How it really is to live the dream
More than six years ago I set out on this journey – not knowing what would happen, or that I would be traveling for so long. There are not so many travelers who are away from home for several years and it is time to look back on what I experienced and especially what I learned. About me, other people and the world. If you then have worked through my list of experiences and insights, in the second part I´m going to write about the negative consequences and bad sides of years and years of traveling. I´ll write about Loneliness, Homesickness and Love on the road, because you don´t read much about these topics on other travel blogs.
Part one: The good side and the learned things
What I experienced
With India as a Destinaton in mind I left in May 2012 in Arnsberg, my hometown. At that time I couldn´t grasp the size of this project. To actually arrive in India by bike seemed to me more like an illusion, like a distant dream. In retrospect, that leg was just the beginning of an even bigger adventure.
Meanwhile, I have traveled countless kilometers by bicycle (Here´s my route). Actually, I counted and it sums up to more or less 48.000 km, but it´s not so important. Mostly on paved roads, but I also fought my way through jungles and got stucked in deserts in the sand. In deserted and remote areas I was traveling and in some of the largest cities on this planet, crammed with people. I have defied a variety of weather conditions, from rain, snow, fog, to heat and drought. On and on I went with my bike. Through provinces, countries, entire continents. Farther and farther away from home.
I climbed snow-capped mountains and active volcanoes and under the earth into dark caves, sometimes full of bones and skulls. Have crossed rivers, lakes and the sea on boats, from wooden nutshells to a huge ferry with thousands of people. I was observed by flying fish and dolphins in my element and I also dived into the marine world. I marveled at the most wonderful and colorful creatures I´ve ever seen and got scared by sharks as well.
I have probably encountered more different people than others in their entire lives.
Have looked into the innocent eyes of newborn babies and caught the hateful looks of extremists. I felt the loving charisma and peace of buddhist monks and the coldness and detachment of other people. I have met people who would die for their country and others who are willing to die to leave their country. Children who curiously touch my white skin and hair and children who run screaming and were scared at the sight of me. I was starred at like I was an alien and ignored as if I were air.
Got through countless situations that I was afraid of before. Were kindly waved across national borders or extensively interrogated and searched. Was interviewed by the Iranian secret police, have played “catch” with the police or even got protection and accommodation of them.
Things were stolen from me (only little things) and things were given to me (more than just little things). I was also yelled at, spat at, pelted with rocks and sexually molested , but usually all encounters were extremely positive.
I sat down with millionaires and the poorest of the poor shared their food with me. I have tasted the most delicious dishes and fruits and some really disgusting things as well. Was invited hundreds of times by strangers and sometimes thrown out of the house (rather rare).
I was high on music, cycling, psychedelics, joints (too often) and love (too rare) and life in general.
Have worked as hard as never before (and earned as much money as never before). I even earned money while sleeping. Was almost broke with only a few dollars in my pocket, slept on park benches and ate from trash cans , drunk from water bottles from the roadside and smoked cigarette butts from the street.
I’ve slept in expensive hotels (sometimes without having to pay) but more often in cheap and dirty ones, on rooftops in cities and next to a fire in the sand, in foreign beds and on sofas,crammed in a room with other travelers in community houses (2), in hammocks but mostly in my tent under the stars. On and on, the journey continued on and on.
I have experienced the strongest feelings of happiness, deep gratitude and contentment. I experienced community, deep connection and love. I felt as free and strong as never before. I realized my potential and started to use it. But also experienced moments of loneliness, sadness, and periods of depression. I was captured by fears and raided by anger, but I also learned to cultivate serenity and inner peace. I learned to settle for pretty much everything and to accept the most different and difficult situations
It´s about trying it out and not about studying it
I have learned a lot. More things and more important things than you can learn in school or university. I have learned to trust in myself and to be open to new things. To try new things without the fear of failure or without saying “I can´t do that!”. And this attitude has led to many new practical skills. Most of the jobs I’ve done in the past years have been things I’ve never done before. I was waitressing, painting, plastering, soldering, sawing, gardening, planting and was driver of different vehicles like motorcycles, quad, tractor, jeep and troop-carrier with 10 meter trailer. Sometimes more successful, sometimes less.
I’ve learned how to cook with fire for more than 100 people in an improvised bush kitchen, how to make bread, play music, improvise things. I have learned to capture moments and landscapes in photos. I can edit videos and even made my own movie. I’ve learned to put my experiences and insights into words and created and run a blog to inspire other people.
I can find my bearings in foreign countries and cultures, communicate in foreign languages and with gestures. Or even without words, at the level of the heart.
Some of the following may sound rather banal, but it makes a difference whether one reads these truths only and understands them rationally, or whether one experiences them, feels and develops and recognizes them in the head. And of course these are my personal insights based on my experiences and views and my background as a human being from a rich and secure country. Another person or traveler might (or even would certainly) realize other things.
You take your problems with you
No matter what you do, where you go, how much you distract yourself, the problems with yourself and in your head you take with you. For me, for example, its a proneness to depressions that I had in Germany and that doesn´t just disappear because I’m traveling (although being on the move has a strong antidepressant effect for me).
Most problems and limitations are only in the head – there is always a solution
Having a problem is also a point of view. If a situation is not what you want it to be, or how it would be ideal and you are not able to accept it, it becomes a problem. But there are always solutions, even if they may not meet your own expectations.
Even physical boundaries are often just a barrier in the head. How many times have I thought while cycling “I can´t do it anymore, I can´t make this mountain“, only to find out that my body can go further and perform things what I never thought I could.
People are friendly
People are basically friendly, they want to help each other and not hurt each other or do bad things. People strive for cooperation rather than confrontation, and the incredible hospitality and helpfulness that I have experienced everywhere confirms this to me. Of course, bad things happen and people can be incredibly evil, but this always happens for a reason, because of the circumstances or because they have not learned it otherwise.
People I would have rated as “bad” before, for example people who support a dictator,who belong to an army or the police, who are racist, sexist or extremist, can still be totally nice and lovely people who treat and accept me (or their children / families /friends) courteously and with love. But because of their beliefs and agreements, they limit themselves to extending this human nature of kindness to all people.
Humans are humans
When I look into someone else’s eyes and my smile is returned, I automatically feel connected. There is just another person, who is also quite similar to me. The similarities are much more important than the differences and although each person is complex and complicated, at the same time we humans are also simple and easy. We all want to be happy, to be loved, to live a fullfilling life, to make sense of our existence. The problems and worries that all people have and the things that are important to them and bring them joy, are very similar all over the world.
I have a choice
To realize that only I´m responsible for my current life situation was a big step. Where I am right now, what I’m doing, how I’m doing, whether it’s a good or a bad situation, is the result of my actions (or omissions) and decisions in the past. Especially when we are in a difficult or unpleasant situation, we tend to blame others rather than ourselves. But once you accept your self-responsibility, there is space for change. Everyone is free to decide, always has a choice. Even if the options may not always be so great or varied and also dependent on what kind of life situation you were born into.
Everything is connected
Everything is connected. Not only on an energetic level but also very practical. Especially in our globalized world. Take an example of one of your garments and consider how many people are involved in its production and transportation. From the American seed producer to the Indian cotton farmer, the sewing worker from Bangladesh, the Swedish fashion chain, the German saleswoman up to you. Many people are involved in it until it finally adorns your body. The same goes for most items, including food.
Or think about the climate change: The exhaust gases from a car in Germany influence the climate in a completely different part of the world.
Or at a molecular level: the oxygen molecules you breathe have already been breathed by other people. Forms are constantly changing, but the building blocks, the atoms, remain the same.
Our world as it is is the product of all human beings. Everyone contributes a little bit through their behavior and everyone can change a little bit.
Being born in Germany is a privilege
I have never thought much about my origins. But Germany is known all over the world. When asked about my home country, people can always comment on it. Be it Adolf Hitler, Angela Merkel, Berlin, Made in Germany or football. And many people dream about living in Germany.
In international comparison, Germany is a very good country to live. The standard of living is high (even that one of the poorer people). Health insurance, pensions and unemployment benefits are completely unknown in many other countries, as is an (almost) free school and university system. It is a peaceful and secure country and the fears and worries of the Germans are ridiculous compared to many other Earth dwellers. In addition, the opportunity to easily make (and safe) money and of course the German passport, which makes it possible to travel to almost every country in the world.
Germany is not just a good country
If you think a bit about why we have such a safe and rich life in Germany, it quickly becomes clear that it is not just diligence (or should I say workaholism?) that brings us this high standard of living. The Germans are the beneficiaries of the global capitalistic system and the wealth is based (directly or indirectly) on the oppression and exploitation of other countries and their inhabitants. And the politics and economy are definitely aligned towards that. Germany is not the peace-loving and benevolent country it likes to pose for. As one of the major arms exporters and actively involved in wars, as a country with an aggressive export policy that forces other countries to open their markets for German products and push countries into interest rate dependency, Germany, in my opinion, contributes more to the state of inequality and injustice in this world as it does something to improve these conditions.
You have to accept the world as it is to be able to change it
On my journey, I learned to accept things and situations. In the small and in the big frame. The world is as it is. Whether you judge that as good or bad, it doesn´t matter. And the world is the product of all humans, created together. To change the world, you have to start with yourself. You can only change yourself, your mindset, your attitude, your behavior. And with that you change the world a little bit.
“Be the change you want to see in the world!” Mahatma Gandhi
Everything happens for a reason
Even if we don´t always recognize this. From anything you can learn something and draw something positive. Especially the difficult experiences and sections of life make you stronger and the mistakes you make are the things you learn from.
Gratitude is the (a) way to happiness
Being thankful for what you have is something that I also had to learn. Instead of always complaining or jealously looking at the others who have more than me, I feel better when I focus on what I have. I can carry all my possessions on my bike and rarely do I have the feeling that I miss something, that I want more.
Instead of being bugged about other people and unfriendly encounters, I focus on the good things and in the evening I think about what things happened to me during the day, for which I am grateful. To not only feel Gratitude but to express it, to actively thank people leads to even more satisfaction and happiness.
One of the most important skills I have developed is to trust. Not only in myself, but in other people, in situations and in life. That was not the case at the beginning of my journey. I was afraid of people,of getting robbed and was often suspicious (and still are sometimes).
But people everywhere trusted me. Often more than their own neighbors. Invited the stranger to his home. Often without being able to communicate with words. Leftme alone in their house. Or hid the keys for me so I could make myself comfortable before they came home from work, all without ever having met me.
There is the story of Nishit from India, whose number I got from another cyclist and whom I called a day before I arrived in Chennai. He was on a business trip, but without knowing anything about me, he left me his apartment for a few days and helped me organize everything by phone for a train ride to Kolkatta. When I left, I threw the keys in his mailbox. We stayed in contact and helped me on my journey two more times. We’ve never met and although I hardly know anything about him, not even what he looks like, I trust him and would not hesitate to let him into my house.
Be yourself, don´t be afraid and trust – then the world is your oyster
But how can one develop such confidence in other people? And can´t that be dangerous as well?
What keeps us from trusting is fear. Fear of the stranger, the unknown. Fear that something will happen to us, something will be taken away, we will be hurt. Fears which every human being has and which may have a legitimate purpose, but which may also be exaggerated and accumulated or learned. Recognizing and overcoming these fears is not always easy, but every human being is capable of doing so. The following story should clarify this:
“I’m in Australia. In a few days I have a flight to New Zealand and today I wanted to pick up my beloved bike, which I had left with friends for a few months. Just outside of Melbourne in the countryside. After a one-hour train ride, however, it turns out that my bike was unknowingly “given away” during a clean-up, but I could pick it up in Melbourne. So I have to walk the 10 kilometers back to the station, instead of cycle it as planned. It is already dark when I walk along the highway and I hold out my thumb, although my hopes are low that a car takes me at night. People are just too scared, especially at night. It doesn´t bother me to walk, it’s summer and I don´t have much luggage to carry. After all, a car gets slower and hesitantly stops a hundred meters ahead of me. When I reach the vehicle, the driver looks at me uncertainly. “You don´t have a gun, do you?” she asks me. “No I don´t. And you? Do you have one? “I ask back. The woman is surprised and says something snubbed “Of course not! Why should I have a weapon? ” Then her face relaxes and she takes confidence. “Get in, where do you want to go?”
She tells me she had to think about her son when she saw me walking alone in the dark. And her will to help was greater then her fear that I could be dangerous.”
I’ve entered cars of strangers hundreds of times in different countries without thinking much about it or being afraid. This doesn´t mean that something can´t happen at all and caution or at least listen to your gut feeling, to the intuition, is of course part of it. But the fear is actually always greater than the probability that something bad will happen.
“Courage is not if you don´t have fear, but if you recognize your fear and overcome it anyway.”
It’s not about living completely fearless, that’s probably hard to do. But you can recognize your fears, observe them and then question to what extent they are justified and whether they are useful or not.
Of course, there are situations where it is right to be scared. Where I´m even thankful for it, because the fear helps me to take better care and to master the situation. If for example in the middle of the night in a pakistani city people seem a little too friendly and lead me into a dark area, or when in India an angry crowd blocks the street with burning straw bales, or when I`m cycling on a busy highway and somehow need to cross several lanes to take the exit, then it is appropriate to be afraid, as long as you keep a calm mind anyway.
The language of the heart
Another important skill I have developed (and still constantly evolving) is something that could be called the language of the heart. This doesn´t mean romantic love whisper, no, it’s about listening to your own feelings, to your own intuition. It’s about to question your learned values and behaviors and to test whether something feels good and right. Let the thoughts and voices in the head mute and try to perceive things differently. The heart is not necessarily seen only as a sentient counterpart to the thinking mind, but as a supplement. Since I´m more of a head person than a heart person and tend to ponder and think things over, it is important for me to realize, that I can perceive things differently.
For example, I often find myself in situations with people whose language I don´t speak and who don´t speak my language. And yet there is communication, not just with gestures or facial expressions, but on a different level. One learns to feel the other person, to understand what he means or wants, to understand without the spoken words.
It also means understanding yourself better, because the heart works differently than the head. It can´t be manipulated that easily. Either you feel love for something or someone or you don´t feel it, there is no need for a reason. But thoughts and certain emotions can be influenced much more easily. Fears can be fueled by news and negative reporting, hopes made by promises of advertising and consumer society. The heart offers a more stable emotional and moral compass.
For the heart can only love, but one can´t hate by heart.
These are the most important things I have learned for the past six years and put into words. I am thankful to have had these insights and to be able to share them here.
The second part is about the negative consequences and bad sides that years and years of traveling can bring.
If you like what you see here and you want to reward my work or just want to support my trip, consider buying my new photo calendar. It has no fixed price but is available for donation!