Can I start cycling (half) around the world?
Yes, you can. In fact, anyone can. Just start. It helps getting a decent bicycle and a little bit of knowledge about mechanics, although you will soon learn those skills on the road. Truing a wheel is not easy but I am sure you can fix a puncture in an inner tube, isn’t it? If the answer is yes you might seriously be in for cycling around the world! Read ‘Adventure Cyle-Touring Handbook’ to make you warm, or definitely decide otherwise.
Before you set out it is handy to know you really like cycling. For me, I cycled every day to my work and back home from work, an hour a day in total. That’s not much to set your goals on cycling half around the world. I wanted to know for sure I would like cycling each day at least 60 kilometer, camp and eat anywhere my stomach would requires me. So I took my mothers bicycle, not a very fancy model. I cycled about 150 kilometer up and back and I was hooked.
The search for a good bicycle could start now!
Read on forums and other people’s weblogs what you think you want and according your way of purchasing, set out. The more simple the bicycle, the lesser can break down. Over the years my style of buying is very manlike: one shop, a long search and I am set. No endless doubting, searching and going back to the first shop to end with nothing. Go to a shop where they have it all.
Decide you need cooking gear and a tent. Without your folding home and mini kitchen you cycle way lighter, but if you are addicted to masala chai, then a kitchen might come in handy. Your own kitchen and synthetic home give you total freedom in terms of where you stay the night. That is if you got no security behind you who keeps no low profile and forbid you to sleep in the desert. I would always opt for a well hidden spot to camp. Not only that a clearly in sight spot would attract too many visitors or make yourself a one woman show, but rather not to scare off the locals too much. In general people don’t rob nor rape you, but sleeping in the open is less comfi than invisible in the bush. Unless you have no choice or really no one is around. Be the nomad you always wanted to be!
How do you handle being in an unknown country with aliens?
I assume when you set out on a tour half around the world, or just in one continent, you are not unworldly. You neither have to be good at speaking for a large crowd, no way you have to have capability to be a intermediate, or counselor. It does help though. You often are all those, and on your own if you set out alone. It sure can be all very daunting. Either you love it, you like it, you start dealing with it or you never will.
How much does it cost?
In general you could easily live by a daily budget of €15 a day. Not including the visa fees. A lot of camping can drop the average down to about €7 a day (Ghana) but countries like Liberia multiplied with visa requirements, thus sleeping and waiting in hotels, adds up to an average of €29 a day! Just get yourself accustomed to wild camping quickly and you safe money. The most expensive visa I paid for were the ones from Côte d’Ivoire (€110) and (a second entry for) Guinea Conakry (€93) (never stamped nor seen though). It pays to check prices beforehand ’cause in some countries visa are cheaper to obtain. Yet in some countries they won’t issue at all.
Add up the costs of your bicycle, gear, insurance, unexpected flights, doctor and double the food intake : )
I have the luck to be able to store everything I owe (not much) at my parents house. Actually, that’s where I live when I am not traveling. I am not traveling when my money is finished and thus need to save money. In the past I always came back to the Netherlands to find work and save a decent amount until I could set off again.
How can I fit all my equipment in those tiny bags?
You can’t. Initially you will take too much with you. All you have in mind to take with you, won’t fit. And I can reassure you, you will never use it anyway. Cycling is a main task. It is a very high maintenance life style. Way higher than backpacking! The tasks you are busy with are finding food, fetching drinkable water, washing your dirty clothes, preparing a nutritious meal and finding a spot to sleep. You really hardly got time to sketch a drawing, read a book or repair your clothes. This life style is very back to basic, and so it’s very time consuming, but as rewarding as well.
The arrangements drive me crazy before I even started it!
Although I never had to deliver a real life baby, consider it the same. Your head is full with things to do as if it were your belly is growing each day. Lists are ever increasing and only dissolving the last day, the day of the delivery of you into the never ending beauty of the world. Be prepared to organize a health insurance while traveling, get yourself registered as a non-citizen in case you are gone for more than 8 months (if you are Dutch) in order not to pay double health insurance. Perhaps a second passport? Carry documents you think you might need them. Buy all the screws, nuts, bolts and spare parts you won’t come by in parts of the world other than where you live. Decide whether you want to support the pharmaceutical industry by buying pills against malaria. Perhaps you like to set out a general route? Maybe start writing stories so your family knows what cycling is all about? Good luck: start your own weblog. But keep in mind this is something you mostly do for your own sake, as not many people got time to read the fantastic adventures you experience. Camera? Smartphone? GPS or maps? Shoes? Clothes? This is all gear and what do you need and what will you certainly not use? This you will find out on the road…
The day you leave, you feel free. All the notes become unimportant. All the to-do list seems so silly. Are silly. Thus, all the things you have not finished are not important. Make not too many plans, they will change. Follow the road, it’s people. Dare to get lost, follow your heart. Off you are!
How did I start choosing a bicycle over public transport?
I wanted to buy a motorbike but the Indian Sahib did not want to sell me one. I thought he might have a point with me having no license nor skills nor experience. The only option left would be a bicycle. I did not fancy the idea of ploughing a bicycle, so I continued by public transport until I start missing adventure and challenge. Knowing that I start missing those things while staying too long in the deeply troubled backstreets of Kashmir, traveling through unstable Afghanistan and mystic Yemen, and living for a year in fabulous Pakistan. Not coincidentally, while liberated from Kashmir, I passed two cyclists on a most difficult stretch in Zanskar, and I knew: this is it!
Okay! This I get. Now, do you need to be fit?
I think you don’t need to be, but you inevitable will become very fit. Me, as a saleswoman I stand on my two feet each and every day, and I walk constantly all day. I cycle an hour a day but never did any sport. My height is 158 centimeter and my weight was 48 kilo. A perfect BMI. People who were jealous said I had anorexia, I knew better: I was having a healthy life style. And I still have. A fact is that when you are light, you carry the same amount as a more heavy person, thus in comparison you carry too much for your weight. Get used to it. Right after coming back from Cameroon I have gained about 5 kilogram. But I ate a lot, a lot of food while I did not cycle for two weeks. Your body will tell you to eat more and more, even though you stopped cycling for a few weeks. While on the road your body needs plenty of food, in the beginning it will even ask for it in the middle of the night. In the beginning you’ll eat the weirdest things, like bags of chips before going to have your dinner. Until the moment comes your body is well maintained and predictable. I gained weight and my legs have become clearly more built. Your most real power, by the way, is not in your body, but in your mind. If your mind says you can, you can.
Books are written about this topic, and no way I am going to try to do the same on this page. I recommend this book and a few websites, to start your own challenge.