Dean Nicholson was an intrepid Scottish world explorer on a bike. Nala was a stray kitten somewhere in Bosnia. Their chance encounter changed their destiny – and that of many other animals in need – forever.
Imagine, if you will, you are a guy who chucked it all in and set off for a trip around the world on his bicycle. What do you need? A tent, a change of clothes, a first aid kit, a tool kit for your bike, maps and books, basic food and water supplies, a smartphone, and a cat. Wait, what? That’s right. If your name is Dean Nicholson, a cat would constitute part of your essential supplies. But it wasn’t like that from the beginning.
So how did Nala, the kitty, wind up as a travel partner in Dean’s adventure? We had a chat with him to learn more about his amazing story, and the way a teeny tiny kitten changed this strapping Scottish bloke’s world.
Dean, please tell us a bit about yourself and your background
I’m from a small town on the east coast of Scotland called Dunbar. I grew up here with my Mum, Dad and Sister. Growing up I was always up for an adventure. I loved camping out in the woods and jumping into the freezing North Sea off the harbour walls.
Before I left with the aim of cycling the world in 2018 I worked as a welder and previously on a family farm park. I have always loved animals and to be around animals. Growing up we always had dogs. I’d never had a cat or considered having a cat before I found Nala. I always thought they didn’t have as much personality as dogs but I was so wrong!
Do you remember the precise moment, and what happened, when you told yourself you’ve had enough from a 9-5 life? Or was it more of a long-term build-up?
I always knew working a 9-5 wasn’t the route for me. I worked hard in all my jobs but after travelling Asia I always knew I wanted to see more of the world. Dunbar is a beautiful little fishing village but it is very quiet. I wanted to get out of Scotland and see more and experience the different cultures in each country. Cycling was the best way to do this. Unlike trains or flying you actually get a feel for a place when you cycle it and get amongst the locals.
Have you always been an avid bike rider? What other hobbies and interests do you have?
Yes, I have loved cycling my whole life. I think growing up in such a rural area as a kid, getting about on my bike to go exploring and see my friends sparked my love for cycling.
How did you plan on financing your project to bike around the world?
When I left Scotland I had a small amount of savings. I knew if I cycled and camped I’d have enough money to make it to Greece where I’d find work in the summer season. I left in September 2018 and found Nala in December 2018. As soon as I scooped her up from the side of the road, she climbed up onto my shoulder and took to it right away.
After finding Nala, the Dodo picked up our story and the video reached 132 million views. From there I set up a Youtube vlog and later followed with merch because people were asking how to support us.
Do you have a map of the countries you’ve cycled so far?
Our book Nala’s World follows our journey up until the start of the pandemic and has a map showing where we have been. When I first left the UK in 2018 I went through France and later went back in 2020 with Nala so she could see the sights I saw before I had her with me on the road.
I had travelled Asia when I was in my 20’s through Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, so I’d love to go back with Nala. I mainly cycle; when needed I take a train but that’s very rarely, I much prefer cycling. I also use ferries to cross the sea.
When in lockdown in Gmunden, Austria, I was invited on a small plane with just me, Nala and the pilot. We got to see the beautiful Alps and it was a great way to get Nala familiar with the sounds of a plane. She took to it so well and I vlogged the whole thing. I haven’t yet flown commercial with Nala and don’t really plan to. I’d never put her in the hold and would only take her on my lap.
Apart from adopting Nala, what were one or two other highlights? Any special memories you’d like to share?
Finding Balou and Ghost, the dogs, were real highlights. Both were strays – Balou in Albania and Ghost in Georgia. If I hadn’t have found them both would have died out in the cold.
In Santorini I worked for a kayaking place and Santorini SUP . The people there were amazing and Tony is now a brother for life.
Any unpleasant experiences en route? Any moment when you wanted to just give up?
In the beginning when the weather was really bad, constantly being battered with rain I often thought of home. Not about giving up but how much easier it would be to be home. But since finding Nala I learned that cycling round the world isn’t a race it’s a journey and one we will do at her pace.
Nala must have her shots and pet passport. Have you ever come across any problems when crossing borders?
As soon as I could I got Nala’s pet passport sorted so she was free to travel. We haven’t had any issues so far and the border staff have all been very friendly. We use Pettravel, a website that tells you what you’ll need to enter each country.
Raising funds and giving to animal rescue organizations is an important part of your project. How can our readers contribute?
You can find details of all the charities we support on our website. We have helped 111 charities so far across 50 countries.
What are your next plans for 2022 and beyond? Do you have a timeline when you’ll go back to “normal” life?
Right now we are back in Scotland. I did some damage to my knee back in Mostar, Bosnia jumping off the famous Mostar bridge and after ignoring it for 2 years it started to give way so needs to get stronger. I also wanted to come home to see my Gran, she’s in her 90’s and is an incredible woman. While we are here it will give us the chance to show our followers from around the world how amazing Scotland is.
What else would you like to add, or what would you like our readers to know about you and/or Nala?
Have a look at our website and social media channels to follow what we’re up to and subscribe for news. We are @1bike1world on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook.
Thank you, Dean and Nala, and many more happy trails together!
All photos courtesy Dean Nicholson