Around the world at 3mph: The journey so far...
London Travel Blog› entry 1 of 5 › view all entries
In the last 16 months we have been crippled by blisters, de-masted 1300 miles from land, chased by whales, lost in ghettos, dehydrated in waterless deserts, capsized in storms and felt the icy winds of the Bering Sea tearing across our faces. We're not hardened adventurers but have just set our minds on doing things and got on with them. If we had chosen to jump on and off planes during our trip we could have done all this in 6 months. But we're not in a hurry. When it comes to understanding and absorbing the world around us, the slow road is best.
For more details about our around the world without flying adventures please see www.3mphroundtheworld.com
About 4 years ago my fiance and I started saving for an unknown adventure. As much as we loved our London lives, we both felt pulled towards the weight of a huge and unexplainable world out there. We wanted to get glimpses of how awesome it is and experience it for ourselves. To help us gather our thoughts we bought a huge world map and splattered our fragmented aspirations all over it. Within 6 months there was a very disjointed, wiggly line across the map, lots of doodles of bikes, boats and trains, lists of desirable skills and jottings from inspiring adventures of old. It all gradually pieced together. It became clear that we both wanted to go on lots of epic adventures that would help us get off the beaten path, pick up some new skills and most importantly, provide us with a lifetime of hair raising stories.
A couple of years of working life went by with hardly a blink. As much as we loved our London lives, neither of us wanted it to go on indefinitely. The map became increasingly hard to ignore and savings grew faster. Before we could get swept up in the treadmill of careers, mortgages and being grown ups we set a date for our adventure: In September 2008 we would leave the UK to travel around the world without flying. Not jumping on and off planes or in and out of sterile airports would force us to use more interesting modes of transport and visit more obscure parts of the world. We both fell in love with the concept of traveling along our own unbroken line around the world.
We are now just over a year in and don't regret a second of it. After cycling to Spain, walking to Lisbon, sailing The Atlantic, hitch hiking around The Caribbean, chicken busing up Central America, cycling up the US, getting on a container ship across The Pacific, catching trains around China and jumping on jeeps over the Himalayas, we have made it to Nepal. So far we have used 265 different vehicles including 120 buses, 37 boats, 2 tandems (over 4000 miles) and 1 side car. As much as possible we try to use publically available transport or travel by human power to increase the challenge and meet more people.
When we get back our average speed around the world will have been about 3mph, the speed of walking. So far the world has proved to be bigger, more intriguing, more welcoming and more awesome the slower you travel through it. We have tried to make our means of travel as enlightening as the experience of actually traveling through somewhere. In most cases we have found that the means of traveling is more important than where you are. Traveling responsibly is a more rewarding and wholesome experience. It completely changes your perspective as well as how strangers perceive you. When you are an unexpected visitor or don't comply with the norm you immediately open yourself up to your surroundings. Rather than being intimated, locals are intrigued and want to be part of the adventure. The world is on your side.
This is especially true when we're on our fully loaded tandem, which is why it has become our favourite means of travel. On day two of the whole trip we were waiting for our ferry in Newhaven when a bearded and slightly wild looking old guy approached us, declaring his love for tandems. One week later we were knocking back wine in his farm house in The Dordogne with lots of his friends, chatting about the eclectic lives they've all led and hugely appreciating a night off the camping stove. On the tandem, even the most inhospitable dusty backwaters of middle America became havens of smiling, bemused and welcoming faces. After seeing the bike people would often give us free breakfast baps or coffees to help us on our way. After a day of non-stop rain in Canada we were offered a bed for the night by a Dutch lady who happened to be cycling past us. We were very happily swept up into the warmth of their family home for a night chatting through everything from home made apple sauce to the fate of indigenous tribes.
Every inch of the way we have been overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers. At the Venezuelan/ Colombian boarder a complete stranger saved us from being stranded by giving us $30 to cross the boarder. We asked for bank details, email or address so we could pay him back but he refused; he just wanted to help. In the Caribbean, shop keepers gave us food and drinks on loan when we were stranded in a tiny town cashless for a night. In Japan an elderly lady led us through a bustling seaside town to our ferry port to ensure we didn't get lost. And these are just a few examples!
The trip has given us a chance to spend time with people of all ages and from all walks of life. It has given us an invaluable insight into how we want to lead our lives, what type of people we are and the human psyche in general. It has also helped us form opinions about the state of the world and the systems that make it tick. We have had the time to read up on the places we travel through or opinions relayed to us on route. Whereas our busy lives in London made it easy to shrug off the big problems the world faces today, the trip has made us step back and take it all in. We have compared how people live in different parts of world and tried to understand what makes a society or a community thrive without having to drastically exploit land or people.
That said, it hasn't all been rose tinted. Being on the road for this long takes its toll at times. In between the big challenges and big planning sessions there are down times that can feel very unreal. When there is nothing to focus your energy on not working feels very unnatural, especially when money is a constant concern. Our budget is such that we can't afford to swan around seeing sites everywhere we go. Whilst it can be hugely revealing to find ways to kill time on the fringes of tourist attractions, in random suburbs of big flashy cities or in a free camping spot, on a down day it can be very frustrating. But luckily we both always look back on these moments fondly because we've seen a patch of the world others might not. We also recognize that patience is a valuable lesson we've been forced to learn on this adventure.
We both have very mixed thoughts about going home. We will have had a blissful 20 months of living by our rules, being very active outdoors, seeing incredible sites and meeting a huge variety of people. Whilst all this is hard to say goodbye to, we both remember home very fondly and are excited about returning and seeing what the next phase of our lives bring. We hope that we will return to England a little bit wiser about the world and what we want from it, which seems like a good foundation on which to make the next batch of life decisions!