Strong first impressions

1 week down our adventure and oh my, what an adventure this is. Although we thought we left well prepared, we were not up to what we have experienced so far. So many impressions in so few days, so different from the life we know. Our head is exploding…

About the cycling:

We planned on mounting our bicycles at the airport and drive into town. We had a hotel booked and a gps to bring us there, so that should work out fine right? And I must say we did a good job, blending in with the crazy traffic, the honking, the driving on the left, the cows on the street, the dust, the smog and the assertiveness of all local drivers. We reached the hotel without any damage. We simply survived our first km’s in Nepal, ouf.

2 days later, we left Kathmandu towards the midlands. Leaving the city during peak hour was mindblowing. People and cars and motorbikes and rikshaws simply everywhere. Dust, smog, traffic jams, driving via temples and through slums. It took over 1 hour to cross the 7km to leave the city and we were exhausted.

The road conditions in general are mediocre here in Nepal. Sometimes you have kilometers full of asphalt, then all of the sudden you would need a 4-wheel drive. It’s good to be wearing a sports bra I can tell you!

But the thing that is most new to us is the endless honking. In Belgium, drivers honk mainly because they’re highly annoyed. Here all cars honk all the time, just to say they’re coming by, or to say hello. On busy streets it can get really loud!

– An ordinary crossing in Kathmandu –

Where we are sleeping:

Besides the one night in a hotel we booked in Kathmandu, nothing was planned. Already on the plane we decided to make it 2 nights, to recover from the flight and have time to adjust. That proved to be a really good idea.

The next accomodations were very different. We slept one night in a Buddhist Monestary since it was the first hotel we found after a heavy first day of cycling. It was over budget but we had no energy left to look further. The guided tour in the monestary, seeing kid monks learning how to meditate, made it a very special experience.

The third night we unexpectedly ended up in our tent. There were just no hotels or guestrooms in the village we ended up, and the next village was too far away. After some negotations with the local restaurant holder we managed to get a flat spot of land near the main road. Sweaty and smelly, we ended up in our sleeping bags around 7pm since the sun was down and nothing left to do. In the night it started raining, so all is proved to be waterproof now.

The next days we take the hotels we can find. There’s not a lot of choice since we’re in non touristic areas, but we indulge the airco/fan, and mainly the shower to rinse of the sweat and dust and strong impressions from the road.

We look forward to be back in the tent, as soon as the setting is more appropriate!

What we are eating:

Curry, dal, potatoes, rice, noodles, momos. In the morning, at lunch and in the evening. Yes, also curry in the morning. It tastes pretty good actually!

We prefer the local restaurants: because they are super cheap, and because they are super tasty (if you like your share of spice). At least half of the places we’ve been to hasn’t had a european guest ever. Don’t look too much to the interior, and don’t expect professional kitchen equipment. The good taste doesn’t depend on that. The smell is something different however; we haven’t dared to go to the toilet in one of these restaurants yet, and plan to postpone that for as long as we can!

– chicken momos –

– breakfast with curry and chai –

What we are seeing:

We didn’t want to only do the classic sightseeing. We wanted to take a deep dive into local life. And we did. Before we realised well, we left the city centre and cycled through rural Nepal. Where kids go to school to about 13 years old. Then start working to earn a little roupi for the family. Where houses are shabby and tiny. Where water comes from a big barrel in front of the house instead of a tap. Where man and woman spit on the ground. Where streets neither houses are paved. Where laundry hangs in front of the house so all neighbours can see. Where man and women are sitting in front of their small shop or restaurant, waiting the full day for the few customers that come. Where litter is litteraly everywhere. Where little to no English is spoken.

But also where almost everybody smiles when you pass, where kids wave or say namaste. Where you can have really nice chats with those who do speak English. Where all the kids smile. Where it’s safe to park your bicycle outside the restaurant without any worry. Where all the kids smile. Where woman just dance in front of their store. Where all the kids smile. Where the carwash is simply driving next to the river and start splashing. Where all the kids smile. Where hindu ladies look magnificent in the colourfull sari’s and nothing is grey/black. Where all the kids smile. Where you cycle through green valleys and can freshen up by its waterfall. Where all the kids smile.

1 week down our adventure and we’re definitely out of our comfort zone. So far that we wonder if we decided well to start so far away from home. There is a thing or two to say about starting such a trip from your own doorstep, learning and growing in all these areas step by step.

But then again, if we wanted life to be easy, we should have stayed in front of the television. And the good news is, as from yesterday, we start to feel a little bit more at ease.

Saying goodbye

While being on the plane to Nepal, we had some time to reflect over our last days at home and saying goodbye to our loved ones…

Why we hate saying goodbye:

What I least looked forward to was the goodbye thing, but of course it’s unavoidable so better make it as nice as possible! We arranged several moments to have a last chat, drink or meal with the most important people in our lives, hoping to have one more good memory before we had to miss it/them. It included quite some tears for me (to be expected), but what I hadn’t given any tought, was that it was also quite emotional for the others. What looked like a decision that (mainly) has a huge impact on our own lives, we undeliberately also impact other people’s lives. And it wasn’t a nice tought since they didn’t choose for it at all. So sorry but not sorry but sorry!

Why we like saying goodbye:

Still there is also a nice side on saying goodbye. It’s when you realize you won’t see each other for a while, that we can show more easily how we feel about the other. The hugs are stronger, the words are with more meaning, and the looks are more intense. Maybe it’s a pity that it takes a tour out in the world to speak out how you feel about the other. But we look at it as the best goodbye gift!

(Some goodbye moments)

How we prepared for this gap year


One more week and we – finally – get started. And it’s about time! We’ve decided to take this gap year early last summer, so it’s been over a year of preparation. And that’s definitely long enough!

We started off by dreaming away of all the things we could do. And also – being a practical human being – by making a retroplanning of what should best be done by when. Here’s the different topics we arranged before being ready to go, in the order we tackled them:

1. The financial part: let’s first figure out if we can afford this!

We created a budget file, split into 3 big phases: before, during and after.

What we need for preparing the year:
It’s not that we were already well equipped, so we needed to buy quite some gear (mainly bikes and camping gear, but also new digital stuff) and we wanted it to be qualitative things so it comes with a price tag. We also took a decent travel insurance on top of what we already have. In total we have estimated ànd spent over 9.000€ on this.

What we need during the year:
Do we take a lot of planes and have big transportation costs? What does it cost to sleep somewhere? Maybe we can sleep in a tent from time to time to save on accommodation? And what does it cost to eat and drink and eventually buy/do something extra.

On the www you can find travelers going from 3€/day to 100€/day depending on your comfort level and destinations (e.g. Europe or big cities being more expensive than Asian countryside). We finally decided to go for :

  • A daily eat & sleep budget of 55€ for the 2 of us *;
  • A separate budget for the intercontinental flights;
  • A spare envelope for local transport, visa, expeditions etc of 3000€ *;
  • A buffer budget for unforeseen circumstances, mainly meaning we can afford to take the first flight back home, whatever the price.

We’ve also listed the fixed costs at home: insurances, taxes, … that whether you’re around or not will keep coming.

What we want to have left after we come back:
Since we’re at a certain age, we don’t want to get started all over again when we’re back, so we don’t want to spend our last dime here.

* We’ll let you know in 1 year time if all above was realistic 😉

2. The work area: how do we arrange this time off with our workplace.

We both work for a boss (not independent consultants or having our own company) so we started up the discussion with our company pretty early on. I have the luck to be allowed unpaid leave for the whole year while Dave stops his current job and will look for another one once we’re back.

For both of us, it was good to have this cleared out well before we started the rest of the preparation. It just gave us peace of mind being open about the fact that we’d leave the workplace (temporarily) and it gives the company the time to look for good replacement.

It also allows you to share with your colleagues what’s keeping you busy day and night!

3. The itinerary: finally the fun part!

Of course you start dreaming of all the places you could go and things you could be doing, but we only decided on our full itinerary about 5 months ago.

You often see or read stories of people travelling that have had this specific idea or plan since years e.g. cycling the Silk Route or cycling from home to family/friends in a faraway destination. We did not, so the whole world was an option. That was probably the reason why it took us months (!) of going back and forth and back, before we could pin it down!

Finally we decided for this route. And although Dave dreams of starting to cycle from our doorstep and/or finishing at home, I think we have plenty more years and short holidays left to explore Europe after next year…

4. The home: what to do while we’re sleeping in a tent.

Part of the financial picture of this year is to rent out our apartment since we still have a mortgage. It’s also better if a house is lived in, heated, cleaned, … Besides that it’s very very convenient if you can rent it out fully furbished so you don’t need to move all your stuff out. On top of that I wanted a solution that would give me peace of mind while we’re away, nothing to arrange or worry about while out on the bicycle. As we won’t (want to) be online the whole time, it needed to be a self-sufficient solution.

We explored 4 options: rent it out to someone for the full period, rent it out temporarily and full service via an expat agency, turn it into an air-bnb or leave it empty. In the end we found a nice man who will live in our home while we’re off. But since this man only came last minute, it was good to know that we could afford to leave even if the apartment would have stayed empty.

5. The gear needed: researching and getting all the stuff needed.

Final step is to get all your material, which is also depending on where you go (cfr. weather). You can get really good advice from specialised cycle (De Geus Berchem!) and camping stores (De Kampeerder!), experienced travelers online (pedalpromise, bicyclejunkies, vakantiefietser, …) or experienced travelers offline (book and inspirational talk from Nicole & Ingrid, adventurous travel/cycle fairs, …)

I’m really happy we had a lot of the new gear in time so we could test and fine-tune before taking off. In June we made a 5 day test-trip in Belgium with our new bikes and camping gear, and it was really useful (and fun!).

A more detailed post will follow on what gear we’ve chosen, why, and our evaluation after we tested it a little longer!

14 months of preparing. It feels more than enough, and I’m sure you can do it in a much shorter timeframe. It’s time to go now. The only thing between now and departure is saying goodbye, something I’m not looking forward to…