(Written pre pandemic!) I’ve meditated for years… literally, years. I can’t really remember when I was I started consciously doing so but I remember perhaps my first significant experience of it at 24. I had a particularly spiritual and ‘hippie’ boyfriend at the time who had spent the afternoon talking to me about his experiences of astral travel. When he left, I distinctly remember sitting down in the middle of my sitting room floor and deciding to have a try at ‘going within’. It seemed intriguing. Whilst the relationship was really the romantic equivalent of car crash, it did introduce me to spirituality and so it was definitely worth the heartache and big financial dent. In fact, his tough love training – in every sense of the phrase – was priceless and really rather wonderful on reflection.

I have had a sketchy history with meditation and I’ve never managed to get a solid relationship with it. Going back fifteen years ago, whilst it was mainstream and popular, it was nothing like it is now. I guess this is partly why I managed to keep avoiding it. Recently, everywhere and everyone seems to be espousing the virtues of meditation and with good reason. Whether you are spiritual or not, the results of meditation and its benefits are undeniable. It’s quite amazing really how quickly it’s transformed from the ‘woo-woo’ to the ‘real deal’. In fact, I was really surprised when my Granny had a stroke last year to hear her being ‘prescribed’, by her national health service occupational therapy team, a meditation app for her Ipad. It really is now the thing to do.

Leaning on meditation when I was ill several years ago, I spent most mornings meditating for a couple of hours in bed before I got up. I can’t really remember the details of anything back then but it was more like a brain break. I was attempting to just keep the mental noise to a minimum and create a bit of peace and quiet. But I never really settled on a particular practice or way of doing it. Although I did have some incredible breakthroughs with it and even created some of my own which I put into my books. Ever since then I have done bits and pieces of meditation and it’s rare a day goes by without me doing some sort of ‘going within’ but it’s never been consistent or really focused. I’ve let it slide over the years because of the ‘busyness’ of life.

I suppose I’ve always been more of a mindfulness person. I do lots of things very ‘deliberately’ and try to not get lost in thought any more than is necessary. I make a point of being very present as often as I can and spent months pounding my eardrums with Eckhart Tolle recordings so as to really imprint this notion into my head. It worked. I’ve worked it into my day and it’s now my habit. My showers are pretty mindful as are my daily dog walks. I regularly do breathing exercises now without really even thinking about it. I’m really quite centred but it’s still a work in progress and I’m starting to really think about getting my meditation routine more ‘sorted’.

But I have to be honest with myself now. I have been more caught up in the western world than I realised. I don’t make time for meditation because I suppose I don’t think I have time. This is such a fundamental misperception. I subconsciously believe that I can make things happen, that I need to do a lot of stuff and make the most of ‘time’. Wow, I still believe in making an effort? If I made time for meditation, I’d become timeless, didn’t I know that? Well, I did and I do. It seems there are levels of belief and commitment. On a scale of 1 to 10, I was perhaps at six or seven. I’d got lazy, sloppy and I am also realising that I’m perhaps more compliant and open to the environmental cues than I had previously thought. Oh well, at least I can see it now.

At the moment, I’m staying on the island of Tenerife and as you may or may not know, it’s a part of a pretty ‘zen’ kind of an archipelago. The Canary Islands are very relaxed and, in my opinion, have a very surfer, hippie kind of vibe. There are beaten up camper vans all over the place and in ‘El Medano’ the town I stay in on Tenerife, every clothes shop sells either surfing or water sports gear or yoga pants. It’s a no makeup, sand in your hair, piercings and leather bracelets kind of a place. Taking a walk along the beach during sunrise, you’ll find lots of people meditating or doing yoga on the various wooden platforms scattered amongst the scrubby dunes.

In the bigger towns and cities you’ll find lots of yoga and meditation studios and I didn’t have to research very far to find that there are quite a lot of retreat centres on the Canary Islands too. There’s just that kind of vibe here and so it’s a perfect place to be considering my meditation routine. I’ve been reading Dr Joe Dispenza’s book ‘Becoming Supernatural’ (it’s awesome, read it!) and he has gotten me convinced that I do indeed need to get my meditation game on. It’s time for me and this book is pushing me into it. Truth is 1. I’ve always known the key to my next steps on this crazy life journey involve meditation and 2. It’s a pretty amazing synchronicity that has dictated that just at the time I decide I need to be meditating, I arrive at a place so brimming with the chilled out vibe.

This is the thing about travel. Different places inspire different aspects of your personality, heart and soul. I love this about going somewhere new. You never quite know what you’re going to get. Perhaps you’ll love it, perhaps you’ll find it inspiring. Whatever you feel or think, it’ll be a perspective and a new angle on something. It’s the sense of ‘peering into the looking glass’ like Alice (in Wonderland). If you choose to be open to this kind of reflection that is. I have always found the Canary Islands to be great for a genuine relaxed space to rearrange your head and get some perspective on life. They’re so free, rugged, bare and windy. Your cares will definitely blow away and trying to stay ‘tidy’ and ‘together’ is simply pitting yourself against nature. You really have no choice here but to just relax and go with it, to appreciate the nature and the wildness of it all and, if you have long hair, tie it up.

So for me, this return has been serendipitous. I had booked the trip some time ago before I started reading Joe Dispenza’s book and I had no idea, even as I started to read the book a few days before arriving in Tenerife that it would be so focused on meditation. Today was my first full day here on the island and it made me smile as I lay on the sunbed for my first focused hour long meditation of the day. It was so perfect that I’d be doing it here in El Medano. Anyone who has read my first book, ‘The Awakening’ may recall that this is the very place I had my first real breakthrough and ‘found myself’. It seems so fitting that I am here again, trying to take things to the next level. It is equally fitting that I am in a place where I have the time and space to meditate and dedicate myself to the process and practice.

So, I am intrigued to know how it will go and if and how it will change me. Everything says that it will. As I said, I’m not new to meditation but I am new to focused and diligent practice. I am new to dedicated and long, focused sessions that push you into uncomfortability. But I’m ready for it. To be quite honest, I have some really rather annoying foibles and neurocies that are just not cute and need to be tidied up. Whilst I recognise that I’m never going to be a spiritual guru or whatever, I really think I could stand to be more peaceful. I’m looking forward to finding out where it takes me. It’s interesting to me how my desire to really focus on meditation seems to be dovetailing with my increasing sense of freedom and expansion into full time travel. They really do seem to go together.

As for Tenerife, I can’t think of a better place to meditate. It’s unpretentious and has lots of wild and natural, craggy beaches and places to walk, sit, surrender and take a breath. The pace of life here is slow and deliberate. The attitude is warm, relaxed and passionate. With sunny days all year around and a pretty consistent mid twenties temperature, it’s got to be a perfect place to get in touch with your heart and soul.

I visit ‘El Medano’ which is a small town fairly near the more popular and anglicised ‘Golf de Sur’ only a short hop from Tenerife South airport. It’s not a commercial town and whilst everyone speaks some English, it’s not a really touristy place or catering to English. It’s low key and seems to be predominately frequented by locals and windsurfers or kite surfers. Whilst I talk a lot about how rugged, authentic, natural and Spanish the Canary Islands are, this is because I choose to frequent the less popular areas and the non touristy spots. Many areas are extremely English and rather like Skegness but with better weather. Be sure that you do a little research on the area before booking to ensure you are getting the holiday you really want.

Love Kat xx

Written in August 2019. It was day 11 (or 12 depending on which way you looked at it) of ‘The Great American Crossing’ with ATI and we were going to Yellowstone National Park. It was right in the thick of the tour. We had been on the bus for well over a week. By day 11 we were totally comfortable. We felt familiar and at ease with Maiko, our guide, and our driver Gary. The other people on the tour were quite nice and we had a gentle, pleasantry level of interaction. Whilst it was a bit disappointing on the social front – we had had much better social times on our previous American tour – it did mean we were free to get on with it uninterrupted.

The previous night we had stayed in Cody. I just loved it there. It felt so very American – whatever that might mean (unpack as desired). I don’t know, there was a relaxed, warm and familial attitude from the people of the town. According to Cody’s official website, it is a “full Wild West experience”, and was recently ranked as Wyoming’s most beautiful small town by MSN loveEXPLORING.With it’s big main road surrounded by mountains, it reminded me of my vision of how America might be before I’d ever embarked on the journey ‘across the pond’. Anyway, we stayed in Cody and I was really in the mood for a full on sensory experience when visiting Yellowstone the following day.

It did not disappoint. On the way to the park we were given a safety poster to read ( see picture).

It was rather exciting to even contemplate the idea of seeing a bear. Of course we didn’t. In fact we saw relatively little in the way of animal life. There was a coyote on the edge of the park and we saw a few bison at a distance. We may have seen a mule deer here too, I can’t remember if it was at Yellowstone. It didn’t matter as there was just so much natural wonder to look and marvel at.

To an American, what I’m about to say will be obvious, but to a European there is something that, should you decide to visit, will astound you. The park is huge. Everything is just super sized here and Yellowstone is no different. At nearly 9,000 square kilometres, it’s big. We were only there for one day and so we only visited the ‘southern loop’. The roads around the park are so well maintained and it’s very accessible with walkways, basic restrooms and at least one car park around all the main attractions within the park.

The speed limit is 45pmh along the single carriageway road around the park. With limited places to stop at the edge of the road, we encountered a couple of jams where people had obstructed the road in order to get out and traipse across varying terrains to try and get closer to distant bison. Our guide, apparently an old hand at navigating the park, shook his head and muttered about how the tourists didn’t realise how far away the bison were.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6FnkweHC40

As we entered the park, our guide collected enough maps for all of us. This way, we were able to see exactly where we were going. You can collect one of these maps on payment and entrance to each national park. They really are informative and a great momento for remembering and thinking about the experience on the return home.

We visited several of the most famous parts of the park and a few that I didn’t even know existed until the visit. The Yellowstone falls are just incredible and the viewing points are awe inspiring since you feel so very high up. The geysers and various hot springs were interesting and beautiful. The colours were so rich but the smell of sulphur was enough to make you wretch. I have a pretty strong stomach but a sensitive sense of smell. I’ve got to say that it got to me after a while!

It was a funny experience at Yellowstone. In a way it’s one of the most wild and stunningly vast natural experiences of my life but in another way, it was so over-humanised. With roads, signs, road signs, walkways and car parks it seemed like somehow the landscape had been invaded. I was glad to be there and see it and yet sad for the land and her natural beauty. It was as if it was being controlled, dressed up and forced to perform like some sort of horrible circus act. I suppose I was a willing voyeur.

I loved the vast lake and the eerie Bobby Sock trees. The sheer amount of beauty is quite incredible and we only saw a tiny bit of it. This is one of the reasons I loved being on the tour. Whilst the map was incredible, had I been driving myself around the park, a lot of my attention would have been taken up with thinking about where I was and where I was trying to get to. There was none of that on the tour. Maiko, our guide, made sure we saw a lot of the highlights and gave us just the right amount of time to see each feature. He gave us instructions on where to go what to look out for. We couldn’t go wrong.

Lunch time was spent at a visitor centre where there were several options of things to eat and buy. Again, unlike in a European tourist site I was used to, the visitor centre was huge. The food was not over priced and pretty good quality. As always, there were a lot of good bathroom facilities at the centres and they were very clean. Our afternoon coffee stop was at ‘Old Faithful’ – incorporating a rest stop, coffee break and a chance to see the notorious and predictable eruption of the geyser. Again, with places to sit and view the eruption and a centre for purchasing souvenirs and refreshments, the whole place was organised perfectly. It was contrived in a way but so convenient in another. I loved it and felt strange about it at the same time.

Overall, I could not recommend a visit to Yellowstone National Park enough. It is one of the best and most spectacular places I have ever seen. It has such variety and it’s incredible to see what nature can do. With so much information and so many amenities, it’s an easy and tourist friendly place to spend several days. Whilst I think you can see many of the main attractions in one day, I wish I’d had longer there to really appreciate this stunning park.

Tamaran meaning ‘Land of the Brave’, now known as Gran Canaria, is a sweet and laid back Spanish island situated off the Atlantic coast of North West Africa. It is the third largest island of the archipelago in both area and altitude and the third most populated of all Spanish Islands with a population of around 850,000.

The North African Canarii quite possibly arrived on the island as early as 500BC and, after a century of European incursions and attempts at conquest, the island was conquered on April 29th, 1483 by the Crown of Castile, under Queen Isabella. The capital was founded on June, 1478, under the name ‘Real de Las Palmas’. Las Palmas, as the capital is now known, is the joint capital of the autonomous community of the Canary Islands along with Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

In 1492 Christopher Columbus is known to have anchored in the Port of Las Palmas and he wasn’t the only famous visitor. Sir Francis Drake and John Hawkins apparently tried to take Las Palmas in 1595 as well as a Dutch fleet who reportedly created havoc in the city burning many of its buildings to the ground. Gran Canaria, and Las Palmas in particular, has a wonderful history and this can all be experienced today in a visit to the older part of the city.

The rich history and beautiful architecture of the old town of ‘Vegueta’ and the area of Triana has been wonderfully preserved and can be appreciated by taking an historic walking tour of this old part of the city. I chose to ‘go it alone’ and just wander the streets armed with a list of landmarks I’d found through an evening of research the night before.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2tEvEI5KLs

If you are thinking of visiting the older parts of Las Palmas, I would highly recommend firstly calling in at one of the Tourist Information offices for a free map of all of the most popular landmarks and finding out about free tours of some of the most interesting and historic buildings. I went in and had a lovely chat with Aurora at the smaller office inside the Teatro Perez Galdos. She not only helped me with information about the historic area but the whole city. You will find the main tourist information offices at Santa Catelina Park and San Telmo but there are many smaller offices dotted all over the city. They are very well marked on google maps and have visible signage you can easily spot when wandering about. The employees speak great English and couldn’t be more helpful.

Getting the map will prevent you from missing any of significant spots as well as giving you a sensible and walk-able route through this meandering part of the city. The roads and lanes are largely cobbled and pedestrianised and you could easily spend at least half a day wandering around, soaking in the rich history. As I mentioned before, it is possible to join a walking tour of the old city.

In actual fact, if you buy a twenty five euro ‘hop on, hop off’ bus ticket of Las Palmas, a walking tour of the old part of the city is included in the price. If I’d known this before, I’d definitely have done it as I think this would have saved a lot of time and helped me to see and appreciate more. Although, getting on the bus with the locals is always great too.

I’d highly recommend spending at least half a day in the historic part of the city. If you want to be organised and squeeze as much in as possible, consider taking a walking tour. Make time to go inside and appreciate the magnificent Cathedral Santa Ana and consider a tour of one or more of the other historic buildings. Obviously, it’s uneven underfoot so sensible footwear is a must but don’t worry about getting hungry or thirsty as there are countless bars and eateries offering stunning tapas and perhaps a glass of wine or two. As well as places to eat and drink there are numerous small shops and even plenty of little supermarkets so you’ll have no problems getting everything you might need during your visit.

Whilst there are plenty of quaint places to sit and rest your feet for a while should you want a ‘free’ stop during your adventure, as ever in Europe, the lack of public toilets is evident. I walked around all morning and didn’t see one. However, there are bathrooms in the modern art gallery which has free entry and of course you can always go into one of the many local bars so long as you are buying a drink or so.

In terms of getting to this historic part of the city of Las Palmas, it really couldn’t be easier. If you are staying outside of the city, you want to be catching a bus to San Telmo bus terminus in Las Palmas City. It’s a massive bus depot so you’ll have no issues getting to the area. The historic part of the city is right next to the bus station. The tourist information is also right there and this will get you all sorted for a fun packed day. I travelled from Playa Las Canteras/ Las Palmas Port area and the buses leave every few minutes from Santa Catelina Park.

I caught the number 12 which takes about 15 minutes (6 stops). It’s a very busy ‘bendy’ bus with standing room only all of the way. Apparently there are other buses such as the number 1 that also go to San Telmo but all of the others take around half an hour as far as I could see. There is a ticket office at Santa Catelina Park should you need help. But to be honest it’s really easy. A single journey is one euro forty (they do give change) and the drivers are very helpful.

So, if you do go to Las Palmas, make the time to go and explore this quaint and beautiful part of the island. It’s well worth it and largely free too, which is a bonus if you’re on a budget. With bars, shops and facilities to cater to every budget, you can’t really afford to miss it.

Sia sings…

I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier

I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist, like it doesn’t exist

I’m gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry

I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier

I have a funny taste in music. I don’t really think there’s any genre I don’t like. Being more of a songs person than an artist person, it’s difficult to define my taste with a few band or artist names. However, if I had to narrow it down, I’d say 70s music in all genres or Kate Bush and Fleetwood Mac. Anyway, now I’m just rambling about music! This is something I could talk about all day really. Music is so important to me, I don’t really know where to start. So I won’t, only to say, it’s really important to me.

When I was about fifteen, I got my first CD Walkman and my whole world came alive. I remember the precise moment it happened. I had my Carpenters CD playing and it had been snowing. I think it was a Sunday, it might even have been around Christmas time. I went out listening and walking.

At the time, I lived about ten minutes walk from my secondary school and it was surrounded by the school playing fields and a recreation field we called ‘St Christopher’s’ (funnily enough, because it was on St Christopher’s road). I moved out of the area many years ago now, but I have been back in the last few years and it all looks quite different. You can’t get onto the school playing fields now and everything is fenced off. However, back then, you could and the fields of St Christopher’s and the school field somewhat ‘ran’ together.

I was trying to escape something that day, I felt pretty alone and sad. I walked alongside the school fence and squeezed through the gap one of the boys had kicked in it. I remember looking at the school field and it taking my breath away really. The field was perfectly covered with snow and not a soul had walked on it. Having St Christopher’s to the right and the golf course behind it, all you could see was white, pristine, fields edged with snow capped hedges and the odd bowing tree. As I began to walk, the snow crunching and squeaking beneath my feet, ‘Ticket to Ride’ ended and ‘Superstar’ began to play. My heart… it just soared. I was in my own music video. Everything was just achingly perfect.

Ever since then, I have just been completely enraptured by listening to music whilst walking, being in nature, looking, feeling, thinking and being. I am in my own virtually non stop music video and I adore it beyond all explanation. When ‘in ear’ headphones became available and sound quality improved, my life went to a whole new level. But anyway, there I go again with my music obsession!

Fast forward to many years later and I am stood leaning on a wall trying to look over into Bryce Canyon. Maiko, our guide, nonchalantly peers right over and then confidently tells me he’d be quite happy to stand on ‘that ledge’ (he’s pointing to a precipice about four feet beyond the wall) without feeling the slightest bit perturbed. I on the other hand am finding it just difficult to look down. Bryce Canyon is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been and one of the most joyous sights I’ve ever had the fortune to see. Despite my annoyingly poor head for heights, I eventually managed to ‘acclimatise’ somewhat to the height enough to really look at it. It was immense, healing and the colour was something else… hard to put into words really.

I carried my music everywhere with me during my US tour. I always do. I had it in my bag but it was difficult when out and about to listen. I was with my friend and the rest of the tour group. I didn’t like to seem rude or ignorant and so I largely didn’t really listen when we were off the bus. There was always someone wanting to chat or comment and that was just an important part of the tour as anything else.

We walked a lot around Bryce Canyon and it was on the last stop that I really got some space. It was so quiet up there and somehow my friend and I managed to find a place with hardly anyone else around. It was so stunning, so moving and the aliveness was intense. I stood and smiled on the inside. The moment was just wonderful. It was then that I turned and, without really knowing it was coming out, blurted to my friend that I had to listen to my music. He was of course fine with that and wandered off along the path.

All of a sudden, I got the need to get some music on and tether this experience to some song or other just like I did all of those years ago on the school playing fields. I didn’t have long… maybe less than 10 minutes and we’d have to be back on the bus. I pressed play and something wildly unfitting came on, I skipped on another track and again, it wasn’t right. I did this several times.

I’m not really sure what I was looking for. Probably a Kate Bush track or something else kind of magical and etheric in some way. But it didn’t happen… first it was A-HA, then Missy Elliot, then I distinctly remember ‘Big Love’ by Fleetwood Mac coming on. None of them were right. Too flouncy or light or aggressive… always too much of something. I looked at my watch as I skipped again and I heard the ‘tape’ sound that lasts for a few seconds at the beginning of Sia’s ‘Chandelier’. I went to skip again and then paused my finger over the button.

As it began I remembered the first time I’d heard “Chandelier”. Sia’s voice is quite remarkable and she sure can write a good song. I’m not usually a massive current music fan but Sia is generally one of a few exceptions. There definitely was a joyous and powerful resonance to Chandelier and so I stuck with it and made this my song for Bryce Canyon.

Whether you believe in angels or not, I tend to attribute these nudges to my angels and always thank them when they help me out. On this particular day they had done just that, in those final moments at Bryce Canyon, they’d given me that nudge to get on and listen. It turned out to be more than appropriate song… of course it was, that’s how these things go when you’re being guided by this mysterious old Universe.

I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier

I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist, like it doesn’t exist

I’m gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry

I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier

I’m not entirely sure whether Sia is being literal or metaphorical in the lyrics of the chorus. Who knows what these words mean or meant to her but to me they are all about freedom and it made sense on every level to me. As she sings the chorus, she has that signature ‘chest voice about to break’ sound that is just breathtakingly beautiful. The sound is full of feminine power, strength and has that ‘phoenix rising’ quality. To me it felt to be about empowerment, climbing up, getting out, flying away. As I listened and looked over the canyon it was the most glorious moment and one I know I will remember and treasure.

A month later and I’m back home walking the dog. It’s an average day, autumn is in the air and the edginess of the area I live in is grating and a bit dark. I don’t feel terrible about it, I’m only resting here a while before I fly off elsewhere but it does make me uneasy. It’s so possible to get sucked back in to the mentality and the churning of the life around you. I don’t want to. I made a promise to myself a long time ago that this wasn’t going to be my reality, that I was going to live a joyful and meaningful existence. But when they’re swearing and jeering – and you’re picking your way through goodness knows what ,trying not to tread on or in anything that might regret – it can be distracting.

Of course, I needn’t have even thought about it. As I walked past the little park where the local children played, what should click onto my MP3 player but “Chandelier”. As it began the kids raced around out into the street, dirty faced, oblivious to traffic and apparently carefree. I waved to a little boy on the top of the climbing frame who regularly came to pat Freja (my dog) and then walked on. As I turned the corner, manoeuvring past an old sofa and what looked like an armchair that’d been sawn in half, the chorus kicked in. I smiled to myself spontaneously and let out a little laugh. All was well and I was free. I remembered the deal I’d made with myself and the promise I was never going to break…’I’m gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry. I’m gonna swing from the chandelier’

The place in question: ‘Ashley’s’ on Lexington Avenue, Midtown, NYC – a deli with an eat in section. It was the location of my first proper interaction with a New York employee. I am not sure if she was a ‘true’ New Yorker’. It was my first experience of eating in America and the first proper place I went. Because of this, I guess it has special significance. That and the fact that the food is amazing – if a little ‘canteen-y’ looking.

The girl on the register was glum faced to say the least and hardly spoke at all. She barely grunted. In fact, it was so hard to make out that I couldn’t really tell from her accent what her first language was. She seemed Hispanic. I was rambling about not understanding the money as she looked at me with raised eyebrows. I could see she was really wanting to roll her eyes but propriety stopped her. As I thanked her and left, she almost gave a small smile. Picking up her phone, she looked down at it and sighed. I felt I had inconvenienced her day, for sure. Far from making me feel unwelcome, it made me smile. It felt familiar and like being in Europe. It’s not uncommon to feel that you are a blot on a shop attendant’s otherwise exciting day. Mild ambivalence and formality seem to often be the order of the day.

It wasn’t what I was expecting when coming to America. I suppose I’d always expected larger than life, friendly, warm behaviours. I wasn’t wrong, that was exactly what happened post Ashley’s. Apart from the occasional irritated walker in New York, basically everyone I met during my two journeys around America seemed to be essentially open. I was asked so many times; where I was from, what I was doing there, how I was liking it? It never seemed false or forced. There appeared to be a genuine curiosity and sense of care. I really felt like I would have no trouble finding someone to help me out if needs be. Not only that, they were upbeat, jovial and generally very optimistic in their curiosity and in sharing what they could about their country.

My two trips around America were bus tours and therefore, some of my ‘conversations’ were with the bus drivers themselves. The first driver was a Southerner living in New York, the second a Cuban living in Miami and the third a Texan from Texas. The first driver, the Southerner, called me ‘honey’ or ‘ma’am’ which was funny to me. He was warm and kind, although not that chatty with the passengers per se. He drank huge blue drinks from containers that a European might describe more as a bucket than a cup.

The second driver made me laugh. He said little but you could tell he was thinking many things. Older, he’d probably learned, best just to smile and say nothing. He was understated, small and peered at us through slit eyes. He would nod slightly and say ‘good morning’ with a thick accent. He always had a cool air about him. He turned our huge bus around – illegally – on a jam packed road into Miami in order to get us all out of a grid locked traffic jam and to where we needed to be, on time. He was a quiet, confident operator.

The third driver was again, as I have stated over and over again – warm, kind, friendly. They all were. Maybe it’s a rule for being in America. However, unlike the first two drivers, this driver was chatty as chatty can be. He seemed to irritate the guide a little with his commentary on things. During one amusing conversation, the driver asked me if we had cars in England. The tour guide’s eyes nearly popped out of his head and he irritatedly muttered something about comments like that being why other nationalities thought American’s were stupid. The driver answered, “well, I know the roads are small, maybe they use bikes”. I reassured both the guide and the driver that I understood perfectly and I did not think the driver was stupid. I did find the whole interaction hilarious though.

There really was a difference between the North and the South of North America. One helpful person informed our tour group that, ‘it takes two women ten minutes to make a cold sandwich in the South’. I don’t know that it took ten minutes but I caught their drift. Things move at a slower pace. They want to talk more, ponder longer and take things steadily. I actually loved this because, by contrast, in Europe you always feel like you’re in people’s way, wasting their time and generally slowing everything down – even when you’re rushing. I very rarely felt like I was inconveniencing anyone when in America. But this sense was multiplied ten-fold when going to the South.

Nothing was too much trouble in the South, the time was taken to really acknowledge you. For example, when I did order the cold sandwich, the server took time to enquire about everything I might like on it and exactly how I’d like it. When I eventually got said sandwich and thanked her, she took great effort to look me in the eye and express that I was ‘most welcome’ and that she hoped I was enjoying my day, would continue to do so and that it was a great pleasure to have us in their restaurant. Every word was deliberate and emphasised. Well, I liked it. It’s nice to be nice.

In England, if a stranger comes up to you and starts to talk, there are two reasons 1. They need directions or 2. You’re doing something wrong and they want to tell you about it. Since my friend and I were clearly tourists, on the two times we were approached by people, I felt instantly uncomfortable. I knew we weren’t going to be asked for directions therefore, we were in for a telling off. It wasn’t so. Not at all. The first verbal approach was from a woman outside of a ‘Cracker Barrel’ restaurant. My friend was smoking and I was keeping him company. As she drew up alongside us in the car park and rolled her window down, I instantly began to think of all the reasons we might be wrong… how very English of me. But, she was actually wanting to comment on how much my friend seemed to be enjoying his cigarette and how pretty my dress was. She called my friend ‘sir’ and me ‘ma’am’. She was so very enthusiastic. I felt like I was in a play.

The second time it happened, a man who looked like a cowboy to me, just walked up to us and started talking. There wasn’t the slightest hesitation. He enquired where we were from, where we were going to and how we were enjoying this fine day. Again, being European, I was expecting him to get to the point where he’d put the pleasantries aside and ask what he’d come here to ask or request, or whatever. But he didn’t. It seemed that his enquiring about how we were and what we were doing was just about the only reason he was stood there. My friend was smoking. The cowboy lit up a cigarette too and told us a bit about the area, its history and what we might expect from where we were heading next. After finishing his smoke, he left, smiling – ‘ya’ll have a good day, now’. We did as it happens.

A gas station is hardly the place you expect to get engaged in conversation, least of all by the server at a very busy register. He was the manager of the gas station and the station was busy. We were a big tour group and whilst the gas stations are massive – almost the size of a small UK motorway services (Woolley Edge north bound size) – they soon fill up with forty or so people. Not only that, on this day, we weren’t the only tour group and there were myriad other customers. My friend and I were buying some fruit and a few snacks. When we said hello, he instantly wanted to know where we were from and how long we were there for. He was interested to know where other people in the group were from and how we were finding it there. He was smiley and engaging. He showed great enthusiasm and interest in the UK. Surprisingly to me, once again, there seemed to be nothing but good humour from the people waiting in line behind us.

The manager of the gas station had heard of Nottingham (where my friend and I live) because of Robin Hood. He commented on that, as did the security guard at ‘Graceland’ (the home of Elvis). Usually known for their seriousness and adherence to protocol rather than pleasantries, I always approach security guards with a sense of polite distance. Too much familiarity perhaps seems to ignore the ‘seriousness’ of the task at hand. I always think this is fair enough. Therefore, despite the American tendency to chat and be informal, I handed my bag to the man at ‘Graceland’ security with only a slight smile and a ‘thank you’. Instantly, his calm expression became so very animated. ‘ You folks from the UK?’ he questioned with great enthusiasm. When we said we were, he was beyond excited, expressing that he was hoping to go to Nottingham the following year in order to visit Sherwood Forest. He said he had friends in Birmingham – another city about an hour from Nottingham.

The enthusiasm with which the American’s generally approached my friend and I was really quite astounding to me. I had never felt so welcome anywhere. People didn’t treat me as ‘less than’ because I was a tourist, on the contrary, they seemed to be more attracted to me as a result. Perhaps it is because I am English, there seems to be a ‘thing’ about loving an English accent. There also appeared to be a genuine desire to explain what was great about their country. They are proud of it and want to help you to enjoy it. I love this. And I must agree, it is a wonderful place.

Fed up? What’s up?

‘Junk values don’t meet your psychological needs just like junk food doesn’t meet your physical needs,’ states Johann Hari in his 2019 TED talk. ‘This could be why you’re depressed or anxious.’ As soon as I heard this, I instantly felt an internal ‘yes’. This just makes so much sense.

Not very long ago, I wrote a post about travelling and escaping ‘non-culture’. This was exactly what I meant – junk values. Junk values would be an obsession with buying things such as, well, ‘things’ – stuff – ‘crap you don’t need’ as Hari puts it. It isn’t just what we buy that’s the issue but our obsession with showing things on Instagram or Facebook. We are captivated by the need for approval, looking good and vacuous showiness.

Don’t get me wrong here. I like junk food and I like a bit of junk culture too, but too much of it is probably bad for the soul and one’s health. Hari goes on to say that living a life with meaning and not focusing on money and how we look is something we all know about. It’s so obvious, it’s cliché. But we don’t do what we know is good for us. Funny isn’t it?

As Hari says in this short but poignant TED talk, ‘why don’t we see it?’ Apparently, according to Professor of Psychology, Tim Kasser of Knox College Illinois, the answer is simple. ‘We live in a machine that is designed to get us to neglect what is important about life.’

We neglect what is important about life. I turned off the talk at this point. I wanted to ponder the point. Don’t worry, I’m not going to give you a long explanation of what I think is important about life. But I will say, loosely, my extensive reading and personal experience says what is important tends to revolve around 1. connection and 2. doing something meaningful with your life (whatever that means to you).

Travel feeds the soul – places and connections

One of my favourite things about travel is that I get to visit places where I am not caught up in the non-culture of the place. In a foreign speaking country, I can’t understand the adverts and I don’t know what anyone’s saying. It’s the quickest and easiest way of escaping consumerism and non-culture. Not only this, I tend to choose places that I think will be devoid of this sort of stuff, mainly because I want to experience real authentic living there.

Today I wanted to go beyond  the idea of the places we visit when travelling feeding our soul and instead talk to you about how we might be able to feed our souls with travel connections. There’s no doubt, if we like to travel – experiencing new things, seeing natural wonders and finding new adventures – these can all be very enriching. This ticks point 2 of ‘doing what is important’. But I am suggesting we can get such a lot in terms of feeling connected to others if we choose the right vacation or travel trip too. We can also find connection on a travel trip.

We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep

William James

Most of us travel because we want to bring greater expansion, joy and happiness into our lives. Sure, this makes sense. So we choose a place that appeals to us. But what about also thinking about where we might also find people  we can connect to as well.

Introvert or extrovert: we need connection

If you’re an introvert, like me, you probably spend a lot of time avoiding group situations. They can be draining and hard work in excess, but if we isolate ourselves entirely, this can be just as detrimental. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, next time you’re planning a trip to bring some joy to your life, consider that novelty and interest may only be one side of the coin in terms of bringing you true meaning.

Westerners nowadays are lonelier than ever. We live in a society that creates separateness and competition. Consider this when you’re booking a trip. Even though it can leave us cringing at the very thought of it, a trip that makes you connect to others and work as a group may just be the soul tonic you have been looking for.

Enter the bus tour

I chose a bus tour and I would do it over and over again. You could choose an activity holiday such as learning a skill or going on a cruise. What I’m suggesting here is that you choose something where you will be with other people.

I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen

Ernest Hemingway

The first tour I went on was ‘The Grand East’ motor-coach tour with ATI. I booked it with American Sky. The tour started off in New York City and went up, through New England, into Canada. The tour then went back through to the US, into Pennsylvania and down through Tennessee. We ended up in New Orleans and then went down into Florida. It took eighteen days. It was, without doubt, one of the best – if not the best – experience of my life. I wasn’t expecting it.

Connection, connection, connection.

Most people I talked to on my return to the UK swooned at the account of the tour. It took in so many places, they would say. I can’t deny, in terms of a whistle stop tour, it was second to none. If you want to see America quickly or take in as much American culture as possible in a short blast, this is the holiday or trip sensation for you.

It really is amazing what you can see on this type of bus tour. I’ve been on two now. They are so well organised and both the guides I had were quite remarkable. The value, the ease, the excitement and the pace was incredible. Every day left me feeling inspired and tired but it was never too much (well almost never).

In reality, whilst what I experienced on the trips was golden, it didn’t really compare to the connections I made. My first tour guide was perhaps one of the most important connections I’ve ever had with another human being. This person taught me such a lot in a subtle but significant way. I cannot remember laughing so hard with the other passengers or sharing such wonderful times. I was excited to spend time with them and had a sense of warmth, security and happiness I’ve never felt as an adult.

In this book I talk about connection a lot:

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Please be aware that the above book link contains an affiliate link.

I went on ‘The Grand East’ tour with my best friend. We are both self-confessed introverts. We hardly even talk to each other, never mind to other people. So to find myself actively connecting with the other passengers after only a couple of days was quite a surprise. The truth was, it became as obvious as the nose on my face – I was benefiting from being within a group. Finally, I was part of ‘the tribe’ that so many people talk about.

I had regularly tried to join or create a tribe. I am terrible at it. Perhaps there are reasons. Maybe it’s just been the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe I’m not meant to have a tribe. Who knows? What I do know is that I absolutely loved it. I had a tribe as a teenager and I loved it then too. What did it actually entail? Many, many people have asked me how the tour worked. Quite a lot of people recoil in apparent horror at the idea of having to be part of a ‘tour group’. How terrible. The stigma seems to be rife amongst many I know. I don’t get it personally, but it’s definitely there. Anyway, because of this, there seems to be a fair amount of intrigue around it.

Make friends on your trip – you won’t regret it

My days looked like this: leave the hotel room and say hello to other passengers on the corridor or in the lobby and exchange a few minor pleasantries. This notion was repeated when arriving back to the bus after any significant stop for a visit or lunch and maybe again in the evening if I saw anyone when I was out and about. It was nothing more than the sort of conversation you might have in the hallway at work. Add to this the occasional chat with the bus driver and guide. This was what it was like on the second tour I went on and it still felt enough. It gave a sense of togetherness and brought a sense of peace and calm that I struggle to put my finger on. I guess it’s because we’re social animals. This sort of connection, albeit small, makes a difference to our beingness.

On the first tour, I would share a little more with other passengers and genuinely made friends. I was happy to see them and we’d share the odd factoid about our life or show the occasional picture of our family. It made it not just enriching but beyond that. One particularly happy experience came on the space simulator at the Kennedy Space Center in Orlando, Florida.

My friend and I had made friends with a particularly funny, exuberant Irish man and his wife. They were lovely, amusing and uplifting people to be around. I still laugh out loud when I remember some of the shared experiences. My friend suffers with vertigo and I am not the bravest. I wanted to go on the simulator but he didn’t. Our friendly enthusiastic Irish friend pushed John, my friend, into it. It was without doubt one of the most hilarious experiences of my life. It was bonding.

I would suggest that if you don’t do it already, make the effort to connect with people when you travel. As I mentioned before, it’s such a cliché, it’s almost nauseating. However, it’s true beyond what words can say.

Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together

Woodrow T Wilson

Make connections and revitalise your life

The truth is we travel because we are looking for something, trying to fulfil something or feel something enriching. Whether you buy it or not, the odds are stacked in favour of connection being able to provide this. I know many angry, sad, self-righteous people that all seem to share a disdain for other people. Sure, we all do this from time to time – look at difference and compare –  but it is not good for your health, so stop it. Instead, consider trying the ‘cheesy’ alternative of reaching out to others. Maybe take people on face value and assume similarity rather than difference. It might sound like an after school special but, after I did this for three weeks, I felt like a new person.

If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere

Zig Ziglar

The sight of you

makes my heart break

into two exactly symmetrical

pieces,

 

You’re so tall and wide.

Golden earth and rock

that holds inside a detailed truth

about me.

 

It’s a peculiar truth –

Is it memory or a return

to youth? Or a special something

else that I can’t see?