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.”