This post is not just for any would-be bike tourer. It considers an issue we could all think about.
We have seen all sorts on this trip so far, literally from feast to famine. The extreme wealth of the flashy supercar driving Chinese high-fliers, to the maimed and forgotten street beggars in some parts of south-east Asia.
This trip is a real lesson about economic development for an Economics teacher.
For years I have taught middle school Humanities through to first year degree level Economics courses. I try to deliver the topics of Inequality and the Distribution of Wealth in a thoughtful and pragmatic way inside the classroom, but rarely is it ever effectively applied to real life. How can it be when many of the young minds in the room belong to people from privileged backgrounds? I can share my experiences and things i’ve seen, and maybe even offer some thoughts about how it can be and whether a positive change will ever happen, but it is often the case that students listen but cannot yet hear. We do however excitedly apply lovely abstract formula devised by Lorenz and Kuznets to the reality of human tragedy and ecstasy.
So, I have come to appreciate that the position we are in of having some savings to spend whilst cycling around the world is not a common one, and there certainly is only one way our cash flows these days, and that’s out. We had to be prepared for that. Our reality is that we are in a small minority; to put things into context I always like some cold, hard, sober, emotionless numbers:
71% of the world’s population lives on less than $10 a day (Few Research Center, 2015)
39% of the world’s population does not a bank account (World Bank, 2015).
22% of Brits & Americans have no savings (Telegraph, 2012, MarketWatch, 2015)
64% of Brits & Americans have less than £1000/$1300 in savings accounts (TIM, 2014).
62 people have the same wealth as 50% of humanity (Washington Post, 2016)
It would be easy to say then, that being able to tour the world for two years means we are lucky and blessed. Well, I’m not so sure it’s either of these. We have worked hard to establish our careers, providing reassurance that when we need to earn again, we should be able to find work.
We didn't do anything personally to affect it, but maybe we were ‘lucky’ to be born in UK and Ireland into caring middle class families. From then on, I think we make our own luck. Are we blessed? Well this suggests some kind of divine intervention, which doesn’t compute with me. Who is the one that decides if we can or can’t do something that we dream of? It is us - only us. Sure it takes some forward planning and belief, but not of a higher being, it is self-belief. I prefer brave (maybe a little bit crazy), self-assured and assertive as ways to describe ourselves.
Also, people make excuses far too easily and frequently about why they can't do things they’ve “Always wanted to do”. Sometime it seems people say it just to exonerate themselves. I don't understand that. That “could’ve”, “would’ve”, “should’ve” tense. I believe that where there is a will, there's a way. If ultimately it doesn't live up to your expectations, well I’ve always thought that it’s better to regret something that you have done, rather than always wonder about how it might have been.
There is never a bad time to go and explore. We have met retired couples touring, single 70 year olds, read of friends who ride the world with their two kids in tow, or their dogs. Those who are battling with sickness, those who just don't know what they want to do in life, so go out for a ride. I don’t think that you particularly have to have a reason or a cause either. I found out how much I love touring by just giving it a go a few times and have discovered that there is a beguiling beauty to the rhythm and excitement it brings.
Six months into our two year ride now, we have become acutely aware of, and are grateful for:
Freedom of movement - Having EU passports (although for me not much longer) enables us to roam. Sure, visa applications are a hassle, but there are many people in the world we know and love who cannot whimsically cross borders.
Western Privilege - Not really sure what this means, but we certainly have a life of relative comfort back in our home countries. Services that are provided to us as a matter of course are to some, always out of reach.
Health – We should never take this one for granted. Staying fit, eating well, not taking too many risks. Enjoy every day you feel good, and battle when you don't.
Age – Am I middle-aged? I guess I am, but they are just numbers. Are we always too young for things until we are too old? Rubbish. Don’t be held back thinking about your age. If you can’t help it, then get a younger partner, they’ll keep you young!
So what does all this suggest? ‘Carpe Diem’, would be the obvious thing to conclude, but that’s one hell of a cliché. Perhaps we should all live frivolously? No, that would be irresponsible.
Budget? Yes, but don’t let it suffocate you.