This Woman Travels The World Alone On The Back Of A Motorcycle

The fact of the matter is this: Travel scares a lot of people. The fear of the unknown keeps many of us from striking out on the road and chasing adventure. It makes us hesitate, waffle, and (all too often) pick the easy route rather than the more fulfilling one.

We’re here to break down those fears and show people a world that’s worth traveling for. That’s why we share stories like the one you’re reading. In fact, it’s the basis for the whole The Mad Ones series. We want to remind people: You can do this, other people are.

Last week, I sat down with adventurer Rosie Gabrielle to discuss the fear of Islam, traveling with chronic illness, life on the road as solo female traveler, and riding badass motorcycles like… well… a badass.

What was your first experience with motorcycles?

Well, when I was 19, I did my first ever solo trip. I was just planning on backpacking. I was going to do Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. My whole idea of this trip was to get a rich cultural experience. I loved photography and I really wanted to just to get out there and meet people. I got there and you take a bus from point A to point B. You’re stuck on this bus with a bunch of other foreigners and you miss everything in between. This wasn’t my idea of traveling. It wasn’t my way.

I’d taken a small trip when I was up in the north of Thailand to the border of Burma and I rented a little scooter. This was the first time I’d ever been on two wheels before. I was absolutely hooked. I thought to myself, ‘this is the way I have to travel.’

That’s a great aspect of Thailand — and most of Southeast Asia really — the bike riding culture is huge there. Did you end up buying a bike?

Yeah. I was volunteering up near Chang Mai and the director of the orphanage helped me go out and buy a bike. I was looking at some bigger bikes, but I wanted something that all the locals used. I wanted a bike that could go anywhere and the locals would have tools to fix… and know how to fix it. So I got the 125 CC Honda Dream. It’s a semi-automatic scooter. That thing brought me 12,000 kilometers (7,500 miles) around the four countries in six months.

And this was 12 years ago! There were no smart phones or fancy GPS, or whatever. It was just a paper map and go! I was so hooked. When I got home, I bought my first big-girl bike — a Honda Shadow 500 CC.

Which country in Southeast Asia pulls you back the most?

Well, I went back a couple years later to Thailand and Cambodia. Each country I visit, they all have their own unique draw for me. A lot of it has to do with the people I meet. It’s not so much the country. The countries are all beautiful, but it’s really more of the people that draw me back. I really enjoyed my time in Cambodia. I spent a lot of time working with the street kids there, and so that drew me back there. They were all great.

How long was it before you got back on the road?

From there, I ended up landing a job in the Middle East. I got a singing contract out there, and then later I opened my photography company. I kind of got caught in this revolving door of work. My company did really well. I worked a lot, and I just kind of got stuck with working for almost nine years. Every year went by and I kept saying how all I wanted to do was travel the world by motorcycle. This was my dream, and I wasn’t following it.

A few years ago, I met a fellow by the name of Alex Chacon, whom you may have heard of.

Yeah, I see you two are in a lot of each other’s social media and travel posts.

We partnered up for a couple of years. I started traveling and working for him, doing his videos and his photos, and he basically re-inspired me travel again. We did from Texas to Arizona and Utah and back, which was incredible. We did that KLR 650s. Then we traveled all over doing projects in Egypt, India, Morocco, and Italy. Unfortunately, things didn’t pan out with us.

But you’ve been able to stay out there on the road. What motivated you to keep going?

This time last year, a friend of mine passed away, and I was going through our email threads, re-reading over and over again. All I was saying over the past eight years was I was so miserable and all I wanted to do was ride a motorcycle around the world. It just occurred to me, life is so short. I thought, ‘you know what? I’ve got to start doing something for me.’ I wasn’t happy with where I was in life. I had to just go out and do it. There are challenges, but that’s what makes my heart and my soul happy.

I always said, ‘oh, one day I’ll do this. One day. One day…’ Then I just woke up and said, ‘I’m going to make that one day a today.’

You decided to strike out on your own. Where did you go first?

This last summer, I took my Honda Shadow 5,000 kilometers from Vancouver and I looped down the 101 coastal road, down the Oregon coast to San Francisco. Then I looped around Yosemite into Lake Tahoe and then Yellowstone National Park and then back up. And I did it with my small dog, Winston, who was strapped to the front of me. Then after that, it was like, ‘you know what? I want to take this a bit further.’

I’ve been saying for years that I want to travel South America. I want to ride all of India. I want to do Africa. I want to live. And I know now that this is how I want to live.

It’s a great way to live a life. Where’s next?

I decided to ride India, and that was my plan. I was going to do all of India and Nepal for six months. I went back to Oman to work for a few months. When I got over there, the opportunity of riding Africa came up. Some guy I knew had a bike here, and he’s like, “I need it ridden back to Zanzibar.” I was like, “Oh, I can do that.” So now I’m in Cape Town and I’ve got his bike. I’m not going to go straight to Zanzibar. I’m going to do nine countries. I’m going to do a slight detour.

A huge cost of travel is transportation. How do you find bikes to ride? Is it that you need to be plugged into to the riding community, or?

Yeah, absolutely. Earlier last year, I rode across Oman. I had a friend of mine who had a bike shop there, and he lent me a Royal Enfield. Just last month, in January, I did another Oman tour. I rode two and a half thousand kilometers around Oman again and the same fellow, he lent me a KLR 650.

Have you ever taken your Honda with you on a trip?

Getting a bike to Africa is really difficult. A lot of paperwork if you ship it over your own. Then the import fees and everything, these things cost a lot of money, which I don’t have. So things don’t always work out.

For this trip in Africa, it was just a fellow I met through my social media and we started talking. He had ridden this bike from Zanzibar to Cape Town, and it was just sitting here. He needed it back to Zanzibar because of the insurance. In life, I’ve always kind of taken these opportunities that come up.

It’s kind of like a really cool ride-sharing thing you’ve got going on. There might be an app in there somewhere. Have you ever gotten a sponsorship to ride for a specific bike company?

Yeah, for India I was hoping to get a bike sponsored because I have done quite a bit of rides on Royal Enfields. We’ll see.

How do you fund these trips? Do you pull from savings or are you working while you’re on the road?

My work is based out of Oman, and I’ve kind of created an empire there. Whenever I go back, I have work. It’s a ‘I can go back whenever I want, type thing’. I just work a few months of the year, save up, and then use that money to travel with.

I can see on your Insta-feed, you’re not breaking the bank in luxe hotels?

What I do spend comes from my savings. I’m an extremely budget-minded traveler. I usually wild-camp, so I don’t pay for accommodation. And being a solo female, people always want to invite you into their home. They just want to take care of you. I most often use home-stays when I’m not camping.

Plus, the riding community is amazing. So I’m staying with friends of friends who are riders here in Cape Town. I also don’t eat a lot, so food doesn’t cost much. Eventually maybe I’ll set up a donation page, but that’s just weird for me. I don’t know.

I was surprised when I was in Oman how big the riding culture was there. I was also shocked how insanely inexpensive the food was as well.

Yeah. People always say, “Oh, it must so expensive…” But really, life back home is what’s expensive. You go out for a decent dinner and drinks, you’re spending $50 to $100. That will last me a week on the road! Sometimes people ask me, “Oh, it must cost …” I have to say, “no, really, it doesn’t cost what you think!”

You don’t have to be a millionaire to travel. You just have to be easy-going and kind of like, ‘okay, so I don’t shower for a week. I’m not bothered.’

A lot of people hear some of these country names and they make assumptions about safety. What do you say to people when they ask, “Are you going to be okay?”

It’s funny, because I hear nothing but these negative comments. It’s from people who pay attention to all the negatives in the media. They really have no idea what it’s really like out there. The reality is, it’s not like that. Yeah, there will be stories and there are dangerous places, but anywhere you go in the world — even Vancouver — there’s always going to be dangerous areas.

Am I scared? No. I’ve never really been a fearful person with this sort of thing. I do believe in the greater good of humanity, but I’ve never had anything but positive and amazing experiences, especially traveling across Muslim countries. That’s why I started doing video documentation. I want to show people in great detail that my experiences and interactions with people isn’t what you see in the media.

Exactly. It’s a human one-to-one sort of thing that’s very difficult to grasp when the only information you receive is negative.

Exactly. I don’t want to say it’s safer or less-safe traveling as a female; but sometimes a male presence has an intimidating factor. I find for me, as a female, people just want to take care of me and look after me. Sometime they’re just dumb-founded. They’re like, “Wait, where are your friends? Where are the men?” I’m like, “No, no, I’m by myself.” They’re like, “No, no.” The first reaction definitely is shock.

Obviously Islam and the Middle East is a huge part of humanity’s zeitgeist at the moment, especially in the USA and the West. You’re someone who’s spent a very large amount of your life in that part of the world — traveling there, working there, and living there. What sort of message would you like to send out about that part of the world?

I’ve traveled to quite a few different Muslim-Arab countries, and I can say by far, without a doubt, some of the kindest, most generous, amazing people I’ve ever met are there. The misperceptions in the West really bothers me, especially now with this ban in the US.

I had an instance when I moved back home, and this man had slandered this Muslim woman in public. He just was really inappropriate towards her. I said, “What’s your problem?” He’s like, “You never see a Canadian bombing anyone, and they should all go to hell.” There’s just this anger and negative perception towards Muslims, and I just don’t get it. These people will help complete strangers as if they’re family, and they’re just such wonderful, beautiful people. They really are. It’s such a peaceful religion, and it’s unfortunate that a few of these extremists have kind of tagged a name for the entire group.

It’s always hard going home after being out in the world — especially a part of the world that people back home have such rigid ideas about.

I know, I had reverse culture shock when I moved back home to Canada. I just enjoyed living out there so much better. There was so much more of a connection.

On my last trip, I met this Omani man and he was telling me how every single person is connected. In Canada, or the US, people just go about their day, and they’re so shut-off from everybody. They’re either on their phones or distracted in some other way. They’re not connected to the people. People don’t say, “Hello, how are you?” these days, or even smile at each other. In Oman, or in the Muslim religion, you always say “As-salāmu ʿalaykum” which means “Peace be with you.” Then they always start asking, “how is your family? How is…” It doesn’t matter who you are, you know? You don’t even have to be Muslim. Everyone cares about everyone.

What’s been the most difficult thing and what do you think has been the best thing?

It is great traveling alone. I can do what I want whenever I want. Also, when you’re with someone else, you’re comfortable with that person. So you may not reach out of your comfort zone to go meet people or to do things because you stick with that person. Then it could go the other way, and maybe that person motivates you.

Sometimes you see great things or this horrible thing by yourself and it’s like, ‘I really wish I had someone to share that with.’ The hardest part for me while traveling is that I do have a lot of health problems. It’s very challenging, but it’s one of these things where it really makes my soul happy, so I’ve just kind of got to go with it.

Is it easy to get medication on the road, see doctors, or do you usually go home for that?

I have something called fibromyalgia, which is a muscle and nerve deterioration disease. Basically, that means that I’m in pain 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. On the road you can get medicine anywhere. There are plenty of pharmacies. You don’t even need doctors for prescriptions in most places. You just get medicine directly. For me, I always travel with travel insurance. If I need medical attention, I can get it.

You don’t let the pain stand in the way of living your life.

You can stay at home and be comfortable. These past two years, I basically did that and tried everything to try and heal myself. I spent a good portion of my savings on it, but I realized I was miserable and my body’s always going to be sick. So what do I do? I just go out and do it.

That’s really inspiring, ‘just go out and do it.’

If I can do it, anybody can do it.

That’s right.

No excuses.

You can follow Rosie Gabrielle’s adventures around the world on her Instagram and YouTube channel.

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When you're ready to call it quits… hands are up, white flag is drawn. I would say I'm of the exceptionally "sensitive variety of people" …. don't get me wrong.. I'm as tough as nails, have endured more pain in my life than the average person, will travel anywhere by myself and have balls bigger than King Kong… but when it comes to people bullying me and trying to bring me down, I'm afraid that's where i falter. It's the way of the artist, we are sensitive souls, and yes the world does need us. But it can be incredibly difficult at times. Especially putting yourself out there as I have. You are subject to so much… both good and bad. And unfortunately there are individuals out there who have nothing better to do then to prey on others. For the most part I laugh it off, and move on. But every now and then it really hits deep and it can be hard to handle. I know it is Them Who have the issues and is not reflected on me whatsoever. I know I'm a good person and never intend to do any wrong to any living being… but still.. in my more fragile states… it hurts. So then I must pick myself up, give myself a big hug, tell myself everything will be alright… and move on. (Often easier said then done) On a totally separate note …. and the good side of this social thing… today I felt like a complete celebrity !! I was spotted in a shopping center today, a fellow comes up to me and says "ROSIE!!!" Me Looking puzzled, and never had met his man before … he continues.. "I've been following you on IG for the last two weeks !" Whaaaaaat!?! No way ! Haha I blushed. It was weird and cool.. so it helped to balance out my not so fabulous day. Thank you JK for making my day !!! ☺❤ #GoPro #goprohero4 #ride100percent @ride100percent

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The Mad Ones is a reference to a famous quote from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: “…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’”
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