Travel Changes Perspectives
Three months into our trip and having spent a week on a train and the best part of three weeks in a van the mind has had some time to wonder. Ali and I have been reflecting on what we've seen and learnt so far, we have become sponges to all the cultures and people who we've met. Many of our conversations have centred on changes to lifestyle and how to find a healthy balance between work and play. What has been surprising is that most travellers above the age of 30 have the same dissatisfaction with works dominance over their lives. Many travellers we have spoken too share this growing concern that our modern lifestyle is inherently imbalanced. We'd like to share some of our thoughts, experiences and changes that we have learnt and implemented into our lifestyles
Inspiring Folk We've Met On The Way
On the train out of Berlin we met a German lady in her 50s who was very much a free spirited holistic person. She spoke of an outdoor lifestyle that consisted of her and her partner taking only sleeping bags out to the wild to connect with nature, her dreams were always better around nature. They often embarked on long walks with just a wild camp under the stars as their roof. When I asked of rain, she said they would knock on the door of a stranger, sleep under trees or walk into town and 'sleep rough' as she put it, often relying on the kindness of strangers for food or shelter. Her freedom and openness seems to come from the absence of material things and not fearing what's around the corner. A very inspiring lady, we have since had nights where we could see the stars from our sleeping bags. Her lifestyle certainly got us thinking about a more natural lifestyle in the future.
We met another inspiring person on a plane, Harminder was his name, and he understood the value of play over work; choosing to work for only half of the year. He spent his free time creating art and advising young entrepreneurs on the options available to them. Similar themes came up in conversation, the ideas of openness and creating a lifestyle for pleasure rather than money. He never took a job if he didn't believe in its outcome, regardless of the money. Which is the opposite mantra we were brought up to believe. We were always told to work hard, get a degree then and good job and work for the rest of our lives. This got us thinking, if we work for money, what do we need the money for? How much is needed for a happy lifestyle? And indeed the most important question, did the money we earn in our careers necessarily make us happier? I'm not sure we can answer all those questions, but we'll try!
The World And It's Objects
Things, if there is a common thread that is easily spotted across the 9 countries we've visited is that each are entangled in global consumerism. Each have there fill of corporate food, drink and clothes outlets, advertising keenly promotes the large global companies. We commonly spotted people ordering stuff from amazon on the way to work by smartphone, as is the norm at home. Even the pricing of certain goods are the same across Europe, irrelevant of Pound, Euro or Ruble. So, it occurred to us that perhaps people feel trapped by purchasing, as if earning money is earned for spending on objects almost forgetting there are better things out there. The impulsiveness of technology goes hand in hand with brains reward system for pleasure and risk. Shopping unites both, especially when an object you want is a mere click and 24 hours away.
Life on the road keenly reminds us how out the capitalist loop we are. Especially as we have been travelling through both socialist (and post socialist) countries for the last 2 months! Our main concerns are pretty simple; what will we eat and is it cheap? Where will we stay and what shall we do tomorrow? Carrying only the objects that we need. Everything has a purpose; from the pots and pans to the penknife. We have barely spent anything on objects bar provisions. Perhaps one T-shirt bought from a second hand shop for 2 euro. If travelling teaches anything it's that living with less is satisfying, pretty sustainable and shines a spot light on the excesses of our working lives back in London. It's not that we didn't enjoy that lifestyle because having disposable cash allows for a nice life and an easy life. But in contrast to the places we've seen and the people we've met on the way we are starting to rethink our life choices.
Other travellers we have met have also made changes that are balanced towards life experience over salary. Dennis, who we met on the Trans Siberian, has the option to trade in an extra months pay for 20 days of holiday, giving him a total of 50 days off a year. He uses this time to travel the world, continuing from the last place he got to the previous year. Another guy, Ville, runs a building contractor firm in Finland for 6 months of the year and then travels for the remainder, working as chef in Buddhist retreats in Myanmar and learning meditation techniques from the monks he cooks for. Both share a similar idea that life experience is more important than things. Therefore they live with less, save the money they make, and then enjoy a balanced lifestyle. Although Ville did point out that his life works so well now because he hasn't started a family yet.
Broadening The Horizons
Travelling inherently pushes you into a new life where freedom, openness and experiences force you away from a lifestyle of comfort and objects, to live minimally. It has forced us to live a pared back existence where objects are functional, waste minimal without any wanton purchasing. We have cut spending by asking existential questions, like what do we really need to be happy? We pondered this question and decided for us to be happy on this trip we only needed each others company, some decent food and a beautiful place to look at. We have cut our spending to around £15 a day for a balanced diet and for accommodation we try to camp when we can, this normally costs around £10 -£25 per night or free when we wild camp. We have some luxury items like a laptop and a camera but most of our stuff is pretty basic, certainly compared to other long term travellers.
Even before we left for a new life on the road we had made changes to our spending. We started counting the takeaways and what they costed us. If you then add them up over a month and a year it's a lot of money. At least a days work per month. So would you rather work less and save money or have 4 takeaways a month? Those thoughts can save you a lot of money, or a lot of work!
The Simple Life
What put all of this into perspective was our trip through Mongolia. If you want to see what makes Mongolians happy it's all the right things! Friends, family, visitors and travellers are all the same in Mongolia. People freely walk into each others gers (yurts) and are fed and watered, even if they only required directions. These felt like long lost traditions the rest of the world has forgotten. My grandad used to tell us of a time before locks when neighbours freely visited each other so it must have been the same in UK once. Mongolians live like this because they have so little and every nomadic person is in the same boat, it's actually a lot like a socialist system in that sense. It works so well here because nomads want no more then they have and know no more than the traditions they were born into.
What's Comes Next
Perhaps a lifetime chasing the perfect job and the most money is going to feel far less appealing when we remember how little the rest of the world lives and survives with. For Mongolians they face real hardships like a harsh climate, surviving off the land and lack of money. We feel these hardships actually bring people together and makes their lives less focussed on what they have and only about what is needed. We have learnt a lot from this mentality but we have had to travel across the world to see this ourselves. That less is so often more.
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