Reflections on Traveling

August 28, 2017

Traveling has a long term, if not permanent, effect on your life. Your views of the world and its’ people change; your views of yourself and those around you change; your focus on what is important and what is less important change. I recently re-encountered a quote attributed to Mark Twain that brought back to mind many of my encounters along my route across four continents:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

I’ve been back in the States for just over a year now. The urge to travel is still strong, and my long-range plan is built completely around getting back on the road. And I am making strong headway in that direction.

After spending most of a year in Central America, South America, and Africa, perhaps one of the strongest images I acquired was seeing how people with virtually nothing lived happily. Many of these people lived in small, one-room huts or shacks, without running water or electricity. Their jobs were not attached to some Fortune 500 company, but rather in day-to-day living, whether farming, taking what they grew to market, finding food and water, or otherwise providing for their families. These people in general were happier than any that I met in cities. They had less stress, no imagined timetable, no made-up cultural rules or dress code. No outside media screaming stories of inflated importance at them 24/7 that had no actual impact on their immediate lives.

A simple life.

I simplified my life in many ways before leaving on my trip. I sold much of what I owned, including a house, car, and other belongings I had acquired over years that I attached false importance to. I eliminated bills, payments, unnecessary mail and emails. Six months into my ride, I had settled into a very relaxed existence, living mostly in a tent with enough bedding, clothes and cooking supplies to be comfortable, and a means of transportation that could take me to the next village or country. Even though everything I had with me fit on a motorcycle, I still had a lot more material goods than most of the people I met along the way.

It was around Central America that I began to understand that you can be happy with very little, and make more of what you have. I noticed that people who lived in a very small home with a large family made good use of outdoor space. They lived outdoors, often cooked outdoors, worked outdoors, and only slept or sometimes ate inside the house. I made a note to myself for my return: Outdoor space is cheap. Live more simply. Stay downsized. Don’t let the “stuff” take over your life again.

Africa again reminded me of this. Simple houses. Outdoor living. Hard working, yes. But happy people.

When I returned last year, I had a firm goal: build a small(er) house as a base to return to while traveling; a place to re-charge every now and then, or to plan the next stage of travel. Continue to live a simple life. Continue to spend less and save more in order to get back on the road sooner.

In the past, while living in the US, when I would stop to buy gas for my car or truck I would inevitably walk into the convenience store and buy a candy bar and a soda. For no reason. Just because it was there. I learned that in other less-developed countries, gas stations are just that. There is no store attached to it. You buy gas. Period. This was a great way to eat better, and save money. And “fix” one of my bad habits.

In the past, I would eat out many times a week, often at rather expensive restaurants, but even fast food drained my budget. I would buy concert tickets, or tickets to a play on a whim, just because it sounded interesting. Now, I stay focused on the long-term goal of traveling full time. (Note that I, like many others, used to refer to this as “my dream”. I no longer do that, because I have proven to myself that it is fully achievable.)

You might think I am living a boring life, or “wasting” the present because I’m not enjoying myself. You’d be wrong. It’s amazing how many free things there are to do if you just look around. Free concerts. Free movies. Free food events. Free sporting events. I’m still enjoying life, maybe even more, because I’m around people who don’t judge others by how much they spend.

A year into non-traveling, my house is almost finished. Soon I will be saving more money, happily working toward my return to the road. Still living a much simpler life than I had before. Still focused on what is important to me, and not the material “stuff” that weighs us down. Happier. Less stressed. Okay, more stressed than when everything you own is on a 250cc motorcycle and you’re living in a tent in Namibia. But much less stressed than I used to be.

Another quote that I’ve seen often is attributed to St. Augustine: “The world is a book, and those that don’t travel read only one page.”

I truly believe that travel can and will change a person’s view of the world and other cultures. I am living proof. And I can’t wait to get back out there and experience more of the world.

Questions From The Road

July 4, 2016

Most other travelers I’ve spoken with tell the same story. The top questions they get are always:

  1. Where did you come from?
  2. Where are you going?
  3. How long?
  4. How big is the bike?
  5. How much does it cost?
  6. How fast does it go?

These are typically questions asked to the guys riding BMW’s or other large adventure bikes. My little 250 eliminates most of the “How Big? How Much? How Fast?” questions. Although I do still get those occasionally. But they are usually geared in a different direction: the “Why a 250?” being more prevalent.

But by far, the Number One question I’ve had from all people, whether motorcyclists or not, regardless of the country, income, education, background, etc, is this:

WHAT IS THAT???

I usually just say “Tools”, “Herramientas”, “Spanners”, or the like, and they nod and walk away. Once in a while, I go into my longer speech about carrying so much weight on the rear of a small, lightweight motorcycle, and needing to transfer some weight to the front. But leave it to the French guys in Scotland on their way to the Isle of Man to have a fittingly French response: “It’s not for wine?”

I had never even given that one a thought.

The other question (and comment) that I’ve received a lot in many different countries, and which I still struggle with, is “Aren’t you afraid? You’re so brave!”

Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out the “brave” part. I understand why people would be afraid to do this, and most of that is unfounded fear based on media hype and propaganda. And I guess that leads to their thought that it takes someone “brave” to travel alone through all the places I’ve been.

I think the only “brave” thing I’ve done in the last year is to follow through with the decision to do this journey. The most difficult part of it all is deciding to walk away from everything at home: the job, the house, the lifestyle. But once you’ve done that, everything else is easy. Looking back, it’s easy for me to say it was “pan comido” (a piece of cake), but until you cross that line, it can be scary.

I haven’t met a single other traveler that has regretted the decision. And I put myself in that category as well.