It’s been over two years since I came back, and I still haven’t sorted through all my photographs! While the photos I have sorted through have brought back great memories, Sue and myself have no plans for another trip anything like this. But if you are thinking of doing something similar, I would say, without reservation, go for it!
If you are looking for some advice, read on . . .
Do something that inspires you. Not something from your bucket list – the one thing that IS the bucket list (you can make up a new bucket list when you get back). There is nothing quite like saying to yourself “I’m liv’in the dream” without even a hint of irony – brings a smile every time 🙂
It doesn’t need to be something entirely unique – if someone has done it already, it will be different for you, and reading their account of it will help prepare (“What would I do/need in that situation?”)
Don’t do a solo trip for anyone but yourself.
You don’t have to raise money for charity to justify the challenge, or make it “worthwhile”. Raising money for charity is very commendable, but can detract from the experience, or others understanding of why you are doing it.
Don’t do it to get away from something – resolve things before you go – otherwise chances are they’d still be there when you get back.
Don’t do it to “find yourself” – you’ll be the same person when you get back – but you will have a different perspective on what you consider to be “normal”
Do something that is way beyond what you have done before – but be realistic about your skills, capability, experience, resourcefulness and determination. Allow minimum 10% contingency time & money, ideally 20%.
When? There is no wrong time – the younger you are, the further you’ll go, and the longer you’ll live with the experience. The older you are, the better able you’ll be to deal with things and the more you’ll appreciate the experience at the time.
Only do it once, and for a fixed time. The “once in a lifetime” nature enriches the experience, and is also a motivator. The lack of baseline makes it easier to take experiences (good & bad!) at face value, rather than judging it as better/worse than the last time. That’s not to say that you can’t travel again, just make it as incomparable as possible (mode, destination, goal, company etc)
Have a clear objective, this will be your motivation when things get tough.
Be clear about what you think it will take, and pull in all your favours (the once-in-a-lifetime makes this easier). A big favour to ask is to have someone (or more) to be the home support – anything from arranging spares and paying bills to managing an emergency.
Prepare for things going wrong, but don’t prepare for failure – just accept that it is a possibility, and you’ll deal with it if and when it happens. Assume that you’ll be able to get yourself to the start – after that, anything can happen, and you can only prepare for so much.
Only monetise the trip if that is the only way to make it happen – commitments made to sponsors can be hard to keep, and compromise the experience.
Prepare for the worst (theft, mugging, kidnapping (real&virtual), bears, disease etc). If violence is a concern, basic self defence might help, though not as much as keeping safe. Nothing will prepare you for the generosity of strangers – especially if you don’t rely on it.
Start planning 3 to 5 years in advance – earlier on, consider the trip when making big decisions (career, buying a house etc): when there is a choice, which option will make the trip more likely?
Go on a mini trip before the point of no return (eg telling your boss etc) to make sure that you are still up for it (and check out equipment).
The lightest piece of kit that you can take is fluency in a language. But you can also get by with very basic language skills – just a script (make copies) with info about you and your trip, how to ask for essentials (food, water, accommodation). Just bare in mind that in poorer areas, don’t assume everyone will have the education to be able to read. Good language skills can help with security, as can no language skills (ie not asking questions that could get you in trouble – eg “why are you carrying a pistol as well as an assault rifle?” – some things are maybe best not known)
If you have second thoughts, ask yourself how you would feel if you didn’t do it, and then met someone who was less experienced or less capable than you, but had done it? If you might have any regrets, then do it!
A year before you start, check weather conditions at various locations at the time of year you’re planning on being there (easier than looking back on weather histories)
Closer to the departure date, hold back on doing things not related to the trip that might jeopardise it (eg a skiing holiday).
Double check visa requirements. And check them again.
Order equipment and repairs in plenty of time. Order spares if you can afford, pay special attention to single points of failure (eg hub gears). If you can afford to, replace any old equipment (>5 years) that you may have trouble finding spares for.
Take it easy at the start – you don’t want to be taking the next flight home
Falling behind, or failing to make goals, will either be due to something beyond your control (eg floods) or an underestimation of the scale of the task (eg exhaustion), or just bad luck (eg injury). Re-assess and adjust goals to keep it challenging, but achievable
- Distance v’s adventure (eg Canadian prairies = lots of distance & a bit boring, Mexico = lots of adventure & lower daily averages)
- Money v’s security (Camping is cheap, hotels are more secure)
If you are not religious, and someone wants to pray for your safety, let them. It will be a bit weird, but consider it their way of wishing you luck. Even when you’ve settled into a routine, doing what you do, complete strangers will tell you that you are “so inspiring”.
Keep in touch with loved ones. Pay phones, SIM cards , the internet will not be available all the time – use a satellite tracker, establish a protocol before you go (what they should expect, what they should do if you don’t send an OK signal)
Trust your instincts – if something doesn’t look/feel right, try another way.
Don’t take unesecary risks (eg cycling when it’s dark)
Don’t take anything with you that you’re not afraid to lose. (OK, bike and passport are pretty key – but both are replaceable)
Take photos of any written notes and souvenirs. Backup photos/video/diary/messages
Appear poor (cheap phone, reduce the credit limits on your cards, spread cash & cards about your luggage/bike) – but be able to dress smart when needed.
Make time for anyone who speaks with you – and be polite but firm when it’s time to move on.
You will get unexpected rewards – eg an appreciation of being privileged to have the opportunity to attempt such a challenge
It doesn’t end when you get back – there will be news stories or events about places you passed through – they will bring back memories, make you think what if that had happened when I was there? They might give you the perspective of the people who were following you.
A big trip is a very personal thing, and no two trips will be the same. In other words, ignore any/all of the above advice 🙂
What ever you do, you will experience some of: challenge and reward, success and failure, distance and adventure, generosity and crime, love and despair, life and death, hope and disaster, culture and environment, preparation and improvisation, self sufficiency and dependency.
You may even experience them all!
Hi Keith, a great piece of writing… it reads like you wrote it from the heart. Thanks for sharing all that invaluable experience, plenty of food for thought. 😊