Today’s guest post is from former English teacher Jamie Bowlby-Whiting, whose success adventuring on an absurdly low budget has made even my best attempts feel decadent. He’s developed two core principles for his adventures: 1. impossible is nothing, and 2. everything will be fine (until it isn’t).
This story reminds me so very strongly of that first carefree summer I spent crossing Europe in 2007 (particularly the ever-popular Eastern European arrest), and so it’s not without a little pang of nostalgia that I publish this post. Take it away, Jamie…
A few months ago, I found myself working as an English teacher at a very expensive private school in Istanbul. And I couldn’t help but take a step back and look at my life. In the words of the kids: “it sucked”.
The children’s low levels of English were on a par with their low desires to learn. They ran the school, overruling the teachers and even refusing to sit the compulsory end of year tests. I felt like a glorified babysitter, except that none of the children understood what I was saying. And even if they did, they’d forgotten their pencil cases so couldn’t do any work.
“This isn’t what I want,” I thought. “This isn’t what life is about.”
So, rather than complaining about it, I chose to make a change to my life. I packed up my belongings and hitchhiked to Italy where I slept on beaches and outside service stations, with Leah, my traveling companion of the past year. We ate pizza, swam in the sea, drank cold beers, climbed mountains, and shared body heat throughout the night because we only had one sleeping bag, one blanket, and no tent between the two of us.
I did fortunately have a suit, so I tried hitchhiking in it. Nine days later, we arrived back in the UK and looked at our empty purses to tally up how much the Italian adventure had cost us:
That’s €2.36 per person, per day.
Then I read an article about a girl who bought a cheap bicycle and cycled around Europe and thought it sounded like fun. A few days later, my Slovakian friend Daniel came to visit and the three of us bought old bicycles from a man in the neighbouring village. They cost £30 each. On the back of these bicycles we attached cool boxes that served as semi-waterproof budget panniers. Then we drew a line across our map of Europe; a line that connected England with Slovakia and Daniel’s house. And we were off.
Within 2km we suffered our first puncture. Before the day was out, we’d had a complete tyre blowout and two crashes (seeing how long one can cycle with one’s eyes shut is only fun for so long). We stopped in a field for the night and watched a beautiful sunset, happy to be on the road, but nervous of what was to come.
In the days that followed, I ripped the end of my toe off and broke another. My bicycle fell apart several times, and each time I patiently learnt how to put it back together. I now know understand how to adjust almost any part of the bicycle. But before this journey I had never even dealt with a puncture.
We slept in abandoned buildings or outside (as well as in the homes of strangers when invited). In one month and 1,000 miles, not once did we have to pay for accommodation. We did however, get arrested in Amsterdam. For sleeping. Offered prison or a fine, we opted for prison, only to be given court dates at the end of the year (which we very sadly will not be able to attend).
We ate food that we salvaged from bins, picked wild fruits and vegetables, and cooked over a beer can stove. We rode horses, washed in rivers and fountains, swung over a lake on a giant rope swing, found 15 litres of beer in a bin in Germany, and made more memories in one month than the whole of my time as an English teacher in Istanbul.
And each night, as I went to sleep, I knew that I had lived through a day that mattered to me — a day that I would remember.
And when we got to Slovakia, we realised that this journey was just beginning. I’d always dreamed of living on the river like Huck Finn, so after recycling some old barrels and billboards we built a raft and coined ourselves ‘The Pirates of the Danube’.
We’d cruised 271km from Gajary in Slovakia to Budapest before we ran into some friendly police officers who arrested us once again and issued us with another fine.
(Apparently our raft was “not a boat,” which is a crime in Hungary — I feel that we were fined for our non-conformity more than anything else.)
But does it matter in the big game of life? Of course not! We will carry on in a different way. Whatever comes next, each day is a new adventure. I don’t have much money or experience, but these journeys are powered by self-belief. This is more powerful than anything in the world, because if you want something badly enough, impossible is nothing. If you want to cycle across Europe, you need only desire and a bicycle. No more, no less.
I choose life and I choose an adventurous one. I don’t know what comes next, but I’m excited already.
What would you do if you could do anything? And when will you start?
This is part of a series of guest posts in which I feature inspiring tales of adventure from readers of this blog. If you’ve got a story you’d like to tell, and you’d like to use it to help plant the seeds of adventure in more of us, get in touch.