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With the backpack again
Bangkok (Thailand), Januari 27th 2012 

Two months ago, we started a test drive through Eastern Europe and Greece with our Toyota Land Cruiser. After travelling more than four years as backpackers, we couldn’t wait to have our own set of wheels that would take us everywhere and on anytime we would like. Uncomfortable bus rides would be history as well as the many hours waiting on bus terminals. Moreover, because we can sleep in our Toyota, we would also have an alternative in case we come across very expensive hotels. The Toyota we selected for this new phase of our journey is very strong and can easily be fixed when it needs to. Before we started the trip, we restored the Toyota in a way that it looks good and it is technically fit for the job. Nothing could stop us, and we were convinced of the fact that we would continue travelling by car after the test drive; Central Asia would be the ultimate destination with the car.

How different can it be; after two months, we know that travelling with back-packs suits us more than driving around by car. Looking back, it’s odd that we didn’t realize this on forehand. Probably, this is because you always romanticize the future situation when you compare it with the familiar current situation of which you know all its minor downsides. We fantasized that our way of travelling would stay the same, with the only difference that we wouldn’t use public transport but our own car instead. We were wrong. Normally, we always stay in small, cheap hotels in the middle of a city, while travelling by car also means that you have to find a safe parking spot for the car. However, budget accommodations with parking facilities are scarce and in city centres they are even rarer. In Eastern Europe we used campsites instead. The simple construction, which we made inside the Toyota, was perfect for a good night sleep. Staying on campsites and camper areas, however, isn’t the way of travelling that we prefer. It’s a prefect alternative on a typical “driving-day”, but as slow travellers who like to stay several days on the same spot, we don’t like to spend those days on a campsite that is situated kilometres away from where the action is. During the months of our test drive, we have had more contact with fellow-travellers than with the locals. This was fun, but certainly not our reason for travelling.

Great weather in Gythio (Greece)

When you travel by public transport, you can’t hide yourself for the quirks of the country where you are. After almost a month of travelling by car in Greece, we wondered if we had truly “experienced” Greece. We did talk with the Greece campsite owners and we have had nice conversations with people who wanted to talk about our special car, but the intensity is different if you compare it with the conversations that you have with locals when you are spending a day in a public bus. Even if you don’t talk during a bus ride, you have lots of opportunities to observe how people interact with each other. Travelling time on a bus are “lost” hours for all passengers and that makes it an ideal time to exchanges views with each other, as there is nothing better to do!

A completely different thing that didn’t cross our mind is the amount of worries that a car can give you. While travelling with a back-pack, our only worry is that we have to find a trustworthy hotel. In case of a misjudgement, the worst thing that can happen is that our back-packs get stolen. This would certainly give us a bad day, but after spending a few hundred Euros to replace the goods, we are back in business again. The higher value of the car makes the value at stake much higher and we didn’t like that feeling. When crossing borders outside Europe, a car is often a reason to demand extra taxes, insurance and/or bribes. If you don’t like it, you can’t just fly over a country. When we started to really think this through, we realised that we don’t like these additional inflexibilities and this made us more aware of the complete freedom that we feel when travelling with a back-pack. If the monsoon season starts in one part of the continent, we can easily hop to the other part. We have always felt that the summer in central Asia would be too short for slow exploration, but with a car it is more difficult to divide this route over two summers. With a back-pack you just leave when the winter sets in and you come back when you want to. When you are in a country, you are more flexible and comfortable with a car; however, if you travelling slowly for a long period it gives you less flexibility to alter your route. Travellers who are driving a certain route quickly won’t have many problems with the latter. For us, slow travellers, this is a very important fact.

Time to clean our Toyota
After our test drive, we made the decision to continue our journey with the back-pack again. The undeniable luxury of our own car, didn’t make up for the feeling that we aren’t really part of the country that we visit anymore. At this moment, we prefer the feeling that we don’t have anything to lose combined with the ultimate freedom of travelling with a back-pack, over the advantages of travelling by car. Therefore, our Toyota can have some rest in our garage, until we ask for its services again. For the near future, however, we have packed our back-packs again. We have got 26 kilos of stuff to worry about; life is great if you travel with less!

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