How British Adventurer Nathan Millward Travelled from Sydney to London on a Motorcycle

Adventure Motorcyclist Nathan Millward

My name’s Nathan Millward, I’m 37 years old and originally from a mining town called, Mansfield in the East Midlands of the UK. I now live a hundred miles down the road in a small city called, Worcester. For a living, I work in the motorcycle industry. I road test new bikes, publish my own magazine, sell books, organise bike tours, give presentations and generally anything I can to survive as a self employed ‘adventure motorcyclist.’

My personality, as with most people is conflicting. I’m laid back but sometimes anxious, adventurous but often scared, out going but sometimes shy. When I’m in the right frame of mind, with the right task and the right purpose, I’m determined and efficient. Otherwise, I’m apathetic and a fantastic procrastinator, largely brought on by indecision. But I’d like to think I’m well rounded!

Adventure Motorcyclist Nathan Millward

How and why did you get into travel adventuring on a motorcycle?

I’m English but had gone to Australia for a girl I’d met over there the previous time, when I was on a working holiday visa. This time I was on a temporary visa, and we were doing everything we could to make it work out. But it wasn’t an easy nine-month period and we fought a lot, and argued a lot, but then there were good times as well.

Ultimately, it couldn’t go on like that and it all came to a head when I couldn’t get an extension on my visa. Rather than fly home – on the return ticket I already had – I decided to ride home on a 105cc Australian mail bike I’d bought to get around the Sydney on. I decided to do the trip on the Thursday and left on the Sunday.

The resulting trip was nine months, from Sydney to London, covering 23,000 miles and passing through 18 countries. I suppose I was forced into doing the trip. I didn’t want to go home to England as I had nothing to go home to. And I couldn’t stay in Australia either. So I decided to get lost in the middle for a while. I’d had the idea for a big bike trip for a year or so – and had done some research – though I never thought I’d actually do it. All of a sudden, with two and a half days notice, I was sat on the bike in Sydney, all loaded up, about to ride it across the world. Surreal time really.

Adventure Motorcyclist Nathan Millward

How did you prepare for your adventures?

To prepare for the trip, I’d simply done some research on and off, thinking one day I might give it a go. I’d used a website called, Horizons Unlimited to find out about overland routes, visa issues, shipping issues and what people advise for a trip like that. So I had a blueprint for the trip, even if I only had little time to actually plan for it. In those two and a half days of prep, I bought some tools, mounted a box on the back of the bike, serviced the bike as best I could, checked with the cargo company that would take the bike from Darwin to East Timor that there was a boat leaving before my visa ran out, which then gave me 14 days to get from Sydney to Darwin, a distance of about 2700 miles, on a bike that cruised at 40mph. The odds were against me but I was keen.

Mentally, I was prepared because I was frustrated by the situation that had been in Australia – the way that things hadn’t worked out, so I had the grit between my teeth, as well as the complete confusion – frustration, anger, sadness, that in my mind just told me to run. And that’s all I did really, just ran. But on a bike.

Adventure Motorcyclist Nathan Millward

How did you finance your adventures?

I had two credit cards, an overdraft on my current account and a few thousand dollars of savings. I had access to about £6000 in total, but the trip cost about £9000 in the end. Realistically, I didn’t have the money to do the trip, but I knew if I didn’t do it then I would never have done it. So I set off and hoped for the best.

Obviously, I had to travel as cheap as I could, so through much of Asia I wild camped and just ate street food. My bike was economical so that helped, but with a big overland trip – especially on a motorised vehicle – you have a lot of high fixed costs, such as the Carnet de Passage you need to get your bike across borders. Then there’s the shipping and the repairs. Plus, the visa costs, and to get through China, which I had to do when I couldn’t get a visa for Iran, you need a guide if you’re on a motorised vehicle, and that wasn’t cheap either.

A friend lent me some money along the way, as did my parents, and oddly I picked up a book deal quite by chance whilst in India, the advance of which paid through my passage through China. So it all worked out in the end, though I did come home to a lot of debt. But to be honest that’s what I do with most of my trips. I finance them on credit cards, and pay them off later. Not ideal, but it focuses the mind.

Adventure Motorcyclist Nathan Millward

How did you eat and sleep on the road?

On that Sydney to London trip I ate wherever I could, mainly just market stalls and street food. I didn’t take a stove though I wish I had. Instead I just bought bread and whatever I could get hold of. Across Australia, I camped on proper campsites – more out of fear of wild camping – than anything else, but by Indonesia I’d braved up and started wild camping, and did so everywhere but the cities, such as Bangkok, Delhi and Kathmandu, where I’d stay in cheap backpacker accommodation. My daily budget for everything – food, fuel and accommodation – was £10 per day.

My bike I’d always make sure was safe as best I could, as without the bike the trip was over. In guesthouses, it was generally safe, as it was with wild camping. I had a lock and was worried in Delhi with it being chained in an alleyway for a fortnight whilst I tried to get visas for onward countries, but thankfully no one touched it and I had nothing pinched. It helped that my bike was cheap, as was my gear. My tent was just a $40 dome tent from Kmart in Australia, my sleeping bag one I’d been given. I had nothing expensive with me but a small laptop that I used for WiFi and for uploading photos and stuff as I went. I did buy a small stove in Kyrgyzstan, eight months into the trip, and just used it to boil water for tea and instant noodles.

Adventure Motorcyclist Nathan Millward

How did you bring your things with you?

When I set off from Sydney, I had everything I owned in a big aluminium box and two orange pannier sacks, the type originally used by the postal workers. I had far too much and quickly got rid of the stuff I didn’t need. Too many pairs of jeans, t-shirts, shoes… that kind of thing. I gradually got my pack list down to very little as I went.

By the time I reached India, the aluminium box was starting to break and I was wary of entering Pakistan with such a big statement of my belongings on the back. I thought I stood out a bit with the aluminium box and orange panniers and was genuinely scarred of entering Pakistan as it was at a time that it was reported that the Taliban were circling in on Islamabad. So there was some tension there.

At an Indian market in Delhi, I asked around and found some $20 throw over canvas saddle bags, bought those and posted the aluminium box and orange panniers home. The canvas bags weren’t waterproof and after the first day of use had started to split, but I had them repaired and in my mind were a lot more discreet than my other set up.

Adventure Motorcyclist Nathan Millward

How do you organize things in your bags?

I’m badly organised but it’s important to have a system on a long trip. I slowly found a place for everything, so electric stuff, tools and shoes maybe in one pannier, clothes in the other, camera in my tank bag, tent on a rack on the front, sleeping bag strapped across the rack on the back, wallet in my trouser pocket and passport in a discreet bumbag around my waist.

The luggage I bought in India was actually really good for being organised. It had external pockets for messy things like spare oil or chain lube. It was actually well-designed, if not poorly-made. There’s nothing quite like it in the UK, and the only set up that gets close is almost £400, which is too much for canvas sacks. The ones I bought weren’t waterproof, but I just wrapped everything in plastic bags and it was fine. If I was to make my own bags I’d design some that were similar to what I used, only waterproof and sturdily built. Sadly, I no longer have them or else I’d use them as a template.

Adventure Motorcyclist Nathan Millward

How do your bags and gear hold up?

I guess, if I was to start all over again then I’d do everything differently! But it was what it was; a budget trip on a budget bike with budget equipment and a willingness to muddle through with what I had. Since the trip I have had bigger bikes with more expensive kit, which has worked well, but I think there’s a tendency to over think your kit, agonise over it and ponder it for far too long. As long as it does the job and is in budget then it’s going to be as equally perfect and flawed as anything else.

And no adventure or trip is perfect. Things always go wrong, so I accept that my gear is also going to malfunction and just deal with it. But dealing with problems to me is what adventure is all about. Not worrying about it, but fixing it. Obviously, if you’re climbing Everest or doing something else that’s really fraught then the best kit is essential, but riding a bike across the world any old junk gear will generally do.

Adventure Motorcyclist Nathan Millward

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

I wish I’d taken a stove and been a little bit more organised, but I wasn’t and I managed. Maybe some warmer clothes and some waterproof boots. I rode in skateboard trousers and Converse high tops. These were a bit chilly going over the Himalayas, but again, you make do. A kind bike shop owner in Kathmandu gave me a set of waterproofs as he could see that I was struggling, and they’re something that really helped.

What has been your best adventuring purchase below $100?

My tent for certain. For $40 Australian dollars, it proved reliable, waterproof and portable. A few poles snapped towards the end but that it did a nine-month trip in some harsh conditions, being put up and down in the dark when wild camping in volatile spots, is something to be said about a nice cheap tent.

Adventure Motorcyclist Nathan Millward

What inspired you to write your books?

On the Sydney to London trip, as I said, I was commissioned to write a book by an Australian publisher who read about the trip mid way through on my blog. I had the book to write as soon as I came home and to be honest writing the book was harder than the trip. I realised when writing a book you either lie and project a false image of yourself and of the trip in order to hide you from yourself (and other people) or you tell the truth, and confront yourself, and put all that down on page; good or bad. I opted for the latter and it was something of a turbulent experience, writing it in a shed in the bottom of my parents garden over a seven-month period. It was hard because I wanted people to understand why I’d done the trip, and that involved talking about the relationship and the girl. But I didn’t want to objectify her for the sake of the book as I still had feelings for her and I suppose in a way the book was a message to her. The book was published in Australia by HarperCollins and called, Going Postal. It sold ok, but the publisher didn’t think it would sell outside of Australia as I was on an Australian postal bike and so I harassed them until they gave me my international rights bike (I won’t sign those away in such a hurry next time) and self published it in the UK under a new title, The Long Ride Home.

A year or so later, fed up with the whole thing and I’d say spiraling into something of a deep depression – a lot of self loathing, self hate and unable to deal with the space I’d found myself in – I put the same postal bike (named Dorothy) on a plane to New York, and a few days later followed it over and began to ride across America, aiming for San Francisco. I’d say I was riding to survive. I didn’t know what else to do with myself. I was tearful, frightened, but riding. I rode through Pennsylvania, to Detroit, Chicago, parts of Route 66, across Kansas, the Rockies, Utah and Nevada – still all at 40mph – until I reached San Francisco. I pointed north and rode up to Seattle, left the bike there over winter, came home to England to earn money, before going back the new spring and continuing up to Alaska. When I got there and crossed the border it was all over. I’d ridden far enough and I knew my trip was over. I came home and wrote a second book, Running Towards the Light, almost as a finishing half to the first book. I self published that one and talked openly about how I’d been and what I’d seen.

Adventure Motorcyclist Nathan Millward

What is your best advice for other adventurers?

I’d say don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t over analyse, feel your instincts and do what’s right for you. Too many people beat themselves up that they’re not doing that big dream trip or agonising about their lives and what they’re doing wrong. I meet too many people who say to me, ‘I wish I could do what you did?’ And I think they’re misguided. You do these big trips when things aren’t right in your world. No one I know – if they’re honest with themselves – do the big trips because they’re happy and content. They usually do them because they’re running away from a bad situation – a divorce, redundancy, bereavement – and it’s that that drives them to the road. They are driven to the road in search of something other. It often feels quite nihilistic.

So if your life’s not that bad then try and enjoy the stuff that’s right under your nose, rather than dreaming of some far off adventure. Sure, there are some amazing moments, but there are some rubbish ones too. And if asked if I’d enjoyed it, I’d say I enjoyed the challenge, though I didn’t necessarily enjoy the reward at the end, which is anti-climatic. A trip like this can never solve all your problems, or ‘fix’ you. Sometimes it can make things worse, which was a harsh lesson I learned at the end of Sydney to London. Thankfully by the end of the America trip, I’d started to figure stuff out. But it’s a long road once you’ve set off on it. It doesn’t end as easy as you sometimes like. But you know deep down if it’s for you or not. And if it’s not, then so what, go do something else.

Adventure Motorcyclist Nathan Millward

What will the future bring?

Not really. I’m married now. We’ve bought a house. I’m living a different dream now. I am glad I got the big trip out of my system. I think it’s what’s allowed me to settle down now. I don’t wonder what else is out there anymore. I know what else is out there, and I know it’s not as good as what I have here. So I’m happy and content, which is something I thought I’d never be. So happy days. And I still get out on the bike. I still do trips. I’ve recently been to Iceland on the bike, I’m taking 15 other riders across America next year and we actually got married in America, in Vegas, in the middle of a bike trip across the country. I guess it’s about finding a balance, and I’m very lucky in that I’ve finally found one.

You can see a summary of the trip here:

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