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5 Key Lessons I Learned Cycling Through Europe For 3 Months

Posted by David on April 16, 2013 in What I learned |

I’ve blogged a bit before about my Visionquest bike adventure in 1992. At that time I quit my job as an Account Executive at the fast-growing and highly-successful Waggener Edstrom public relations firm to travel solo throughout Europe on my bike. You can read more about some of the adventures in other posts, but here I wanted to continue my new “5 Key Lessons Learned…” series and share some words of wisdom from that experience.

Living the dream!

Living the dream!

1) People are good everywhere
Yes, this should be obvious but I really don’t think most people realize this until they have the opportunity to leave their comfort zone and explore other countries and cultures. On my bike trip I had strangers provide me with a free BBQ steak and wine dinner in Paris, repair my bicycle in Belgium, talk me out of having to pay for an extra train ticket in Germany and countless many other acts of goodwill. I was surprised time and again by the goodness in people, no matter where I was in Europe. And yes, not all people are good – I also had my share of attempted pickpockets and other potentially unpleasant experiences but the GOOD far outweighed the bad. Sometimes in our crazy world its hard to remember this when it seems so much focus and attention is given to the bad eggs.

2) There is no “best” country, culture or society
I readily admit that growing up in suburban California during the 1970s and 80s, I was incredibly ignorant and naive about the rest of the world. I readily bought into the “USA is #1” propaganda without giving it any real critical thought. But what I learned through my travels was how happy so many people were in so many other countries living their own unique lifestyles. I learned that happiness can be found everywhere and so much of that depends on the people – not on materialistic possessions or political leanings. This gave me a new appreciation for our diverse world and helped me better understand the importance of preserving culture.

3) Pushing yourself to new limits creates incredible confidence
Cycling nearly 3,000 miles in 3 months alone was a physical and emotional challenge unlike any I had faced before in my life. There were many grueling days of cycling and plenty of road bumps (literally and figuratively) throughout the journey. While I only (amazingly) had one flat tire, I did have to contend with other repairs such as replacing a gear box and replacing broken spokes. I also had to cycle over a mountain range (or two), push myself through 100 mile/90 degree days and navigate foreign road systems – all while trying to figure out where I was going to sleep and eat on many nights. When I returned from my journey, my confidence was through the roof. There wasn’t a goal or challenge I couldn’t imagine tackling – hell, I just got back from this incredible Visionquest! Anything is possible.

4) Sometimes its good to be alone – but you still need others
Spending up to 8-10 hours a day cycling alone on many days provided me with a new and unique situation in my life: time to think, observe and live as one. Having that much alone time forces you to think about things you ordinarily don’t consider (or try) to explore. And as I said above, being alone like that also forces you to become incredibly independent and self-sufficient. I knew and realized I was blessed to have such a strong support system growing up – but I needed this challenge to prove to myself what I could do alone. But having said all this, I also realized how important it is to have others in your life – even if its just to have someone to talk to, explore a museum with or help you find a hostel. While we’re all capable of doing great things alone, I do believe they’re impossible to truly fulfill without having assistance from others.

5) Making a dream a reality doesn’t mean it’ll all be good
Let’s face it, even our best dreams aren’t ALL good, right? What I mean by this last point is that I learned that its so important to have dreams and goals in life – this is what we use to motivate ourselves to live life to its fullest. But I think it’s easy (or maybe simply naive) to assume that just because you’re making your dream a reality – that all will go well. On my bike I was literally living the dream. But this meant I also had to deal with every day realities and setbacks along the way (such as bike repairs, figuring out where to eat, etc.). When you’re busy creating your dreams, you don’t think about the negatives that come along with them – and I think that’s OK. But it’s also good to keep it all in perspective.

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