We are big fans and followers of Luke Gelmi (Overland Bound Member #3482) and his overlanding adventures throughout Africa on his Royal Enfield. We asked him what inspired him to take this trip, and how he planned for it, and his answer caught us by surprise.
He didn’t ‘plan’ it. At least, not the way we expect someone to ‘plan’ an overland adventure. In Luke’s own words, “The obliviousness of my trip has been my greatest strength.”
Here’s how he fundamentally shook up his life to explore an entirely new continent on the back of a motorcycle… without over thinking it.
Overland without the Rule Book
So, you want to overland in a foreign country/continent, but that seems like a scary proposition.
(If you’re a stickler for the rules, and do things “by the book” you might want to stop reading now. You’ll only get angry. )
First of all, think of all the things that need organizing:
Choosing the perfect vehicle
Planning the itinerary
Visas, Jesus! Visas alone are enough to kill it.
Checking the local “travel advice”. Cue meltdown.
Documents for the vehicle
Insurance that covers the whole journey
The dreaded carnet de passage
An international driver’s license
Making sure your vaccination papers are up to date
Shipping the beast
Quitting your job(!)
Buying malaria tablets
Last will and testament…
One glimpse at the internet is enough to make you wet your pants and go sit in the corner in the fetal position before you’ve even started. But fear not. Adventure is the achievable dream. You can go anywhere, and do anything. You just need to start.
A wise, made-up General once said “A poor battle plan, carried out with vigor and gusto, will often carry the day against a perfect battle plan that’s executed in a wobbly way… You must never wobble.”
So, how do I start?
Just book the ticket (if you need one) and quit the job, because you’ll have to. And don’t worry, they won’t be pissed off at you for leaving the job, they’ll be a curious mixture of proud and jealous, nothing surer. That’s about all the organizing that you’ll have to do; the rest will fall into place, as it has to, in its own time.
Booking the one-way flight was the “Jenga piece” I tugged that (naturally) brought the whole tower of my life crashing down. Inexorable. All in a pile on the floor. So I could start a new game.
The obliviousness of my trip has been my greatest strength. I’ve never known what’s coming next, so I’ve never had the chance to get scared about it.
Not long after I booked the flight, my girlfriend got broken up with, the job got quit, the rental got moved out of, and my arse was in some comfortable seat, 30,000ft in the sky. I still don’t know how it all happened, but it felt as easy and obvious as tetris pieces falling into place.
For me, I landed in London. I got a haircut. I bought an Enfield.
A Royal Enfield.
The most beautiful machine I’ve ever seen with my own two eyes and heard with mine two ears. It’s just flat-out gorgeous and sounds even better.
Practical? F*ck no! Bikes don’t come less practical.
Did I care? Nope. You couldn’t slap the grin off my face. I was happier than a pig in a pen.
This was what it was all about.
I didn’t have the right insurance – It was impossible to find someone who would cover me, so I just bent the truth a little so that I could get the insurance necessary to register the bike. Insurance is a cluster-f. A bitch of a thing.
But, if I had known that it was impossible to get, I would have never gotten on the plane in the first place.
I didn’t have an international license. I was just using my license from home. Probably wildly illegal. But I was riding through the glorious Cotswolds on the bike of my dreams, and I didn’t care. I could die it was that good. I had no plan. I had no phone and literally navigated my way around by a pocket compass that I would pull out of my jacket pocket when I had a choice of directions.
“Today, I shall ride mainly north, with a bit of west.”
And so, I rode north, with a bit of west.
It was wonderful.
And then it got cold, and wet, so I turned the compass 180 degrees, and went south.
Crossing the English Channel was terrifying. I was out of my depth big-time. The language barrier, the cultural barrier, it was all too much. I wanted to go straight back to England, where things made sense, and they drove on the right (correct) side of the road.
If not for the weather, I would have spun on my heels and got back on the boat…
I managed with a curious mix of charades and solitude, and steadily rode south to Barcelona in Spain, where I met The Enabler.
He’d been all over Africa, hitchhiking. A wild Australian.
Africa was an outrageous proposition. Wantonly dangerous. And this nut hitchhiked it… I wouldn’t hitchhike at home. I’d be murdered.
But, “winter is coming…”
I’d run out of Europe to escape to. And so, inspired by the “I’ve-had-typhoid-and-malaria” Australian, I invited him to come with me, on the Enfield, to Africa. West Africa. The wild Africa.
A total stranger.
Still no plan, still no papers.
I’d learnt about the Carnet de Passage over the internet, a travel document that overlanders have to have to cross borders for most of the countries in Africa.
Getting one was going to be a royal pain in the arse. And expensive.
There was a flame war on the internet over the carnet, with a debate raging over whether or not you need one to overland. I decided to blindly follow those who said it can be done without one. It was the path of least resistance, and that’s my favourite path to take.
So, with no clue, we ride two-up with all our sh*t on the Enfield. We ride seven hundred miles and stump up at a port in Gibraltar.
We find a massive ship that’s going to Morocco, pay them money and ride into the hull.
It was that easy.
And then. Africa.
No visas, no papers. Nothing but my rego and a passport. I’d never done a border crossing in my life, let alone with a vehicle…
French and Arabic, in Morocco. And there’s me, with NFI.
The wild Aussie, the seasoned pro, was happy to take a seat and do f*ck all, intent to let me learn my own lessons. Like a mother bird pushing the chick out of the nest, plummeting to the ground. “Good luck!”
It takes longer than it should have, but with lots of charades I seem to scrub together what I need from the border post: a stamp in my passport with the date on it and a piece of paper that is utterly unintelligible to me – and no one’s stopping me from leaving.
Congratulations, you’re Overlanding.
Check out Luke’s online book Oblivious – Book One: Boundaries available online at http://www.obliviousthebook.com/ and be sure to follow him on Instagram!