Arjun Bhogal Explains How He Spent 5 Years Walking Solo Across the World

Adventurer Arjun Bhogal
Cardiff Finish, United Kingdom. Photo credit: Arjun Bhogal

My name is Arjun Bhogal, I suppose I’d be classified as an adventurer, but I also write and do some public speaking about my journey over the last five years. I’m originally from London, UK, but am currently living in Melbourne, Australia. As you could probably imagine my favorite activities are walking and messing around with my camera. Contradictory to the public speaking part of my work, I’m actually quite quiet, but I enjoy storytelling.

Adventurer Arjun Bhogal
Water on the Steppe. Photo credit: Kieran Rae

How and why did you get into walking and adventuring?

‎The idea for Borderwalk was inspired by the millions of people around the world that walk for clean and safe water on a daily basis. The walk was to raise awareness specifically for WaterAid, a charity that helps provide clean water and sanitation for 30 different countries around the world. The original idea was thought up with some friends at university in a kitchen, where we read about a guy who had converted a car engine to take something other than petrol and drove around the world, as well as a couple that cycled around the world. I thought about Wateraid and the people I had read about, that walk everyday to gain access to clean water and I half jokingly said, “What if we walked?” It took a while to convince my friend to do it but persistence paid off and he agreed.

I set ourselves a year to save/plan and try to find companies that would maybe help us. I contacted what felt like millions of companies who I thought would be interested and eventually people started getting back to me and said they were intrigued. We had one false start, but by just deciding to stop sweating the small stuff and go for it we managed to set off in the beginning of April 2012.

Most of the companies that got involved with Borderwalk I think were more interested, not just by WHY we were doing what we were doing, but also intrigued by WHO we were. We were two normal guys who didn’t have an ex military past, weren’t endurance athletes or particularly outdoorsy, just two idiots who came up with this idea and were determined to see it through to the end, in a hope to inspire others to take on their own adventures no matter what size and to prove that you don’t have to be special to achieve something special.

Planning, honestly wasn’t our core skillset, everything we planned as well as everything I planned on my solo journey, never went accordingly, (civil unrest, natural disasters, military, taliban and jail) I suppose there in itself is the lesson. Definitely plan, but be prepared for that plan to fall apart around you and hopefully with enough practice you’ll become a problem solver, these days I look at a problem and instead of thinking it’s impossible, I think to myself how can I start to make it possible. Just that slight shift in thought will help you prepare for the unexpected, no matter what country or environment.

Adventurer Arjun Bhogal
in Indonesia. Photo credit: Arjun Bhogal

How do you finance your adventures?

I came up with the idea a year before finishing University so spent time saving and even threw a fundraiser with some bands, we got companies involved who were keen to help out donating funds and kit, to help with various things as well as help from friends and family along the way.

Having finished in May, I just wanted to stop moving for a while and the adjustment back into the real world has been intriguing. I have a business but it’s pretty new, I don’t have a business mind so it’s all a bit strange, the idea of making money from Borderwalk if I’m honest is a bit alien, I never went into it expecting to make a living from it. I don’t think I have that drive to make lots of money, so everything I do comes from a “That’ll be fun, I’d even do that for free” place, but I’m consistently being told I have to earn a living.

Adventurer Arjun Bhogal
DD Hmmock. Photo credit: Arjun Bhogal

How do you eat and sleep on the road?

Food, water and sleep on the road were the daily problems, you’re always looking out for a place to eat or a place to get water from. In the beginning, we lived off canned food because we had carts we were pushing. In the desert, we bought bread and meat but because of the extreme heat it wouldn’t last long, so we’d often end up eating mouldy bread. When I went solo in the mountains, I carried rice or cous cous with a gas stove and then into South East Asia, I was able to pick up street food on the go as well as cook.

The sleeping situation was as varied as the food too, I went from in a bivy under a tarp, to in a tent with Kieran, to just a bivy (Outdoor Research). Then in a hammock (DD Super lightweight jungle hammock) to back in a tent. Along the way I was usually helped out by people all around the world, giving me their backyard or room in their house to sleep for the night. I’ve slept in truck stops, bus stops, door steps, mosques, gurdwaras (sikh temples) and churches. It really was a mixed bag.

Adventurer Arjun Bhogal
Germany camping. Photo credit: Kieran Rae

How do you bring your things with you?

When it came to going solo and putting everything on my back, I needed a better, more durable bag. I bought a Lowe Alpine Airzone 35-45ltr, it was the perfect size and even held the solar power pack perfectly (voltaic systems). I had tried other bags before then but I found they weren’t comfortable or the straps would eventually give in.

Adventurer Arjun Bhogal
Kit packed. Photo credit: Arjun Bhogal

How do you organize things in your bags?

I think I spent most of the walk doing and undoing dry bags, I feel it took up a lot of my time on borderwalk. I started off very organised and each type of clothing or group of things had its own dry bag, but over the five years, I got down to just one large dry bag acting as a liner for the bag (Aquapac). It worked perfectly and I never had to worry about anything getting wet. I could walk continuously in the rain during monsoon season and not worry about a thing. Waterproofing was a massive concern as I had all the electricals in the bag travelling with me on. Aquapac, one of our sponsors, was a great addition to the team, without them, borderwalk would have been so much harder.

Adventurer Arjun Bhogal
Water bottles. Photo credit: Arjun Bhogal

How do your bags and gear hold up?

All in all, the gear I had, held up. The Lowe Alpine bag I bought is by far the best bag I have owned and I still use it as my travel bag. In the last two years, it’s been dragged around jungles, mountains and deserts and is still as good as the day I bought it (just a bit smellier). If I was going to do things again I would just pack less. Things that I mentioned like the dry bags, there was no need for so many. And also I would buy the hammock or tent sooner, I would probably have skipped on the bivy. Saving that weight earlier on sounded like a great idea, but a bit more space goes along way after a tough day on the move.

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

I can’t really think of any kit I wish I had from the beginning, except for the Lowe Alpine bag and the hammock.

I miss the Timberland jackets we bought before the walk. I bought two jackets that we carried until Ukraine and Russia for the winter, they will probably be the best jackets I will ever have owned, they were Timberland Earthkeepers and were just beasts. We eventually ended up giving them away to two elderly Ukrainian women who needed them a lot more than we did.

Adventurer Arjun Bhogal
Germany camping. Photo credit: Kieran Rae

What has been your best adventuring purchase below $100?

The best purchase under $100: no matter how much kit I’ve got, it’s still my notebook and pen. It’s great to just have for whenever you’re bored and want to write or draw something. It’s always there just kept at the back of my bag waiting for me when I need it, and it doesn’t run out of battery.

My other favourite gear like I mentioned before was the solar panels (voltaic systems), the Vaio laptop (Sony) and my Lowe Alpine rucksack. And of course, out of the 12 pairs of shoes I wore through in five years, my favourites were the original pair I left in, the New Balance 1000. They were comfortable, durable and I wish I bought a few pairs of them to be honest.

Adventurer Arjun Bhogal
Kazakh Camping. Photo credit: Kieran Rae

What is your best advice for other adventurers?

I think the advice I could offer would be remember to listen to your instincts. Be warned that everyone will become an expert in what you want to achieve once you tell them. That’s not to say ignore them and just believe in yourself, that’s how people fail too. LISTEN to all advice but be selective. Take on board what people say but only you know what will work for you, disregard what you know won’t.

Surround yourself with like-minded people, it’s where things feel more possible and that feeling can lead to actions. Re-adjust your idea of failure, it’s not a bad thing, it’s where you learn the most. I heard someone say, it’s a good test of character to fail at least once at something important. I failed everyday for five years. And the most important, allow yourself those days where you want to just disappear into the ground. Know that they will come but also take solace in the fact it will go away. So if you can’t handle facing the world on those particular days, don’t feel guilty as depression and anxiety are natural feelings to experience that we all go through at one point or another in our lives. But they shouldn’t stop you from experiencing life, if they are, speak to someone, reach out.

Adventurer Arjun Bhogal
Tajik Mountains, Afghanistan. Photo credit: Arjun Bhogal

What will the future bring?

The future for now will be working on the book about my journey and hopefully telling the story of Borderwalk to as many people that will listen. I think the message is a great one and I want to hopefully inspire people to take on their own adventure no matter what size and let them realize through the story that you don’t have to be special to achieve something special. We’re all capable to great things.

As you can probably tell by now I don’t think I’m very gear driven, I’ve probably mentioned the same pieces of kit over and over again, so there’s no particular gear that I dream about. Strangely one thing I missed on the walk was a shelf… it sounds stupid, but it’s weird how much you miss having a clean flat surface to put something down on, just a bit of respite from conditions on the ground really. But I don’t think you can consider a shelf as gear so.

Visit Arjun Bhogal on his website and follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

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