So, we went for a walk one morning and we started talking, as we do, somehow always finding something to talk about together after all these years and with almost every hour of every day spent in each other’s presence. We ended up on the subject of whether there is any one right time, or age, for moving to a new country, doing some serious travelling or making a big life change, and how age can have an impact on the experience.
The inspiration for this conversation came from the past few weeks where we’ve met a number of new people who are all here in Portugal for the short or long term and who are all from different decades in their lives. Travellers and residents from their 20s up into 60s and beyond all turn up on these shores and have crossed our paths. Obviously, age does not entirely determine how someone will behave: we all know risk-averse youngsters and wild, crazy elders, but from our experiences these would be exceptions. We pondered where we fit in the scheme of things.
In comparison to the other foreigners living immediately around our neighbourhood, who arrived here in retirement in their 60s and upwards, we are the youngsters, roughing it and foolishly cycling up hills in the midday sun. They lead a life of lunches, golf and quiet pursuits, often choosing fellow English speakers for pals and often grumbling about the natives who, they live in proximity to but in total isolation from. The bulk of their lives were spent in their home countries and this life is a welcome retreat funded by pensions and a life of hard work. They live in lovely villas and don’t want to garden or decorate: someone else can be paid to do that. Eventually, many of them will return home due to health, finance or sheer boredom. There is only so much the sun can entertain.
Last week we met two women travelling who were in their 20s. One of them had rolled into town alone on the Solstice and immediately hooked up with some other young folks who were organising a party and spent a few days with them. It sounded like this kind of thing happens to her almost every day. No big deal. That all stops when you get older: other 40 somethings just don’t invite you to hang out with them; they/we are all too busy/sensible/fearful of doing such a thing with strangers. These women are happy to share a dorm room and live with basic comforts, whereas although we live a simple life, we shudder at the idea of being kept awake by noisy strangers in a hostel. They have no plans or cares in the world about health, mortgages or how to survive; everything seems possible and it can wait until they’ve finished hanging out here for a while. What’s the hurry? They are low on resources but long on time.
We belong in a different gang to either of these, which is perhaps less typical. Most of the world’s wanderers are either young and yet to be worn down by the world, or older and enjoying the fruits of their labours. We are still in our working years, requiring income, but wanting to spend our working life doing it our way. Our requirements also differ from those both younger and older. We want more than a hostel and less than a villa. We desire a slightly more luxurious than basic lifestyle; to run a car and to drink good coffee to name but a few. We are neither mobile nor static: we want to put down roots, but we might dig them up and replant them elsewhere in years to come. We don’t want to seek solely English speaking interactions, we want to learn a new language and feel somewhat brave and willing to engage with our community, however long and faltering the steps to do so might be. We want to grow food, create a home and appreciate many joyful sunsets over our hills. We don’t have the casual encounters that our new young friends are having nor seek the ex-pat pals of our older neighbours, but we do try to meet people through voluntary work exchanges where we work on their land and with their animals in exchange for meals and vegetables. Our relative youth and physicality enables us to forge these relationships with like-minded souls in a way that wouldn’t be available to us if we had less physical well-being. We visit our local bar with frequency in order to show our faces, support the place and find rare opportunities to inflict our Portuguese on the captive audience. We are somewhere in the middle in age, courage, energy and aspirations.
The correlation between risk taking and age seems to be inversely proportionate. Speaking to people casually, I hear that their priorities change as their lives move on. Conversation topics involve concerns about health, safety and financial security which feature less when talking with the young. The older we are, we appear more cautious and fearful of new people and new experiences, despite life being no more or less dangerous than it is at any age. I would like to say that it’s all in the mind, but I’m not sure that is entirely true. I think it is partly in the body. Whilst, Keith and I feel young, able and reckless in comparison to some of our neighbours, we feel old, achy and sensible next to these much younger travellers. For us, approaching 50, mortality bites and our increasing physical limitations are apparent to us, if not debilitating. We already know people of our age who are debilitated. We become scared at the prospect. As our bodies begin to show signs of fatigue and fragility, we become naturally more physically cautious, and perhaps more mentally cautious by default. We increasingly say No to the world, instead of Yes. No creates certainty, predictability and safety, but can also foster fear, boredom and a closed mind. Yes brings risk, possibility and new encounters. Instead of our awareness of time being limited making us braver and intent on making the most of the time and health we have, we try to preserve and protect our minds and our bodies by wrapping them up in cotton wool. This, I feel, is a big mistake.
‘But what if something terrible happens?’ you may say. ‘But what if something amazing happens?’ I reply.
There is no right time to travel, move or explore, but we must be mindful that the longer we leave it; perhaps the less likely we are to take that leap; if we are even capable of leaping by that time. We need to keep both our bodies and our minds open to all possibilities and recognise that some of our objections, excuses and self-imposed negativity really is all in our minds.
Of course, we should take care and know our physical limitations, but at the same time continue to stretch our mental limitations. Age should be no barrier to an open mind, regardless of physical health. And if any 20 something wants to invite me to an all night Solstice party, then I’d be delighted. As long as there’s a flushing toilet and comfy chair, I’m there.
Do you think that we limit ourselves as we age? And if so, why do you think this is?