Eva Zu Bek is a professional traveler. She has built a social media following of over 1 million people strong by traveling to remote, unusual places and sharing the beauty of each of these places with the world. Her love of horses has guided some of these choices, including a solo horse riding trip in a natural park in Mongolia. This trip, which turned out to be the most transformational experience of her life, did not pan out as expected.
Author: Krystal Kelly
Question: Tell Us a Little About Yourself? What Do You Do in Life?
I’m Eva Zu Bek, a full-time travel vlogger. I specialize in travelling to places that other travelers don’t go to. These places are often very remote and wild. Sometimes they are perceived as not being very safe or even outright risky. Some places have experienced some conflicts or political tensions.
My goal is to go to these places that are under the radar for most tourists and show their beauty. I want to show that there are kind people everywhere, stunning natural spots everywhere and adventures waiting everywhere. I want to take travelers beyond the destinations that we are taught to love and think about for our next holiday.
Q: How Did Your Love for Travelling Start, And How Did You Become a Professional Travel Vlogger?
I’ve always loved to travel. My grandfather was a travel writer. He was one of the very few people in Poland during communists times who got a chance to travel around the world. He organised independent trips with his friends to places across Africa and Asia during a time when just getting a passport in Poland was very very difficult. Every time he returned to Poland after a trip, he had to deposit his passport at the police station. That’s how things used to be in Poland. He kept travel journals and beautiful illustrated chronicles – which we still have at home. So you can say he was kind of like a private travel writer. I’ve always been inspired by his writings.
When I was a teenager I travelled a lot with my father. He lived in Asia at the time. We travelled all around Southeast Asia. This was very formative for me. After that, I went to work for a travel media company in London (which I helped set up) for a few years: Culture Trip. When I joined, it was just me and the founder. We started creating content about culture, food, travel from every single country in the world. By the time I left, about 5 years later, it was one of the largest websites about travel in the world with over 1 billion video views per year on Facebook.
Making a Decision
Then, one day, I sat on a rooftop in Marrakech on the 31st of December. I decided I was ready to find a new goal and pursue my own passion. It was time to create something of my own. That’s when I decided to travel full time. And since I had some background in social media (though I didn’t have a social media presence at that time) I decided to try creating travel content to communicate the world through my lens. And that’s exactly what I did.
I made my first travel blog in March 2018 and haven’t stopped since. I’ve been very fortunate to go to incredible places that had not been covered before. Through the sharing of these experiences and doing something new, I was very fortunate to grow my account and now I have 1.2-1.3 million followers across all my platforms. Today, I create daily content on Instagram and bi-weekly content on YouTube.
Q: What’s Your Story With Horses?
Horses have always had a special place in my heart. When I was growing up I obsessed over horses. For birthdays and Christmases, I always asked my family to get me books about horses. Anything like an encyclopedia, care guides, any book that could teach me about these incredible animals. I must have been around 5 years old, it was even before I started riding. For my 7th birthday, I asked for a riding lesson. Then for 1-2 years, I rode regularly. But life got in the way and then I just rode occasionally. Unfortunately, I didn’t pursue that passion through my teenage years.
In England, where I was living at the time, horse riding was just too expensive, I could never afford it. As such, of the 16-18 years I spent living in the UK I didn’t ride once. It affected the way I view horses horse riding because, whilst it is an elite place in some places, I feel like horse riding is something that everybody should experience. That’s what led me to my recent adventures. With these I wanted to show that horse riding was such a liberating experience that should be accessible to everybody.
Q: How Did You Get the Idea of That Solo Horse Riding Trip in Mongolia?
When I quit my job and started travelling full time, I wanted to go to a place I knew. A place where I could go horse riding. That place was Mongolia where riding is accessible for everybody. It’s like the universal mode of transport for people. There are more horses in Mongolia than people: 4 million horses for 3 million people.
I spent two months working for a horse trekking camp in Mongolia in 2018. I was helping them out with horses and with clients who came from all over the world. We would go on horse riding expeditions. It was a completely transformative experience for me. I’m not a very technical rider, I’d say I ride like Mongolians basically. Full speed ahead without the classical technique that many of my friends who ride in the west do.
The more time I spent in Mongolia the more I was inspired by that horsemanship lifestyle, that wilderness. Being able to take your horse out anywhere and camp is amazing. Just relying on and sustaining yourself is such a beautiful idea. Compared to a world of cities with concrete everywhere, I found the freedom that comes with riding extremely inspiring. That’s why I decided to come back the following year. And attempt a solo horse trek. You can go with guides and hire horsemen but I knew that what I wanted to do was be alone and treat it as a test of sorts, a test of character to see if I’m capable of it.
Q: How Did You Prepare For Your Horse Riding Trip in Mongolia?
The plan was to buy two horses, one pack and one riding and take them on a horse riding trip to one of the national parks in Mongolia for two weeks. That’s what I did. My local friends sold me some very nice ponies. Prep was basic. All I had to do was get basic gear like saddles, bridles, pack-saddles. Riding out in the wild is such a common thing in Mongolia that all these items are readily available and not very expensive.
I gathered food, advice from people who had done similar adventures and planned out my route. A lot of research went into this because a lot of what happens on these kinds of adventures depend on the weather. This was summer, so pretty safe, but rains create mud terrains which can be difficult to navigate in some areas in the parks. I had to plan alternative routes in case things go wrong. And then I went.
Q: What Happened During Your Horse Riding Trip in Mongolia?
In short, I can say this is the most transformative experience of my life. 100% hand down. It was a true test of character, resilience and endurance. It was the most physically demanding thing I’ve ever done in my life, more than running a marathon, going up to 6,000m in altitude, mentally and physically. The hardest part of a solo horse riding trip in Mongolia is how much work you have to put in every single day.
You’re handling two horses that you don’t know as I didn’t have much time to know each beforehand. You also have to handle all your food, luggage, supply, gear, on top of tacking the horses every single day in a surrounding that is entirely new to you as well as them. Then you have to set up camp every night, take the horses to a river, make sure they are well fed and sorted. It’s a lot of responsibilities. The horses are your responsibilities. You must keep them safe and happy while also taking care of yourself which is not easy. The horses always come first. That was a very interesting challenge that I hadn’t really seen coming.
The Highs of My Horse Riding Trip in Mongolia
The highs of the trip, a part from the learning curve that came from all the difficulties, was the sense of freedom. Ultimate freedom that I felt every day from being alone in the wilderness and being self-sufficient. After all, these are things you simply don’t experience in the world these days, things that 99.99% of the population never gets to experience. Being on the back of a horse and seeing a world that is free, wild, green, breathing, lush.
I remember on day 5 or 6 I was standing on a massive rock on top of a huge hill. My horses were down on the foothills grazing. I had set up camp and was standing on top and screaming my lungs out in happiness and freedom. It was a unique experience. Certainly, I was hooked.
And the Lows
After a week, I was going to make a loop in a village to send out messages because my GPS stopped working. About 20km before the village one of my horses spooked. It was the second or third time that week but this time it threw me off. I fell on my forehead and I was not wearing a helmet and bruised myself. I felt like I had a concussion. Understandably, I was in shock. I started thinking: what do I do? What if the concussion is serious? What if something happens in the night and there is no one around to help me?
It was a difficult decision to make because I wanted to keep going and prove to myself I could do it. But I decided to stop. I walked 20km to the village with the horses. I couldn’t get back on as I was dizzy and disoriented. Eventually, I called my friends who sent a driver and then I left. It felt like an anti-climax but I also knew that it was not the end of my horse riding adventure, I knew I would come back.
Q: Looking Back, Are There Any “Lessons Learnt” You’d Like to Share?
In terms of lessons learned, if you do an experience like that you must be prepared to invest all of yourself, this is all-consuming. You must be very physically fit. And you have to completely prepare yourself mentally. You’re gonna find yourself fighting your instincts, fear and bad thoughts. I would not recommend a solo horse riding trip in Mongolia to anybody unless that person fells like this was their soul’s true calling.
Another big lesson learnt was that it confirmed my desire to pursue a life of outdoors and adventure. I want to continue to promote that lifestyle on my accounts. There is a lot more to life and to the world than what we have built around us in cities. There is beautiful wilderness out there which is for us to enjoy, explore and use as a growth platform.
Q: Any Further Horse Travel Plans in the Future?
I plan to eventually go back to Mongolia and do other horse treks but in the immediate future, I also have a plan to do a solo trek with 2 horses in Afghanistan in the Wakhan Corridor which is a beautiful natural reserve in an extremely wild and rugged, remote area. There is a horsemanship culture too. I’ll be getting Badakhshani horses which are a similar build as Mongol horses: small and sturdy. They’re used to that climate of 3,000-5,000m in altitude. They are probably the only horses that can thrive in that harsh mountain landscape. This is probably one of the most exciting projects I have lined up.
In case you’re still here with an incredible thirst for information, check out all this stuff about horses in Mongolia. Enjoy!