Tiffany Coates has explored six continents by motorcycle, riding many hundreds of thousands of miles through countless countries, over more than twenty years of adventurous journeys. Tiffany’s travels continue, both solo and through her work as a motorcycle tour guide, and her talks and presentations are always in demand at adventure travel events around the world. I caught up with Tiffany in Lafayette, a special little town in French Louisiana.
Here’s what she had to share about her incredible life and how she came to be who she is today:
Who are you? I’m a motorcycle explorer who loves life.
Where did you grow up? I grew up in many different places, as my Dad was in the British army and we lived on a series of military bases, moving every two years. My first school was Cantonese kindergarten, because we were living in Malaysia at the time.
What was your first job? And what did you want to be when you grew up? Apart from babysitting jobs and part-time café work as a teenager, my first job was as a chef. From the age of seven, I wanted to be an airline stewardess, and it was all I would talk about, looking back now I know that was purely for the travel. Then at 16, I went on a plane and realised I didn’t like flying very much! So that was the end of that career ambition.
What motivates and excites you? A curiosity about the world and venturing into the unknown.
What inspired you to travel? Because we moved so much when I was a child and lived in so many different places, I grew up with the ability to make friends quickly and to make myself feel at home in new environments. I developed an interest and curiosity about people from different cultural backgrounds and lead lives which are unlike my own. It was a natural progression for me to then start backpacking as a world traveller when I was 17 years old, exploring the world and its cultures.
What was the hardest/best/funniest part of the process? The hardest part is saying goodbye and going. There will almost always be a period of homesickness for me, even after all these years of travel. The best is seeing new places and amazing sights and views, meeting new people, and then there is the feeling that I have achieved something; such as doing several solo multi-day hikes through the Andes mountains in Bolivia, crossing the Gobi Desert by motorcycle on my own, and riding in some of the world’s most isolated and remote places. The most fun is when I’m laughing with people and sharing the enjoyment of something we’ve seen or done together. I remember with my friend Maggie after we had nearly had a big fall with the motorbike in a river in Belgium, when we somehow made it across, rode up the river bank on the other side, looked at each other in wide-eyed wonder that we had survived intact and then burst out screaming with laughter.
What is your version of nourishment and bliss? Emotional nourishment for me is spending time with people who know me and love me. Bliss, a cup of tea whilst soaking in a hot bath.
What do you do for a living now? I’m now a freelance motorcycle travel guide, back home in England. I work for non-profit organisations as a youth worker, who specialises in working in communities with the most disadvantaged and challenging children and young people.
What’s been your bread and butter skills/jobs you’ve used to fund your travels over the years? Working as a chef, it’s a very transient industry and great skills to have as a traveller. But I have also turned my hand to anything that is available from bar work and cleaning to farm work.
What is the most magical, playful memory you have as a child? (As an adult)? I have so many happy, playful memories from growing up. My parents loved doing different activities with us and holidays were always a lot of fun. A simple example would be playing in the sea with a giant inflated inner tube and all of us trying to float on it at one time. As an adult, that’s a tricky one… spending time with my brothers and sisters, playing games and laughing until we’re breathless.
Tell me a risk you’ve taken to make your life happier or more your own? What was the hardest part? And what was the outcome? I’ve realised that many people think what I do as a solo motorcycle traveler is extremely risky, whereas for me, I think it’s fun. I’m living life exactly how I want to, and although it may have an element of risk or danger, I don’t dwell on the “What if…?” scenarios, instead I concentrate on enjoying what I’m doing.
Have you ever had a job that wasn’t fulfilling? What made you take a risk and make a change? Were you scared? Do you regret it? I’ve had several jobs that were unfulfilling in an emotional sense, but which were paying jobs that helped me to save to go traveling. People have often asked me what profession I’m in that enables me to go away and travel so much, I always reply, “I’ve made a career out of giving up jobs.” I feel that life is too short to stay in a job or a situation that you’re not happy in. I’m lucky because I’ve always had the courage of my convictions and the ability to identify what I want to do and to go for it.
How do you combine work and play now or have you found a way to merge the two? In the last eight years as a youth worker I have been able to work more flexibly for the same employer, going away to see the world and then coming back and getting more work in an environment that I enjoy. In my role as motorcycle guide, I am able to blend earning a living with exploring the world by motorcycle, and sharing my enthusiasm and passion with my clients. Outside of work stuff, I live near the beach, which enables me to do all the sea and coastal based activities that I love, such as surfing, sea kayaking and walking, and I try to do as much of them as I can.
How do you stay balanced and happy? Look for the positives in life, have an optimistic attitude about everything, and be ready to give things a try.
What advice would you give the younger you? The tough things in life help to shape you and make you the person you will develop into.
What event in your life most shaped who you are now? A spur of the moment decision with my best friend to get a motorbike and ride it to India.
Describe a typical day in your life: That is difficult as I may be out on the road traveling, in which case it might be something like this: A typical day will start with a cup of tea made on my camping stove beside my tent, having camped on a mountainside for the night. I enjoy camping a lot, being outdoors, enjoying the scenery, I have wild camped in every country I’ve been to. Breakfast is generally muesli or oatmeal depending on the climate (hot or cold) with fresh or dried fruit. Then packing away my stuff and riding eastwards, stopping at places that interest me, maybe trying to find a route through mountain passes, across a desert or through rivers, stopping in villages to buy food from the markets, having cups of tea and meals whilst chatting to local people. And if it’s hot always keeping an eye out for a swimming spot whether it’s in the sea, a lake or a river. Exploring the area I’m in. I might finish the day looking for a suitable place to put up my tent, usually somewhere discreet so no-one is aware that I am there. Ideally I like to ride no more than 250 miles in one day, and often it can be much less than that, because then I have the opportunity to look around, talk to people and explore the surroundings.
What rules do you live by? To try not to hurt those around me by my words or actions.
Do you have any favorite jokes? Although I enjoy them, I am useless at remembering jokes. There is one that I say to kids:
“What do you call a blind dinosaur?” Ans. “D’ya think he saw us”
And then “What do you call a blind dinosaur’s dog?” Ans. “D’ya think he saw us Rex?”
What’s the coolest thing that’s ever happened to you or that you’ve ever done? I would have to say, buying a motorbike and heading off to India on it with my best friend Becky.
What do you most appreciate? Kindness and friendliness in others.
Where do you live? Where would you like to live? I live in a small village at Land’s End in Cornwall, close enough to the ocean that I can hear the waves crashing on the beach from my bedroom at night. I can’t think of anywhere else I’d be happier.
What are your top 3 bucket list items you’ve done or have yet to do? – I’m about to achieve one of them by riding around Madagascar.
– I’d love to go to the Antarctic with a motorbike.
– I’d like my Dad to go on a trip with me
Where is your favorite place to be alone? Being in the sea, snorkelling or scuba diving on a coral reef, feeling at one with the ocean. Favorite place ever visited? That is tough as there are so many amazing and fantastic places I’ve been to. Possibly Thailand.
Describe the perfect day or week of playing for you? I’d be on my motorcycle, traveling and exploring somewhere tropical with friends and no schedule.
What living figure most inspires you? My godson Thom who was paralysed from the neck down in an accident and yet he has the most fantastic zest for life.
What is the best thing about your life? I have choices and options. I can choose whatever I want to do with my life, and this is something I don’t take lightly, having traveled to so many places where people are trapped in poverty and unable to live the kind of life that I can. Also having discovered what fulfills me and makes me happy and being in a position to do it.
What was the best advice you were ever given? My parents telling me I can go anywhere and do anything I want with my life.
What is your motto or favorite quote? You’re more likely to regret not giving things a try than if you do try them.
How would you like to be remembered? Someone who reached for the stars.
What do you say to yourself when you doubt yourself? When in doubt, accelerate!!
Describe yourself in five words: Friendly, curious, quick to laugh.
What would you change about yourself if you could? I’d like to be more patient. And I wish my legs were several inches longer. Then I could reach the ground properly when I’m on my bike.
What are you most proud of? Having achieved my dreams of travel and having inspired so many other people, in particular, women along the way.
What would your superpower be if you could have one? I’d love to be able to fly like a bird.
What were you like as a child? A mixture of curious, about the world round me, very shy with adults, but more outgoing with other children. I’m one of five children, and we have always been very close. I’m second born and would often take the lead with our games, adventuring into the woods or fields where we lived.
What is your idea of happiness? Spending time with the people I love and care about. And then, when I’m away, seeing a breathtaking view for the first time. Or sharing a hearty laugh with someone.
What kind of people inspire you? Those who have achieved against the odds. I have always admired people who have triumphed over adversity, such as the Paralympic athletes who have overcome often immense physical barriers to achieve their dreams; early Everest mountaineers and Roger Bannister, the first person who ran a four minute mile – he achieved it when everyone said it was impossible, and he did so because he believed in himself.
Do you have any regrets? Not many, mainly the family and personal events I’ve missed at home when I’ve been on the other side of the world.
What’s your most favorite way to play? Doing something with others, playing a game whether it’s a winter’s evening indoors and it’s a loud and boisterous word game or a summer’s day outdoors and we’re playing rounders (it’s like softball), on a grassy field. We don’t need a proper marked out pitch, just jumpers as markers. Playing the game is what it’s about, the result is not important.
What question do you wish I’d asked and what would the answer be? As you’re so interested in play and fun, perhaps about family as they are so important to me (despite not having managed to have children myself)! And your family are the main influence on your perception and enjoyment of play, but I think that comes across in my answers.