When we tell anyone about our trip, the fact that we’re taking our toddler travelling doesn’t actually tend to cause too significant a reaction. It’s the knowledge that we’re doing the entire trip on our bikes that creates a real subject for discussion- and a whole spectrum of reactions! In these days of advanaced technology and the capacity to reach all corners of the globe with speed and ease, the concept of opting to leave behind the luxuries of prestiguous camper-vans, fast trains or air-conditioned buses to slowly pull all your belongings up numerous hills seems primitive and unnecessarily challenging. So…why travel by bike?
Travelling by bike was never actually our original plan. We always knew we wanted to travel- but figured planes, trains, buses and good ol’ fashioned on foot would more than likely be the foundation of our transportation as we went around- or even considered buying a cheap small RV or van as an alternative. Whilst we enjoy being active in our normal day-to-day lives, cycling was never a really strong passion or something we became overly excited about- we both enjoyed it (Matt, perhaps more so!) but it never crossed our minds that it could potentially be a means for seeing the world.
When idly researching and browsing the internet for inspiration, Matt stumbled upon the Family On Bikes website and blog. This family had undertaken the mammoth task of cycling from Alaska to Argentina with their twin boys, homeschooling as they went. They had also undertaken several (slightly smaller!) previous trips by bike to various destinations around the world, blogging their experiences, and gave us great resources for researching just what a cyclng tour might entail. As we begun to consider cycling as a possibility, we realised it wasn’t quite so outrageous as we’d originally thought, and there were a few points in particular that appealed to us.
Aside from the initial purchase of the bikes themselves, the cost of travelling by bike is relatively minimal (although, like every sport or hobby, there is always the capacity to spend more if you opt for top-line brands or the latest in technology and gadgets!) As the price of petrol continues to rocket, along with the likes of car tax, insurance and servicing, opting for a vehicle can often be a money trap and fritter away what precious budget you have- money which could be better placed on enjoying your trip! Even the likes of trains and buses add up when undertaking a trip of any significant length or time. A bike should hopefully require minimal servicing and repair at a fraction of the price of it’s motor equivilent- and certainly doesn’t require a consistent injection of cash to keep it on the road.
We’ve spent a reasonable amount on ensuring our bikes can deal with an extended period on the road and are fit for purpose- investing in decent tyres, for example, purchasing spare parts and kitting ourselves out the likes of a dynohub and chargers to look after our gadgets whilst on the road. In spite of this, the overall cost is still significantly lower than you would expect to pay for a suitable vehicle to undertake the same journey- an absolute must for two twenty-somethings with limited finances.
Going at our own pace
Which for us, will most likely be slow, slow and slower!- This may not appeal to all travellers, who may chose to see more places within the same length of time, but for us it’s a huge part of the appeal of going by bike. We’ll be able to take in our surroundings and the views along route, stopping frequently and see many sights which would have otherwise been missed if we were to simply sit staring out of a perplex bus window. If we’re passing through an area of particular outstanding natural beauty, we can take it slow and really savour the experience. We have nothing to prove to anyone; and aside from our return flight date, no restrictions or boundaries. We can take our time: which, in our modern-day world of extreme speed and the rush and bustle of working cities in particular, is nothing short of a luxury.
Freedom and Flexibility
Following on from the importance of going at our own pace is one of the key principles in place for us when travelling with a toddler: the need to remain flexible and be free to alter our route and anticipated times of arrival when needed. We don’t know how Theo will adapt to the changes in lifestyle while we’re on the road- or when we might need a few extra days due to illness or tiredness, or when we need to adjust our route to avoid traffic or difficult hills or terrain. On our bikes, we aren’t tied to the schedules or routes of buses or trains- and are free to change our minds as and when needed. We are also completely in control of our own destiny, route and timing- and experience has taught us that when it comes to public transport, reliability doesn’t tend to be their strong point. Hopefully this way, we avoid the stress and hassle of unnecessary delays, missed connections, limited seating… isn’t public transport wonderful.
We’ll also be free to stop as often as we feel the need- which, with a toddler, will undoubtedly be quite frequently. Unscheduled stops for nappy changes, snack times, regular breaks to ensure Theo has the opportunity to stretch his legs, burn off some energy, play and look around. There is nothing worse than being stuck on a bus with a whingy toddler who desperately needs some simple fresh air and a change of scene… and being unable to satisfy that need due to your fate lying in the hands of the somewhat grump and unobliging bus driver. It’s a simple luxury- but to us, it could make all the difference.
Admittedly, keeping fit wasn’t at the top of our list of priorities when we researched our travelling options; but having followed a few different travelling blogs, read the experiences of those who have gone before us and the impact the travelling world can have upon physical well-being, I’ve decided to add this as an additional bonus. A lack of consistent routine and unfamiliar surroundings frequently causes even the most dedicated of exercise-enthusiasts to push the fitness regime to the bottom of the priority-pile: it can be incredibly difficult to find the time and situation to continue exercising whilst undertaking a travel expedition of any significant length. You can’t join a gym whilst backpacking around Europe; you can’t randomly take off on a exploratory run around the local village whilst trekking through the more questionable and unfamiliar areas of the middle east. In addition, new, undiscovered terrain and territory come hand in hand with a different, varied cuisine: the desire to experiement and try new things, to eat things you wouldn’t normally entertain at home. Lack of consistency, lack of true awareness of what goes into the food you’re eating and again, lack of routine- all these can lead to significant and often accidential weight gain. Younger travellers may also find the lure of alcohol is even greater when travelling also- another sure sneaky way to pile on the pounds.
Cycling is a hard physical activity- an aerobic exercise that uses a range of muscles and truly works the heart and lungs. Add the additional weight of our panniers and the trailer, and you’re increasing the intensity of that exercise even further. We’re placing a huge demand on our bodies- and will be improving our fitness levels as we go. There is very little risk of piling on the pounds when undertaking an expedition of this size and continuing to exercise this regularly. Add this to our limited budget and resources, and these will ensure we have more control over our own eating habits, and far greater control over our fitness in general whilst on the road.
As an active couple, fitness is important to us not only in terms of our physical well-being, but also our mental state. There is nothing quite like the buzz of exercise, the sense of achievement at knowing you have conquered that ground using only the strength in your legs. Building up physical strength and endurance comes hand-in-hand with building mental strength and character also. Admittedly, I’m terrified at the prospect of the number of miles we’re anticipating covering this summer- but I know the buzz, sense of pride and satisfaction at having ‘done it!’ both during our journey and upon it’s completion will stay with me throughout my life. How many other young families take on an adventure of these mammoth dimensions?
Going Green- sort of.
In his Earth Pledge post on 22nd April, Matt made our pledge to cycle for 5 months to contribute to global efforts everywhere to undertake ‘a billion acts of green’ to look after our planet. The reason for this is simple: cycling is [largely] environmentally friendly, especially when compared to it’s motoring equivilents. No petrol or diesel needed to power our ‘vehicles’ of choice: only our own physical strength. No fuel emissions contributing to the irreparable damage to the world’s atmosphere.In fact, in the article ‘Cycling – A Fantastic Way to Go Green‘ on Suite101, Ruchi Row states:
It’s economical, efficient and emission-free! How so? A cyclist consumes 1/50th of the oxygen that a car does making the identical journey. In addition, a cyclist can travel 1,037km (644 miles) on the energy equivalent of one litre of petrol.– (Source: http://www.criticalmasslondon.org.uk/images/Cycle_facts.pdf)
However, at this point, I will also hold my hands up and confess that we don’t make any claims to be ‘green’ as a family. We own a car which we use on a daily basis. We do recycle, freecycle and we’re aware of the impact our actions, purchases and the way in which we dispose of waste can impact upon the environment. I would even venture to say that in many areas of our lives, we are perhaps ‘greener’ than your average family. But we still have, I am sure, a significant contribution towards the decline of our planet- there are many more areas in which we could make further changes to help.
Cycling as a family won’t eliminate our carbon footprint by any means; especially given that we are commiting one of the ultimate ‘green sins’ by opting to fly to and from our adventure. However, I try and regard it overall as a question of balance. We could go ‘greener’ by opting to cycle around Europe, for example, thus eliminating our need to fly and the seemingly unnecessary carbon footprint by jetsetting to a far-off destination. But at the other end of the spectrum, we could have gone with our original vision of travelling and not only flown across the globe, but then undertaken 6months+ of driving or bus-hopping once we arrived. So perhaps our ‘green’ vision is a question of compromise. It won’t change the world; we could do more, but we could also do less. I am happier to be cycling from an environmental point of view than I would be taking motorised transport- and I hope that the experience will push us to cycle more upon our return also, including- if I can get a job within a sensible commuting distance!- undertaking the daily commute to work by bike, something I long to do.
Cycling is fun!
OK, don’t laugh. I promise you, it is- cycling is fun and enjoyable.
It’s a simple pleasure like no other: and enjoyment arises from all the arguments I’ve presented above and more. From feeling the wind and sun on your face as you glide along to the sense of achievement when you conquer that seemingly-impossible hill. That childlike buzz of excitement when you race down a hill and feel the speed pick up until you’re sure you can’t even control the bike anymore. Pumping hard on the pedals to build up a bit of pace and then simply allowing the wheels to roll under you as you take a moment to rest your legs and simply take it all in. There’s the sights you see, the terrain you explore and the people you meet that simply couldn’t be achieved from the confines of a car. One thing I’ve learnt in the short 3 months since we begun planning our adventure is that there truly is a cycling ‘community’, filled with wonderful and experienced people from all corners of the globe, united by a shared passion, people who offer support, encouragement, advice and assistance at every turn. You only have to look at the huge community at warmshowers.org to see just how many cycling enthusiasts there are out there who are willing to put themselves out in order to help a stranger: something I truly admire and feel proud to be a part of.
Cycling is also more fun for Theo. Although on paper, he isn’t doing much by sitting in his trailer, he actively asks to go in and and requests cycle rides. As I cycle along towing him behind me, I can hear him chattering about the things he sees passing by him- observing the different animals, the trucks and motorbikes, pointing out the people he sees, the farmer harvesting in the field alongside, the stream bubbing over the hills. He loves to stop and find himself in new, unexplored terrain at every turn; and perhaps more simply, he seems to enjoy having his own little space n which to play with his toys, or even sleep when needed. Theo has always been a reasonably happy traveller and is rarely phased by the long commutes we were forced to undertake to my place of work in the car. However, I found there was no-where near the same degree of interaction from him whilst sat in his carseat. More often than not, he would simply sit with a glazed expression, staring at the passing traffic. Cycling, it seems, is more interactive for him.
I’m sure as our travels progress, I’ll find plenty more arguments for and against the wonders of bicycle touring- but for now, I know we’ve made the right decision. I only hope that our experiences can inspire more families out there to do the same and hop on their bikes- it’s an experience like no other.
Dont’t just take my word for it- this fab post, ‘The Sweet Life of Bicycle Touring’ from the Travelling Two website perfectly summarises why bike is best when it comes to undertaking a travelling venture.