- Why Long-term travel?
For me, a big part of travel is stretching yourself so that you can feel ‘at home’ in a strange place. That usually involves staying for a long time. To be able to experience a culture vastly different from your own, and then to feel yourself changing so that culture becomes familiar and comforting is an amazing transition. It’s uplifting and rewarding, but heartbreaking too, when you have to leave those places behind.
- How did you come up with the idea for this trip?
My initial plan was to start in Shanghai and ride across China, finishing in Kyrgyzstan. When I was planning it, however, a funny thing happened. I saw more and more awesome pictures of Kyrgyzstan and thought, “I want to go there instead!” I started looking at adjacent countries and learned about the Pamir Highway. It didn’t take long for me to ditch the idea of riding through China and focus on the Pamir Highway…
- How did you prepare for it? Where did you go for tips or ideas?
I researched more than I’ve ever researched anything in my life. There are several other bloggers who’ve been through that part of the world, including Goats on the Road, Shane Dallas, and Stephen Lioy, among others. Their accounts were a great starting point. Then, I stumbled across Caravanistan.com. It’s a treasure trove of info for anyone traveling Central Asia. Border crossings, visa acquisition, road information, etc. An absolute goldmine.
- Given what you know now, what would you have done differently?
I would’ve purchased a newer motorcycle and tried to link up with at least one other person doing a similar route. With my lack of mechanical know-how, I wasn’t prepared for a solo motorcycle trip of that magnitude.
- How did you financially prepare for the trip? If you make a living while you travel, how do you do it?
For the year leading up to the trip, I worked as an English teacher in South Korea. I had a good idea of how much I needed to save, which I kept in mind for the duration of my contract. It was a big lead-up, but I was able to hit my target and make it through the trip as I had planned it. Hooray for successful budgeting!
- Please tell us the 3 most amazing stories, from the trip, that you have shared the most after?
By far the most shared would be my near-death ordeal getting from Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan. Since my motorcycle trip had fallen through and public transport in that part of the world is virtually non-existent, I was forced to attempt the border crossing by hitch-hiking. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how sparse the traffic would be. Instead of getting picked up and driven, I had to hike over 15km at over 4000m elevation with an 18kg pack on my back. By the time I crossed the no-man’s land between the two countries, I had severe altitude sickness and could barely walk. To make matters worse, no cars came through the border for the next 24 hours. The saving grace of the experience was the border guards on the Tajik side. I’d been nervous after hearing stories of their corruption, but instead of pressuring me for a bribe, they fed me four meals, gave me a bunk to sleep in for the night, brought out vodka and guitars in the evening, and gave me a 400km ride to Murghab. If it weren’t for their kindness, I’m not sure what would’ve happened. http://openroadbeforeme.com/2014/10/sary-tash-to-the-tajik-border.html
I also had an absolutely ridiculous time trying to get from Dushanbe, Tajikistan to Bukhara, Uzbekistan.
Most people go to Samarkand, which I didn’t realize. What should have been a 9 hour taxi ride took 22 hours, a massive detour TO Samarkand, and a total of five taxis. It became so frustrating it was hilarious and serves as a great anecdote for people thinking of doing a similar trip.
http://openroadbeforeme.com/2014/11/the-long-road-to-bukhara.htmlLast, but not least, I had a great experience at the end of my Iran trip which really put the whole thing in context. I’d had an absolutely amazing experience throughout the whole country, and had a day to explore Tehran before heading to Sweden. Off-handedly, I thought I’d check out the Den of Espionage, the nickname for the former US Embassy. I found it covered with anti-American graffiti. For the first time since entering the country, I felt supremely uncomfortable. Then, a man stopped as he walked past. “Are you American?” he asked. When I confirmed that I was, he glanced behind him at the anti-American murals, shook his head, then reached for my hand. “Welcome to Iran,” he said, and he smiled. Such a beautiful moment!
- Please share your 3 favourite places from this trip and why?
Arslanbob, Kyrgyzstan – The largest walnut grove in the world, it’s surrounded by mountains, filled with lush forests, and is home to some truly amazing people.
Bukhara, Uzbekistan – This ancient Silk Road hub has so much history and such an atmosphere of tranquility — I could’ve stayed there for weeks.
Yazd, Iran — Without a doubt, the friendliest population of people I’ve ever met. Walking through the warren of tiny streets comprising the Old Town resulted in a number of spontaneous conversations, which in turn led to friendships. It really was a beautiful city.
- What was the most profound/meaningful moment of your trip?
That would be when I was sitting with two old Uzbek men in the tiny town of Arslanbob in Kyrgyzstan. We drank vodka, ate food, and talked about our lives and our hopes for the future. Periodically, we would toast to each others’ health and happiness. I had an epiphany then, as I watched the two lifelong friends, Abdul and Ibrahim, about the importance of friendship.
- What was the biggest challenge you faced?
The one that conquered me: buying a motorcycle in Kyrgyzstan. Even with all the research I did and the help I got from the amazing staff at my guesthouse, I still wasn’t able to buy a reliable bike. The one I ended up getting broke down not even an hour later, and it was only because of the help I got from Suyoon, Aizada, and her neighbor that I was able to get my money back and salvage something out of the trip. For the full write-up, read about That Time I Bought a Ural.
- Which safety tips would you say are essential?
If you’re going to be in remote places, there are some very important things to always have on hand: water purification, GPS (or map and compass if you’re old-school), several days worth of food, clothes for any temperature. There are other things, certainly, but those are things I always make sure to have.It’s also smart to have someone back home with access to your trip. I use TripIt extensively when I travel, and always have it updated with where I’m staying, flight info, etc. My parents use it to know when I’ll be going somewhere so they can check flight statuses, alerts, etc. It’s mostly for peace of mind, but in the event something does happen, it might just save me!
- What was it like to return home and reintegrate? What are your main advices?
That was tough. It always has been. The best thing I’ve found is just to stay busy. Know that you’ll need to rest, but try and have something to do every day to take your mind off of the fact that you’re not traveling any more. It’ll sink in eventually, but it helps to be distracted.
- What do you think has changed the most about you during this experience? How and when did you notice
I’m more relaxed. I’ve dealt with a lot of crazy situations over the course of my travels, and most of the stuff that happens back home just doesn’t rate as high on the ‘challenging scale’. I had a friend tell me, “You’re so Zen now…”, but I think it was just a mixture of confidence and contentedness. But heck, maybe traveling does make you Zen!
- What is your favourite travel quote?
That’s a tough one to narrow down, but this one is great:
“And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again–to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more” – Pico Ayer
- What inspired you for this journey (Like movies, Books, People or something else entirely…)?
The Long Way Round was a huge inspiration for me. Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman did an epic motorcycle journey around the world, from London to New York, crossing some truly awe-inspiring landscapes to get there. There were a lot of ups and downs to their trip, but they made it, and had an amazing time. Mine was to be much smaller in scale, but I couldn’t have been more excited.
- What are the 3 most important pieces of advice you would give to someone considering independent travelling for a longer period?
Know your limits and plan accordingly
It’s okay to link up with a group
Share your travel itinerary with friends/ family