Instructor Spotlight: Sam Manicom

Photo By: Sam Manicom

Written in collaboration with Sam Manicom

After a long COVID-related absence from the US, Overland Expo cannot wait to welcome back Sam Manicom in 2022, where he plans to attend our Mountain West and East events in August and October. Sam will be teaching classes about “how to” write travel articles and plan finances for long overland journeys. He will entertain, inspire and delight the crowd with his “Don’t Forget to Laugh” presentation in the Around the World Pavilion on Saturday. And he has agreed to sit for another round of his intimate and ever-popular “Sam Manicom: Ask Me Anything” session. Sam will also host book signings in the Author Tent, where all of his books will be available for sale. There are many reasons why this legend of overlanding and author is a favorite human of many of those who have met him in person or been touched by the words in his books. Please continue reading to learn more about Sam and why Overland Expo is so honored and thrilled to welcome him back. 

Image by Sam Manicom

Adventurer, author, and presenter Sam Manicom has been traveling pretty much since he was 16 years old when he completed his first solo trip outside of the UK by bicycle. He subsequently traveled using various forms of transport, including sail, bus, and train, and he has hiked and hitchhiked in many parts of the world. However, he is better known for his motorcycle journeys.

His planned one-year motorcycle ride the length of Africa turned into an epic eight-year, 200,000-mile journey across 55 countries around the world. Returning from this motorcycle adventure, Sam now works full-time in the world of adventure travel. He says, “travel is one of the most invigorating things a person can do. When you are out there on the road experiencing, learning, making mistakes, discovering, facing challenges, and being surprised, all your senses are alive and singing. Every day will be an adventure; this world of ours literally is awesome.”

Sam was awarded the Overland Magazine Spirit of Adventure Award for his contribution to Overlanding. His ambition in life is to encourage others to travel, explore, and learn about both the world and themselves. One of his favorite sayings is, “It doesn’t matter how you travel, but that you travel.” 

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He has been writing travel articles for magazines in the USA, Canada, Italy, Spain, Germany, the UK, and Australia since 1996. He has been a guest of Adventure Rider Radio and is a co-host of their ARR RAW show. He has also been a guest on numerous radio shows, including BBC Radio’s “Drive Time” and the BBC travel show “Excess Baggage.”

Sam gained a wealth of life experience from various jobs in numerous countries through the years. Though trained in retail management, those tasks included digging sewers, waiting on tables, fruit picking, house renovation projects, construction site work, and law firm practice management. Throughout, travel remained his first passion.

He is the author of four acclaimed motorcycle travel books which take the reader exploring the six continents which made up his journey around the world. Into Africa, Under Asian Skies, Distant Suns (Southern Africa and South – Central America), and Tortillas to Totems (Mexico, the USA, and Canada). He is the compiler and co-editor of the brand new book “The Moment Collectors. Twenty Traveller’s Tales from Around the World.”

You can find more information via Sam’s website, and you can link up with him on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Please continue reading to find out more about Sam through our interview. 

Image by Sam Manicom

Tell us about your motorcycle:

I have two now, which is quite a weird sensation after so many years with just my travel bike. My travel bike is a BMW R80GS from 1992. I bought her new just a couple of months before setting off on my ride through Africa. I had no idea what I was doing and had no friends who were motorcyclists, so it was a case of asking questions and listening to advise. I was so naive that I didn’t even know which motorcycle magazines might give me sound advice!

The whole business of making the trip through Africa happened because of a visit to the pub. On my return from a previous three-year trip, I’d decided that I should grow up and get a career. I mean, that’s what adults are supposed to do, isn’t it? It was incredibly hard to get a job with my track record for traveling, but one employer saw right past the so-called holiday gaps in my CV. He recognized the advantages of recruiting someone who knew how to stand on their own two feet, knew how to research, understood the importance of lateral thinking and the enthusiasm to make ideas happen, and who, in spite of first glances, understood the value of commitment. 

I surprised myself at how well I did, and quite a few years went by with me enjoying the buzz of the new types of challenges my role gave me. Of course, nothing in life ever runs completely smoothly, and sometimes time changes things. One night in the pub, when I was feeling unhappy about the direction the company was heading in, I had a few too many beers. Dangerous stuff beer! It made me realize that other than the company, I had no responsibilities. 

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It clicked that I had no debt and had some savings. All my family was well, and with no kids or pets, there was nothing to stop me from hitting the road again. The work situation wasn’t going to get better, and that awareness had the travel bug itching strongly. What to do? Even though in a bit of a beery state, my grey cells were firing. I needed a new challenge, a new destination, and a new way to explore. One more beer, and I knew what I was going to do. I was going to ride a motorcycle through Africa.

I handed my notice in the next morning, bought a small cc bike at lunchtime, and passed my test 6 weeks later. The weather clock was ticking. I had three months to make it to the Sahara if I was going to beat the heat. During this time, I had to sell everything I’d got to ensure I had enough money to make a full-on adventure happen. I had to learn everything I could about Africa and traveling through it on a motorcycle.

I’ve digressed a bit, but by painting the beer picture, you’ll understand why I bought my travel bike on the advice of two strangers in the pub. If you can imagine the scene, I was telling my mates what my plan was, and they cracked up laughing. ‘Nutter’ was one of the more polite comments.

Two guys were listening in on our rather raucous conversation, and after a while, the nearest guy leaned across and asked what bike I was going to take. I really didn’t have a clue. I knew the things it should ideally be able to do but not which was best. “Take a BMW R80GS; it’s bulletproof,” he said. His mate then muttered, “It’s idiot proof too.” I was sold. And they were right.

She now has 278,000 miles on her and goes by the name of Libby. That’s short for Liberty. It’s what she gives me.

Image by Sam Manicom

My second bike, also a BMW, lives in the USA. Her name is Lucky. She’s a 2013 F800GS and is a class act. I won’t go into the story of how I came to own her as it’s another long one, but let’s put it this way, the stars aligned, and I am genuinely very lucky to have her. She’s brilliant fun to ride, and it’s fantastic to be able to land in the USA and have her ready to roll!

Image by Sam Manicom

I do need to give a thumbs up to a couple of friends here. It’s possible for me to do that due to the very kind help with storage and maintenance by Mark and Lu Carrera of Outback Motortek! Cheers to you two. And Al Jesse, who set me up with advice, registration, and insurance. You guys are a perfect example of what the motorcycling traveling community is like.

All-time favorite campsite?

I’m a real fan of wild camping and have managed to stay in some simply incredible spots. As a wild camper, I’ve also stayed in some very dodgy spots. Police have moved on me, I’ve slept by my bike in car parks, and I’ve woken to find the tall grass around my tent had been flattened by hippos. I’ve also been stupid enough on a rainy, cold day in Canada to try sleeping under a bridge. That was rather a loud experience!

Why wild camp, besides turning camp site money into fuel money?

I love waking up to the world with just me, Birgit, and our bikes. Three of my favorite continents for wild camping are Africa, Australia, and North America, and there are loads of tips for camping in each, but I won’t digress. I will apologize, though. I don’t have a favorite spot.

However, I loved camping just to the side of Victoria Falls. Camping on the edge of villages in Africa is an experience never forgotten. You are the object of fascination for everyone in the village. Nothing you do goes unobserved. The other side of this coin is that when you have the permission of the village elder, you are under his protection, and nothing will happen to you. You also have free reign to be curious back. With an open mind, this can be a heart-warming and very funny experience.

As I’m writing this, the image of a beach in Baja, California, has popped into my mind. We’d been told how wonderful this beach was by a German motorcycle overlander. We’d met Ben in Kathmandu and were swapping ideas and suggestions, as you do. His tip was a gem. ‘His’ beach of pale sands was fringed by a mix of azure and turquoise sea. The water was warm, and there wasn’t a soul around. A planned one-night stay turned into seven nights of travel magic. ‘Travel magic’? We had our own transport so we could get to the beach and then, simply, could stay as long as our visas and the weather allowed us to.

Image by Sam Manicom

What’s your go-to overlanding meal?

I always think of good food as being an investment in my journey. If my body is happy and so firing on all cylinders, then I have the chance to max out any adventure. If I’m not sick because I’ve eaten well and wisely, then I can have adventures that don’t involve the insides of a doctor’s waiting room, pharmacies, and even hospitals.

Our choice of meals varies from one country to the next, according to the availability of ingredients. The meal has to be both healthy and filling, and as we are always on a tight budget, value for money always matters too.

We love to cook, and our trusty multi-fuel stove allows us freedom wherever we are. However, when we are way off the beaten track, we will make meals that are fast cooking, so we keep fuel consumption to a minimum. I always think that two of the biggest budget killers can be eating out and beer. Of course, in many developing world countries eating out can be far cheaper than buying and cooking your own ingredients. And the food is one of the most delightful ways to discover more about a culture, isn’t it?

We always aim to carry food for three days. For us, part of the beauty of having our motorcycles is that we can take advantage of opportunities and side tracks are often the doors to some of the best adventures.

We always try to carry at least one of the following; rice, pasta, and maize meal. Carbs are vital when being active every day. Salt, pepper, curry powder, chili flakes, and garlic will always have a home in our kit. With those core items, anything is possible. Just add whatever the local markets have in stock.

A top travel tip is to list the core items you are likely to want to carry. Such as the above, plus fruits, vegetables, meats, canned foods, eggs, etc. Then when you arrive in a new country, sit down with a local and get them to tell you how much you should be able to find the items for. Prices can change dramatically even with a simple border crossing. You’ll almost never pay the local price in the markets in developing world countries, but this way, you’ll know when your bargaining is getting you close. Bargaining is part of the culture and can be huge fun.

Image by Sam Manicom

Best silver-lining story? 

If I’m completely honest with myself, I should accept that I’m a bit of a disaster magnet. Things go wrong all the time, and sometimes quite dramatically so.

One of my favorite thoughts is that we should fear nothing. Fear is such a negative thing, and too often, it can get in the way of having a go at some of the most spectacular things life can offer. However, when we feel that tingle of uncertainty, we shouldn’t ignore it. What our brain and body are telling us to do is to wake up! Pay attention. Be respectful of what is coming next.

Fear of the unknown? I don’t think so. I’d rather think about it as being a combination of anticipation and respect.

If we go into situations that are demanding these things from us, then an adventure is beginning. Something is about to happen which is going to challenge us; stretch our physical and mental abilities. In my experience, what comes next is a mix of awe and a massive sense of satisfaction. Of course, sometimes, if you take a risk or you put yourself out there on the edge, then things do go wrong. I wonder what the law of percentages is on this? If respect is involved, then I suspect it’s quite small.

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Disaster magnet? Over the years I’ve traveled, I’ve been arrested, jailed, broken bones, and have been told on three occasions that I’ll never ride a motorcycle again, I’ve nearly died from malaria, and well, you get my drift. But absolutely every time something has gone wrong, there’s been a silver lining. Sometimes it’s been a challenge to be sitting at the bottom of a “situation pit,” wondering how on earth to get out of that situation. A cliché perhaps, but positive thinking rocks. Patience and a dash of lateral thinking also help. When those three things are combined, the silver lining shows.

Examples? When I was released from jail in Tanzania (and I’ll be telling this story in my presentation), I was put through a mix of emotions which ended up with pure joyous, tear-making laughter in a village in the middle of the Tanzanian bush.

My seventeen bone fracture accident crossing the desert in Nambia resulted in meeting a series of quite incredible people and some nutty experiences. The man who lived in a mud hut at the edge of the desert and who repaired my significantly damaged motorcycle. The MAF pilot I hitched a lift with to the capital city of Namibia even went so far as to make sure the taxi driver from the airport to the hospital didn’t hit one single pothole. The doctor with a brilliant sense of humor, the woman who arranged for part of my recovery to be spent house sitting a millionaire’s luxury beach house, and so the list goes on.

I slipped two discs in my spine on my last day working for a film crew in Darwin, Australia. The end of the world? It felt like it at first, as the diagnosis included that my back would never be strong enough to ride a motorcycle again. I wasn’t convinced, so I asked what the alternative was. Positive thinking, physio exercise, lots of walking, and swimming. Instead of spending six weeks riding through Indonesia, I spent three months backpacking through, discovering all sorts of things that I’d have more than likely ridden on past. What a stunningly beautiful and diverse country. It’s firmly on my “must visit again” list.

One day perhaps I should do a presentation on silver linings. I love the unexpected nature of them. Each is a gift.

Image by Sam Manicom

What is an area of overland travel that you think you have nailed? And what is an area of overland travel that you feel you could use some improvement in? 

Do you know the phrase “Jack of all trades?” I don’t even think of myself as Jack. I have stacks to learn. Every time I do a trip, I’m reminded of just how much I don’t know, and for me, that’s perfect. I travel to experience, learn, and have fun.

Perhaps part of why I feel this way is because if I realize how little I know, then the sensation that travel gives me will never die. The “sensation”? Heading out on a trip with eyes wide open and full of curiosity, with that oh-so-special tingle of trepidation.

As a 16-year-old on that first solo trip, I learned two things that have affected the way I travel ever since. Don’t be afraid of getting lost; unexpected adventures are often the best. And reaching a destination should seldom be the point of the day. Adventure comes from all the things you see and get involved with during the day.

With five books out now, and multiple articles published, I don’t even consider myself an expert travel writer. I’m learning every day. One thing I have developed is a passion for sharing what I’ve learned. If I can help make the next person’s journey happen, be more interesting, more fun, and perhaps more productive, then I’m smiling.

I admire every person who makes the decision to travel out of their comfort zone. They will be opening themselves up to moments of sheer awe and to the results of their on-the-edge decisions. From their experiences, they will learn who they really are. And their respect for this incredible world of ours and its people will grow dramatically. Every day can and will be an adventure out there.

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