Holiday Gift Guide 2020
Books, books, and more books… And oh yes, other things too. Here are Tsh’s recommendations!
Books are the best gifts to give and get, I say! Indie bookshops — the beacons of light that make our communities more alive — have really hurt in 2020. Let’s do our best to shop there first.
When you shop at Bookshop.org a portion of your purchase goes both to indie bookshops all over and the work I do, at no extra cost to you. This is a great way to support the work you love with the gift purchases you’d make anyway:
- My Non-Fiction Recommendations
- My Fiction Recommendations
- My Small Readers Recommendations
- My Not-as-Small Readers Recommendations
If time’s running short and you need quick shipping, or if you’re making other purchases and want to consolidate — I get it. Here are those same books on Amazon, where I’m an Associate and may therefore earn a commission at no extra cost to you.
Like with books, our cousins across the pond have blessed us indeed with no shortage of fantastic visual storytelling. So, this list is in no way exhaustive, but below are a few films of TV series set in or near London, to scratch that Anglophile itch when you’re not there yourself.
It’s getting closer… We’re about a month away from being together on the other side of the pond! There’s just a few final details to share with you.
First Up, Packing Light.
I can’t emphasize enough how much better you’ll feel if you pack light. In all my travels, I can’t think of one time when my not bringing something made the experience worse — I either forgot about whatever it was I was debating about bringing the second I arrived, or I was easily able to find what I needed on location.
We’re going to London, a city just as modern as anything you’d find in the States (if not more, in some categories). There’s nothing you’ll need you can’t find there in a pinch.
Try to pack everything in a carry-on, so you won’t have to check anything in. So… pack light. Cool?
The key to packing light is to come up with a capsule wardrobe. By this, I mean every item included can somehow work with each other to create multiple outfits. To create 7 different outfits, you don’t need 7 different shirts; with the right choices, you could get away with 2-3. That sort of thing. Search Pinterest for “capsule wardrobe Europe” or “capsule wardrobe London summer” to find some inspiration.
(Also? Keep in mind our guesthouse has a washer and dryer, should you need to do laundry.)
Before I get to your official packing list, here’s a few notes to keep in mind…
Highs in late June in London are in the low to mid 70s Fahrenheit; lows are in the mid 50s, yet last summer we were hit with an unseasonably warm heat wave. It can often be drizzly at a moment’s notice (that’s Britain for you). The lesson? Plan to wear layers, and bring a thin rain jacket that can squish up nicely that doesn’t scream tourist!.
You could also get away with a small umbrella (or as they say, “brolly”) that folds up nicely in your day bag, if you’d prefer that route. Just know it gets crowded on city streets, so you might bonk into people.
The main thing: layering is key, especially on days we’ll be out of the guesthouse from morning to night.
We will be doing a lot of walking. If you’ve ever spent time in a big city, you know what I’m talking about — it’s normal to walk lots miles daily simply getting around for your life, not to mention taking in the sites. Strong, comfortable shoes are essential. If you ignore everything else I tell you but this, you’ll be in good shape.
Now, don’t get shoes you’d wear for exercise, because there’s nothing else that screams tourist! any louder. But tennies are okay when they have a modern look to them (a good test: would you feel okay wearing them with a casual skirt?). I’m personally a fan of a good slip-on that doesn’t feel sneaker-ish but is still casual.
Bring a good walking sandal and/or ballet flat as well, since there will be a few times you’ll want to “dress up” (no cocktail attire, but something smart and put together). Booties are cute, too.
If you aim for smaller, lightweight shoes, you can even pack an extra pair in your day bag when we leave the guesthouse in the morning, giving you a chance to swap out if you feel the need.
In general, Europeans put a bit more thought into their dress than North Americans, so it’s good to put some thought into your outfits (leave your free logo tees at home, in other words).
That said, London can be casual-ish when it comes to fashion trends: it’s a modern city with a young vibe, so there’s no need to overdo or overthink this. Jeans are great. Well-fitting tees are great. Just look like an adult person who cares.
Note: Unless you’re right along the Mediterranean, shorts aren’t a huge thing in Europe, so I’d mostly leave those home. Skirts or dresses are better.
Some of my favorite souvenirs are things to wear, so consider leaving your bag on the lighter side if you’d like to shop in London! There’s no shortage of amazing shops there, both high-end (Harrod’s) and cheap thrift stores on side alleys. You’ll have some free time for this if it’s your thing.
Britain, like all of Europe, runs on a 220-volt electrical system, which means your American 110-volt small appliances won’t work (hair dryers, curling irons, toasters). Leave them at home. I’ll bring my European-friendly hair dryer for anyone who wants to use it (I personally don’t bother, but I know those of you with longer hair might like one).
Bring an adapter for things like your laptop, phone chargers, Kindle, and the like. A small square like this is great.
You can do either a travel pack you wear like a backpack or a small carry-on suitcase with wheels. Once you’re at the guesthouse, you won’t need to take your main luggage anywhere else until your return flight home, so you only need to consider the trek from the airport to our house and back. Small rolled luggage is fine — Away makes a great carry-on (use the code SIMPLE for $20 off).
You will need a small overnight bag for one night we’ll spend in Oxford, away from our main guesthouse. A small backpack is fine.
You’ll also need a day bag for going out for the day. It can be the same backpack, or it can be more like a purse, so long as it’s comfortable and big enough to hold everything you’d need for the day. I recommend making sure it has a zipper that fully closes the bag —we’ll be on crowded subways and streets. Nothing to worry about, just standard city stuff.
That’s about it for any explanations — head here for my complete packing list!
Here’s a few final things to think about and consider doing before heading across the pond…
• Phones: Check with your phone carrier and see if you can use your phone in England with minimal (or no) extra charges. If you can, it’s a godsend to use it out and about. (Sometimes you can add an extra international plan just for one month.)
• Banks: A few days before you leave, call your bank (and/or credit cards) and let them know where you’ll be. They should put a note in your account, which means charges in the U.K. won’t be marked as suspicious. (Trust me, it’s much easier to do this proactively ahead of time instead of reactively while you’re trying to make a late-night purchase with your card in another country. Ask me how I know.)
Yes, this means you won’t need to bring any British money with you ahead of time — you’ll just use ATMs and your cards throughout the London area all week. And for what’s already included in your trip cost, I’ll either give any money you’ll need or will pay for the group.
• Apps: When you have a chance, go ahead download the Citymapper app and select London — this is my favorite public transportation app (that can also connect with your Uber account, should you ever get stuck in a bind).
Also, download a converter app so you can convert pounds into dollars when you’re shopping — I like the app simply called Currency.
It might seem a little weird to talk about culture shock when we’re traveling to a culture that’s similar to our own, but if you’re not used to much international travel, you might be surprised at how you initially react to being out of your country.
Gratefully, we won’t have much of a language barrier (emphasis on “much,” seeing as they use words like lorry, loo, dosh, knickers, and bob’s-your-uncle). But there’s still a dull ache of culture shock that happens to the best of us, even the seasoned travelers. Sometimes, it’ll feel even more surprising in cultures similar to your own, since you’re not expecting it.
Expect literally any response to culture shock in the first 24 hours. Some people feel a passive apathy towards the host culture; some find Everything Fascinating!, then crash into overwhelm the next day. Some people’s personalities change — if you’re an extrovert naturally, you might find yourself pulling inward and dying for alone time in your own room. There’s a good chance your body will tire pretty easily at first, especially with jet lag.
All this to say: culture shock is normal, even in London. We’re only there a week, so talking about it in our group and pushing yourself towards a tiny bit of discomfort (without jumping into your panic zone) is the best plan of action.
Emily here with a short encouragement before you leave.
We’ll soon be together, traipsing through London wearing our sensible shoes and carrying our Oyster cards and I can’t wait.
Between now and then you’ll be busy making arrangements to leave the country, tying up loose ends, equipping your team and/or family to function in your absence, and figuring out what to pack and what to leave behind (not to mention brushing up on your Jane Austen novels).
Here’s one more simple action I encourage you to take before you leave home.
When we find ourselves in new surroundings, it can be helpful to have a grounding practice to fall back on, something familiar to remind yourself of God’s presence. Ideally this is simple, accessible, and something that can be done without anyone knowing if you don’t want them to know.
For me, over the past few years, that has been the breath prayer. This is a form of contemplative prayer, also called “a prayer of the heart.” It’s called a breath prayer because the idea is to pray the words with the rhythm of your breathing, a reminder that God is near. It’s a non-fussy way to practice his presence, no matter where we are.
What I love about the breath prayer:
• It’s not fancy
• It helps to untangle anxiety
• It reminds me of God’s presence with me
• It’s something true to carry as I go
Again, it can be anything! Some examples include a short verse of scripture, a line from a poem, a lyric from a song, a simple phrase, or even just a simple word. It needs to be short enough to be said in your mind with your inhale and exhale.
Before we leave for London, maybe a breath prayer is something you would like to introduce in your daily rhythm. I’m sharing it now so that gives you a few weeks to see if you like this practice or not, and if so, it will be familiar to you once you leave for the trip. I’ve whispered many a breath prayer on international flights, let me just tell you.
You won’t have to share your prayer with us. This is a no-homework zone! Unless you tell us, we’ll never know if you chose one or not. Instead, it’s one option for you, if you want it, to remind you of the presence of God with you as you travel.
Here are some possible prayers to choose from or, of course, you may come up with your own:
• Oh God, Gather me now to be with you as you are with me. (Ted Loder)
• Abba, I belong to you. (Brennan Manning)
• The Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need. (from Psalm 23)
• I am one in whom Christ delights and dwells. (James Bryan Smith)
• Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)
• The peace of God guards my heart. (Phil. 4:7)
About Our Group Time
One final reminder as you prepare to leave. When we are together, I will guide our group conversation times with a light hand and an invitational posture. This time is for you. We will hold safe space, but you get to choose what to share and what not to share.
Our encouragement is simply to be open. Bring your vocational questions and your weird discomfort, your great ideas and your tentative plans that you want feedback on. We are all creative entrepreneurs so we get it. Any and all twisty, nuanced ridiculation will be welcome and embraced.
We can’t wait to be together.