An Interview with Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent and Jo Huxster
Names: Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent and Jo Huxster
Ages: Both 27
Hometowns: Holt, Norfolk and Brighton, London
Hi ladies, how’s it going? We hear you’ve got an epic trip coming up - could you sum it up in 20 words for us?
Ants: The biggest trip ever undertaken on three wheels - we’re driving a pink tuk tuk from Bangkok to Brighton to raise £50,000 for the mental health charity Mind.
Jo: Across 12 countries!
Where on earth did you get the idea to do that?
Jo: I was travelling in Thailand four years ago with two friends when a tuk tuk driver let me sit in the front seat with my friends in the back. That’s when the plan was hatched, at the end of the Khao San Road in Bangkok.
How much do you hope to make for Mind?
Ants: £50,000. We’re up to about £12,000 so far so have got a bit to go!
What made you both want to tackle such a challenge for Mind in particular?
Jo: I suffered from depression in my adolescence and spent over two years in psychiatric hospitals, so I know how frightening and debilitating it is to suffer from mental health problems.
Ants: Plus a close friend of mine committed suicide in November which finally made me decide to go with Jo on the trip.
How long will the trip take and are you sure a tuk tuk is able to get that far? We take it you've both driven one before...?
Ants: Three and a half months we hope. We want to be sitting on Brighton Pier having an ice cream at the end of August. Anuwat, who has specially built our tuk tuk in Bangkok for us, has built two tuk tuks in the last two years that have made it as far as Europe, so we have faith is his skills. I’ve driven a tuk tuk for five minutes and nearly crashed it! However, we’re going out to Bangkok a week early to get some serious practice in. Our tuk tuk has also been modified to drive more like a car than a bike, like normal tuks.
Jo: Fingers crossed it is possible! Also, we drove a tuk tuk around a field in Norfolk!
So, what preparation have you been doing ready for the trip and when do you set off?
Ants: What haven’t we been doing?! I gave up my job in January and we’ve been flat out ever since; learning Russian, getting our motorbike tests, doing wilderness medical training, going on survival courses, getting sponsors on board, building our website, researching the routes, sorting what equipment we need, writing millions of letters cajoling people into giving us money, making sure we have all the right documentation. Oh and choosing what shade of hot pink we want our tuk tuk to be.
What’s been the hardest thing about the planning stages?
Jo: Initially, getting the permits organised for China, but once that was organised, it's been fairly straight forwards. Also getting our motorcycle licenses was very stressful, because I failed first time and without passing, we could not have done the trip.
Ants: Also, just fitting it all in! And wondering how we are going to raise £50,000 without Jo having to resort to nakedness - she’s a naturist!
Tell us a little about your tuk-tuk - has it got a name? Have you pimped it up to the max?
Ants: Our tuk tuk is called Ting Tong and she’s been pimped to perfection by Anuwat and his band of merry men. She’s got roll bars, higher suspension and the usual throttle control has been replaced by an accelerator pedal.
Jo: She is two tone pink with lots of disco lights inside. She has a sound system too but her engine has not been pimped.
Give us a quick summary of the route then...
Jo: We leave Bangkok and then head north to the Laos border to the Friendship Bridge, visiting Ayuthaya and the Khao Yai National Park on the way. Once in Laos we will head north via Luang Prabang and meander through the mountains up route 13 until we reach the Chinese border. Our main highlights in China include the Leshan Budda, Xian and the Terracotta Army, before heading west down the old Silk Route before crossing into Kazakhstan...
Ants: We’ll then spend about two weeks in Kazakhstan, travelling via Almaty, Lake Balkash, Lake Burabay and Astana before tukking into Russia at the West Siberian Plain. We’ll then turn west, passing over the fabled Ural mountains into Europe. From here it's down the Volga Delta, through Volgograd, into Ukraine - where we’ll tuk through Kiev and Lviv - through the Czech Republic, tea with the British Ambassador in Prague, Poland, Germany, swim in a friend’s pool in Brussels, whip across a small corner of France, and home. Phew!
Which country do you think will make for the best tuk-tukking conditions?
Jo: If the roads have good tarmac, then anywhere that is reasonably flat with not too much traffic like western China, or north through Kazakhstan. Europe will probably have the best condition roads, but if the roads are busy then this will undermine the benefit of flat tarmac.
Ants: Hard to tell although I’m sure the closer we get to home, the better the roads will get. The last downhill stretch to Brighton will probably be the best!
Which country or section of the journey are you dreading the most?
Ants: Dreading is too strong a word, but I am a bit apprehensive about Russia and Kazakhstan as corruption is endemic, guns are the norm and the mosquitoes are the size of small rhinos.
Jo: All the Russian speaking countries, because I have never been there before. I have also heard that some of the police are keen on bribes.
China sounds as though it’s going to be a bit of an experience - what with the official joining you for the route - how have you planned this section? Is he going to chip in for petrol?
Jo: I wish he would chip in for petrol! The guide will have a daily budget of about £15 for his accommodation and food and we pay for all of our own expenses in China like food, petrol, entrance fees to tourist attractions. Our route has been pre-planned and we cannot deviate from it, although we get to see most of the best highlights. At least we will have someone with us who speaks Chinese!
Apart from that, is it just going to be the two of you for the entire route or are you planning on picking up many hitchhikers?!
Ants: We thought at one point we might pick up travellers and hitchhikers but have abandoned this idea. We can’t take risks and I’m sure 99% of people would be a joy to have on board but... Plus we’re also pretty pushed for room. If they were very small I guess they could sit on the roof!
Jo: A couple of people have asked if they can catch a lift, but the answer is a definite No. The only people allowed in the tuk tuk with us are our Chinese guide, my dad and Ants’ mum. We will have enough on our plate without having someone else with us.
How are you planning to keep in touch with people on your trip, especially when you are driving through some very remote areas?
Jo: We will have a satellite modem and Skype has made it possible for us to keep in touch with friends and family, via the Internet, wherever we are. We can talk to anyone who has a computer completely free and even call normal phones, anywhere in the world, at really cheap rates. We will also be using Skype Video so you can see us live when you talk to us too. For anyone who would like to keep in touch with us on our journey, our Skype name is tuktotheroad. We will also be holding regular weekly SkypeCast meetings, which means hundreds of Skype users can participate in a live voice discussion and get an update on our adventure.
How do you plan to pass the time on the boring sections of the journey?
Ants: Hadn’t really given it any thought. I’ll probably be too busy trying to film things or work out whether we should have turned left or right at that last crossroads.
Jo: I will sing loudly, sleep or take my clothes off just to embarrass Ants.
Which one of you is the best driver?!
Ants: Not sure! Luckily we both like driving and are pretty safe (but speedy) drivers. It’s a bit of a change from my Renault Clio though.
Jo: I think we are both the same, although Ants hasn’t knocked anyone off their bike.
It’s not going to be non-stop driving though is it?
Jo: The longest we will drive in a day is 566km and that is in China. I estimate that will take about 10 hours. We have some other long days in China, but once we enter Kazakhstan the itinerary is more relaxed.
Ants: No, we are going to have days off. The plan is to have a day off a week, maybe two, depending on how we feel. Plus of course there are places that we simply have to have a proper stop such as the Terracotta Army in Xian, Almaty, the Volga Delta, Volgograd, Kiev (and Chernobyl), Prague, Krakow and Auschwitz.
Let's talk practicalities... where are you going to sleep and cook? Will the tuk-tuk take all of you luggage?
Ants: We’re taking camping equipment for emergencies, but on the whole we are planning on staying in guest houses and small hotels. I think we might splash out in Almaty though as we’ll be exhausted after our intense Chinese schedule and in need of some proper rest and relaxation. As for luggage, we’ve got a roof rack and an inbuilt safe. Plus Jo and I are very good at travelling light.
Jo: If we have to cook, it will probably be something basic like rice and veg, because Ants is a veggie. Also, we are the same size so can share each others clothes!
Are you at all worried about your safety along the route?
Ants: Yes, a bit. But it's just a matter of being aware and not putting ourselves in compromising situations. If you’re too afraid you’ll never do anything, and where I used to live in London was probably far more dangerous than lots of the places we’re going.
Jo: I try to push that to the back of my mind, so not really, Ants is also a kung fu expert.
What are you doing with your tuk-tuk when you get back?
Jo: I will drive her around the country to continue fundraising for Mind. I would also like to do the route the other way round, driving from the UK to Asia.
How is the fundraising going at the moment?
Ants: It's coming in steadily. We’re up to about £12,000 and it goes up daily. I think lots more people will sponsor us once we are actually on the road.
Jo: The fundraising is hard work and many people seem enthusiastic, yet reticent to donate. This surprises me because so many people are affected either directly or indirectly by mental illness. Our target is £50,000 so we still have a long way to go...
How have you gone about getting sponsorship?
Ants: Letters, letters and more letters. Plus approaching companies we have personal contacts with, or companies who we think our trip and ethos will appeal to.
What has the reaction been like to your planned adventures?
Ants: Brilliant! We’ve been bowled over by the kindness of friends and strangers. So many people have given us advice, help and lashings of enthusiasm. Of course there has been some disbelief too and the odd bit of scaremongering, but we prefer to listen to the positive stuff.
Jo: Amazing. Everybody I have told is really interested and excited about our adventure. If only all of those people would donate to Mind, we may have already reached our target.
What top 5 tips do you have for other budding fundraisers?
- Never take no for an answer.
- Persistence does pay off.
- Meeting people is always better than phone or email.
- Never forget your sense of humour.
- Be passionate about your cause.
- Be passionate about the charity you are supporting.
- Try and get media coverage.
- Know about what your charity does and tell people about it.
- Work hard.
- Try to have your own website.
Loads and loads of luck girls, we’ll look forward to following your journey on gapyear.com!
More about Mind
Mental health problems can affect anyone, rich or poor, young or old, shattering the lives of those affected and the lives of the people close to them. One in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in our lives. Each year more than 250,000 people are admitted to psychiatric hospitals and over 4,000 people take their own lives. Mind is the leading mental health charity in England and Wales working to create a better life for everyone with experience of mental distress.