Chase Travels: 22 year old Dounya is biking from Belgium to Vietnam
In this high pressure society, we sometimes forget that you don’t HAVE to do a shitty job for 30 years or spend your time in a country where you don’t feel at home. Dounya (22) is very aware of that. She grew up travelling, has seen about 40 countries and decided to take life to the next level. She is currently biking from Belgium to Asia by herself and it doesn’t seem that she got tired of travelling so far. We contacted her for a chat during her trip.
Let's get right to it: why did you decide to bike to Asia?
Everyone keeps asking me that, but I can't really answer that question. I think I just wanted to challenge myself, and my personal reason is actually changing everyday. I’ve backpacked a lot during my 22 years of existence. It all started with my father taking us travelling every summer, so I grew up with it. Last year I went with him on an amazing trip to China. During this trip, I started thinking that this way of travelling was too easy. Anybody can do it, especially with all the technology available right now. I didn’t feel any challenge anymore and I started searching for a way to experience this aspect again. This whole thought process combined with a lack of funds brought me to travelling on a bike. I did some research on people that have bike travelled long distance before and asked myself: could I do this too?
Apparently, yes you can! How did your friends and family react to your plan?
Nobody told me: ‘Well, this is a good plan!’ When I started talking to my parents about bicycle trips, they thought I ment biking to Germany or France. When I told them I was aiming for something further, like Asia, they were less enthusiastic. My friends all asked me why and I think a lot of people didn’t believe I was really going to do it. All the negative response, all the people that told me that I had to work or do something with my life, fed my motivation. But once I left, all the negative became positive and translated into words of support.
So you’re travelling alone right? What's that been like so far?
I started alone and my plan was to finish this trip by myself. While I was planning this trip, I met my boyfriend. He accompanied me from Servia to Azerbeidjan but had to leave after. I barely meet bike travellers so I spend most of my travelling time alone. But I really don’t mind. This was my initial plan and I love the freedom of being by myself.
Some people would say it's dangerous for women to travel alone, especially on a bike through Asia. What your take on that?
In some parts of the world, being a woman is an advantage, in other parts it's quite the opposite. In most regions of Europe being a woman opens a lot of doors. When I rang people’s doors and asked them if I could camp out in their garden, they almost always invited me to sleep in their houses and have dinner with them, because they saw me as a daughter or sister.
Do you feel men have more freedom than women do, when it comes to travelling?
I intended to bike through Iran after Azerbaijan, and that would have definitely been one of the hightlights of my trip. I knew couples and men who crossed this country before, but no women. I started searching online for those who did but when I contacted them, they strongly discouraged me. You know, Iranian society has a whole different view on women that is very far away from what we're used to in the Western world.As a biker you’re really vulnerable because everyone can see you right away. So I decided not to take the risk. In september of 2016, Ayotollah Ali Khameini (the supreme leader of Iran) told the Iranian people that women shouldn’t bike in public. Since I would pass a lot of small villages that are unfamilliar with tourists, I canceled that part of the trip.
What about neighbouring countries like Pakistan and India? Did you consider biking there?
I tried to be honest to myself and when I thought of biking alone trough Pakistan and India, I felt that I wasn’t ready. This is my first biking trip so I’m not going to be too hard on myself and I still have a long future ahead of me. By the way: if I would bike to those countries alone, I’d probably dress up like a boy.
Not a bad idea actually. Do you have a travel playlist when you're on the go?
During the day I mostly listen to aggressive music: core, techno, heavy hiphop to metal. Everything that’s hard and uptempo.
How did you prepare for this bike travel?
I’m never prepared and this time was no exception. All I did was work to pay for my bike and camping gear. To those who also want to travel by bike: look up the visa regulation for every country beforehand. Something I didn’t really do. Other than that: don’t think too much and just leave.
So you didn’t do any physical training whatsoever?
Actually no, I only biked to school everyday and now I’m doing about 120 to 160 kilometres a day.
That’s impressive. Have you actually had any negative experiences?
I didn’t really like my time in Bulgary: people were staring at us (me and my boyfiend) or just ignoring us. Most of our time, we stayed in gypsy villages where we heard screaming and gunshots at night so that wasn’t really comforting. But that’s part of the deal, I guess.
Were there any moments when you were thinking: why did I ever start this trip?
Oh yeah. I have an enormous fear of dogs and to say the least: I've had my share during this trip. Dogs followed me around a lot, and I’m not talking about one or two dogs, no, I mean like packs of five to ten dogs. One time I was biking a sandtrail so I was moving slowly and they were surrounding me. I was crying and probably had to stop so they had nothing to chase anymore. But at that moment, stopping was the last thing I wanted to do. Really, those dogs can be monstrous and they run towards you like they want to destroy you.
Well, that doesn’t sound very pleasant. Has the trip been more challenging mentally or more on a physical level?
I’d say mentally. You can bike hundreds of kilometres but when you’re in a good mood, it pays off. I feel like it’s mentally more challenging because you have to deal with the culture shocks, how people treat you (as a woman), crazy dogs, weather, and so on.
Tell us something about the people you met on this trip. Who stood out?
It’s funny because sometimes it felt like people were waiting for me. In the Czech Republic I met a woman when it was full moon. She was very spiritual and told me that that night, people from all around the world were coming to her house to practice ohm chanting. She invited me to participate and I agreed. For about 1,5 hours I was surrounded by a meeting of ohm’s. To me this was a very random but intense experience. Afterwards she told me that there was a reason why I met her on that day and that time. Maybe I believe her.
What countries would you recommend to people who want to travel (on a bike)?
Definitely Georgia for its nature. Other than that: Turkey. This country lost a lot of tourists because people got scared for whatever reason, which is very sad. The third country I’d recommend is Azerbaijan because that country introduced me to the most hospitable people ever. The people really make the country.
And one last question: would you ever do this again?
One day I'll bike from Alaska to Patagonia.
You sound pretty unstoppable. Thanks for your time and safe travels!
To find out more about Dounya and her bike travels, take a look at her Instagram page here.