On our way through Croatia, we met a cyclist near Dubrovnik while we were hitchhiking the opposite way. He was on his way back home, from a world cycling trip of almost 3 years. It was just him on the road with his three-wheeled bike heavily loaded with supplies and an Malaysian flag flapping in the back. We talked and decided to make an interview of this incredible traveler!
Who are you?
My name is Axel, I come from Cologne in Germany. My occupation on paper is social worker, but I also had an apprenticeship as a gardener and landscaper halfway… But to be honest I don’t really like to work. Especially when you think of “work” in a traditional way… For example, I was once ordered by my boss to cut down a nice old tree just because a client was not happy of this tree ‘threwing a bit too much shade’. Yes, I hated it! But yeah, we all need money right? Or at least we think we’re really needing it. Today, I know that I can live with even less money than what I thought I’d need. But if you think of work as improving yourself, both body and mind and throughout that improving the world that surrounds us, yeah, then in that respect you could say I’m a bit of a workaholic!
People think they might be free but they become slaves through consumerism. I didn’t want to be part of this kind of routine!
How are you traveling and what has been your travel route?
I travel by bike. In May of 2014, I flew to South America (Santiago de Chile) and biked all the coast of South America up to Colombia. Unfortunately, I had to fly again because of the tricky border connection to Panama. From Panama, I cycled through Central America, passing through Mexico into the USA. While in the United States, I mostly cycled on highways (that’s why local police did not like me) all the way up to Rhode Island where I stayed with some friends I had met when I lived in Chengdu.
From the USA I then flew to New Zealand, and I biked through both islands of New Zealand before flying to Singapore. From there I cycled north across Southeast Asia and back into China where I took a ferry to Japan. I didn’t stay in Japan for too long, but long enough and then came back in China where once again I began the long pedal west. I took a similar route to when I first had a 5-month bicycle trip from China to Germany in 2011 and I even met again some people in Kazakhstan that remembered me from my previous trip. I took a ferry over the Caspian Sea, enjoyed some time in Turkey and remained safe during all that political fighting [ndlr: terrorist attacks happened at the end of 2016 in west Turkey]. From there I cycled back into Europe via Croatia where I’m now. So in total I took 4 flights and 2 ferries! During my trip, I always sleep outside (with sleeping bag but no tent) except when some nice people around the world have offered me a bed or couch to sleep on. Sometimes people offered me food but usually, I cook with what I have or what I find (usually dumpster diving for food left overs and surplus from grocery stores) because I have a pretty low budget. I’ve cooked road kill a few times and enjoy whatever fruits grow in the region!
« Either you just do it or you shut the fuck up »
What were the reasons or inspiration for so much traveling?
In our society and especially in Western countries, we are raised to work for a capitalism system: raised to pay rent, buy and be engaged…. the more you earn, the more you spend. People think they might be free but they become slaves through consumerism. I didn’t want to be part of this kind of routine! I don’t think people should wake up, and go to work that they don’t really like.
People only do this because they have the belief that they need money to pay for things that they don’t actually need, but people don’t often question themselves because they were raised to think in this way. I got sick of all of that! In the first place, traveling was more an escape rather than a solution but of course, I also wanted to see other places. So when I had my first bicycle tour from China back to Germany, I felt a sense of freedom I had never felt before, and I was finally fine with all aspects of my personality. Through traveling I could be myself in my purest form and removed from all artificial stress that humans put on themselves. I am mostly away from greed and fear that you must have a good job, must go to a good school, or must have a nice car for a successful life. Now during my journey I found out how to use traveling as a tool to manage to live in this society instead of running away of my problems: we must not just see traveling as an escape.
What did you expect from this adventure?
Generally, I want to become more balanced, more myself, more in my own reality without unnecessary distortions. You can describe pretty much all the things in life like what Chinese people would call « yin and yang ». You have things that make chaos, and things that make order. We need both of them in a way that is balanced, this is how we can focus on what we can achieve, like I don’t think about the future too much or to less, and the same goes for past or present. My goal in life is too get as close as I can to the so-called « golden middle ». To fully reach the golden middle would be perfect, and this may not possible or even worthwhile to think about. I don’t want to believe in something like perfection, because if something like perfection would exist in this world (this universe up to time and space) I think there would be no room for improvement and that would be a boring world. So this travel has helped me to find a way to the middle for a more balanced Axel, an Axel capable of survival in this modern lunacy! And if I compare my former self to my current self, I can say that I’m on pretty good way.
What are your best and worst memories?
Hmmm… Actually I can say my whole life until now has been a wonderful journey, and I have been blessed and thankful for everything: the beautiful, the horrible, the wonderful, the incredible, the good and the bad people I met. So speaking of this particular journey, the whole tour is my best and worst memory!
How much did your travel cost you?
I would say that 80% of my costs were fixed costs like flights, visas, bicycle repairs, fees to cross borders etc. Basically, all travel costs that cost you to get from one place to another! Variable costs or ‘luxuries’ represent 20% like tobacco or weed, and sometimes when I really need to break down a huge meal at local restaurant. But in terms of life essentials like food, water and shelter I have most of these for free. Like I said, I usually find some food leftovers from supermarkets, regular trash bins, and restaurants, or you can pick some nice fruits (just don’t get caught) in fields all over the world. Plus, many people who offered me hospitality or food gifts, and even sometimes money! I travel on the very minimum of what I can think… but at this time, I don’t really know the total cost in Euros or whatever.
If you had to redo it again, what would you change?
Nothing because like I said, this tour has been a wonderful journey! I could die at any moment with a smile in my face without any big regrets.
What are your pieces of advice for people hesitating to do such an adventure?
I think a lot of people put limits or walls to their capabilities, and the same counted for me and still counts even though the my balance has already changed quite a lot!
My boundary back, before my journey, was that I wanted to be there for my grandmother. But the truth is, I just wanted to go on a journey… Like I said, it was more of an escape rather than to find a real solution to my problems through traveling. But yeah, back then I just wanted to leave. Every time I saw my best friend, I complained a lot about my living circumstances and that I actually just wanted to go but as I told myself I shouldn’t because I should take care of my grandmother, so my friend eventually told me: ‘Either you just do it (from what your heart wants to do) or you shut the fuck up’.
That was the catalyzer for me to follow my dream, and if we didn’t have these conversations I probably never would have tried it. By the way, my grandmother is fine and she is 96 now. Back then, my decision to follow my path through happiness always looked very selfish for me but the truth is that I’ve kind inspired my family with what I’m doing now, and they’re very proud of me. But of course, my mom and grandmother worry about me from time-to-time, I guess that is the nature of a mother… I also think life is too short, and I dont want to complain all my life about things I wanted to do and never did. Listen to your heart and find out what you really want and then, just to do it! Follow your dreams. Now my next goal when I will come back is to be present to support my grandmother and family. I started to get tired of wandering because I think I found most of the answers I looked for, and I miss my family and friends as well!
What areyou planning to do for a living when you will be back?
Basically I found out that I don’t have to work that much for the money I’ll need. So I guess I’ll still be traveling from time-to-time, but not in a big way, and not to find a way to balance myself. Also, I want more to live outside so a bit traveling will help me with this! I will do whatever job I need to do: I’ve done all sort of jobs, and I don’t want my job to define my life.
Axel’s challenge was to bike around the Earth circumference for a total of 40,100 km. As he is now for a few thousand kilometers to his goal, he asked us for a piece of advice on a route in France, near the sea. We told him he could follow the « côte d’Azur » to reach « les Landes » with the biggest forest and sand dunes in Europe, and then reach the river Loire to go back in the direction of Germany. He can make it through the wonderful ‘Loire à vélo’, a bike path along this river that is classified in UNESCO because of the wild animals, the beautiful French castles and natural caves called « troglodytes »!
find his VLOG in YouTube: