Mihai bought a 2014 Gear Up and hit the road with his family. With little planning and an open mind they began their European adventures. 4 months later they had visited 41 countries and covered over 17,000 miles on their Ural.
This particular interview is with Mihai Barbu, a Romanian in his thirties who took his girlfriend and son around Europe in a Ural. For many of us their journey would be the trip of a lifetime, but these three insist that it was just a summer vacation for their son, one which they hope will plant a seed of understanding for the rest of his life.
Tell us about you and your family. What do you do for a living, and how long have you been travelers?
I’m Mihai Barbu, 36, from Bucharest Romania and I’m a professional freelance photographer. I used to be a press photographer for 11 years, and I worked for various national newspapers and international news agencies. Commercial photography is mostly what I do now, but press photography remains my one true love. Oana, my girlfriend (we’re not married) is 33 and she used to be an accountant, but ever since our summer adventure she had to quit and for the moment she’s unemployed. Vladimir, our son, is 5 now. We do not consider ourselves “travelers” in the professional sense of the word. We like to travel, and we like returning home as well.
What inspired you to take this trip and why did you do it on a Ural?
Last summer’s trip wasn’t my first big getaway. Besides some “small” rides in and around Romania on a solo bike, I travelled from Romania to Mongolia and back alone in 2009 on a 2000 BMW F650GS Dakar (named Doyle). It took me almost four months and 26,000kms, and I rode through 13 countries. There’s also a book about it called“Vand Kilometri” (“I sell kilometers”), that sold around 10.000 copies so far, so I’ve had my taste of travel on two solo bikes. Then Vladimir came into our lives, and guess what; it seemed I needed an extra seat on the bikes.
It was that moment when the idea of buying a sidecar came into my mind. I evaluated the options and the Ural won. I must say, I especially love its classic look. I decided to buy a new bike, something I’ve never done before. I wanted it new, because the only reason we got it was to keep us away from home for as long as possible. The big difference this time was that we had a four year-old with us and the last thing I wanted was for the bike to break. I know, most of the people say that if you want a bike that won’t break so often, you don’t buy a Ural. I know it has a bad reputation, but that is really a thing of the past, now I can say that for sure.
Why did you chose the route you did, specifically, what encouraged you to wander around these more developed countries instead of more remote locations?
The thing is… I didn’t. Well, at least in the first place I didn’t. What we knew before we left was that we had all summer and that’s about it. I told my friends we’ll try to stay on the road for as long as possible, I dreamed of zig-zagging through all of Europe, but I also told them that we might be back in two weeks’ time. And then we left. I thought we should head North, as none of us had ever been there, it’s summer and the weather might just be a little colder up there. It turned out it was a bit colder than expected, but we got over that with some clothes we bought along the way.
So we rode through the Baltic states, Scandinavia, Nordkapp, and by the time we reached Denmark I thought…how about we try to pass through as many countries as we can so Vladimir can say that he’s been through almost all of Europe when he was four? I know it’s stupid to enter a country for half an hour and get out, but I never tell people we “saw” Europe, I just say “we passed through it”. We chose Europe for a simple reason. I always called what we did, as strange as it may sound, “a warm-up tour”. It was our first big journey as a family, Europe is safe, full of Ural dealers, and our new bike had an international warranty. Besides, Europe is beautiful.
What is it like traveling with children, does it change your travel style?
Ok, it’s not like traveling solo, but it’s much easier than it looks. The thing I want to underline is that I don’t think Vladimir is a special kid in any way. He’s a usual child, he loved it, and I can bet my bikes that any child in the world would love to travel like that. It may be hard to believe, but between the three of us Vladimir was the coolest. It was like he’d done it before and he was the one taking us on a sidecar trip. He never, not even once, asked when do we go home, and I think that the reason behind it is a very simple one. He got to do what most of the kids these days scarcely do, stay 24/7 for four months with his parents. He WAS home.
The thought of extended travel with children can be a daunting concept to many people, do you have any advice for parents contemplating a similar undertaking?
We’re the proof that it’s possible, I guess. I’m not saying everyone should get in a sidecar and ride on, no. Like any other big journey, you have to be prepared. There’s always one thing you cannot control, and I always say this when asked about the ingredients for a perfect trip, and that is luck. More than that though, before leaving you have to do all that is in your power to minimize the things you’re leaving in the hands of luck. And yes, we were lucky. Not a single emergency, no major bike breakdowns, not a single headache in four months.
We find that we usually learn something new on every trip we take. What were the biggest lessons you learned from this trip?
I never try to give any philosophical meanings to my travels. I think that traveling is a normal thing, and I think it’s the best thing to do while busy living in this world. We owe this to our planet, to our home, to see it with eyes wide open. So if there’s one thing I learn over and over again, it’s that I’m doing it right.
The entire story boils down to “Vladimir’s summer vacation”, nothing more. To those of you who are waiting for a book in the near future, we say with gratitude and affection, don’t. It was a family vacation shared to the extent that we were able, with its joys, experiences, and selfies. The only downside, if there is one, is that we have seen too little. There was so much going on and so little time, it would be silly to say we have seen Europe. From the bottom of our hearts we want to thank the people who made their homes ours, friends old and new. We think a lot about each one of you. A lot.
Learn more about Mihai's Ural Gear Up.