On July 5th, 2013 Patrick Harris left his home in Denver, Colorado heading east on a motorcycle; 636 days later he rode in from the west. He had just finished riding his motorcycle around the entire world stopping in over 25 countries.
From the canals of Amsterdam, to the grassy hills of rural Indonesia, and the aborigine tribes in Australia – almost no stone went unturned. An adventure like this doesn’t end without lessons learned, countless challenges, and the story of a lifetime. I sat down with Patrick to learn as much as I could about his journey around the world.
As soon as you fall into a mundane and repetitive lifestyle, that is when life will pass you by before you know it. – Patrick Harris
Life Nomading: How long did it take you to plan the trip?
Patrick Harris: The allotted time spent planning was a month. However, you need to start planning months ahead for visas and other paperwork. I had a few destinations I knew I wanted to get to, and it took a minimal amount of research to see how feasible various routes were.
I planned the specifics on the road, based on my own research, or the advice of locals or other travelers.
There was some light research on visa and carnet. A carnet is basically a passport for the bike, to make sure that it enters and exits the country with you. I only left with a very rough route, and not too many specific destinations or plans. I planned the specifics on the road, based on my own research, or the advice of locals or other travelers.
LN: What was your inspiration for the trip?
PH: My main inspiration was the book Jupiter’s Travels by Ted Simon. It tells the story of his four-year journey through 126,000 km across 45 countries. I can’t recommend Jupiter’s Travels enough, or his other books Dreaming of Jupiter, and Riding High.
Question: What were some of your considerations before the trip? How did you mentally prepare?
PH: The stuff I spent time on were the things that were in my control. I researched route possibilities, visas, border crossings. I studied up and practiced on the motorcycle maintenance aspect. As far as mental preparation, I basically just looked at the risks – breakdowns, sickness, injury, theft, etc. and decided that they were worth taking.
LN: What type of Motorcycle did you use and why?
PH: I rode a 2013 BMW F800GS. Depending on who you ask, you’ll either be told that a BMW GS is the perfect bike for the job, or you’ll be told you should’ve picked a KTM/Kawasaki/etc. In my opinion, the bike performed great…I still have it, and I still love it. But at the same time, you won’t find me talking down about other bikes.
Ride what you find practical and comfortable. Ride what you like. Ride what you already have. Ride what’s affordable. Just go ride something.
LN: Regarding your emotions: highest point? Lowest point? Did you come close to quitting?
PH: I can’t really think of specific highs and lows (there weren’t any huge peaks or valleys, mostly, the whole trip was one big plateau).
The localized highs happened when I met and got to spend a few days with really great people (locals, or other travelers), and the lows happened when I had to part ways with those people.
It’s kind of sad to think of the great short-term relationships I had with people, most of whom I’ll never see again. I’m thrilled that at least I got to experience a few days with them.
LN: What was the most surprising aspect of a foreign culture you observed/experienced?
PH: India. Having lived my whole life in the US, India was the farthest from what I has previously experienced. Varanasi specifically was the most shocking to me. It’s an incredibly sacred city, and it was the most I had ever been exposed to a religion in that way.
In Varanasi, religion is in the background of everything going on, to such an extent that saying it’s in the background is a bit of an understatement.
The specific thing there that really struck me was the cremation of bodies on the banks of the Ganges river (where downstream, people are bathing, washing clothes, etc)
LN: Where was your favorite place to drive?
PH: For me it was northern Thailand. The roads were winding and picturesque. While there was chaotic driving there at times, it was the right level of lawlessness in my opinion.
I still find myself day dreaming about driving through the roads in Thailand to this day!
LN: Was there ever a time you felt in danger?
PH: I was most nervous was when a kid on a bike ran into me in Indonesia. He flew off his bike. I didn’t have any serious injuries. I stuck around to make sure he was OK, and some people crowded around me.
If it had got dicey, I would’ve left the scene, which is typically what foreigners are told to do when there’s an accident in a third world country, as things can sometimes get violent quickly and unexpectedly.
LN: How were the customs (immigration checkpoint; not culture) at Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore? Was it confusing to switch from driving on the left to the right?
PH: Customs were always pretty uneventful, except for getting my bike into India…that was a huge hassle The only time I ever paid a bribe was $2 to get out of Laos. Crossing between Thailand a Malaysia was easy as can be…got my passport and carnet (paperwork for the bike) stamped it and out and was on my way.
It was actually a lot faster than crossing from Canada into the US. As far as Singapore, I didn’t bring my bike in. It sounds like that’s a huge mess of paperwork and running around, so I opted to not bring the bike with, considering that I’d do all that paperwork just ride around the city for a few days.
I had a couple close calls throughout SE Asia, but they were really manageable after being in India. Close calls in India became a daily occurrence.
LN: What was your least favorite place to ride through? Any particular location make you think “I’m going to die”?
PH: The riding in India got fairly stressful by the end, and road conditions were rough at times. I loved most everything else about India, though. I had a couple close calls throughout SE Asia, but they were really manageable after being in India. Close calls in India became a daily occurrence.
LN: How did you finance a 2 year trip?
PH: Work a lot, spend a little. There’s no inheritance from a rich uncle or trust fund from daddy behind my trip. I just worked quite a bit (sometimes toeing the line of insanity) and didn’t put all the money towards instant gratification.
LN: What did your family think about your trip?
PH: They were nervous for sure, but I think they knew it was coming a little bit. In 2007, I quit my job to do a 3 month trip around the US and Canada. I think that was a bit of a shocker for them, neither my parents or my brother seem to have my combination of wanderlust and irresponsibility.
I was planning to ride on the other side of the world in places I knew nothing about, so they were more concerned about me actually making it home. My mom has reminded me in numerous occasions that I’m responsible for every gray hair she has.
LN: How difficult was it to ship your motorcycle from place to place, and was it expensive?
PH: In regards to difficulty, it varied quite a bit. The two factors that affected it were the countries being shipped to and from and how commonly that route was used to ship motorcycles. My first shipment was from Canada to Scotland. I found a company whose entire business is flying motorcycles between Canada and the UK, so they had the whole process very well set up.
I cleared my bike through customs in Scotland in about 30-45 minutes. In India it took 3 days and a couple taxi rides clear across the city to do various bits of paperwork.
On the opposite end of the spectrum was my shipment from Istanbul to Mumbai. First off, that route doesn’t seem to be commonly used, so finding a shipping agent that would even work with me took a lot of time in itself. Then factor in customs on both ends and it was quite an ordeal.
Just to show how much things can vary, I cleared my bike through customs in Scotland in about 30-45 minutes. In India it took 3 days and a couple taxi rides clear across the city to do various bits of paperwork.
As far as cost, the flight for the bike was typically about 2x what my own ticket’s cost. Going by boat is a bit cheaper but takes much longer. Another note on going by boat…not only does it take longer for obvious reasons, but it also seems to be fairly common for there to be delays and route changes, making the timing fairly unpredictable.
LN: We often preach that travel can change someone, and help them grow. What was the greatest lesson you learned?
PH: The classic answer to this is something along the lines of how great and caring everyone around the world is or freeing yourself from your material possessions. Yeah, I can’t disagree with that, but everyone’s heard that so many times that you don’t need to travel to learn that, you just need to read a couple travel blogs.
I learned, and will never forget that challenges and discomfort are what make life interesting and fulfilling. Pursue new interests, or take your current interests to the next level, and once you start feeling comfortable, repeat the process. As soon as you fall into a mundane and repetitive lifestyle, that is when life will pass you by before you know it. To put it simply, don’t live life casually.
LN: Did you go back to your old career afterwards or did things change?
PH: I was going to, but plans changed about 6 months into the trip. After quitting my job, my boss offered to let me take a one year leave of absence, which I really appreciated.
I started to realized that I still had no interest in going back to my own job. I felt that as a trip of this magnitude could very well be a once in a lifetime thing, maybe I should extend it a bit, as that would be much more feasible than planning another trip like it a couple years later. So, the 10 month trip turned into 20 months.
I’d taken up welding as a hobby and always really enjoyed it, and I had gotten bored of sitting at a desk in my old job. Upon getting home, I went to welding school and am now working in that field.
LN: What’s your next big project? How can our readers support you?
PH: Right now I’m trying to spend my time learning more about welding and metal working. Maybe that’ll turn into a side business in the future. Next big project will probably be building a motorcycle, and a few years down the line, I’d like to build a cabin in the mountains.
Challenge yourself. Conquer the challenge no matter the difficulty. From riding a motorcycle around the block to riding one around the world. Keep setting goals and knock them out. Never be comfortable. See the world and take it all in. There is one life to live, and there are opportunities everywhere. Pat saved up and looked towards the future, then when after his challenge. He went around the globe, and learned that being behind the desk isn’t for him. The difficulties are what make this life interesting. Good luck…..