Stop traveling? I was recently asked by other bicycle travelers whether we wanted to go home at all. I was completely surprised by this question, as it had never occurred to me before. Of course we want to go “home” again. So we want to have a flat, find our toothbrush in the same place every morning, spend time with our friends whenever we want and go back to work. I’m looking forward to all of that.

Our way of traveling has changed.

Our understanding of traveling has changed. This doesn’t mean that we will never travel again, but we will certainly never go back to such madness. These constant changes of location are grueling. We meet people and the next moment we’ve moved on again. The original reason for our journeys was always about exploring the world and discovering myself. Now, some days already in Peru, I try to reflect on our time in Chile.

My first experiences with a country in South America.

What did I expect? Why has it never been before a destination for one of our long winter trips? Nevertheless, Chile was always a country I really wanted to visit. I had once met a girl from Chile, we were both probably around 12 years old, and she had fascinated me so much that Chile always remained in my thoughts.

If I was traveling to a country that I had actually forgotten existed most of the time – perhaps I would then also discover qualities in myself that I had never suspected. Before the trip, I hoped to realize my own photography projects and get new ideas for my professional  future. I had big plans. What I just thought to myself. Even if I never articulated it to myself, I probably promised myself that I would leave my previous position in society and be able to take up a new one after the trip. I actually did that after our first 2-year trip over 15 years ago. 

But this time it was different. I found out: I liked my position in society, I liked our flat, my job and the people and friends I was surrounded by.

So what was it all about again?

After more than 2 years of traveling, I was a little frustrated. I felt intellectually underwhelmed, my photography projects were dormant, non-existent and I increasingly felt that the interpersonal relationships of those we met were non-committal and left something inside me unsatisfied. In the perhaps currently prevailing opinion, traveling abroad is, among other things, a means of acquiring certain skills, which can only be achieved through encounters with the culturally different. Of course, this is not true. 

One opinion you’ll find a lot in backpacker circles is that you have prevailed against unfavorable conditions. This could be a nasty local who wanted to rip you off. Or the classic one: stomach flu. Stories with an existential coloring are also very popular.

There are a whole series of such stories with us too. But apart from Klaus’ heart attack in the Emirates, there have been many hurdles, such as swarms of cockroaches on the Pelni ship in Indonesia, spoilt food in Vietnam, sparsely populated desert areas with no water, steep inclines, crazy drivers, our own wretched smell after days without a shower, unromantic campsites right by the road, but none of them were life-threatening. Stories like these help to create a certain romanticism about traveling. The idea that you come into contact with your own existence, that borderline experiences and the hardships of traveling make you grow, a means of self-awareness.

The question I ask myself today is: is personal growth even necessary? Who actually says that I have to experience myself?

Should we end our traveling?

If I question that, then our world trip has almost been at the end. And yes, our attitude has actually changed. We want to complete it to get once around the world. But we’ll find out how in the coming months.

Still, traveling with bicycles is the best way to do.

I’m still happy when we roll through small towns on our bikes, when we eat in small pubs and people give us a smile. But that’s all that happens. I will never have any idea who they really are, who their family is, what they do in their free time, if they have any at all, nor will I learn anything about their worries.

Sometimes I can sense whether they are happy or sad, but what good is that if I will never know the reasons behind it and certainly won’t be able to change anything.

Locals and Backpackers.

The consensus among backpackers is that places where locals are also present have a special value. 


But establishing meaningful relationships with the locals, the others, is almost impossible. There is this contrast between the local and the foreign. The locals are the “exotic” and the traveller’s sense of belonging relates to other travelers. We enjoy the feeling of being the only tourists far and wide, but we also like to meet other travelers. And the latter is what most travelers do on their self-discovery trips. In our cycling forums, people are constantly asking if there is anyone else in town „Lonely“ (name made up) and if they want to meet up for a beer. Or if you would like to travel together for a few days or let’s organize a group meeting in the hostel “Supercheap” (name made up). Man / woman is looking for his equals.

Locals and backpackers are not only unable to find each other because, unlike the locals, the travelers’ centre of life is constantly changing its coordinates. But also because most travelers have greater economic capital than the locals simply because of their origin.

Hardly any backpackers seem to be aware of this economic capital. Money is hardly talked about more often than among travelers themselves. It’s all about where to find the cheapest prices, what budget per day you were reckoning with, how you had saved up the money for the trip and how you could use it most sparingly now. 

The next thing you know, people are discussing the cheapest way to get a parcel from Germany, from the USA or France to South America, for example, to have new Schwalbe Marathon tyres, a new water filter or a new sleeping mat sent to you. The tent poles also need to be replaced and the click shoes won’t last much longer either.

We are so privileged. 

And yet: we also remember that we were initially afraid of being ripped off just because we were seen as rich Western tourists. At some point, the feeling changed. And if the elderly lady sitting on the ground at the market sold us a few bananas and took maybe 2 euros instead of 50 cents, who cares? The elderly lady certainly did, but not really us. This kind of thing only happens in tourist areas anyway. Nowadays, when we have to pay on a market or small shop, I hold out my wallet and ask the other person to take the money. Trust. That feels good. 


Invasive species.

At first glance, individual travelers may seem less invasive than “normal” package tourists.

After all, it’s not the individual travelers who overrun entire city centers when a cruise ship docks in port. They want to reject places and activities that are staged just for them, they want to appear more culturally sensitive. But most of the time it’s just a case of “wanting”, because after all, they are the ones who go to Starbucks or McDonalds, while the locals get their juice from the stall on the street.

The encounter with the other.

Or what is constructed as culturally “different” – is the attraction of travelling: we compare ourselves with others in order to recognise ourselves?  I don’t believe that we have anywhere near managed to meet others at eye level. And does that then lead to me perhaps only seeing the images that I have already brought with me? It feels more than embarrassing when people who have very little also share what little they have.

And now Chile is coming along.

The people are self-confident, helpful, but discreet. Sometimes I wonder whether they even see us, notice us. They give us our space, but are immediately ready to help if necessary. It’s perfect for us. It’s not too foreign. Even though we don’t speak Spanish, we understand a word or two. Chileans are somehow stress-free, an extended siesta is inevitable.

We were in Antofagasta, Iquique and Arica.  Young people proudly chatted to us a little in English, we ate empanadas with cheese almost every day and marveled at the colonial heritage in the architecture. The people here are also proud of this. There was an abandoned saltpetre plant on the way, Humberstone Salpeter Works (Unesco World Heritage) , and of course lots of desert and even more desert. And a lot of rubbish, but that’s not the topic for this post, I have already formulated my thoughts on this in a previous post “Freedom to produce Rubbish”.

Probably the most scenic diversity in the world.

The shape of the country itself is unusual, with a length of around 4300 kilometres and an average width of 180 kilometres. Accordingly, the narrow country has everything to offer in terms of landscape. There is probably no other country that combines as many climate zones as Chile.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have the opportunity to see more of the scenic diversity of this country. But I think we might come back again. Then we’ll just pack a tent, rent a car and travel the country more intensively. Perhaps that would be a better way to discover more. But maybe that’s also enough the way we did it.

I had imagined the country to be poorer and it turned out that it is in a good position compared to the other countries in South America. The main roads are in fantastic condition. The supermarkets have everything you need and more. Young people are interested in the environment, democracy and animal welfare. Even street dogs often wear some kind of blanket, the nights are cold and the treatment of the animals is very warm. I rarely needed the dog food I had brought with me. Your cemeteries for animals are incredibly heartwarming.


We visited some exhibitions on the very old history of this region. 5000 years before Christ. We prepared the bikes, stocked up on supplies, changed money for Peru and hung out the washing to dry. We were a little scared again. We knew there would be a lot of desert ahead of us, a lot of metres in altitude and a lot of new things once we were in Peru.

But we don’t really have new experiences anymore.

Or at least not with the same intensity as in the beginning.  We don’t merge with the new, we just observe and then move on again. Travel blogs and travel guides like Lonely Planet (the name says what we travelers are actually looking for, but then don’t visit any lonely places) suggest something completely different and yes, traveling does of course change things. That’s the only way I could come to this “realisation” that I still don’t want to stop traveling, but the purpose can be simpler. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the experience of traveling. It certainly had its great moments and interesting encounters. And in the end, I also learnt a few things about myself, for example that I value committed relationships.

It helps to sort out these thoughts. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be grumpy from time to time over the last few months. And perhaps it was precisely this reason: traveling no longer had the original meaning for me.


And so we are changing our journey a little and will try to stay longer in different places. To perhaps adapt my own image of a country a little more to reality and take it with me in a different way.

Without the desire to intensify my encounters with the “others” and thus disappoint myself, because that won’t work, at least not on this trip. But the longing for it will probably remain.

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