Interview with an experienced traveler
Sjoerd van Dekken is a born traveler. His first major trip started after secondary school. Together with a friend, he went to the Grand Canyon in Arizona and worked for a few months as a park guard. This was the first of many journeys. One year later, he biked on a tandem to the southern of Spain. In 2016, he walked from Hamburg to the North Cape and this is still just a small selection of Sjoerd’s impressive journeys.
One important condition for Sjoerd, is that a journey requires a goal. Such goals for Sjoerd were learning Spanish in Spain, and thaiboxing in Thailand. “It is not about the journey itself, but about the experiences during that journey”, he explains. He wants to challenge himself during a trip and thus does not avoid possible obstacles. In fact, Sjoerd considers such obstacles part of a journey itself and nice moments in the nature or with people compensate for them. His journeys are an escape from the daily reality and daily stress, and that’s one of the most important motivations for Sjoerd.
Sjoerd’s most famous trip is definitely his walk to from Hamburg to the North Cape. For this he was interviewed not only by us (The Green Grasshopper), but also by the magazine of Wageningen University (Resource), a small Dutch news site (DeGouda.nl) and a Swedish news site (Dalademokraten). When Sjoerd saw a documentary on Discovery Channel about someone who biked to the North Cape, he decided that he want to do the same, but on foot. His parents considered him crazy and they did not think that Sjoerd would really do it. Provided that he stayed in contact, they eventually agreed. Then a journey of 2700 kilometers started and Sjoerd left Hamburg without any money on him. He really enjoyed the nature he encountered on during his trip, but also the contact with the local communities. Sjoerd was forced to get in touch with locals, because he did not have any money or possessions. This dependency caused many beautiful moments and he received a lot of heartening reactions, because people loved what he did. However, contact with other people decreased as he went further north. Some days, he did not even speak to anyone. After 96 days, he finally reached the North Cape and after that he hitchhiked back to the Netherlands.
Ups and downs
Of course, every journey has its ups and downs, but Sjoerd has difficulties mentioning one highlight. Eventually, he tells us about a hike in Alaska. There, he walked next to a river and at the other side he’ saw a grizzly bear with a salmon in its mouth. In the opinion of Sjoerd, this is an excellent example of unspoilt nature which he loves so much. He also met people during his journeys which he would never have met in his normal daily life. “Getting into contact with new people and learning about each other's lives and views is priceless.”. Unfortunately, Sjoerd faced also some difficult moment during his trips as well. One time, for example, his few personal belongings were stolen. His feet also hurt during his long daily walks, and then Sjoerd’s creativity kicked in: He found a pram and this helped him to walk! Nevertheless, Sjoerd does not think that these are real low points. “Difficulties are part of everyone’s life and you should deal with them.”.
Sjoerd is aware of the environmental impacts of tourism, but like most of us he still travels often by plane. During his journeys, Sjoerd’s environmental impact is quite small, because he walks a lot and does not sleep in hotels. He also gathers cans during his hikes; not only to clean the environment, but also because he earns the deposit! Additionally, Sjoerd’s way of traveling brings him to small villages and in that way he supports the local economy instead of large hotel or restaurant chains. He also envisions supporting a friend with a Food Forest in Spain, but this is not very concrete yet.
Sjoerd does not think that everyone should be a tourist like him. When everybody makes similar journeys, it is not special anymore. What is more, overcrowding can then be a serious problem with all the associated consequences. Sjoerd discourages people from following tourist masses and he is absolutely not in favour of tourists who travel because of Instagram pictures! “That does not make you a better person, you only should travel because you really want that and not because of such a thing as Instagram or Facebook.”.
With so much travel experience, Sjoerd has of course some advice for our readers! First of all, start with something approachable. For example by choosing a hike with multiple legs, like the Via de la Plata tour from Sevilla to Santiago de Compostella (Spain). It is also important to open up and be really enthusiastic when you want to do such hikes. In addition, do not bring much luggage. Invest in low-weight equipment, and take only the most essential stuff with you, as every kilo counts! For more inspiration, check the Facebook page of Sjoerd!