Long-term travel sounds amazing, doesn’t it? A new destination every week, or in my case, every day. An endless array of new cultural and culinary experiences awaiting you at every turn. Sitting at your desk looking wistfully out the window it seems that there could be nothing better than the prospect of a never-ending holiday.
I won’t lie to you; it is pretty amazing. There is no better tonic for the soul than the exposure of travel, especially when it takes you to places well outside of your comfort zone. The people, the sights, the food, all take on a vibrancy that your well-trodden path feels somewhat lacking in. It is important to realize that unlike your two-week holiday spent on the beach, drinking cocktails and waiting for the afternoon storm to roll in, long-term travel is an adventure, it becomes your life and everything you take for granted in everyday life must be found along the way.
When I began planning my year-long adventure, it seemed inconceivable that it would be anything but wonderful and exciting, and it is has been. However, like anything you do on a daily basis, it has its downsides. After endless miles on the road and more nights spent in a camp by yourself than you care to think about, there comes a time when you start to evaluate the things in life that you may take for granted.
For one, there is nothing more consuming than the never-ending search for somewhere to wash your clothes. Will, I take the day off traveling just to wait around a hot, smelly and often scary looking laundromat for the luxury of machine washed underwear, or push it out another day in favor of a quick sink wash and do it tomorrow? Something so completely basic becomes a weekly event, one that takes on new meaning in the luxury stakes. Move over 5-star hotel and Michelin star dinners, if my clothes have had a 45-minute wash cycle I feel like I am on top of the world.
After my second month on the road, mostly camping next to the bike, I thought I would treat myself to a couple of nights in an apartment in Budapest, with the deciding factor for choosing my location based on the presence of a washing machine. Sitting in my tent, I scoured countless AirBnB’s, checking photos, not for a trendy neighborhood or plush furnishings, but visual confirmation of promised white goods.
Checking in, I immediately dumped out the entire contents of my bag into the holy machine and poured over an inappropriate amount of laundry liquid and turned the dial. Nothing. Ok, I thought to myself, don’t panic, turn it on and off again, that always works. This time success, as water poured in I felt a joy usually reserved for a day’s ride on a mountain pass of twisty roads. Lifting the lid an hour later, it appeared nothing had happened. Everything was still in its place, including the laundry liquid I had doused my clothes in.
Putting a call into the owner I was informed, the washing machine was broken. It felt like the end of the world. The machine had filled the bottom with water, making my dirty clothes three times heavier than normal, so a schlep to the laundromat was out of the question. I began the back-breaking task of removing them and bending over the bath tub to hand wash a full load. Without the power of a spin cycle, I knew my heavy motorcycle gear would take forever to dry. Not only that, in my enthusiasm for fresh lavender garments, I had put literally everything except for my pj’s in the wash, I now couldn’t leave the apartment!
It is at times like this that the simplicity of ‘normal’ life becomes suddenly so appealing. A chore that is cursed and dreaded is now something to be revered, a symbol of normality that seemed so far out of reach.
Determined not to be overwhelmed by my misfortune, I scanned the apartment for a solution. Of course, there was no heating to be seen and the dark inner-city apartment didn’t offer any sunlight to help. Sitting at the kitchen table, I saw it. The oven. Thinking it through for a few minutes I decided it was the only answer, I will test the theory on socks and go from there. It worked, not only did it dry everything remarkably well but the feeling of accomplishment for thinking outside the box really gave me cause for a good laugh.
When the reality of slipping hygiene standards becomes the norm, and you are now accustomed to the likelihood of wearing your t-shirts more times than you thought was acceptable, you have most likely been on the road for a couple of months. It is at this stage you start to realize that the excitement of talking to strangers about your amazing adventure has worn thin. This was something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on for a little while and then it hit me. I am having the exact, word for word conversation every time I speak. Where am I from? Where am I going? How long will it take? Am I scared on my own?
The people I have met have been incredibly interested in my journey, and it has restored my faith in mankind. The excitement and wonder with which my story is received is something which I wasn’t expecting, and it has been an eye-opening experience into the warmth of new cultures around the world. So, it is with no disrespect that I say; sometimes, it is also really annoying. Taking a fuel break and being bombarded with the same questions over and over becomes a test of my own patience. You realize that it is the only conversation you are participating in and you yearn for someone to ask you what’s on for the weekend or ask you if you watched the Bachelor last night. Anything really, other than those four questions.
The topic of your adventure is also something inescapable on the regular calls home to family and friends. The ability to video call your loved ones from literally anywhere in the world is one of the things that keeps me going as a solo traveler. Sharing my journey with them in real time is a luxury many overland adventurers before me weren’t afforded. However, like those you meet on the side of the road, it is almost impossible to speak of anything but your trip.
It is as though they believe you have forgotten how the real world works and no longer have the slightest interest in their non-nomadic lives. I for one am desperate to hear of anything ‘normal’ going on back home and try incredibly hard to steer my friends and family in the direction of acting like I am chatting to them from my lounge. I want to feel a part of things, not a helmet wearing alien from some far away planet.
Lastly, the ability to eat and drink whatever you want, when you want. Living in a western country, there is never really a time that you don’t have exactly what you wish for at your fingertips when it comes to food. This becomes painfully obvious as a convenience taken for granted as you eat, yet again, a snickers for lunch as you can’t bear the thought of risking your life on one of the dubious looking hot dogs that have seen better days.
With no ability to keep foods cold on the back of a motorcycle you are at the mercy of the services, cafes and roadside dinners you might be lucky enough to find along your way. Stopping on the side of the road, your throat dry with dust and quenching your thirst with water that feels as though it was poured from a just boiled kettle, is one of the least satisfying experiences you can have. I have often found myself day dreaming about a time I could walk to my fridge and stand in front of it, door open, and proclaim; ‘there’s nothing to eat’.
Wearing clothes that would make most mothers cringe, a conversational groundhog day and a diet of snickers and warm water, it really does sounds like a fairly miserable existence out here. Rest assured, it’s not. It is every bit as wonderful, exciting and life-changing as you imagined it would be sitting at your desk and if you can handle a few small inconveniences, you will be rewarded with an adventure, new friends and memories that will last a lifetime.