Yes, it was three years ago that Steve and I did our Grand Tour cycle through Europe.
Yes, life has gone on since then.
Yes, we should probably move on and stop talking about something that happened three years ago.
Yes, there are plenty of people who’ve cycled further and longer than we did, we did nothing special.
Yes, it did change our life.
Yes, the legacy of that trip lives on in those changes we’ve made.
No, I don’t think I’ll ever stop thinking about it.
Maybe it was because we were such newbies to long distance, long time travel. Maybe it was that we were such novices with cycle touring. Maybe it was just the places we went. Whatever it was, that trip we took on two wheels, did indeed leave a lasting impression on us and how we live life now, years beyond the trip itself. Here’s how…
We Learned To Live Simply
Spending a year with house and home consisting of no more than we could carry in a few bicycle panniers and with home being most often a tent, we learned to live a pretty simple life. We learned that we could get by very well and very happily with very little. When we returned, we looked around our house which was very nice, but very big and asked ourselves. “Do we need all this?” I looked at the overflowing hangers and drawers with my collection of clothes and wondered, “Why do I have all this? I don’t need all of this! I got along just fine with a fraction of these clothes for a whole year, I certainly don’t need all of this! This just creates a paralysis of decision because there’s too much choice.” So one of the first things I did when we got home, was to get rid of over half my wardrobe, donating bag after bag to charity and feeling a whole lot lighter and happier for having a greatly simplified wardrobe. We continued to look at the things we had and gradually got rid of a lot of it. Things we didn’t need. Things we had accumulated for no particular reason. We set about simplifying our home and our life. The next major thing we did, which was one of the bigger life changes that came from the trip was selling our house and downsizing. We had a nice house that we built ourselves, a big house, on 2.5 acres of land. “We don’t need all this” was the epiphany on returning home. “We don’t need all this stuff, we don’t need all this house! We lived in a tent for goodness sake, I think we can live with less than this!” So, as much as we loved our house, we sold up, bought a small piece of land in a piece of bush in a very quiet, peaceful little hamlet and built a house half the size and are now enjoying a much simpler life. We had to get rid of even more possessions, simply because they wouldn’t fit in our new, small little home and we were absolutely fine with that. We now have just what we need. We have more time to do things we enjoy, rather than spending three hours doing house work in a way-too-big house. Steve’s smiling discovery on moving into our new house was, “I can vacuum on one powerpoint! I can plug in and do the whole house without having to unplug the vacuum!” His next great discovery was that the cord could be made completely redundant because the house was small enough to vacuum on a cordless rechargeable vacuum, because the little house can be vacuumed in a jiffy and the vac doesn’t run out of charge in the slick time it takes to whip around the small space. Winner! Oh, the simple things that please the man now! So…thanks to a year of cycling with only a few essential possessions, sleeping in a tent and being unable to carry any accumulation of new things, we learned that a simple life is a perfectly fine life. We can live happily with less. Now we do. We still have a nice home, we have nice things, but those things we have are the things that matter, not just “stuff” we’ve bought for the sake of it. What we have acquired is a whole different mindset about life. Simple living doesn’t mean being deprived, it’s about having more – more time for the things that matter and more gratitude and appreciation for what’s important. That trip on bikes taught us that and the lesson has stuck.
We Learned the Fun of Frugality
Taking a year off to cycle tour meant a year without income. As we pedalled around for that year, we were conscious of the budget and living well within our means, because those means had a definite limit. In the past when we’d travelled sans bike, we would shop and accumulate tourist t-shirts and mementos of the various places we went. No such accumulation on the bike tour. Everything we considered had its value and importance measured by how essential it was, how much it would weigh and how inconvenient it would be to carry around with us and, more importantly, carry up hills. So we learned to accumulate memories rather than things. We didn’t need “stuff”, we didn’t need new things, just for the sake of having them and that meant the few things we did have, meant more to us and were prized more highly. Living a more frugal life taught us to appreciate experiences, moments, places and people far more than anything that could be bought. Those memories were free and have a life span far beyond any t-shirt or tourist-trap knick-knack. We’ve carried a frugal mindset back into our post-trip life. Pre-Grand Tour we enjoyed shopping, buying new things, just because we liked them. Now, we don’t feel the need to accumulate “stuff”. We don’t need to shop just for the sake of finding something new to buy. We buy what we need and sometimes we still get something just because we want it (Steve absolutely couldn’t go on without the latest season of Game of Thrones and I buy the books I really want to read), but those purchases are much fewer and far between. When I got rid of half my wardrobe on our return, I didn’t see that as a reason to go out and restock supplies. I used to buy clothes because “I deserved it” or “I like that” or to treat myself. It’s now been two and a half years since I last bought new clothes, because I don’t need any. I have more than enough and don’t need to spend on collecting any more just to have new things. I also enjoy the space I have and don’t want to return to the vision of clutter that comes with an accumulation of things, which are ultimately pretty unnecessary. Our simpler, more frugal way of life means we have been able to get rid of debt and accumulate savings that we can put towards another special experience, like another cycle tour to places far and new. We also learned to spend time doing things, rather than buying things. We had such amazing experiences when we were cycling around, that we discovered that it’s going places and seeing things and experiencing new things that’s far more important than “things” and those experiences and memories are absolutely free. We can go to a local town and look around, we can go for a bike ride along the coast or to new places and come away with an abundance of experiences and memories, all for the grand total of $0.00. It’s fun to think creatively about what we can do, rather than just succumb to the easy way out of spending time shopping and buying things. It’s not that we never spend money, it’s just now we spend less and we spend it differently – on travel and experiences like a weekend away in Stanley or going to the mainland so I can run a marathon. Money spent on memorable experiences feels so much better than vacant spending on “stuff”.
Just like our simpler life, a more frugal life is not a life of deprivation, it’s a life with more – more appreciation for the value of memories and experiences over things, more savings that can go towards more amazing experiences like another cycle tour. Our new way of thinking and fun with frugality has meant we have said goodbye to debt and that has also given us more – more freedom and more opportunity to do more of what matters to us. That wouldn’t have happened if we had continued living as we were prior to the cycle tour. I’m grateful for the lessons learned on the Grand Tour and the better life it’s given us since then.
The Bike Became Transport
As I mentioned in the lead up to the Grand Tour, I was not a bike rider, I had not bonded with the bike and when I did get on a bike it was to do a bit of a pedal here and there, for some exercise or thinly veiled “fun”, which I really just saw as a far from enjoyable interlude in between running. So, the bike was “recreation”, it sure wasn’t transport. The car was there for that. Why would I get on a bike unless I absolutely had to or was dragged moaning and complaining onto those pedals. Oh, the difference a year makes. The time spent on my little bike for that year of touring, did indeed bond me with that little two-wheeled friend. It got me up hills, it took me through mud, it suffered the discomfort of scorching hot brakes as I, the ultimate scaredy cat, burned those brakes on every downhill run. It got scraped through nettles, torn on fences, it got hauled up steps and dragged through barriers inconveniently placed on bike paths and kept going through wind, rain and frost and no matter what, it just-kept-going. I bonded with that little bike. For that year of pedalling, the bikes weren’t “recreation”, the bikes were transport. They got us where we needed to go. Since the trip…they still are. Yes, we still use the car because, well, we live a distance from a lot of places and when I have to travel three hours for work, the bike might get me there a little late and dishevelled, but whenever we can use the bikes, we do. Where we live now it’s a mere 12km round trip to the local supermarket, so if I need to go and get some bibs and bobs, or there’s something I need in the village, I don’t jump in the car like I used to, I jump on my little bike and ride over, fill the panniers and ride back. When I don’t ride I walk the 12km and it’s a lovely stroll into the village. We don’t have to contend with traffic where we are, the roads are quiet, we live near the water, so whether on two wheels or two feet, we tootle up the quiet roads, look out at the water, cross the river and make our way through the village where someone is always saying a cheerful and friendly “Hello” or stopping for a chat. That wouldn’t happen in a car. Once upon a time, the thought of walking or riding 12km to get groceries would have seemed outrageous. I would have thought I needed the car for that. Now…the bike or the feet will do just fine, and they do…every time. Two-wheeled transport whenever it’s possible, has become a way of life. Another welcome product of the Grand Tour.
The Trangia Is Still Our Friend
We couldn’t have done without our bikes on that year-long Grand Tour, but the other thing we relied on, day in, day out was our little Trangia stove. It boiled our water, made my essential cups of tea and cooked our food. We couldn’t have done without it. It’s still a part of our life, that little Trangia. If we drive somewhere, it comes with us, because we can always stop wherever we want and boil the kettle if need be. It’s always there for us. We take it on our pedal picnics into nearby towns, or to the beach and when we have it with us, we can always boil something, cook something or heat something…it’s always there for us. In fact, it even gets used at home. If Steve is cooking a veggie burger, it could be put in a pan on the stove, or…it could be cooked outside, under the trees, on the Trangia and that’s often what he does. That little Trangia is a workhorse and we want it to know that its contribution to our fabulous trip hasn’t been forgotten, we still value what it can do for us and so it’s still a part of our life. I mean, I did write a song about that little stove, on one particularly challenging, cold, raining, windy day in Spain, that I sang in my head as I fantasised about the warming cup of tea the little Trangia would give me at the end of that freezing cold ride. So if it’s been immortalised in song, it deserves to be a part of everyday life.
So…yes, the Grand Tour cycling trip is three years in the past, but it’s still very much present in our lives because of what we learned and the new ideas and thinking it gave us. It did indeed change our lives. I’m sure, when we do it again, there will be new lessons learned and new changes made because these two fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants cycle tourists from little Tasmania are always on the lookout for new experiences to have, new memories to gather and we’ll always…always, have new things to learn. Bring it on!