Cycling the world: Five tips to help you on your way
Sitting at a desk in Adelaide, a world bike journey may seem like a world away. Stress, deadlines and meetings make days blur into years. Want to make a change and step off the merry-go-round for a while? Well, this is for you. Some tips for cycling around the world.
1. How to I actually DO it? Tell people about it!
You’ve heard stories of people making life decisions with mates at the pub after a few too many? You say what’s on your mind, and what you want to (and are going to) do. Then your mates keep you to your word. The cat is out, and now they’re watching you now follow through. No more letting time pass with inaction.
I decided that my bike trip was not just a dream when I told a friend, and excitedly she said she would come along too. At that moment I realised it was not crazy, and I could totally do it. My mind switched from it being one of those things you just dream about, to something that was going to be a reality. That friend ended up not coming along, but the more people I told about my excitement to do this, the more I knew I really would do it.
2. How do I know what bike to take?
There seem to be two philosophies.
The first is take a totally standard bike with standard everything. Things will break and you will need to fix them – which will be possible. This philosophy relies on there being replacement bike parts wherever you are. Even if the part is not available (if you are on the Pamir Plateau in Tajikistan), but there are always people to help, makeshift tools to borrow, and hacks to be made.
The second is to buy an expensive high-end bike with ‘unbreakable’ parts that are built to survive a lifetime. If they break, the parts are so uncommon and unheard of outside of the western world, you will be stuck. Take spare parts of the most uncommon things and hope that everything really is unbreakable. This is the option for the total technically incapable bike user.
I am hopeless with bike maintenance and I followed the second philosophy.
After going on a 1000km bike tour in Norway and my bike collapsing beneath me (spoke after spoke broke), I went to a bike shop I trusted and let them go through all the different options regarding bikes and their parts, and I ended up with the bike I needed for my adventures.
3. What should I take?
Take photos of home and photos of your bike trip up to now to give to the beautiful people you meet on the way. They really appreciate it. It’s wonderful to share your trip with them, like they are sharing their life and home with you!
What else? It depends on where you go. I went through hot and cold areas. In the mountains and desert I needed to cook for myself and be more independent. In south-east Asia, there’s cheap and good food to be had everywhere, so I sent my cooking things home for that leg. A tent there is not needed (as it is too hot), but a hammock and mosquito net is a plus.
In general you will need a bike, panniers, a sleeping bag and mat, clothes and repair stuff. Most cycling blogs have a list of things they took. Here is my list: https://arctic-cycler.com/equipment/
4. How do you prepare your route? What about the visas?
I read blogs. I got excited reading blogs. And videos. I’m going there and it will be amazing! I read blogs to see what the options are. In general, cycling from Europe to Australia, you go through Europe, Turkey, Iran (or Azerbaijan if you are American and can’t get an Iranian visa) and then either Central Asia and China, or India and Burma. From there, it’s down through Thailand and Malaysia to Singapore. Many people fly from Singapore. I cycled through Indonesia to East Timor – an absolute highlight. Here is my list of blogs that inspired me: https://arctic-cycler.com/links/
For visas, it is an ever-changing story. Iran, Central Asia and China are the most challenging. I was lucky enough to apply for my Chinese visa in Tehran in the short window of time they were handing out 90 day visas with no questions asked. I understand they no longer do this. The latest up-to-date information can be found on http://caravanistan.com.
5. How should I train for it? Will I be able to do it?
The bike journey is not a race – it is a life journey, and you have time to do it. Start slowly and stop to smell the flowers (there are lots around at the moment in the desert – it has rained a lot). Cycling will get you fit for cycling, and as you go on, you will do more, you will seek more challenging and amazing roads and places, and you will become more confident with what you can achieve.
I have met world cyclists of all ages from 18 to 72. I have met westerners, Chinese, Thai. I have cycled with people on budgets of $5 a day (including cycling in Australia). Sure, save some money up to do it, but don’t wait too long. You can start today. Who knows what might happen tomorrow. Your plans may be Trumped by a new situation, and your dreams may remain just that – dreams.