My Touring Style and Methods
The only definitive rule of Bicycle Touring is that there is no such thing
as the "Right Way" to do it...
Everyone who ventures forth on a bicycle tour invariably develops their own particular way of going about things. That is exactly as it should be. The range of possibilities encompasses all levels of physical exertion, from light to excessive; various amounts of hardships, or luxuries; whether to ride to meet people, or to escape people; and different overall goals, from simply riding a great distance, or riding with specific destinations in mind. I, of course, have my own methods of living while on tour that I feel work just about right for me. However, I would never attempt to tell anyone else that what I do would be best for them. That is something that everyone must learn for herself or himself, and it is part of what make the touring experience so rewarding. Nevertheless, I find it useful to spell out my methods from time to time if, for no other reason, than to give me an opportunity to reconsider whether some aspects of my style could be improved. So, below I will discuss a few items relevant to an extended tour such as this one, and some logistical matters relevant to all long-term travel.
Camping by the Flathead River in Montana
Friends & Partners
Whether to ride alone, or in the company of one, or more, companions is one of the most often debated subjects among tourists. Just as with discussions of politics or religion, these conversations rarely resolve anything, because one's position on this issue has more to do with long-standing personality traits than any sort of logical analysis of the various circumstances. I have done all of my past tours alone, and have no plans to change that approach at this time. I imagine that a group tour could potentially be a lot of fun under the right circumstances, however, those have yet to come together at a time when I was considering a new tour. Touring solo probably requires greater flexibility and the ability to think fast, compared to traveling with a large group. Those are qualities that I like to encourage in myself as much as possible. So for the foreseeable future, including my visit to Gondwana, I will continue to make my way alone, except, of course, for the thousands of friendly people that I will meet along the way.
Daily Schedule & Typical Distances
This is also another area where personal preferences play a large role in one's plans. However, geography, climate, physical fitness and age, and the total length of the tour are among the other important factors to be considered. From the first day of my first tour, until now, I have used the following routine. I generally prefer to cover a relatively long distance each day, anywhere from 130 to 200 kilometers. I try to start riding as soon as possible after sunrise, with the aim of covering half of that distance in the morning. Then I take a long break at midday, which usually includes my main meal for the day. The remainder of the ride starts in the afternoon, timed so as to finish as close to sunset as possible. I find that this lets me take advantage of the more peaceful morning and evening hours on the road and avoids some of the midday heat as well. Additionally, I believe that this approach lets me feel more rested than if I did an entire day's distance in one long stretch. There have been a few occasions over the years when for whatever reason, I needed to ride straight through most of the day, and these days always felt "abnormal" and somewhat less enjoyable.
Of course, I will try to continue using this routine on this tour as much as possible. However, the generally short length of the day in the tropical regions will often challenge that practice. I have planned my route and schedule to allow me to cover the distances required for each stage by averaging about 145 kilometers a day, while riding only an average of five days a week. In my earliest tours I assumed that I would ride almost every day. Lately that has dropped to six days a week. For this tour, due to it's significantly longer length and greater number of places that I would like to visit in detail I think five days per week at that pace is more reasonable. I will try hard to regularly take those two rest days each week, in order to better maintain my physical condition. Of course, skipping a day or two of rest here and there, so that those days can be used later to lengthen a stay at a particularly interesting spot, would seem to be an acceptable idea as well.
Rest & Accomodations
I have always used the time-honored practice of free camping as much as possible while on tour. Certainly I will spend the majority of nights on this tour the same way. In fact there could really be no other option for such a long tour that includes so many less-developed regions. Staying in a room each night, no matter how basic would add a tremendous cost to the tour, and would be difficult, or impossible, in regions like the Australian Outback or Patagonia. Campgrounds are also low on my list of preferred choices. While I have had both great and not-so-great nights while free camping, virtually all of my worst touring nights have been spent in campgrounds, usually because of their often-noisy atmosphere. Free camping is not a problem for me and I am rather proud of the skills that I have developed over the years for choosing a good place to sleep. I actually considered putting up a list of "Tips and Tricks" on this site, but I eventually decided that might be asking for trouble, and, in any case, that those techniques are things that people should probably develop on their own.
Rest days, however, are another matter. I find it quite useful, and enjoyable, to get a room now and then to clean up, recharge my camera batteries, and sleep on a soft bed. This is especially nice if I plan on spending a day sightseeing, completely off the bike. In that regard, I am not particular at all, even the most run-down old hotel will do, though I am not adverse to a nicer place from time to time, if the budget allows it. My only real criterion is that the place be quiet, which basically rules out "backpacker's hostels" and similar budget accomodations. I especially like to spring for very nice accommodations for the first and last nights of every tour.
Food & Drink
Of course, this is a paramount concern for any tour, no matter how long. Keeping oneself well-fed and hydrated goes a long was to determining how much enjoyment will be experienced on a given trip. Though sometimes this task can seem like a full-time job. I am constantly amazed at just how much I need to eat to keep from losing body weight while on tour. When it comes to food, I must admit that I have chosen to ignore one of the most beloved activities for many tourists. Specifically, I never cook for myself. For me, this provides two important advantages. First, I am freed from carrying the load of stoves, dishes and other supplies that many choose to schlep up and down tall mountains. Additionally, I can avoid the less-than-appetizing fare that I would certainly prepare for myself if I tried to cook in the bush.
On this tour I will continue that practice. My main meal will usually consist of ready-to-eat food, or prepared dishes, purchased from a local grocery, where those types of establishments are common. Cafes and restaurants are the next choice in places where grocers are not available. In more remote areas, I will eat what the locals do, street food, and fruits and other items purchased from open-air markets.
For liquids, which I usually consume in great quantities, water is, of course, the first choice and I am not all that squeamish about it's source. I would rather take my chances with various parasites than to pass out from dehydration. For very questionable sources I will carry Aqua Mira ClO2 water purification drops. I am also known to frequently guzzle down large bottles of soft drinks and fruit juice, where those items are available, as well. However, I normally try to avoid alcoholic beverages at all times while on tour, as my high level of activity tends to amplify their negative effects.
Money & Finances
Unfortunately, money, or lack thereof, is still a major determining factor in deciding where a long tour will go, and how long it will last. I would have started this tour in 02000, or in subsequent years, if the funds were available. They weren't, so I was forced to postpone. Now that I think that I finally have enough cash to start, I realize that as I have constantly added more goals to the trip, I am probably destined to be on a tighter budget than I may have desired. Other global tourists have sought sponsorship, overseas employment, or planned on extreme frugality in order to stretch their budgets. I admire all of these efforts, though they are not quite right for me. I really don't want this tour to feel like a job, and accepting outside support would certainly make me feel that it was, to a certain degree. And while I try to be frugal myself at all times, I decided when I first began planning the tour years ago that I would not cut corners on necessary items or things which, if eliminated, would dilute the experience of the trip, such as fees to game parks and historical sites. I also wanted to be sure that I would not be completely broke at the finish of the trip, so I tried to budget with a little extra padding. Finishing with leftover cash may not actually come to pass, however. Time will tell.
Other long-term tourist's sites have listed detailed budgets for their trips, but, once again, I feel that there are too many personal variables involved to make my estimates very useful to others. For example my food budget of $US 30.00/day is perhaps twice that of what some have used. However, I know that I eat a bit more than most folks and from experience $US30.00 is only slightly more than I would normally expect to spend in the U.S., and probably in places like Europe and Australia as well. In more affordable regions I will still use that amount as a guideline, and pocket the leftovers to cover unexpected expenses and to save for my return.
In general, I don't think that it is very useful to try and estimate a total cost per day for a long tour like this one. Instead, breaking the total costs down into individual categories helps to greatly balance out the inequities found in various parts of the world. In decreasing order of the amount budgeted for each Stage, the categories that I used were: Food; Sea/Rail/Air transport; Sights and Excursions; Lodging; Shipment of packages & supplies; Miscellaneous; Arts and Crafts; Visas; Clothing and Laundry; Internet/phone; and Medications. Over 76% of the budget is consumed by food, lodging, transport, and shipping. However, the other 24% represent little things that will make the tour much more enjoyable, and ultimately sucessful, in the long run, so these should not be neglected. Finally I did not include fixed-cost items like the bike, spare parts, and camping gear, since I have gradually been accumulating those items over the last few years, nor storage at home for my personal belongings and charges for my primary ISP, which will both be paid in advance for the duration of the tour.
When it comes to actually managing personal finances during an extended trip, there is quite a bit of advice available out on the Web, though often of various levels of usefulness. When it comes to actually getting cash on the road, many prefer traveler's checks, but I find them to be an unwelcome bother. I try to depend on ATMs or, if one can not be located, cash advances from credit cards. Of course, these services are not always available. When I toured in Cuba and Madagascar, the electronic banking system was either unavailable to me or virtually non-existent outside of a few large cities (traveler's checks were also not well accepted). In those cases I was forced to carry enough cash for the entire trip, a situation that made me feel rather nervous, but which, in the end, did not cause too many problems. Therefore, when depending on ATMs for funds, it is certainly a good idea to check on their availability in all of the locations that you plan to visit, and withdraw enough cash before reaching those areas. Additionally, it is probably a good idea to have more than one account, preferably one with an ATM card for the Plus system, and another for Cirrus. One credit card of each of the main types, Visa, MC, and Amex will also be handy since some banks or merchants can only accept one variety.
In my opinion, however, perhaps the biggest improvement in money handling for global travelers in recent years has been the rise of Internet banking. It is probably essential to now use a bank that has excellent online banking services. That way, credit card payments or any unexpected bills can be dealt with from virtually anywhere on the globe. Another big advance has been the arrival of PayPal. That service makes it quick and painless to send money back and forth between family members, or anyone else for that matter. This will be invaluable if I need some emergency cash, or if I need someone back at home to make an unusual purchase for me. Finally, it is, rather unfortunately, a good idea to budget an extra 3-4% to cover all of the inevitable fees for banking, currency exchange, credit, and similar matters.
Visas & Red Tape
Of all of the aspects of global tour planning, this is the one that I really wish would simply disappear. Of the 38 countries that I plan to visit, 16 of them require tourists to obtain Visas. The total cost of all of these will probably approach $US 1,000.00. The money is not as much of an issue as is my perception that the procedures involved serve no useful purpose other than to complicate ordinary people's lives. The biggest problem is that few of these can be obtained far enough in advance to allow me to collect the whole lot before I leave. So there will undoubtedly be occasions where I will be forced to visit a consulate, probably in a major city like Bangkok, in order to obtain a Visa for a country to be visited down the road. Cities like that are places that I would really, really prefer to avoid while on tour. Another potential complication is that many consulates require one to show an airline ticket or other "proof" that you plan to leave their country. Obviously, I won't have any airline tickets, and my bookings for the ocean crossings may not be made far enough in advance to be of use in that situation. One aggravating option is to buy a cheap airline ticket to anywhere to show the border authorities, and then simply eat the costs. Perhaps I can show the officials this Web site to convince them of my plans! However, I will do my best, and try to get all of the necessary documents as simply as possible.
Supplies & Support
One element of the trip that added a lot of confusion to my planning was my desire to have a shipment of supplies sent to me before each ocean crossing, to be returned home at the start of the next stage. This originally came about because I realized that I wanted to have my laptop available at the end of each stage in order to manage all of my photographs and prepare my slideshows. One option is to forward a case containing all of the needed equipment from the start of each stage to its planned end point. That is not a very good alternative, however, as it would require storage of the shipment, for at least a few months, in a strange city, and would prohibit me from ending the stage at an unplanned location. Having the shipment sent from home at the end of each stage, and then returning it at the start of the following one, though much more complicated and expensive, would better serve my needs. Additionally, once I decided to use that approach, I realized that I could use the same shipments to send replacements for hard-to-find bike parts, special tools, and other things that will make my repairs and preparations for the next stage much easier. So, I have collected a modest-sized cache of items, such as a pile of heavy-duty tires, all the parts required to replace the bike's drivetrain, several pairs of my favorite cycling shorts, and so on. As I approach the end of each stage, I will send an e-mail to home with a list of what I will need, and, hopefully, it will all be packed in together with my laptop, shipped ahead, and will be waiting for my when I arrive at my destination. Then I will take care of all of my computer chores, repair the bike, and send the laptop and all of my worn-out bike parts back home after the next ocean crossing. To help me out with all of this, I will probably enlist the aid of a professional Personal Concierge Service.
There are two big drawbacks to this whole idea. The first is that it is seems horrendously expensive. However, I am hopeful that the ability to keep the bike in top condition will, in the long run, make up for some of that and save me a bit of cash and aggravation by eliminating some potential breakdowns and their associated costs. The other major problem is that it is surprisingly complicated to send a simple box of personal belongings to a location overseas. Apparently, the entire international customs system is set up to handle primarily commercial shipments to service the GloMart economy. A single box of personal effects can throw a wrench in the works. With a little bit of research I discovered that currently only one carrier, DHL, can reasonably handle shipments of personal effects. Supposedly, this is due to their use of private customs agents at most ports of call worldwide. I am a little suspicious of my abilities to pull this all off without any major mishaps, but hopefully if I can work out all of the details and paperwork in advance, it won't be so bad.
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