In the following article, I’ll be sharing with you the story of an adventurous couple that decided to take a year off and bike to the other side of the world. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? I had the chance to interview them and share their story with you!
Disclaimer: Katrien and Kobe made it to Turkey when the COVID-19 situation started getting out of hand. They decided to fly back to Belgium and stop their trip for now.
My very first question to you: how did you get the idea of long-term traveling by bicycle?
The idea of ‘long-term traveling’ after graduation has always been on our minds. We just needed to figure out what/where/how. One day we ended up at a travel convention, not having an idea of what our trip would look like. The only certainty about our trip was: heading east and wanting to avoid flying as much as possible. Speaking to several travelers did confirm our intention of traveling and finally, we ended up talking to a man who had traveled by bike … that specific conversation warmed our hearts and we started dreaming. We decided to do a ‘try-out trip’: a 10 days departing from our hometown and ending in France. Together we decided to take the challenge and bike to go as far East as possible overland: China.
How do you prepare yourself for a trip as such? Concerning visa, planning routes, accommodation, etc.
The way you prepare yourself is completely up to you. Some people do not need a lot of preparation, some people do. Both works! Creating our personal itinerary started off by summarizing the countries we’ve always wanted to visit. For example, we were always curious to see the ‘STAN’ countries (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, etc.). China became our ‘destination’ point as it is -from where we departed- the furthest point. However, our trip wouldn’t just end there. We’d bike back through Russia combined with a train ride on the Trans Siberian express.
Other great ways to prepare you is by reading blogs, watching vlogs, asking questions to former and current travelers, and to do a ‘try-out’ trip of a few days. Regarding visas, we can recommend you one website: the Caravanistan website. This site summarizes the visa requirements for the countries that are located on the Silk Road. They also offer a forum where people can write their latest update of their visa-experience in a certain country. This is the perfect platform for those who travel overland (for example bikers, hikers, or road trippers).
I think traveling by bike is an awesome and brave idea. I imagine that, besides all the positive comments, you also got some negative judgment when announcing your trip to family and friends?
No one was really that surprised about us coming up with such an idea. But of course, many questions were raised by our close friends and family, such as “will you find food everywhere?”, “are the countries you’ll visit safe?” and “what about wild animals when sleeping in a tent?”. We ended up making a PowerPoint presentation for our parents that included the pros/cons and potential risks. This detailed presentation, along with our preparation, helped them understand that we thought everything through.
I can’t help but asking THE most asked question… What is the distance (on average) you traveled per day?
We started our trip rather calmly, especially because we weren’t yet used to biking long distances. The elevation profile of our route affected this as well: on flat areas, we’d end up biking about 80 kilometers (50 miles) per day and on not-so-flat areas, we’d bike about 60 kilometers (37 miles). Of course, this varied as every day was different. The wind could also be holding us back and we also found ourselves limited by the amount of daylight throughout the winter. You have to keep in mind that this kind of trip is more than only the ‘sportive challenge’. It’s exploring, setting up and breaking down the tent or finding alternative stays, arranging food, getting to know local people who randomly invite you, etc.
The kilometers per day is not what mattered to us; it’s the overall experience. And in the end, the distance you travel depends on yourself and your mood. It’s not a race.
What did you think of the biking-infrastructure in other countries?
The more east we went, the bike infrastructure became less of a thing. In Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany, and Austria everything was very well arranged and we almost never cycled on the main roads. Only in Luxemburg, we encountered some issues with getting to grocery stores, that all seemed to be located along highways. Ever since Croatia, however, cycling paths were nonexistent and building routes was more of a challenge. From time to time we were even forced to travel on highways. In some countries, like Albania and Turkey, cyclists are not an unusual sight and there was no problem in sharing the road with a few cars. Contrary to Croatia where many people drove like fast and dangerous, obviously not knowing how to act around bicycles
Which country was physically most challenging, considering you biked from Belgium to Turkey?
Every country has its own challenges, but physically we’d definitely say Montenegro. We were only there for a few days, but we conquered quite a lot of hills! There, we followed a route along the Bay of Kotor, crossing over the mountains and then down to Lake Skadar. Up till today, we still think it was one of the most beautiful parts of our trip, so all the sweat was definitely worth it!
Is there a certain (online or offline) community for this niche group of travelers?
There is much out there. For example ‘long-distance cyclists’ and ‘Bicycle touring Bike packing’, which are great groups if you are seeking some general advice. But unfortunately, just as in every big Facebook group there are also some irrelevant posts/comments. To us, Instagram gave us more the community feeling, as we got connected with other cyclers and used the app to communicate with them. Also Warmshowers is a great way to meet like-minded people. It serves as a platform for connecting host-families with cyclists. We are still in touch with those who hosted us during the trip. Of course, this community is not only online…Sometimes we met other travelers along the way and when we were lucky enough to be heading the same way we ended up biking together for a little while.
COVID-19: let’s talk about the crisis and getting home.
We made it to Turkey when the Corona-situation started getting out of hand. We did the right thing by flying back home, and there was also no alternative for us. As we got to know through a WhatsApp group with other travelers, countries were slowly closing borders and even denying foreigners. Continuing out travel was a no-go. We are, however, planning on resuming our long-distance travel one day!
My last question goes out to Katrien: I saw on your Instagram profile that you shaved your hair! What made you decide that? (Super badass by the way!)
It was the most logical thing to do. It always got stuck between the clipper of my helmet and my hair was always somewhere where it shouldn’t be. Further, I’ve always been curious about the look so… I went for it 😊
Any last thoughts you want to share?
On this trip, we realized that our life in Belgium is very privileged. We also learned that there are genuinely kind-hearted people in this world, no matter how little money or belongings they have.
1. Don’t hesitate and try it out!
2. It’s not as hard as it sounds.
3. You don’t have to be super-sporty to start this kind of a journey.