Family Life Abroad with Hannah Braime
Moving country sparks new creative projects for Hannah Braime and reinvigorates her. She combines digital entrepreneurship and travel with family life.
Living the city life can always be brilliant. The sounds, lights and life of the city can be both fantastic and overwhelming for urbanites. Luckily, writer and teacher Hannah Braime found a spot in Spain that’s just outside the main tourist centre of the city. In the mornings she can take quiet walks along the river. Or she can be adventurous and walk around a cathedral while no one else is there yet. The changing scenes invigorate her life and mind and she becomes curios, creative and driven. Hannah shares her days of embracing boredom, finding her moments of quiet. Learn more of her self-care tips so that you can revaluate what your needs are and make it into something tangible you can act on.
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Today, I’m thrilled to have Hannah Braime on the show. Hannah is a writer and a teacher who believes the world is a richer place when we have the courage to be fully self-expressed. She shares practical psychology-based articles, tools and resources on living full and meaningful life over at Becoming Who You Are. Hi, Hannah. Welcome to the show.
Hi, Clare. Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to connect with you again.
Tell us about your favourite city.
I‘ve travelled a lot and so I guess I have places that tie for my favourite cities. I love London. That was the first city I lived in properly. I grew up in a suburb in London and then I spent five years living in London. I feel like that was where I really found myself for the first time, so London has a very, very special place in my heart and lots of good memories, not so lot for great memories but primarily really, really good memories for me. I’ve also spent time living in different places in Mexico, a couple of cities there which were not as hectic as London but definitely have their own charm, their own vibe. I’ve lived in Panama. I’m currently living in a city in Spain called Girona. I’ve lived in Brighton in the UK as well, which is just south of London.
It’s hard to choose my favourite because they’re all so, so different. Obviously, I’ve travelled to cities in the world like New York and Boston and LA and places like that. New York especially, I love the vibe, I love the energy. If I have to pick one, I would say probably, London has a very special place in my heart, so that’s probably my favourite overall. I’m in Girona right now and I’m loving that too.
Tell us about Girona. Whereabouts in Spain is it? Are there three words that you might pick to describe the place to someone who is unfamiliar with it?
Girona is in Northeast Spain. It’s in Catalonia. It’s about 50 miles Northeast of Barcelona. It’s pretty close to Barcelona. It’s fairly close to the sea. It’s pretty close to the French border as well. Three words to describe it: Elegant is one word, especially the old town. Beautiful is another one. It has this gorgeous architecture, which is really hard to describe. It’s built on a medieval city, so there’s architecture mainly from medieval architecture all the way up to really, really modern buildings. Especially in old cities, it’s got these windy the street. I think my third word would be historical just because when you go into the old part of the city, it really takes you back to what it must have been like similar, I guess, to parts of Barcelona. When you go down these little windy alleyways, it really takes you back into what it must have been like to live there. Obviously, if you ignore the patisseries and the tourists and everything, it takes you back to what it must have been like to live in the city in medieval times. It’s a really interesting experience and very evocative as well.
Why evocative? Can you tease that out and elaborate a little bit?
I think it’s a very similar experience to when you are in London and you go to those tiny little streets that you know have been there for generations and generations and generations. I don’t know about you, Clare, but I find myself going on a little journey down these streets. A thought-based journey of who came here before me and who lived here and what kind of lives did they live? Especially thinking in Girona about things like the Spanish Civil War, you think, “What kind of things happened here? What have these walls seen? What have these buildings been through? What about the people who have lived and died here and been born here? I love thinking about that kind of thing and wondering about the experience as the previous generations gone by.
I’m exactly the same. This stuff gets me really excited. My imagination runs away with me but I feel more connected to the city that I’m in when I have these thoughts and wonderings. That’s excellent. Speaking of the locals and people who have lived there in the past generations, how have you found it settling in to the local community?
We’re still fairly new here. We’ve only been here for three weeks actually today, as I’m talking to you. We know a couple of acquaintances locally. One thing that I wasn’t expecting when we arrived here was that everybody is super friendly, which is great. However, my husband and I speak possible Spanish. However, the predominant language here is Catalan, which neither of us speaks at all. We’re learning. We’re picking up phrases here and there and trying to get our basics down. From what I have heard and from what people have told me, it seems like if you really want to integrate in the community here and if you want to make friends, it really, really helps to speak some Catalan. We’re currently thinking how long do we want to stay here because right now we’re staying here for the summer. How long do we want to stay here? That’s probably going to influence how much time and energy we spend investing in learning Catalan because we’re both focused and we have a baby. We’ve got other things that are going on. That’s something that we’re thinking about at the moment.
Apart from that, there’s always an adjustment period. Everyone who’s someone new, there’s always this adjustment period. I do usually feel a little out of my depth especially right now. It’s not the first time we’ve gone abroad with our baby, but it’s the first time we’re moving abroad with her. We were travelling permanently before she was born or before I got pregnant with her. We settled back in Brighton for a while to have her and now we’re very, very slowly travelling again. I say we’re travelling but not really. I’m talking about every three to six months or so going from place to place.
With that there’s also a ton of other responsibilities. I’m thinking, for me, “Am I making the right decision? What it’s going to be like?” and being very aware that one of the reasons we came here is so that if it didn’t work out, we could very easily go home and go back to the UK. With that there was a slight sense of captivation as well as excitement and everything. So far, it’s working out great. It’s going really, really well. It’s taking a while to adjust but I feel like this week in particular is the first week that I’m really relaxing to being here. We know where all of the local communities are now. We got out daily walks in our little routine set up. I find that’s really important as well having our little daily routines within our family. It’s great. I’m really, really loving it.
Tell us about one of those favourite local walks that you’ve just discovered since arriving there.
We’re very lucky where we are right now where we’re not in the main tourist centre, which I quite like because I think I find that a little bit overwhelming. We’re outside of the main tourist centre in a very local area of the city. However, we are very close to the river. There’s this beautiful river that runs right through the centre of the city and it’s got some very famous bike hub next to it. There are a lot of cyclists who live here and lots of great cycling race around here. This river starts off at one end of the south part of the city being very, very small. As you go down the river, all these tributaries come in. It seems like there are a lot of underground streams and underground tributaries that flow through the city and then join in this river. It’s not a big city, so I’m talking maybe twenty minutes, half an hour walking. By the time you get in the middle part of the city, it’s really big and it got lots of really big fish in it. Apparently, there’s little turtles or terrapins in there as well and lots of birds and everything.
That for me is one of my favourite walks, is just going up the river and seeing it grow and expand in this whole ecology flourish as you go up. Another walk I really love is there’s a gorgeous cathedral here. It’s built on a side hill. When I come out with my daughter a few times early in the morning before it gets too hot, I love going for walks up around the back of the cathedral, which is the back hilly parts of the old town. It’s always completely dead that time of the morning. There is no one else there, maybe one or two other people.
One of the things I love about Girona is it is incredibly safe. It feels totally safe. You have that spider sense after a while when you can tell that something’s not quite right. I’ve never had that here, which is lovely. Everyone I’ve spoken to said it’s very safe as well. You get a really, really good vibe about that aspect of the community here. I love going for those walks early in the morning because I’m quite introverted. Having that time while my daughter naps, then I can just do a little bit of exploring and taking all these gorgeous architecture and all history and the sights and the sounds and feel the sunshine into my skin. That’s something I love to do as well.
You mentioned that you are quite introverted. Apart from these lovely morning walks in your new city, what other kinds of things that you do to create moments of quiet and stillness in your busy city life, in particular now that you are a mother to a young baby?
Something I find is really important to me is having proper alone time. By proper alone time I mean not alone time with my daughter when she is napping or alone time when my husband and my daughter are in another room but actual alone time as I am right now, alone in our apartment. This is something that my husband and I’ve discussed and it’s a request I’ve made, can he take her out for a walk for just a little bit each day, which usually again coincides with nap time. That’s a thing that he does most days and that works really, really well for me, especially when you live in a big city.
I don’t know about you but I experience some sensory overload sometimes. I love city life. I love everything it has to offer. I love being around people and then I reach my ceiling and I need to say, “That’s enough for me today. I really need some quiet time now.” That’s the thing for me that really, really makes a huge offense. It’s not just being in a room of my own but actually knowing that I have free reign of the apartment even just for twenty minutes, half an hour where I can poster around, bake a snack, do whatever I want to do, have a shower. Just knowing that I’m alone in the apartment by myself, it really makes a huge difference to me. I think it’s a psychological thing.
That really resonates with me. The fact that being around people is brilliant and being in the city is brilliant and really important for me, but also being able to retreat and have small moments of quiet and stillness and aloneness, solitude in a positive way. That’s a really important thing for me too. I love how you and your husband have found this fantastic way of striking the right balance. It’s much of a balance as it is possible in life. It feels to me that request to him was a real act of self-care. Have you got any tips or recommendations for our listeners around self-care generally?
Going back to real basics, I think that what I just mentioned there is really important. This is something that I have really struggled with. I’m aware that when in I say it in conversation, I say, “I just made a request and it’s worked out really well.” That’s not something that comes naturally or easily to me at all. I think it’s really, really important self-care. One that I talk about a lot when I work with people around this and when I write about it is the first step is getting in touch with your own needs.
For me, that involves being aware of the fact that just going into the bathroom on my own for ten minutes is great. That is not generally enough for me. Then the question is, “What do I really need?” When I ask myself that question, not immediately dismissing the answer with, “That’s too much, that’s ridiculous. How on earth are you going to do that? That’s going to be impossible.” I think when people talk about it in terms of mindfulness they talk about witnessing. Just witnessing what answers come up when I ask myself that question, “What do I really need? What is that going to look like in practice?”
The same thing can apply to things like connection. If I want more quality time with my partner or with friends saying, “What would that look like? How can I translate that need into actual tangible actions?” Just talking about making request based on that or even negotiating with myself about that. For me, that’s really the basis of self-care. I guess the number one tip I would say is before any self-care can truly happen, you really need to be in touch with your own needs. I know it’s really popular to write about bubble baths and stuff like that, which can really be helpful. I’m never going to say no to get bubble bath. Those things do have limited use in our lives if they’re not actually meeting the things that we really need to begin with.
For me that’s the most important step, I would say. For anyone listening, if self-care is something you’d like to pay attention to, that’s really something I encourage you to start with is paying attention, “What do I really need? What’s really important to me in my life? What feels like is missing? Right now, where are the energy drains? Where do I feel like I could maybe support myself a bit better? What would that look like in tangible practical terms?”
The next question I’ve got for you is around doing nothing. In these moments where you are talking about pottering in the apartment, your husband‘s taking your little one out for a stroll, what’s your attitude to doing nothing, to resting? How much are you happy to embrace boredom?
This is something I really struggle with. Before this conversation for example, my daughter is having a nap. From this conversation, you’d think she naps all the time, she really doesn’t. She has a couple strategic naps during the day, during when she knows I take her out for a walk or I sit with her or whatever. She is awake a lot of the time as well. She’s having a nap just before this conversation. Usually, I nap with her if I’m really tired, which I am. Today, I don’t feel like I really need to sleep. Immediately my mind was like, “What can I do? What should I read? Actually, no, reading feels too frivolous. Maybe I could do something else.” Part of me was like, “You could watch something on Netflix. Just chill out, have a break.” I ended up writing.
Doing nothing for me is a bit of a challenge especially when an opportunity presents itself. There’s a part of me that has a slight panic, “What do I do now?” It is a really, really good exercise as well and I’m aware of that and it is an opportunity for my fullness, something I find really to think about when I have that little internal, “What do I do?” To think, why is this such an issue? What am I avoiding right now? When I thought about that today, I’m coming to the end of the first draft of my new book. I really want to finish it. When you’ve got something just slightly unfinished, it weighs on your mind. That was what really came up for today when I thought about this decision between doing nothing versus doing something. In the end, I decided that doing something would feel better in the long-term than taking that rest today. For me, that’s an unreasonable thing as well, sometimes definitely taking the rest runs out. It’s a challenging relationship, I think.
I think it is. For many of us particularly urbanites, it’s really, really hard when life is so fast paced. It’s hard to just be in those pockets of time in between things whether you’re in a traffic jam, whether you’re in the queue at the supermarket checkout. These are the moments when we often reach for our smart phones to delight us and entertain us because actually the idea of being alone with our thoughts or having the opportunity for a moment of human connection, exchanging an eye contact with stranger just seems terrifying or just not appealing.
I think that’s particularly the case in a city environment as well where you are surrounded by people, you are doing the same thing and there’s almost this sheep effect. This is something that I have worked on and I’m still working off me personally. It feels like I need to be doing stuff or I’m not enough. I need to be busy. I need to be productive and that’s where my value as a person comes from, which is not a helpful belief. It is something I’m working on. It’s totally a work in progress. It’s not something that is quite where I would like it to be yet. I’ve noticed that especially in a really busy city environment, and that’s something I love about Girona actually, it’s not a very hectic city and so it feels lot more restful. It feels a lot more relaxing. It feels a lot more socially acceptable to do nothing here culturally.
However, I noticed back in Brighton and in London and other places I’ve been, when you’re surrounded by people who are going places and doing things and hustling and busy, busy, busy and on their phones all the time and having important conversations walking down the street. I definitely for myself feels like pressured to almost keep up and to be doing that kind of thing myself. I shared that just in case it resonates with someone else. That’s something that I have found difficult in cities with regards to doing nothing. It’s hard not to get sucked into that vibe when you’re surrounded by it all the time.
It can feel that it’s contagious. There is that sense of not being efficient with your day and that you could be maximizing your time and your energy and your attention when actually often the best thing to do is to slow down instead of speed up. It’s really hard to do. I’m really intrigued about the pace of life in Girona. How much is it a town that’s typical of Spain in the sense that there is a long lunch break and there might be a siesta time and shops closing, restaurants closing down in the afternoon when it’s hottest during the summer months at least, and then staying again later than they might do here in the UK?
I would say in the area that we live in, it’s very typical in that regard. I came to Spain fairly frequently when I was a kid on holiday. That was something I had actually forgotten just how different the pace of life is to UK. In UK, especially when in the city, shops being opened from pretty early in the morning to pretty late at night, especially things like supermarkets. They usually open from 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning until 11:00 or midnight in 24 hours. Here, things close down in the afternoon. You guys are about half past one and everyone puts on their shelters and goes and takes a nap and has a really long lunch, which might or might not be followed by a siesta, which is perfect because it’s really hot in the afternoon. It’s pretty warm in the afternoon and it’s perfect conditions for napping. Have a nice big meal and then you have rest in the heat. By the time you wake up, the main sunshine is gone. The main hot part of the day is over and you can get on with things again in relative comfort.
About this time, actually about 4:30, 5:00 in the evening, things will start to open up again and they’ll stay open until maybe 7:00, 7:30, sometimes slightly later. On Sunday, everything is closed. Restaurants and cafes are open most of them, but some of them are still close. In the tourist area, you’ll find the old quarter shops and stuff that’s open. In general, all supermarkets, all shops are closed, which again was a big surprise for me. I’d forgotten that aspect of it. It reminded me of when I was a really, really little kid. In England, some shops are still close on Sundays. It’s just doesn’t really seem to happen anymore. It’s a very different pace of life. Even really little things like that, like what time shops open, you find that you start having to organize your day around that. You’ll find that you start adopting those rhythms yourself as well. As a family, we’ve got into the habit of having lunch together and then having a little nap. It’s been really, really lovely. Again, not having that pressure feels like you have to constantly been doing things and be on the go. It’s very refreshing.
One big question I haven’t asked you so far is why Girona and why not another Spanish City or a city in another part of the world? You mentioned that it was near to home, so if it didn’t work out, you could just always come home. Why there and not another part of Europe for instance?
There are a couple of things that factored into our decision. The first was that my husband and I both speak some Spanish, so Spain would be an obvious choice for us because we can totally get by with what we have. That was one consideration. Girona in particular happens because we have some acquaintances who came here. We were talking to them about their travels to Europe. They have their own son as well. We asked them, “What was your favourite place? Where would you go back to?” They said, “This place called Girona is amazing. You should check it out. We go back there.” We do some research online and looked at pictures and looked at the cost of living here and read up on what other people had to say about it who had been here. It just sounded great for us. It’s a very, very slow paced of life. It’s a bit like Barcelona life. It doesn’t have all the tourists and the crowds and the hectic nature of Barcelona, which with a small baby is actually really good. I used to love that kind of thing. That for me would be perfect. I wanted to go to Barcelona for ages and we finally took a couple of weeks ago.
It’s funny because I had looked forward to going for so long and I wanted to go. Actually, when we went, it was great and it was also slightly too much with a baby with all the crowds. It was a particularly muddy day and so quite an impressive feeling in some parts of the city. We were thinking in terms of size of the city, Girona is perfect for us because it’s smaller. Everybody talked about how friendly it is, how chilled out the pace of life is here. There are also lots of little walks you can do. It’s a very walk-able city. That in particular is really important to us because we can drive but we’ve never owned a car. I had a car when I was in my late teens but I haven’t owned a car since then. My husband’s never owned a car. We have no desire to own a car or rent a car or anything like that. We rely on walking in public transport and we’ve had varying success with that in different places we’ve been to. Girona is perfect for that. It’s super walk-able.
There are a number of factors that played into it. Mainly recommendations from other people, which I found to be really useful as far as visiting different cities goes to, that it’s really helpful to hear what other people have made of it. Also just thinking about where we are right now as a family as well, what our needs are, and the fact that we’re tentatively dipping a toe back into the world of travel as well with a baby. We wanted to be mindful of her needs and what’s going to be comfortable and hopefully fun for her as well.
I’m interested to see how things unfold for you and your family over the coming months. Also to check back in with how travelling and living abroad is different from how it was in the past to how it is now that you have a young family. Hannah, just a quick question about inspiration: How much does the city that you’re in, obviously at the moment you’re in Girona, but any of the cities that you’ve been in the past, how does the city inspire you and influence the work that you do, if at all?
I find it really does. Different places I find inspire me in different ways. It’s very difficult to put my finger on and say, “This place inspires me in that very exactly.” I find definitely that when I go somewhere new, it’s a real chance for me to evaluate my daily rhythms and routines and figure out, “What am I doing that’s working? What am I doing that’s not working?” The act of actually going to a new place gives me an opportunity to always press the reset button and decide, “What do I want my day like to look like here?” I found that even when I’ve started consciously doing that now and obviously now we have a baby. My husband and I started cooperating that together. Even before we started doing that consciously, it’s something that when I look back on different places I’ve lived in and different places I’ve moved to, I’ve noticed that I’ve always adopted a slightly different routine in each place.
That is one way that the different cities have influenced the work. It gives me a chance to always reevaluate. I think that stems from something which I love about travel. Even within a city, when you go to different places within a city, one of the great things about city especially places like London which have organically grown out all these different towns and villages and hamlets and they’ve all been absorbed into this giant metropolis, is that every part of a city has a slightly different feel. I would say for this, you don’t even have to go to a different city, you can totally get this at home in your city.
I find that change of scene is really invigorating for me. Although I have my little routines and I like routine, I find that when I do the same thing every day in the same way at the same time, I start to feel a bit stagnant after a while. I noticed that is reflected very much in my work and my creativity and my drive as well. For me having a change of scene and being able to change up my routine is really, really helpful. For example, the one that I mentioned earlier is a perfect example of this. I’ve been working on this on and off about eighteen months now. I was really stuck on the structure and the arch of it and what the hell I’m doing basically, important questions like that. I’ve been stuck on this for months and months. It had been in the back of my mind this anger that was weighing me down a little bit like, “What am I going to do about this? I’ve put all these work and effort into it.” I know that there is a book in here somewhere. I just can’t see what that looks like.
Without even really dedicating time to thinking about it, we arrived here, we got settled and I think we’ve been here a week, when I was talking with my husband about it and suddenly without even really talking about it for that long, I think we maybe talked about it for five or ten minutes max. I suddenly came out that conversation thinking, “Actually, I know exactly what I’m doing now.” For me, if that change of scene really, really helps being in different place, being in a different culture, although I don’t think you necessarily need to go to different cultures to have that effect. Even maybe just going to my little coffee shop and working through something. If I’m really stuck in a mental rot and this can go for a work project, it might be an area of my life or a decision that I’m feeling particularly stuck about as well. I find that when I take myself to a different place and think about it or work in a different medium, switch from computer to pen and paper for example, that slight shift in scene is so helpful for me. That’s something that I love about travel is that I get to have that change of scene again and again. I find that travel in itself can be quite draining and a little exhausting. That’s why we prefer to do what we call slow travel, which is going somewhere new every three to six months. That change of scene is so integrating for me. I find it really helps my creative drive.
One final question: What are you curious about now and why?
On a personal level, I think my daughter is at a stage where she is doing so many new things all the time at the moment. She’s becoming more mobile. Her personality is really blossoming as well. I’ve said this every month of her life so far, “It’s amazing you have a personality come up.” It’s really, really ramping up now. You can really see a lot more of who she is. I’m just so curious to see who she’s becoming. Also being very mindful of how my husband and I can influence that in good ways and bad ways. I’m really curious just to watch her and to see who she’s becoming. Also, what she reflects back to me about myself as well. She has taught me a lot. She’s quite happy. Everything is fascinating to her at the moment. She’s quite happy just sitting there and playing and banging things together and exploring bits of furniture. She loves banging things with in an open hand or a closed fist. The closed fist is a fairly new one so knocking things. That’s her way of figuring out what does this do, what does it feel like, what kind of noise does it make, what’s it all about. She’s quite happy just spending half an hour, 45 minutes sometimes just knocking on things and knocking things together and touching things and exploring things and shuffling from one part of the room to the other, and just going to every inch of what’s here.
For me, it’s really interesting to watch myself and to watch my own responses to what she’s doing. When I feel the need to interfere, when I feel the need to step in and rescue her; if I can see that she’s about to do something that might not hurt her but might potentially hurt her as well, not in a bad way. The other day she was playing with the cupboard and she kept accidentally closing it on her fingers. I was standing behind her with my hands on my mouth just like, “Don’t.” Should I step in? Should I just leave her to it? She figured it out in the end. She realized that, “It’s not particularly comfortable when I do this, so I’m not going to do it anymore.” Things like that I find fascinating at the moment is where is that line as a parent? There are times when you definitely have to just sweep in. When they’re going to do something like pull a jammer to their heads and that’s the time when you have to sweep in. How much do you say no? How much do you sweep in and rescue your kid from doing stuff? Is it really a problem for them? How much is it my own discomfort that’s provoking me to do that?
Little things like that, the very new ones reactions that we have in our day-to-day lives that usually I won’t think about that much. When you have a baby, I think, those things will become amplified. You realise within yourself a lot more these little reactions you have to things and how impatient you are and how not mindful you are about your daily activities. It really brings those things into touch. I‘m fascinated by that in the moment as well. Connected with that identity, I recently became a mother. That is a huge identify shift. I wasn’t actually prepared for how big it would be. I still don’t really feel like a mother. I love my daughter to bits and I’m absolutely overjoyed that she’s here and I wouldn’t change it for the world. At the same time, when somebody refers to me as a mother, I think, “I am a mother.” It just haven’t quite sunk in yet. There’s always that tension reconciling that with the other areas in my life that are important as well. These are all things that are constantly running through my brain right now that I’m turning over and thinking about and figuring out.
It’s an interesting lens, I think, that babies and children can give us adults. It forces us to stop and think in a different way, which could be quite refreshing as it sounds like it certainly is the case for you. Hannah, thank you so much for being on the Urban Curiosity Podcast today.
Thank you so much for having me, Clare. It’s been really fun to talk about Girona and city life and being mindful and all these topics. I really appreciate the great questions. Thank you.
Thank you. I really enjoyed it. Thanks very much.