We said before we departed on our “big trip” that we hoped we would come back changed. We hoped we would see the world differently, and that our journey would shape us in a unique way.
There’s no doubt this happened, though probably not in the way we thought. (And probably in some ways we haven’t realized yet!) I think we half-expected and even hoped to have an experience like the guys who formed Invisible Children. If you don’t know their story, I’ll give you the abbreviated version. A group of guys went traveling in Africa with a video camera, and essentially stumbled upon the atrocity of children being forced into the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. Realizing they had what it took to help these child soldiers, the guys came back to the U.S. and formed Invisible Children, a now well-established organization working to end this injustice.
OK… so perhaps that was a bit of a high expectation on our end. We didn’t have any major epiphanies while on our trip, really. Instead, we learned a lot of small things along the way. Small things that even those of you who know us and live around us might not notice. We’re OK with that. Because we’ve decided even these small things really do matter. And we’re enjoying some of these changes we’ve made in the practical way we live day-to-day
1. An obvious one to start… we’re using our bikes more for local transport!
It isn’t really that big of a surprise, is it? We’ve decided we would like to be a one-car family—preferably long-term. We have been inspired by so many others who have done trips similar to ours who now happily live “car-free” lifestyles back home. We recognize that is not entirely practical for us living in the United States. If nothing else, our parents live 400 miles (650 kilometers) apart from each other, and at a minimum, we’ll want to be able to drive to visit each of them. The U.S. doesn’t have a train system to connect large distances. Most cities don’t have a strong public transportation infrastructure, which is helpful if you plan to live without a car. So, we have a car that we are sharing. And our goal is to do local errands and to commute by bicycle as much as possible. Our thought is if it’s within a 3-5 mile radius, we can make it work on the bike. Does that mean when it’s 30 degrees Fahrenheit (0 Celsius) and raining and we need milk at the store we will absolutely only take the bikes because of its proximity? No. We’re not going to be hard-nosed. But we think if we enjoyed the slow pace of traveling by bicycle, perhaps we should do our best to integrate that pleasure into the practical daily activities of life at home. Dave is well-versed in this already—he lived in Atlanta during graduate school without a car for four years. And since we’ve been back, we’ve both enjoyed the pace and process of taking our bikes for local errands like the grocery store or the post office.
2. Inconveniences don’t seem as… well… inconvenient.
Have you ever been frustrated that you have a pile of dishes on the counter that need to go in the dishwasher, but you still haven’t unloaded the clean dishes that are in there? I remember having that feeling many a time before we left on the Tour. Since we’ve been back, it hasn’t plagued me one time. At least for now, unloading the dishwasher is almost fun. Washing a sinkload of pots and pans seems like a walk in the park. Why? Probably because for more than two years, we washed our daily dishes with a measly bottle of water and a soapy sponge. If it was cold, our hands would feel like ice cubes by the time we finished. It if was raining, we’d stand or sit out in the weather while scrubbing. We had a system by the end, and honestly, it didn’t bother me a bit to do the dishes that way. However, now that we’re back, it feels WONDERFUL to have a full kitchen, a sink and a dishwasher. And because it feels almost luxurious to have all this at our fingertips, we haven’t gotten around to feeling inconvenienced when we needed to clean up or wash dishes.
Another example of this is laundry. It is still completely AWESOME to me that I can wash a whole week’s worth of clothes AT ONE TIME! Doesn’t seem a bother at all to load up the clothes basket, haul it down the stairs and start the machine. It just seems so much easier than the almost-daily routine of scrubbing dirty cycling clothes out in the sink. And while we’re on the laundry note, that reminds me of another change we’ve made.
3. The Dryer.
Did you know that in most countries in the world, the average home doesn’t have a clothes dryer? Perhaps that’s obvious to many people. It wasn’t to me. I am a product of the society and culture in which I grew up. I have ALWAYS dried my clothes in the dryer. But as we made our way around the world on our bicycles, we realized: most people live without a dryer. Turns out, it’s just not a necessity. We weren’t surprised, really, when we saw this in developing countries. After all, dryers can be expensive to purchase and to operate. In fact, in several countries, we saw people taking their clothes down to the river and washing them with soap and stones. So obviously those people don’t have the luxury of a dryer! But we were surprised to find that even in Europe, most people don’t use dryers. Sure, more homes have them there, but certainly not everyone. Not like in the U.S. And even if they do have one, they use it a lot less. Even in cold and often wet places like Norway or Sweden, we saw a clothesline in nearly every yard, and the people with whom we stayed usually had drying racks indoors as well.
So we’ve made a commitment to use the dryer less and the clothesline more. We live in the South (at least for now) and it’s just not that hard to find a sunny day. It saves on electricity costs, and it leaves our clothes smelling fresh. And personally, I like spending the time outside hanging the clothes up. It increases my awareness of the weather, of the length of the day, of the strength of the morning sun. But this doesn’t mean we won’t ever use a dryer again! Sometimes it is just simpler and makes more sense. But we’re trying our best to use it less. So far, so good.
(If you find this interesting, you should read this article from The New York Times in 2009—great thoughts on bringing the clothesline back in modern society!)
4. Being hospitable.
I wouldn’t say we were inhospitable people before our bike tour. But I would definitely say we’re more hospitable now. It’s probably because we received, over and over again, kindness from friends, family and strangers as we traveled. It’s really what makes the whole experience, to be honest. So now, we’re eager to be a part of other people’s journeys in that way.
We’ve activated our warmshowers account and already had our first guest. Because we’re still living with Dave’s parents while we’re job-searching, we’re limiting what we offer at this time. But we enjoyed having Dylan, a young cyclist from Canada, come and spend a couple of nights with us. He’s on his first big bike tour through the southern U.S.
We also had the opportunity to show some hospitality while we were camping a couple of weekends back. We met Paul, a fellow from Wisconsin on a scooter tour all around the U.S. and Canada. Though he has a motor on his wheels, the scooter tour is in many ways comparable to a bike tour. We struck up a conversation with Paul and became fast friends, and that night we were able to share cold drinks, a warm fire and yummy s’mores with him. Those are luxuries he doesn’t normally have while camping—and we understand. It’s not that we wouldn’t have been willing to show kindness to a guy like Paul before, but it’s more that we wouldn’t have realized how much it might mean to someone in his shoes. He ended up hanging out at our campfire for about three hours, just enjoying company since he’s normally a solo traveler. And we couldn’t have been happier to have made the connection.
So there you go. That’s a start. Those are some of the downright practical things that have changed in us as a result of our World Tour. We have a feeling this might just scratch the surface, though. Perhaps we’ll be discovering ways we’ve changed even more in the months ahead… as we begin work, live on our own, and really start our new “normal” life. We’ll keep you posted as we figure all that out. In the meantime, I have a coffee date to catch, and need to change for the ride over.