Is it really possible to do a decent adventure for £1000? I asked Kerry to share her story.
Alastair: Hi Kerry. Tell us about the Grand Tour and the trip you took.
Kerry: The Grand Tour was a phenomenon for usually young rich men, back as early as the 1600s, but mainly into the 1800s. They would finish their education and then go on a grand tour of Europe. They would take in all of the artistic, cultural and religious hotspots of the area. They’d go to Paris, Geneva, across to Venice, Rome, and some would go beyond but many stopped at Rome.
I recreated the grand tour on a budget of a grand [£1000] on my bicycle, just because I wanted to, because it was fun, it was summer and it was Europe, but also to prove that you don’t have to be young, rich and male to be able to have adventures.
Kerry: They went to the local brothel – at least that was the first thing that many of them did…
Alastair: Ah, the good old days…
Kerry: The good old days, yeah! It was a journey of cultural enlightenment, linguistic enlightenment, and often sexual enlightenment for these young rich men who had led sheltered lives. It was a real journey of exploration, the forerunner to the gap year. People got there and they went wild, and I’m sure what they wrote home in their journals and diaries didn’t include all the nitty gritty, but that is how we know what they were all doing.
Alastair: And how did your trip compare to theirs?
Kerry: It was very similar, I mirrored it in fact! No, not really. Obviously I went to many of the same places and enjoyed lots of the views that they would have seen.
Alastair: It’s cool that the views don’t change, isn’t it? That’s nice to think that other people have seen exactly the same thing over hundreds of years.
Kerry: Yeah, and lots of the views themselves are iconic, it’s not just the architecture. Some of the places I went in Tuscany, the whole view isn’t allowed to be changed because it is an iconic and historically valuable view. The view from my couchsurfing place in Pienza, for instance, was UNESCO protected.
Alastair: I love the concept that a view can be protected. What were a couple of highlights of this adventure for you, and I don’t mean the places you went, but just your experiences of being on a journey.
Kerry: I really enjoyed just having lots of time to think about whatever you wanted and not feeling stressed to have to do anything particularly or have to get anywhere particular. It is really nice just to have time out to relax, and cycling is quite rhythmical, so I found it made me quite musical. I would compose a lot of poems along the way because it just kind of came naturally. I would say the first lines over and over again until I had committed them to memory, then I’d add a few more lines and then by the end I would have an eight verse poem or eight verse song or lyric in my head, so I really enjoyed that time.
We used to have lots of time for that kind of thing, but people don’t find time for that kind of thing in their lives anymore. It’s nice to have nothing to do. Though some people might consider this an idle waste of time, it is actually fruitful and productive. Things you haven’t had time to properly think about for years suddenly have space.
Alastair: We all feel so busy in life, but if you just cut away everything from your diary, you suddenly have huge amounts of time. I love this feeling when I set off on an expedition.
Kerry: Yeah, yeah exactly. You get sacked, you have all the time in the world. It’s great!
Alastair: Did you get sacked; was that the start of this trip?
Kerry: I didn’t get sacked as such, no. I had a contract with Sustrans, but my contract came to an end which was very sad because I loved it there. I thought before looking for a new job or a new opportunity, I would just enjoy the summer off. I started the grand tour on a grand in mid-August and it went on until October.
Alastair: Before you went you were obviously part of the cycling culture [by working for Sustrans], but I am wondering in terms of the travel and adventure side whether you came up against people who were negative in terms of warning you about dangers and risks and all the bad stuff and then how that compared to the reality of your trip?
Kerry: I think everybody always worries about what you’re going to do, especially as a woman on her own. My mum is the biggest worrier known to woman kind…
Alastair: Except for my mum…
Kerry: Except for your mum, potentially. I didn’t tell my mum where I was going. I constructed an elaborate fallacy, I removed all my friends and neighbours who live near her or might see her from Facebook. She didn’t know anything until I got back, because she wouldn’t have slept a wink. And then the day I got back I was on local radio that day so I had to see her really quickly to tell her before she heard it on the radio. When I admitted I hadn’t been where I said I’d been for the summer, she burst into tears immediately waiting for some bad news. I was very brown, I was very slim and her first thought was that I had been ill or had been somewhere for treatment or something (that’s how her mind works!).
So, yeah, people do worry and they fret a lot and they worry about camping on your own and that type of thing, but as anyone knows who has done it even for a weekend or a microadventure for a night, the reality of it is that everyone is really helpful, really friendly, intrigued and interested about what you’re doing. The world is nice. They generally think you’re mad, but they can’t be helpful enough. They give you cold water, they give you snacks, they invite you in and they want to introduce you to people.
The experience of couchsurfing on the way was amazing. Every host was better than the last, they would throw you parties, they would take days off work to show you around town, it’s just phenomenal. It really restored my faith in human nature. I don’t think I met one negative influence the whole time.
Alastair: I think that’s lovely and it is a very typical response of everyone I have interviewed for this project. But – and I’m sure you hate this question – what about being a woman? Surely you’re too weak and lovely to be out in the wild…?
Kerry: I’m definitely too lovely to be out in the wild. (laughing) Yeah it’s funny, I’m genuinely quite a wuss. Scared of flying, put my brakes on going down hills etc. I am quite a wuss but because I did this one thing one time, people think I am some kind of intrepid explorer, and I am truly not. I cycled really slowly, I wasn’t hammering up the hills, I barely left my saddle, I didn’t break into a sweat. I took it really, really steadily. I thought I would be scared camping on my own, that was my main fear. But it turns out that I wasn’t at all, and I was actually pleased to get off the saddle. It was always somewhere gorgeous, it was always sunny, there was always a view of the sunset, food was always basic because I was on a budget, but having some peace and quiet at the end of a night in a tent was absolute bliss and I didn’t worry about kidnap or anything.
Alastair: How did you find the whole process of living cheap, having to be on a really frugal budget?
Kerry: It was pretty challenging, especially because when you’re cycling as you burn up more calories than being at a desk. I could easily have eaten three times as much every day as my budget would allow, because my budget was about €20 a day. Now, this sounds like a lot, but 75% of my budget went on accommodation because I didn’t wild camp. I didn’t fancy that. So I always either couchsurfed, stayed in campsites or at hotels occasionally. I often had only four or five Euro for food, which isn’t much when in Switzerland a pot of hummus costs about five quid! So I lost weight, not because I wanted to – I was hungry a lot of the time – but for me that was part of the challenge. I kind of knew or at least I imagined that I would be okay with the cycling part, but making the money last was a real issue. But as your Adventure1000 is trying to show, you can have long adventures, you can go away for months and months, and experience loads of stuff! You can do these things on very little cash, and I really wanted to stick to it to prove that it could be done.
Alastair: Another aspect of things that people worry about planning bike trips is the equipment inside of life. You worked for Sustrans so I am sure you had a bike and all that stuff. But how much effort and worry did you put into getting the right equipment?
Kerry: I became obsessed with lightweight technology, and as anybody who has looked into that will know, the lighter you want something to be the more you have to pay for it. I ended up getting a very expensive tent, which was almost as much as my bike. I didn’t need to do that and if I were you, I probably would have slept under a tree and had just as good of a time. But I just really love kit! So I wanted my fancy tent, and I wanted my light weight sleeping bag, and I wanted my miniscule airbed, just for the novelty of having everything so small that it fits into one of your panniers. I would pass other cyclists and they’d say, “Where are you staying?” And I would say I am camping. And they would say “but where is your stuff?” And I would smile and say, “Oh, it is all in here…” Kit smug! I spent a lot of money on my kit but it was brilliant, I’ve still got it all and I’ll use it lots more in a future life. Already have.
Alastair: Give us a name check to some of your favourite bits of kit then, since you are kit obsessed.
Kerry: Ortlieb panniers obviously, goes without saying. And then the tent I think it was called a Vaude Power Lizard Ultra Light. Pearl Izumi women’s bike clothes and shoes. They’ve got a great range in real life sizes.
Alastair: Hopefully next time they will now give you some free stuff.
Alastair: Looking back on how that trip, what has happened since then, what sort of impact did that big adventure have on your life?
Kerry: It’s been weird that everyone now thinks that I do that kind of thing all the time, and I did it once and I haven’t done anything like it since. I find that quite odd, but I’d love to do other things soon, I’ve got a great job now that I enjoy, I’m marketing director with an adventure and expedition company called Secret Compass, so I don’t know that I’ll be doing anything like this for the foreseeable future.
Alastair: I like that, that going off to do an adventure doesn’t have to mean quitting your life for ever and ever and ever and it can be just something you do for a chunk in your life.
Kerry: Absolutely. I think if you try to make a career out of adventure then you have to talk about your adventures a lot, which I can imagine must be quite draining. Because I imagine, say I tried to make a career out of it, if three years later I still had to talk about it, my grand tour, I think I would find it hard to have the same enthusiasm. It is nice to do something and then do something else.
Alastair: I was in five Sustrans primary schools last Friday still talking about cycling around the world!
Kerry: Yeah, it must be hard. But then again I suppose trying to sell washing machines year after year is also quite hard. No matter what you are doing, what the product or thing is, if you are doing the same thing repeatedly, it is going to get boring, no matter how interesting it was originally.
Alastair: Yeah, exactly. And I think that this is really important for people who are planning to try turning adventure into a career: to realise that you spend a lot of time behind the desk emailing, or you spend a lot of time trying to show off about yourself, neither of which are the nicest ways to spend your time. OK, If I gave you £1000 to go do another trip, what would you do?
Kerry: I think it would be in a canoe. I’m a big fan of slow adventures. I like cycling, I don’t like speed racing. I like walking; I don’t like bungee jumping. So I think it would be some really beautiful self-supported canoe journey, maybe with a couple of others, where you’re just following the water and the seasons. Camping at the side of the river for several weeks or months. Or perhaps I’d paddle around the coast of a beautiful island somewhere, or even Ireland. So yes, something canoe-y.
Alastair: My final question is how can people find out more about you and your adventure online?
Kerry: I wrote a blog at the time called the thegrandtouronagrand.com which has now gone a bit off message, but if you go back to the early days of the blog, then the first couple of months is very much about the adventure and the planning and the prep and the worries and the fears and the joys. I’m on Twitter too.
I also think Explorers’ Connect is a great resource for anybody that wants to meet people with a similar frame of mind to them.
Alastair: Thank you very much.
My new book, Grand Adventures, is out now.
It’s designed to help you dream big, plan quick, then go explore.
The book contains interviews and expertise from around 100 adventurers, plus masses of great photos to get you excited.
I would be extremely grateful if you bought a copy here today!
Thank you so much!