What do you do if you want to travel the world but your partner suffers from claustrophobia on public transport? Well for us, the answer was to travel by bicycle.
If anyone had told me a even year ago that I would be travelling by bicycle from Mexico to Argentina in 2013, I would have accused them of yanking my chain. But here we are, in the glorious mountains of Mexico, lubing the chains on our expedition bikes, protecting them from the dusty roads in height of the dry season.
Luckily for me, my partner Lars has comprehensive knowledge and, shall we say, a bit of a love affair with bicycles. My bicycle experience up until now has been limited to a two mile daily commute and the occasional weekend ride in the British countryside. It’s safe to say that I am jumping in at the deep end.
So, even if you don’t suffer from claustrophobia or some other travel anxiety, would you consider ditching your backpack for a pair of panniers? We’ve only been touring for a short while, but already we have experienced some of the most amazing adventures and learnt some valuable lessons. We’ve compiled our stories and tips below.
Time: You can determine your own timetable. There’s no need to picnic on the floor of a bus station waiting for a ride to the next destination or hauling yourself out of bed to catch the 6 a.m. train. You can get up when you want, leave when you are ready and stop to rest when you are tired.
Exercise: Cycling is a great form of exercise and access to plenty of fresh air. It allows you to discover the lay of the land kilometre by kilometre. Sitting sedentary for epic 18 hour bus journeys will not get your heart pumping. Not to mention, you might miss the awesome view while taking a nap!
Food: Regular exercise equals regular food intake! If, like us, you love eating local culinary delights, you will feel no guilt when tucking into that second helping of ice cream!
Budget: Travelling with all your own gear can be very cost effective. In many parts of the world, your daily budget can be next to nothing. The Travelling Two website has been a great overall resource for us when preparing for our trip and budget. This post has a wide range of bicycle touring budgets based on continent and the level of comfort. We have budgeted £10 per person per day as a general rule of thumb. So far we have spent less than half.
Out Of Hours: Do you ever feel frustrated by the hoards of other minibuses that arrive when your day tour gets to its destination? On a bicycle you can get there before or after. Perhaps you can even wild camp for the night.
Off The Beaten Track: It’s fun bumping into other travellers you meet on your journey. It’s even a pleasant surprise when you randomly bump into them again hundreds or thousands of miles down the road. So, is it a strange coincidence, or is it because you have the same Lonely Planet edition? Don’t get me wrong, I love Lonely Planet. It has been a key resource for me for many trips in the past and probably the future but I must say I am enjoying the little random villages and places not listed in the top 10 places to visit.
Let Your Bike Do The Work: As well as being an eco-friendly way of travel, wheeling your belongings from one place to another is far more energy efficient than lugging them on your back. Also If you enjoy getting techy; install a hub dynamo and power your gadgets while you ride!
The Cons Of Travelling By Bicycle
Extensive Planning Required: It’s not as easy as throwing some clothes and a toothbrush into a backpack. For a long term bicycle tour, covering the basis of what you need for you as well as your wheels can be an arduous task. We had lists and databases coming out of our ears! Of course there are different strokes for different folks, you could keep it simple.
You Generally Need To Take More Stuff: We tried to keep our gear to ‘fairly minimal’ but when bicycle touring you generally need more stuff when you are out in the wild (unless of course you are Mike Hall, current record holder for round-the-world on a bicycle). It is imperative that you bring Camping gear, kitchenware and bike maintenance in addition to your clothes and toiletries etc. The initial outlay of cost before you go can also be significant. We spent around £2000 each for all our gear and our bikes.
It’s Not Easy: I’m not a mountain goat like Lars. I find the hills tough at times and the traffic can be nerve racking. Bicycle touring is not for the faint hearted. You may miss the sense of agility when navigating a fully loaded bicycle through crowded streets. Patience is also key. When backpacking you can hop on a bus and enjoy the ride until you hit your destination. Perhaps you’ll arrive in just a number of hours. The same route by bicycle could take you a week! For example, right now I am dying to swim in the ocean, but I still have at least two weeks of cycling ahead of me!
Bicycle Maintenance: Like all machines, bicycles can break down and wear out. If you hear a weird noise coming from the gears you’ll need to know how to fix it. If the tyres are rubbing on the brake pads you need to know how to adjust them, not to mention the many punctures one tends to incur! In summary, a fair understanding of bikes before you head off into the sunset is necessary.
Liability: You are ferrying a lot of expensive gear around so you need to keep your wits about you. There are plenty of opportunists in the world happy to take your nice camera, laptop or bike off your hands if you make it easy for them.
The exhaustion after a long in the saddle appeals to us but travelling by bicycle is not for everyone. Nothing compares to the satisfaction of knowing that your travel experiences are powered by your own body. Even without the claustrophobia, we would still be riding our bikes!
This article was originally published on Art of Adventuring, then moved to WW in February 2017.