When I first started bicycle touring at the age of 17, I had no plans of making bike travel an ongoing part of my life. I figured I’d complete my month-long bicycle tour down the Pacific Coast of the United States and then I’d go off and get a job, get married, have kids and do all the things I saw everyone else around me doing at the time. But that didn’t happen!
It’s been 14 years now since my first bike tour and I’ve fallen in love with the activity. I’ve not only spent the last 14 years riding my bicycle all around the world (having cycled across more than 50 different countries), but I’ve since created the world’s most visited bicycle touring website, written four popular cycling books, and helped thousands of people conduct their own incredible bicycle tours.
Because today is a special day for me (It’s not only my 31st birthday, but the birth-month of BicycleTouringPro.com as well), I wanted to take some time to share with you some of my favorite aspects of bicycle touring. In this article you’re going to find a list of the top 10 things I enjoy about bicycle touring now that I’ve been doing it for more than 14 years in dozens of different countries all around the world.
Please note that this is not a list of the things YOU will necessarily enjoy most about bicycle touring. Nor is it a list of the things I enjoyed about bicycle touring when I first started out at the age of 17. This is a list of the things I still enjoy (or have learned to enjoy) after making bicycle travel a regular and ongoing part of my life for the last 14 years.
Like #10: The Mental & Physical Challenge
When I first started bicycle touring at age 17, it was the physical challenge that initially drew me to the activity. I wanted to prove to myself (as well as my friends and family) that I could physically pedal my bike for thousands of miles/kilometers. After completing my first few bike tours, I realized (and proved to myself again and again) that I could handle both the mental and physical demands of long-distance bike touring.
Today, I don’t consider it much of a physical challenge to go on a bicycle tour. I’ve cycled across some of the most difficult places on the planet and I know that whatever is thrown at me, I can probably handle it. While I won’t ever win a bicycle race, I now know that I can get to the top of even the highest mountain or reach the end of that road on the other side of the world. While pedaling thousands of miles was once very difficult for me, it’s now a relatively simple task.
While there are few days on the road that truly challenge me anymore, I do still enjoy the mental and physical challenges that come with bicycle touring. I like getting dirty and working up a good sweat. I sometimes find myself standing on the pedals, pushing myself to the point of exhausting, and smiling widely as I realize just how much I’m enjoying myself. I actually kind of like the pain and torture that occasionally comes with traveling by bike… and it’s still a big part of what motivates me to cycle in places all around the world.
Like #9: Learning About The World & Becoming A Global Citizen
My first five bike tours all took place in North America. I started bicycle touring in my home state of California and then slowly expanded my reach from there. After five years of cycling through more than 30 different US states and three different North American countries, I began bicycle touring overseas… and this is where I feel I truly began to learn about other people, how the world works, and the way we all make an impact (whether we realize it or not) on one another.
One of the reasons I like bicycle touring is because it’s a great way of learning about the world. The slow pace you set on a bicycle tour allows you to see things people passing by in a car would never be able to see. It allows you to stop and talk with the locals, and it gives you the time to think about the world in which we all live.
I don’t think I’ve come up with any profound answers during my travels around the world. I’m not smarter than anyone who hasn’t traveled, but I do think bicycle touring has enabled me to consider other people’s viewpoints and to ask better questions (both of which, I feel, are extremely important).
Because of bicycle touring, I no longer feel like an American citizen. I’m don’t have those strong nationalistic feelings that so many people have. Instead, I consider myself a citizen of the world.
Like #8: New Adventures
You know that moment when you’re standing over the top of your bicycle, you push the bike forward with you foot and then you begin pedaling down the road? I still love that little moment – even after 14 years of bicycle touring.
The thrill of new beginnings, new adventures and new possibilities is a big reason why I’ve continued traveling by bike for as long as I have. Bicycle touring is a great way to see new places, meet new people and have new experiences.
I’ve never considered myself a “cyclist” in the traditional sense… and even after pedaling thousands and thousands of miles, I still don’t think of myself in that way. I enjoy cycling sometimes, but it’s not really the act of riding a bicycle that brings me back to bicycle touring each and every year. In reality, it’s that little kick I talked about just a moment ago. It’s that feeling you get when your foot leaves the ground, your bicycle moves forward, and you’re off! A new adventure awaits!
Like #7: Learning To Read, Write & Speak New Languages
I took Spanish and Latin classes when I was in high school and college… and I absolutely hated the experience. Not only did I not enjoy the formal environment of language learning classes, but I didn’t actually learn any of the languages at that time. I just learned enough to pass the tests and then I immediately dumped the information from my brain. I took three whole years of Latin classes, for example, and I couldn’t tell you two words in Latin today. Maybe you can relate?
Since I’ve started traveling in foreign countries, however, I’ve learned a ton of different languages… and I’ve had a lot of fun in the process.
What was dull and pointless in high school and college became fun and exciting once I was able to apply my language learning in real-world environments. Learning to ask for food and water is more important when your survival depends on it. Asking for directions is more practical when you actually need directing. And knowing how to introduce yourself to a member of the opposite sex is more fun when you know the right words to say.
Over the last few years, I’ve learned that language learning is not only fun, but it’s important (if you want to communicate with people in any meaningful way) and easy to do. The best part is, once you learn one foreign language, learning a second one becomes a whole lot easier. Once you know what words to focus on first and which elements of a language to forget about (usually the grammar), you can quickly learn enough of any language to communicate and get by anywhere in the world.
Like #6: Unexpected Surprises
Advertising companies like to promote iconic monuments such as the Eiffel Tower, the Great Pyramids and Machu Picchu as reasons for world travel. But I’ve been to many of the world’s most famous places and they’ve have rarely ever left a lasting impact on me. Instead, it’s usually some small unexpected place, experience or thing that I remember most from my travels.
For example, I don’t remember much about the month I spent living and traveling around Vienna, Austria, but I do remember being followed by a stray dog in the middle of Ukraine. I don’t remember much about my time at Macchu Picchu, but I do remember the young Peruvian girl who kissed me on the cheek just as she was about to exit the bus. And I don’t remember most of the meals I’ve eaten on my travels, but I do remember the time I was invited into the home of an ex-gourmet chef in the middle of Colorado and he cooked me the most delicious bowl of pasta I’ve ever eaten.
When I look back on all my years of travel, I don’t have any super memorable moments inside big cities or at any of the world’s most celebrated landmarks. Instead, most of my more memorable moments came about because they were truly unexpected. I didn’t plan for these things to happen; I can’t point to most of these places on a map; and I couldn’t reproduce the experiences even if I tried. They were unique to me and my situation… and they were magical because they were unplanned and ordinary in their own special way.
Like #5: Having The Entire World To Myself
Over the years I’ve come to the realization that I don’t enjoy big cities or crowded places. While many flock to the cities to enjoy the shopping, entertainment and attractions that can be found there, I’m much happier out in the wilderness – ideally in a place with no one else around.
Some of my best bicycle touring moments took place when I looked up and realized that I was far from civilization and that there was no one else around for miles and miles.
There are a lot of people on this planet – this is something I’ve learned from my travels. People are absolutely everywhere! So it’s special to go somewhere and be entirely alone. Finding such a place isn’t easy – especially on a bicycle. But if you can get yourself to an isolated locale, you should enjoy it… and I certainly do!
Like #4: Meeting New People & Making New Friends
The friends I had in elementary school, high school and college were, more than anything, friends of convenience. In other words, they weren’t my friends because we necessarily complimented each other in any way. We were friends simply because we sat next to each other in class or happened to live in the same city.
Bicycle touring has taught me that there’s a whole world of people out there… and even though you should be kind and respectful to whoever sits next to you in class (or those you work with, live next to, do business with, etc.), it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be friends with them.
Because there are so many people on this planet and because we’re all connected in a way we’ve never been before in human history (thanks to the power of the Internet), it’s now possible to have friends and maintain relationships with people living in different countries all around the world.
I now have friends on every continent (except Antarctica) and in dozens of countries all around the world. And because I have friends all around the world, I’m constantly learning new things, constantly being challenged, and constantly growing. The friends I’ve made open me up to new ideas, new experiences and new places… and I love that! I like to travel now because I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be a good friend… and what characteristics I look for in people I choose to call my friends.
Like #3: eBooks, The Internet & Reading
Bicycle touring is a slow way of life with lots of time to just sit and think… or in my case, read!
In my earlier years, I read to pass my exams, but rarely ever read for entertainment or self-education. Today, however, I’m a reading machine! I am constantly looking for more information to consume (and most importantly, to use in my own life in some way).
On my early bicycle tours I would pack a book or two on my travels and then I’d burn through the books I was carrying during the first couple days of my trip. Then for weeks or months afterward, I’d have nothing to read or keep myself busy with. But today, thanks to smartphones and eReaders, I can now carry around hundreds of books, podcasts, website articles and more in a small device that fits in my pant or jacket pocket.
Bicycle touring and the time that it provides you with has taught me to love reading. There is so much to learn about the world and reading is such a wonderful way to absorb that information. I can’t imagine going on a bicycle tour and not having something to read during my time off the bike. I could (and have) spent weeks just sitting in the woods or laying in my tent and reading a good book. Reading is truly one of my favorite things to do… and my life as a bicycle traveler allows me to do a lot of it.
Like #2: Wild Camping In Remote Locations
I used to be scared of camping. Seriously! I would lay awake at night in absolute fear while listening to the wind blow outside my tent. Any little branch that fell from a tree (or bird that moved in a nearby bush) would make my heart race. I was scared of the dark, scared of the animals that might be crawling around in the forest outside my tent, and once I started stealth camping, I was afraid of being caught inside my tent at night in a place that I wasn’t supposed to be.
Today, I am a camping fool. I love camping in a way that I can’t even begin to describe. But, let me get this straight – when I say I love camping, I’m not talking about camping in a private campground filled with a bunch of people driving giant RVs. I’m talking about camping in wild places where you’re the only person around. I’m talking about camping in a place where you have the entire world to yourself. That’s the kind of camping that I love!
Find me a good campsite and I could stay there for weeks on end, just sitting in my tent, reading, cooking meals on my camp stove and taking walks in the wilderness nearby. I’ve now spent several years of my life camping in my tent in various locations all around the world, so I’m not afraid of it anymore. I not only enjoy camping on my bicycle tours, but it’s actually the camping element of bicycle travel that I enjoy MOST at this point in time.
Like #1: Having The Time & Freedom To Do As I Please
During my college years, when my friends and I were trying to figure out what we were going to do with our lives after our time in university came to an end, I used to say that, “I wish I could get paid to ride my bicycle.” This was, as you can imagine, a pipe-dream of sorts that none of my friends or family members took took seriously. But in 2006 I moved from Southern California to the state of Utah, bought a house there, started my own business and began working toward making that dream become a reality.
Today I am a officially a “Bicycle Touring Pro!” While I don’t make nearly as much money as I’d like, I have something that few people in the world will ever have – the time and freedom to do as I please (which for me, includes spending several months each year traveling around the world on my bicycle).
There are a lot of things I enjoy about bicycle touring (the physical challenge, meeting new people, making new friends, camping in the woods, unexpected surprises, etc.), but nothing is more important to me than having the time and freedom to go bicycle touring in the first place.
There have been times over the last several years when I’ve thought about getting a regular job, buying a car, settling down and living a more traditional lifestyle. While none of these things are necessarily bad, going after those goals would, in one way or another, mean giving up some of the time and freedom I’ve worked so hard to create for myself.
Over the last 14 years, bicycle touring has benefited me in so many ways. I’ve overcome a number of fears that I had, I’ve learned new languages, made new friends, conquered physical challenges, and pushed myself in ways I did not know I could. But the truly great thing I think I’ve done these last 14 years is this: I figured out a way to create the time, freedom and money necessary to travel the world in a unique and interesting way. I’m so thankful that I have had the experiences that I’ve had these last 14 years… and I hope that I can continue traveling by bike for many years to come.