Hi Kommune! I’m Michael and more than two years ago, I set off on a motorcycle journey starting from Germany – direction, India. Since then, I have reached Australia only by Overlanding (and shipping the bike once, obviously). Starting this journey was a bit of a leap into the unknown and many people told me they consider it courageous. To me, it felt quite natural. I have always liked solo-traveling and riding a motorcycle, it gives me a sense of freedom.
What does it mean to solo-travel for a long period on a motorcycle? What does it do to you? Let me share what I have learned and experienced on the way, and hopefully some points can be inspirational.
Is it dangerous?
I’m putting this question first since it tends to be the first question people ask me (except in India, where questions usually are motorcycle-related).
Very often, I am hearing that one must have a lot of courage to solo-travel the world on a motorcycle. This might be true. However, the most courage is usually required when taking the first step. “Am I doing the right thing?” is a question that will be out of your mind from the moment you set off on such a tour.
Throughout my travels, I have continuously learned that the world is a safe place, with only a few dark corners that can mainly be avoided. Having crossed half the world and using common sense (mostly), I have luckily not faced a situation where someone has been genuinely evil or wanted to take something from me. Was it only luck, or is the world a better place than one may assume from all the extremes seen in the media? Hearing news about shootings, riots and terrorist attacks on a daily basis seems to taint the perception of whole countries or regions.
In fact, what I am continuously experiencing is quite the contrary: People want to get to know me, want to help me out (whether I’m looking for help or not), are interested in getting to know a world traveler. Even the situations of being escorted in Pakistan or crossing military checkpoints in Turkey were exclusively friendly, involving so many handshakes, shared teas and meals, and new Facebook friends. So many times, I have felt like a superstar for just being a foreigner in a remote area, for just being there. The biggest danger that remains, then, might be becoming a narcissist.
Once the first step is taken, you will see what a wonderful thing it is to travel. With constant exposure to the new, you will have so much to gain inspiration from. Meeting people, seeing places, staying when you want to stay and moving when you want to move, make it hard to feel bored.
A friend said he considered traveling as “filling the archives” — accumulating experiences that you can draw from when you’re not traveling anymore.
You’re not traveling alone. You’re bringing yourself along
“There are two kinds of travelers: Some are looking for something, some are running away from something.” What group do you belong to? Personally, I think it is not purely that black-and-white, for every journey contains an escape element and can be an inspiration at the same time. Whatever reason you’re traveling for, be it finding your creativity or leaving a busy schedule behind, you’ll realise that your mind is traveling with you. In that way, it is not only things to be discovered on the outside, but—even more importantly—your own ways of thinking, personality traits, your perceptions and projections of the world will show up. I don’t want to get too psychological here, but I can confirm that the world is a mirror that tends to reflect your own mood, thoughts and ways of thinking.
The thing is that when you’re at home, most of this happens on an unconscious level, and maybe sometimes you can’t really tell why you’re feeling happy or not. If you are in an environment of few routines, it is much easier to remain aware of yourself, to experience what is good for you and what is not. In that way, it is much easier to break old and make new habits when on the road, if you wish to do so.
The culture shock will be there
Thanks to the Internet and to English becoming the global Lingua Franca, the world is growing closer together. It feels amazing and almost homely to come to a completely foreign area, and to find people speaking the same language as you do and even using the same social media as you and wanting to follow you virtually. This instant feeling of connection is, of course, only a superficial one.
Going deeper, you will see the cultural differences, you will get annoyed while not understanding how people would behave in this way, by not being able to follow conversations. What are people talking about while they are looking at me? Even if you know about a foreign culture and in that way knowing about people’s behaviour in a particular culture, there is your own subjective understanding of how things are supposed to be—your own deep, cultural programming, depending on where you grew up. People seem to be ‘neglecting’ things that have become important to you. Coming from the West, it was quite annoying for me to see people burn their waste and smoking whole streets with it, or throwing rubbish out of bus windows, about talking loudly, or standing curiously next to me and watching my every move.
One might know about all these things. Especially in more stressful moments, there still is the underlying annoyance: Why are people not using ‘common sense’? Why aren’t they more respectful? Maybe one’s understanding of a Common Sense, of personal space and respect is a cultural one. Even if those moments might not be enjoyable, the good thing is that if you just keep going and try to stick with another culture, you will not only know, but start to understand people’s behaviour. Isn’t there always an explanation? A re-programming of the above is happening, you are becoming more open-minded.
You need to take breaks
Long-term travel is quite different from a vacation. A major difference is that you don’t (or shouldn’t) have an overly strict schedule, even if you have a route planned out. There might be times when the culture shock is too intense or when you’re just feeling tired of constantly moving places. I have experienced these moments, and I think it is important to keep in mind that you can always take a few days off. No one is holding you from treating yourself in a fancier place than you’d usually stay, or indulging in some “home” food.
Home(s) away from home
Motorcycle traveling involves a lot of solo time, however only when you’re actually moving. When staying at places, it is super easy to get in touch with locals. Unless you choose to, you will never feel alone.
From the moment you are leaving home, you will realise quite a unique mechanism: Coming to a new location and especially entering a new country, everything feels new—a feeling that can be magical and overwhelming at the same time. “How will I feel comfortable in these surroundings?” is what you might ask yourself. In my experience, after a few days in a new environment, there is a feeling of home, thanks to the people you meet. More often than not, I tend to stay for a few days longer than initially planned.
Combining all the above, most doubts that one could have about solo traveling should have vanished. Of course, a bigger journey means leaving things behind, and does need some commitment of time and money, and dealing with uncertainty. If I were to name the biggest thing I have learned from traveling, is that it always works out, somehow. The uncertainty will remain, but isn’t life, overall and in the long run, uncertain?
Traveling is a wonderful thing. If you think about it, if you dream of it, DO IT. Straightforward and mostly unconditional advice here. However, traveling the world is to be seen as just one kind of adventure you can set out on. I have friends who are starting a family or building a business, which can be an equally challenging adventure. That said, traveling is not to be seen as the ultimate answer and there are many other ways to grow as a person.
If traveling happens to be in your scope though, I deeply encourage you to set yourself a time (after the lockdown) when you want to do it, take the basic preparations, and keep in mind that there will never be the perfect time for starting. Or to put it the other way round, mostly every time will turn out perfect for starting something new. So, just go for it…