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ADV PreppingRiding RTW: 5 Unexpected Things You Learn On The Road

Riding RTW: 5 Unexpected Things You Learn On The Road

 Riding a motorcycle round the world teaches you things you might not expect.

Published on 01.29.2018


 
Riding a motorcycle around the world can be a life-changing experience: whatever your goal for setting out on the journey, you learn a lot about the world and yourself on the way.

Most people expect a RTW journey to be a very challenging, complex, and tough undertaking. Some even opt for survival skills lessons, wilderness training, self-defense classes and advanced off-road training to make sure they’re up to the task; and while being prepared is only reasonable, the truth is, riding a motorcycle around the world teaches you a few things you did not expect to learn at all.

1. Letting Go

Riding an adventure motorcycle around the world


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Standing in what seemed like a two-mile long queue at the Chilean immigrations office, I was seething. Border crossings in South America are usually fairly quick, but now, it looked like I’d be here all day: I was trying to leave Tierra del Fuego just a couple of days before Christmas, and when I got to the first border, it dawned on me that that’s precisely what the whole island was doing. Cars, motorcycles and bicycles kept pouring in, people argued and pushed and got confused, documents were lost, stamps had to be re-done – it was the perfect storm.

Cursing my own oversight, I stomped impatiently around, shooting angry glances at the poor border officials doing their very best to control the chaos when suddenly, I noticed something unusual. Right there, in the sea of human bodies pushing and shoving each other, were two silver-haired gentlemen sitting cross-legged on the ground opposite each other. Oblivious to the mayhem around them, the two men were playing chess in perfect serenity, seemingly unaware of what was going on around them. Tranquil and content, they carried on with their chess game until finally, the queues subsided. Only then did they get up, packed their chess set, and walked calmly into the Chilean migrations office.

Avoiding landslide Copper Canyon Mexico
Learning to let go when things don’t turn out the way you want is one of the greatest assets you can have when riding a motorcycle around the world.

Watching those two men, I realized I had two choices. I could carry on stomping my feet and cursing, giving in to impatience and frustration. Or I could embrace my zen and play a game of chess instead.

I chose the latter, and ever since, I’m always trying to choose the zen. It doesn’t always work, but it’s always worth a try: the truth is, you simply can’t plan for every eventuality. However well prepared you are, you can’t foresee every grumpy border official, every landslide, every civil unrest, and every rainy season that starts too early. At the same time, you can’t predict incredible luck, wonderful local people who come to your aid unexpectedly, and friendly fellow riders offering a tire patch or a bottle of water just when you need it.

Learning to let go of expectations and frustration when those expectations don’t turn out the way you want is one of the greatest assets on a RTW journey. So embrace the zen, and go with the flow!

2. Becoming a minimalist

Riding an Adventure motorcycle around the world
The more you travel, the more you realize you don’t need that much stuff.

“A paper book!”, – I exclaimed, hugging a hardback copy of The Book Thief. This wasn’t a gift, merely a short-term loan, but to me, this meant a whole couple of days of delicious pleasure reading a real book instead of pawing at a Kindle screen. This is what I miss the most on the road: having a proper library. But aside from books, there really isn’t anything that I need from home. I don’t miss my furniture, my clothes and shoes, my collection of motorcycle cleaning products or my humongous coffee mugs (okay, maybe I do miss those a little). I’m perfectly happy with what I have now, on my bike, and in fact would like to have less.

The more you travel, the more you realize that the stuff you left at home or in storage is…irrelevant. Human beings don’t need that much stuff. We need other people, we need to be inspired, we need experiences and memories, curiosity and wonder, ideas and relationships – but stuff is, most of the time, useless ballast.

When I set out on this, indefinite, RTW ride, I didn’t leave anything at my dad’s or friends’, or in a storage unit. All I own is in my panniers – and I’ve never felt freer or happier.

I’m not saying you should chuck all that you own, but a carefully planned yard sale can add to your travel budget and minimize your storage costs. Food for thought!

3. Taking Care Of Your Health

riding your motorcycle around the world
On the road, you are reminded you need a strong, healthy body every single day.

While stuff doesn’t matter, your health does – and riding a motorcycle around the world, you’re reminded of it very viscerally. It’s easy to give in and gorge on fast food, beer and pizza and frappes with doughnuts back home: most of us live sedentary lives, and the importance of a healthy diet just fades out because we don’t use our bodies the way our ancestors used to.

On the road, however, you’re reminded you need a strong, healthy body every single day: long distances, taxing off-road riding, challenging terrain, varying temperatures and altitudes all take their toll, and you realize that just as your bike needs good fuel and oil, you need good food and water.

Sure, I still have an occasional beer or two, and allow myself to be talked into a pizza night every now and then, but most of the time, I try sticking to unprocessed, whole, organic foods, because it pays to stay healthy and strong. The best part? In most of the developing world, farmers’ markets are still alive and well in every town plaza and every village, so you can have fresh fruit, veggies and delicious fresh meat and fish everywhere you go!

4. Realizing It’s Easy

“Before I set out on my round the world motorcycle journey, I thought, this trip would make me so much hardier. If I can ride my motorcycle around the world, alone, then there’s nothing I can’t do – and I’ll be so much tougher after I’m done,” remarked Lea Rieck, a German traveler recently back home from her one-year RTW trip solo. “Instead, I realized, it made me softer. I learned a lot about empathy on the way,” she added, smiling.

Riding a motorcycle around the world
What do all travelers have in common? The fact that they left.

So many people expect that riding a motorcycle around the world means you’ve got to be tough as nails, hardy, and brace yourself for the most extreme challenge of your life. The truth is, riding round the world is easy. Living in the age of digital nomads, GPS navigation, easy internet access across the globe, constantly improving road conditions (yes, even in Siberia and the Congo), global markets, and incredible connectivity means that just about anybody can ride a motorcycle around the world and with any budget. A RTW journey has been achieved by people on scooters, Harleys and R1200GSs, men and women, millennials and octogenarians, independently wealthy riders and people traveling on a shoestring budget. What do all these travelers have in common? Not riding skills, not experience, not linguistic prowess or mechanical knowledge. What they all have in common is the fact that they left.

That’s really all it takes: to leave your home on your motorcycle and ride, then rinse and repeat until you get back home from the opposite direction. “I’m riding around the world since 2011. Pretty soon, to my surprise, I learned how affordable and how easy it was and to be honest, I wondered why I didn’t leave earlier,” says RTW rider Paul Stewart. “Riding RTW isn’t the insurmountable, Herculean task it once was, before adventure bikes and gear, before the internet, before pavement. Now, it really is a case of just setting out – that first step is the most important one. The riding is easy.”

5. Seeing the Potential

Riding motorcycle around the world Adventure motorcycle

Claire Elsdon used to wear an expensive suit and high heels and work in the City as a stock broker, earning a substantial salary. Now, the fiery Londoner is mostly found in greasy overalls, earning significantly less, and smiling significantly more. “I liked my job in London, but I was always uneasy: I knew that there just had to be more to life than a fancy office, long hours and City traffic. My solo motorcycle journey from London to Cape Town made me realize that I wasn’t wrong, so I quit my job and moved to Tanzania to teach local women how to ride and fix motorcycles,” says Claire.

She now runs Pikilily, an organization that helps local Tanzanian women to learn a trade. On top of that, Claire is now involved in a project to save women’s lives: many women in Tanzania die in childbirth because there are no emergency services in many regions, so Claire decided she had to initiate a change. She managed to raise funds to refurbish a number of mini motorcycle ambulances and train her female apprentices to maintain and drive them. Soon, Tanzania will have a fleet of female – driven motorcycle ambulances ready to start saving women’s lives across the country.

Pikilily Claire Elsdon adventure motorcycle
“Only a few years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined this life. But my solo motorcycle trip made me realize that anything is possible” – Claire Eldsdon.

My own path hasn’t lead me to anything even remotely as amazing as Claire’s “Pikilily” project – but it has helped me realize my own potential. I now work from the road as a freelance journalist and writer, and although it’s only barely enough to keep me fed and clothed and my tank full, it’s something that just a couple years back I thought was impossible – and it’s something that grants me freedom.

Riding a motorcycle around the world is all about gaining a different perspective and learning, with each new country and culture, that there are so many more ways to live than just one – and that you don’t have to settle.

Photo credits: Paul Stewart, Lea Rieck and Pikilily.

Author: Egle Gerulaityte

Riding around the world extra slowly and not taking it too seriously, Egle is always on the lookout for interesting stories. Editor of the Women ADV Riders magazine, she focuses on ordinary people doing extraordinary things and hopes to bring travel inspiration to all two-wheeled maniacs out there.

Author: Egle Gerulaityte
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3 thoughts on “Riding RTW: 5 Unexpected Things You Learn On The Road

  1. This is a beautiful and inspiring article. Based on my experiences it’s true, too! Especially the bits about letting go and minimalism. Those things lasted a long time after the trip ended and the “real world” came back into view.