After spending 18 years backpacking and visiting more than 100 countries, Australian couple Tim and Sharyn Nilsen are truly what you’d call ‘travelling experts’. Authors of e-book ‘Get Away Worry Free’ and keen travel bloggers, the duo have been documenting their travels on their inspiring blog Catch Our Travel Bug, where the adventurous pair share tips on everything from planning your journey to their packing essentials.
We caught up with Tim and Sharyn to chat about cycling across Australia, their top travelling tips and embarking on their mission to discover Eastern Europe by bike.
When did you first start your travelling adventure and what inspired you to go?
Our first trip away together was to Fiji just after Sharyn finished high school. We stayed in a resort but made sure we ventured out to get a taste of local village life. We loved it. Our first big trip began in 1996 and lasted three and a half years. We visited 66 countries and had an absolute ball. When we returned home, we immediately began planning to set ourselves up to travel indefinitely.
In which of the destinations you’ve visited have you found the locals to be the friendliest?
That’s difficult as we find most people are extremely friendly if you make an effort to interact and show interest in their country. We love the Vietnamese people. That’s one of the reasons we have lived there twice. We were also bowled over by the overwhelming reception from people in Iran, Guinea, Nigeria and Myanmar.
Have you had any standout, incredible moments that you’ve experienced while travelling?
We have had so many awesome moments in our travels that it’s hard to choose just one. Hiking to the top of Kala Patar (5535m) and standing face to face with Mt Everest was very special. Tim had injured his back quite badly a few days before, and we had fears he would have to be airlifted out. Thankfully there was a clinic in the village and a young doctor was able to fix him. It was a close call with a happy ending.
Where have you most enjoyed the food and have you discovered a favourite dish?
Sharyn is hopelessly addicted to Vietnamese Pho. Vietnamese cuisine is another reason we choose to live here between journeys. Tim will eat just about anything but loved the game meat in Africa. Interestingly enough we can buy Ostrich fillets in the local supermarket here in Saigon [Ho Chi Minh City], so he gets spoilt at least a couple of times a month.
You often write about budget travel; what are your top tips for travelling on a budget?
‘Go local’ would have to be our best tip. We rarely book things from outside a country. We prefer to get recommendations from other travellers we meet along the way and support local businesses where we can. We eat the local food, drink at local bars and stay in guesthouses or campgrounds as opposed to big hotels.
What has a lifetime on the road taught you about packing, and what items can’t you leave home without?
We have a rule that if you can’t carry your backpack for two hours, it’s too heavy, and you need to get rid of stuff. Pack once then take at least 20% of your clothes out. You won’t need them and can always buy things as you go if you suddenly find you do.
Cycling fully self-supported has refined that packing list even further. We don’t take anything that needs ironing. I can’t remember the last time we used an iron while travelling. We always carry a Sarong each as it can be used for so many purposes. Earplugs are another must to preserve sanity on local buses with karaoke machines, block out late night revellers and get a decent night’s sleep.
From your experience, where is the best place to spend New Year’s Eve?
Sydney. I guess we are a little bit biased, but Sydney puts on an awesome show.
Cycling through Australia completely self-supported must have been pretty tough, what difficulties did you run into?
Our biggest challenge was the weather. We totally underestimated the amount of rain we would get at the beginning of the trip and were a little under prepared for the very cold temperatures. Granted Western Australia did have the wettest September on record, but we should have had better wet weather gear. We won’t make the same mistake when we head to Northern Europe this year.
Do you have any tips for anyone planning to cycle over long distances?
Just get on and go. We were worried about our lack of training when we started, but it didn’t take long to ride ourselves fit. We amazed ourselves with how well we did.
On your blog, it says that your next trip involves cycling through Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, where are you most excited to visit?
We are very excited about finally getting to the Baltic States, and we’ve been told Romania is fabulous to cycle. Very few people have been to Belarus and Moldova so we are looking forward to seeing what those two countries have to offer as well.
What’s been your favourite and least favourite destinations in Europe and why?
We loved Norway. Tim has Norwegian heritage, and we were able to catch up with some of his family. It’s an extremely beautiful country with lots of opportunity for camping and hiking.
We couldn’t pick the least favourite. There were parts of some countries that weren’t too our liking such as the touristy places along the Mediterranean, but overall, every country had something unique to offer.
You’ve both been to over 100 countries, what destinations are left on your bucket lists?
Loads. There’s most of Eastern Europe which we should cover much of this year. The Caribbean, which we’ll also touch on later this year when we crew on a yacht. [In South America] We’ve only been to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Buenos Aires in Argentina, so there’s lots more to see there. And, we haven’t touched down at all in the USA or Canada which surprises many people.
When we get to southern Argentina, we will also try to incorporate a trip to Antarctica. In Asia, we’d like to see a lot more of India plus take a look at Pakistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan. We think we have at least five more extended cycling tours to see everything we want.