Now that you know the challenges and drawbacks of living on the road, you must be thinking…blimey, why on earth do they do it?
Well, contrary to popular belief (or at the very least my last guide post) there’s a hell of a lot of good that comes from living on the road. From the most obvious pro (freedom) to the little thought-of consequences (never having to iron anything again), a long-term traveller’s life can be rewarding, enlightening, maturing, utterly satisfying and incredibly fun. Plus it’s addictive as hell!
Once you’ve spent a few years this way, the mere thought of being confined to four walls and forced to follow a 9-5 routine (not to mention having to stare at the same backyard for longer than a week) can send shivers of terror down your spine.
If you were about to hit the road but started unpacking after reading my last blog…hold that thought!
I did talk about constant contradictions didn’t I?
Here are just a few of the most incredible perks you’ll soon be experiencing.
Personal Freedom…and freedom of persona
‘Being able to do as I please’ doesn’t even begin to describe the sort of freedom one gains from long-term travel. Travel’s ultimate benefit is not only about what you’ll be free to do (personal freedom), but also about what you’ll be free to be (freedom of persona).
Let me explain…
If you’ve never stepped out of your comfort zone and left your family and friends behind for an extended period of time, you may not realize that the kind of person you are depends heavily on the kind of expectations your loved ones have of you. Once you’re on the road and spent time with people who don’t know you, you may find yourself behaving in all sorts of different ways. This…is what I call freedom of persona.
Whenever I find myself with a group of new ‘friends’ I can choose to be friendly or detached; I can be a talker or a listener, a party animal or a quiet observer. I can, in essence, be whomever I wish depending on my mood. Breaking free of people’s expectations is an incredibly freeing experience and a wonderful way to explore all your ‘alternative yous’.
I’ve since discovered that I am, inherently, a helper and a nurturer; I like to cook for people, lend them things, help with plans, do research for them…whatever. Some have commented that this is probably due to my tour-guiding years, yet I argue that it is in fact this personality trait which steered me towards guiding in the first place.
Sometimes I choose to keep to myself and not offer my time or effort to people I find rude or arrogant and, although this doesn’t happen very often, I do cherish the freedom to simply say ‘no’, something I used to find very difficult to do back home. I’ll go out of my way for people I like and hold back from people I don’t. No obligations, no resentments and no expectations; just the simple rule that if you’re nice to me, I’m nice to you. No strings attached.
As far as personal freedom is concerned, this is also much more complex than a simple ‘do as I please’ credo.
Organized societies are set up to prevent people from crawling out of whatever box they may have built for themselves in their early 20s. What mainstream society is, at the end of the day, is a humongous machine which needs conforming and unquestioning little cogs to keep it oiled and running. Find yourself a spot among the long chain of links early on and you may find ‘stepping out’ becomes harder as the years pass.
What most people discover, by the time they get to their mid-40s, is that it is exceptionally difficult to change much of one’s life if one so wishes. Well you just can’t go swapping careers every few years can you? You’ve got a 30-year mortgage and car loan to pay off, friends to impress, an image to maintain and an expensive lifestyle to sustain! Want to trade it all in and go surfing in Hawaii for a year or chase whatever lifelong dream you may have? The amount of opposition you’ll face from everyone in your life, not to mention the logistical nightmare of actually stopping the steaming-train from rolling ahead, is unimaginable.
Choose to step out of this controlling mechanism early enough and you’ll never feel trapped again. Learning to create, enjoy and maintain a superbly minimalist existence is one of the top perks of long-term travel and something which you’ll appreciate more as the time passes. If you don’t like a place you can just move on. Don’t like the people around you? Ditch them. Don’t want to deal with harsh winters or scorching summers? You can plan around those too. You can enjoy the vitality of a city and peacefulness of the countryside, you can pick rainy days to work and sunny days to explore. The most important aspect of all this is that you’ll never again resent the actual work you’ll have to do to keep yourself on the road.
Once I discarded all the excess baggage from my life I discovered that in order to cover my living and travelling expenses I needed to work for about one week a month. I work 7 days to enjoy 21 days off whilst most people work 20 days to enjoy 8 days off, sometimes more if they also work on week-ends.
Long-term travel can literally turn your life upside down!
Living in the ‘now’
Although most people strive for an ‘enjoy the present’ sort of existence, they will soon realize that this is not always possible or easy to do when everything about a structured life is geared toward long-term goals.
As opposed to an ordinary life, whereby most choices and actions are usually made for long-term benefits (the job with a good pension plan, the 30-year mortgage etc.), everything you do whilst on the road concerns the very near future. Why? Because travelling is so unpredictable, it forces you into making only very short-term decisions.
Our plans include what we’ll do today and perhaps what we’d like to do tomorrow…but that’s about as far ahead as we can go. No point ‘planning’ where we’ll be one month from today, because we know that between the changing weather, the meeting of other travellers or the mechanical breakdowns which can occur, the probability of the plan coming to fruition will be close to zilch. So we take everything as it comes and enjoy the freedom to change course or pace as we desire, depending on what will come up.
Living in the present and not worrying about the future is at the very core of all long-term travellers’ way of thinking. Whilst strangers will wonder how on earth we can live like this and not plan for retirement…we secretly wonder how on earth they can live as if reaching retirement age is a given. It’s not. Nothing is guaranteed; why on earth would you waste years worrying about something that may never eventuate? How can one trade in their very real present for a future that may never even come? I find this to be a mind-boggling notion; one which was accentuated by the death of my father at a young age.
The man literally worked himself to death, to secure a good future for himself and his family and accumulate wealth in one way or another. Oh he had so many plans, so many dreams, so many things he wanted to do beside work…and then he died at the age of 56 with most of them unfulfilled. The look of utter devastation and disappointment in his face when he received his diagnosis is one I’ll never forget and one which changed me to the core, irrevocably. Perhaps what I am striving to do, is to learn from his mistakes. He spent his spare time with me sitting on his lap watching National Geographic documentaries; they were his favourite. He was also, in his own way, a dreamer-adventurer…I guess what I am trying to do is to LIVE them for us both instead 🙂
All this is not to say that the ‘now’ is always enjoyable. In fact, there are many times when you must wish for a better ‘after’ in order to struggle through the ‘now’. Yet ignoring it, or detaching yourself from it will not help; you must face it, deal with it and move on. You don’t have a choice in the matter if you wish to move forward.
Long-term travel teaches you to do things now! Choose now! Act now! Don’t wait, don’t put off and don’t procrastinate. Life is too short, too precious and too fragile to waste it planning too far ahead.
‘Rat race’ or ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, call it what you will; being stuck in a mindless routine day in and day out is the single biggest complaint we often hear from people back home.
When you live on the road this is the one feeling you’ll never have, ever again. Quite the opposite; you’ll strive to keep some sort of schedule, just so you can maintain some normality! You’ll want to start every day at the same time and in the same way, because that’s about the only predictability you can (sort of) guarantee. Surprises, both good and bad, are the essence of your every day existence now, and this is one of the things you’ll appreciate most.
It is often said that variety is the spice of life and if that’s true then you’re bound to have a flavoursome adventure out there. No two days will ever be alike; your backyard will change as often as you wish it to, as will the people you converse with, the architecture you look at or the food you eat.
There may be a lot of complaints from long-term travellers…but ‘stuck in a rut’ ain’t one of them.
Slowing down of time
When you do the same thing day in and day out in the same environment, time seems to simply evaporate; weeks and months blend into one huge blurb, and years go by without you even noticing.
Travel has a way of slowing everything down immensely. You’ll experience the change of the seasons and the passing of time in ways you never thought possible. A year on the road feels infinite, with so many different stimuli and experiences making you aware of every single snippet of time. We’ve now been on the road for a whole year with our bikes and it often feels like we’re worlds away from our sojourn at Chris’ parents’ place.
If you’ve ever taken a two-week vacation in just one spot you may know what I’m talking about; the first week seems to pass slowly (when everything is new) yet the second just flies by in a flurry (when your brain is already accustomed to your surroundings.) If you’d like to experience this time-slowing business, consider adding a few destinations on your next holiday. The constant change of scenery is what will gift this almost magical impression. If you, like me, believe that time is our most precious possession, you may come to love this incredible perk of long-term travel.
Gosh. This list is never going to end 😀 But it must!
Ok, just a few more then…
Long-term travellers are the most environmentally friendly humans in existence! Whether they set out to or not, their personal impact on the planet is rather minimal: they produce very little rubbish, consume very little energy and, if they’re anything like us, use the power of their motorbike battery to produce electricity for themselves. All they use and produce is in direct relation to their immediate survival and, as it turns out, that isn’t much at all.
So there you go, if you’re at all worried about the environment there’s another great incentive for you!
Now onto more practical stuff…
Can you imagine a life without housework? I can!
I haven’t ironed a shirt in almost 10 years and, I must say, my life is better for it.
(Oh no, I lie, I ironed Chris’ shirt for his brother’s wedding in July! Hang on, no, his mum did that…never mind….)
I remember, in my previous life, when I used to waste away my Saturdays cleaning the house. Nowadays I can actually pack my entire house in a tenth of what it used to take me to vacuum just four rooms. It takes me less time to stuff my sleeping bag in its sack than it did to make my bed every morning and while I don’t have a washing machine, hand-washing two T-shirts once a week under the shower hardly classifies as housework now, does it? Just one shake of our empty tent does the vacuuming and dusting and although we’ve added mechanic ‘housework’ to the equation this is varied enough to actually be fun.
Ayayayayay who am I kidding?
This life certainly isn’t for everyone and I’m sure that no amount of ‘no more housework’ promises could ever be incentive enough for anyone to even contemplate long-term travel if they are not dreaming about it already.
So this guide is dedicated to those souls who are just about to ride off into the sunset and are a little apprehensive about how they’ll cope. Don’t worry: for every drawback there will be a silver lining, every problem will have a solution and every experience, both good and bad, will make you a stronger and more optimistic person.
This, I can pretty much guarantee.