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This 20-year-old college student biked for 48 days to return home amid the pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic and ensuing flight cancellations left 20-year-old college student Kleon Papadimitrou with no way of getting home.

Papadimitrou, a native of Athens, Greece, was studying electrical and electronic engineering at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland when the pandemic started taking full effect in Europe. He tried to catch a flight home, but each one was continuously cancelled. So, he came up with his way of getting back to Athens: Bike it.

The trek would take him 48 days.

Photo courtesy of Kleon Papadimitirou

Step one

Once Papadimitirou settled on the idea of biking home, he began planning his journey. He knew four things from the start: he wanted to travel on a bike, do it alone, visit several countries in the process, and get back to his family.

So, over the course of two to three weeks, Papadimitrou started looking at various routes, checking country regulations and borders, as the pandemic was continuing to spread and create more closures. As he decided on what gear to take with him, he also realized that he would need a new bike.

Photo courtesy of Kleon Papadimitirou

The bike trek across Europe began in Scotland and took him through the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, and down the eastern cost of Italy. From there, he took a boat ride across the Ionian Sea to the port of Patras, Greece. Then, he jumped back on his back and rode on towards Athens.

The start of the trip was the most difficult part, Papadimitrou told Yahoo Finance.

“It was very stressful,” he said. “It was very difficult, both physically and mentally.”

With each passing day, however, he got more and more comfortable. 

Photo courtesy of Kleon Papadimitriou.

The daily routine

Every day, Papadimitirou had an approximate pre-set route that was determined by how he was feeling that morning, the terrain he would encounter, and, of course, the weather.

While he would have preferred being able to stay with family or friends along the journey, it wasn’t usually an option, which led him to stay at campsites. In order to find one each night, he would use Google Search.

Papadimitriou encountered few issues with bike aside from flat tires, which he estimated happened between 20-25 times total.

Navigating, on the other hand, was a bit of a balancing act, as cycling for long stretches at a time while using a GPS would deplete his phone battery quickly. So, Papadimitirou resorted to memorizing some routes, as well as following signs toward the city where he was headed next. He had contemplated using paper maps but it decided it would have cost more, weigh him down, and therefore limit other supplies he could have taken with him, like clothing and food.

Food was certainly part of the fun — whenever possible, Papadimitirou would try the local cuisine of the area he was traveling through, but there were times when canned food was the only option.

Photo courtesy of Kleon Papadimitirou

‘Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone’

The journey was something that Papadimitrou was glad he took a chance on.

“I’m not special,” he said. “I didn’t have something that the average person does not, any specific knowledge or anything like that, that prevents anyone else from doing a trip.” 

But he did have the support of family and friends. To ease their worries, his parents used a phone app to track him and spoke with him on the phone every day, often twice a day. Being alone so much, Kleon said he welcomed the conversations.

Now that his trek is over, Papadimitriou is working in the region of Messinia, Greece, to try to gain back some of the money he spent on his trip.

But despite the expenses, he has no regrets, and shared a piece of advice for younger travelers: “I would say try things and don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone.”

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