This is not a post I ever saw myself writing. In fact, it would make far much more sense if, I don’t know, somewhere dramatic or impressive was in the title…like ‘How China changed my life’ or ‘How Nepal changed my life’ (both did – but just not quite like this).
Last week I returned from a seven week stint in Manila. What was originally meant to be a five day trip became two weeks then three, then five weeks and then seven. Welcome to business travel. Yes – by week seven I was identifiable to most people who lived nearby simply because I wore the same things constantly. Also because I went running most nights and no-one else was daft enough to do that so I got quite the reputation.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get that much time to travel outside of Manila. This was a big pity. As my local friends said “the biggest injustice anyone can do is to claim to have been to the Philippines when having only visited Manila because there is just so much more to see”.
I spent most of my weekends working. I had planned to take a weekend out to go and hike Mt.Pinatubo but a visit from my client manager who decided we’d work the weekend saw that trip quietly cancelled.
I always considered myself capable of being alone; I’ve been travelling alone since I was in my teens and I lived alone in London while at university, I could handle being alone – or so I thought.
The first few weeks were fine but then the loneliness and isolation set in. It’s difficult to describe because I went out, I had friends that I would see regularly and have a good time with – but it was somehow lacking. As soon as I’d leave them, I’d start to feel lonely. I’d rather go out and just walk somewhere, anywhere than go back to my hotel room. There was nothing for me there.
It was a lot harder than I expected – especially as the novelty of business travel started to wear off. All the things I’d normally shirk, I suddenly wanted to do. I wanted to be able to wash my own clothes, I wanted to cook my own food, I wanted to be responsible for my own space… it was odd.
The middle few weeks of my seven week stint were uncomfortable. Work was going splendidly and I was relishing the challenges I was presented with – it’s probably why I ended up working such long hours. I just didn’t know quite what to do with myself otherwise.
Then things started to change.
I’d previously carried books and headphones with me to dinner. Reading a book or watching a TV show while I ate made me feel less alone and less self-conscious of the fact that I was alone – because as a Western female wandering around alone, I did attract attention (which was largely unwanted). I can’t remember exactly when but I consciously made the decision to stop taking books and headphones with me to dinner. I’d simply go out and eat alone which was a big step for me.
In the afternoon, I’d sit and read a book or watch a movie I’d been meaning to watch for months (years!) and just never got round to. I spent time working on my blog. I studied.
I stopped living while viewing my actions through the eyes of others and instead lived for me. Unconsciously, and unsurprisingly, I found myself caring less about what other people thought.
On my return, I realised I’d learnt an important lesson. I’m a sociable person and I enjoy being in the company of others – but I no longer need to be.
I learnt how to enjoy being alone.