Bjorn Troch (L) tries three men on a tandem bike. Some of the thousands of people Bjom has met (R). Photograph: Supplied
Bjorn Troch’s bare feet are dark brown, tanned by tropical sun and impregnated with thick dust of countless roads.
For more than two years the 33-year-old Belgian has travelled the world, leaving behind more than 50000km of roads, using all means of moving forward imaginable: walking, hitchhiking, flying, driving.
But now it’s a tandem bike he is cycling on from Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong, a 5000km ride.
He is never alone as people he meets on his travels accompany him for a few kilometres or more. Bjorn calls them his “tandem buddies”.
With eight tandem buddies so far, he has already managed 1000km and is now very happy to rest in Phnom Penh for a few days.
Sitting on the terrace of the Top Banana Guesthouse on street 51 he sips on his beer and is visibly relaxed, ready to tell the unusual story of what will be his five-year journey around the globe.
Comfortably sinking in the red sofa cushions he explains his passion for life on the road.
“At home I hate to see people on buses playing with their smart phones not bothering to talk to the people around them,” he says.
Bjorn felt an urge to hit the road two years ago. He left his job as a social media manager, left friends and family behind to take on a real social challenge. He wanted to find out how people connect offline, in the real world, as well as being social to help charity.
It is a simple yet brilliant concept that allows Bjorn to meet the world and help people who are in need.
He takes on travel challenges people suggest to him, such as his mission to ride a bike from Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong. These challenges attract attention and people can follow Bjorn’s adventures on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other online networks.
On his way Bjorn meets many people who help him. He gets invited to stay at people’s houses for example – but Bjorn is a real helper himself.
When he comes across people who need financial aid Bjorn encourages his online followers to organise charities like sponsored cycling tours at home – be that in South America, Eastern Europe or Australia.
When cycling through Thailand he visited a school for disabled children. They needed fresh paint on the walls and functioning fans. It was a small $1000 project which means so much to the children.
“It doesn’t matter how much you raise,” he says. “Small amounts also help and it’s fun.”
Social media companies help Bjorn to sustain himself. For 1km they donate one dollar.
In return Bjorn mentions the companies on his websites, reaching a target group of around 10000 highly committed people who donate the program.
Following Bjorn on the internet is like reading an ongoing adventure story.
For a while he stayed with Aborigines in Australia’s Northern Territory.
“I was adopted into a family and became Jenny’s grandson and Stuart’s brother and would introduce myself to other Aborigines in the area like this,” he says. "You don’t have to be related by blood to be someone’s brother because they believe everything and everyone is connected anyway in their culture."
Meeting many with people of many different cultures, Bjorn feels all people of all cultures are more alike than they are different.
“We all have a need for genuine attention, love, and people around us who appreciate us for who we are without judging,” he says.
This belief is substantial to Bjorn and many encounters proof him right.
In Thailand he and his then cycling buddy had a flat tyre in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night. A short distance off the road they stumbled into a wedding party.
The bride and groom invited them to sit in the back of a pick up truck and drove them to a friend’s home where they could stay for the night. It was more than 30km from the wedding.
Wherever he goes Bjorn fascinates people with his story and openness. This is why he gets help.
He has never approached the media himself – it is through friends of friends that people finally approach him. “It is important to me that every contact I have made is more or less traceable because this is also what being social is about,” he says.
A few days later in the early morning Bjorn stands on his dark brown feet and puts on his sandals again; ready to tackle the next stage of his travel.
From Phnom Penh he will cycle around 400km to Ho Chi Minh City accompanied by his new tandem buddy Cloé from France.
On his website Bjorn invites everybody to “meet”, “follow”, “support”, “guide” and “join”. It is an invitation to get in touch with him and meet up.
You might meet him by chance anyway. After reaching Hong Kong he has another 150,000km ahead, almost four times the length of the equator.
He will meet new challenges worldwide and finally arrive in Santiago de Compostela in three years time. Wandering the road to Santiago was the first challenge he accepted for his social mission more than two years ago.
To contact Bjorn go to www.thesocialtraveler.net
To contact the reporter on this story: Julius Thiemann at [email protected]