair of flip flops

 

Toiletries (for her)

1 x mini deodrant

1 x small pot of coconut oil - this can be used to remove make up, moisturise and also cook with!

A small amount of make up 

1 x small mirror

1 x pair of tweezers

1 x toothbrush

1 x small toothpaste

1 x small shampoo

1 x small conditioner

1 x small sanitiser

1 x disposable razor

1 x comb

1 x Wet wipes

1 x moon cup

 

Food and Drink Supplies (for 1 week for 1 person)

7 x homemade bags of porridge - a mix of jumbo rolled oats, milk powder, cinnamon and sugar

Dried mixed fruit for snacking

Mixed nuts for snacking

Good quality instant coffee - we always opt for decaf

7 x energy bars

5 x pasta in sauce

2 x tasty instant noodles

1 x large bar of luxury dark chocolate

1 x water bottle

 

Misc

1 x penknife - incl bottle opener, can opener and knifes for preparing food

1 x needle and thread

Playing cards

Loo roll

1 x cash money belt  

Bin bags

2 x day bag

2 x large backpack

What do you normally take travelling? Do you have any favourites that we haven't mentioned above? Let us know!

Lifestyle: Take Time To Forest Bathe

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For those of you not accustomed to the Japanese term Shinrin-Yoku you'll have to wait a little longer to find out, as we'd like to set the scene. You divergent thinkers might guess from the images above.

We, along with the growing majority, live in a busy city, an urban hubbub; a melting pot of people racing around, traffic consuming every road and different cultures bustling on every street corner. It's all here and most of the time it's amazing, or at least incredibly stimulating! But it takes its toll on your senses after months of city living. 

Ali Walking Canal

When you think of other urban meccas' you may think of places like Tokyo, and it turns out the Japanese have conceived a term to define the plight of living in a modern city and how to esacape it; Shinrin - Yoku. It's not just escaping cities but moreso an experiential medicine for soothing the human soul. Japan and it's vast cultural heritage is definitely onto something, just take a look at their life expectancies compared to other developed nations. It's as if the Japanese remembered what the rest of the world forgot. That we all developed from an intrinsic relationship with our natural environment. Has modern culture forgotten this?

So, Shinrin-Yoko translates as 'forest bathing'. Describing the process of being at one in nature, which has been developed into a medical solution for an array of ailments (blood pressure, anxiety, improved sleep and more). It's not rocket science, just get out there embrace the trees, fauna and flora of your local woods. It's like meditating but with your eyes and ears open!  

Mali Camping

Mali spent the weekend in nature with forest bathing at the forefront of our minds. We're both reflective people, who both practice mediatition but walking through Epping forest listening to rain hitting leaves, branches adjust to wind and overlapping fauna was a powerful and incredibly relaxing experience. Ultimately, forest bathing had a rejuvenating affect on us as we were cut off from the world, surrounded by green, harking back to days as children when forests were earths natural playground.      

We decided on a transport free route; walking the canal North to Chingford, camping on the edge of Waltham Abbey. It was a gruelling walk, ground down by a late Saturday the night before. If you ever retrace our walk be sure to avoid the stretch marked in black, it was just a horrible road. To make up for this we set our sense alive with a delicious meal from our Syrian cookbook, an IPA at the Plough and hit the sack for 10pm (who said we aren't crazy?). The next day we struck into the heart of the forest intent on getting away from roads, shops and concrete, we succeeded.   

After a day of trekking in the wilderness our minds felt cleansed, gone was the desire to check our phones every five minutes; turning our gaze instead to the beauty around us. In contrast, the second we stepped off the train at Clapton it was hard to capture the same transience of earlier. The noise, commotion and flicker of traffic jolted us right back into normality. But we left the country with a new perspective on the wonders that a life outdoors can offer. 

So the moral is; unplug from urban living and do as the Japanese do; take in the forest atmosphere.  

Lifestyle: Do We Have Time For Boredom?

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As a society, are we active, mobile and healthy enough? As a teacher at an inner London school I am worried that our children are becoming detached from the natural world and are unhealthier for it, both mentally and physically. Growing up in the hubbub of the city is busy, distracting and allows little free time to relax and let the mind wander. What's more, in this era of constant distractions, do young, and old people alike, have time to be bored? My feeling is that boredom shouldn't be defined by the time when your not sure what do with it, but more-so a time where the mind is free to think, create and learn about oneself. In retrospect, the lives of urban children contrasts so much with my upbringing in rural Hampshire. Does the modern world offer our young people the time and space to find themselves?

 

Open Fields

As I age it's clear that I was privledged to have grown up with huge woods, open fields and the seaside under twenty minutes walk from my home. As the modern world progresses it seems our young people are trapped either by growing urban sprawl that diminishes their green spaces or from the trapping of time that technology takes from their lives. This relentless journey to take everything online is preventing some of our children from valuing the simple things in life and fostering the key, and fun, skills of being a child; developing a curious mind, building an appetite for adventure and having the time to learn about themselves.

Many Norwegian parents send their children to pick fruit at the Eplet farm in Solvorn (the children seem to really enjoy this time with nature)

Many Norwegian parents send their children to pick fruit at the Eplet farm in Solvorn (the children seem to really enjoy this time with nature)

Outside Magic Lies

I started to think about boredom after reading an article citing a book written in the 90s called 'Outside Magic Lies' by John Stilgoe. The article engages us to consider the activities we undertake should be taken purely for the pleasure of doing the activity. Something struck me when reading the article, when this book was written children would have spent much more time outside, playing games or sport and creating their own fun. At no time in a child's life is this truer than in the summer holidays. I remember myself the boredom of "having nothing to do", which in hindsight wasn't true, because going through that process of being bored pushed me to spend time drawing, painting and reading encyclopaedias.  It wasn't that I was bored, I just hadn't developed coping mechanisms to discover and sustain the activities I loved doing. Arguably, in these summers of 'boredom' I developed passions that I still have now, which have shaped my studies, job and outlook on life.  

 

Chinese child practicing calligraphy every Saturday (for 4 hours a day!)

Chinese child practicing calligraphy every Saturday (for 4 hours a day!)

Woods Or The Mall?

Back to the 90s, John Stilgoe was already researching the healing qualities of time spent in nature and was arguing that both the older and younger generations should be seeking 'magic' from outside. The aim, to cultivate a mindset that seeks pleasures from the small moments in life because if the small moments give you satisfaction then you'll always be happy, boredom included. Would this generations average British 15 year old head for a walk in the park with friends? Or are they more likely to head to a shopping centre? Obviously, the answer will be dictated by where they live but also on their relationship with technology. Because shopping and consumption fuels so much of social media, young people will inherently see shopping as a 'normal' go to activity. Social media will promote their peers spending their weekends and money in shops, especially in the cities, herd mentality takes over. 

 

Going Off-Topic

Ubiquitous tech may be stopping our children from ever being bored and this is making it harder for them to define their true interests. In all the distractions and expectations that have been reared from social media, our young people are starting to live their lives through continual interaction with their phones. The downside, going forward, is that children with have an ever-worsening relationship with boredom, quiet time or alone time (which ever you wish to call it) and all the positive mental qualities that come from the minds ability to wonder off-topic, create and divert. 

 

Urban Distractions

Young people have grown up with technology, sharing, likes and social media. The later is the currency that they trade with their peers but there is a downside, students often struggle to see anything beyond what is in front of them. Do they have time to sit, think and let their minds wander? Children of the urban centre live in a thriving place but also a distracting one, advertising-filled and traffic laden. It takes a strong will to block those things out. More than anything, the urban environment can't offer young people the chance to go out to the woods without parents and connect with nature, take risks and learn from exploration. In Finland children have lessons of play time and nature time to developed tactile learning. Our city children live in a risk adverse place where parents are worried about letting their children out. This culture of safety and rules can prevent young people thinking outside the box, this video by the RSA, educational paradigms, does a good job of looking into the reasons why.

By Sir Ken Robinson

By Sir Ken Robinson

Paradigm Shift

We are living in a paradigm shift in the choices that are offered to us. Food, drinks, clothes and stuff, we can have it quickly, cheaply, ordered 24 hours a day. But all these choices are condemning us to a mindset of total engagement through the interconnectivity of technology. I'm sure we have all felt it in those moments alone where grabbing your phone fills any void. Therein lies the problem. We aren't able to be bored, there's just too much happening all the time to keep us entertained, or distracted. Intravenous technology also has the power to make us feel like we are always missing out on something, neatly defined in messaging tag FOMO (fear of missing out). We need to get our children outside, to play, and to allow them a detox from the intoxicating virtual world of their smartphone.

 

How many teenagers have sat around a fire with their friends? Or would think to?

How many teenagers have sat around a fire with their friends? Or would think to?

Being Playful

We need our young people, and surely many elders, to live in the present, connected with what is in front of them. Excerise the hands, legs and arms, create, fail and create again. Get out for a stroll and notice things, connect the dots and the consider little details. Be silly, play hide and seek, pull funny faces, speak in funny voices; it's never too late to make little changes. Surely of all the changes, unplugging from the phone would reward the most. Let the mind wander and see where it takes you....

 

What do you think?

Is technology leading us to continual occupation of our time?

Is there a need for boredom?  

What can we learn from boredom and a relaxed headspace?

 

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