Currently in Chiang Mai, Thailand (06/12/2013) - 31200km cycled

10 Nov 2013

Why am I cycling around the world?

Posted by Will

It’s the big question: the one I’m asked most, the one I ask myself most and the one whose answer sheds most light on the way I think about life and where I’m headed in the future. The emphasis here is not so much on ‘cycling’ (see my ‘8 reasons to travel by bike‘) but more on why I’m travelling indefinitely. My reasons are closely summarised as follows:

question_mark_big- because I can
- because I enjoy it
- because the alternatives aren’t as good
- because I know I would regret not doing it

When giving the short answer, as is only possible in normal conversation, I tangle these reasons together to get the most of what I’m feeling into the fewest number of words. That doesn’t make for a very coherent justification though. Here I hope to begin the untangling process.

I don’t imagine taking off for the long-term, especially by bicycle, is everyone’s cup of tea. Nor am I tempted, as so many traveller-cum-philosophers are, to write the entire working world off as miserable and enslaved. Yet I do receive messages from people far and wide who are keen to make an open-ended journey just like me, some who are already rearing to go, others who are dissatisfied with their present situation and even the odd few who say I inspire them. While I haven’t written this post as an argument to travel indefinitely, there may be a lingering note of persuasion, if only for those caught in two minds. I can only hope that readers understand my own motivation by the end.

black-check-mark-hiBecause I can.

An all-too-familiar assertion on the travellers’ circuit goes like this: ‘anyone can quit their job, take off, travel the world … but not everyone has the guts’. It’s false, and anyone who believes it is hopelessly naive and somewhat conceited too. As though the ability to travel depends only on bravery! There are considerations of family, finances, personal well-being and more, some of which are binding regardless of a person’s willingness to set off. That’s not to mention the passport limitations on the majority of the world’s population.

I don’t have any of these restraints. I don’t have dependent family members and the family I do have – my Mum, Dad, brother, sister and many other relatives – are immensely supportive of my endeavours. I can’t fool myself into thinking the trip would be as easy without their involvement and constant encouragement. Most of my friends are proud of me too. As far as finances go, I was lucky enough to have a significant amount saved before I left and besides a dormant student loan to pay off I have no debt. I also have a good education and valuable university certificate to fall back on if I ever find myself penniless. To add to all this my passport is a shiny red British one that enables travel in a large number of foreign countries visa and hassle-free, and at least the possibility of getting into almost all the others.

This is the enabling condition for travel and in my case it’s check box is ticked. In the presence of other strong motivating factors, the question switches on its head: ‘why NOT cycle around the world?’.

alternativeBecause I enjoy it.

The strongest factor motivating me to travel indefinitely is my inherent enjoyment of travel. I am happiest when travelling, and in particular when travelling by bicycle. I love exploring new places, taking part in very different people’s lives and seeing wild and remote landscapes. Right now my priorities and interests in life align closely with what travel can offer, for instance, being on the road allows free and independent lifestyle. What I enjoy above all else is a lack of routine in my days. The way I travel, two days are rarely similar.

I have no doubt that as time moves on what I find important in life will move with it. Travel will no longer hold such an appeal, at which point I sincerely hope I am ready and able to jump off the bike. Before that time comes though, it’s far more likely I will have run out of money!

Because the alternatives aren’t as good.

As I wrote above, nothing makes me happier. The alternative I’m thinking about particularly is pursuit of a long-term career which must have been the bookie’s favourite when I started a world-famous famous university 5 years ago. I feel far too eager to do all the above (explore etc…) to stay in one place which is a requirement in almost all career jobs. Even the most ostensibly independent career jobs are tied-down to locations and deadlines. I certainly couldn’t stand sitting in front of a computer all day (not that all career jobs require this) while I had the means to travel (and as I’ve already discussed – I do). At a time when I value freedom and new experiences so much, a career job by its very nature is a worse alternative to travelling the world.

I am also utterly convinced that my body would grow to elephantine proportions if I stopped cycling as a result of my grotesque appetite. It’s not just the physical exercise … I am sure I have a deep-seated, at least semi-addiction to eating! So for the sake of my good health and chances of attracting a sexy female counterpart, I had better not go back to a sedentary lifestyle.

avatarsvectorBecause I know I would regret not doing it.

At university, I became quite fixed on the idea of cycling around the world. Frankly, I spent far too much time studying Google Maps and not enough buried in the appropriate textbooks, but I couldn’t help myself. The thought took hold of me, and still has hold of me, to the extent I knew I would regret terribly not trying to cycling around the world if given the chance. I finished university with reasonable marks and the trip was well and truly there for the taking. I seized the opportunity knowing I would have kicked myself forever if I’d have passed it up. Does it seem odd that such a strong motivating factor for cycling around the world is the fear of not doing it?

I have come to realize that this trip will lead to a whole heap more regrets as I continue to explore the countless possibilities open to me and know that I can’t choose them all. Life’s opportunity cost grows and grows: that is the curse of wanderlust. Those are secondary regrets though. They can be swallowed in time by accepting they are a necessary consequence of rubbing the primary itch.

Perhaps the most obvious conclusion from the above is that I think too much. That may possibly be true.  A particularly perceptive girl in China once told me it’s natural among people who mostly have only themselves to talk to. Either way, at least I can now look up for reference, when the time comes, exactly why I’m lying stuck to my groundsheet in the Sumatran rainforest or being eaten alive by mosquitoes in the Mekong delta. Despite knowing such delights await me, I’ll cycle enthusiastically that way. Somewhere therein lies the reason why I’m cycling around the world.

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