LIFELONG AMBITION: Ahmed Mashadani began his journey across 21 countries as an undergraduate and emerged 85 days later with a new perspective of the world
WHILE other university students in Europe had enjoyed the recent three-month summer holiday on vacation somewhere exotic, undergraduate Ahmed Mashadani spent his on the back of his moped and sleeping at bus stops or anywhere he can spend the night for free.
The University of Nottingham, United Kingdom student had travelled 20,000km on a 110cc machine from Malaysia to England across 21 countries since June to celebrate the end of his year-long study abroad placement at the Nottingham Malaysia campus.
Going on a road trip halfway around the world is the 25-year-old's lifelong ambition.
“I read in a travel magazine many years ago about a man who drove his BMW around Africa. (Going on such a trip) has been my dream ever since,” wrote Ahmed, a Swede, in an email interview with Learning Curve.
His journey, which began on June 29, ended recently after being on the road for some 85 days.
The Business Management student returns to university to resume his studies at the main campus tomorrow.
Ahmed admits that travelling alone around the world is a daunting prospect. But the success of his 4,000km bike ride from Malaysia to Laos over a semester break in January had bolstered his courage.
“The three short weeks on the road were amazing, producing some pretty unique stories. But I was truly sad that it was over so quickly; the hunger for more (trips) was inevitable,” reads the first entry of his blog GoingNotts — Malaysia to the UK on 110cc (www.goingnotts.com), in which Ahmed records his journey from Asia to Europe.
While the earlier journey was about testing the waters, the road trip to England was about pushing his limits and promoting a good cause.
Ahmed wanted to see how far he could go on a shoestring budget of less than US$1,500 (RM4,500) for expenditure, while raising money and awareness of the British Red Cross, his charity of choice.
“Although it might sound strange, the need to complete this journey on a ‘student’ budget was something I looked forward to. An element of unpredictability of how I am going to manage and if I am going manage, made the whole trip that bit more exciting,” he says.
“I haven’t set a target for raising the funds but I would like to raise as much money as I can,” he adds. (To donate, visit www.justgiving.com/goingnotts)
Ahmed contacted several sponsors to pull off his ambitious project.
Motorcycle manufacturer Demak gave him a new scooter, which he later named Datuk, or Dotts for short.
“It is an honorary title for those who have done something great and my (moped) had been carrying me, my luggage and its own weight without (much) fuss.”
Motorcycle accessories company GIVI provided him with clothing, a helmet and a storage box.
The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, on the other hand, raised RM2,000 for petrol.
Ahmed had everything mapped out before he set out on his adventure.
His initial plan was to go to “Bangkok first then take a cargo plane to Myanmar and off to Kolkata, India, Iran, Iraq and Turkey before heading to Europe”.
He made sure that he got “everything right with all the bureaucracy and administration” before traversing the “southern route”.
But as Ahmed discovered, life is full of surprises.
He experienced several adventures and misadventures just a few days into his journey, all of which he documented on his blog and Facebook page (www.facebook.com/GoingNotts) whenever he could find an Internet café.
“I was supposed to get to Krabi, Thailand by Sunday evening, but heavy rain, a ladyboy (transsexual) and a potential robber hindered me as well as pushed me forward!” he wrote on July 3.
More drama ensued in the following weeks — he lost his digital camera which resulted in a few photoless blog entries; waited for 10 hours to get his documents cleared in India; was accused of being a spy at the Pakistani border and escorted by the military for 550km into Iran which stretched over two days.
When Ahmed was not dealing with bureaucracy, he found himself battling extreme weather — chest-pressing heat during the day and chilly nights while riding through the desert.
“I experienced this even more while riding through Europe. The absence of a tent, a sleeping bag and warm clothes made it more challenging to sleep outside at night but you get used to it after a while,” he says.
While you can sense his frustration while going through the ordeal in his writing, Ahmed admits that his expedition would not be as enjoyable or memorable without the obstacles.
The amazing people he met throughout the journey made it all worthwhile.
Ahmed will never forget the hospitality and generosity of the Iranians despite “being treated like a security issue” at the border.
“Iran completely contradicted the picture painted in Western media. Sure it is still a police state with controversial politics, but like most nations, its people were trying to separate themselves from what the government is trying to do and what they want from life,” he says.
As Ahmed spent all of Ramadan on the road, he witnessed first-hand how the holy month magnified the charitable spirit of Iranians.
“You see families out after sunset, conquering the parks in massive picnic feasts all over Iran, inviting you to (share their food). You won’t go hungry during the evening,” he says.
Despite the hardship he experienced, Ahmed has had his fair share of luck too.
He considers himself fortunate to have met fellow travellers, university mates and their families as well as kind strangers who have offered him help, free repair services, home-cooked meals and a roof over his head in the cities where he made a stop.
Ahmed did not miss a chance to stop by his hometown Norrkoping, Sweden to visit his family whom he hadn’t seen for a year.
Being on the road has a way of changing a man and Ahmed feels he is more open and patient than before.
“I have changed my prejudices about the countries I have visited. I've had to think on my feet to solve problems and that has enhanced my creativity.
“I’ve also become a better negotiator as I got away many times without paying for things or not having the right documents. I’ve solved some issues with a bit of hand-waving, drawing things on a piece of paper or using one of two (useful) words in a particular language,” he says.
Now that he is back in the UK, Ahmed is happy to return to routine as an undergraduate.
But no long road trip would be complete without some kind of celebration.
In Ahmed’s case, it is lighting the Cuban cigar he had been saving for the occasion since he left Malaysia.
“Just don’t tell my mom about it!”
HAVE COURAGE, WILL TRAVEL
YOU do not need a truckload of cash to travel the world as long as you're willing to rough it out.
Ahmed Mashadani, a Business Management student at the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom who had travelled 20,000km on a 110cc moped from Malaysia to England across 21 countries on a student budget offers some useful tips:
• DON'T think too much. If you aspire to travel, just do it. I travelled with only US$1,500 (RM4,500) to prove that anyone with a slim budget can do it. If you have that amount or more, you have no excuses not to go on this crazy trip that you have always wanted to do!
• DO take it one day at a time. Don't think about the problems that you might encounter. Just take it easy.
• DO get medical insurance. I didn't so don‘t repeat my mistake. I was lucky to avoid any major incidents. But I know people who have had serious damage and ended up with a huge hospital bill.
• DO get the right travelling gear and prepare for extreme weather. I made the mistake of carrying one thin jacket that is good for modest temperatures. If you want to invest in something, get good clothes and a good sleeping bag.
• DO get sponsors if you are on a tight budget. If you can angle a good marketing opportunity for your potential sponsors, there are companies ready to help you.