Scorching beams of sunlight threaten to overtake us. A road sign warns of the treacherous mountain inclines that our thighs have long discovered. Our bulging backpacks bungeed to our bike racks promise to pull us backwards. We are only a few hundred miles into our journey cycling the length of Vietnam, yet already we are questioning our sanity.
But then, at the moment we are unsure if we can pedal any longer, the hushed calls of a child ring out: “Hallo! Hallo!” A small boy runs to the roadside from seemingly out of nowhere to pose for a high-five, his infectious pearly white grin overtaking his small, tan face. As we return the greeting and listen to his fit of laughter, we suddenly find the strength we need to carry on up one more hill, to pedal on to one more cheering local.
This was just a typical scene from my summer spent cycling 1,000 miles through Vietnam. An incredibly challenging adventure, it was also an unbelievably rewarding one—and a travel experience like I have never known before.
If you’re looking for an adrenaline-packed way to experience your next travel destination, cycling might be just the adventure for you. But before you commit to the bum-numbing ride, here are a few things to consider:
Cycling is an amazing way to see the world…but why?
1. It’s healthy
Fitness on the road is not always an easy task; however if you’re cycling, the two go hand in hand. I ate ungodly amounts of Vietnamese food and still managed to lose weight because of the calories I burned pedaling up those mountains.
2. It’s immersive
Cycling is about as slow as you can efficiently travel. This allows you to immerse yourself in your surroundings and get to know the details around you. While other travelers are hopping from one tourist destination to the next, you’ll be experiencing local ways of life in villages not in any guidebook. Locals will also be keen to know why a crazy foreigner is cycling through their country. I met the most wonderful Vietnamese people during my cycling trip, and I’m quite convinced these encounters would not have been possible if I had traveled by bus or train.
3. It’s green
Cycling allows you to travel responsibly and with the knowledge that you’re not leaving behind a carbon footprint.
4. It’s freeing
Cycling gives you the power to determine your course. After all, it’s your body powering you from point A to point B. Once you grasp that concept, you’ll be amazed how liberated and empowered you feel!
5. It’s fun!
Cycling is certainly challenging, but there is a satisfaction that comes after a long day of work. Beer tastes a heck of a lot better, too!
The Big Questions
Maybe I’ve caught your attention—cycle touring sounds like the next adventure you’ve been looking for. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to ensure you plan a cycling trip that is right for you:
1. How is your fitness level?
Before you sign up to cycle Alaska to Patagonia, go for a few practice rides and determine your comfort level. Challenge yourself, but make realistic goals. At the end of the day, remember that cycling is accessible for anyone. If you have a desire and will power to do it, you can.
2. Where will you go?
Determine what it is you want out of your experience—are you traveling for the sake of cycling or cycling as a means of travel? Tuscany sounds lovely, but cycling up and down hills after a few wine tastings might not. Luckily, cycle touring is becoming more and more popular, and it’s quite possible to cycle anywhere in the world!
3. Will you go with a tour or alone?
I prefer the flexibility and adventure that comes from cycling solo (or with a friend). Others might want the support and energy that comes with a tour. This is a completely personal choice with no right or wrong answer. Keep in mind that tours will often cost much more, but they will also streamline the entire process (and carry your belongings for you!)
For those adventurous souls who like the idea of cycle touring but aren’t keen on doing so individually, it is possible to find cycling buddies anywhere in the world on Bicycle Network! This website also has a great section dedicated to women and cycling. Travelling Two is another good resource for beginners interested in bike touring.
Remember that the world is full of adventures just waiting to be had. Whether it’s bike touring or not, push yourself to get out there and try something new!