- Cycling is cheap, as cheap as you want it to be! Once, riding through Argentina, I met a French backpacker. As we chatted he became envious of my experiences. So I persuaded him to buy a cheap bike and a tent in the local market. And then we set off on a very spontaneous adventure together. We rode to Bolivia. Fabien calculated that, just two weeks after buying the bike and tent, he was already saving money compared to using buses and budget accommodation. If you cycle and camp then you remove the two biggest backpacking expenses: transport and accommodation.
- Don’t you hate it when the train you are travelling on passes through stunning scenery and all you can do is watch it whizz by through the window? On a bike you are living, breathing, hearing and smelling every mile of countryside. Yes, you will be moving slowly, but that becomes a joy in itself: the journey is the reward. Your trip becomes more than just ticking off a list of must-see sights. It’s the places in between that forge the strongest memories.
- Tourist hotspots often attract con-men, pickpockets, touts, or just inflated prices. Get off the beaten track and people stop treating you as a tourist. People are curious about who you are and where you are from, and they usually want to show off their country in the best possible light. Arrive in a village in the middle of nowhere by bicycle, and the effect is magnified! People may laugh at you and think you are mad, but they will be curious, amused, impressed, fascinated, and eager to welcome you. The kindness I received on my bike journeys was amazing and humbling, whether that was in Azerbaijan, Belgium and Chile, or Xinijiang, Yugoslavia or Zimbabwe.
- You will get fitter than you have ever been and more tanned than you can imagine. The breeze on your face and the freedom of the road are so much nicer than being squashed on a bus playing loud kung-fu movies in a language you cannot understand.
- Cycling round the world is so much better for the environment than a round the world air ticket.
- Journeys by bike are more unusual, exciting, rewarding, challenging and fun than backpacking trips.
I’m going to finish by countering your immediate reasons why you’re going to say that travelling by bicycle is not for you:
- “I’m not fit enough and it sounds like hard work…” Start slowly – you are not racing anybody, and within a week or so you will feel yourself becoming so much stronger. And use this excuse as a reason to stop frequently to explore villages or chat to farmers in the fields. The slower you travel, the more memorable the experience. There’s no hurry.
- “It’s dangerous (especially alone or for females)…” There is a small risk to all of our travels. On a bike the biggest danger is from traffic, but I feel safer on my bike than I do in many of the world’s crazy, high speed, ramshackle buses with loud horns and dodgy brakes (you know the ones I’m talking about!). In terms of risk from other people, my experience is that 99% of the time you are treated better and more warmly when cycling than when backpacking. Females worrying about the dangers of travelling by bike should read the books of Anne Mustoe, Josie Dew, Dervla Murphy et al.
- “I hate camping…” Then consider riding in countries where you can easily reach a town to stay in each evening. Or look at a company such as Cycling for Softies (http://www.cycling-for-softies.co.uk) to ease you towards a more challenging journey.
- “I can’t mend a puncture…” Nor could Anne Mustoe, and she cycled all the way round the world twice! Bicycles, and bicycle repair stalls can be found in nearly every village in most parts of the world – you are never too far from someone who can fix your bike for you.
But trust me on the bicycle…
This piece first appeared in Wanderlust.