A snail’s pace – slow travel
I really didn’t have any expectations for our cycling trip. Mostly because the only thought I had put into it was, ‘they love cycling in the Netherlands; we should get bikes when we’re there and ride across the country.’ Now that we’re on the road I have a lot of time to think about the pace of life and the differences between travelling slowly like this, carrying everything with us, compared to travelling fast by car like we did in the UK and Iceland.
While we’re going much slower on our bikes, we’re also always on the go. I had thought travelling slow would mean I’d have more time to read, relax and write my blog, but instead nearly all my time is accounted for. We spend roughly eight hours a day on the bikes, stopping often to eat, take photos, put on jackets, put on gloves, take off jacket and gloves, and figure out where we are and where we should go next.
The late afternoon is spent looking for somewhere to camp, followed by the ritual of unpacking everything we have from the bikes, putting up the tent, cooking dinner etc, until we collapse in our sleeping bags to wake up ten hours later. In the mornings we pack everything back up into its designated place into our bike bags, and do the whole thing all over again.
While I’m physically exhausted every night, this feels like an accomplishment compared to the mental drain you get from fast travel. Hopping from city to city spending just a few days in each place is not easy. The constant organisation involved in researching and booking transfers, finding the bus or train station, or spending hours waiting in airports and sitting in cars really takes it out of you.
Travelling by bicycle we end up spending less time in individual places but more time generally absorbing life in the area we’re travelling through. Our priority has shifted from seeking out tourist attractions and activities, to just finding the best route to get from A to B and enjoying what there is to see as we pass it. Without the bubble of a private vehicle shielding us from the outside world, we have more interactions with people along the way. I think our bikes also make us more interesting to other people, who always want to know where we have come from, where we are going, and usually want to offer us some help or comfort along the way.
We turned up to a family-run campground in the Netherlands, where we were set up with garden chairs (such luxury!) and free beer on arrival. At other campgrounds, our camp-neighbours have lent us a sheltered table and chairs to cook our dinner out of the rain, a wood-burner fire to keep us warm, and frequent offers of coffee in the morning. On the road we are offered directions every time we stop (whether we need them or not).
We once stopped at a castle we happened to ride past that had a café inside. After asking where we’d come from the café manager gave us our coffee for free, then locked up the café to give us a private tour of the castle.
Having no plan or deadline leaves us open to welcome whatever experience might come our way. Good things happen because we take the time and have the freedom to allow them to.
I can definitely see why months turn into years for some cycle travellers. While it’s tempting to keep on cycling around Europe through summer, I’m looking forward to slowing the pace down even more when we get up into the mountains of Spain, Italy & Austria and start traveling by foot.