Questions and answers about our trip

It's been plenty of fun talking to folks about our journey. A bunch of the same questions usually come up, so here are some of those questions and some corresponding answers. We'll be updating this page every once in a while with new questions and new (or modified) replies. Last updated June 12, 2017.

What are we doing?

Biking around the world, or something like that. We're not out to set any world records for speed or distance; we're simply cycling for however long it remains an enjoyable (and possible) thing to do.

Why are we doing this?

Oh boy. Well, to keep this brief, it's because life is short and the world is big and we want to make the most out of our youth and good health before they're gone. We've both been working in offices for most of our twenties and living a nine-to-five existence that has been pleasant but not necessarily as challenging or rewarding as biking around the world might be. We want to learn new things, live a life on simpler, more deliberate terms, spend more time together and meeting others and being outdoors, and see the world. The limits of cycling are a great way to do so slowly and intimately. 

Where are we traveling?

We're starting in Cape Town, South Africa, but everything is pretty tentative from there. We're thinking we'll head north through eastern Africa, fly to Europe and bike across Eurasia, dip into Oceania, then cycle up through South America back home to North America, but the trip may well be shorter (or more meandering) than that. Here's a map of our actual route, to date.

When did we start traveling (and how long will we be traveling for)?

We haven't begun just yet—we'll reach Cape Town and begin our trip on July 7, 2017. The duration of the journey all depends on our pace and, more importantly, our happiness. Jay is of the assumption we'll travel for three or four years, but maybe just one if it ends up being mostly unenjoyable. Lauren is of the assumption we'll travel for one year, but maybe three or four if it ends up being mostly enjoyable. It's a glass-half-full, glass-half-empty situation, but at the very least (barring tragedy or misery) we'll be on the road for a year and at most about four years.

What are we carrying with us?

Two bikes, four panniers, a pair of small daypacks, and plenty of water bottles. We're trying to keep it light but also keep ourselves comfortable, given how long we'll be on the road. Here's our full gear list (including bicycle specs) in excruciating detail.

What kind of bikes are we riding?

We each have a Salsa Marrakesh, the brand's signature offering for world tourers like us, outfitted with 700c x 2" tires (or 622mm x 50mm). More on the bikes over here.

Is the ride supported (or organized)?

No, we'll be traveling independently and carrying everything we need on our bikes. That's not to say that we won't receive (and be so grateful for) plenty of support en route from kind folks who want to help us get around the world. But if you're asking whether this is a SAG (Support and Gear) ride with a van hauling our stuff, then no, this is not a SAG ride (nor one with an established route or itinerary).

Where are we sleeping?

Mostly in our tent. There are a few websites (like Couchsurfing and Warmshowers) that pair people like us (travelers and bike tourers, respectively) with generous hosts willing to put us up for a few nights. More informal offers just tend to present themselves on the road. Staying with complete strangers is a great way to experience the world and its myriad cultures, so we'll take advantage of these opportunities—and staying with friends, friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends—whenever we can. We're budgeting next to nothing for lodging, but we'll spend time in guesthouses or hostels when we really, really need to.

Is this our first bike trip?

Nope. Jay biked around southern Morocco for a month and from Pittsburgh, PA to Washington, DC in the eastern United States. We both biked around Iceland for a month. And back at home, we've been pretty avid bike commuters for four or five years. That said, this is our longest and most challenging bike trip by far.

How far are we biking each day?

It's way too early to tell, and we'll probably never arrive at a stable average anyway. On past trips, we've biked as many as a hundred miles in a day and as few as absolutely zero on our rest days. There will be many rest days. In general, we know we can comfortably average forty miles per day and not feel too rushed. If we really need (say, to get out of a country before a visa expires), we can manage sixty miles per day for a few weeks.

That said, not all miles are created equal. One forty-mile stretch can be a thrilling mountain pass descent that takes no more than an hour or two. Another can be a grueling climb up the gravel road on the other side of that mountain, maybe with a tough headwind thrown in. How much food, water, and extra weight we're carrying also affects our speed.

We may occasionally take a look back at how far we've come, but we're not counting miles as we go. We'll be breaking up all our cycling with plenty of hikes, picnics, explorations, and lazy mornings in the tent, so the lower our daily average, the better.

Did we train for this?

Physically, no. We both bike plenty at home and are starting our trip in a country (South Africa) that's by no means flat but not inordinately mountainous, either. Bike touring isn't a race, and because we don't have a return date, we can simply take breaks (a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks) whenever we get tired or sore. Most of the shock is mental, going from one way of life with a lot of things to a much simpler way of life with much fewer things, plus a little more discomfort (rain, wind, cold, hunger) on occasion. Having been on a few bike tours in the past, we have a hint of what to expect.

How much are we spending?

We're eager to figure that out ourselves. Our annual budget is $7,200 (USD) for daily expenses (food, shelter, incidentals), so $600 per month or about $20 per day ($10 per person per day). We're hoping that'll also cover things like visas, replacement parts, and the occasional flight or alternate means of transportation, but are budgeting a little extra for that stuff just in case.

We don't expect to spend consistently. Some countries are more expensive than others and we'll have plenty of days of camping and cooking that will cost us almost nothing. As we travel, we plan to post monthly spending reports to track just how much everything is costing. We're also allocating $2,000 per year for self-insurance, to be used only if medical or other emergencies arise.

One more thing: the numbers above don't include the costs of the first mile: the many thousands of dollars spent on bikes, gear, flights, and passports to actually get the trip started.

Do we have insurance?

We plan on insuring ourselves. Healthcare is fairly affordable in most parts of the world (especially the places we'll be traveling), and statistically speaking, those who pay for travel insurance are unlikely to ever use it (insurers who pay out more in claims than they receive in premiums aren't insurers for very long). Rather than forfeit those premium payments forever, we'll be sticking $2,000 per year in a special break-in-case-of-emergency fund, for exactly the types of things you'd want to file an insurance claim for. If we use that $2,000 in the first year, we'll have another $2,000 for the second year, but if we don't use any of that $2,000 in the first year, then we'll have insured ourselves for $4,000 in the second year, and $6,000 in the third year, and so on. In the event of a truly expensive crisis those funds can't cover, we'll just eat into our trip budget and maybe cut the whole journey a little shorter.

How can we afford this?

We don't have a trust fund, inheritance, or rich parents paying for this trip. Frugal spending, aggressive saving, and a shoestring travel budget (coupled, of course, with jobs that pay a decent wage prior to leaving) are enough for most people like us to afford a reasonably long (though not necessarily luxurious) adventure. Jay built himself a small, mobile, off-grid house five years ago, so rent and utility payments have been minimal, and that certainly helps too. We don't have any dependents.

We're not sponsored, and have no interest in getting free stuff contingent upon our willingness to help sell that stuff to others. We'll gratefully accept any gear that's offered to us as ours wears thin, but (if you're an outfitter) please don't contact us with sponsorship offers that have any sort of strings attached.

Isn't this really, really dangerous?

Relatively speaking, bike touring is really safe. Despite what the news would have you believe, the world is a really wonderful, caring place, and stories of kidnapped travelers or mauled cyclists are the rare exception, not the norm. Sure, things can harm us: animals, pathogens, humans. We've studied how to react in confrontations with wild animals, we're carrying medication to combat those pathogens should they strike, and we just have to trust that the vast, vast majority of humans on this planet are warm, friendly people who wish us no harm.

The greatest danger to us—any of us, really—are humans in cars, who kill more people than anything else in the world. One hundred Americans per day die in car crashes on highways and residential streets that typically feel safe. Back in the 1970s, author Barbara Savage and her husband biked around the world and returned home about twenty-thousand miles later safe and sound, escaping wild apes, perilous roads, and plenty of bacterial infections in the process. Shortly after returning to southern California, Barbara was killed on the way back to her house by a reckless driver. If you're concerned about our safety (and we really appreciate that!), the absolute best thing you can do to keep us safe is, when you're driving, to do so carefully, keep your eyes on the road, yield to cyclists and pedestrians, and please never, never drive while distracted by a cell phone, alcohol, or anything else.

No, but seriously, isn't [X] country just too unsafe?

Maybe. We're keeping an eye on news reports, monitoring trends, and choosing a route that minimizes risk, but doesn't avoid it altogether (as, obviously, that's impossible). Life is almost always boring and uneventful in almost all places, and so we're not ruling out entire nations simply because something once happened there or because our government and that country's government don't get along so well. If there is a real threat or sense of danger, though, we'll be sure to get ourselves to safety as quickly as possible.

What if something breaks?

Something is going to break. If it's an easy fix, we'll use our small(ish) repair kit to remedy it. If it's something we can't fix but can do without for a few weeks, we'll have a replacement shipped up the road and carry on to pick it up. And if it's something really bad and really important, we'll just stop biking for a bit, take a mini-vacation until a new part arrives, or maybe hitch up the road to find a spare in the next big city.

How do we cross oceans?

Like this.

No, just kidding. We'll see if there's a boat we can hitch a ride on, and if not, we'll take airplanes. We're hoping to fly as little as possible, but a few flights are probably going to be necessary.

What about visas?

About half the countries we plan to enter require a visa. Several of these are free, and some can be obtained right at the border. Others can be processed online. But plenty only issue visas through consulates, which means a bit of paperwork, a bit of waiting, and a bit less spontaneity than we'd like.

As Americans, we're pretty fortunate to have access to most countries (though often—perhaps deservedly—at a more expensive rate than everyone else). Some countries (like Iran) are sadly off-limits for unguided travel. Others (like China, India, Ethiopia, and Pakistan) only offer visas to those applying from their country of residence. Because we're on the road for so long and don't really know the exact dates we'll be entering or leaving a country, certain places simply won't work for us. Visa regulations make everything less fun.

In general, visas aren't too much of a hassle (again, for us, as Americans) through eastern Africa, Europe, Australia, and the Americas. They're more of a headache in northeastern Africa (namely Sudan), central Asia (namely everywhere), and southeast Asia. Once we have a little more experience in these regions, we'll do some writing on specifics.

We're expecting to each pay between $1,300 and $2,100 on the visas needed to get us around the world.

What about seasons?

Like visas, seasons can make spontaneity difficult. We've packed for a wide range of climates—sleeping bags rated down to -6C, plenty of merino layers, rain gear for every inch of the body, sunglasses and sunblock and swimsuits—but would prefer to be spending our time chasing balmy days and cool nights all the way around the world. We're okay with some discomfort, but will be adjusting our route as needed if the weather just isn't in our favor. We expect to take a breaks every now and then. If we find ourselves approaching mountain passes that haven't been cleared of snow, or a monsoon that hasn't yet departed the mainland, we'll probably take a few weeks (or months) off until the situation improves.

Is this ride for charity?

No. There are plenty of long-haul bike tourers who do raise money for charity, and they're awesome, and this doesn't mean that they should not be cycling for charity. It's just that we're not.

We didn't want to bike around the world because it'll be the most effective way to solve a problem. We wanted to bike around the world because we wanted to have a fun and interesting adventure. Tacking on a charity campaign, then, felt a bit like a post-hoc rationalization, a way of apologizing for having a good time, of saying "this trip isn't just about us." If raising money or awareness for a cause was really the aim, we certainly could do more by not going on the journey and instead donating our travel funds to (and volunteering full-time for) the organizations we care about. 

That's not to say we're riding without purpose. Long-term bike travel feels like one of the few ways to live a life of do-no-harm, to opt out of systems that are actively causing harm. If we're riding for anything (beyond plain fun), it's to promote slow, sustainable, self-sufficient travel as a means of making the world a better place, reducing consumption, and finding the shared humanity in all of us.

So no, we're not promoting a charity. But because you asked and all, World Bicycle Relief is a really wonderful organization getting bikes into the hands of those who need them most. If you want to support biking as a clean tool for empowerment and self-sufficiency, they're worth checking out. 

Where are we from, how did we meet, how old are we, and what were we doing before biking around the world?

We're both from America. Lauren was born in California and Jay was born in New York, but we've both lived in the District of Columbia for about a decade. How we met isn't a particularly interesting story, but since you asked: Jay went to graduate school with a former roommate of Lauren's, and we shared a mutual group of friends. We became good friends way back in 2012, dated briefly in 2013, then started dating again in 2015. We're both 28. For most of our twenties (right up until quitting our jobs to take this trip), Lauren worked at a university and Jay worked for the government's housing agency. A little more about us here.

Munich, Germany.

Munich, Germany.

Have a question we haven't answered? Drop us a comment and we'll add it (with a reply!) to the list above.