Getting Into Gear for a Gap Year
“My motto is simple,” says Felix Starck, a 24-year-old from Germany who has just spent his gap year cycling around the world, “the journey, not the destination, is the reward.”
Like so many others, Felix had always had a faint inkling he wanted to travel, to meet people and experience new cultures – he just wasn’t sure how to go about it. Up until early last year his life had been running like clockwork. School followed by college followed by university followed by a well-paid job at Mercedes.
But something was missing, and after an evening with his friends during which he joked about cycling across the world, the next day the idea suddenly seemed not only plausible but irresistible.
A journey of 10,000 miles begins with a single pedal
Three months later Felix was pedalling east from Germany to Turkey on a 3,000km journey that would take 12 weeks and form the first section of his epic adventure. Over the next year he would cycle the South East Asia loop, from Thailand through Cambodia and Laos, and down through southern Thailand to Singapore, the entire length of New Zealand, the west and east coasts of the USA, and from Norway to his home in southern Germany.
“For me, the bike is the most environmental and economic way to travel,” says Felix. “It’s faster than walking and with a car you just zoom from city to city and only see the world through a screen. Also, it made my experiences with local people a lot more intense.”
Like the time in Cambodia when he stopped at a police station to ask if he could stay the night. Permission was granted, alas, the next morning the policemen robbed him of all his money. Felix is quick to point out, however, that it is important not to lose trust in a nation following such instances, because “there will always be idiots no matter where you are in the world”.
The daily kindness of strangers all over the world
Happily most of his interactions with the people he met were incredibly positive.
“I got to experience the daily kindness of strangers all over the world. I was invited into people’s homes countless times and this was one of the things that kept me going. On the first day of the trip an elderly woman saw me setting up my tent and invited me to stay in her guest room, then made dinner and breakfast for me and wouldn’t take any payment. It is unbelievable how kind our species is. I had so many good experiences it was barely possible to think about the bad ones.”
Felix says one of the most challenging parts of the journey was the heat of South East Asia. On one day in Cambodia the mercury reached 44°C, and despite drinking a staggering 18 litres of water he collapsed from heat exhaustion. And then there were the “crazy truck drivers” to contend with, which he says were definitely the scariest aspects of his trip.
“These guys need to drive all the time to make enough money to survive. This means they barely sleep and take drugs to keep them awake, which is when it gets really dangerous for a cyclist like me. Sometimes they would miss me by centimetres and the wind they generated would knock me off my bike.”
More relaxed, joy-orientated and generous than before
Against all the odds Felix made it back in one piece, and is set to release a documentary film about his journey (see the trailer below). His trip has completely changed his outlook on life and will hopefully inspire others to make that leap of faith.
“I always try to enjoy the moment now. I’m more relaxed, joy-orientated and generous than I ever was before. There is so much misery in the world, especially in countries like Serbia, Laos and Cambodia, but people there are still happy and smile at you and wave when you pass them on a bike.
“Here, in Germany, most people are career orientated and live in a system where it is more about what you have than who you are. I can’t live that life anymore, not after such a trip!”