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Meet the woman who cycled 7,000km across South America with no money

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British adventurer Laura Bingham recently returned from a 7,000km cycle through South America with no money. During this (super)human powered journey, she relied entirely on her own resourcefulness and the kindness of strangers.

Laura endured months of cycling through South America, taking in countries including Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay and even ventured into the Amazon jungle and across the Andes. The National Student spoke to Laura about her journey.

 

How does it feel to be back? Are you settling in okay?

It feels a bit surreal, like it never happened. I was in the car with my fiancé the other day and I was like “did I even leave?” Every now and then I get flashbacks and I’m like “oh yeah that happened...!”

Is it a bit overwhelming having all these material possessions back and being able to eat all the food you want?

The food yeah, I’ve cried quite a few times in supermarkets… We went to Waitrose and I picked up a bag of carrots and I started crying, then I picked up some yoghurts and started crying again… There’s so much food readily available at my fingertips and I don’t have to beg or work or try and find it!

And the material possessions… I find myself accepting what is of today rather than thinking about it too much, like if it all got taken away tomorrow it would just be like “okay, that’s what life is today”, and if it all came back the next day it would be like “oh okay that’s what life has today”. It’s more like an accepting attitude of what today holds.

Considering you were essentially begging for food, then, how varied was your diet?

Because the carbohydrates are so cheap out there my diet consisted of rice throughout Ecuador and Peru and partly Bolivia, and then as I got to Paraguay it became more meats and pasta. And stale bread – I got a lot of stale bread from bakery’s, and occasionally we’d get some biscuits or some treats or some coca cola.

I also had to kill a chicken… A truck hit it and broke its leg. So it was trying to clamber outside of the road with its one good leg, so I was like “well that’s dinner!”

I’m not sure many of us would have the guts to do that... You often hear that it is the people who have the very least that offer the most, did you find this to be true in your experience?

The people with the very least, the indigenous people, tended to be more nervous of strangers so they weren’t quite as approachable because of that nervousness towards outsiders. But the people who had little shops or slightly more than a mud hut were very open to new people and very open to getting involved. But there were a lot of people less economically well off, very poor people, who really tried to go out of their way.

 

That must’ve been emotional to witness such kindness – but how difficult was it for you physically? Did you do a lot of training?

I did cycle trips around England and endurance cycling, but I was more focused on being mentally prepared… I always believe that your body can take almost anything. Your body is resilient, but it’s your mind that you have to convince.

I think a lot of girls like the idea of travelling alone, but are put off by their vulnerability. From your experience, do you have any advice for women when it comes to travelling safely?

I’ve always travelled alone before this, but it would always be at daytime and then staying in a hostel with people and then moving during the day to known safe locations. And when it’s done like that I think it’s perfectly fine travelling as a lone female.

If a female wanted to camp and do more of an adventurous type adventure I would say have a lock for the inside of your tent. I was also given a mace when I was out there, which was quite handy because with a knife it could easily be turned on you if you don’t know how to properly use it. And listen to your instincts: all of the bad things that have ever happened to me when I’ve been travelling is because my instincts flared up and then I ignored them. That’s when something bad has happened... I’ve learnt again and again how important it is to listen to one’s instincts.

You posted on social media while you were away, but people question if social media is a hindrance to experiences, did you feel like it was distracting or helpful?

In certain moments when I needed support there was a lot of support, and that was wonderful. It gave me so much motivation to have so much support from people.

The filming, that was a lot of effort because I was having to put the camera down, film me cycling away, then cycle back and pick it up, so I think I ended up cycling something more like 8,000km… And you almost want to enjoy the experience rather than capturing it.

Could you tell me about the charity Operation South America that you supported?

I love talking about this organisation, it’s a really wonderful place. It’s a Paraguayan couple – they saw the poverty that was in Paraguay and the need for a nice safe place for children to go and they created this home. And this couple have been looking after this large group of girls – and they’re all there for different reasons – but the reason that I love this organisation and really appreciate it is they don’t just look at giving these girls a roof and food, they look at broadening their education and they teach them their worth; they teach them that the sky’s the limit, and I love that belief that they try and fuel them with.

It seems like your passion for the organisation – and their passion for what they do –helped make the (I imagine sometimes arduous) trip that little bit easier, but what things did you miss the most when you were away?

Probably my family, my fiancé and having those people that I love so much and having them around me.

And I guess hugs, I think I missed hugs more than anything, even when a stranger hugs you it’s wonderful and lovely and nice but it’s still not as nice as a hug from someone you’ve known your whole life.

Do you think this kind of trip could be a different kind of gap year for students?

Yeah, because a lot of people always complain that you need a lot of money to travel… I probably wouldn’t suggest going with no money, because it makes the journey ten times harder, but I would say you don’t need loads of money. You can get a second hand bike, leave your house and go for a cycle – cycle to Africa! Take a tent so there are no accommodation costs and just buy cheap food. So for students, you can spend as much or as little as you want and this expedition has proved that you don’t need a huge fund pot to go and travel and experience different cultures; you just have to have the willpower and the stupidity!

And it’s really beneficial to experience other cultures and appreciate how other people live, because there are a lot of people that aren’t as fortunate. It’s really good to experience how other people live and to not be closed off to that knowledge… I don’t think that will ever leave me, and I hope it doesn’t, because it’s a really lovely feeling to appreciate it.

 

You can follow Laura’s adventures on Twitter @laurabingham and Instagram @laurabingham.

@laurabingham



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