The adventurer Alastair Humphreys shares his secrets on how to cycle 40,000 miles – and his priorities for success will forever change the way you approach your own adventures…
I wanted to see the world. I wanted to do something difficult and exciting. I wanted to escape the meaningless daily treadmill. I wanted adventure!
So I cycled round the world. Cycling and camping is cheap. It’s simple. It’s the perfect blend of easy but challenging; fun but a struggle; slow but fast; crazy but achievable. There are no barriers to entry: You learn as you go. You get fit on the job. If you can ride a bike you can cross a country, a continent, a planet. By the time I arrived home after four years on the road (hair wild, clothes ragged, head stuffed with memories) I’d cycled 46,000 miles across 60 countries.
The whole adventure cost under £7000.
I’m going to show how you too can cycle round the world. A long bike journey may not be easy, but it is simple.
WHAT YOU NEED
The following list is written in order of importance
What differentiates people who do massive adventures from those who want to but never do has little to do with athleticism, experience or affluence. It’s about committing and beginning and making stuff happen. The first and most important thing to do is commit to making this happen. Tell your friends so that you can’t back out. Announce a non-movable departure date no more than one year from today. Start sorting things with your family, work and commitments. One other point to note: You will not have organised everything by the start date. It doesn’t matter. Just begin. You’ll be fine. It’s only a bike ride and a camping trip.
Begin saving today. Going for a pizza and a couple of beers costs as much as cycling through the wilds of Bolivia for a fortnight. Adjust your priorities. And save, save, save.
Questions to consider: Do you want to go solo or with a friend? Ride fast and cover big miles, or ride slow and savour what you see? Do you want to live like a dirtbag (wild camping, cheap food, long trip) or more comfortably (hostels, nice food, shorter trip)?
Questions to consider: Where in the world excites you? Which season will you be riding in? Where can you afford? (America will cost far more than South America.) Do you need to fly (expensive, tedious to organise) or will you just pedal away from home? Do you want a familiar culture and language or something different? Do you want epic (Siberia in winter) or pleasant (California in the spring)?
Arrange visas for any country that requires them from the appropriate embassy. Get vaccinations and a medical kit. Buy travel insurance, even if it only covers medical support. Open a couple of bank accounts and spread your money across several bank cards. Get a PayPal account. Stuff an emergency wad of US dollars cash somewhere safe.
Note that gear is last on my list. It’s not very important, though most people believe that it is. Expensive kit is nice to have, but not essential. Only spend on gear money that is surplus to the essential items in your budget: living costs, visas, insurance, flights etc. If you’ve got lots of money, buy a bike like this. If you can’t afford it then get any old bike, and go on that. You’ll be fine, I promise! Thomas Stevens cycled round the world on a Penny Farthing. Imagine you were preparing for a week-long bike holiday. That is more or less all the gear you need to ride round the world.
- Buy the best racks and panniers you can afford.
- Your tent should be free-standing. If you’re going solo get a 2-person tent. You’ll appreciate the space.
- Clothes should be comfy, versatile (think riding, relaxing, impromptu wedding invitations) and culturally sensitive.
- If you will pass through different climates consider what to do about cold weather gear. You can buy expensive down jackets and post them home when you no longer need them. Or you can buy cheap woolly jumpers in a local market and give them away when winter has passed.
- The fewer gadgets you take, the better. (And the less you Tweet, Blog and Facebook the better, too.)
- Take photos, but not too many. Write lots in your diaries (even if you’re not a writer). Send your mum lots of postcards.
- Sleeping mat – it’s worth buying a nice one, though only a 3/4 length one.
- Sleeping bag – it’s better to have a light bag and sleep in all your clothes when it gets cold than to carry a heavy bag for thousands of miles. Remember though that shivering in a sleeping bag is grim!
- A camping stove will save you lots of money and allow more flexibility in your plans. A multi-fuel stove is the best option for a long tour in far-off lands. You do not need a titanium spoon.
- Tools and spare parts – learn what you’ll need and how to use them. Buy a bigger pump than you think you should.
Google will give reams of information on every tiny planning detail. Please remember this: Most things seriously do not matter as much as people on internet forums will have you believe. Use your own best judgement, don’t overspend, and just get going. The Adventure Cycle Touring Handbook, Tom’s Bike Trip, and the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree are invaluable resources.
I am not a cyclist. I’m not very brave. I didn’t have much cash. I didn’t have the best gear. I’m still rubbish at fixing my bike. Here then is how I cycled round the world:
“I committed to beginning. I saved as much as I could and lived frugally. I planned the important, trip-affecting details carefully (visas and so on). Then I urged myself to relax, to be spontaneous, to not fret too much. And I began.”
You can do the same.
This article was reproduced by kind permission of Alastair Humphreys @Al_Humphreys
Alastair Humphreys is a British Adventurer, Author and Blogger. He spent over 4 years cycling round the world, a journey of 46,000 miles through 60 countries and five continents.
More recently Alastair has walked across southern India, rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, run six marathons through the Sahara desert, completed a crossing of Iceland, busked through Spain, and participated in an expedition in the Arctic close to the magnetic North Pole. He has trekked 1,000 miles across the Empty Quarter desert and 120 miles round the M25 – one of his pioneering microadventures.
He was named as one of National Geographic’s Adventurers of the year for 2012.