Over the years, as we’ve prepared for our tour, we’ve followed a number of cyclists who were already out there experiencing the world from the seat of a bicycle. Anxiously following their adventures online, their blogs provided inspirational fodder for our dreams. Although we hadn’t met a single one of these cyclists personally, we felt intricately connected to them somehow, and were moved by their online reflections, their struggles, and their triumphs.
We recently contacted some of these folks, to find out what motivated them to pursue long term travel, what challenges they faced, both in preparing for their trips and while on the road, and what advice they would offer others dreaming of traveling. Thus begins our “Cycling Shorts” – a series of short Q & A sessions with cyclists who are traveling or have traveled the world by bicycle. The answers we received in response to our questions were as varied and unique as the travelers themselves, but each of them offers us a glimpse of what it means to respond to the call of the open road.
Friedel and Andrew Grant
We followed Friedel and Andrew for years as they traveled the world by bicycle (from 2006 to 2009). Their round the world cycling journal was one of the most prolific, informative sites on world touring out there and it was our first read of the day. We loved their openness and willingness to share their experiences on the road with their readers. Today, they’re still cycling and still providing invaluable resources on their website for cyclists. We especially love their podcasts and their En-CYCLO-pedia, a photo gallery of cyclists. Check out their website, Travelling Two, and don’t miss their free “Bike Touring Basics” ebook.
We went around the world for 3 years, travelling 48,000km through about 30 countries. After our trip, we decided to move to Holland because we wanted to live in a place where we could keep the bicycle as a part of our lives.
Why did you decide to travel full time? What did you want to accomplish by traveling?
After several years of working and living in the same place, we felt a lack of excitement in our lives. We wanted to challenge ourselves more than the 9-to-5 routine was doing. We have both also had a real sense of just how short life is, so we wanted to make the most of life, rather than just spending it in the office.
How long did it take you to plan for long term traveling?
We saved money for about 6 years but we only had a very general goal of travel in mind during this time. We didn’t know what form that travel would take. We finally settled on a bike trip about 9 months before leaving and we did most of our planning and purchasing of equipment in the last 4 months before leaving.
What was the number one personal fear you had about taking the leap and realizing your dream of full time travel?
We were scared that we would never be able to fit back into normal life again – both personally and professionally. We thought that we might be committing career suicide and that we’d end up as a couple of homeless tramps for the rest of our lives, alienated from society. As it turned out, fitting back in happened far quicker than we ever imagined (we both had jobs within 3 months of returning) but at the same time it’s true that a trip like this changes you and we identify less with many traits of our society than we we did before.
What was the number one obstacle you had to overcome to be able to start off on your adventure?
Actually putting our plan into action was by far the toughest- especially quitting our jobs. For us, that was the point of no return and once we handed in our resignation letters we both felt physically sick. The nervousness continued until we got on the road and found our new routine.
Describe a moment or experience on your trip where you felt high/alive/fully human.
Almost every day on the bike is an invigorating experience. That’s not to say that it’s always easy. There are plenty of tough moments – rainy days when you are wet, cold and tired, for example – but that daily exercise pumps a sort of adrenaline through your system that is very addictive. It’s like being on a permanent high. We felt this most strongly every time we reached a mountain pass. It was such a sense of achievement to know you’d climbed so high, using only your own power.
Describe a moment or experience on your trip where you felt low/tired/pathetically human.
In some countries, there is an intense curiosity about the passing bike tourist and although you appreciate and understand this curiosity, it’s hard to always be on show. Sometimes you start to feel like a monkey in a circus, expected to perform at every stop. We felt this most intensely in the Middle East, where we would spend entire days surrounded by people asking “Where are you from?”, “What’s your name?”, “Where are you going?” over and over and over. They were such nice people but it was the kind of persistent attention that would drive you to your limits and make you question your own tolerance and desire to really explore the world.
How did your experiences on the road change who you are?
It’s given us a much more fluid attitude towards life. After experiencing a lot of “road magic”, we now accept that things will work out for the best. We just have to wait for the right solution to present itself.
We also now realize just how happy we can be with very little in terms of material possessions. We have a house that is half-furnished because we have a sofa and a couple chairs and how much more do 2 people really need?
We just can’t bring ourselves to buy more “stuff” for the sake of appearances or fashion.
What assumptions or preconceptions did you have before leaving that were changed by traveling?
It’s easy to assume that the world is a dangerous place but we returned convinced that it’s quite the opposite. Almost everyone we met wanted to help us or showed us some exceptional kindness, despite not knowing anything about us.
Has your relationship to material things/possessions changed by your traveling with only what you can carry on your bicycle?
Yes! As we hinted earlier, we are now very conservative with what we buy.
It was 6 months after returning from our trip before we felt justified in buying a new pair of jeans because everything in the shops seemed so expensive. Even then, we bought the cheapest pairs we could find. We think very carefully about what we buy and wherever possible we look for ways to recycle things that others throw out.
Other than “just do it”, what one bit of practical advice would you offer to someone who is dreaming of touring or traveling?
Take it slow. When you start, it’s so easy to rush to the next destination but just enjoy living in the moment. It’s not a race. If you go too quickly, you risk burning out from the pressure to cycle a certain number of miles each day and you miss great opportunities along the way to connect with the people and landscapes around you.