Reverse culture shock: Why aren’t complete strangers talking to me, and where are all the chickens?

From chickens to clothes to children, strangers to straighteners to Spanglish … after two months in Nicaragua, I’m experiencing a little dose of reverse culture shock back here in the UK.

Reverse culture shock 1: From morning person to night owl

reverse culture shock Nicaragua to the UK

Chickens. Still not missing them.

I’m quite happy not being woken up by chickens, monkeys and the 6am bus pomping its horn outside my window – all of which were a common occurrence in Nicaragua. But, and who thought I’d ever admit this – I’m kind of missing being up and about at first light.

In Nicaragua my daily rhythm was far more in tune with the natural rise of the sun – 6.30/7am mornings were my new norm. I even felt bright-eyed and bushy tailed.

In the UK? My alarm went off at 6.30am yesterday morning, and it took me a full half hour to open my eyes properly and even contemplate disentangling myself from my duvet. After finally succeeding, I staggered to my kitchen to make myself a good cup of coffee. Nicaraguan, of course.

Reverse culture shock 2: From five T-shirts to a whole wardrobe

reverse culture shock Nicaragua to UK

I have a whole wardrobe to choose from, not just the contents of this fella

My wardrobe choices are no longer based on, “which of my items of clothing are the least dusty?” Clearly, this sounds wonderful. But there’s something that now feels a little bit wrong about being faced with a whole wardrobe of clothes to choose from. Do I really need all this stuff?

I went out for lunch for a friends’ birthday the other day, and it took me half an hour to choose what to wear. For lunch! What’s that all about?

Travel keeps me low maintenance, and by returning to the western world of plenty I’ve automatically gone up a notch on the scale. The joy I experienced at being reunited with my high heels and hair straighteners made me feel … how can I put it … a bit shallow. But at the same time? So goooooood.

Reverse culture shock 3: From creating a fake life story – in Spanish – to, errrrrr, not!

“Oh, I was travelling with my boyfriend here for two weeks. But he had to go back to England. For work.”

Or so went the tale according to me, after being asked for the gazillionth time why I was travelling alone, and receiving numerous confused looks upon explaining I was happy doing so and I liked it.

Or – my particular fave – being asked why I didn’t have children.

The answer to that one?

“Me and my (imaginary) boyfriend have only been together six months, so it’s too soon for children at the moment.”

Seemingly not in Nicaragua, as the vehement looks and comments of disagreement told me!

It was at this point my inner voice would scream: “Arrrrrrgh, aaarrrrrrgh, arrrrrrrrrrgggghhhh! He doesn’t exist! I just made him up because I don’t want to appear any more strange than a five foot ten sort-of red-headed white girl travelling alone on a chicken bus already does, without getting into a whole debate in Spanglish about my wishes / non-wishes for children!”

reverse culture shock: Nicaragua to the UK

Ask me why I’m travelling alone / don’t have children. Go on, dare ya!

Deep breath.

Instead, I just smiled sweetly, and ordered another chicken tortilla from the nearest vendor.

Anyway, I’m not missing the regularity with which complete strangers ask me such questions about my private life.

However, I AM missing the level of interaction and chattiness that’s common in Nicaragua.

I MISS hearing those revolutionary tales – I was incredibly humbled by what ordinary people had gone through.

The only voices I hear on the London Underground are those of us from more northerly reaches of the British Isles, and tourists debating which branch of the Northern Line they need.

I mean, seriously, what’s the matter with you all? Ask me how old I am and why I don’t have children, damn you!!!

Have you experienced reverse culture shock when returning home? Share your stories below.

Case study: how volunteering can help change your career

Meet Mark. He changed his career in his late 40s through volunteering, and now works his dream job as a successful gardener for a stately home in Yorkshire, UK. This is his story of how he “turned a crap situation into a brilliant one”, and his top tips for how volunteering can help change your career.

how volunteering can change your career on your career break

Mark shows off the results of his handiwork. I want one of these for Hallowe’en!

When Mark was made redundant from his middle-management marketing job five years ago, he thought his world had come to an end.

“It felt catastrophic,” he told me. “But after I’d come round a bit, I wanted to use the situation as an opportunity, rather than see it only as a disaster.”

After an initial period volunteering in marketing roles to keep his skills fresh on his enforced career-break, Mark thought more deeply about what he really liked doing. Marketing didn’t make the list.

His passion? Gardening.

Despite some green fingers and a home that comes complete with chickens, beehives, and a well-stocked veggie patch, Mark had no formal experience or qualifications in anything horticultural.

[quote]“I looked at where I was at the time, and where I wanted to be”[/quote]Mark tells me. “I knew I had the passion for gardening, and some informal experience. But I had to work out how I was going to get more commercial gardening experience and training to allow me to make gardening my new career.”

“Volunteering seemed like the best way to go about making the change, and I did some odd gardening jobs for friends and neighbours too.”

how volunteering can change your career on your career break. Nostell Priory.

Nostell Priory, Yorkshire

Mark volunteered part-time at Nostell Priory, an 18th century stately home in Yorkshire set in 300 acres of parkland.

He says: “It was a bit of an eye-opener at first – the resources were more limited than I was used to, and it made me wonder if some big corporates couldn’t learn something about being a bit more creative in how they achieve their aims.”

The job offer

Mark’s hard work as a volunteer gardener came to fruition about a year later, when he was the successful candidate for a vacancy as a paid full-time gardener.

“This job feels like something I can believe in,” he says. “I have responsibility for my own area of garden here and my own ten-year-plan for it, so it’s a different kind of responsibility from the corporate office environment.”

how volunteering can change your career on your career break. Nostell Priory

Meadows as well as more formal gardens surround Nostell Priory

[quote]“I feel proud of my work, and of what I’ve achieved. It took a while, but by volunteering I managed to turn a crap situation into a brilliant one.”[/quote]

Mark’s top tips on how to change your career through volunteering

  1. Be a sponge. Take it all in and be seen to work hard and be enthusiastic about learning new things.
  2. Be kind to everyone you work with. Colleagues, customers etc. When that dream job does come up, you don’t want the boss to think you’re a difficult person who they don’t want on their team.
  3. Keep the faith. It can take a while for your career-change dreams to come to fruition. But keep at it!

Useful resources

  • is a database of UK volunteering vacancies
  • The CareerShifters crew have all sorts of useful advice about how to change your career, plus loads of inspirational stories to kick-start your motivation for change

Have you volunteered to help change your career? Or have you found an un-planned career-change as a result of volunteering? Share your volunteering stories below.

Returning home to the UK: reflections

[quote]Here’s to journeys near and far, short and long; to the people we meet on the way, and to those we come home to.[/quote]

I can’t believe it. My month-long trip from Budapest to Athens is at an end.

It’s been awesome. From the hospitality in Albania, to the Greeks who kept trying to overfeed me; from the architecture of Budapest to the “too cool for school” vibe of Zagreb.

As I spend my first 24 hours after returning home to the UK, I’m having a little reflection time – café latte in hand – on what I’ll miss most from my time in SE Europe.

Top 5 things I’ll miss about returning home to the UK

The weather

It’s been a sunny month in SE Europe. Factor 15 has been applied on a regular basis. T-shirts have been worn. I sit writing this wearing a jumper. And it’s not technically even “cold” yet. Boo.

Eating and drinking outside

returning home to the UK

Street-side dining in Athens, Greece

Outdoor coffee culture is alive and kicking across SE Europe – from the streets of Zagreb where seemingly the entire city is on a coffee break, to the wine bars of Ljubljana and the street-side dining in Greece.

Good value

It’s no good something being as cheap as chips if it’s rubbish. The whole SE Europe region was good value, with Meteora and Athens in Greece, and Ljubljana standing out for me.

At no point in my trip did I feel as though I was being ripped off. Example: a 0.75 litre bottle of water at Athens airport was €0.50. Try that in the UK!

Albania was the cheapest destination I visited; and also good value (with the possible exception of bus travel on some journeys – always cheap, just not always cheerful with it!)

Experiencing something new every day

Castles, galleries, new cuisines, the local firewater, meeting new people, learning about history of different places, wandering and getting lost, lakes, the sea, alternative architecture, cool street art. It’s gonna be hard to keep up the same level of wide-eyed wonder back home.

Convivial people

I felt welcome throughout my travels, even where language has been a barrier. It’s not as though us Brits aren’t friendly to people visiting our country, we sometimes just need a little more warming up.

And, for balance …

5 things I’m looking forward to most about returning home to the UK

Café latte

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a lot of good coffee during my month on the road. I’ve tried all the local concoctions: Turkish style in Albania, strong Greek coffee, to the practically inhaled variety that purveys on the streets of Zagreb. I’ve enjoyed them all, though I’ve drawn the line at coffee and a cigarette for breakfast.

Now though, I need lashing of lattes I can linger over a little longer in the British autumn. I’ve been back home less than 24 hours, and I’ve had two already. Bliss.

Cooking a meal

returning home to the UK

I’ve been to my UK equivalent of this place this morning. With fewer sausages.

The simple pleasure of cooking food. The food on my travels has been plentiful in the extreme and tasty to boot, but the freedom of making my own dishes is calling me. I’ve been to my local deli, butcher and greengrocer this morning to stock up.

Going for a run

Steps up to numerous castles in Albania and up the 498 steps of Torre degli Asinelli in Bologna have been good for my fitness, but only in a sporadic kinda way.

Plus I’ve walked everywhere; but … I miss the gym. God, there’s a sentence I didn’t think I’d ever write. I’ll be buying pay-as-you-go membership for the couple of months until my next trip.

Speaking the same language

In Albania I reacquainted myself with school-girl German and Italian in an attempt to find a mutual language in which to converse. I got by. Kind of. However, I felt a bit rubbish when I was only able to communicate in basic greetings – which has been the whole month if I’m honest. And knowing the Albanian for car wash hasn’t got me too far.

Catching up with my friends

I’ve missed you 🙂 I have a pub-filled social calendar for the rest of this week, where I’ll be raising a toast or two:

[quote]Here’s to journeys near and far, short and long; to the people we meet on the way, and to those we come home to.[/quote]


What have been your experiences of returning home after a trip? Do you find it easy or difficult to readjust?

What to expect on a yoga retreat

Ooh, it’s a while since I’ve used those hamstring muscles. That’s my initial thought, just five minutes into the first class of a weekend yoga retreat in Devon, UK.

Whether it’s for a holiday or as part of a career break, here are my tips on what to expect on a yoga retreat.

The format

Typically there are two classes a day, one in the morning around 8am, another in the early evening. Afternoons are usually free to do your own thing. what to expect on a yoga retreatClass intensity will progress gradually on each day and you’ll be surprised what you can do.

Retreats are a good opportunity to experience different yoga styles and their benefits. Some retreats have a more spiritual focus than others.

Top tip: Check whether the retreat suitable for beginners or those with more experience, and let the teacher know your capabilities in advance.

Where to go

I’ve been a participant on four yoga holidays in the last four years – two in Spain, one in Morocco and – most recently – a weekend in Devon, UK.

I love to explore, so I always check out what else there is to do nearby for those free afternoons. Many guests use that time to relax on the retreat premises.

Retreats are often located remotely, so if you want to explore you need to account for car hire or other transport costs.

How to find a yoga retreat

I’ve used, which has links to up-coming weekends, weeks and longer stays around the globe. Thailand, India, Costa Rica, Florida, Spain, Morocco, Turkey and Greece are just some of the varied locations on offer. The world’s your oyster. Or should that be your crab?

Other guests

In my experience, the average girl to guy ratio has been around 10:1. Age range is typically 30s-50s. Most people go on their own and are fairly sociable types. At fancier places you may find the odd mum and daughter combo.

Costs and what you get for your money on a yoga retreat

Prices for yoga retreats typically include your accommodation, yoga classes, and at least 2 veggie meals per day. Alcohol may or may not be available, depending on the nature of the venue.


This is my preferred option. Rooms may be shared with one other person, though you can usually pay a single supplement to guarantee your own space. Rooms usually have a simple en-suite bathroom, or a bathroom shared with one or two other rooms.

Weekend (2 or 3 nights): £250-£400 ($415-$660) exc flights

Week: £500-£750 ($825-$1240) exc flights

Locations in this price range will have landscaped outside areas to relax in. Think English country garden, Moroccan riad roof-terrace, or Spanish patio and pool.

Spare the pennies or splash the cash

Ashrams in India provide a more authentic and simple approach. The expectation is that you attend all classes, and it’s a no-alcohol affair.  A week booked in advance starts from around £200 in a shared dorm or room.

You can also find your own yoga class on your travels. I found a private lesson in Pokhara, Nepal for £4.

Luxury yoga retreats are all-out pampering holiday affairs in historical or otherwise beautiful properties. They come complete with spa treatments, but can reach the £2000 mark ($3300) for a week. Ouch!

My Devon yoga weekend

Fast-forward three days from my arrival in Devon. I’m stretched, relaxed, feel surprisingly invigorated, and uplifted and energized. Nothing can zap my energy. Not even the 7-hour drive home. When can I go again?

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”10″ size_format=”px”]Exchange rates calculated on 2nd September 2014, rounded to the nearest $5, and based on a rate of £1=$1.65.


What have been your yoga retreat experiences? What would put you off going on a yoga retreat? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Top 5 Yorkshire days out

Here’s a snapshot of five varied days Yorkshire days out in what us local folk call – without a sense of irony – “God’s own county.”

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Best for short walks with a bit of art thrown in

Barbara Hepworth. Henry Moore. Just two of the internationally famous sculptors whose works you’ll see in the countryside setting of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Even if you’re not too fussed about art or sculpture, the YSP makes for a pretty gentle stroll in rolling parkland (complete with woods and lake). Visiting exhibits include international names such Ai Weiwei, and are housed indoors or outdoors depending on their medium.


  • Free to enter. Car parking costs £8 per car for the whole day.
  • A bus runs from Wakefield and Barnsley, both of which have train connections to elsewhere in Yorkshire.

The North Yorkshire Coast

Best for picturesque fishing towns and villages, paddling in the North Sea, fish and chips

Top 5 Yorkshire Days Out - North Yorkshire Coast

Whitby harbour, with the Abbey in the background

Whitby – a bustling fishing port famed for Dracula and its Abbey. Reach the abbey by climbing – count ‘em – 199 steps.

Robin Hood’s Bay – impossibly pretty fishing village and former smugglers hideout housing numerous art, gift and bookshops. It’s a steeeeeep hill down to the bay, but there’s a top chippie (fish and chip shop) at the bottom. Just don’t eat too many chips before attempting the climb back up.

Runswick Bay – paddle your feet in the bracing North Sea and look back over the cute cottages that line the cliff down to the water. Good ice-cream can be found by the small harbour.

There are some lovely walks along this part of the coast; you can have some great Yorkshire days out walking from one town/village to another before cooling off in the North Sea – if you’re brave!


  • Car parking can be truly horrific on summer weekends, get there early (or late) to beat the rush and get a parking spot. Most car parks are pay and display.
  • A bus runs from Scarborough to Whitby via Robin Hoods Bay; an infrequent train goes from Middlesbrough to Whitby. Buses run from Middlesbrough and Whitby to Runswick Bay.

Rievaulx Abbey & Helmsley

Best for gift shopping and ancient ruins

Top 5 Yorkshire Days Out - Rievaulx Abbey

Rievaulx Abbey

Helmsley is a pretty market town around 20 miles north of York that comes complete with castle, a good craft and gift shopping scene, and a very upmarket spa. Popular with bikers, it makes for an enjoyable couple of hours roaming and browsing.

From Helmsley, you can walk the well-marked (sometimes muddy) footpath for three miles to the former monastery of Rievaulx Abbey (pronounced Ree-voh).

An audio guide provides a great insight into the history of the Abbey from the 12th-16th centuries, when it became victim of the Tudor dissolution of the monasteries. Don’t miss the on-site café, which has a mouth-watering selection of home made cakes.


  • Buses run from York, Scarborough and Malton to Helmsley.
  • Rievaulx Abbey costs £6.20 for adults (less for children/concessions); the price includes the interesting audio guide. Car parking at the Abbey is £4, which is refunded when you buy an entrance ticket. The Abbey isn’t open every day during the winter.

Brimham Rocks & Nidderdale

Best for releasing your inner child and getting outdoors

Get your boots on and explore the outdoor playground of Brimham Rocks and surrounding Nidderdale.

Brimham Rocks sits 11 miles west of the spa town of Harrogate, and is a top spot to scramble about. Go on, you know you want to! Some rock formations are for the hard-core only (ie for those with climbing gear), but for the most part you can pretend you’re seven again to your heart’s content and clamber where you will. Great fun.

Top 5 Yorkshire Days Out - Brimham Rocks

Releasing my inner child at Brimham Rocks

Walks lead directly from Brimham Rocks into surrounding Nidderdale, which is also home to several easily-walked reservoirs, and the pretty riverside town of Pateley Bridge. Pateley is also a good base for walks – most of which involve a steep uphill jaunt out of the valley at their start.


  • Entrance to Brimham Rocks is free, but car parking costs £5 for up to 4 hours, or £6 all day.
  • Buses run the route between Harrogate and Pateley Bridge, stopping 2 miles from Brimham Rocks at Summerbridge. Summer Sunday buses go directly from Harrogate to Brimham Rocks.


Best for museums and all things historical, city pubs

Top 5 Yorkshire Days Out - York

Wide-eyed and in jail at the Castle Museum, York

Ah, York. A thousand superlatives could be said about the place. From gentle walks by the river Ouse, to explorations of the famous gothic Minster, race days and live music; it’s a city that could easily keep you entertained for several Yorkshire days out.

The Castle Museum is a good bet for kids and adults alike. It’s brilliantly curated and will happily keep you occupied for a few hours. Visit the recreated Victorian streets, or lock yourself up in the old city jail.

In sunny weather, you can’t beat a walk around the old city walls. Call at one or two of York’s independent coffee shops en-route; or stop for a beer in the Lamb and Lion Inn, whose beer garden has a stunning view of both walls and Minster.


  • York is a mere two hours north from London by train. Tickets from the capital are expensive in peak hours and/or if you just show up. Avoid the main business travelling times and book in advance if you can.
  • Trains from York go directly to Wakefield, Scarborough, Middlesbrough and Harrogate to allow you to link up with the other sights here.

It was nigh on impossible to select just five top Yorkshire days out. What did you think of my recommendations? Where would make your list?