Interview with Kat: After Travelling for 16 Months

Kat is a crazy creature. Why? Well, she opted to travel the world with me at her own will! If that’s not crazy enough, we spend almost 24 hours a day within a metre of each other (exception: toilet breaks, but sometimes even that isn’t an exception…) riding our bike around the world.

And if that STILL isn’t crazy enough she is always prepared to try new things in unfamiliar places, and likes having her perception challenged and changed.

We have covered a lot of distance now (the figure is unknown as we don’t count kilometres) and are thinking that maybe you’d be interested in what we have learnt, how we have changed, what we like, what sucks and what you can learn from us…

So, Kat of Alleykat fame…

1. What are your most vivid memories from the road between the Netherlands and Korea?

The memories closest within my reach of recollection would have to be about the people we have met.

Our time staying at people’s houses, the solid building of friendships on firm foundations of hospitality and chance and the fun. I can easily list the names of the hundred-plus people we’ve stayed with in the past almost sixteen months – I’m terrible with names so that’s quite an achievement; they must have had a serious effect on me.

2. What is the thing you miss most from home in Australia?

I miss my people (and cat!). Being physically ‘there’ with and for someone is very different from interaction in the ether, maybe I could carry them around in our panniers?

3. What are the things you’ve learned about people on this trip?

– I’ve learned that humans are capable of kindness in the face of every adversity.

– I’ve learned that people don’t need much to be happy.

– I’ve learned that friendships can be formed with the most unlikely of candidates, in the most despondent of situations, in the most dreary of places.

– I’ve learned that humans fumble to make sense of everything in their world (that sense to which we often present a fair challenge!) and that sometimes the conclusions they come to aren’t necessarily “traditionally correct” but they are the best they can do with what they have.

– The best thing I’ve learned about people is that they are the same worldwide. Despite small differences (in culture, food, habits, personalities) fundamentally they (WE!) are the same: we want for the same things, we ask the same questions, we all have strengths and flaws, we hurt in the same way, we love our family and friends and we are surprised by people’s humanity everyday.

4. What are the top three countries you’ve travelled and why?

In no particular order:

Turkey – the country was a friendly place to be people-wise, weather-wise (even in Winter!) food-wise, hospitality-wise and chai-wise… everything is better with chai. Some of the people I feel closest to in the whole world are Turkish.

Korea – I like the crazy/normalcy balance (as a wise couple once said, thanks Jared and Katie) I like the fact that there’s real life going on in the mountains and the fields and the trains, I like the access to technology and the sheer development power Korea has; they’re leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the world! The locals and the ex-pats we were lucky enough to stay with all changed my life somehow. There was a darker side to Korea too, which made it interesting and though-provoking and made me want to learn more and help. It’s one of the countries in which I feel I definitely could live in the future.

Iran – there’s no place on earth like Iran and there are no people on earth like Iranians, you really have to go there to find out but my gosh, it’s incredible. For the un-breakable spirits these people have, and the love we experienced (not to mention the beauty and history of the country) would bring me back, and the longer I’m away, the more I want to return!

5. Does riding a tandem really put strain on your relationship?

No. There are only really a few things that rock our usually smooth-sailing relationship and they’re almost always too stupid for words… but unfortunately we put words to them!

They are as follows:

Misunderstanding or mishearing – so ridiculous and utterly pointless in bickering about, but bicker we sometimes do.

Differences in levels of energy/tiredness – everyone gets tired and/or emotional but not necessarily at the same time or the “right” time.

Clashes of personality due to similarities – the exceptionally high levels of stubbornness and competitiveness we share for example!

Clashes of personality due to differences – I’m emotional and you, Alex are rational.

No, I think TanNayNay the Tandem plays a big role in relationship development! Riding the tandem most of the time makes me feel part of the team, like I’m important in the riding and the relationship.

Check out our article Battling Personalities for more on relationship hurdles.

6. What do you believe is possible, that you wouldn’t have believed possible before you started this trip?

I believe that people in Australia and the Westernised world could easily be less fearful, suspicious and selfish – it’s evidenced in so many countries we’ve visited.

I believe that it is possible to love and understand someone despite major differences (for example having different or absent religions). I won’t pretend it isn’t easier to find common ground or ease in conversation with people who are more similar to me, BUT, there’s every possibility that (a) it just won’t come up and (b) if it does it makes no difference to my relationship with that person.

I believe it is possible to make a difference, even if you’re only one person: a man we met in Korea, an Iranian named Mohammed Tajeran was changing the world – through bike riding, through media and through his love and passion for the world and its inhabitants. There are people making a difference everywhere, you just need to believe and you need to try!

7. What is one thing you wish you knew when you set off from Amsterdam?

I wish I’d known that I was going to fail, to fall and to disappoint myself, but that it was all going to be ok in the long run. I wish I’d known that it didn’t matter much to you, Alex, what we did so long as we were together. I think I put too much pressure on myself.

I guess I’d have liked to know that I was going to be ok!

8. How have your impressions of Australia changed over the last 18 months?

We really are the lucky country but we’re lacking in some areas. I’m sad that in Australia it’s the norm to put our old people in homes and forget about them, I regret that communities (and too often, families) aren’t close and don’t really know a lot about each other, I’m disturbed that education and language education in particular is so undervalued.

I’m pretty shattered that the people, my countryfolk voted for Tony Abbott, effectively voting for sexual and racial inequality and backwards thinking and action in terms of environment and climate change policy; and also education and medical policy. I’m surprised that people in Australia seem to care more and more about ‘the individual’, ‘the financial’ and the less important things in life.

9. What three items can’t you cycle without?

iPad/journal & a pen – being able to read books and write emails as well as my thoughts and ideas is invaluable. I would go mad without!

Moisturiser with sunscreen – seriously I wear it everyday and I’m sure I would have way more skin damage (plus I’d probably look more weathered!) without it. Yay to preventing skin cancer!

Kicks – my hi-top shoes make me feel like me no matter what else I’m doing, they’re comfy and they make movement easier.

10. How do you know when you’ve spent enough time somewhere?

In a country… I know we’ve spent enough time there when we’ve started planning lots of details, contacts and route options in the next country of destination. That, or we feel uncomfortable in the country’s atmosphere no matter where we stop.

In a city… it’s time to move on when we start using the Internet more than talking to each other or our friends. Being in the city unusually means having access to Internet and quick conveniences and when it’s all becoming too easy and we kind of disconnect from life, it’s time.

In someone’s home… you just get a sense when it’s time to move on! When the people you staying with beg to see us that evening then of course we’ll stay, but sometimes people are busy (given most people we stay with aren’t in the unbelievably lucky position to be free to do what they want when they want like us) and it’s not cool to inflict ourselves on them too long. Sometimes though, it’s hard – no one wants to let go!!

11. Is there anything you wish you’d have brought with us?

From home I wish I could have brought a food processor and an oven and a heavy-based pot… basically, if we could travel with a fully functional fancy-schmancy kitchen that would be great and I’m sure we’d cook for ourselves and for others even more often but alas, it’s all a bit difficult to power and to carry!

I wish also that we’d have brought a selection of Aussie paraphernalia (stickers, bookmarks, key rings and small coins) to hand out as gifts along the way.

In terms of bringing things with us from the road, well, I would like to be hauling around some of the people we’ve met and more specifically, I wish we could have brought a magic container to keep all the amazing animals we’ve adopted along the way…

12. What has been the biggest headache for you over the past year?

Feeling like a failure because of the knee accident and generally being not as “good” as I’d have liked to be while we’re riding. I am frustrated that my body, despite being strong and surprisingly supportive, is also a source of pain and weakness most days, it’s pretty unfair not to be able to ride pain-free!

13. Do you think you’re a more capable person after spending over a year on the road?

Yes and No.

I think I am more capable of lots of things; my body’s power and strength, having conversation and interaction when I’m not in the mood, using mind over matter – riding when the weather isn’t in our favour and realising that everything that goes wrong isn’t somehow my fault.

However, it’s never that simple; I’m not more capable at coping with being away from my family and friends for example.

14. Do you have your own philosophy that you travel with?

I think there are some ideologies that I travel with that make our life and our journey richer.

Meet and stay with locals – including those of the ex-pat variety. Staying with people has been an absolute revolution for me and for my ideas and thoughts on life and the world (as well as making travel way better!). You can read more about getting hosted in our article Free Accomodation.

Give and you will receive – this one can be about physical, mental, social, emotional, environmental and unacknowledged gifts. They don’t have to be tangible to be worthy, you just have to know how give.

Don’t say no – or at least, don’t stay no without reason. I try to give everything a go, to try to try if that is a thing.

I suppose my personal philosophy is something like: stay positive about yourself and you’ll be more positive about the world. There’s something about the way you approach things that can change not only the way you feel about them but the way that others feel and what occurs. The world can be changed with a positive, try, try-again attitude.

15. Any final words of advice for couples thinking of travelling in a similar way to us? And what about for friends or those riding alone?

Firstly; believe in yourself. I know that sounds corny but I’ve learned the hard way that not backing yourself leads to failures and upset, it can lead to future lack of self belief and negativity.

Be prepared for your teeth to suffer – there isn’t fluoride in water in many other countries outside Australia. This means your teeth aren’t naturally strengthened and protected every time you swill water so it is imperative you take care of your pearly whites! Floss and brush daily, otherwise they will be murky greys…

Be prepared to do it tough – but not always! There is so much fun to be had on a bike tour, but you do have to be ready for things to descend into madness and to weather a serious shit-storm at the most unlikely of moments.

Bring a mug for tea and a wineglass for the obvious. There is always time for a coffee, a tea (chai) or a wine with a friend. And often, problems are solved best after taking a step back and lubricating your mind with a little liquid-based time.

If you have a question for Kat – please ask in a comment below!


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