They say that when you have a new job, you need at least a hundred days before you decide whether or not you like it. In these first hundred days you need to adapt, to see what is going on around you (in the company), to listen, to get a feel. For us, going into this trip felt a bit like this too. Yes, we are Dutch and before we left we cycled to work every day. But cycling around 75km a day almost every day was totally new. Although we liked this way of travelling from the start, we definitely had to find our way in a lot of things. Now, over 6 months later, we feel like we are getting the hang of it. And so we thought we’d give you some insight in our way of living.
First of all, some of the key figures from our first six months (up to and including Kyrgyzstan):
- Total number of days: 193
- Total distance covered: 10157 km
- Number of countries cycled through: 17
- Days on the bike: 136
- Days off the bike: 57
- Average distance covered per day (excl. days off the bike): 75 km
- Average distance covered per day (incl. days off the bike days): 52 km
- Shortest day: 20 km (Kyrgyzstan)
- Longest day: 153 km (Iran)
- Speed record: Tom 85,7 km/h; Sabine 73,1 km/h (both in Turkey)
- Longest streak without a rest day: 13 (Kyrgyzstan)
- Number of days of more than 100 km: 21
- Nights spent wild camping: 81 (42%)
- Nights spent with warmshowers/being invited into someone’s house: 29 (15%)
- Nights spent in paid accommodation: 79 (41%)
- Nights spent in other type of accommodation (e.g. transportation): 4 (2%)
- Longest streak wild camping: 13 nights (Kyrgyzstan)
- Falls off the bike: Tom 1 (while standing still); Sabine 1 (while flying the drone)
- Number of punctures: Tom 5; Sabine 11
- Longest period without a shower: 13 days (Kyrgyzstan), did have a few swims/washes in rivers!
- Highest altitude riding our bikes: 4655m (Ak Baital, Tajikistan)
Ever since we started this trip our daily rhythm quickly changed according to the sun. Whereas at home we could easily sleep until late morning, we now wake up as the sun rises and especially when we camp we are in a horizontal position in our sleeping bags just after sundown (boooring). Who would have thought Tom could get up this early? And who would have thought Sabine could actually like snoozing? Well, neither did we! So, what does a typical day look like for us?
- Between 5:30 and 6:30 alarm goes off. The number of snoozes before we actually get up depends on who has set the alarm…
- Break off tent, pack up our bikes, have breakfast. Check and check again if we have everything. Altogether this takes us about 1-1,5 hours (we are not the fastest people In the morning..). In the end, check again if we have everything. While we were proud that the first forgotten item on this trip was only after a month, we chaotic persons have by now well made up for that score.
- +/- 7:30AM: start riding.
- +/- 10AM: one or both of us is hungry (hangry?). Time for our second breakfast or snack.
- Noon: lunch time! Either our own, or at a restaurant.
- +/- 3PM: one of us is hungry again. Time for another snack, and maybe another snack.
- Between 4 and 5 PM: look for a camping spot, set up camp. Depending on where we are, we start cooking first or set up the tent straight away. If we have to be careful not to be seen, we cook first and set up our tent at around or even after sunset.
- After sundown: read/lay/sleep.
Route and route planning:
Those who know us and especially Tom well, also know that Tom is one of the biggest map-lovers on the planet. Whenever there is a paper map within view, guess who is in front of it within a couple of seconds… However, Tom’s geographical knowledge was unfortunately not extensive enough to know every unpaved road from Turkey to Tajikistan, so having some kind of route planning app might come in handy. So before we left, we did quite a bit of research for the right app. We quickly found Komoot ideal for most of the route planning. It shows the perfect amount of data: distance, elevation profile, road type and road surface (not always accurate but hey). We had to pay 30 euros once to be able to have offline maps, but for us it was definitely worth it. We both have an iPhone, so OSMaps was not possible for us but we hear many cyclists with Android phones use this one. Rough planning is done online during our trip and of course we ask around among other cyclists/locals/overlanders. Some of our best routes were last minute tips from other cyclists on the road! We also use maps.me and iOverlander often, which are easy to use and available offline.
We don’t plan too far ahead, as there are so many factors to take in when estimating how much distance we cover in a day and because we change our minds/plans/route all the time! Most of the time we only plan our route ahead until we come to a next big junction, which is usually after 5-7 days. We don’t plan our daily distances. By now we more or less know how much we can and want to cover in a few days and it’s fun to feel free and see where every day brings us.
Easy in Europe, but sometimes a challenge in Central Asia! Whereas distances in Europe were usually small and shops were all around, in Central Asia we found ourselves carrying food for up to a week. Vital for cooking our own dinners is having herbs and spices! It makes all the difference when we could not vary too much with other ingredients. We always carry thyme, oregano, ras el hanout and garam masala. In Europe we made a challenge of getting nice food with our little budget in the cheaper supermarkets (huge fans of the Lidl!!). The more east we got, the more of a feast it became to go one of the bigger supermarket in major cities. Would they have nice peanut butter? Or pesto even? We now generally do the bigger shopping in bigger towns and buy snacks / fruits / veggies where we can. Standard grocery lists have made things a lot easier for us!
Budget and money issues:
We set off with a monthly budget of 600 euros each. We knew that in most places that would be too much, but it also included visas and repair stuff on the road, which sometimes can be quite big one-off expenses. Europe turned out to be a challenge, as we were still finding our way into cycling life. Also because – yes we have to admit – we were splurging (for the Dutch: leven als God in Frankrijk!). We went skiing in Austria, did wine tasting, rented nice Airbnbs in some of the cities and we did not really care about our money. In contrast: in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan we spent only half our budget. So far our spending has gone down every month and we definitely don’t feel like we have to turn every coin. The end result after 6 months: overall we spent almost exactly our monthly budget!
Whereas in Holland we almost always pay with debit card, we now carry around cash all the time. It’s well worth checking before entering countries how widely available ATMs are, what the exchange rate is and where to exchange your money. Buy a suitable wallet, we found our little Turkish wallet of insufficient size when we entered Iran and exchanged money here (and as such carried a zip-lock freezer bag here). Also, we always carry some extra dollars and euros in case we can’t get money from the ATM. And no, even with carrying cash around, we have not felt unsafe on this trip.
- People all over have been so incredibly nice. We can’t say it enough, but we have had so so many generous people. People saying hi, waving, cheering, giving us a thumbs-up out of the window. People offering us food, meals, a place to sleep or their garden to pitch our tent. Our hearts are warmed every days by these gestures of kindness! Not one time during this trip did we feel unsafe.
- Cycling really gives us the feeling of freedom we had hoped for before going on this trip. We can go wherever we want, whenever. More important: it has given us so many more great encounters with people! We feel like with this way of travelling we really get to see what a country and culture is like, cycling through some of the most random places instead of going to the tourist highlights only.
- Sabine never thought she would say this, but she actually really likes to climb altitude through switchbacks! Kyrgyzstan was a blast on this account: so many passes!
- Tom found a new hobby on the road and is living up to the TU Delft student nickname (‘Fietsenmakers’ or bicycle mechanics). Allen keys in one hand and some chain lubricant in the other, fixing & maintaining the bike has become a moment of ‘zen’.
- Warmshowers: what a great cyclist’s platform! It has worked so perfectly well for us. So many people have opened their houses for us, even when we contacted them on short notice. It’s an ideal way of meeting people and learning about a country and culture (and have a warm shower!).
- Super glue, ductape and tie wraps! These three musketeers can really fix a lot of your broken stuff (and trust us; a lot can and will break on a bicycle trip!).
- Watermelons are great food in the warmer countries. But eating them for dinner/dessert will most likely send you out of the tent in the middle of the night for a wee or two…!
- Camping in city parks can be great, just make sure you are not in the aim line of sprinkler systems…
- Dogs: less scary than we thought beforehand! Most of them doze around at the side of the street. Luckily the trick that we and most cyclists use (stop straight away, turn around with bike in between you and the dog, and as a bonus you can growl or yell back at them if necessary) has worked out well so far.
- Snickers is our best snack friend. But it also works perfectly fine as a bread topping. Melted Snickers are just as nice as the normal version. Frozen Snickers are not!
- Audio-courses for languages! Tom turned out a big fan of the Michel Thomas and Pimsleur audio-courses, especially Russian and Turkish. Notably the long, boring stretches get a lot more enjoyable.
- We have found immense appreciation for: ice-creams, a hot shower, a warm bath, a good (and clean) bed, peanut butter, yoghurt, sunsets/sunrises/the golden hour, proper air ventilation in tunnels, quiet camping spots, mountains and snow.
- Take things as they come. It’s easy to dwell on how much nicer a place would have been if it hadn’t been raining, or how much easier a climb would have been if the road quality would have been better. But it isn’t going to change the reality. We both learnt (and we are still learning) to accept some of the unchangeable factors during our trip.
- Patience. Things just never go as smoothly and quick as we are used to back home. Especially at bus stations, borders, but mostly online (sometimes it takes an hour to publish Instagram photos, before the upload crashes at 90%).
We are now more or less half way into our trip. At the time of writing we are in Pakistan. We have come a long way, and fortunately we still have a long way to go. Our original plan was to end our trip in New Zealand, but new ideas keep coming up so it may very well be that we’ll have a change in our itinerary! For now we will dive into the Pakistani and then Indian mountains and culture, with many more passes, Snickers and great encounters to come. We can’t wait!
Talk to you soon!
Tom & Sabine