“People are an obstacle that is very difficult to overcome. So, I made peace and accepted them. And they were no longer a problem for me, and turned into events I just smile at.
Interview: Şener Yılmaz Aslan
What was it that transformed Melike, the lawyer into a world traveler? How was the idea born to leave everything aside and hit the roads on a bike?
Melike Dede: Looking back now, everything is made up of interconnected links spread throughout a process. So, it’s so hard to give one specific reason. Interestingly enough, if someone had told me a year ago that I would do this I would not take it so seriously. As a matter of fact, when I decided to set out, I was actually making other plans. I spent a lot of effort to pursue my career and earn my master’s degree abroad. I was accepted into two schools in Germany after weeks of paperwork. But for whatever reason, I suddenly started thinking, “So, what then”, and realized that this was not what I really wanted. As I was contemplating what else I wanted, I remembered my dreams of traveling. Slowly, biking entered my life as an idea at first. And then, I had the opportunity to meet many biking travelers, probably due to being in the right place at the right time.
Toni Morrison has this famous quote, “You wanna fly, you got to give up the stuff that weighs you down”. What made you give up the things that weighed you down?
This is, unfortunately, not a formula that is readily available, and it isn’t something that I can say, “This is how I gave up stuff” either. I’m not even sure if I gave up stuff. Life consists of some events, and what matters is how much of these events we see, how much we are aware of them. I guess we should free our minds from that misconception of “I must go places” that life instills in us. At least, this is what I did. This is how I was able to move away from most of the material stuff that I considered unimportant. But it was not something that came along with the idea of a trip. In the last few years I had already been striving to minimalize my life. So they just became two complementary factors.
But if you ask me, the most difficult thing that weighed me down was “what other would say”. People are an obstacle that is very difficult to overcome. So, I made peace and accepted them. And they were no longer a problem for me, and turned into events I just smile at.
How did you take that first step? How was that first hill climbed up on a bike? How did you feel, especially as you left Istanbul farther and farther behind?
It may sound strange but I was not even sure that I would actually be on the road until I got on my bike the first time and rode away from my house. Then I saw that I was actually on my way, and really going. I rode the first 20 kilometers on the coastal path. I said, “Wow, this is cool, and I’m going quite comfortably.” After I took the ferry to Yalova, I noticed that something wrong when I started to stop every 5 minutes on a hill with about 3-4% inclination. I remember thinking, “What is this? Will I always climb uphill like this?” The first days were quite fun in this respect. I would start whining when I came to a hill. I made a lot of fun of myself for it. But over time, my body got used to it.
Riding away from Istanbul was a strange feeling at first. I was realizing my dream. I was cycling. There were people who said I couldn’t but I was doing it. I would no longer waste 4 hours a day commuting. I would devote my time only to myself, and my purpose. It is a powerful feeling. I saw what the idea of freedom was more or less there.
Did you always stay in a tent throughout the trip or did you have other experiences? For instance, how did you solve the accommodation issue in Iran?
In Turkey, we mostly stayed in tents Once or twice, there were people who invited us to their homes. In Iran and India we mostly used Couchsurfing and Warmshowers. To explain these sites briefly, they are platforms based on the reference system, where people host guests without expecting any material gain. As a matter of fact, we only stayed at a hotel twice in the first seven months of our trip. But then, we were unable to find any decent houses to stay at in India, so we mostly stayed in hotels and hostel in the last two months.
You busked in Tehran, did you have previous experience as a busker, or was it a first for you? How did people respond?
In the past I had some unsuccessful attempts at musical instruments but for the first time in my life I got a harmonica and took to the streets. I had never touched the harmonica before, or played on the streets for that matter. I guess, I don’t need to say how shy I was. But this trip was a wonderful opportunity to do things that I thought I could never do, or busking was a chance to at least try and break down some of these mental barriers. For two weeks, we busked at almost every metro stop in Tehran. People’s response was awesome. I thought for a while that they were surely messing with us because we kept repeating the same 3 chords all the time. I would sometimes play a different note on the harmonica, but it was never intentional. But people were responding, saying things like, “You play nice music,” or “I wish there were more people that make music like you”. But of course, we were also kicked out from a couple of metro stations. By kicked out, I mean we were kindly asked by the security to leave. In Esfahan, which is smaller and more conservative compared to Tehran, a guy asked us to leave, saying that it was illegal. But then the people who were listening intervened and convinced the man to let us stay. Such things happened.
As a vegetarian how did it feel being in India, which has the world’s highest vegetarian population? But before that, we should ask why you chose to be a vegetarian.
At first I felt like I was in heaven. For years, all the vegans and vegetarians have been trying to explain that there is no difference between a cow and a dog. That it is not fair to eat one while we call the other as a man’s best friend. I felt like crying when I saw the cows wandering the streets freely. Another good thing is that you are offered vegan and vegetarian options wherever you go. But even though I wouldn’t normally prefer it at all, we were forced to eat at world famous fast food chains in some places. But then, 70% of the food options there were also vegetarian. Indian cuisine, setting aside the hygiene and spices, is a very successful in this respect.
As to why I chose to become a vegetarian, I respect the animals’ right to life. I do not eat them because I am against enslaving them to the industry, and I try to eat as few animal products as possible. Similarly, when I’m buying a product, I take five minutes to read its contents. I do not use products with animal content or are tested on animals. I also try to cause minimal harm on the environment and myself, considering the huge amount of additives used in the animal food industry.
One of the things that people were most curious about was probably your train trip in India. As someone who has panic attacks, what motivated and helped you in taking the trip without a glitch?
I took a lot of train trips India. On my first train ride, I calmly got on and everything was normal. I mean, there was not a panic situation like I had experienced before. Then when people started getting on the train, I began to get a little tense. India has a very wide railway network, and almost everyone uses trains for transportation. And also, the trains are sometimes so crowded that there are people everywhere in the beds, in the luggage compartments, on the floor, in short everywhere. It smells like a toilet inside. There is no air conditioning. There are iron bars on the windows. And, of course, the wagons we traveled in are the cheapest ones. Hence the chaos. The crowds and the iron bars on the windows were what made me feel like suffocating. But I did not have much choice so I tried to talk myself out of it. So with minor changes, I was able to travel a little bit more calmly. For example, every wagon has 4 emergency exit windows. Those windows do not have iron bars. I started to sit in places near the emergency exit windows as soon as I got on the train. Such changes were helpful.
And you started to teach English in Thailand although it wasn’t in your plans. How did that story develop, and what was the experience like for you?
There is something I wholeheartedly believe, and place at the core of my life. Everything in life happens for a reason, to take you one step further from where you are. And whatever it is, it does not happen out of the blue but with the energy you give to it. Work as a teacher of English was such a thing for me. I had met a Turkish friend in Iran purely by chance (I am just saying that, there is no such thing as coincidence), who was teaching English in Thailand when I arrived there. She offered to talk to the school for me, and by chance they happened to have a vacancy for a teacher. As a result, I found myself teaching children on the third day I arrived in Thailand. This opportunity that came to my life when it wasn’t in the plans was the reason I spent the most wonderful month of my life.
I thought I was not a fan of kids. I mean, I like chatting and playing with children because their view of life is very precious and interesting to me. But I could never imagine that one day I would bear the children’s whining and naughtiness. But in that one-month period was an indescribable experience showing me that with the right communication, teaching techniques, love and understanding people could change. And I am not even talking about the joy of watching cartoons freely and singing children’s songs.
Most people probably think that putting everything on hold and leaving for months requires huge amounts of money. What was your experience, is it really as they think?
Like any normal person, I thought that money would be a big issue when I first decided to set out. But I later saw that money is not even in the top 3 on the list of things needed for such a trip. I do not want to say “travel without money” or “you don’t need money”. I am actually against such an idea because I know people who set out like me but were forced to return to their country due to hardships. What I mean is that you do not need billions to travel like I did. I use Couchsurfing for accommodation, I bike or hitchhike. The only thing I spend money is mostly food. Occasionally, I take a job opportunity. I traveled like this and spent something around TL 3,000 in 10 months. I even add a section at the end of my blog posts detailing how much I spent on what in each country.
I should add that money is also about what you expect from the journey. After all, not everyone has to travel like I did. If you feel that you cannot stay in the homes of strangers, or staying as a hostel in a room for 6, or if you do not prefer street food, things change. Then the budget will automatically double.
There is this, too, for instance, since I set out, outdoor store Kutupayısı has been supporting me with equipment. In fact, sponsorship can be possible with such a good project. A project is a must for such support. I see that everyone is looking for a sponsor, but without a project in hand.
Are there other travel plans next? Will this start turn into a world tour?
I want to be on the roads for as long as I am in good health. I will continue to travel on my bike, by car, caravan, hitchhiking, running, at home or abroad, in short wherever and however I want, and in any way the universe guides me to experience. Nowadays, I have been developing projects because I want my trips to serve a good cause. I want to travel for something good instead of just traveling idly. So we can say I am in a short period of waiting. But meanwhile I am not idle, and we are doing some activities with the Kutupayısı Dream Team, consisting of my fellow travelers supported by Kutupayısı on their journeys. We will soon announce an activity. Once the projects in my head begin to take shape a bit more, I will continue from I left off like a bear.
Thank you for the interview. One last thing, how can people follow you?
Instagram/ Twitter: @melkeontheroad
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