A dream job, a nice house and a great social life – Tamar Valkenier had it all. And yet, six years ago, she decided to leave everything behind to go on adventure. One stormy day, Tamar set off on her bicycle to explore Europe – without a plan. Despite her admiration for the Balkans, she wanted to see more. Australia, New Zealand, Mongolia and Kenya soon followed. In Mongolia, three friends joined her – a horse, a camel and a dog. Tamar put her story on paper, resulting in her first book: Full-time Adventurer. In a nice conversation, in the company of her Dutch camel Einstein, Tamar tells us more about her adventure.
What made you want to go on an adventure six years ago?
That was a question that everyone asks themselves at some point: is this it? We all walk the same path – we need to study, think about our future, build a pension, and pursue careers. I did, I studied hard and then got my dream job with the police. That was really great – I got to work on murder and sex offenses and study at the FBI. Despite the fact that I thought it was incredibly cool, the thought that I would do this for the rest of my life stuck in my head. The fact that I had to keep doing this until my 67th birthday and that I would know in which wage scale I would be each year, was very distressing to me.
Then I broke my foot on a parachute jump and literally had to sit still for several weeks. That made me really think about life – what did I really want? I went to see what else the world had to offer. I read books about people who had been away for a year and that really appealed to me, I had never been away from home for more than five weeks. I was able to get 6 months off from work, but that was too short for me. So I decided to quit everything and explore Europe on my bike without a plan. I didn’t really care where I went – I just wanted to get away from it all at first. From all expectations, from the social pressure to perform, to build something. An urge for freedom – to be able to truly live consciously.
You eventually ended up in Australia, Indonesia and Mongolia via the Balkans. Why these countries?
I was very surprised by how beautiful I found the Balkans – I think I have seen all the streets of Croatia 3 times – amazing! Countries I knew nothing about and eventually spent six months. Furthermore, I had no plan, I let everything depend on the day itself. Sometimes I went where the sun was shining, sometimes on the advice of a local. I didn’t really care where I went, I just wanted to spend more time in nature. By not having a plan, I have met the most interesting people everywhere. Although you may not always connect with someone, I’m convinced that you can always learn something – about that person but also about yourself. Very valuable.
Eventually, I traveled through Mongolia for 5 months, in the Altai Mountains. I wanted to know what it would be like to travel as a nomad and I didn’t think a bicycle was a good fit for that. That’s why I wanted to bring two horses and a dog. However, I didn’t know anything about horses! But, like one of the wise lessons from my book, you can learn anything. So I took riding lessons and thought I was good enough afterwards. The original idea was to go out with two horses, but apparently that was not what the nomads did. So one of those horses became a camel to carry everything. After a week I gained confidence and we ended up on the road together for five months. Traveling with your own animals is great, but you keep asking yourself if it’s not wiser to set them free. These are ethical issues – am I doing the right thing or not? That process alone is very valuable.
You were looking for ‘ultimate freedom’. Did you find it?
It remains an on going quest – I don’t think I’ll ever find a straight answer. I also like that about life, the more I experience, see different perspectives, get to know new cultures – the more I realize that I have less and less of an opinion about everything. You are starting to become free from all sorts of opinions. I’m less and less for or against things – I’m just trying to understand why people do what they do. That’s why I travel the way I travel – to really get into their skin, to understand what drives them.
Ultimately, you have to find a balance in everything – for example, between freedom and connection, between being a guest and being able to play hostess, between rich and poor. It is always adapting to a new situation. I am free to come and go wherever I want. I have no mortgage, no children, no job. The freedom to change course is there. I have learned a lot of skills in recent years, which also gives me freedom. Knowing that I am unbound. Freedom can mean something different to everyone, but it’s about the quest. Make conscious choices and know what the consequences are.
What do you hope your story will bring people?
I hope it gives ideas of what else is possible in this life. What if you let go of everything? What have you always wanted to do? And why don’t you do that? A story that hopefully inspires to create your own path. It has brought me so much pleasure in life. And guts – I can deal with my fears much better. I dare to try everything – if it doesn’t work, then at least I’ve tried it. Mongolia was such a highlight for me – everything that came after that felt (and still feels) like a bonus. You not only become physically strong, but also mentally. You learn to trust yourself ánd life, that it will always work out in the end. I left mega neurotic, with anxiety disorders – you can read that in my book. However, these have (almost) completely disappeared, partly by simply following my heart, having no obligations. Getting out of bed whenever you want, eating when you’re hungry and not because it is lunch time. It creates a lot of space to try something, to take a different path.
It’s also a nice book for people who do not like to travel. It’s a quest for life. What is that meaning in life, what is really important? What more do you want to learn? It’s more about the inner journey – hopefully my story contributes to that.
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Pics – Tamar Valkenier