Cycle touring off the beaten path through developing countries, you see the impact of poverty on people’s lives like no usual tourist does. You experience the ‘generosity of the poor’ as well as see the scars of hard lives lived etched onto the faces of those who stare back at you. Compassion moves you to want to help out, but what could you and your bike really give back?
In an age of ‘issue-exhaustion’ where people are continually bombarded with bad news, it is sometimes a positive, inspiring story, that can hold the key to garnering support. I’ve noticed, as I’m sure every cycle tourist has, that we get asked a lot of questions; people are interested. So why not use the people power held latent in your bicycle and get active in more than just a physical sense? While the challenge of getting to your destination is certainly rewarding and you experience many pleasurable moments along the way, research by positive psychologists demonstrates that doing something for the greater good leads to long-lasting happiness (not to mention the fact that you’re making the world a better place, surely a worthwhile result by itself!). I also can say from personal experience that on the hard days it is much easier to keep going when you know you’re not doing this only for yourself.
How you go about achieving these altruistic goals depends on what you want to achieve. You may choose to use your trip to raise awareness about particular topics; for example cycling as a way of doing your bit for the environment or issues related to the places you are visiting, which is a good way of tailoring your trip to your personal interests and passions.
Be aware though that if your chosen method includes writing as you go, it can be very difficult to find time to write when you’re not completely exhausted by the riding. It never ceases to amaze me how stupefied one’s brain can become at the end of a full day in the saddle. You would probably also need to take a computer with you, for writing on as well as for utilizing the plethora of communication methods that technology affords us these days. Computers can be a weight issue, although they do come in incredibly small sizes these days! A well coordinated media strategy may also take the pressure off writing as then you would be able to get your message across by talking to someone who does the writing and correspondence for you.
Raising money for a charitable organization or specific project may be the simpler option. Pick a cause, do the fund-raising before you go, and then you can just enjoy the ride, perhaps with a few updates to sponsors and a presentation or two at the end. This option can also be tied into volunteering somewhere along you trip, an experience which many find to be the highlight of their travels. These are but two of the more obvious options. Let your imagination show you what else might be possible by using your particular strengths and interests.
My advice to any would-be ‘saving-the-world-by-bicycle’ tourists is to first be very clear on what you want to achieve and the support you want from others. Don’t be afraid to choose a method to achieve these aims that is outside your comfort zone – you want to do what is most effective after all and think of all the new skills you will gain in the process. Please organise any sponsorship before you go. I can sorely say that it is a nightmare attempting to do this once on the road. And above all, find a cause that you have personal interest in, so that you will put your heart and soul into it. This passion will show and people will respond to it. Positivity is perpetual.
Claire Vanderplank is currently touring Central and South America soloand collecting stories from people working in areas related to sustainability. She aims to use these stories to help contribute to creating a culture which values investing in social and environmental capital. Visit www.cyclingforcohesion.com to see what she’s up to.