There’s me, and then there’s me. There’s the me who doesn’t want to stray far from home, who likes to sleep in her own bed every night and who wants to be firmly ensconced in a regular routine for weeks on end – the kind of routine that brings a sense of stability and belonging. This side of me loves it when I can see a long stretch ahead without any travel and gets really excited (yes, really excited!) when I can do a good-sized supermarket shop to last more than a week, because I’ll know I’ll be around to eat it before it goes off. This is the side of me that is a little tired of foreign trips and the challenges that come with them – the tiredness following overnight flights, the feelings of loneliness and vulnerability that come with being a lone woman in a foreign place and the frustrations of dealing with a different culture. This is the side of me that loves having all my clothes and shoes to hand, instead of ending up half way around the world without enough warm stuff or a particular accessory. And this is the side of me that really just wants to explore the beauty of my own country and culture – its stunning coastlines and countryside, its rich history and tradition – after years of trotting the globe, living abroad and eschewing what in the past I felt to be the rather boring British Isles. This side of me has even come to accept the British weather as just right – not too hot, not too cold and with glorious seasons.
But then there’s the other side of me – the side of me that can’t believe I ever doubted taking a trip, the side of me that comes to life in foreign places, that gets a real buzz from communicating in another language and that loves being able to slip into a different culture with relative ease. This side of me loves the sunshine and the heat of foreign climes and revels in the adventure and opportunity that comes with travelling alone as well as the occasional adrenalin boost that comes with taking risks. I’ve always found that as a solo traveller, I meet more people, I’m more adventurous and I push the boundaries a little. I’m not the reckless woman I’ve been in the past but I can sometimes still throw caution to the wind. This side of me is an adventurer who just wants to explore and keep on exploring.
So which of these two sides is the real me? Well, I guess they both are and the key is to find a way to reconcile the two. I’m in Maputo, Mozambique, on a work trip and since I arrived yesterday the two sides of me have been present. Last night, as I recovered from an overnight flight that consisted of two movies and just a tiny bit of sleep, I felt exhausted, a little lonely and vulnerable. I was missing my bed, my friends at the end of the phone and my jeans and boots (the days are hot but the evenings are chilly). But I’d also felt the exhilaration of speaking Portuguese and of encountering a different culture and had chatted to a few interesting people on the journey over. So while some in the immigration queue huffed and puffed at the slowness of the officials, I took delight in the benevolent chaos and informality of their system. And I loved the fact that when I got a little lost yesterday evening trying to find my hotel in the dark, most of the people I asked were willing to go out of their way to walk or drive me around the streets until I found it.
And as I ate fresh papaya for breakfast in the sunshine with all the colours, sounds and smells of the city all around me, it felt good to be on foreign soil once again. That desire to explore has returned today. I want to walk along the beach, eat the locally caught shrimp, feel the heat of the sun and immerse myself in the culture (I’ll stop writing soon and get on with it!).
But for all the excitement and adventure of exploring alone, I guess I’ve reached the stage in my life where I’d give up the adrenalin and opportunity of solo travel for the companionship and fun that comes with sharing new experiences with somebody else. I don’t mind my own company, in fact I’ve learned to really enjoy it, but the highlights of life aren’t these solitary moments but the times when I’m enjoying the company of others.
That brings me on to something I was writing a few days ago but didn’t manage to finish before I left for Mozambique. I was pondering my last post, Perseverance pays off, and it occurred to me that perseverance is so much easier if you’re not on your own. It was easier for two of us to stand in a long queue in the rain at Wimbledon on Monday and it’s easier to get anything done if you’ve got someone cheering you on. It’s not so much safety in numbers but strength in numbers. No wonder so many people take on personal trainers, mentors and coaches. Only the most self-disciplined amongst us can get to the gym as often as we want to without someone encouraging us – or without the knowledge we’ve paid for something so we’d better do it! – and life and business coaching wouldn’t have exploded in recent years if it didn’t bring concrete benefits. Whether it’s physical, spiritual or emotional, we learn more, grow more, accomplish more, have more fun and generally live life more fully when we’re in company. I guess that’s the basis of church services and mid-week home groups, youth clubs, 12-step addiction recovery meetings, group therapy practices, exercise classes in gyms, trainers, coaches, mentors and, at the root of it all, partnership and family. In short, it’s the basis of relationship.
On that note, I’ll just share that as I watched two beautiful girls play around the hotel terrace this morning as their young mother worked on her laptop, I wondered if I’d ever be in that position. I wondered if all those years of pursuing adventure, excitement, solo travel and independent living had meant I’d left it too late to have my own family. But, once again, it comes back to trust and acceptance – what will be, will be.
Before I go off to explore some sights, sounds and colours of a tiny part of this beautiful country, a quote from English writer Aldous Huxley. I’m not sure why I think this is relevant to this post but I saw it on the Twitter feed of Psychologies Magazine (@PsychologiesMAG) and I liked it: “Happiness is not achieved by the conscious pursuit of happiness; it is generally the by-product of other activities.”
Katherine, beautiful post. I sooooo get you (at times it was like reading my own thoughts…esp on enjoying my own company but really wanting to share some of life’s beautiful moments with another, preferably a special someone)! Re: ‘I’d left it too late to have my own family’ – maybe not???
Thanks for an interesting read.
Thanks for your comment, Aneta.
And apologies for the delay in responding – it’s been a busy week here in Maputo! No time to blog! I hope you’re right about it not being too late for me!
This idea of a split personality totally resonates with me. I also both love and loathe travelling depending on my mood. Great post.
Thanks for your comment Suzi.
It’s been an interesting week here in Mozambique – both sides of my split personality have been alive and well!
Here you are, Katherine. Great blog.
Nuno A Ferreira
Thanks Nuno! I look forward to checking out your blog too.
Nice meeting you this week.
Hi Katherine, just read your blog (a little late but hey ho). I can understand so well what you say about the importance of having company. We are social creatures by nature, and I have only found that out far too late in life. By nature I am a solitary person and enjoy my own company so growing up as a young adult I never cultivated friendships (as they just seemed to ‘happen’) and never valued the importance of community in my life. I am now 45, not married and with no children. Many friends of old gave up with me a long time ago and I now find that some of them don’t even want to renew contact when I try, which has caused me quite some pain. I also always maintained I wanted to live alone but have just spent the most lonely 2 years in a flat feeling extremely isolated and unhappy. I cling on to an outdated relationship that I can never fully bring myself to end, purely for the emotional support that he gives me. In a nutshell I guess I’m trying to say that as I turned 40, and in the years since, I have realised more and more how important and vital to our emotional health a sense of community is, and how I wished I had known that when I was much younger, as I would have cultivated better relationships, perhaps made more effort to find the right relationship in which to have a family, and made better career choices. I guess that it is also vitally important to be comfortable with your own company, and be your own best friend, but sharing our lives with others is, I believe, what life is all about and something I am only just fully appreciating. I love your blog, thank you.
Thanks so much for your comment and your honesty. Yours are wise words about the importance of community and relationships. And I agree that both require ‘cultivation’ – they require action on our part, which is sometimes easier than others. I sincerely hope the right relationships come into your life in the near future.
Best wishes, Katherine
Found your site this morning after reading your article in Psychologies magazine and just wanted to let you know that I love your blogs! This one particularly resonates as I’m constantly drawn to travel but also love the homecoming. Its been interesting to read some of your other blogs too around career changes and your relationship with yourself. Thank you for sharing your life and thoughts so honestly and freely, I shall be looking out for your next posts with interest!
Thanks for reading and commenting. Nice to have you on board. And I’m really pleased you like my writing – that’s always nice to hear. I love writing this blog but it’s great to hear that others enjoy reading it! Yes, that split personality – I still have it. Part of me craves security and routine and another part just wants to run free. Trying to find some sort of balance between the two – I think that’s the way forward!