How Creative Adventurer Erwin Zantinga Keeps Inventing New Ways to Travel and Experience Adventure

Adventurer Erwin Zantinga
Sometimes we had to drag our cart through the water to get to land. (Walking 160 kilometers along the beach in the Netherlands 2014)

Hi. My name is Erwin Zantinga. It was a hot summer night in July 1986 when I was born in Scheema, a little town in the north of the Netherlands. 31 years later, I find myself in the close by town of Groningen. From there on, I try to live an adventurous life by making big and small adventurous journeys, mostly in Europe.

Basically, everything I do has to do with adventurous travel. I have been organizing Rough Conditions Adventure Film Festival and the Leeuwarder Adventure Night for years. Now and then I give workshops on adventurous travel, and in the future I’m going to give workshops at creative educations on how to make a creative product from an adventurous journey. I’ve done a couple of big journeys and more small ones. The journey that sticks to me is a 450 kilometer trip on rollerblades in the midst of winter. Next to all the adventure stuff, I have a heavy addiction to music.

Favorite colour: Red. Favorite smell: cloves. Favorite sport: Bouldering. Little random fact: Sometimes I dance to ABBA when nobody is watching.

Adventurer Erwin Zantinga
Strapping up my rollerblades for the day. Hoping the roads are free from ice and snow. (Rollerblading the Netherlands 2015)

How and why did you get into adventuring and traveling by bicycle and inline skates?

After my graphic design education I went for a year of backpacking. Sleeping rough, hitchhiking and volunteering on farms. I went round by public transport and by thumb, but I wanted to be independent. During the second year of traveling, I came across a little red bicycle and cycled 900 km’s through Sweden — from there my love for the bike started. A couple of years later, I cycled from Hungary to the Netherlands to make a documentary and that’s where the spark really got off. This way of traveling really got a hold of me; the excitement, the personal exploration and the challenge keep the fire burning in me. I didn’t train for my first big trip, in fact, I was on an exchange, making art and drinking with my classmates for two weeks straight. I’ve never heard of people making cycling journeys or adventurers, I just went and heard all about afterwards. After this trip, I got a bit more serious about the whole adventure thing and I started training for some journeys.

I still think there is no need to train for a long cycling journey though; your legs get stronger the more you get into the trip. Although for the rollerblading journey through the Netherlands, I trained for three months in advance — mainly because I didn’t know how to rollerblade. To add, I didn’t know if it was possible to even do a 450 km journey on rollerblades in the midst of winter, but adventurers like Alastair Humphreys, Tom Allen, Sean Conway and Tim Cope showed me anything is possible if you set your mind into it. The reason I chose rollerblades instead of a different way of completing the journey has different reasons: Walking seemed too slow and cycling too fast, so rollerblading sounded perfect to me. Next to this, it’s never been done before and I didn’t rollerblade for 20 years, so it would be a perfect way to pick this up again.

Adventurer Erwin Zantinga
Cycling in Russia. Or at least, trying to cycle in Russia (cycling from Moscow to St. Petersburg 2017)

How do you finance your adventures?

I try to keep my journeys as cheap as possible. So most of the time I sleep in my tent and I cook my own food. But I’m not a purist, sometimes I’ll just get a lunch at a cafe or drink a coffee at a bar. I try not to spend much money on gear, but a tent and a sleeping bag are quite important for me and these can cost some. For the last two years, I had a job in a travel book store, this way I could earn some money to spend on adventurous journeys. In these two years, I also set up my own business. I give talks about the journeys on schools, workshops, write articles and organize film festivals. With this I earned a bit on the side while I was working in the bookstore, but now I want to make this my core income. In past projects, I tried to work together with sponsors to get some gear sponsored, but this is really hard if you don’t have a tribe of people around you who follow you on your journeys. The sponsors want their product to be seen of course. I would advise to think outside of the box with approaching sponsors; are you going to cycle trough the Netherlands, get in touch with a cheese company. Who knows what you can get out of it.

Adventurer Erwin Zantinga
Camping with a tarp brings me closer to nature; here in the north of France (cycling from Maastricht to the Mt Blanc and back without a map 2015)

How do you eat and sleep on the road?

Most of the times I sleep in my tent. For me this is a huge part of the adventure. Sleeping in the midst of nature, hearing the sounds of the animals, squeaking trees in the wind or a flowing river. Sometimes I just use my tarp, this makes me feel more connected with my surroundings. The wind flowing over my face and when I open my eyes I see trees all around me. When I meet people and they offer a place to stay for the night I mostly say yes. It’s a great way to meet the locals and get into their culture. Hear what they talk about, eat what they eat and see how they live. Websites like Couchsurfing, Warmshowers and Wwoof also are a great opportunity to meet locals and stay indoors when the weather is beating down on you.

I try to cook as much as possible because it keeps the costs low. To add, an own-made meal always tastes better after a hard day of moving. One morning, I woke up in my frozen tent in Scotland. I took my frozen shoes and made a hearty and hot breakfast from oats, milk, honey and rasins. The way how this meal made me warm and made my whole body feel I won’t ever forget. This is one of the most beautiful things of adventure cooking; the crisp cold being driven away by hot oatmeal. I’ve got my cooking gear from a give and take store (budget!) and I cook on burning gel or wood if I can find it. For camping I use the Terra Nova Laser Competition One. A one person tent just under 900 grams, with space for my pack, rollerblades and even a little space to cook in when the weather beats down on me. My sleeping bag is a Mammut Nordic EMT 3 season. In winter I add an extra liner, bivy bag and insulation under my mat.

Sitbike: sometimes you just have to stop, make some coffee on your stove and enjoy the journey (Cycling from Polecamping place to pole camping place in the Netherlands 2017)
Sometimes you just have to stop, make some coffee on your stove and enjoy the journey (Cycling from Polecamping place to pole camping place in the Netherlands 2017)

How do you bring your things with you?

I still have my first backpack and I still use it on most of my journeys. By now it must be nine years old, but still accompanies me every hike and sometimes even during a cycling trip! I’ve done a couple of cycling trips where I had to improvise with my backpack. I would make a plank (or hiking sticks) on the back of the bike so I could tie my backpack on there, like a torpedo. My pack is a North Face Terra 60. I also have the good old yellow Ortlieb cycling bags for a year now. They are watertight and pretty good to make a bike stable. But sometimes a cycling journey comes by and improvisation is needed once again!

Adventurer Erwin Zantinga
Walking trough a storm with our beloved cart. Just 130 kilometers to go (Walking 160 kilometers along the beach in the Netherlands 2014)

How do you organize things in your bags?

The organization in my bag changes from journey to journey but some things are always the same. On the bottom are my tent and sleeping bag. These are the first things I take out when camping, so they must be easy accessible. Mind you, there is a zipper on the bottom of the bag what makes it easy. In the side pockets, I have my reading and writing material and in my topflap are my iPod, headlight and phone. My camera is on the side of my bag, so I can grab it easily, together with my small tripod. The fishing rod I bought a couple of years ago fits perfectly in my backpack, I kept this in mind when buying.

Every journey is different, and so is the packing. Every time I have to find a different packing flow and mostly it takes a couple of days to get into it. For cycling, it’s a bit different. I just have two pannier bags; one is my house and bedroom (tent, sleeping bag, bivybag) and the other bag is the rest of my stuff. Mostly, I put my sleeping mat on the back of the bike as well as my camera, this way I can grab it quickly. In the front I have nothing. It would be really awesome if the bike panniers could be made into a backpack, or a pack that you can carry on your back. I kind of miss this.

Adventurer Erwin Zantinga
Just before the hot breakfast of oats. The cold made me levitate (Rollerblading LeJog 2016)

How do your bags and gear hold up?

My gear holds up pretty good! But because I’m kind of a budgetfreak and I use everything until it can’t be used anymore. The first time I used my stove was in 2013 and I think I cooked more then 1000 meals on it, made countless little campfires in the pot and still use it because I haven’t bought a new one yet. With my second (or maybe third) hand bike, I’ve cycled at least 10.000 kilometers now, so it’s time to let this one go, and get a new one. Four years ago, I bought a new tire for my back wheel. I still use this tire, and I just had a flat one time. Really amazing. Lots of my gear comes from army stores, the weight might be a bit more, but the quality is made for heavy duty use and this is really important for me.

Any gear you wish you had brought with you from the beginning?

Walking sticks fore sure. One of my first journeys was hiking 100 miles of beach on the west shore of the Netherlands. After this journey, my knees hurt so bad, I think walking sticks could’ve helped. Now every hike I make I’ll bring the sticks. During rollerblading they come in quite handy as well, especially when going uphill. The past years I think I just lost gear. During my first journeys, I brought so much that I didn’t use. Too much clothing, or miscellaneous stuff. Sometimes I bring my fishing rod with all the gear that comes with it, just to realize it’s been used once during a trip.

Adventurer Erwin Zantinga
Rollerblading trough the flat roads of the Netherlands with 15 kilo’s on my back (Rollerblading the Netherlands 2015)

What has been your best adventuring purchase below $100?

That would definitely be my headlamp. A Walter, bought at a local army store, and brought me seven years of light in darkness — even through the most heavy rains. Talking about heavy rains, I’m very happy with my aforementioned tent, especially because it’s so spacious for a one-person tent. It can stand rain and storm, and since it’s a double-layered tent, the inside gets just a little moist from condensation. I found a remote control for my camera comes in really handy, as well, especially to make pictures for lectures or promotional pictures.

How did you get into film making?

I started experimenting with film when I was about 18 and since then I used the camera for my graphic design education. During my first backpacking journey, I brought an old handycam and just filmed everything I came across and who I’ve met. From this, I made an half-hour edit but the video never finished. When I started studying pop culture (yeah, this is a real education), I started doing more video projects. In my third year, I did a project where I was cycling from Hungary back to the Netherlands passing by farms. The Documentary I’ve made from this has been shown at multiple places and I started to get into other adventure films.

I love how you can tell a story by making a film. Not just a story from the journey, but the journey can be a way to tell a story. With my last video, I told the story of the 2nd world war by cycling to bunkers in the Netherlands. A film is more than just moving images, it’s a way of showing emotions, life stories and experiences. Making an adventure film has a huge opportunity to change lives and inspire people, when it’s done in a good way. For example, “The Important Places”. This film is not just about a fun journey, but it is also about life itself and the lessons we learn.

My favorite shots are not shots of environments or nature; mostly you can’t really capture the beauty of the place, or the beauty is more beautiful in the film. To capture the real beauty you just have to be there. My favorite shots are the moments when you are truly scared, happy or emotional. Whilst camping in the middle of nowhere amongst 20 red deer in rut I was so scarred they would attack me. I filmed myself and on the background you could hear the dear screaming. You can hear the fear in my voice. This is real life and more beautiful than beautiful time lapses of mountains covered in fog.

Adventurer Erwin Zantinga
The bike that was given me for free when I tried to rollerblade from Land’s End to John ‘O Groats. Check out the torpedo on the back (Rollerblading LeJog 2016)

What is your best advice for other adventurers?

If you have a great idea for an adventure just make time, save a little money and go. Don’t wait until this or that. A friend once said to me: “Don’t wait until you can buy your own freedom.” This is so true, because you never have enough money, gear or time. On the other hand, you always have enough money, gear and time. Why can’t you do it, while somebody else can? Don’t be afraid of the world, surely some places are not safe, but this is not because of the people. This is because of how the operating system in that country pushes the people towards certain way of doing. Adventurous journeys will show you the best of people, but do keep your eyes open and follow your gut.

When you are in the middle of an adventure, leave the camera once in a while. Some moments are just for you. Every journey I take I make sure a couple of sunsets, sunrises or beautiful moments are just for me. I can share them later through writing or speaking, but these moments have a special place in me. Because I didn’t see them through a camera lens, they stay with me longer than the images.

Adventurer Erwin Zantinga
One of the beautiful places the Netherlands has to offer; the dunes. (Cycling from Polecamping place to pole camping place in the Netherlands 2017)

What will the future bring?

Ha, I’ve got so many plans for the future! First off, I will head over to Gran Canaria to spend the winter there. But not without a couple adventures on the island. The first week, I’ll be cycling all over the island for exploring. I’d like to go for a 24-hour cycling journey as well and I will organize adventure workshops while being there.

When I get back in the Netherlands in March, I will start with workshops for creative educations. How can one make a creative product from a little adventurous journey? Next to the workshops, I’ll make a tour through the Netherlands (and who knows other countries) with the Rough Conditions Adventure Film Festival. (hit me up if you’re interested!) In the second half, I’m planning another long journey, somewhere in South America, probably by bike. But that’s too far away to really get into details now 😉

Visit Erwin on his website and follow him on Facebook


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