Our little adventure with Neda's chain has derailed our plans to spend time in Germany. Instead, we are headed back to the RideDOT.com European headquarters in Leuven, Belgium, and back to the company of our good friends Eva and Thomas.
My brother is getting married, so we're flying back to Toronto for a short bit. Thomas' sister, Karolien has generously offered to store our bikes in her garage while we are away. We're so thankful for her and her family's efforts to help us out. We've been the recipients of so much goodwill and support, getting to know these people has really been the high-point of our travels.
The video is a teaser for a magazine article that Eva wrote about Slow Travel, it's published in a magazine put out by AS Adventure which sells outdoor adventure equipment. Here's a copy of Eva's article. You can click on the images below for a larger size image. She did such a remarkable job capturing and conveying the essence and philosophy behind our travels!
Traveling at a slow pace? Not so easy in our western society … but not impossible either. A.S.Magazine found the perfect teachers: Neda and Gene escaped from the whirligig that is metropolitan Toronto and embarked on an adventure on the road. Without a final destination or return date, and with just one goal: to really take the time to see the world. A lesson in slow traveling.
BY EVA LAMONT – PHOTOGRAPHY GENE LEE – ILLUSTRATIONS LIEN GEEROMS
THE BENEFICIAL EFFECTS OF TRAVELING AT A SLOW PACE
Early August 2013. Me, my husband and our two backpacks are on the sidewalk in front of Union Station in Toronto. Ready for a week of last-minute Canadian hospitality at the temporary home of Gene Lee and Neda Škifić-Lee, whom I met through their travel blog a few weeks before our arrival. For us it was just the beginning of a month-long trip through North America, while they were taking their first long break from traveling. Two years later, we’re already back home, while the end of their adventure is not even in sight yet. How does one do this exactly, being on the road for such a long time? During the European chapter of their trip, we had them over at our place in Leuven for an introduction to the secret of slow travel.
If you want to be a successful slow traveler, you’ll need a healthy dose of wanderlust in your blood. Combine this with your other passions, like photography, yoga or volunteer work, and chances are that you will quickly get the hang of it. Of course, you’ll first need to discover what you really like doing in life. For Gene and Neda, that insight came about thirteen years ago, when they started taking motorcycle-riding lessons as an engagement present to each other. Et voilà, the love for motorcycles was born … and it didn’t take too long before the dream to travel the world on two wheels started to grow.
“Our annual vacations, which lasted only two or three weeks, brought us further and further away from our home country Canada. We even made it to Hawaii and New Zealand”, says Neda, looking back. “Like most people, we packed our vacations with activities and trips, because we wanted to see as much as possible, but we had so little time … We were always exhausted when we returned home.” Recognize this? I know I do.
There had to be another way. Without stress or tight schedules. Why keep dreaming if you want something really badly, right?
After years of research on websites and travel blogs, it’s been three years now since they left Toronto behind for good. Do they miss their old life? “Absolutely not”, says Gene firmly. “Although it wasn’t easy to leave our friends and families behind. And giving up the financial security of a permanent job is not a decision you make after one night’s sleep. But the call of adventure was stronger.”
DID YOU KNOW …
… slow travel is part of the Slow Movement, that became active in the 1980s as a reaction to our stressful western way of life? Take a look at www.slowmovement.com and immerse yourself in the world of downshifting and reconnecting.
SLOW TRAVEL FOR DUMMIES
Are you not too keen on leaving behind everything and everyone you know for an endless journey around the world? Here are a few tips to integrate the principles of slow travel into your annual vacation:
Don’t plan too much
Do you like visiting cities? Limit yourself to one day of sightseeing and spend the rest of your week on a patio drinking coffee, strolling around and enjoying the couleur locale. You really don’t need to check off as many destinations as possible from your bucket list. The world won’t run away! Just pick one country or city for each vacation and rent a cabin or apartment for your entire stay.
Look for the unbeaten tracks
Exit the highway and go exploring with your car, your bicycle or on foot on the small back roads. Or book a train ticket instead of a plane ticket, so you can see the landscape passing by while you travel. Also, embrace the unexpected. You’ll discover places that you’d never have found if you’d bounce from pillar to post.
Open up to new cultures
Book a room with a local and take the time to dive into the local language, customs and habits. In short: do as the locals do. That way, you’ll end up in the best coffee places, the quaintest little shops and the most colorful markets. Time to toss your travel guide into the bin!
DISTANCE YOURSELF FROM THE MATERIAL
“Our most valuable souvenirs are our memories.”
A new pair of shoes, the most recent iPhone model, dinner night at a fancy restaurant ... A world traveler with that kind of western consumption mentality won’t get far. Especially if you have to live with limited storage room and a tight budget. So Neda and Gene made the drastic decision to get rid of al their material possessions, and even sold their apartment. That was the only way to gather enough money to finance their new lifestyle.
Neda describes it as a kind of cleansing ritual: “We literally picked up every item and asked ourselves: do we want to sell it, give it away or keep it? Not an easy exercise, but the attraction of a simpler life on the road was so strong that it helped us to say goodbye to our old life.” Everything they decided to keep is neatly packed away in cases and waterproof bags, securely tied down on the back of their motorcycles. Like snails with their little houses on their backs. Clearly, there is no space left for souvenirs on de heavily loaded BMW’s. “No problem”, says Gene. “I describe all our memories very detailed on our blog, in words and images. All I need is a camera, a laptop and a hard drive.”
So as a slow traveler, you don’t need to ditch technology at all. Moreover, thanks to the Internet you can keep very valuable social contacts along the way. While on the road, Neda even teaches some English to her 12-year old niece that lives in Italy. If it wasn’t for their weekly Skype session, it’s possible they would never have bonded this well. “Without the Internet, this would have been a completely different trip”, Neda admits. “But apart from that, the experiences stay the same, of course.”
PLAN AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE
“Not knowing where you’ll be in a day, a month or even a year, is very liberating.”
Wake up, have breakfast, go to work, go home, sleep and repeat. For some people, this daily routine is necessary to create some order into our hectic lives, but for Gene and Neda it takes away any chance of spontaneity. “Before starting our trip, we already knew what we would be doing six months from now. And every day looked exactly the same. I could barely remember what I did the month, or even the weekend before”, Gene confesses.
If you’re stuck in a routine for such a long time, it’s not that obvious to suddenly get rid of it. “For us, that moment only came four months after we left Toronto”, he remembers. “We set up camp in the wilderness, just outside a small village on Vancouver Island. And when I was looking at the beautiful starry sky, I got the feeling that I could sit there forever. Today, tomorrow, the day after … we didn’t have to go anywhere. Amazing.”
The art of slow travel is all about no longer thinking about the next day, but really enjoying the ‘now’. The freedom to sit on a bench for hours, just watching people walk by, while you let time pass … that’s slow travel. To do what you want, when you want to and as long as you want to. And to accept at the same time that every plan you make can always be altered or even canceled completely. A serious mind switch for most of us.
Neda’s advice: try to see daily chores as a spontaneous, relaxing activity. Grocery shopping, for instance. “When we stay in one place for a bit longer, I like to visit the local market in the morning, to talk to the farmers and the regular customers. Wherever we are, if I can be a part of daily life and the local culture, I’m happy. Besides, I love meeting people and learning new languages, so that way I combine the useful with the pleasant.”
FOUR ULTIMATE SLOW TRAVEL MOMENTS
Learning a foreign language in Antigua, Guatemala
Neda and Gene turned this World Heritage city, that’s well known for its many language schools, into their home-for-one-month to take an intensive Spanish language course.
Living on the rhythm of the waves during a Caribbean sailing trip
After crossing from Panama to Colombia, Neda and Gene waved their fellow passengers goodbye and boarded the ship again for an expedition in the Caribbean.
Immersing into daily life in Taganga, Colombia
A month of relaxing in this small fishing village was long enough to befriend the local baker, the physician and the diving instructor.
Making time for family and friends in Pula, Croatia
A short intermezzo in Neda’s hometown turned out to become a summer full of childhood memories and local events, like the Pula Film Festival in the ancient arena.
DON’T FOCUS ON TIME
“Our journey is not about how long we’ve been on the road, but about the people we meet and the things we do.”
As a slow traveler, it’s not your schedule and the time pressure, but your everyday adventures that take you to your next destination. This is how Gene and Neda – thanks to locals and other travelers – came to discover the most unique places, far away from the beaten track. From a lesser-known nature park or a well-hidden camping spot to a beautiful sight not (yet) overrun by tourists.
Ever since they let random factors decide where their journey will take them, the concept of ‘time’ suddenly got a different meaning. They reminisce no longer in terms of ‘two weeks ago’ or ‘last summer’. Gradually they even got so used to their slow pace, they sometimes forget what day of the week it is. Instead, the happy couple now prefers to remember ‘their stay with that kind family in Mexico where they learned Spanish’ or ‘that time when they rode a dromedary through the Sahara desert’.
In short: the ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘where’ become a lot more important than the ‘when’. And to accomplish that, you don’t even have to take a long trip, according to Gene. If you manage to transfer the slow travel idea into a vacation of a month or even two weeks, you can still have the same kind of experience. “Just make sure every day is different”, he advises. “That way time passes a lot slower.”
Although … sometimes it can be quite nice to get a gentle push in the back, so you don’t get stuck in an impasse. A year and a half ago Gene and Neda stayed around the equator in South America for a few months, where time passes so slowly, it almost completely stops. “Without seasons to push us forward – away from winter and closer to warm weather – we didn’t have any reason to keep moving. After a while you start to feel the urge to accelerate the pace a little bit”, Gene admits.
“Make sure every day is different, that way time passes a lot slower.”
TAKE A BREAK EVERY NOW AND THEN
“Even traveling becomes a routine when you start repeating too many experiences.”
Three years on the road, packing and unpacking, getting used to a new environment over and over again … You can try to avoid it all you want, after a while the travel fatigue catches up with you anyway. Long-term travelers probably recognize the feeling, but for most people it just sounds … cocky. “I can’t imagine a bigger first-world problem than travel fatigue.” Gene almost sounds apologetic. “Oh my god, I’m just so sick and tired of traveling around the world on my motorcycle! Horrible, right? (laughs) But believe me, travel fatigue is a real thing and it’s pretty annoying.”
The explanation? Traveling is amazing, but in the long run, if you do it every day, it will in fact become a routine itself. You see so many things and you experience so much, that after a while you become saturated. Your brains need time to process everything and that makes you less enthusiastic to go explore yet another city. Some experiences even literally suck the energy out of your body, like when Gene and Neda’s patience was put to the test by pushy hustlers and tourist scammers in Cuba and Morocco. Also weariness, bronchitis and continual rains can put a damper on the joy of travel.
The solution? Just take a step back. If you take a break from traveling – a few days or weeks to give yourself the chance to unwind and take in all the travel impressions – you get the feeling of appreciation back, so you can get back in the saddle. “It’s very important not to loose that perspective”, Neda thinks. “To be able to travel for a long time and have the time to do it is a real privilege that you just can’t take for granted.”
Terminating their trip is not yet on the list. Life on the road suits them perfectly. What happens if circumstances force them to end this lifestyle tomorrow? “Then we have enough memories, experiences and new friendships that will last us a lifetime”, they conclude unanimously.
Are you curious about the next destination of this adventurous duo? Follow Neda and Gene’s adventures on their blog: http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw
Thank you so much Eva for the article and the video, we had a lot of fun participating!!!