Side note to reader:
This is supposed to be an audio-story, listened to from the back of my rickshaw while driving through Berlin. Keep this in mind while reading. It's something I wrote a few months back but myself still really enjoy. So I figured I'd share it with you.
How did I end up with a rickshaw in Berlin?
Hello, dear passenger, in the back of my rickshaw. Isn’t it kind of crazy how I’m just cycling around while you’re right behind me listening to my story? The story of how I ended up with a rickshaw in Berlin?
I mean there is a fairly obvious answer to this question; I was in Berlin and I bought a rickshaw off of e-bay. But that would make for a bad story, wouldn’t it? So, I think it’s only fair to the both of us that I backtrack a bit more. Maybe we should start with how I ended up in Berlin in the first place, which, if we go more in depth, means trying to explain why I am the person that I am today. As any psychologist will tell you, it is most likely related to events occurring in my childhood. Mind you, this is not a heroic story, it’s just the tale of one of many people trying to find his place in the world.
I think my story starts at the age of 11, yeah, we’re going back that far. Up until that point, nothing much had happened in my life. I was just your average happy elementary school kid in Belgium. It’s only after I turned 11 that the fairy tale I was living in suddenly bursted. Long story short; my parents started fighting, as many parents do. First with words, then by throwing things at one another, until it completely escalated and my dad took a hammer and hit my mum multiple times on the head. After this unfortunate event, they figured it was time to get divorced. My mum, my brother and I moved out.
Over the next 4 years my parents almost bankrupted one another over lawsuits, I started seeing my dad again every two weeks for a weekend, my mum became more unstable, and she started seeing other men, we moved a couple of times, always to a place worse than the one before and I got bullied a fair bit in high school. All I could do at the time is, well, try to coop. Now, I could tell you more, but we don’t have the time. At the end of the day, this is not the story of how I had a messy childhood, but the story of how I ended up with a rickshaw in Berlin.
So, let us skip to when I was 15, the year I stopped living with my mum and decided I wanted to live at my dads. There is a multitude of reasons as to why, but more importantly is how this decision changed me as a person. See, my dad wasn’t quite, what you would call, a great father figure at the time. There was food in the house and I had a roof over my head, but other than that he pretty much didn’t care. This is important to the story as it means that from the age of 15, I did whatever I wanted, without facing consequences. From the age of 15, I had to teach myself what was the right thing to do and what wasn’t and more importantly perhaps, I started to see the world as my playground, in which I could do whatever I wanted.
The first year at my dads, I started to push borders, I barely attended school, took up smoking, drinking, stealing and a few other bad habits. I felt like my life didn’t matter, so nothing mattered. I started plotting my great escape, it was time for a change and being the young rebellious kid I was, change for me was running away and leaving this life behind. So on the age of 16, that’s exactly what I did. I ran away from home, with my girlfriend. We didn’t make it far though, after 10 days we got caught by the police in the South of France. They were checking up on people wild camping. In the end it was probably for the best. We hadn’t had a decent meal for days, were running dangerously low on money and were simply way to naive to travel alone. It was headliner news all over Belgium; “Teenage couple that ran off together found after 10 days!”. When I got back, I became a rock star, 15 minutes of fame as they say. I didn’t care much for it, I wanted to be gone again. This was the first time I had traveled on my own, hitchhiking, exploring the world. And I got addicted. First to running away. Later in life to the beauty of traveling itself.
Looking back at it now, that small run-away trip, became the tipping point. It’s not like everything suddenly became perfect, but from there on, things started to get better for me. When I got back home from France my dad and I talked, I mean, really talked. Up until that point, we had never done that, how crazy that may sound. I changed to a new school and got rid of most bad habits, two of them stuck though, smoking and skipping school. Smoking, well, I wish I could tell you why, it’s just a bad habit. Skipping school, because often I still felt the need to run away. The biggest difference was that I could talk to my dad about it. He wouldn’t approve it, if I skipped school to travel, but he also knew he couldn’t really stop me, definitely not after I turned 18. I tried to limit my traveling to school-holidays, but frequently I’d be home a week after school had already started, or went out traveling for a weekend which ended up lasting 4 instead of 2 days. While most people would tell me, I should have put more focus on my studies, I think at the end of the day, I’m happy I did it the way I did. During those years, I hitchhiked all over Western Europe a part of Central Europe, and even made it as far as Morocco a few times. I learned about people, culture, geography, language and more. More importantly, over time I stopped doing it to run away, but I started doing it because I liked it.
When I started traveling I did it on an extremely tiny budget. I could tell you stories of being stuck in the Moroccan desert with 2 euros, or visiting Paris on 10, but those are stories for another time perhaps. Either way, I did realize, a trip lasts as long as the money does. So, from the age of 16, I started doing student jobs in sales. If you’re good at selling, you’ll earn a fair amount of money due to commission-rates, so I learned to be good at selling. To be fair I guess I had some talent towards it too. I would work until I had enough money for the next trip. When I was 17, I started a small e-commerce store; there was a game I was interested in at the time in which you use virtual cards; I would buy and resell these cards. After 2 years, I started to make a fair amount of money with it and due to reinvesting in more automation of my website the workload lessened a lot, peaking at 600 euros each month for working 1 hour a week. Combined with my job in sales, it meant I could easily afford my travels during high school from that time on. But somehow I did not like this business-guy who clearly was a part of me, in fact I even despised him. I wasn’t the guy who was after money, or was I?
After high school, I decided I wanted to explore the world, giving the traveler inside of me priority over the business-guy. I didn’t know for how long yet, or even where I wanted to go, but after two months of working, I decided it was time. The plan was to travel on the cheap, use my online store to sustain my expenses and use the saved up money to chip in whenever needed. I decided to go to the US first as I found a cheap flight to Florida. Over the course of 10 weeks I hitchhiked from Miami to San Francisco. Only the start- and endpoint were fixed, everything else was up for change. While I had an amazing time traveling and meeting other people, whom each had their own story to tell, I slowly stopped paying attention to my online store. Knowing full well, it needed more attention than ever as the market was changing. When I arrived in San Francisco, I had barely made 300 euros that month instead of the usual 600.
I had already booked a plane-ticket to the Bahamas, so I figured, I’d go there and try to sort out my new situation. But on arrival, I got denied entry for not having a plane ticket back to Belgium and so I got send back to the states, more specifically to New York. So, there I was, in New York city during winter time, without winter clothes and not enough money to sustain travel for a lot longer. To top it all off, my ESTA for the US was ending in a couple of days. At that point, most people would agree it’s about time to go back home. Instead I booked the cheapest ticket out of the US. Costa Rica it was. I arrived, not the slightest clue about the country, on the verge of going broke but at least the weather was in my favor.
It was time to make a choice, either I could ask my dad to front me a ticket back home or I could sell my store to a competitor and prolong my travel life for a few more months. I opted for the latter. I ended up living in Costa Rica for 3 months, traveling all over the country and I simply fell in love. Up to this day it is still my most favorite country on earth and looking back at my time spend there, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. Eventually it was time to go back home, there was no way around it anymore. I spend one last week in the Dominican Republic. When I got back home, it did no longer feel like home anymore. So I worked hard for 2 months, and left for another 3 months to Costa Rica. After 10 months of traveling, it was time to let the business-guy out of his cage again.
I started higher education; IT had always interested me, so why not? Meanwhile, I was still working in sales, in a new company. At this company I got offered an amazing job-opportunity as a manager. But I turned it down because “it didn’t feel right”. To be fair, I was just living a rather boring life and while I tried to feel alive, I don’t think I really was. Forcing myself to attend classes, forcing myself to go to work to earn more money, which I would spend on things that I felt never really added to my life. I passed the year without any problems, which made a lot of people happy, the problem was, I wasn’t one of them.
I decided I wanted to, or maybe had to, travel again and I had some spare time before the second year started. I started off with a hitchhiking trip to Croatia and ended up impulsively booking a flight to Thailand. On my second day in Thailand, I met a girl from Berlin, Hannah. She had just traveled for 16 months and had to fly back home in 2 days. I don’t know if you have ever traveled for more than a few months, but going home can make you feel afraid at that point. We decided to make the best out of her last days, sharing incredible stories, experiences and emotions. Like you tend to do when you’re traveling and get that connection. When she flew back to Germany, I didn’t think I’d hear from her again. Travelers usually don’t stay in touch all that often. My entire trip through Thailand made me feel more at home, than I had felt over an entire year in my hometown. But once again, you need money to keep traveling and I was out again.
When I arrived back in Belgium, I decided to try and catch a bit of that travel-spirit back home. So I started working in a hostel and in my spare time I came up with the idea of sailing through my hometown in an inflatable boat. Hannah, the girl from Berlin, came to visit me and I shared the inflatable-boat-experience with her. Soon I noticed a lot of people seemed to like the idea of floating around trough Ghent and that business-guy inside of me started to think once more. What if we started to rent out these inflatable boats? An amazing experience for travelers passing through Ghent and a sustainable income for my own travels. I dove in head first and decided to stop my studies to pursue the idea. After some time, all the paper work was done, and the idea started to take shape. All that was left was to find a way to transport the inflatable boats to the riverside. All the transport-bikes on the market were either too small or too expensive. So, I started to think, what if I rebuild a rickshaw into a cargo-bike? I think you can see how the story is connecting right now, but it still doesn’t explain why I got a rickshaw in Berlin and not in Belgium, right? Well here is the thing, I couldn’t find one in Belgium that met my requirements.
During one of those days where I was trying to find a solution for the transport problem at hand, Hannah texted. She told me, she finally had her own place in Berlin and that I was welcome to visit if I wanted to. I booked a return flight for 16 euros about 10 minutes later. I wanted to get out for a bit and one week in Berlin seemed perfect for just that. It would be cheap and I’d still have time until summer to find a rickshaw.
One of my days for no other reason except curiosity, I figured I’d take a look on e-bay here in Berlin; and well; there it was. The rickshaw that I was looking for, within my price-range. Without hesitating, I bought it.
Now here I am, in Berlin with a rickshaw, but I still need to get it back to Belgium of course. Luckily my brother is coming to Berlin the 23th , after which we will cycle the rickshaw back to Belgium. It should take us around 2 weeks to do so. Which should be an adventure in itself.
Meanwhile, I’m still in Berlin, so I figured I would share the story as to how I ended up with a rickshaw in Berlin and how it for me symbolizes peace between the traveler and the business-guy inside of me. A peace within myself that took me years to find.