One day I realized that I would make a year long travel journey in my life. What and why I didn’t know exactly. The incredibly good feeling I got from reading travel stories was sufficient for that. Whether it was someone who was wandering at parties on Thai beaches or someone who walked on his own through nature parks with a tent. There was more than life in the Netherlands. I was eager to discover it anyway. I felt the need to escape from the daily routine. Even though I didn’t know what a daily routine really felt like. The fear of being stuck was already there before I understood what being stuck actually means.
The idea that when I finished my studies, I would go to work, buy a house, get married and start a family wasn’t something that motivated me in the first place. I had a fear for the known and I was afraid that the known would lead to hopelessness. And that was for me one of the most important triggers, more understanding of the world, myself, my feelings and escaping a mapped out existence.
When I cycled away on February 2 in 2015, I had high expectations of what would happen. I was fed with books and articles that told the highlights of travel. The fact that I was going to do this myself gave me a very strong sense of self-control.
I was ambitious but really had no idea of what was coming. And that motivated me.
My study was interesting and it taught me to get the best out of myself, but there was always something more important than an extraordinary career. Namely the urge for adventure. The journey, that escape from a life that in my experience looked sadly predictive, gave me hope.
The bicycle on which I cycled away had literally become the ship of my existence. I could go fast or slow, turn left, turn right, stop and sleep and continue cycling the next morning whenever I wanted. I had everything in my own hands. My environment changed completely and also all external influences that determined what was important for me.
Thanks to the new experiences and encounters, I was able to keep asking myself, who am I? What are my fears? What do I enjoy? What do I care most about? What is really important to me? I was able to rediscover all my choices and priorities without anyone else deciding it for me. I had actually escaped the harsh reality of an influenceable world. Including an escape from my own feelings, which constantly questioned everything about this world and wondering what the higher purpose of my existence would be.
This entire cycling trip was a flight from reality. And it might have been the most important thing that happened in my life.
Sometimes people ask me the question, what did you get out of this journey? What does that year of traveling by bicycle brought you?
And that is one of the most difficult questions to answer. Especially when asked at a random party with a bottle of beer in my hand. It is such a difficult question because it is a question about my identity. Telling what my identity is or how it shaped during this journey. Explaining how 25 cultures influence my value hierarchy is an almost impossible question.
I still can’t really answer it.
What I have learned is that hope for the future is incredibly important in our lives. People are not beings who always function perfectly in a completely comfortable environment. Not me in any case. But that is often the basic principle of society. Comfort and safety that ensure a stable future. The strange thing is that all that comfort and safety creates incredible hopelessness for me. I don’t want to know what the next 10 years will look like in my life.
If life is so easy that with little effort I can have my existence day after day, I start to feel anxious. That is, after all, my survival mechanism. How I solve problems and have learned to survive emotionally in a reality that is not always a scent of roses.
I have added a bit of hope by forming my identity around travel and adventure. With enthusiasm for the future, not only in other cultures but also awareness and acceptance of the reality of life in the Netherlands.
Our identity rolls through our lives like a snowball and in this way collects more values and meaning. Your choices are inherently based on those values. If we feel bad and don’t have the ability to steer that snowball, we will always feel the same. A new environment or change brings perspective. Different cultures and conversations with people who grew up in a completely different environment brings me perspective. And for me that perspective is connected to hope.
That is perhaps the closest I can come to an answer of that question. I have learned to understand my identity better, where I come from and where I want to go. My hierarchy of values. The changeable me, a more confident me, a more aware me, a more hopeful me.
That day that I realized I was going to do that big journey someday, I created a story for the future. Stories of the future define our hope. And our ability to step into those stories and live them, making them reality, is what gives our life meaning.