From Backpacker To Pillion To Rider: The Transformation Of A Backpacker To An Overland Motorcycle Traveler

I have itchy feet. No, not of the fungal variety (although given my mode of transportation, perhaps that is just a matter of time) but rather of the chomp taken out of my side by the travel bug persuasion. As a teenager my life quest was to study abroad and the dream was finally realized at 20 when I spent a study summer in Russia. From that point on there was no turning back. My entire life has been spent working out the next adventure with the use of teaching English to finance it.


My mode of transport used to be those familiar to the backpacker such as the 30 hour plus train ride in Vietnam, (where I became convinced I had died and there was in fact the much made of Catholic purgatory and it consisted of an eternity on a hard wooden seat that prevented any form of sleep and where you were terrified if you rested you would miss your stop and your plane ride to South America), the bus rides and the cheap flights. That is until I met a German boy named Patrick in South Korea who was traveling around the world by motorcycle (for those whose German is up to par, you can check out it out here fernweh-mit-dem-motorrad-um-die-welt ).


This was the first time I had ever encountered the idea. I was until that point still happy teaching English in South Korea and using my money to spend weekends at the bar and holidays elsewhere in Asia. At that point I had never heard of the now famous documentary involving the young Obi Wan, and when I met the previously mentioned German in a bar one night I found myself enchanted with the story. Here was someone who seemed to be really having an adventure as he traveled, someone who had ridden his motorcycle from Germany through Russia and into Korea, and had camped under the open stars in Mongolia (or under a rainbow if you are so inclined).


And then in one of my finer (or crazier as my mother insists) moments I found myself agreeing to meet said German in Buenos Aries. Thus began a new love and obsession, and not, not with the boy (or at least not just with him), but rather travel by motorcycle.


Despite never having been on a bike before, I found out that this was the way I wanted to travel.After five months through Argentina and Chile on the back of a motorcycle I discovered what so manyothers who traveled by motorcycle already knew: the the bike gave you the freedom and the independence to go where you wanted, when you wanted and to stop whenever you felt like it.Suddenly the same people who ignored you on the bus or train were coming up to touch the bike and ask questions about the trip and inviting us to their homes for food. I felt like I was part of the country and the land rather than a spectator. And I fell in love with the freedom and the complete immersion with a land it gave. I was hooked.


It was after that trip I knew that I had switched from a backpacker to a biker, and after some time in Canada and the prerequisite break-ups and reunions that go with a long distance relationship (or whatever it was we had, but a story for a different time) I knew that I wanted to go from a pillion to a rider.  After a significant amount of blood, sweat and tears (as well as some screaming and throwing various objects at Patrick’s head) we had a plan, our first major motorcycle trip on two bikes: July 2008 – October 2008, a motorcycle journey from Stuttgart, Germany to Mt. Nemrut, Turkey, and back.

“Are you sure you will be able to do it?” was the question.Perhaps oddly enough the question was not my own.I rarely ask “can I”-at best its a “should I? ”I knew that the answer was a resounding yes.The “can” aspect never entered my mind.In fairness maybe it should have, but in ten years of traveling I have found that it is only too easy to talk yourself out of an experience, and riding from Germany to Turkey and back promised to be not just the ride, but the experience, of my life.

I would love to say that my spontaneity was free from fear.That lemming like I just run up to a cliff and fling myself off without worrying about the hows (or even the where) I would land.Though it is certainly the more exciting option and would make sound a little more adventurous (and therefore in my mind more awesome) than I really am,it would also mean I was lying to you.I was scared.I am always scared before a major trip or change.I think its important to point that out, that just because I knew I could do it, it did not mean I had no misapprehensions about the future. Thiswas the first time I was riding my own bike.Literally.Though I was a pillion with the plans to get my license for almost two years before the trip, due to a variety of reasons, I did not finally book my test until one week before we were on the road headed towards Austria (see Journizer Episode 2 or the previous post on getting my German motorcycle license).


It was not just the fear of a newbie handling a motorcycle for the first time I had to deal with. My fears were along the financial lines as well.We had a budget of 30 Euros a day for 3 months.This was to include everything.At that price I could just afford it.I had sacrificed a lot the year before to be able to take the three months off.I taught every class offered to me.I stopped buying books and joined the library and a book swapping club.I ate out once a month instead of two or three times a week.My movies were almost entirely on the small screen instead of the big one.Every time I denied myself new shoes or new anything I put the equivalent into my travel account.But even with the sacrifices and the strict budget any extras on the trip would have to come out on my credit card.As someone just recovering from over reliance upon my credit card however I had no desire to return to my former dependency.Yet canceling the trip was not an option.When you wait for the right time and the right amount of money you wait forever.

Emotionally it was taxing as well.Part of the budgeting of the trip meant wild camping, in other words camping anywhere that we felt we would not be disturbed, or just asking farmers if they minded a tent in their fields that night.Wild camping brought up issues about safety, not just from animals, but people as well.Or maybe especially about people.This was a particular friction with my partner, who rarely had fears about the human potential for danger.But perhaps the hardest to handle wasn’t the safety issues of wild camping, fear of animals, fear of humans, or even of bike handling,but rather how some people wished for me to fail.

Maybe it is the culture of fear that is prevalent in our society, like vultures waiting around flapping their wings waiting and hoping for the impending demise of anyone who steps outside the accepted boundaries, there were grumblings that I was flat out crazy.Crazy for riding the bike, crazy for taking three months off, crazy for not taking a “real”job and moving back to Canada, crazy for choosing adventure over marriage and babies.There were some who saw my choice as a direct attack on their choices, that by embarking on this trip I was throwing their lives in their faces.This part was particularly difficult for me to handle, as I have never wanted to give the impression to anyone at anytime that any choice is better than another.It is true that to follow through on a dream means sacrifices need to be made.But that is true of becoming a mother or spending that summer in Italy learning Italian.Too often we expect that things will be given to us just because we want them.I have always only asked that I be allowed to make the choices I want, not the ones forced upon me by the standards of society.My friends joke that I am half hausfrau and half biker chick.I would say that I am just me, trying to do what makes me happy (while trying my best not to drive my partner insane at the same time. I tend towards the emotional, and he tends towards the rational, together we make one sane person. Maybe this is why we travel so well together).


I had started out this article with the intention of describing the trip itself.The feeling of the open road and the bike.The sensation of riding along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey wondering if I had ever seen anything so beautiful or if I would ever be as happy again.In a wayhowever it is indescribable, or at least others have done it so well I have no idea what I can say that can contribute.The individual stories from the trip I hadalready written up on my blog, and I didn’t want to revisit them in this article. Somehow I found that the process of the trip is what I wanted to write about, not the part where I describe how great it was (even though it was), but rather all the things that come before the trip instead.The part that can make or break it before you even begin.


When we went over our money withdrawals on the trip itself and figured out who owed who what, and what the budget was. We came in at an average of 25 Euros a day, food, gas, our tourist activities and that was with an accident, a broken fork, and a week long rush home in the rain (read spending each night in a pension rather than in a tent). The best part of the trip required no money whatsoever. Finding a place to camp wild, setting up, roasting our supper over a fire, or at the homes of people who invited us to share their food and hospitality. In fact, many of the things I feared the most created the best memories.

(And FYI: I do so love taking pictures, and I love sharing my travel pics almost as much as I do taking them, check out tips-for-the-intermediate-travel-photographer  for some advice.)

If you enjoyed athis you might also enjoy:

Chasing Summer:  From Backpacker To Biker Chick

Iceland:The World Of Fantasy Writers

World Trip A Go!


About Sherrie

Sherrie was born and raised in Newfoundland, has her home base in Germany, and at any given time can be found just about anywhere in the world. Addicted to books, travel, chocolate and motorcycles, a perfect day for her is riding her bike followed by drinking good coffee and reading a good book or writing one.

2 Responses to From Backpacker To Pillion To Rider: The Transformation Of A Backpacker To An Overland Motorcycle Traveler

  1. Samantha says:

    Hi Sherrie!
    I have been reading your posts this morning as I am planning my first trip to SE Asia. I have been riding for two years now and am considering riding on this trip. I had a question I’m hoping you can provide some thoughts to…is one month too short to motorbike through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, in your opinion? Would I be better off going by bus? I am limited on time to one month for this trip.
    Thank you so much!

    • Sherrie Sherrie says:

      Hi Sam,

      1 month is a little too short for that trip, but I think by bus it would be as well! Although you could do a decent loop of Cambodia, Laos and Northern Thailand in that time period. It is also a little expensive to buy or import a bike for such a short period of time. My suggestion would be to bus it but to make sure you rent a bike sometimes. Motorcycling offers such a great way of really getting to see a country and allows you so much more freedom. Renting in different cities and towns would allow you to do that while still saving the costs of buying or importing for just one month. Either way I am sure you will love it and ride safe!

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