I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog championing the mighty #microadventure, the idea that you can find adventure close to home. Microadventures are brief bursts of adventure, done in a weekend or even overnight in the middle of the week.
But ‘home’ – your own country, can also be the setting for a far bigger adventure. Indeed, you could argue quite strongly that exploring your own country in depth is a more interesting and rewarding thing to do than – say – hitchhiking to Malaysia.
So I asked Anna Hughes to share her story. I hope it will inspire anyone dreaming of a great adventure for less than £1000. And also Anna is female! I get loads of emails from women asking about for specific advice for women travellers. I think Anna is a great inspiration to other girls who may be anxious about setting off on big trips by themselves. Anna is a very un-scary, un-muscly, lovely person: you don’t have to be tough, strong and mean to do big trips…
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 quash the joys of camping, which I have since discovered!)
The whats, wheres and whys of my journeys are on my blog and I also teach a Long Distance Bike Tour Preparation class at the London Bike Kitchen to help ideas turn ideas into reality. The next one is on the 4th and 5th March, 6pm-9pm, at the London Bike Kitchen in Hoxton. Tickets available here.
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