After 12 months, 15,000km and 10 countries, our cycling adventure from Greece to China has finally rolled to an end. It's been a year with the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. Tears have fallen freely, screams of joy have danced off mountain tops, fleeting friendships have been found and intense feelings of isolation and confusion have rocked me to the core. But most importantly, travelling by bike has taught me more in 1 year than my previous 28 years on earth.
Travelling by bike won't change who you are, but it will change how you see the world. With hours of silent reflection, pedals pushing forward in rhythmic motion, I've been meditating on life, searching for what makes people content - the holy grail of states for humanity. At the same time, delving deep into foreign cultures and living life on a bike has challenged me in more ways than I ever could have imagined, forcing me to ask myself - what sort of person do I want to be, and how do I want to live?
One month after hopping out of the saddle, and a couple of weeks after landing on home soil, the most common question I get asked is: What did you learn from your trip? I can talk for hours about the heartwarming hospitality in the Middle East, mind-blowing scenery in Central Asia, or the confusing contradiction that is modern China. But we travel to learn - about ourselves, about the world and about life. So after 12 months cycling the Silk Road, here are my top 3 life lessons learnt:
Connection and purpose lead a good life
We all want to live a good life - but what exactly is a good life? We travelled through rich countries and poor countries, muslim countries, christian countries and buddhist countries. We met well educated doctors, farmers who couldn't read or write, business owners and public servants. We stayed with people in inner city apartments, villages who grew all their own food and nomads with nothing but a yurt and some sheep. And each time we met someone, I always asked myself - do they have a good life, and if so, why?
It has nothing to do with money, class, education, religion or country. It has everything to do with connection and purpose.
We're hard-wired for connection, through our relationships we find love, support, laughter and meaning to life. The people living a good life were surrounded by people they love, friends and family they had close relationships with. I'm talking about the Iranian group of friends that ate dinner and played board games until 1 in the morning every night, the Turkish families that lived next door to each other and spent their holidays together, and the Tibetan monks who drank tea and debated philosophy in the afternoon sun. In the age of individuals and the internet we're becoming disconnected, but it's the exact opposite that we need. Get connected, in person, and you'll find yourself living a good life.
We also all need a purpose, to do something we love, something that makes us feel alive. I mean that thing that makes your heart beat a little faster when you talk about it, the thing that you day-dream about and count down until the next time you do it. For some people it's their job, but for most people it isn't. It's usually always creative or active - painting, photography, writing, hiking, cycling or climbing. But no matter who we met, everyone living a good life had some purpose. So find something you love, and go do it.
Simplicity breeds contentment
When you live on a bicycle, you learn to only carry the things you really need. After 12 months, we realised we only need 15 kilos each - that's our home, kitchen, clothes, spare parts, entertainment (kindle, podcasts and books), ukulele and even a persian carpet in 30 kilos of belongings. I was shocked to find my room jam-packed full of crap once I returned. Over the years I've collected 4 surfboards, 2 bikes, 200+ books and 2 wardrobes full of clothes (everything from my first baby outfits, to school uniforms and suits I've never worn) - and all this stuff stressed me out!
We're sold happiness every time we step out the door, or check out the net. But happiness can't be bought and it can't be found. Happiness is an emotion, a fleeting one at that, which will come and go just as the sun rises and falls. Contentment, on the other hand, is a way of life. It is a feeling of peace with one's self and one's life, an ease of mind and satisfaction with one's state of being.
The more time we spend comparing our lives to others, competing to be bigger and better, or buying more things to look more successful, the more unhappy we'll be, and the further from contentment we'll find ourselves. I've found the more you simplify your life, lose the things you don't need, stop looking at the lives of others, and focus on the little things, the more content you will be.
People are amazing
I'll never forget this one moment, 3 weeks before I packed my bags, when I was chatting to an acquaintance at my good friends birthday. While explaining our route through the Middle East to China, this "well educated", but untravelled, young man stopped my in my tracks and said: "IRAN? Mate are you taking a gun? What about a knife at least? They're bloody crazy there, haven't you seen the war in Syria and all those terrorists? What about your girlfriend, she could get raped!" He wasn't the only one to question our choice, but he was definitely the most confident in believing in our insanity.
It's one of the worlds greatest tragedies that we're all so scared of each other. Too much time is spent head down, scrolling through news feeds, looking for the next big thing to be scared about. And not enough time is spent out in the world, talking to people of different cultures, with different languages, religions, skin colours and views on the world. Because in all truth, people are absolutely awesome, and were by far the best part of our trip. It always brings a smile to my face when I think of the countless people who talked to us, smiled at us, laughed with us, offered us food and a bed for the night. In every country, city, town and village we visited, people were always curious in us, and always wanted to help us. My best memories are the people we met, and the most important lessons I learnt were from the people most different to me. So thank you to all those beautiful people who welcomed us into their lives!