When explorer Steph Jeavons set off on the adventure of a lifetime, she wasn’t riding blindly into the unknown. She had a plan… sort of.
We caught up with the globe-trotting Brit just as she embarked on the African leg of her multi-year expedition, and picked up some pointers, including: how to earn a few bob while you’re abroad, why you don’t need to take a wardrobe’s worth of clothes with you and (of course) what you can do to reduce the impact of bone-juddering bike vibrations on those unfriendly roads.
What bike should I take?
Mine was a Honda CRF250 – which I called ‘Rhonda’. It’s pretty small, but I wanted something I was comfortable with off-road… something I could pick up even if it was upside down in a ditch or on a mountain pass. In most of the places I’ve visited, I’ve taken things slow and scenic – back roads and dirt roads are usually better! I’ve had to nip through tight, crazy spots in India, and travel light in locations like Antarctica.
I’ve even squeezed Rhonda into hotel rooms and had people carry her up a few flights of stairs. That just wouldn’t have been possible with a bigger bike. Sure, there are times on the longer, straighter roads where I’ve wished for a bit more power. But for the most part, I’ve been very grateful for a smaller motorcycle.
Should I travel alone?
I’ve hooked up with groups of people for a few days here and there, made loads of cool friends, and the world now feels like a much smaller place than it did before. There have, of course, been a few times when I was quite happy to sit back and let others choose the route.
But for long-term trips like this – at least for me – it’s always got to be solo. Because ultimately, it’s your adventure. And without sounding too cheesy, it’s a journey of self-discovery. I’ve learnt a lot of good and bad things about myself along the way – and it’s made me realise that if I put my mind to it, I can do pretty much anything.
When should I go?
That’s down to you and your itinerary. The most important thing is: set a date! You might not have a clue how you’re going to pay for it, or exactly where your trip will take you. But that’s OK. Just get it pencilled in – even if its years away – then work backwards. Life has a habit of moving on, and without deadlines we soon find that months have slipped by and we still haven’t done anything.
What skills do I need?
If you don’t know everything before you hit the road, don’t let it stress you out too much. Sure, it might prove handy having some simple street smarts – or understanding the basics of bike mechanics. But it’s a journey and you’ll learn along the way. Surely that’s the point, right?
The first time your bike breaks down, you’ll discover a bit about how it works. Or the first time you get lost, you’ll benefit from the kindness of strangers. And the more challenges you face, the more strength you’ll find within yourself. It’s an amazing thing. That said, worrying beforehand is a part of the journey, too!
What should I pack?
Pack light. If you forget anything, you can probably pick it up along the way. I have very little clothing – probably less clothing than anything else. My biggest problem is electrical stuff. I’ve taken a laptop so that I can write, plus all the cables that go with it. And I regularly do presentations, which means even more cables. Cables suck, people.
I also have my camera and a new drone, together with spare parts for the bike – from duct tape and cable ties to a spare gear and clutch levers. Then, I’ve got my camping gear so I can stop pretty much anywhere – and save a lot of money in the process.
The important thing is to ensure your luggage fits snugly on your bike frame, is easy to access and the panniers (hard or soft) don’t extend beyond the width of the handle bars. That way, when you’re squeezing through close gaps, you’ll know that if your bars go through, everything else will, too!
What other gear do I need?
Take a tent that’s small and light, but big enough to house your luggage. I find a standalone tent that doesn’t rely on pegs is essential, as you’ll probably end up camping on many different surfaces over time. A cheap stove is also a good idea. Don't spend a fortune on gadgets. Learn to live with the basics and without fuss.
Riding gear should be suitable for all types of weather. Layers are good – so that you can add/remove as required. Ensure you have vents, too – big vents! And remember: you’ll use your boots for plenty of walking around. So, don't go crazy with motocross-type protection. Try an 'adventure'-style option instead. The souls should be rigid enough, though, that you feel comfortable when standing on the pegs.
Meanwhile, if you’re going on a very long journey, consider the vibrations from your bike. If there’s anything you can do to reduce them, like rally grips or weights on the end of your bars, do it. The devil’s in the detail.
How do I pay for it?
I made a personal choice to sell my house. And I have no job or business to go back to. Everything I own is on my bike. Having said that, I save wherever I can. Camping and couch surfing are two things I’d recommend for anyone on an adventure like mine – you’ll cut costs and meet some interesting people along the way.
But public speaking work and kind donations from blog readers have also meant that I’ve been able to travel for far longer than I expected.
If I had to do just one thing before I left…?
Make sure you have a good, supportive seat on your bike. A narrow seat should be replaced before you leave. It may seem fine at first, but take it from someone who has spent many years on the road and learnt the hard way: in the long run, wide seats will spare you back and hip problems, or other painful injuries.
Oh, and take moisturiser. Those things aside – I’d recommend not worrying so much. Once you get into the swing of things, it’s not all that difficult!
Will the experience make me a different person?
I don’t think you can do a trip like this without changing to some degree. I reckon I now have a lot more empathy and tolerance for others. And I’m more sociable and confident than I was when I left. I’ve always been fairly extroverted, but working with limited finances means you’re kind of forced to mix in with people. It wouldn’t have been half the journey if I’d have done it on a big budget and stayed in hotels, etc.
The truth is, I have no idea. I realise I’m lucky I took on this adventure knowing that I have family and friends who would never leave me stranded or living on the streets. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t rely on them. But in the back of my mind I know they’re there. So, coming home, I’m not worried – because I’ll always have a caravan or a spare room to sleep in.