21 year old Ben King aims to be the youngest person to ride around the world, taking his Honda CRF250L on what he imagines will be a four year adventure. We caught up with him at this year's Adventure Travel Film Festival at Mill Hill in London, on the eve of his departure, to find out more...
How does a 21 year old afford to go around the world?
It's been tough but I've been working two jobs for the past two years. I've been working at Waitrose in the morning doing online deliveries, then working at the Apple store in central London in the afternoon and evening. It was pretty horrific, with long hours, but I had this goal in the back of my head that I wanted to do this trip. I've just worked hard and hopefully it's all paid off. I may have had no sleep or no life for the last two years, but I think it'll be totally worth it.
What are you most excited about?
I would say Iran. Everyone thinks it's crazy and dangerous, but anyone who has actually been says that Iran is an amazingly cool place. They say the people are friendly, so I'm just excited to see it for myself. I'm also excited about Siberia and Russia, and also just to have some sunshine is what I'm looking forward to the most. I'm going to find a beach to relax somewhere and enjoy travelling at my own space. For the last two years I've always been around people and been told what I've got to do and where I've got to be. Now, literally, I can do whatever I like.
What do friends and family make of it?
I didn't tell my family or my friends for quite a long time as I knew they'd stress out. They're slowly coming to terms with it and they know I've done trips before on a bike in South East Asia; I think they were more worried that first time. But part of the reason that I'm doing this trip is for my friend India who died last year at the age of 22 from Crohn's and Colitis, and I'm hoping to raise some funds and awareness for the charity Crohn's and Colitis UK along the way. I think my mum would rather I just did a charity ride or run around the local park than ride around the world, but she's getting used to the idea.
Why have you chosen to ride a Honda CRF250L?
Because I'm super-skinny and weedy I wanted something that was super-light-weight and great on fuel. I tried one of the big BMW F800 GSs and Triumph Tiger 800s, but they were insanely heavy for me. The CRF is perfect for when I'm tackling off-road sections or looking for rough camping spots to sleep of an evening. There are also parts for them everywhere, as well as plenty of luggage options. And Steph Jeavons has proven the bike plenty reliable having ridden one to all seven continents over the last three years. It was actually Austin Vince (star of legendary motorcycle travel film Mondo Enduro) who convinced me to go down this route; he invited me down to his place to ride his CRF250L. We went out trail riding and I loved how easy and manageable they were. And most importantly, I could pick it up on my own.
What modifications have you done?
It's basically a stock CRF250L but I've spent a bit of time with Austin who's helped me modify it for the trip. I've fitted Kriega soft bags for luggage, opting for soft luggage over hard because I just think they're lighter and not as cumbersome as heavy metal panniers. I also wanted something a bit more compact that doesn't stand out so much. I've also added a Givi top box as I wanted somewhere I could safely secure valuables and electronic equipment.
I've fitted an Adventure Spec sump guard, while a company called IMS in the States is sending me a prototype fuel tank that I'll collect on my way through Europe. This should take it up from the standard bike's seven-litres to about double that, which should get me about 300 miles. I've also added Barkbusters hand guards, which have proven invaluable so far, especially as I tend to fall off a lot riding off-road. Lastly, I've fitted a Baja Worx screen, which should help with all the bugs and wind.
So I've got about £1000 worth of accessories fitted to a £4500 bike, which I don't think is too bad for a machine to go around the world on. I'll probably do the whole trip for the same price as it would have cost me to buy one of the bigger bikes I was originally looking at, which is insane!
I've been fine for the last two years, totally relaxed, but since I've quit my job and been getting all the visas it now seems real and kind of terrifying. Hopefully once I get on the road it'll disappear after a few days and my nerves will settle. My only worry is falling off the bike when I go to leave when everyone's there to wave me off!
How much planning have you done?
It's only in the past month or so that I've actually started doing all the paperwork. People often think you have to plan it months and months in advance, but I only got the four main visas I needed for this trip in the last few days, namely those for Iran, Pakistan, Russia and India. The Carnet de Passage (effectively a passport for the bike that you need to get through certain countries) came a few days ago, and the Indian passport I collect from the embassy a couple of days before setting off. It's all been very last minute, but I had no idea what I was doing.
Obviously you can ask other people but it often changes and it's different to when they did it. Uzbekistan for example recently opened up its border, which has made life much easier. But I had to figure this out by going to embassies and chatting with them. The Pakistan visa was the hardest to get; I had to go back three times with different bits of paperwork, letters of invitation and an itinerary of where I was going to be. But it all worked out. It all came together in the end.
What's the driving force
I'm just keen for adventure and to explore. When I was seventeen I was in a car accident in the lanes in North London. I was supposed to go university, train to be a teacher, and it put it all into perspective. The crash wasn't that bad but at the time it seemed like the worst thing in the world. I ended up quitting school, quitting my job, flying to Asia and living out there for a years teaching scuba diving. I loved the freedom of it. I then lived in Saigon for a while, did some trips on bikes then flew to South America, bought a bike in Columbia, biked half way down South America, but fell off again, which ended the trip earlier than I'd anticipated.
On the journey I met a couple of guys in Bolivia on big adventure bikes and their stories sounded amazing – they were doing the Alaska to Argentina route – and I thought ‘I want to do that someday’, so I came home and started planning this trip. Then my friend India passed away and I started of thinking of ways of raising money and awareness for that, and all these things tied together. I can't imagine myself ever settling down now. I have this hunger for travel and adventure and there's no better way to see the world than on two wheels.
Did you ever think of going with someone else?
No, never. I don't think I could ever travel in a group. I love being by myself. Every morning I can wake up and decide where I want to go and I don't have to ask someone or please someone. Selfishly perhaps, but you don't have to sacrifice your own dreams for someone else. But if I meet a girl and she wants to go on a trip then sure, we'll maybe go two-up. But right at the moment I've always travelled by myself and I love it. And you're never by yourself because when you're travelling you're always meeting people and making new friends.
If you're in a group you're a bit more intimidating, but on your own people will approach you or you approach them. And I don't feel in any more danger from being on my own. Maybe I will, but I don't think so.
Ben with adventurer Austin Vince
What route are you going to take?
From the UK I'm going to head over to France, down into Italy, Switzerland. Austria, Hungary, Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, China, then back up through the Stans, Russia, Mongolia and from there East to Siberia and Magadan. I'll figure out a way to freight the bike to Japan, then over to the States, up to Alaska, all the way back down to Argentina, to New Zealand and Australia, then South Africa and back up into Europe along the west coast. It's ambitious but I'm going to give it a go.
What are you hoping to get out of the trip?
I'm hoping to experience a different kindness than I'm used to. Working in the rat race no one talks, everyone's miserable. But out there on the road people are generally so kind and they might have nothing but they're so happy. Then you come to London and everyone's so depressed! I don't have a clue why; maybe the miserable weather.
To experience kindness and happiness and new cultures is the main reason I'm doing it. I don't think too much about what might happen after the trip. I can't see beyond it. Maybe along the way I'll meet an Uzbekistani girl and settle down! I just hope if I do choose to settle down that employers will see this as a fairly impressive thing to have done, but whether I'll be employable I don't know; maybe I'll be washing pans the rest of my life! Maybe I'll go back to doing Waitrose deliveries.
Five things you've learned already?
Bike choice: Don't go for what you thought you should have. Try and have a good look around and see what works best for you. I was going to do this trip on a big bike and had put a deposit down on a Triumph Tiger 800 but knew it wasn't right and changed my mind at the last minute. I'm glad I did!
Luggage: I've done trips before so I know to pack light. Tech gear such as camera equipment and batteries is most of the luggage that I have but I'm still trying to keep gear to a minimum. It's just about trying to devise a system that works best for you.
Clothing: I know I don't have a lot of room for clothes so on top of my bike gear I'm just packing a couple of bamboo T-shirts, which are great for staying fresh and dry. That and some leggings to go under my riding trousers for when it gets cold. Otherwise I'll pick up anything I need on the road.
Planning: I'd say don't over-plan it. I've still not properly looked at a map of Europe. I have a rough route and the rest I'm just going to take my time and see where I end up. I think the best thing is to chill and see what happens.
Budgeting: I've no idea what my budget per day is but I'm hoping to get around the world for £10,000. It might cost more than that because of the cost of shipping, but I have some in reserve and if I get short along the way I can always work as I've done before, teaching English or something like that.
Do you need travel insurance for a trip like this?
Just like any holiday, a trip on a motorcycle – be it in the UK, Europe or beyond – can be ruined by delays, lost documents, illness and more. There are plenty of travel insurance options, but you need to make sure you get a policy that includes riding motorcycles, and if it does, that it's for bikes of the engine size you'll be riding (many only cover up to 250cc). At its most basic, you should look for insurance that provides cover for the following:
In addition though, if you’re taking a motorcycle (or you're renting one while you’re away) be sure that your insurer will cover you for any medical expenses, should you have an accident. You must also think about where you’re riding – some policies won’t cover you if you’re trail or enduro riding, or if you’re on a race track. Remember – this isn’t about your bike being covered, it’s about your medical expenses, should the worst happen.
If you're only going away once, a single-trip policy will likely be all you need, but also consider an annual policy, which could extend to cover your family holidays too (a good insurer should also be able to offer cover for your whole family).
BikeSocial’s parent company, Bennetts, has a motorcycle-specific travel insurance policy – find out if it suits your needs by clicking here.
To keep up to date with Ben's adventures you can follow him on his website: https://www.thekingontheroad.com