Choosing to travel alone or with a partner/group can make a major difference in the overall success or failure of any bicycle tour. In this article I’d like to share with you some of the major benefits and disadvantages of traveling alone or with a partner/group. Then I’ll give some tips that you can use to ensure you have a happy and successful bicycle tour – whether you decide to travel by yourself, with another individual, or with a group of any size.
The Advantages Of Traveling Alone
One of the biggest advantages of bicycle touring by yourself is that you are in charge of your own destiny. You get to choose the route you cycle each day, you get to decide what foods you will eat or what time you will wake up in the morning, and you get to ultimately determine how your bicycle tour plays out. The decision making power of solo travel is surely a major benefit.
Another great thing about traveling alone is that because you’re alone and not always attached at the hip with another individual, it’s much easier for strangers to approach you and introduce themselves. In other words, it’s easier to meet people and make new friends when you’re traveling alone.
Finally, traveling alone can be great because there is no one else around to annoy you, slow you down, or question your judgement. As you will see in just a moment, there are many advantages to traveling with a partner or a group of people, but there are just as many disadvantages as well.
The Disadvantages Of Traveling Alone
The most obvious disadvantage to traveling by yourself is your personal safety. In much the same way that traveling alone makes it easier for you to make friends and be approached by strangers who are interested in hearing about your travels, it also makes you a target for people who might wish to steal from you or do you harm. Personal safety when traveling alone is something even the most seasoned traveler should consider. Women too should take special precautions when traveling alone in many parts of the world. If you don’t feel safe traveling by yourself, it’s probably best to find a travel partner or a small group of some kind that you could join for your intended bicycle tour.
Another disadvantage to traveling alone is that because you are making all the decisions, there is no one to double-check your choices and correct you when you’re wrong. If you decide to take the wrong road, you’ll have to live with the consequences of that action. If you eat something that you probably shouldn’t have, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself. And if you overpay for something that a travel partner could have prevented you from purchasing, it’ll be entirely your fault.
One of the most obvious disadvantages to traveling alone is that for much of your bicycle tour, you will have no one to talk to. It can get quite lonely (especially on longer bicycle tours) when you are traveling for days, weeks or months on end with no one to talk to. You’ll surely meet people along the way to chat with, but having someone you can trust and have deep, meaningful conversations with is something you won’t benefit from if you choose to travel by yourself.
In much the same way that you won’t have anyone to talk to on your bicycle tour, you also won’t have anyone to share your overall bicycle touring experience with. You’ll have to eat alone most days, see the sights by yourself, camp out alone, and return from your bicycle tour with no other individual on the planet truly understanding the magnitude of the experience you’ve just had. The emotional and psychological effects of solo travel can not only be difficult, but damaging as well.
One of my biggest complains about traveling alone is that you don’t have anyone around to help you take photos. If you want to get a photo of yourself actually riding your bicycle, you’ll need to either to carry a tripod of some sort with you, or you will have to rely on strangers to help you with your photo opportunities – and strangers have a tendency to be really poor photographers. If getting good photos of yourself on your bicycle tour is important to you, traveling alone is probably not your best option.
Another bad thing about traveling alone is that when you want to go into a supermarket or store of any kind, you won’t have anyone to sit outside and watch your bike and belongings for you. Instead, you’ll have to either lock up your bike as best you can and hope that no one steals it while you are inside the store, or you will have to try and ask the management if you can bring your bicycle inside while you are shopping. This makes every trip to the market a whole lot more difficult and is one of the many disadvantages of bicycle touring by yourself.
Finally, traveling by yourself means that when it comes time to pay for many of your travel expenses (such as food and lodging), you are going to have to pay more than if you had a partner traveling with you. Two people, for example, might be able to share the cost of a hotel room and an evening’s meal, but the solo traveler has to pay for everything on his own. When you choose to travel by yourself, you have to be prepared to spend just a little bit more money because of that.
The Advantages Of Traveling With A Partner Or Group
Traveling alone certainly isn’t for everyone. For many people, traveling with a single touring partner or a small group of people is the ideal means of traveling by bike.
One of the biggest advantages to traveling with one or more people is that you have someone to talk to. You can talk about the route you are cycling, the food you are eating, the experiences you are having and a whole lot more. Having even one other person to talk to can make a major difference in the moral of any bicycle tour. And having several different people in your party makes it easy to jump from a conversation with one individual to a conversation with a different individual. This way you are able to talk for long periods of time without wearing each-other out or getting on each others nerves.
In addition to having someone to talk to, traveling with other people gives you a shared experience with another individual. When you go on a bicycle tour of any kind, you are sure to come home with a number of wonderful memories that you will hold onto for years and years to come. Traveling with another person allows you to share those experiences in a unique way with your travel partners, and this is something you can’t do when you travel by yourself.
Another big advantage to traveling with a partner or a group of people is that when you want to go into a supermarket or store/building of any kind, it is really rather easy. The typical approach is to have one person go into the store/market while the other one stays outside and watches both of your bikes/belongings. Then, when the first individual has finished his or her shopping, the roles reverse. The person who had been watching the bicycles just a moment ago then goes inside and does his or her sopping while the person who just finish shopping stays outsides and watches both of your bicycles/belongings.
Taking photos is easier with two people as well. Because you don’t want to go on a bicycle tour of any kind and not come home with at least one good photo of you actually riding your bicycle, traveling with a partner that knows how to operate a camera can surely be a major benefit.
Finally, traveling with another person is usually cheaper than traveling alone. Individuals who choose to travel in small groups can save money on food, drinks, lodging, transportation (or trains, boats, etc), and a whole lot more! Of course, saving money is always going to be an advantage to bicycle touring with a partner or a group of people.
The Disadvantages of Traveling With A Partner Or Group
While there are many advantages to traveling with one or more other people, there are also many disadvantages. One such disadvantage is that there is sure to be disagreements between all involved parties about what route you should take, what foods you should be eating, where you should be sleeping each night, how much money should be spent, and a whole lot more. These disagreements can build up and, if you left undiagnosed, can ruin even the most well-planned bicycle tours.
Which brings up the second major problem with traveling another person (or persons)… and that is, after a certain amount of time, you are likely to get on each other’s nerves. Once one or more people in your group becomes upset with another individual in the group, the whole tone of the bicycle tour can quickly turn and be ruined by the negative emotions running through the parties involved.
Another thing to keep in mind about traveling with a partner or a group of people is that each person in the group is sure to have different goals and expectations. One person will want to ride fast and hard, while the others in the group may want to cycle slowly and see the sights. One person in the group might want to use their bicycle tour as a chance to stop and take lots of photos, while the other individual sees his trip by bike as a chance to prove to himself that he can do the seemingly impossible. These differences in goals and expectations can cause rifts that break the group apart and cause friendships to die.
Finally, the speed at which one person travels is rarely ever the same as another. If you choose to travel with another person, you’ve got to keep in mind that that person is probably going to be going at a faster or slower speed than you. Not only does this apply to your time on your bikes each day, but also to every action you do throughout your day. For example, I like to sleep in late, cycle well into the evening and set up camp just before it gets dark. But most of the people I’ve bicycle toured with in the past like to get up super early, put a lot of miles under them as quickly as they can, and then reach their destination well before nightfall so that they have plenty of time to set up camp, cook food, and shower before it gets dark. No one individual is right or wrong in these situations, but the group has to find a happy medium that will satiate all individuals.
Tips For Solo Bicycle Travelers
Here are some of my biggest and most important tips for solo bicycle tourists:
- You need to be mentally strong to travel by yourself. If you aren’t mentally capable of being by yourself for days on end, then don’t try going off on a long distance bicycle tour all alone. It isn’t the physical part of bicycle touring that is the most difficult aspect of being on the road. Instead, it is the mental fortitude that is most difficult to push through.
- Start with shorter solo adventures and build into longer ones. Don’t try and do a round-the-world bicycle tour, for example, if you’ve never even done a short overnight bike tour near your home. Start small and then build from there. Most people have a threshold of time in which they can comfortably be alone. Once they break that threshold, it can be very difficult to mentally proceed with their bicycle tour.
- Listening to music, reading books and/or watching movies can keep you sane. When you spend long amounts of time by yourself, you need to find ways to keep yourself stimulated. Talking with the locals in the areas you are cycling through is an important part of this, but listing to music, reading books and watching films (in your native language) can really help as well.
- Be cautious of people you encounter on your travels. You don’t need to be paranoid about the people you meet on your bike tours, but you should always be cautious. Most people in the world are good, friendly people, but there are a few out there that when they see you are alone, will try and rip you off. Be aware of your surroundings, don’t immediately trust people, and watch out for common street scams, etc.
- Don’t let your bicycle out of your sight. If you want to keep your bicycle and belongings and not have them stolen from you during the middle of your bicycle tour, do everything you can to keep your bicycle in sight at all times during your travels. If you must leave your bicycle for any significant length of time, make sure it is locked up and/or in the care of an individual you can trust.
- Learn how to take your own photos. If taking photos if an important part of your bicycle touring experience, learn how to take your own photos using the timer on your camera and a small, portable tripod or camera stand. Just because you are traveling alone doesn’t mean you have to come home with nothing but landscape photos. Learn to take your own photos and come home with some great pictures of you riding your bicycle!
- Finally, be sure to budget a little extra money for traveling alone. As was mentioned earlier, it usually costs a little more money to travel alone because you can’t share the cost of hotel rooms, meals, etc. Keep this in mind while planning your budget and act accordingly.
The Characteristics Of A Good Bicycle Touring Travel Partner
When bicycle touring, you want to choose your travel partners carefully. Pick the right partner and you could come home from the experience of a lifetime with great stories to tell and wonderful memories. But pick the wrong touring partner and your trip by bike could not only turn into a nightmare, but it might come to it’s natural end a whole lot sooner than you had hoped it would.
When looking for possible travel partners, keep the following characteristics in mind.
A good bicycle touring travel partner is:
- A good cyclist. He or she should know how to safely ride a bicycle in all sorts of situations and remain on the bike for hours on end.
- Positive. He or she should have a positive attitude and not let difficult situations affect the outcome of the bicycle tour.
- Willing to help. You want a bicycle touring travel partner that is not only capable, but willing to help when a situation arises.
- Sociable. A good travel companion will be good with other people. Your partner is an extension of you when you’re traveling, so you want to make sure your partner will represent you well when you find yourself around strangers and other bicycle tourists you are sure to meet along the way.
- Capable of being alone. Good travel partners are not only positive, sociable people, but they need to be okay with being on their own as well. They should be mentally capable of being by themselves for long periods of time in the event you decide you need some alone time.
- Capable of laughing at him or herself. There are times when mistakes will be made on any bicycle tour. Will your travel partner beat him or herself up? Or will he/she laugh at the situation, come up with a solution, and quickly move on?
- Able to repair his or her bike. Your travel partner needs to know how to maintain and repair his or her bicycle so that if it breaks down or suffers from a flat tire, your partner can repair it without replying on you to help them.
- Good with a camera. It’s always nice to be with someone who knows how to work a camera and take good photos. Find a good travel partner and you’ll come home with not only good memories from your bicycle tour, but some good photographs as well.
- Comfortable camping. If you plan to camp, you want to make sure you travel partner is good with camping. Some people are downright scared to camp, others don’t know how to set up a tent properly, and some will simply refuse to camp after a few nights with very little sleep.
- Okay with getting dirty. Bicycle touring is not always easy. In fact, it can sometimes be a whole lot of work. You want to have a travel partner that doesn’t mind working hard, getting dirty, sweating, and/or camping for days on end without a shower.
- Capable of entertaining him or herself. There is a lot of time during a bicycle tour to just sit and think. Will your travel companion be able to handle all this empty time? Or will they be bored beyond belief with no TV, Internet or friends and family to keep them entertained?
Tips For Finding A Good Bicycle Touring Partner
If you decide that you want to travel with one or more other people, here are some tips to help you find the best bicycle touring partner(s) possible.
Don’t settle for just any travel partner. While it may be tempting to head off on a bicycle tour with the first person to volunteer to go with you, you should be picky about who you choose to travel with – especially on longer bicycle tours. The longer and more difficult your bicycle tour, the more selective you should be.
Test potential partners before conducting longer tours. If you are planning a longer bicycle tour (maybe a week or more in length), I recommend you conduct a shorter bicycle tour with any potential partners before going off on that longer bicycle tour. Testing your partners on a short bike tour while close to home is a great way of seeing what your potential partner’s physical capabilities are, how mentally sound they might be, what kind of equipment they are using (and whether it will hold up for the tour you have planned), whether the two of you have anything in common, and most importantly, whether you get along with one another.
Make sure you understand each-others goals for the trip. Have a conversation with your travel partner(s) before you leave on your bicycle tour and discuss what it is that each of you hopes to get out of the journey. It’s very likely that you will each have different goals and expectations for your bicycle tour. If you can find a way to mesh your goals together, then that’s great! But if you have conflicting goals, it might be best if you found another travel partner.
Avoid negative personalities. Cycling for days or weeks on end with a negative individual is not only not fun, but it can ruin even the best bicycle touring experiences. As I’ve said before and I’ll say many times more throughout this book, bicycle touring is just as much about the mental and emotional challenges as it is about the physical ones. If you get stuck with a complainer, a whiner or a downright negative-nelly, you won’t be enjoying your bicycle tour – no matter how great it might be.
Discuss in advance how money will be handled. Talk to your travel partners before you leave home about how the finances will be dealt with. Will every person pay for his or her food and lodging separately? Or will you split the food and lodging expenses each day? Fights about money and the budget have been known to tear successful bicycle tours apart, so be sure to talk about these subjects well before the start of your tour and make sure you and the other individuals in your group are okay with the terms that are laid out.
Help each-other out. Look for ways to help your bicycle touring partners. Bicycle touring is not a race or a competition, so there is no need to sabotage your travel companions or refuse to help them when they are in need. If there is something you can do to help the people you are traveling with, then do it! Help clean the dishes each night. Help your partner fold up his tent in the morning. Help when your partner gets a flat tire. And help in any way you can if your partner starts to doubt his or her abilities and wants to go home.
Watch what you say. If you spent a long amount of time with another person, tension will surely build and if you don’t watch what you say, you could say something that will cause a rift between yourself and the others in your party. Before you say anything, think about what you are going to say and whether it needs to be said at all. Many times, it is best to simply keep your mouth shut than to fight or argue with your travel companion. Be careful about what you say and you’ll be sure to enjoy your bicycle tour all that much more.
Partners/group members should be capable of being alone and helping themselves. The last thing you want is a touring partner that won’t let you out of his or her sight. Your travel companions should be positive group members, but they also need to be comfortable traveling on their own. If one person in your group, for example, starts to fall behind and then gets a flat tire, he or she should be able to repair that tire and keep going without having to rely on the assistance of others in the group. So even though you are traveling with another person, you shouldn’t rely entirely on that person for any one aspect of your bicycle tour. You and everyone in your group needs to be okay when left alone for, at the very least, small amounts of time.
Be willing to split up and come back together later. One of the best strategies for long-term bicycle touring success when traveling with another person or a group of people is to break apart from the other person/people in the group for several hours and/or days, and then to come back together again later in the tour. This cycling strategies is logistically difficult, but it can be the psychological savior when it comes to bicycle touring in a group of any size. Breaking apart from the other person(s) in your party allows you to get the alone time that almost all human beings need, and then coming back together again makes you appreciate the person you were traveling with all that much more. If you find that your travel partner is starting to get on your nerves, propose a short split from that individual. Tell him or her that you want to ride alone today and that you will meet him or her at the end of the day at your destination. If that’s not enough time apart, consider meeting your travel partner(s) several days later at a predetermined destination. The alone time will keep you sane and the meeting with your travel companions several days later will make you appreciate them all over again. By then you will have a whole host of new and exciting experiences to share with one another and hopefully, the tension that had been building previously will have either lessened or gone away entirely.
Where To Find Bicycle Touring Travel Partners
If you are looking for someone to join you on a bicycle tour, one of the best places to look is amongst your close circle of friends and family. Maybe there is someone you already know who would be interested in joining you on your bicycle tour? The fact that you know this individual and know both their physical and mental capabilities will go a long way in helping you determine whether or not they might make a good bicycle touring travel companion.
If, however, you don’t know of anyone, or can’t find anyone you know to travel with you on your bicycle tour, you might try searching one of the following three websites for travel companions:
- WarmShowers.org (you might try contacting some of the people that live in your area to see if they are interested in joining you on your bicycle tour)
What additional comments or pieces of advice would you give to other when either traveling alone or with another person? Leave a comment below and let me know what you have to say!