6 Things we Learned Traveling Around the World by Bicycle
Guest Post by Daniele Giannotta and Elena Stefanin from Cycloscope.net a blog about bicycle touring and adventure travel. In 2014 they set off from Italy and cycled 25,000 km across 25 countries until reaching Vietnam in late 2016.
To me, traveling is a process of discovery, of learning about the world while learning about myself at the same time. I travel for knowledge, to pursue a better understanding of things outside and inside of me.
Since I started traveling by bicycle my life changed completely, I’m a different person, with different ambitions, and different interest. Every day on the road I learn something new, that’s the main reason why, after more than three years, I still don’t want to stop.
Among the many things I learned while traveling around the world by bicycle there are six I would like to share with you here:
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1 – Each place is very different from what you expected
Doesn’t matter if you read a lot, watch plenty of movies, do you researches, everything would be completely different from your expectations once you are in a new country.
Of course, gathering as much information as you can before visiting a place is a very positive thing, but reality will strike very hard on all your prejudice, and that’s especially true when bicycle touring.
Traveling around the world by bicycle will bring you where most foreigners don’t go, to the in-between, you won’t spend most of your time visiting tourist attractions, but on the road. It’s here that the truth unfolds, the truth about people, their daily lifestyle and attitude towards strangers, the truth about landscapes and architecture, what a rural village is really like, how the territory of a country really looks.
To me, it is one of the most interesting aspects of bike traveling, a path that brings to a better understanding of the world.
2 – Less is more
Living a long period on the road by bicycle will force to cut off the non-essential. You can’t carry much with you, and in the beginning, you’ll miss some stuff you’re used too, but then that sensation will go away.
I just realized I don’t really need all that stuff, I’m fine with a couple of clothes, a pair of shoes, a knife, a tent, a sleeping bag. Owning things is just another addiction, not very different from cigarettes and drugs, an addiction most societies push as much as they can onto us.
This realization changed my way of life even when I’m not traveling, I went into a minimalist path, and I’m happier overall, I feel free from this addiction. (check this list of what you need and what you don’t when traveling by bicycle)
The best part is that this is just the best way to save money and travel more! One I realized I just need to own a few things my monthly expenses dropped dramatically. Traveling made me richer instead of poorer.
3 – The world is full of opportunities
Before setting off on the big journey, I was struggling to find a decent job, suffering because I couldn’t make a living out of my passions, constantly compromising, working for people I deeply disliked.
One of the first questions long-term travelers are asked is: don’t you think about your future, what are you going to do after this? Well, my advice is not to be concerned about this.
Since the beginning of my bicycle trip I found more opportunities then I had found during my last decade in my home country. Traveling this way will put you in touch with lots of people, folk who might show you new ways of doing stuff, stuff you never ever thought about. I meet people who proposed me jobs and business opportunities, I developed skills I didn’t have before, I had new ideas and began picturing my future in a totally different way.
4 – Happiness is outside my comfort zone
This may not be true for all of us, but I found out that the real joy of living, at least for me, lies in the adventure. Being always on the road, hunting each day for a new place to sleep (might it be a safe and scenic camping spot or a cheap love motel), seeing new thing and meeting new people… all of this makes me feel alive, puts me in a completely different state of mind, where what before I saw as big problems do not matter anymore.
Since I’m traveling by bike I got rid of my problems with insomnia and depression, I dream more interesting dreams, I love myself much more.
5 – The world is (mostly) a safe place
We are bombarded every day by news of wars, murders, violence. When most of the media mention “developing countries” is mostly to depict them as dangerous places. When I said to my friends and family I was going to Asia, many were concerned about my safety, names like Kazakhstan, Cambodia, Azerbaijan, raised perplexity among many: was I crazy going to do free camping in places like this? Moreover, every country I was in, the locals mentioned their neighboring nations as dangerous. Well, that’s the sad fruit of ignorance and sometimes racism.
I felt safer in each and any of the countries I traveled by bike than on my own (Italy), sometimes we have the preconception that developed countries are safer than those who are not “developed” yet. That simply isn’t true most of the time, just looking at the statistics shows this clearly: how many murders are there each year in the US? How many terrorist attacks are in France? How many armed robberies in Italy? Now compare this numbers with, let’s say, Iran… Although this is as simple as it is, most of the people will be more scared of going to Iran than in the USA.
I’m not trying to say that you should be scared to go to the USA, or Paris, what I’m saying is: don’t be scared at all! Be prudent, attentive, smart, trust your guts, don’t get drunk, don’t get high (or at least do that only if you really really trust the people you’re with and the place you’re in). Just exerting this precautions will make you safe almost everywhere, things can happen of course, but they can happen even if you’re not traveling.
6 – The world is also screwed up, and we should do something about it
“Wait, what? You just said it’s a safe place!”. Yes, it’s safe, especially for us privileged (wherever are you from, a traveler is always a privileged person), but the world is not all flowers and lollipops.
When traveling really off-the-beaten-path you are able to witness a lot of sad stuff. The living conditions of the people, the devastation of the environment, and other issues governments love to hide under a carpet in touristic places, but that are quite evident somewhere else.
In my opinion, as travelers, we have the responsibility to understand also these faces, show them to the people we know, raise awareness if we can.
One thing that I really love about bicycle touring is that you’ll spread your wealth (even if that’s small) among many small communities, it’s cool that instead of all the money going to Angkor Wat, we can give our little contribution to all that tiny Cambodian villages we passed along the road, places that rarely see any income from tourism. This is an important ethical aspect to me.
What do you think? Would you like to try traveling around the world by bicycle? Everybody can! Why don’t give it a try? If you want to know how to get started with bicycle touring, click here!
Daniele Giannotta is the co-founder of Cycloscope.net, a blog about bicycle touring and adventure travel that aims to inspire people to fulfill their crazier dreams. Together with his partner Elena Stefanin, they set off from Italy in 2014, cycling 25 countries and 25,000km before finishing their funds in Vietnam in late 2016. Since then they are living in China, working as ESL teachers and blogging. They’ll be on the road again in June 2018 for the next leg of their around-the-world bicycle tour. Follow their adventures on instagram.com/cycloscope_globecycling/, facebook.com/cycloscope, youtube.com/cycloscope, twitter.com/CycloscopeTweet and pinterest.com/cycloscopepin