How to travel across a continent on a push bike without using any money . . . with Laura Bingham
Welcome to the second series, and to the 26th episode of the Hardest Kit on the Planet Podcast brought to you by Heinnie Haynes. In this podcast we try to extract as much knowledge and ideas as possible from some of the hardest people and companies on the planet. Our aim for the podcast is to continually provide you with some great knowledge and information from a wide range of people and companies who are actually out there doing the business.
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The Show Notes
This weeks brilliant guest is an incredible woman called Laura Bingham. She’s a UK based adventurer who recently embarked on a fantastic journey across South America on her push bike without the aid of any money, while also raising money for a charity.
In this episode we talk all about Laura’s journey, her fears and experiences. We also look at the kit she took, and how she prepared for the trip. We then look at how over the course of the journey her kit changed, and how she had to adapt to survive. It’s a phenomenal chat, and she shares some really great insights!
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Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Laura Bingham, and I’ve recent come back from cycling km from Ecuador, through Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay and into Argentina with out using any money. Well I had to touch money for a small period to raise money to repair one of bikes because the person riding it got hit by a minivan and the bike snapped in half. Therefore, we needed to get a new one.
So, apart from that small period I had no money at all, not even for food or anything for 5 months. There was a lot of feeling sorry for myself haha.
Why did you decide to do this to yourself?
I had just got back from sailing the Atlantic, and thought about what to do next. Maybe race around the world, but wanted to do something more about the journey than the race. I then started looking at South America because I could already speak Spanish. From that I looked at cycling South America, but loads of people have already done that, so I wanted to think of a different way of doing it. I came then to the idea of doing it without money.
I then thought as well about the poverty in South America, and how doing it without money could easily be misinterpreted as first world white girl, wants to come and take food from local people. I then looked at ways in which I could give back, and realised it was pretty hard to follow the route exactly and give back to everyone who had given to me. I thought a more realistic way of giving back would be to focus on one charity. I found one called Operation South America that look after young girls from broken and abused backgrounds. I did the whole ting in aid of the charity, to try and raise money and awareness.
Am I right in saying you had to carry everything with you? And what did that include?
Yes, god did that weigh a lot. I’ll talk you though my set up art the start and then how it finished. I started off with 4 panniers and a trailer. So I started off with a first aid kit that was like the size of a sofa. I had everything from IV drips to that thing which opens up your throat and adrenaline injections. I did this remote medicine first aid course and they just said they need all this stuff, but by the end it was down to a tiny thing which just the essentials that I thought I needed. I also had to carry around a lot of camera and recording equipment as we are hoping to make it into a documentary. I also obviously had to carry things like tent, sleeping bag. I actually started with 2 tents as I had a male chap cycling with me for the first couple of months so we obviously needed separate places to sleep. By the time he had gone then, some girls came and stayed with me so we just used the one tent. I also brought so many clothes, some I thought I may need, others I gave away as presents so by the end of the trip I actually had very few clothes. I also started off with a fair bit food, things like rice, salt, sugar and all those basics. The food depleted to pretty much nothing at one point, but then by the end of the trip I had managed to get almost a full bags again. I also had a miscellaneous bag which was tings like bug sprays, water repellent, wash bag. I took like 6 bottles of insect repellent. Definitely went a little overboard with those!
At the start of the trip I also had to start taking malaria tablets. I thought I was, marking them in my book and everything, then when my fiancé came out he asked why I hadn’t taken any tablets because the box was full. I turned out I had been taking stomach antibiotics instead.
By the end of the journey I had my front two panniers which was first aid kit, wash bags. I ditched the towel in favour of just washing with clothes on as it was so hot you tried quickly anyway. The back ones were then electronics in one, and tent, sleeping bag and clothes. I managed to dump the trailer and most of the giant first aid kit. I don’t know what on earth I was carrying to fill all that space. When you have too much space you just find a way to fill it, and when you’re cycling through the Andes you want as little weight as possible.
How did you plan the stuff you needed? Was it though people who had done similar rides or online research?
My fiancé gave me loads of information. He said things like I needed a tent and a hammock, but I soon realised I didn’t need both. He fully loaded me with too much stuff. I also used his book ‘Walking the Amazon’ where he included a kit list, so I used that as a guide too. Although I took too much, i‘m glad I did because it gave me an opportunity to whittle it down to the stuff I actually needed, rather than starting with too little. Because obviously as I had no money it would be pretty hard to get hold of things I needed later on.
Did you test all of your kit before you went?
I tested the tent, found it was pretty wet. It was more designed for snow than tropics, but I didn’t really have any other choice so just wet on a few occasions. With the weight front I should have practiced it more, but I was in the middle of moving house at the time so things were a bit all over the place. I pre-packed all the stuff I thought I’d need for a few weeks then for the trip too. It was a case of stick it in a bag and figure it out later.
Obviously you had no money, and the food you took wasn’t going to last the whole journey. What were the means and methods by which you managed to find/get food?
In Ecuador it was Mango season so we lived off mangos for like the first week and a half. But Mangos are not a good source of energy for cycling. It’s all sugar. So that was hard going. After that we moved onto bananas, because there were loads in the basin of the Amazon and people were pretty much throwing bananas at us. That was a much better source of energy, a big pick me up. Then it got really cold and we couldn’t cook our rice, so we had a few hungry days which was really tough especially when having to push your bike up a mountain. I can remember just going into a bakery after not having breakfast or dinner, and just bursting into tears. The guy there gave me 2 bags of stale bread lasted us for a couple of days. Next we moved into Peru, and the people there were so generous, they gave us loads of food, and rice, the climate was much better too so it was much easier to cook.
One thing I found that was in Peru, Bolivia and Argentina people just threw rubbish everywhere. In Peru I found a crate 64 cans of Tuna, a box of juice, a half dead chicken, loads of biscuits. Just loads of different things.
When I did manage to get wifi out there. I can remember just browsing through the internet and stumbled across this Swedish guy that went 20 days without money, and he was saying he had all this meat, like he made jerky and things, but I was suspicious of where he got that meat from, because apart from the half dead chicken I killed I couldn’t find any meat.
I just found food everywhere and anywhere. When you are so desperate for food, and when you know you need it, you keep a really keen eye out for it. I also just asked people too, most said no, but there were enough that said yes.
I’m guessing this requires too tings. Firstly the confidence to ask, or even the desperation. Then secondly not being a fussy eater.
Yeah you can’t be fussy at all. If you’ve asked for food then they’ve offered you a plate of guts, you can’t then just turn it down. You can’t be ungrateful. When I was thinking about it, I was trying to relate it to everyday life. I kind of relate it a guy going into a bar, and asking a really pretty girl for a her number, she says no. That’ll knock the guys confidence. If it happened like 6, 7 ,8 times can you imagine how low their confidence would be? It was the same with the food, the more rejections, the more desperate I became it was hard to keep my confidence up. There were points where I became so sad and depressed, because I just lost my confidence and felt like a burden. I took a long time during the to rebuild the confidence, and I was lucky that people in Paraguay in Argentina would say yes and they were so lovely, that helped so much! People would invite us in then let other people know in the next towns who would also invite us in. It was like a daisy chain of such kind people!
When people were just so kind, it just felt so good, and made the trip so much easier.
I can see exactly how as a confident person, if something knocks your confidence it’s a real shock to the system, and that can be really hard to deal with. That mental aspect of survival and surviving that’s really fascinating.
There are times that I just really wanted things like fruit, and saw loads on market stalls, but just didn’t have to confidence to ask. Anything that I could class as a luxury like fruits, sweets and biscuits I found really hard to get the confidence to ask for.
Was the experience, from the living conditions of people to the generosity of people what you expected?
I generally try no to expect things, and give everything a clean slate from the start. I’d say though I did get what I expected. I completed the task I set myself. I came back the same weight as how I left. There were some moments though that really took my breath away and really grounded me. I can remember seeing a family getting water out a pipe in the ground, and things like that I am fairly used to seeing but every time it makes you think how lucky we are in a first world country to not have experience this daily.
I think it’s fair to say no matter what you read, or see on TV, nothing quite prepares you for the real thing.
I grew up in South Africa, so I grew up seeing the shanty towns and things, so it wasn’t a new experience but it still got to me.
Going onto something you mentioned right at the start. Before the trip you mentioned that you blagged your way onto an Atlantic crossing. How did all that come about?
Haha, well I was living in Mexico, learning Spanish and teaching English as well as doing some Jaguar conservation work. I was living in Florida befoe hand which made me pretty poor, and even though I was working in Mexico, I didn’t have enough money for a flight back to the UK. I then started thinking of other ways I could get back. I looked at a cargo ship, but that was something silly like £2,000 for two weeks. I then went of a site called Crew Bay, which is a website where they advertise for crew members and things like that. I managed to find a boat going from Orlando to England. I emailed the guy, and said look I’ve got no experience or anything, is it still ok? He was like yeah perfect as you won’t be trying to do things like you know it all. A few days later then I was on a boat back to England with two guys and a cat.
So, were you always adventurous then, or was it something that came over time?
I was always a bit of a madam and a bit of an attention seeker as a kid. I did things like tree hopping and paragliding as a family, so that always exposed me to mini adventures, but no one in my immediate family was really into doing these big sort of solo adventures. Then we went though some family problems which put me on a pretty destructive path in England. I then knew I just had to get away to feed my soul. So, I then went to live in Greece, then Belgium, then with family in South Africa. Did a little bit of Indonesia, America, then Mexico back to the UK, then thought hey, let’s make a career out of this.
Pretty well travelled now then?
Yeah, there are still so many things I want to see and do though. I feel like I’ve got a basis to keep going but I have a bucket list of like 87 things, and so far I’ve done 11.
What advice have to got for people who currently lack to confidence to go out there and do something, or haven’t quite found the right thing to quite motivate them enough?
I’d say just dream. Get a piece of paper and a book. I’d go on the internet, I look at other people bucket lists and I see things that appeal to me. Some of them will be just ok, but one will just pop out that you could do pretty easily, or quickly.
Money is often put up a barrier, but if I can travel across a continent with no money, then it shows it doesn’t have to be expensive. You can spend as little or as much as you’d like. The only limitations to you dreams, are the ones you put on them. You are free to do what you want, when you want to. Explore and make a bucket list. I didn’t know what I was capable of until I did it.
How can people find out more about you and what you do?