In March 2012, I left my home in Gloucestershire, UK, to cycle around the world. I have no idea how long this will take ...

FAQ

Here are some of the most common questions asked about my cycling around the world trip.  If you want to ask a question that’s not on here, please send an email.  I’ll answer the most popular question right off the bat: “no I’m not married” – (“why not?”) – “because I’m in love with my bicycle” – (cue confusion and/or laughter).

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Why are you cycling around the world?

That’s a big question and I’m afraid know the full answer.  I enjoy travelling and I particularly enjoy travelling by bike.  So why shouldn’t I be cycling around the world?  I know my life is finite and I know I would have regretted not making this journey.  For a fuller explanation read further on my ‘why am I cycling around the world‘ post.

Why did you choose to travel by bicycle?

Travelling by bicycle allows the rider to see the world pass at a manageable pace. I can stop wherever I like, whenever I like and experience the world closer than from behind reinforced perspex. Linked to that is the fact that bicycle-travel enables the rider to visit small towns and villages completely off the beaten track. I have a preference for quieter, undiscovered places, no matter how historic or beautiful the busier alternative might be. A bicycle allows me to find these places.

There are many other reasons. Check out my ‘8 reasons to travel by bike‘ post.

Had you ever travelled by bicycle before?

Yes, prior to this trip I had made 3 cycle tours.  In summer 2008, I cycled the length of France from Calais to Montpellier (1500km) with my younger brother James.  We enjoyed our time so much that the next year in 2009 we joined up some major cities in Western Europe (Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Zagreb, Venice etc…) covering roughly 5000km.  In 2011, I cycled the length of Britain from Land’s End to John O’Groats.  Those excursions certainly helped me prepare for my round the world adventure but previous cycling experience shouldn’t be considered a prerequisite.

Does it take a lot of training to travel by bicycle? Don’t you have to be really fit?

That’s two questions and ‘no’ to both.  One shouldn’t be reckless, especially if older or with an existing medical condition, but the human body is incredibly capable of quickly getting into the swing of a demanding physical exercise regime.  I left on my trip without a day’s training having led a fairly sedentary lifestyle for the prior couple of months.  Sure, I am fairly well-disposed to become fit, but that doesn’t exclude those who can’t leap into action at a moment’s notice.  The key is to ease into the lifestyle of cycling distance every day, starting with few and building up as the weeks and months go on.  Over time fitness is guaranteed.

What kind of bike do you have?

My bike is a Dawes Galaxy made in 1997. Dawes is the manufacturer, Galaxy is the model. I bought it in 2008 second-hand on eBay for £320. In fact, it was my 18th birthday present. Briefly, the frame is steel, the handlebars are dropped, V-brakes (no discs), no suspension, derailleur gears (no Rohloff hub), 28 inch wheels and weighs roughly 13kg. It is by no means the Rolls-Royce of bikes. It is only a very strong, simple contraption: always reliable and easy to fix.  Click my ‘how I came to have my bike‘ post for an ode to my beginning on two wheels.

What baggage do you carry?

I carry two back pannier bags (one on each side of the back wheel), two front pannier bags (one on each side of the front wheel) and a large travel backpack which lies across the back (I don’t wear it when cycling). What I carry in those bags depends mainly on the season and location. In winter I have to carry a lot more clothes and equipment and in remote places I must carry extra food, water and spare bicycle parts. Take a look at my ‘kitlist’ to see what I’m carrying in detail.

Isn’t your bike really heavy?

In short, yes, although I’ve seen other cyclists with a lot more.  As indicated above, the weight of my bike depends on the time of year and the area in which I’m cycling.  I’d guess on average my baggage weighs around 30kg.

But isn’t travelling by bike dangerous?

There is no good reason to believe that cycling around the world is more dangerous than backpacking around the world provided some basic preparation is done beforehand.  I have rarely felt in danger on my trip – local people are always far too nice to make me feel uneasy.  Check out my is cycling around the world dangerous?‘ post.

Aren’t you scared?

As far as I’m concerned there’s no significant danger so why would I be scared?  I am far more terrified that something awful will happen at home and I won’t be in contact to hear about it.

What is the scariest thing that’s happened?

I haven’t had many scares in my time on the road … yet more evidence that cycling around the world isn’t much more dangerous than anything else.  That said, I’ve cycled through a riot in Eastern Turkey complete with road-blocks and stone-throwing kids, been thirsty in the desert with no water, chased by several packs of wolf-sized dogs, threatened with a wooden club in Iraq, thrown over the handlebars at high-speed and caught in a lovely Iranian girl’s bedroom by her unsuspecting father.  At the time they were all pretty scary.

What problems have you encountered?

I encounter innumerable problems ranging from flat tyres to swollen infections of the face.  The important thing to remember though is that NONE of these problems are insurmountable.  Problem-solving becomes a part of daily life when cycling around the world and more often than not there’s someone friendly close-by to help.

Where’s your final destination?

I would like to cycle all the way round the world ending my trip outside the front door of my house in Gloucestershire, UK.  That’s exactly where I started.  That said, there are many factors outside my control that could force me to compromise on that destination.  It would be foolish to be so intent on reaching my goal that I prioritise it over everything else.  The further around the world I go though, the more determined I am to finish.

How long will this trip take you?

Another impossible question and I’m afraid, again, I don’t have a definite answer.  It will take as long as I am enjoying myself.  My best guess is 3 and a half years but that’s about as accurate as picking the lottery numbers.  I could cycle continuously and finish soon but maybe I’ll stop to work somewhere, maybe I’ll fall in love, maybe I’ll start my own business … the possibilities are endless.

So have you fallen in love then?

That’s for me to know.  I’ve certainly enjoyed the company of some people as I’ve travelled around the world.

Why are you travelling alone?

I cycle solo because I crave freedom in travel and another person usually restricts that freedom. I want to be able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in an instant, to be able to stop cycling when I feel tired or grumpy, to eat at the street-food stall of my choosing. I am comfortable spending time with myself and privacy is important. I have been known to lock myself in several kindly Iranian’s toilets just to get a few moments peace from their good-natured questioning.

Despite all that, I have cycled with others in the past. Travelling with others is sometimes more enjoyable, cheap and sensible, but I wouldn’t say that’s often the case.

Don’t you miss your family and friends?

Yes I do, although I’ve come to terms with the fact that not seeing them is a necessary sacrifice to take part in this adventure and I think they’ve come to terms with that too. Technology nowadays is wonderful, particularly Gmail and Skype, which means I can talk to them regularly. In fact, I reckon I talk to my family more often nowadays than when I was at university less than 100km from home!

What do you miss most about home?

Familiar people of course but other than that there’s the food side of things: cheese, decent beer and wine, Cadbury Twirls and Sunday roast lunch to name a few.  Even more than that though, I miss the unknown opportunities I never had.  What would have happened had I stayed at home?  The creeping feeling that the grass could be greener on the other side is erroneous but ever-present.

Who inspired you to make such a long trip?

I can’t say I have a single inspiration and even if I did I would probably, regrettably, be too proud to admit it.  My parents have lived most of their lives as their own bosses, valuing personal happiness highly even it means going against the grain.  My brother was essential to my first bicycle trips.  If I hadn’t enjoyed them I wouldn’t have continued cycling.  My sister is the kindest of the lot, keeping the encouragement flowing.  As a tool, Google Maps, is my biggest source of inspiration.  The hours, no days, no months I have spent scrolling around the world.  But I suppose that’s not a ‘who’.

Where do you sleep?

I sleep in a lot of places.  Whatever presents itself naturally at the end of the day is likely to become my temporary home.  In the countryside I usually camp.  Often I am invited to spend the night in a local person’s home.  If that happens I usually accept and like this I have slept in everything from a tin shed to marble palace.  In cities, I find places to stay in Couchsurfing, Warmshowers or hostels.  The first two are hospitality networks that connect travellers with hosts and have worked wonders all over the world.  Rest assured, in almost 2 years of travel I’ve slept in some weird and wonderful places.

What about the language barrier?

The language barrier never stops me from getting what I need in foreign countries. The basics like eating, drinking, sleeping or getting help in an emergency can all be dealt with in a variety of forms of sign language which the experienced traveller quickly comes to learn. More complex requests and abstract concepts are trickier. However, if it’s really important, the chances are it will be understood.

Imaginative ways abound to reduce the language barrier too. I always make an effort to learn the local language but I also create a small pamphlet with useful phrases for myself and pictures of my family, my route and where I’ve been for the locals (see my ‘travelling with a personalised picture book‘ post). Remember, most questions locals ask are the same everywhere so it’s easy to have some stock answers ready.

What about getting ill?

Let me explain my theory. When cycling around the world, a cyclist’s body comes into contact with new bacteria gradually. That means there are few shocks to the system and consequently few bouts of traveller’s diarrhoea and vomiting. Added to this, the cyclist who feeds himself properly and gives himself adequate time to rest will have superior fitness and immune system to those making a similar trip by backpack simply due to the regular, controlled exercise he participates in daily. In short, I think a cyclist has less chance of falling ill than regular travellers.

As far as more serious diseases go, I have all the recommended vaccinations and they seem to have worked so far. In the early months of my trip I developed some nasty blisters on my legs which forced me to rethink how best to feed myself and I’ve certainly had my fair share of bumps, cuts, bruises and grazes. Overall though, I’d say I get ill far less often nowadays than I did when I lived in the UK.

What do you eat?

It totally depends on the country.  I try to minimize cost, taste local food and properly feed myself.  Balancing the three takes practice.  In an expensive country I will cook most of my own food so that means pasta, rice, potatoes, vegetables etc…  In Sweden I mainly ate wheat wraps filled with tinned mackerel because that was cheapest.  In better value countries, I eat more from street stalls.  Often, I am invited to local homes in which case I eat whatever they’re cooking and for lunch usually what they have given me to ride away with in my panniers.  Overall, I probably don’t feed myself sufficiently when cycling which means grotesque portions when I stop for rests in cities.  Oh, and I don’t eat enough fruit either.  Have a look at what I was eating in the first months of my trip in Scandinavia and during my time cycling across Central Asia.

What do you drink?

Mainly water but on hot days I tend to allow myself a treat of a litre bottle of fizz. My favourite is Coke although every now and again I mix it up because it isn’t available or my taste-buds are tingling. I dislike drinking alcohol when I cycle … it goes to my head quickly and makes me lethargic.

How much do you eat?

I’ve mentioned that already: ‘grotesque portions’. I can quite easily eat 500g pasta, 300g tinned meat, an onion and a quarter-pack of butter in a single sitting. Ten scrambled eggs with onions and peppers is a breakfast favourite. In China, the owners of the restaurants offering all-you-can-eat rice deals may well be shaking their head in their hands.

How much has the trip cost?

After 20 months I had spent roughly £4000 ($6500). That includes all living costs, bike maintenance, visa fees etc… Cycling as a way of travel is extremely cheap. No transport costs and often no living costs given the frequency of invitations. Plus, a bicycle takes you to the cheapest places in a country.

How much do you spend per day?

A $10/day figure floats in my mind but I’m never too rigid about sticking to a daily budget. On cycling days I normally spend significantly below $10/day whereas in a city I spend above. Of course, different countries vary in expense, not just because stuff is cheaper in one than the other but because the cyclist’s lifestyle varies too. For instance, I probably spent as much per day in China as I did in Russia, even though the former is far cheaper than the latter. That’s because I had to cook all my food in Russia, given the huge differences between villages, whereas in China I could eat out every day.

How far do you cycle per day?

I look to cycle around 100km on a full cycling day.  That’s the benchmark.  However, road quality, terrain, weather, time-pressure, availability of good food, bike maintenance and frame of mind play a huge part in determining how far I go on any given day.  In Siberia I managed almost 150km/day for a month, whereas in Tajikistan I made far less.  Likewise, at the beginning of my trip I cycled fewer kilometers per day than I do now.

How fast do you go on average?

In reasonable cycling conditions I like to sit at about 20km/h (12mph).  Up hills or against the wind that can fall to below 6km/h.  With a streaming tailwind that can rise to over 30km/h.  Again, it all depends on the conditions.

How do you know where to go (directions)?

I use a combination of paper maps, compass, signposts, directions from locals and guesswork.  I have no GPS, smartphone or other fancy equipment.  One should remember that in many of the countries I’ve visited there’s only one main road so getting lost isn’t as easy as it might seen.  Whereas in Germany it is fairly important to have a detailed map to pick out the best cycling roads, in Mongolia if the road’s asphalt then it’s the right road!  See my post about ‘finding the way‘.

What’s been the highlight of your trip?

An impossible question I’m afraid and one that can’t be answered now.  There are just far too many competing moments.  I will say though that my favourite 3 countries so far have been Poland, Turkey and Iran (it is no coincidence that those are also the countries I have spent some of the longest time in).

What about low moments?

That’s an easier question for some reason.  The worst moments have been saying goodbye to people, especially when I’ve spent a lot of time there and have no reason for leaving except to ‘move on’.  The loneliness in the few days that follow a big departure is torturous.  Leaving Goodbye Lenin Hostel Zakopane in Poland, saying goodbye to the apartment in Bishkek and waving Luke off to the airport are three such examples.

What are your plans after Carry on Cycling?

Insurance salesman.  No …  just joking.  I have no plans for after this adventure.  If I did I’d be placing a time-limit on myself which would put an end to my ability to move as feel.  I suppose I hope that a plan will reveal itself to me at some point on the road: perhaps I’ll find a great job, fall in love, start a business or be given a tropical island by an eccentric billionaire.