Frequently Asked Questions
Some questions I get asked over and over. Here’s my attempt to answer them.
Can you help me find a sponsor?
How do I get started on my first expedition?
I hope this helps.
I’m going on an expedition soon. Do you have any expedition planning advice?
Will you come and speak at my company?
Do you speak at schools?
Will you come and do a talk for free?
Maybe. I’m afraid I get too many requests to be able to do them all. Have a look at my pro bono policy and, if you’re still interested, send an email to [email protected] to enquire about availability.
I want to go on a big journey. Please will you give you me advice?
I hope that a little time trawling through my blog will answer most of your questions. Please do have a good look around before emailing me. But I am definitely happy to help if I can, even though all I may be able to do is wish you luck and urge you to take the bold steps of committing to the project and then beginning! This link might be useful.
How do you afford your trips?
I earn money through speaking, writing, blogging, photography, and placing ads on my site. The trips I do are generally very cheap. Walking across India cost ¬£500 (¬£300 of which was the plane ticket). And walking a lap of the M25 was much cheaper than that.
How do you arrange visas?
Who insures you?
Cycling round the world was tricky as I was away from home for longer than the usual policy. Harrison Beaumont and Campbell Irvine helped me find expensive solutions to this. The BMC is good for mountaineering insurance. The CTC do packages for cyclists. And the annoying meerkats will cover most backpacking requirements.
How did you cross the oceans when you cycled round the world?
Hitching a ride on a boat across an ocean is not easy. It takes a lot of time, preparation, initiative, persistence and luck.
I recommend nosing around yachting websites and websites with advertisements for crew. Contact yacht clubs directly and ask for their advice. Ask everyone you meet if they have ever met anyone who has ever met anyone with a yacht. That’s what I did. For 14 months. And eventually someone said “yes”.
Freighters are harder to find than sailing boats – insurance issues means it is far easier for them to say “no” than “yes”. Keep persevering or Google for ships that take paying customers.
The simple fact is that flying is far easier and cheaper than sailing. But I’m assuming you’re not in this for “easy” are you..?
Are you a super-athlete?
No! I wish I was! I am, at best, a “normal”-level athlete. I ran a sub-three hour marathon through careful training and a hefty stubborn streak. That’s about my genetic limit.
Will you ever stop doing trips?
I hope so. The law of diminishing return applies to the joys of the wild, the rewards of enduring and the lessons of the road. My problem is that I have not yet thought of a better use of my life than this one.
What’s your favourite place?
India for all the reasons everyone has ever loved and hated India. And Iceland for invigorating wildness just three hours from England.
Below are the FAQs I tend to get asked about cycling round the world.
Who am I?
After the bizarre choice of Physics, Chemistry and Biology A-Levels I read Zoology at Edinburgh then a postgrad at Oxford University before deciding enough was enough and riding off into the sunset.
My travels began in 1995 with a standard issue saving-the-world style Gap year teaching in a village in rural South Africa. During University I saved money by being in the Territorial Army and bar work to pay for bike rides along the Karakoram Highway (Pakistan to China), through Central America and across South America. I led a student charity project in the Philippines in a rare summer away from the bike.
I enjoy playing and watching sports, sharing in the sufferings of Leeds United FC, climbing mountains, reading, photography and swimming in rivers.
Why round the world?
To raise funds and awareness for Hope and Homes for Children, to try and make a go of being a travel writer, but mainly it was for the adventure, to attempt something I thought was probably beyond me, to escape from the stifling routine and swaddling of the easy life in Britain and to try and figure out what was most important to me in my life and how I wanted to live that life. Decide what you want written on your gravestone. Now go out and make it happen.
Am I really rich?
I saved my loans through University and left home with about 7000. This easily lasted more than 4 years. A diet of bread and bananas, sleeping rough, and focused, disciplined ascetism mean you can travel most of the world very cheaply. Even North America only cost me $3 a day. So, no, I m not rich! My 4 year adventure cost less than the car driving or beer drinking or cigarette smoking of most of the people who ask this question. I spent less than 7000.
Did you take any luxuries?
Music and books started off feeling like luxuries but I quickly realized they were absolutely essential to me. Brain food I called them. I had no underwear to save weight, but frequently an enormous pile of accumulated books to read!
What kit did you take?
Here is a blend of what I took and what I would have taken if I had the money!
Bike- Two steel Rockhoppers which were great and finally a wonderful steel mountain bike with downhill rims (I was sick of breaking wheels) made by a company who wouldn t give me even a tiny discount so I childishly taped over their logos [dream bike though- Thorn Raven], 4 large waterproof panniers, 2 large Ark dry-bags, bungees, granny-style shopping basket (so much better than a bar bag), 2 water bottles, Brooks saddle, Jandd Extreme front rack, Blackburn Expedition rear rack, Schwalbe Marathon tyres (1.9s), DT spokes, SPD pedals (one sided), bike odometer (wish I had the Cateye with altimeter), bar ends, horn for amusing kids and easily amused adults, Topeak Alien multi tool, adjustable spanner, Leatherman Wave, freewheel remover, tyre levers, 2 pumps, puncture kit, 2 spare tubes, spare tyre, spare chain (switched them every 3000km), duck tape, superglue, zip ties, string, oil, spare nuts and bolts, strip of sidewall of old tyre to wrap round inner tube in case of split tyre, free-standing Coleman tent, Therm-a-rest, sleeping bag, LED head torch, MSR Whisperlite, pan, spoon, cigarette lighters, mug, 10 litre water bag, iodine for water purifying, 2 zip-off trousers, 1 long-sleeved cycling top, 2 t-shirts, SPD sandals, 2 socks, lots of warm clothes in Siberia and none in Sudan, Karrimor rain jacket, rain trousers, thin gloves, waterproof mitts, thin balaclava, multi-purpose cotton tube thing for hat, scarf, sandstorm face mask etc, baseball cap, helmet (occasionally worn), suncream, Oakley sunglasses (worth the cash), cycling mitts, rechargeable AA batteries and charger, little First Aid and needle kit, insurance and photocopy of all papers, blood group info, dollars cash, lots of credit cards, passport photos, maps, books, diary, camera (dream: tiny digital and big juicy SLR), iPod, passport, toothbrush.
Wasn t it dangerous?
People driving cars are very dangerous. Much more dangerous than lions, bandits etc etc. Apart from that, no it wasn t dangerous. I met so many good people on my ride and so few bad people. I was careful and sensible, but also very confident in the essential goodness of people. Pragmatic recklessness was my philosophy.
How many languages did I learn?
Sadly just a few useful words in a huge number of different languages. Had a whole year to learn Spanish though which was a highlight of the journey to be able to communicate properly in a second language. It is such a shame how bad we are in Britain at making the effort to learn other languages. I can muddle along in French and German and a tiny bit in Russian. I talked my way out of trouble with the Japanese police for riding naked, so I guess I learned a bit of Japanese!
Did I get sick?
I was really lucky and suffered nothing more than occasional stomach upsets. Pretty lucky considering I drank the tap water everywhere I went with the theory that if poor locals drank it then so should I. I suppose it toughened up my guts pretty quick. Being super-fit also must have helped keep me healthy.
Were the visas a problem?
I went onto a second passport with all my visa stamps, but they are not such a hassle once you get used to them. Lots of forms, lots of fees, lots of passport photos, but as long as you are organized it is OK. You cannot get them all at once because they usually expire in 6 months. The old Soviet Union was hard work, but they are slowly improving. I was refused visas only for Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Iran. I faked the dates on my Turkmenistan visa as it would have expired otherwise. A bit stupid, but I got away with it.
How did I cross the Oceans?
Crossed the Atlantic by yacht, the Pacific by freighter and other little bits of water by local ferries.
Did I get attacked by animals?
Lots of dog chases! Wild animals not a problem in Africa because if they stray from the parks they get shot. More dangerous were the bears in Canada and Alaska which I eventually developed a healthy respect for (after taking a photo of my first ever bear from a range of only about 5 metres Dumb tourist!)
Mosquitoes were my biggest curse, and occasional attacks from bedbugs and fleas in less-luxurious accommodation.
Did you get robbed?
Only once. 3 drunk Russians with a gun on an icy dark Siberian road. I only lost about $20 and they even gave the wallet back which was nice of them.
Cape Town, San Francisco, Istanbul .
An almost impossible question as everywhere had fascinations. Out of the 60 countries I visited though I can narrow down to South Africa, Sudan, Russia, Colombia, America, Georgia
Favourite bike rides for people wanting a cycling holiday?
Lots of Europe was gorgeous, notably the Danube River, the Garden Route of South Africa, the Carreterra Austral in southern Chile, the coast of California, Kyrgyzstan and the Yorkshire Dales!
China, Georgia, Lebanon, Mexico .
Petra, the Great Wall and Samarkand.
Did you keep in contact with friends and family?
I used email a lot from Internet cafes which are all over the world now (filled with kids playing high-volume games of impressive violence) and phoned home about every 6 weeks.
A few good friends came to visit me- either to ride for a while or just for a holiday. That was always great.
How did you get sponsorship?
I did not get any financial sponsorship and even getting articles published was very difficult until I had ridden for about 3 years! Even then you rarely get money for them.
I did get some very welcome help from equipment companies who were willing to take a risk and support me and I was very grateful to them.
If I was to start again I would not try to get any sponsorship. I would recommend just working a bit longer and buying what you need from eBay. Quicker and easier!
How did you take the pictures?
My camera (like everyone s) has a self-timer. Set up camera on rock, try to make horizon vaguely horizontal, run round and pose!
I would like to have had a tiny digital camera and also a big juicy SLR digital for those gorgeous pictures you will treasure long after the memory of that extra kg of luggage have faded.
What will I do next?
I am going to try and write a book and continue giving slideshows to help promote Hope and Homes for Children. What happens after that depends on if I can sell my book or if I have to get a real job!
I do not feel that I want to be wandering again for 4 years, though I certainly do want to live abroad and to try and work in a second language.
I am looking forward to playing football again, staying in one place more than a few days, eating as much ice cream as possible and trying to do an Ironman.
Why did I ride alone?
Firstly I could not find anyone to come with me! I had three people I tried to persuade: 2 did not want to ride for so long, but did join me for chunks of the ride, and the third did not fancy sleeping in ditches for 4 years! Worried about getting mud on her pashmina, I suppose
But also riding alone was ideal- it is much harder: you stand or fall by your own decisions, qualities and shortcomings, and people are much more receptive and welcoming to a lone traveller. It was very hard being alone- the hardest part of the journey- but very rewarding in the end.
Did your bike break?
Like the old Russian joke- my bike is as good as new, except for 3 new frames, 5 new wheels, countless tyres, tubes, chains and gears .
Everything broke at some point but a lot of that was because I could not afford good quality gear.
Did you ever run out of food or water?
I was very careful not to do so, as a cyclist simply cannot function without them. At times I carried 10 days of food and 18 litres of water on the bike.
What is the worst food you ate?
All sorts of intestines, sheep s head, guinea pig, snake, crocodile, bear, fried worms and scorpions, sea urchin, raw squid, horse, strong Lebanese cheese, Japanese natto The only thing I was too squeamish to try was boiled mice on a stick in Malawi.
Where were the most beautiful women?
I was too busy studying the history, anthropology and local cultures to notice this, but if pushed I would say-
Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Japan, Russia
Where did I sleep?
Usually in my tent, often with kind families who welcomed me into their homes, occasionally in sewage pipes, mosques, beaches, five-star hotels, under bridges, in classrooms, on a toilet floor, in a gold mine, coal mine, church, caf , anti-tank bunker etc etc.
Have you changed?
I don t think I changed much, but it did help me focus on what is and what is not important in life. I am no longer apathetic about development, the environment, international relations and similar huge issues which are so key to our world but so easy for us to ignore in our daily lives.
Is the world a bad place?
No! It is full of good people, beautiful places, fascinating civilizations. TV loves to show us only the bad stuff.
My pet hates about the world though are now: cars and suicidal drivers, environmental destruction, intolerance through ignorance, over-eating and under-exercising by the privileged rich and the solvable staggering poverty and suffering of so many people.
Am I glad I did the ride?
Would I ride round the world again?
You haven’t answered my question?
Send me an email and I’ll try to answer it!