I’m now in Bangkok, but a week ago, I was in Koh Samui with the man who helped set up my website. He asked me the question, What have I learnt? Well I had a terrible hangover, so my answer should have been “not to go out drinking with you!”
Now I have had a while to think about it, even though my trip is not yet over. I have a list of ten things…..
1. Follow your dreams. Do things that YOU think are amazing. Don’t worry about what you believe anyone else will think.
2. Help others if you can, and try to make a difference in the world, but ultimately do it for yourself. When you are doing something that you love, this somehow gives other people permission to do the same.
3. Set big goals. No, really big. Big hairy audacious goals. The obstacles seem impossible at first. But day by day they fall away, until you have no excuses for not trying.
4. Say screw it and just do it. It’s the title of a book by Richard Branson, and he’s right. You will never be 100% prepared and there are always risks. At some point you have to say screw it and just do it. Things will go wrong, but see them as opportunities. Some of my worst days have turned out to be the best days, or at least some of my best stories.
5. People are good. At least all the people I have met. I have been overwhelmed by people helping me, friends and total strangers (or new friends as I can now call them). No matter how rich or poor, people are generally just like you, all over the world. Friendly and helpful. Meeting people is one of the best things especially when you decide to go it alone (I am sure I have met more people this way). So don’t be afraid if you are bravely going solo.
6. Test reality against perceptions and myths. Don’t think that’s what is in the media represents all people in a country, and when someone tells you somewhere is dangerous and you shouldn’t go there, ask them the question, “oh have you been there?” And “What happened to you?” The answer to the first question will almost always be no, so you will probably never get to ask the second one.
OK, I admit that cars and busy roads can be dangerous, and I have been hit twice. Always take care at junctions and minimise riding at night. However, the myth that a terrorist lies around every corner will disappear quickly. There are of course some opportunistic criminals in some countries. Try not to wave your expensive things around too much. The Colombians have a phrase which is “Don’t give them Papaya”. Basically, just don’t be daft and make it easy for someone.
7. Plan but don’t plan too much. Where will I sleep? What will I eat? What happens when water runs out? It takes about a week on the road, but you actually get comfortable about not knowing all the answers in advance. It even becomes part of the joy of travelling. You almost always find a place to stay or unexpected offers and there are only a few places on earth where food and water is a problem. Even in the desert in Egypt, we found ambulance stations, workers, and shops at each oasis. If you do like working some things out in advance, I recommend Warm showers, a site which is like couch surfing for cyclists. You do have to have a decent idea of when you will arrive at their door and give a few days notice though, and this is something I wasn’t always willing to do!
8. Travel light. No, lighter. No even lighter. You will be amazed what you can do without. The only essentials are a Passport, bank card, toothbrush, one change of clothes (you don’t need another pair of shoes or even flip flops), a repair kit and the bike itself. Everything else, even sleeping and cooking gear is optional. In terms of possessions, once you have started, get used to the idea that you will throw some things away or send them back home.
9. Let go. Letting go applies to so much more than possessions. It is part of moving forward, opening up, exploring the world and enjoying all it has to offer. After all, if your hands are full, how are you going to catch all the great stuff life throws at you? So forget what you know, and everything you have been used to, and enjoy the totally unknown languages, cultures and a world of endless things to learn about. This is why it’s so important not to have an unmovable and full schedule. Never stop letting go of things.
10. Take the people you love with you. The only thing that gets harder and harder, especially on a long trip, is being away from the people you love. They will be the only thing that really matters in the end. And while video calls with my parents, brothers, and friends may be a great way of staying in touch, being away from my partner for a long time started to make the journey much less enjoyable. I got married during the journey and then spent months apart. And sometimes this was very painful. If I ever plan a long journey again, we will go together. (Although we did cycle the whole of South America for eight months and that was awesome). I know there is a French family with three children cycling the world, so I won’t see kids as an obstacle. If it’s a long journey, you must take your loved ones with you. More important than the passport.
I can’t claim to be any wiser than I was before I started the trip, but I will certainly take all these lessons and try to apply them to my life in general including what I now refer to as “all my first world problems”. I certainly have no regrets and there is no value I can possibly put on the memories I have made. I disagree that time is money. Time is far more valuable than that.
Hope you enjoyed spending your time reading this.