Portrait: Martin – traveling the world by motorcycle

Babbel speaks with Martin Leonhard about his motorcycle journey across South America
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Portrait: Martin – traveling the world by motorcycle

This is the latest in our ongoing series of Babbel user portraits – snippets from the lives of our users and insights into their reasons for learning a language. If you’ve got a story you’d like to share, leave us a comment!


This time we’re catching up with Martin Leonhardt, who is in the middle of an epic motorcycle journey across the Brazilian Amazon. Originally from Franken, Germany, the 36-year-old photographer and adventurer has been traveling the world for over two years now. You can follow his progress at freiheitenwelt.de.

My latest adventure began in Chile, back in October 2013. I’d already done a lot of traveling, but this was the beginning of something very different: a true world tour. It’s always been my dream to discover the planet, but I wanted to do it on my own terms – freely, alone, and without the pressures of a schedule. My heart wants to travel, so I’m following my heart.  

Perhaps you can tell I’m not the sort that plans too much in advance. Accordingly, my route is more sketched out than carved in stone. From Chile, I rolled through Bolivia (a motorcyclist’s dream), Argentina, Peru and Paraguay before reaching Brazil. Next, I want to see Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. I’ll then begin the journey up through Central America, Mexico, the USA and Canada, eventually winding up in Alaska. From there, I’m thinking about a trip through Russia and Mongolia. Then again, I’d love to travel through the African continent.

Like I said, nothing’s set in stone, and I think that’s a big part of the appeal. Traveling like this affords me a freedom I don’t find elsewhere. I’m my own boss: I go where I want and I do what I please.

A love for languages 

To do this, I want to explore foreign cultures – to live within them and really get to know them. That’s where languages come in – I never visit a country without learning at least some basic words and phrases. I’ve been traveling around Brazil for about a year now and speaking Portuguese has given me access to places I’d never have seen otherwise.  More than that, it’s opened me up to innumerable personal encounters and memorable conversations. A friend once told me that to know a country is to know its people, and I couldn’t agree more.

I actually learned Portuguese entirely online with Babbel. It’s my most recent language, but it’s already my favorite. Speaking Portuguese almost feels like singing – it’s wonderful. I get a similar feeling from Spanish, though it’s not quite the same. Aside from these two, I also speak German (of course), English and Fränkish – a dialect from my region of Bavaria. 

For me, Babbel has been the ideal learning tool. The mobile apps in particular offer incredible possibilities to the frequent traveler. After just a few weeks of Portuguese I’d already established a solid foundation of vocabulary and learned the most important aspects of grammar. 

From there it was really a case of applying what I’d learned. I took to the streets determined to talk to anybody about anything. Of course, you won’t sound like a native right away, but it’s okay – nobody expects you to. I’ve always found that it’s easier to understand others than it is to speak, so I carry a pen and paper to write down tricky phrases. These stumbling blocks can be frustrating, of course, but they quickly disappear with practice.

Documenting my experiences

My blog, freiheitenwelt.de, has been around for more than five years now. I started it during my first expedition to Greenland, where I worked as an electrical engineer in arctic research. At first, I just wanted to tell my family and friends about ice. Thankfully, the site has grown in both scale and scope since then – it’s now a thriving repository for all my travel stories.

The most common questions I receive from my readers are variations on “What‘s the most beautiful/inspirational thing you’ve seen on your travels?” Without wishing to disappoint, I have to say that such a thing really doesn’t exist for me. Rather, I take pleasure in the sum of all the small moments that make me happy: a meaningless conversation, a lonely ride on an empty highway, a photograph of an interesting person, or a simple invitation for a drink. 

To really live and to experience each day to the fullest is what matters to me, not searching for elusive ‘special moments’ – I’m no trophy hunter. You’ve got to see the world with open eyes to really understand it.

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