Or what I’ve learnt in two weeks off-grid:
We’ve just got back from a two week trip to the highlands and islands of Scotland. Having moved from the metropolis of London Town to sunny Cornwall 11 years ago now, I had forgotten that quiet is a relative term, and that there are still hidden places and tucked away corners of these beautiful isles that make even where we live seem busy by comparison.
When we set off from here in the wee dark hours two weeks ago, we didn’t know how the time would unfold. A tentative journey from one end of our country to the other, testing out the miles with two small children in the back, nights spent sleeping under canvas and in the van we had borrowed for the trip. Nervously, we’d packed everything we could think of to keep them busy and us sane as we travelled – my laptop, an iPad, both our iPhones and a work Blackberry, a travel DVD player with two screens, as well as the books and games we hoped they’d engage with first but feared would not amuse them for as long as they should.
1900 miles and two weeks later, and most of that electronic frippery remained exactly where we packed it for the majority of the trip. The miles and the days passed by (largely) in an unexpectedly peaceful reverie. Books were read, scrapbooks written, games played. Two weeks in a tent with relatively little access to electricity, and virtually no wi-fi or even telephone reception most of the time, and I have come back full of a new wonder and appreciation for the disconnected life. Here’s some things I have been mulling over since I returned:
- It isn’t all about the technology: It would be predictably easy to wax lyrical about the benefits of a couple of weeks out of the usual stream of constant connectivity that has many benefits but that also threatens to engulf us at times. Of course, two weeks without emails and facebook and twitter is always good for the soul occasionally, and for me, with the world I work in, it is especially important to step back from social media from time to time. Once over the shock of not being able to tweet about your tent-putting-up prowess or post a picture of your beautiful progeny on a white sand beach, even I can see the benefits of appreciating the here and now for the here and now, instead of for the message it might send to the outside world, or the people it might let me connect with. That said, it wasn’t the biggest thing I noticed nor the most profound…
- I like the silence, it lets me breathe: Since arriving home, one of the things that has struck me most is the constant noise I subconsciously live with. Easy access to plug sockets and electricity means I hardly notice the sound systems in (nearly) every room any more, controlled via the iPad or iPhones that are invariably knocking around, switched on or off at various times by the children and adults passing through. TV, the radio, spotify – constant artificial noise thoughtlessly there in the background all the time. With that removed, life seems to take on a more gentle rhythm. Silence is something that I have been afraid of, or have actively sought to drown out at certain points in my life, but being happy with the quiet of your own thoughts is an inherently good thing. Now I am home, I will definitely be trying to be more proactive about seeking out silence and not letting myself be overrun by subconscious noise so easily.
- No one misses what they don’t have (most of the time anyway): Coming home and unpacking today has been a bit of a mini-culture shock. Not on the same scale as when I came home from Africa for the first time aged 19 and spent weeks struggling with all the stuff in my parents house, but still. When four of you take off for 16 days in a small van, you are extremely selective about what you take. It’s a bit like backpacking: do I really need that extra jumper? Could I make do with 2 cooking pots instead of 3? Then you come home, open your wardrobe and see all the clothes you didn’t take (and didn’t miss). I cook dinner and open cupboards in the kitchen and marvel at the equipment I own and when do I really need to use 4 chopping boards all at the same time anyway? I wouldn’t say I am a horder by any stretch, so maybe that’s why I appreciate the simplicity of travelling light. Owning a multitude of possessions don’t sit too easily with me at the best of times, but nonetheless I live in a house in England and have 2 kids. So I am sure by 90% of the world’s standards, we live in total luxury with far more stuff than we need. And I don’t like that. This trip has definitely given me another nudge me towards being a little more selective with the things I surround myself with.
- It’s amazing how quickly you create a new normal: Routines and habits, they have a way of creeping up on you. Putting the kids to bed and collapsing in front of the TV. Kids coming home from school and putting the TV on whilst dinner cooks. Hang on a minute – there’s a pattern here… Away from that routine and expectation, it’s amazing how quickly things change. A while back I gave up sugar and stopped buying squash for the kids. As I worried how they’d react, they astounded me by the speed at which they accepted Mummy no longer bought that stuff and stopped asking for it. It was the same on holiday. We told them the TVs weren’t coming out until the journey home (in hopeful optimism) and I’m not kidding you, they didn’t ask for them once. 1300 miles in, with regular 3 or 4 hour journeys at a time, and they snoozed, looked out of the window, listened to music, read, played games – until the journey home. The Promise of The TV restored, they spent the first few hours pestering us, asking us how long til lunch every few minutes (we’d said we’d get them out after we stopped for lunch) and generally whinged and moaned and made a meal out of it until we threatened to withdraw the offer altogether. And now back home for just a day, the TV ever-present in it’s usual position in our living room, it’s like they’ve forgotten that they’ve spent the past two weeks amusing themselves without such an instrument. And us grown-ups are not above temptation either: 16 blissful nights of sitting and watching the sunset, reading, chatting, or simply being alone with your thoughts has made me realise how often I reach for the easy option and turn on the TV in the evening to ‘relax’. And how many other things I/we are missing out on because of it. We’re not there yet by a long shot, but it’s definitely made us think and talk (again) about how we reduce the amount of TV we all watch, or even whether we’d be better off without the darn thing altogether…
So that’s where we’re at right now and the food for thought that a couple of glorious weeks of wild and wonderful remote British countryside has given us. But ultimately, I’m hoping that it’s not just about getting away from the routines and responsibilities of everyday life for a couple of weeks this time. We both came home with a feeling that we needed to not just let everything drift back to ‘normal’ the minute we got home again, and I am hoping we can work that through.
It’s easy to enjoy the adventure when you’re on holiday, to savour the peace and quiet and tranquility and connectedness we feel, but then to come home and charge back into life and mourn the loss of that space and freedom. Of course we all have an everyday that doesn’t look like a holiday; there are bills to be paid and businesses to be run and homes to be kept and it would be naive to try and sweep all of that under the carpet and deny it’s existence. But by the same token it is equally lazy of us to assume that we can’t learn some of the lessons presented to us by our holiday and rest times, and work harder to hold onto those facets and incorporate them into our home routines. For me, it is some of the things I’ve talked about above. For others (hubby included) it is more about making the most of life, embracing the 5-to-9 instead of the 9-to-5, embarking on micro-adventures when time or cash or commitments do not allow for anything meatier.
Whatever it means to you, don’t let that holiday spirit drift away. There are valuable lessons to be learnt from our down time and they don’t deserve to be relegated to once (or twice!) a year.