I think I’ve discovered the key to long-term happiness. Yes, indeedy, I have.

“How did you keep going?”

cycling peru

There were some days when I thought I couldn’t take another pedal stroke. But I always could.

That’s one of the most common questions we get after Why did you ride your bikes from Alaska to Argentina? And How? And How did you keep the kids motivated?

Indeed – how did we keep going? I’ve been wanting to write a post on this for ages but, truth be told, I had no idea how we kept going. We just did. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and I think I finally figured it out.

We kept going because we knew we could quit at any point.

Another very common question we get now is: How can you stay in Boise after living such an adventurous life?

And the answer is exactly the same: Because we know we can leave at any moment.

Every morning we wake up and make a conscious decision about what we’ll do with the next 24 hours. We can choose to carry on or pack it in. It’s our choice; nobody is forcing us to do anything.

cycling yukon

I felt very small and inconsequential in the Yukon, but it was my choice to be there.

It was that freedom that allowed us to push through the hard times. Making conscious decisions and knowing that we could change that decision at any point encouraged us to push on. Heading out there into Mother Nature’s great blue yonder was our choice, and our choice alone. Nobody forced us to go. Nobody threatened us. We made the choice and we could retract that choice. If we wanted.

It’s exactly the same now that we’re back in the USA. We’ve chosen to live in Boise, Idaho but we know we could leave if we want. We could be living in Mexico or Spain or Argentina or Thailand. We could, but we don’t want to. We’ve made a conscious decision to be where we are and, if we feel that our needs and wants will be better met elsewhere, then we’ll move on. Until then, we’re happy as clams in our little house in Idaho.

Amazingly, I think that’s the key to true happiness.

It isn’t travel, it isn’t some great adventure. It’s very simple actually: the key to happiness is living in such a way that you call the shots.

  • It’s waking up every morning knowing that you get to choose what you’ll do with the next 24 hours.
  • It’s knowing that you are choosing whatever your life is and that you’re not trapped.
camping in utah

Knowing it’s our choice how we live every day eliminates the feeling of being trapped.

OK, OK… I know it’s easy to feel trapped. You feel like you’re trapped in a dead-end job or you’re a slave to corporate America. You look around and realize you aren’t truly content with your life but don’t know how to change it and you feel  as ensnared as a mouse in a mousetrap.

But really – are you? Or are you blaming others for the choices you’ve made?

Once we take responsibility for our lives and realize we are the only ones to blame, then… well, then we either embrace and love what we have or we change it.

And that’s exactly where my family is right now. Is Boise perfect? No. Is there any place better? No. For now we’ve chosen to call Boise home, but that could change any day. When we’re living purposefully and making conscious choices; when we know that whatever we’re facing today is what we’ve chosen, then it makes it a lot easier to accept.

bicycling in snow

Nothing is too hard when you know you’ve chosen it.

When we were on the road and we faced a solid week of climbing from sea level to 15,000 feet in a mere 225 miles, we knew we had chosen it. When we battled headwinds for 1500 miles along the Peruvian coast, we knew we were doing it of our own free will. When temperatures plummeted in Wyoming or when they soared in Central America, it was a conscious choice we made to climb on those bikes and head out anyway.

And that choice gave us power. We could choose to continue on or we could choose to pack it in. Every single day.

In the end, we made the decision that the good parts of our journey outweighed the bad and we kept going.  And that’s why we live in Boise now.

If the day comes when we ask ourselves that question and get a different answer, then it’ll be time to move on. But as long as I can wake up in the morning and say, “This is exactly where I want to be,” then I’ll stay.

What choices are you making? How are you answering the questions? What are you doing about it?

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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24 Responses to I think I’ve discovered the key to long-term happiness. Yes, indeedy, I have.

  1. Clark Vandeventer March 15, 2012 at 11:16 pm #

    BINGO! Some of our friends tell us they can’t see us traveling forever. That’s when we tell them that’s not our goal. Our goal is to — as you put it — to call the shots. If we want to set up camp in Tahoe, great. If we want to go on a big RTW trip, great. But we don’t want to be locked in to anything. We want to be free. And that’s what makes us happy.

    • Nancy March 15, 2012 at 11:29 pm #

      @Clark Vandeventer, Absolutely! I used to think I needed to travel forever to be happy, but now I know that’s not true at all. It’s just that, for most of us, we view our travels as being free to make those decisions. In reality, we can make those decisions “at home” as well. We just need to KNOW that we’re making them.

  2. Mary March 16, 2012 at 9:24 am #

    Well said Nancy! I agree that so many people do not feel they have control when really they do. Realizing this is the first step to happiness.

    • Nancy March 18, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

      @Mary, Exactly. If we’re in a situation we don’t like, we are the ones who allowed ourselves to be there and we can make the decision to get out. If we want to, that is.

  3. S King March 16, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    On point!
    Knowing that we are doing anything on our own accord gives us incredible power and freedom.
    It’s only when we get into a mindset of being “forced” or “trapped” into doing something that we look for a way “out”. But the keyword is mindset.

    There are not many things we control…only our mind and attitude.

    Unfortunately, most people think that those two things are beyond their control, which is a story they tell themselves in Victimville.

    • Nancy March 18, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

      @S King, I LOVE this: There are not many things we control…only our mind and attitude. Ain’t that the truth??

      We aren’t forced or trapped into anything unless someone is quite literally holding a gun to our head.

  4. Erica March 16, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    I know I’m so much happier when I am able to make conscious decisions about where I am in life.

    Already stressing about going home!

    • Nancy March 18, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

      @Erica, Going home isn’t a bad thing! It’s all about realizing that you’ve chosen to go home for now. You may be choosing to go home only long enough to get yourself organized to leave again, but you are making hte choice. Nobody is forcing you. It’ll be good!

  5. Laurel March 16, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    What a beautiful post and well said. I think it’s easy to forget that we are each in control of our own lives, and it’s up to us what we decide to do with the next 24 hours.

    • Nancy March 18, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

      @Laurel, It’s way to easy to forget that! It’s important that we wake up every morning and know that what we do that day IS our choice.

  6. Jason March 16, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

    I think you nailed it with the calling the shots. After we finish our RTW trip we are looking at other opportunities where we can call the shots. I’m tired of working in a cubicle!

    • Nancy March 18, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

      @Jason, ABsolutely! We always call the shots even if we choose to work in a cubicle. It’s our choice and we could choose something else if we wanted to.

  7. Justin March 16, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

    This is it!

    It is breaking down life into small moments. When the goal is so far away, it is so hard to stay focused on that goal. Control what you can control.

    Little steps. Good habits.

    I enjoyed this post! And I really enjoyed seeing more photos of you and the guys. That always gets me going!

    • Nancy March 18, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

      @Justin, It’s very hard to stay focused on the goal when it’s so far – Ushuaia was a very, very long way away when we were up in Alaska! Take lots and lots of tiny steps and it all adds up.

  8. Audrey March 16, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

    Having the freedom to make decisions and to change my mind at any time is something that sometimes I don’t value as much as I should. It really makes a difference when you approach life with “this is what I choose” instead of “this is just the way it is.”

    • Nancy March 18, 2012 at 5:48 pm #

      @Audrey, Totally. The whole idea of “this is just the way it is” is very sad. We choose what we have, even if we don’t realize we choose it.

  9. Lois March 16, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

    Spot on! It’s really funny, although I have no desire to travel long-term, quite the opposite in fact. I seem to have more in common with traveling people than the average American, and I think this hits it right on the head.

    We have dreams of living off the land, driving roots deep and making something out of nothing. Every day is a choice to move forward. Mixed in with these dreams is a bit of short-term travel, a family reunion, etc., but our overall goal is staying…not going.

    But I think that the reason we have more in common with travel peeps is that even by choosing to stay, we have chosen the road less traveled. We have opted out of the 2 car/2 income rat race and opted into a quality of life that cannot be bought. Just like your children have a unique perspective on geography and other cultures due to where they’ve been and an appreciation for the value of hard work and accomplishing a goal; mine have a unique perspective on what it really takes to produce your own food, how satisfying it is knowing that you produced over half the meal on your plate. We can look back and see how much we’ve learned about listening to the seasons and living in harmony with the land.

    It’s about choosing the life you’re living, doing it wholeheartedly and making no excuses. Own your mistakes, learn from them and keep making it happen one day at a time.

    • Nancy March 18, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

      @Lois, For sure! I’ve always said it was never about the biking or the travel, it was the quality of life that we wanted. Now I’ve learned that I can have that quality of life anywhere – because it’s all in the mind rather than the other stuff. I love your dream of the land and farm – it’s beautiful!

  10. Heather Caliri March 18, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

    So true…and contrary to my expectation, the journey to being more free was almost as exhilarating as arriving. When my family started talking about shedding debt, living more frugally, and being on the road to more freedom, we felt a shared partnership right then. You gain the benefits of freedom even when its still a ways off.

    • Nancy March 18, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

      @Heather Caliri, That is so true! The journey to getting free is amazing. It can happen if we make the choice to make it happen!

  11. Nancy March 18, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    @Gavin Merritt, It’s the only way to live! I’ve realized that even if I go back to teaching it’ll be fine – because it would be my choice to go back. We just need to be aware that we are making those choices.

  12. Lash March 19, 2012 at 8:03 am #

    Interesting… several of the success books/philosophies I’ve read say that one key to success is ‘committing’ to your goal, as in ‘i will do this or I will die trying’. I always feel a bit uneasy about that particular one.. because that makes me feel trapped. That in turn feels heavy and makes me less inclined to follow the goal with all my heart and energy. That’s more a de-motivator to me. Personally, I feel a lot happier, more at ease, and more motivated to my goals when I have a little clause saying, “I can quit if I want to. If I get miserable and don’t like it, I dont’ have to stick to this until death” Pretty much the same thing, I think: Freedom to choose as you go along. cheers, Lash

    • Nancy March 19, 2012 at 11:23 pm #

      @Lash, In some ways, I can totally see the committing to the goal regardless of what comes. However, I think needs and wants and desires change throughout life so I hate to think I would be committed to yesterday’s dream.


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