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Email Interview with (now defunct) California Web Site
April 15, 2004 12:51 PM
For most of us, in our over-worked and over-stressed workaday lives, it isn't rare that we drift off to a daydream of escaping it all: buying a sailboat and casting off for the South Pacific, loading a backpack and booking a flight to Europe, or hooking on those pannier packs and peddling off into the sunset for a round-the-world cycling tour. . . . But like most dreams, it isn't too long before we let them drift off as an impractical and unattainable wish before we return to the business at hand. But for some it is much more than a dream.
Tim and Cindie Travis are one example of how someone can turn those dreams of "getting away from it all and exploring the world" into a reality. There plan: an unsupported, round-the-world bicycle tour that will last as long as their money holds out. I happened to run across their website, Down the Road.org, through the Adventure Cycling Association website, and was immediately drawn to their story.
For the Travis', who were long-time cycling enthusiasts—and who were even married on a bicycle!, this apparently was not a simply drop-of-a-hat decision. Rather, this was something that took a whole lot of planning and sacrifice to make possible.
They left Prescott, Arizona, on March 30, 2002 with the idea they have about enough money—assuming they travel cheaply—to go for about seven years. Currently they are in South America and are apparently doing quite well with thier budget. Luckily, we were able to catch up with them
1. A lot of people, when they hear about what your doing--traveling around the world by bicycle--might think your a little crazy. How do you respond to them usually?
(Tim) Well, we are a little or a lot crazy depending on your perspective. Selling everything you own and taking off on a bicycle for 7 years (hopefully much more) is not normal, especially in the USA. I must say that our Non-American audience generally thinks that the whole idea is wonderful while our American audience is the one that thinks that we are crazy. We have always been people who thought outside of the box. There has to be more to life than just working to pay bills.
2. After 9/11, people here in the United States have been somewhat xenophobic about traveling. Do you ever get the sense of being 'unsafe' on your travels?
(Tim) We have been through both safe and unsafe areas. Whenever things were not safe it had nothing to do with world events. People in these impoverished countries do not pay much attention to terrorist attacks in other parts of the world. They have their own problems to occupy them. American's have had the reputation of being xenophobic long before 9/11. The United States has the smallest percentage of its population holding passports than any other developed nation. We Americans need to get out of the country more and see what is going on in the world. Using 9/11 as an excuse to stay in the country is very silly. Latin America is a good place to get away from the drama of the post 9/11 world.
(Cindie) I am beginning to think that the media and our government has instilled a lot of fear in the American public. Really, the world is a different place then what is portrayed on the TV. We as a nation just need to get out and experience it.
3. Most people would feel that they are too out of shape to take even a short cycle tour. First, what type of shape do you have to be in to begin a tour like yours? And second, what would you recommend for people just starting out do to get in shape?
(Tim) The beautiful thing about independent bicycle touring is that you do not need to be in good condition to start. It is not a competition. If you can ride around your neighborhood you can ride around the world. A good daily plan is to ride until you are tired (or before) and then stop for the night. In the beginning you may only get 20 miles per day. Your conditioning will rapidly improve during the first 6 weeks of your trip. Just because someone is riding 100 miles a day does not guarantee them a better experience than someone riding much less per day. The riding is just a small piece of the greater experience.
The 6 months before Cindie and I left on our around the world tour we did not ride or exercise at all. We were too busy reshuffling the details of our life. We both gained weight and were very out of shape before we left. Even after months of riding we are not super athletes. After two years of pedaling we are still very casual and complete about half the distance of other touring cyclists. Covering long distances has never been the point of our travels. We, instead, put a high value on interacting with the locals and absorbing the rich cultures that we encounter. Physical conditioning can be lost as quickly as it is gained but a long talk with a poor farmer on the side of the road will stay with you forever.
(Cindie) For me the hardest thing to get use to was sitting on a bike for an extended amount of time. Before I left I was very selective about my saddle. The first week I wore two pairs of shorts every day and this helped eliminate the dreaded saddle sore. The other thing I would recommend is listen to your body if your tired or in pain stop riding. Give your body a chance to recover. The schedule that worked best for me was to ride two days and then take a day off, ride two days and take a day off.
4. Has you tour been unsupported--meaning, do you carry everything with you need on the bike?
We do not have a van following us with our gear. What we carry on our bikes is everything that we own. We carry more gear than the average touring cyclist. We think of the whole the experience of living on the road as our new lifestyle and not just a temporary vacation. We live here and our loaded bike is our apartment. We have everything necessary for long term self contained camping. We like a few luxuries like a laptop computer, reading books, and a shortwave radio.
5. At you website, you describe this as "Budget Travel Bike Tour", and you provide some great documentation of costs for local and long-distance trips. What is some advice about reducing cost on a trip like this?
Although we have a tight budget we have found ways of living well. We look for ways of cutting daily costs first. A couple dollars a day really adds up over time. Going cheap requires more equipment. Self contained camping and cooking equipment fills your bags and slows you down. The last blanket statement that I can make is to make a daily budget and stick to it. You will find that you will adjust your life style to the budget you have. Below I have written our typical budget and listed some specifics on what I think saves us the most money. Complete details of how much we spend and on what can be found on our web site in Cindie's daily journal and finance page. Incidentally, we have spent about half of what we originally expected to spend.
$20 DAY (combined)
WATER = Water is something that you need everyday. In the developing countries you can not fill your water bottles from the tap. Most long distance international cyclists in these countries buy their water everyday. Bottled water in developing countries usually cost more than it does in the USA. Locals in rural farming areas do not have the money to buy water. They find the whole idea of buying water very crazy. Bottled water is mainly for the tourist and therefore, somewhat expensive; especially when you consider it a daily cost. We filter or boil all of our drinking water. Many have suggested using those chemical tablets to treat our water. The argument is that pills are much smaller than a bulky filter. The fact is that you cannot drink chemically treated water for months on end. It could not be good for you and does nothing for the strange things swirling around in a glass of a poor countries tap water. We always have a small bottle of tablets for emergencies. You never know when a kindly old lady is going to offer you a glass of ice tea.
FOOD = Eating is the one place we do not mind spending extra money on if it is in our budget. Eating in restaurants is a very good way to learn about the local culture and meet people. The trick here is to eat what and where the locals eat. Nothing is more expensive than McDonalds or pizza. I think the best places to eat are truck stops. We carry a gasoline stove, pot, and all the other necessary cooking equipment. This is necessary when camping because restaurants are usually not around. We also cook our own food if we are in more expensive countries where our budget is stretched tight. For us, the trade off of sleeping in a place that you are paying for is preparing our own food. It may seem strange to run a camp stove in a hotel room but for us it is very common.
LODGING = We prefer to sleep cheap and eat well. There is no guarantee that you will sleep better in a hotel than you will in your own tent. In fact, I prefer the tent over a cheap room. The beds in Latin America tend to be a few feet short for me and cheap hotels are usually noisy. We think it is much better to find a hidden place out of sight of the road and camp for free. My bed in our tent is familiar to me and fits me well. Some of the most magical moments have happened while sitting in our free campsites and watching the sun go down.
(Cindie) We do not go on the big tours that most travelers do. For example, we pass on that diving trip, horseback riding trip, and parasailing lesson. We choose our excursions carefully. For example, we choose to go trekking in Torres del Paine rather than go all the way down to Ushuaia. We did not have the time and money to do both. Lucky for us, Tim and I like to do the same things so we both are in agreement on what activities we would like to do.
6. What type of bikes are you using?
We are currently riding 26 inch (Mt. bike size) wheeled Cro-Mo touring bikes. They are not mountain or road bikes but instead made purely for loaded touring. The touring geometry of the frame makes the bike very long and low to the ground. We both have front and rear racks and panniers. We have no suspension. Neither of us are very happy with our current bikes and I am looking for sponsorship for new ones. Our web site has more details on our bikes and equipment used.
7. Is there any equipment you found that you wish you had but didn't bring?
No, we had most everything before we left. This was not my first big tour and I had a good idea of what was needed. The one thing I wish I had was an industrial strength kick stand. The best one that I could find in Arizona broke in Northern Mexico. I am still looking for a kickstand that can handle my heavy rig. If there is something we want we can buy it in the country we are in. People bike and camp all over the world and the stores that sell this equipment are found in bigger cities.
8. Is there anything your brought which you should have left at home?
(Tim) There were several things that we mailed to my family at the end of our first three weeks. My biggest mistake was bringing an expensive solar panel to charge the laptop, digital camera, and AA batteries. I learned that it was much easier to find an electrical outlet and plug in than deal with the panel. I carry a small extension cord, that I bought in Mexico, instead.
(Cindie) I found that I brought to many clothes. I sent back a couple of shirts, extra long john bottoms, extra jersey, extra pair of warm gloves. I also had all kinds of kitchen gadgets like a cheese grater. Things do not seem so important when you have to lug them over some mountain pass. On occasion through out the trip I seemed to be sending something home. I left the US thinking I could not find anything on the road when in reality if you need something you can usually buy it.
Also, I brought a lot of fear with me when I left, fear of the unknown, fear of seeing real poverty, fear of attacking dogs, fear of riding through tunnels. Ok, I am still afraid of riding through tunnels, I am working on that. I no longer have a fear of the unknown, I have learned that it will work out. I no longer fear seeing real poverty, although it still bothers me immensely, I have learned that people are incredibly resilient and strong. I no longer fear attacking dogs, I have learned that showing fear is the worst thing you can do. I have also learned how they behave and avoid dangerous situations. It helps that Tim takes on the lead dog. One of the greatest personal things I have learned on this journey is to challenge my own fears. I have learned that most of my fear comes from within. By facing these fears I have developed more confidence in myself and have left a lot of baggage behind.
9. Do you find people are generally receptive to cycling travelers?
(Tim) Yes, sitting on top of a loaded touring bike draws a lot of positive attention. Traveling on bicycles means that we are usually away from the tourist areas. The people in these remote areas have probably never seen a loaded bicycle or someone with a different color skin from themselves. Sometimes all this attention gets a bit tiring because we end up answering the same questions all the time. We always try to remember that the locals asking us questions are very excited to meet us. In Peru, we attracted so much attention that huge crowds would gather in each indigenous village that we stopped in. This became very tiring but would have happened no matter what we were traveling on.
(Cindie) I agree with Tim 100%, we draw a lot of positive attention. My biggest fear when we left the USA was being vulnerable, out there with no protection like a car or house. I soon learned that being on a bike made us more approachable and therefore, we have met some very interesting people during our travels. I have left that fear behind.
10. Do you mostly camp, or do you stay in local hotels, hostels, motels, etc....?
In the two years that we have been on the road we have free camped, stayed in campgrounds, slept in hostels, and rented hotel rooms. We have a set budget of about US$10/person/day. This is slightly increased in more expensive countries like Mexico, Costa Rica, and Chile. We do what we can based on the cost of the different countries. We look for lodging that is between US$5 to US$10 a night. We have had US$3 hotel rooms in Guatemala and US$14 campgrounds in Chile. I believe that our best nights are spent free camping (hidden) on the side of the road. At these times we always seem to interact with the locals or have the best scenery. The money we save with free lodging we spend in restaurants.
11. You mention on your site, that you no longer own any motor vehicle. What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of that?
(Tim) Because we plan on living on the road for several years owning a car is not very practical. We have no place to store it and the car would just sit rusting away while we are traveling abroad.
(Cindie) Not having a motor vehicle in Latin America is not a problem, public transportation is everywhere. I actually prefer walking, biking or taking a bus these days. However, in the USA it is just not practical not to have a car. It is sad how bad our public transportation is.
12. What has been the highlight of the current leg of your journey?
(Tim) I really like being among the people. This is traveling on the ground level of society and I have learned a lot. Countless locals have invited us in their homes or just sat and talked to us for hours. They eventually revel their hardships, hopes, dreams, and the general way in which their daily lives are played out. They hold the secrets of their unique cultures.
(Cindie) I enjoy the people as well. Some of the other highlights for me has been riding at a high altitude (above 12,000 feet). Everything is crisp and crystal clear. The best part is coasting downhill, just a slight decline and you are moving along almost effortlessly. It appears that there is less resistance in the thinner air. I also have enjoyed the wildlife which is so different from the northern hemisphere. Here in Argentina they have the best steaks I have ever tasted. When I think of Argentina I will think about the friendly people and the great steaks they have here.
13. What advice would you have for someone wanting to get into cycle touring?
(Tim) It is not about the miles ridden. It is about being completely free to see the world on your own terms. Do not get caught up in dividing distances by the number of days that you have. Too many cycle tourists make the mistake of drawing an impressive line on a map and then they spend their entire trip being behind schedule, taking shortcuts, and wondering what they have missed in their quest to get "there" on time. That is not freedom. That is taking time off of one job to work at another one.
(Cindie) I was lucky to have Tim to guide me along at the beginning. He never pushed me to hard and made sure that I was having a good time. Even now he still pampers me with little things like going out for a really good meal, a movie, an expensive museum I just have to see. I think it is his way of keeping me on the road. So, I would suggest going along with someone who has bike toured before if possible and pamper yourself a little when you can. Also, start short and then work your way up to longer distances.
You can continue reading about Tim and Cindie Travis at Down the Road.org. You can also help support thier tour by purchasing books from Amazon.com through thier site and well as make donations. I recommend signing up for the email newsletter. They both are currently working on a book related to thier travels.
I have used several brands of bicycle panniers and
highly recommend Ortlieb.
See Why I switched to Ortlieb waterproof Panniers?
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