I spent 4 years cycling around the world. It made me realize that travel is not about the destination.
- Adorjan Illes spent four years traveling around the world on his bicycle.
- He said that while he faced difficult situations, he learned to trust himself and found joy.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Adorjan Illes. It has been edited for length and clarity.
After working for a telecommunication company as a lead engineer for over seven years, the role wasn't challenging for me anymore, and I couldn't find my "why."
I became interested in spirituality at age 28, and it changed everything for me. I started meditating and participated in retreats. In the process, I learned to listen to my heart and go after what I desire instead of following in other people's footsteps and living their lives.
My new vision was to earn money from something I was passionate about — changing the concept of work — and to provide value to the people and Earth. During my six-month notice period in the summer of 2014, I had already started building a new career which included photography, mentoring, and motivational speaking.
Shortly after, a friend mentioned his plan to cycle around the world. Despite my family and friends warning me about everything that could go wrong, I decided to keep a positive mindset — I could handle anything.
The first step was planning the trip
We spent the first half of 2015 doing financial and route planning, agreeing to head east through Serbia and have a $5 daily budget after putting money aside for visas and plane tickets, due to having no sponsors.
Our calculations about the distances between the countries resulted in a 1,000-kilometer route plan for every two weeks. It meant cycling 100 kilometers a day — around five hours — for five days, with four days of relaxing time, making the expedition last from two to 2 1/2 years.
Cycling required more endurance than the sports I had been doing in the past, so it took my body six months to get used to this level of daily exercise. I was exhausted every night.
The whole journey was a learning curve. The most difficult moment was when I had to tell my friend I was eager to continue the trip on my own after a year and a half. I set this new challenge for myself to experience absolute freedom.
There were dangerous situations throughout my journey
I encountered dangerous and hopeless situations numerous times, such as threatening weather and traffic conditions, but not once did I contemplate quitting or cutting the trip short.
Checking social media first thing in the morning wasn't my routine anymore. I was just grateful I got through all the hardships of the previous day and got a chance to experience a new day. It changed my whole mindset and attitude. I learned to trust myself and my abilities.
I strived to be kind, open, and have no expectations. One of my favorite experiences was that everyone I met throughout my travels was friendly and helpful. Often, when we asked for directions to where is it safe to put our tent up, locals offered to let us stay at their house for the night or even longer.
As vegetarians, the first sentence we learned in the language of the given country was "We don't eat meat." In Asia, food was cheap, but when I got to Australia and New Zealand, I had to dumpster-dive behind supermarkets.
Traveling changed my life
It took me three years to realize that traveling isn't about getting to the next destination but the journey itself. So when I got to Yucatán, Mexico, in mid-February 2018, I found a fantastic hotel that offered food and accommodation in exchange for volunteering and decided to stay there for four months.
I felt like I was in an "Indiana Jones" movie during these four years, but it was hard, first physically and then mentally. I talked to my friends and family on Sundays when I found a place with an internet connection. I noticed the further away I got from home, the more the quality of my relationship with my family improved. Along the way, I made lasting friendships.
It became clear to me that my role in this life is to share my experiences, wisdom, and joy in life with others. To tell them that the world is not as scary as it is shown on TV and that we're capable of much more than we think. Belief has enormous power, and everything happens for us, not to us.
Since returning home on June 23, 2019, after visiting 39 countries and completing 28,000 miles, I've done more than 100 motivational speeches and published a photo book called "The Big Smile Book" with my travel photos and stories. While I've enjoyed doing nothing for a bit after such eventful years, I know it wasn't my last expedition.
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