This time last year life looked a little different. Bevan and I were settling into married life and enjoying what was possibly our shortest Christmas holiday ever after the debt of leave days generated by time off for wedding preparations and a honeymoon. We knew that getting married in itself meant we were in for a big adventure, but little did we know just how life-changing the Adventure Ball would become once it got rolling.
A year down the line and here we are – approaching the halfway mark of our epic South African road trip. Taking nine months out of ‘ordinary life’ to travel around the country. Some life-changing decisions can be surprisingly simple to make, and this was undoubtedly one of them. No obstacles seemed large enough to quell our enthusiasm – not the sensibility of our decision to resign from our respective jobs, nor the fact that all our hopes were riding on our 21 year old, 400 000-odd km Suzuki Thomas being able to complete the route. Somehow, it was all just going to work out.
Four months in and its fair to say we’ve learnt a few things. With the start of 2017, and the halfway point of our trip looming quickly it seems like now is a good time to reflect on some of the lessons life on the road has taught us.
1. Community counts.
These days, it seems to me that a life of travel is kind of on the same lines as being a serious foodie – it’s the fashion, the thing that is done, and that socially everyone should aspire to. It is a romantic, even glorified way of living. I’m not trying to discount the value of travel but I do want to just take a moment to consider its Plain Jane cousin.
There is something powerful about being part of a community that you miss when living a transient life. Having friends and family close by, being accountable to other people and sharing in life together is an amazing gift that is often taken for granted.
For me, the hardest thing about life on the road is the loneliness. Don’t get me wrong, it has been incredible to have uninterrupted time together as a couple, and we’ve met some amazing people along the way. There have been countless moments though when we’ll turn to each other and say “You know, this is amazing but how cool would it be to be able to share it with friends?”. Spending Christmas away from family, missing out on birthdays and the birth of friends’ babies are all things that take their toll.
2. No amount of free time will make you do the things you aren’t doing now.
Hmmm, one of my favorite excuses. “I’m not doing x or y important thing now because life is just too busy. In between working a full day, running a house and taking care of life admin, how can I be expected to fit it all in?! Wait til we are on our trip and I have all the time in the world – oh the things I will be able to accomplish!”.
If you are not doing that one important thing now, chances are, given all the time in the world you still won’t do it. The problem isn’t a lack of time, the problem is a lack of discipline. A tough lesson because it has left me without an excuse, but this is probably one of the most important life lessons I have learnt from the road.
3. South Africa is a beautiful country.
Wow. How long do I have for this section?! Everyone says it but when you are on the road like we are you get to experience it, and the incredible beauty and diversity of scenery in our country blows you away. From the lush greens and blues of the KwaZulu-Natal coastline, to the red soils and lime green tea plantations and fruit trees of Limpopo. The rawness of the Karoo, the wildness of the mighty rivers of the Kruger, excitement of the gold-laden hills and rivers of Mpumalanga. Secret waterfalls, moss-covered forest trees, the call of a hyena in the bush at night, shooting stars over a dark horizon.
South Africa is an incredible country. When we were planning our trip we thought that nine months would be plenty of time to see and do everything we wanted to. After all, most people would be satisfied with a long holiday of three to four weeks. What we quickly realised though is that nine months isn’t even close to being enough in a country with distances as big and a landscape as diverse as ours. And that’s just the scenery – I haven’t even mentioned the diversity of culture to explore! Even so, I feel really privileged to have gotten to experience the parts that we have so far, and the list of places we want to go back to ‘next time’ has been steadily growing.
4. Life can be simpler than you think.
I have two points here that can fit under the same heading. The first is that you really don’t need all that stuff you own. Nine months with only the contents of our car, where the majority of packing space is taken up by camping gear. With the exception of Bevan’s guitar, there really hasn’t been anything we’ve missed. Stuff somehow holds you prisoner because of its perceived worth. Maybe there is a sense of security that comes with having more than you could need – some perversion of the idea of storing up for the winter months? Either way we have done without it!
The second lesson I have learnt is that a good life really can be as simple as having access to a washing machine, and a reliable internet connection to get that weekly trip blog post up! Oh, and a tent that doesn’t leak, but we addressed that one pretty quickly!
These two things (which we weren’t always guaranteed) probably had the biggest impact on the quality of our days. They made the difference between losing back-breaking hours scrubbing clothes in a small tub, or wasted time scrounging for wifi in the fast-food outlets in Phalaborwa where very specific requirements first had to be met; that the table be free of chicken grease from its previous customers, there be a wall plug within laptop cable-length of the table and that we should have a clear view of fully-packed Thomas strategically parked outside a window for safe-keeping.
Having these two needs taken care of left us free to enjoy the rest of the day in whatever amazing new environment we found ourselves.
5. Washing machines and internet connectivity aren’t always a given. And neither is clean drinking water.
Life for many South Africans is still unbelievably tough. I don’t want to labor this point, because I don’t think anyone familiar with this country would disagree with the statement that life is not the same for all its citizens.
But this trip has shown me poverty.
Most often it is while driving through neighboring villages on our way to the entry gate of a national park. Such extreme poverty often in areas of incredible natural and ecological riches. I’m still not sure how to reconcile it all, and I can’t reflect on our trip without admitting that I am one of the lucky few.
6. Marriage is being friends every day.
Life on the move is tough. Forget that camping in itself is a lot of work, in conditions that aren’t always comfortable. There is the stress of not always knowing where you will be sleeping in three nights’ time, long uncomfortable hours in the car and occasional (ahem) navigational errors that compound already-long days… All I know is that petty fights because of external stressful situations make a bad day impossible. I am no expert, but being in such close proximity to each other under conditions like the above has taught us a lot about marriage, about ourselves and about each other. Most importantly, it has taught us about the power and privilege of being in this with your best friend. Bring on 2017 – I can’t wait to see what it has in store!