How to Let Go of Control, so You Can Really Enjoy a Balanced Life of Adventure

Most people have fear of losing control and leaving their comfort zone. That’s why most people don’t take any real risks.

Cyclist Cinderella Servranckx is the opposite. She believes that adventurous travel is not about fear, not about scary moments and not about being a dare devil. It’s all about letting go of control.

Read on and learn more about her cycling adventures, her favorite gear, and the enjoyment she gets through riding her bicycle around the world.

Cyclist Cindy Servranckx
My bicycle and me, food and water, a tent and a good stove. Everything I need and use is with me. Photo credit: Cindy Servranckx

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Cinderella, 45 years, born in the Netherlands: I am lucky enough to have been traveling since my earliest days. Between traveling, I have worked as a photographer and sales woman in fancy women-fashion shops. A very shallow occupation, which I have left behind four years ago when I started to cycle the world. Always being a creative one, I have painted big canvasses inspired by my travels, and in need to be creative while cycling I embroider with scraps and findings along the road. Photography is another outlet to be creative. With being in the vastness of nature, the activity of cycling it is the perfect lifestyle for me at this moment. And being in South America, Patagonia when I write this, makes it a very interesting combination of keeping warm, drinking milky coffee while embroidering in my tent and contemplating the freshly passed day of cycling.

Cyclist Cindy Servranckx
Cycling is often pushing too. I carry a heavy load, 27kilo without food. Atacama, Chile 2017 Photo credit: Cindy Servranckx

How and why did you get into adventuring and traveling?

Always having traveled, I started to backpack on my own to India as soon as I finished my studies at age 28. At the end of my 3th extensive solo tour, I returned to India after just experienced an exciting solo travel of a month through Afghanistan. I can’t say I was short of adventure but I did lack true challenge.

I sat in a jeep on a sandy track in Zanskar, the far north of India. Going from town to town in whatever form of public transport was a great way of exploring the world. We just passed a far off gompa, (monastery) perching dramatically on top of a hill, in the middle of a desolate desert like environment. It was windy and cold and through the glass window I saw two figures slowly hobbling on in the distance. When we were coming closer I saw it were two cyclists. The traveler next to me said: ‘Oh, that is a horrible way of traveling!’ and I thought to myself: ‘This is it!’ I went back home. Worked. Saved money. Bought a bicycle. Two years later I cycled out of the door. And that is where I am now: Out in the world between those towns, which now solely function as a place to resupply.

I never cycled more than the daily 15 kilometers to and from work. To find out whether I liked cycling, and before buying all the expensive gear, I did a test ride to Belgium on my mom’s bicycle. I immediately loved the freedom of it. Never had a problem to turn dreams into reality, I saved all incoming money, and thoughtfully selected all the gear. Without ever trained more than my daily 15 kilometer I set off to Cameroon. I think naturally my character is such that I can handle endurance, and when you start camping you get flexible soon enough, and I built up good shape during the tour as well. At my 45th, I can say I have never been in such a good shape.

Cyclist Cindy Servranckx
Cycling the semi desert on a peeling layer of tarmac. 2016, The Chaco, Paraguay. Photo credit: Cindy Servranckx

Why is adventuring and traveling important for you?

Adventurous travel is not about fear, not about scary moments, not about being a dare devil but all about letting go of control. Not knowing where to go to, where to end the day and what to expect makes the mind jump from one surprise to another often pure joyful event. And I am not taking about the excitement you may see on television but the simple treasures of nature. A tree. A bird. A mountain. The road meandering in front of you. Traveling is important to me as it opens the channels of joy and happiness, but also the search into the depths of mind. The daily excitement of not knowing, the alignment with nature is important for me as nature is in me. I was not a civilized being when I entered this world, I was a being of nature. I screamed and kicked, I ate and drink, I pooped and peed, I smiled and played. I grew and lost all of it, because I was supposed to be a civilized human doing. Now, I have turned the tables, and am closer coming to Nature each day.

It has in fact changed me so much that even the slightest unnatural sound has a frightening effect on me. WiFi gets me totally off balance. Sleeping in a heated, darkened room feels suffocating. Going to the (Western) toilet noticeable feels as a wrong position for the body. The shower is something I don’t need every day. And don’t think I look like a smelly hermit, because using no deodorant, perfumes and body creams, doesn’t mean one smells. I think being outside is where we came from long ago and the indoor living is too artificial and has nothing to do with the world as I see it. So it sure has changed me, to the child I was, playing outside, getting dirty and being happy. Though, when I feel embraced by comfort, and especially warmth in cold climates, I absolutely love it and have a bit of a hard time to get out and camp.

I think it is important to get outside, especially away from civilization, because the lesser building and walls there are, the more clarity comes to your mind. Being outside could be compared to the melting down of mental objectivity; suddenly there is nothing to worry about anymore. Outside in nature is very soothing for the mind. But it might be ignoring the reality in which we actually are born.

Cyclist Cindy Servranckx
One of the better camp spots. I have food and water enough to stay two nights and still make it to the next village. Atacama desert, Chile 2017. Photo credit: Cindy Servranckx

What has been the best parts of your adventures and travels?

The best part of my travel is the knowledge I can do what I want. I can do pretty much everything if it comes to traveling. Danger is mostly a mind-made happening, of course I am not acting as a wildebeest and use my common sense. But what media has to say is usually based on a one-way view, often by a fearful person who hasn’t been in the situation where I as a lone woman are treated very differently. I ended up for 8 months in a valley near Afghanistan. It is an indigenous animist population in Pakistan. I lived like the people there, celebrated their festivals, ate the same food, drank the same locally brewed liquors, tried smoking the hashish equal to the Pakistani police, lived on an earthen floor in a house made without one nail, earthquake proof. I commemorate the death, lost a 100 years ago. I dressed like them and I shared secrets. I had my parents coming over to be a witness of my new lifestyle: ‘I don’t understand you like to live this basic, we have given you everything. But I do understand why you love it here,’ they said.

Cyclist Cindy Servranckx
It rains a lot in the North of Patagonia, I need my headlamp until 9 o’clock in the mornings. Argentina 2017. Photo credit: Cindy Servranckx

What has been the most difficult parts?

When I was cycling in the Himalaya’s, Spiti and Lahaul, some places far off towns, the news of my mom sudden seriously hospitalization came to me. I was not able to return quickly, not even with public transport. The choice I had were both a week from reaching Delhi. That week was a deep insightful realization of family being the most important tie to myself. No journey is purposeful when you might lose your mom or dad. Suddenly cycling was without meaning, and all I tried was getting back home as soon as possible. The song I listened to while cycling those moments was played on her cremation less than 2 years later.

Besides big issues like this, the most important part is not to lose purpose. Riding the world might look purposeless when not enjoying, when I am out of balance for instance. So the most important task is to stay balanced. Balanced means being happy, full of wonderment and energy. Things like planning is something I don’t like and don’t do. The financial part is sometimes bothering me, because one day the money will be finished and then what? I love this lifestyle so much I don’t want to think about working again. But then I remind myself it will all work out for the best, and not to worry about things, which are not relevant at the very moment.

Another issue might be danger. Depending on where I am, I act on it. So in Iran I would not camp, in Afghanistan I would act most discrete, in India I am simply confident in a total adapted, integrated manner because I know the tradition very well. I usually camp unseen from the road. I try to avoid highways and cities. I always plan my arrival to a bigger place such that I can cycle out far enough to camp safely. In countries where women are treated different than Western societies, I adapt without losing my primal freedom.

When the day is a mess; I am cold and wet, it rains and I want a bit of comfort but can’t get it, I start to evaluate, and try to see the situation from another perspective. I might think of people facing worse conditions. Usually making photo’s helps too for me. When it keeps raining for weeks on end, as did so in Patagonia, I change direction. This means I am miserable for a while though.

Cyclist Cindy Servranckx
Hilleberg tent and Optimus stove. Photo credit: Cindy Servranckx

How do you eat and sleep on the road?

Having bought a very good tent, a Hilleberg Soulo, a one person’s tent, and an excellent sleeping bag, a Cumulus Quantum 450, I am trying to avoid the costs of hotels, as this gear is already expensive enough. In the vestibule of the Hilleberg tent, I cook my meals on an Optimus Nova stove, that is, if I am not in the possibility to make a wood-fire. My pot and frying pan are from Primus and MSR, sturdy, often used and black with sooth. The titanium cup I have is also from MSR and used several times a day, as I love to wake up and end the day with a few cups of masala chai or milky coffee.

When I go to sleep, I park the bicycle near to my tent and attach it with a carabiner to one of the guy lines. In case an animal comes very near I will feel it, in case a human tries to ride away with the bicycle, I feel it too. It really is more a mind settling custom than a real chance that someone steals my bicycle. But I sleep better this way.

When I am invited over, I eat whatever is offered, also meat when I preferred to be a vegetarian. When I am in lesser developed countries, I eat much more often what is locally on offer. In India, I hardly ever cooked but ate breakfast along the road, lunch in truck dhaba’s and dinner in dingy restaurants. The food, however, was always fantastic and way better than my own prepared meals.

Cyclist Cindy Servranckx
A camp on top of a levy above the road. I can not always find good camp spots, not even in the veastness of desert. Peru, 2017. Photo credit: Cindy Servranckx

What are your best advice for new adventurers and travelers?

First: switch off media. Second: reduce your WiFi intake. Third: evaluate your sense of normality. Fourth: ‘listen’ to your quiet inner feeling. Fifth: look around your room/house and ask yourself ‘do I really need all this?’

When all this is done, it doesn’t mean you’ve mastered downsizing or mindfulness, but it’s a start. Then, stop listening to people who’re advising you without having the actual experience. When you dream of something, I’d say it is possible (although I need to practice this advice myself if it comes to adventures outside of traveling). Cycling the world is a very normal and easy thing to do. You just gather gear, which you think is efficient for you, most important is to stop worrying about the future. Start at the beginning and try not to focus on the steps further down the road.

Try to remember that economics, and thus media, thrive on sales. Also, the sales of insurance and the selling of security. I admit that I am sometimes worried about the future, not working much and not building a pension. It might very well be that I can not rely on anything but my good health and energy later on. But I try not to worry about this too much, as it is a pitfall too. No one knows what the future brings, so working for my pension is not what gives me peace of mind.

Probably the most difficult step is to get out of the comfort zone. So my advise is to start in a warm, dry country. And don’t make the mistake to cycle as much as you can, or to see all the highlights in a country in the shortest possible time frame. Being fast and seeing highlights is not the same as experiencing your travel life.

Cyclist Cindy Servranckx
Winter has set in and camping becomes harder, especially with wrong gear. My mattress has blown up. Argentina, 2017. Photo credit: Cyclist Cindy Servranckx

How do you prepare for your adventures/travels?

I hardly ever have planned my trips. I always knew where I wanted to go, and bought a one-way ticket and was off. I am led by curiosity, the weather, suggestions from locals or travelers, wind directions, beauty and most of all, feeling. I have never done anything to keep in shape as I am naturally energetic and just hopping on the bicycle makes you fitter day by day.

Before I started to cycle the world, I bought a practical book on cycle touring (‘Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook‘) and read a few blogs about the regions I wanted to go to. When I backpacked, I bought Lonely Planets and less commercialized guidebooks. My adventures are really more a way of life than an exciting story to tell afterwards. That’s why I don’t check the most beautiful places to go to, I just want to enjoy life, where ever I am. I don’t care much about the numbers of countries I have been to, but the depth of what I learn from a culture and my own enjoyment of being out there is much more important.

Cyclist Cindy Servranckx
My long stay in Pakistan, Kalash Valley, Brun. 2008. Photo credit: Cindy Servranckx

How do you finance your adventures and travels?

If you want to travel it is very handy to be self-sufficient: work for the financial part, be smart in socializing, have a large following through your weblog, which might generate an income and donations, or spend much time and effort in moving from one Couch Surf address to the next. I am not shy to ask for a replacement if gear falls apart. I work for the money I spend on traveling and am now living on money, which was sitting in my bank account. Initially I thought that would not be a smart move, and it still sometimes bothers me that I am only spending. Traveling by bicycle, camping most of the time, asking public places to sleep, accepting hosts to stay at, cooking my own meals costs me less than living in the Netherlands, although not when living in with my parents. On average, I spend $10 a day while cycling, this is without the gear, health insurance and airfare. Gear I try to buy of a good quality so it lasts long, and it certainly is not the bigger expense of being out there.

How do you balance normal life with adventuring and traveling?

I wonder, what is a normal life? Is that working 40 hours a week, being tied to a person who is your boss and counting the weeks till holiday has arrived? Does a life exists of two parts: The boring dutiful one and the adventurous other? I hope to always lead a life, which is just one existence: Exciting, insightful, creative, purposeful and balanced. Whether I cycle, travel or work. Without having a partner and never wanted to have a child I don’t have to compromise.

I don’t like planning as that takes away the spontaneity of it all, but for the South America tour I choose parts on the map, which have least lines and very little civilization. Training is not my cup of tea either as I am energetic by nature without being the sporty one. Yet, I do like to stretch in the morning, just to flex the spine and joints. So in general, I live my life in a very organic way, it seems to flow naturally, as if the big lines are drawn by an invisible force. I pull myself away when I am feeling in a wrong place, and with a wrong person. Now being on the road for 4 years with a few intervals back home in the Netherlands, I can say I am very much in sink with what I need: Nature, quietness, solitude.

The balance between planning and actual traveling is hardly existent. I either travel or I work as I always know where I want to go to when I am not traveling.

So much traveling might give the impression I miss something, but there’s really nothing I can come up with. Except for one intangible fact; I sometimes miss a purpose, such as working on a creation, towards a goal, building up a bigger whole, being part of an alternative community. But in the end of my reflection, life is pretty much about happiness. Whichever way you look at it, we all work around reaching satisfaction, I believe.

What has been your best adventuring purchase below $100?

Headlamp Petzl Tika, $30
I use it every day, to work on the photo’s on my notebook while being in the tent. To use it on an occasional nighttime ride out of a situation I don’t want to be in. To check the animals around camp. It has two strengths of white light and a very soft red light, which I use every evening, so I keep my stealthiness.

Water container Ortlieb 10 liter, $35
This is a very precious item in the desert when I need more than 10 liter of water to carry. It is hassle to strap plastic bottles underneath the elastic netting of the back of the bicycle, as they easily bounce off.

Water filter BeFree Katadyn, $45
This is given to me by Katadyn and I use it regularly. Before I had to boil water when I was really not sure of the quality. Now I use any kind of water, even rainwater where cows have gathered together. Often I am on roads where no one is living, and am depended on rivers or pools.

Cup, $30
Having to deal with menstruation while cycling is very uncomfortable when using anything else than the Cup for me. Besides the Cup last for many years, doesn’t pollute the environment and is much cheaper compared to other products. When cycling and wearing the Cup you won’t feel anything, not the insertion, not the menstruation.

Cyclist Cindy Servranckx
Cycling means repairing punctures. I love to camp in secluded spots, and this means manuevring throug cacti. Atacama, Chile 2017. Photo credit: Cindy Servranckx

What other favorite gear do you have?

All my gear is favorite, otherwise I would not carry it. On a bicycle I can only carry the bare minimum, even though I am heavy loaded.

Santos steel bicycle $3000
It sure is an expensive bicycle but it is worth the costs as the frame has not let me down. Each day I praise myself with the reliability of Shanti, my Dutch bicycle. The bicycle perfectly fits my posture, is very sturdy and trustworthy, something quite important when you cycle remote and little civilized parts of the world.

Nikon D90 camera $700
This is the most important outlet for my creativity. When I make photo’s it has me look at the world in a much more detailed and slow way. Making photo’s is stepping back and truly see what you are looking at, not just watching it. This is one of the reasons to keep a blog: going through my photo’s several times.

Cumulus Quantum 350 sleeping bag, $375
A down sleeping-bag has it’s negatives in wet weather but overall it stays of a good quality. It can be washed. It packs small enough yet it gives great comfort, even when it is quite warm outside (18 degrees). The Cumulus keeps me warm at about minus 10. A good sleeping bag has me sleeping 10 hours straight.

Therm-A-Rest self-inflatable air mattress, $100
You only find out when something is really good when you have had other brands. This mattress won’t fall apart easily, punctures are good to repair and the comfort is absolutely great. I won’t ever go for another brand, except at this very moment. The mattress started to blow up after a few years of intensive use, and I replaced it for a Chinese brand, which fell apart after 4 weeks (a new one by Therma-A-Rest is send to me, however).

Hilleberg Soulo $800
A ridiculous expensive tent but I sleep good in it. And sleep, besides food and rest, is most important to keep going. The tent might have a few issues, and is not perfect, but it withstand forceful winds, it is waterproof (not condensation proof), 4 degrees warmer inside than outside in cold temperatures and in general I feel very secure. It blends in well with most natural surroundings as the green fabric is very dark.

Cyclist Cindy Servranckx
I am very happy with the warmth and loniness in North Paraguay, there is hardly any traffic. Chaco, 2016. Photo credit: Cindy Servranckx

What will the future bring?

I have all I need and all I wish for is it to stay functioning. The PowerTraveller solar panel and Therm-A-Rest mattress, which both broke down are being replaced. Besides, since I have to carry everything myself I don’t think I can handle much more.

The future might bring me a little farm with a few animals where I can live a more self sustainable lifestyle, where I will not extensively exploring the vastness of this world as I do now, but have the world go through me instead. I prefer to make my own natural food, in a small community where we share much of the products, and the mind-set. It would be mostly without using artificial benefactors such as electricity or gas. The idea would be to blend in with nature and use only what is really needed to stay balanced in a natural, and warm environment. Staying away from supermarkets would be perfect. I would like to be a connection between less fortunate women in India involving the sales of handicrafts, although this idea really needs time and much effort. Other than that I am doing what I dream off, there are no adventurous dreams to be fulfilled, other than cycling some more.

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