38 countries and a lesson learned

January 02, 2014 by John Singleton

Five months ago we left the UK to travel the world. We had two backpacks, an unreliable car and a credit card with a low limit.

The car got us to Mongolia and we left it to a charity. Then we loaded our worldly possessions (mainly old clothes, a camera and a laptop) into two backpacks and since then have hitchhiked, taken some questionable public transport and somehow made it through 38 countries in total. We are currently in Argentina planning our next route…

After four months traveling through Asia, when we arrived back in the western world (Argentina), something became very apparent.

A lesson learned

Our western lifestyle isn’t conducive to physical mobility. We have somehow made our day-to-day way of living completely devoid of anything that requires us to use our bodies in a way that encapsulates their true physical capabilities.

This may be a slightly strange lesson to have learnt when traveling the world, but seeing the ease with which people move in Asia, from the young to the elderly, is an inspiration. We felt their lifestyle choices could re-teach us westerners something about our current lifestyle.

Squatting on a bench

The correct way to use a bench: while waiting for a bus in Sulawesi, Indonesia
John, who is an Osteopath, has a bit more of a bias for watching how people move, but anyone who has been to Asia will be aware of a few things: people eat a lot of rice; they squat everywhere, and often eat sitting on a ?at surface or the ?oor; and especially in the warmer climates, people don’t wear shoes.

These subtle lifestyle habits which we seem to have lost translate into the ability to move with ease from birth to old age. Although crude, the saying ‘use it or lose it’ couldn’t be more apt when referring to the human body and Asia’s nimble population is a tribute to this maxim.

Relearning the lesson

It did seem strange at ?rst, maybe even a little awkward, but eventually eating whilst sitting on a ?at surface became second nature; soon it even seemed strange not to. Before long we were no longer experiencing the constant urge to ?dget or losing the sensation in our legs that distracted us from eating rice; it became natural and easy, even squatting to have a chat in the street or while waiting for the bus.
Eating Lunch Vietnamese Style
Eating lunch Vietnamese-style
However as we ?ew into Argentina and waited for our bus, we became aware that something was fundamentally different: people weren’t squatting and in fact when we squatted to wait for the bus people looked at us as though we were going to the toilet rather than simply sitting. Having got accustomed to using our bodies naturally, it suddenly became unnatural and strange again.


So what lesson did Asia teach us? Your life shouldn’t be about doing exercises to keep you mobile but your lifestyle should be conducive to staying mobile. This can be about making an informed choice about footwear #livebarefoot or how you go about your day to day living #sitonthe?oor. We should probably be evolving our ideas of exactly what we think is ‘comfy’, and rethinking our daily routines which often aren’t conducive to lifelong physical mobility.

So while we wait for our next night bus across Argentina, although it may seem strange to some, we shall be squatting, maybe even barefoot. And maybe when the message that ‘movement is good for use’ reaches the masses, we will be joined by others!

John and Magdalena

  Barefoot Blog

  Travel,  vivobarefoot

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