A grand adventure for less than a grand
A little while ago I was interviewed by Alastair Humphreys for his Adventure 1000 blog which aims to demonstrate how you can have a big adventure without spending loads of money and without being a super fit adventurer. Alastair has collated that interview along with loads of others in his new book Grand Adventures. The interview appears on Alastair’s website here, and also below.
A 4000 mile epic without leaving home
Bicycle adventures are my favourite, because you can go anywhere on a bicycle, and the riding itself is free. A couple of years ago I cycled around the British coastline – a 10-week, 4000 mile trip, which cost me £1017 – roughly 25p per mile or £100 per week – cheaper than my London rent. (That’s a thought – I could have rented out my room while I was away and the trip would have paid for itself!)
This British adventure was fantastic. I am a huge advocate of exploring close to home, of doing something extraordinary on your own doorstep, of starting the adventure the minute you leave your house (without having to *get* to a starting point). I have often been asked, “What was your favourite part?” and it is easy to pick a place or a time – the time I reached John O’ Groats and could cycle north no further, the time I reached the top of the Bealach na Ba (the highest road pass in the UK), the incredible weather and rich blueness of the sea in Cornwall. But in fact, one of my favourite parts was simply that I was exploring my home country and discovering new things each day, even in somewhere that was so familiar.
Another question that people ask me is, “Did you take a tent?” Camping is certainly one way to travel on a budget. But I don’t love camping – I love cycling. I wanted to go on a cycling holiday, not a camping one. I don’t do well without my home comforts – a hot shower and a warm duvet at the end of the day makes me a happy cyclist.
So, what I did was ask for help. I contacted everyone I knew through work, friends, family, friends of family, family of friends etc. It helped greatly that I was working for Sustrans at the time, a national cycling organisation, so I had a couple of hundred email addresses of people who were all too willing to help!
Of course, planning everything in advance meant I was tied to the schedule (within reason – the people I was staying with knew that things could change on the road, so were quite flexible). This doesn’t work for everyone. But it worked for me. Yes, there were occasions when I had a few miles left in me when I reached my destination (and one occasion when I didn’t make it!), but most of the time, having somewhere to aim for each night was a great help.
I was overcome with offers of help – people who knew people who had a spare bed or sofa or floor space. I used all the networks I could think of – I’m a member of the Green Party, so googled local parties on the coast to fill some gaps. I used the website warmshowers.org – reciprocal hospitality for touring cyclists. It’s a fantastic network and I met some wonderful hosts, many of whom who rode with me for a little way, which was very welcome support. By the time I set off on my adventure, I had about 8 nights with nowhere to stay. My resourceful aunts set to work, contacting long-lost friends, emailing local bike clubs, and in the more remote areas, phoning up the local library and the local primary school. In the end, I paid for a total of 15 nights’ accommodation in the whole ten weeks.
Free accommodation is all very well. But then, why not bivvy, or wild-camp? You don’t have to pay for that either. But the main reason why staying with all these people kept the cost down so much was the food. Almost all of my hosts cooked me dinner, made me breakfast, and filled my panniers with lunch and snacks before waving me off in the morning. One lovely lady wouldn’t cook, but insisted on taking me out for a three-course meal. The generosity of my hosts was overwhelming. And not paying for food was the biggest reason that I spent so little.
My main lesson from all of this (and tip to pass on to others) is to accept, not expect. People want to help. Imagine someone on an adventure came to stay at your home. Wouldn’t you want to give them as much as you possibly could? I worried about this near the beginning of the trip, that I was getting things for free that you would usually have to pay for, and said as much to my sister (“I’m worried I’m just taking things from these people…”). She reassured me that they had offered to help of their own free will, and were more than happy to give me all these things. If you ask (in a non-expectant and non-demanding way) you shall receive. Accept the kindness of strangers. 34 out of 72 nights I stayed with someone I’d never met before, and they couldn’t do enough to help me. Humans are sociable creatures, yet we tend to shy away from this kind of thing. So often our view is, “Oh, I don’t want to be any trouble…” or, “I shouldn’t ask in case I don’t get anywhere.” Use networks that you know – friends and family, colleagues, friends and family of colleagues. Staying with these people rather than on my own in a tent or B&B enriched my journey beyond the physical bed and food – I received companionship, conversation, advice, local knowledge, and sometimes a lasting friendship.
(Disclaimer: I don’t want to downplay the joys of camping, which I have since discovered!)