From encountering different cultures to embracing the freedom of nature, making friendships, and traversing through new landscapes, Leaving the Comfort Zone takes the reader on a journey of self-discovery. Filled with striking imagery and expert advice, this book details the 40,000 kilometer journey of Zoë and Olivier, spanning four years across several countries and continents using one’s own muscle power. We sat down with the two inspiring adventurers to discuss all things Comfort Zone related ahead of its release, here’s what they had to say.
(Photo: Courtesy of Olivier Van Herck and Zoë Agasi, Leaving the Comfort Zone) Q. Hi Zoë and Olivier, could you provide a short background about yourselves, and explain how the creation of Leaving the Comfort Zone came about?
A. We are Zoë and Olivier, two adventurers from the Netherlands and Belgium. In September 2016, we set off on a world trip with second hand bicycles. It was the start of an incredible adventure that lasted way longer than we ever imagined! Six years later, we have traveled 50,000 kilometers on foot, by bike, via canoes, skis, sail boats, and skates. During our world trip, we captured our adventure on our blog and social media channels. In the beginning, it was just meant for family and friends but as more people started to follow our story — we were encouraged to write a book. In 2021, after four years of adventures, we wrote our book “Op Eigen Kracht” which was released in the Netherlands and Belgium. We always wanted to have a story available all over the world, so we began working on the English version.
Q. Have you always been avid travelers, or was your desire to explore the world sparked by a particular moment or event?
A. Zoë has always been traveling with her parents but I never went further than France. When we met in 2011, Zoë took me outside of Europe for the first time, which sparked my wanderlust. From this, a dream to travel the world was born, but at that time — it was a dream for the future. That was until a colleague of mine passed away at the age of 64, one year before his retirement. It was at this point that I set a start date for our world trip.
(Photo: Courtesy of Olivier Van Herck and Zoë Agasi, Leaving the Comfort Zone) Q. You’re best known for your out-of-the-ordinary traveling styles — which mode of travel was the most unusual or exciting for you both?
A. During the last part of our world trip, we decided to travel on roller skis to Scandinavia. Roller skis are cross-country skis on wheels. Professional skiers and biathletes use these to practice during the summer months. When Zoë discovered them, she immediately decided that we would travel on roller-skis. It became a challenging adventure. Compared to hiking, cycling or canoeing, there wasn’t any information available from other travelers. We had to discover everything ourselves, from finding routes, to designing brakes on the trailers we carried behind us. It was the toughest traveling style — but also very rewarding.
Still for Olivier, cycling is his preferred way of traveling.
Q. Do you have a favorite travel destination that you would love to revisit?
A. We fell in love with many countries and we will definitely return to some of them, but there is one that remains on top of the list. We spent seven months in Argentina, crossing the country almost entirely by bike. We love the culture, the people, the language, the food and the landscapes.
Q. What was one of the most challenging traveling experiences you have both faced, and were you able to overcome it?
A. To be honest, the most challenging experience is coming back home and deciding how we will design our future life. We want to continue our adventurous life, but also have a basecamp, some stability and a social life. Our current society isn’t designed for this, and it’s a struggle to find our way in between the expectations and standards of society. The gap between ‘knowing what we want’ and ‘realizing it’ is big. During the world trip we learned that anything is possible, as long as you work for it, have a clear dream and dare to follow your heart. What helps us most to overcome challenges is just by starting and trying things. We can dream and think for days and days about how we want things to go, but only by doing we will experience how things really work out. Doing always works.
Q. When you aren’t traveling the world, what’s the place that you both call home?
A. We have been living in the Netherlands for a long time but in the winter of 2022 we left with our bikes to Scandinavia to find our ‘home’. We ended up in the area around Lillehammer in Norway and are still looking for our own basecamp. And then there is that other place we call home: nature.
(Photo: Courtesy of Olivier Van Herck and Zoë Agasi, Leaving the Comfort Zone) Q. How was your experience in creating Leaving the Comfort Zonewith gestalten?
A. It was our dream to create a book together with gestalten. Their books have always inspired us and reach so many people all over the world. The process was very different from the creation of our Dutch book where we almost had to do everything ourselves. With gestalten, there was a whole team of professionals working full time on the book. It was a pleasure to work together with the whole team from the design phase until the release and promotion.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you can give to someone looking to seek adventure like yourselves?
1. Make time: Plan the starting date in your agenda. Once the date is set, it’s in your mind. 2. Share your ideas: Tell others about your plans. It creates social pressure but also helps you to think and be more concrete about your goals. 3. Move before you’re ready: Don’t spend all the time analyzing and planning. Start and learn by doing.
Q. Do you have any upcoming travel plans for 2023?
A. To promote our book, and just because we love adventures, we have two adventures coming up in 2023. First, we will travel by train and bike through Europe. Along the way we will have some inspirational talks but will also spend lots of time in nature and on the bike. From August, we plan to go the US to travel a couple of months on horseback. It’s a dream we have had for a long time and by now we’ve learnt that we shouldn’t wait to make our dreams come true.
Q. What do you hope readers will take away from Leaving the Comfort Zone?
A. We hope to inspire people to make their own dreams come true. We didn’t have any experience when we started our big journey. We just bought two €100 bicycles and left without a clear plan. It’s out of the comfort zone where you will discover yourself, meet people, learn new things, face challenges and grow. The reward is exceptional and it’s the path to happiness. The step out of the comfort zone doesn’t have to be a four-year world trip. It can be as little as picking up the phone and calling someone who inspires you, or taking a different route home. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
Leaving the Comfort Zone is a vivid chronicle of the human spirit, and what happens when you leave your comfort zone in exploration of the unknown. Discover more from the book today.