Philosophy Of Travel Planning & Logistics

On The Hidden Rewards Of Unplanning Your First Big Adventure

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

The words that Tolkien gave to Bilbo are true. Without a solid and meticulous plan, a journey can quickly end up somewhere you never expected.

And, for your first trip, that’s exactly what I suggest.

A couple of days ago I received emails from two people planning long cycling journeys. There seem to be a lot of people interested in adventure cycling these days, judging by the number of messages I get. If that’s true, then I’m happy. Travelling long-term under pedal power is life-changing.

But riding off into the unknown is easier said than done. It’s an utterly terrifying prospect. You know nothing about what’s ahead, and you don’t know where to begin, and you imagine that without knowing these things, you’re helpless.

The natural defence mechanism is to try and collect knowledge, to arm yourself against the unknown. Routes, logistics, equipment, itineraries, timescales, communications solutions… you build a fortress of categories, an insurmountable wall of planning. Then you feel a bit safer, and the unknown seems a little less scary.

But nobody tells you that it actually doesn’t matter. That the world is not a dangerous place. People are not bad. Nobody’s out to get you. Visas and borders are easy. Roads and routes come naturally. And you can’t just waltz into a warzone. (It’s not your fight, anyway.)

Knowing everything is unnecessary — discovery is a better teacher than a guidebook. Where you actually end up — and when, and how — is usually irrelevant to the experience you have on the way.

“Failures don’t plan to fail; they fail to plan.” So goes the saying. But beware of dogma. Question everything, even the wisest-sounding quotes. There’s always an exception to the rule.

I planned to be in Australia two years after leaving home on my bike. As it turned out, I would be in the United Arab Emirates, having made an unforeseen half-year detour through the Middle East and Africa. I never made it to Australia — by then, my journey had deviated entirely.

Had I not planned to be in Australia, of course, it wouldn’t have mattered. Failure wouldn’t have come into it. I wouldn’t have had to swallow my pride, accept that I’d been wrong to set myself such a distant, abstract goal, and tell all the friends, followers and sponsors I’d bragged to that my plans had changed.

One of the emails mentioned records. “I do have my reservations on whether this would detract from the journey”, wrote my correspondee of the idea of a record-breaking circumnavigation. Well, of course it would! If your aim is to have a life-changing adventure, to leave it all behind… why would you plan for it to end as quickly and predictably as possible?

If you want to learn something, leave with a blank slate. Prepare yourself, by all means, but don’t pad the whole thing out with so-called research, plans that aren’t necessary, destinations you might realise you don’t really need to reach. None of that matters.

If there’s one thing I wish I’d done differently, it would be to leave without such a grand plan for what I was going to achieve.

And if there’s one decision I’m glad I made, it was to drop that plan and to pursue the honest and ever-changing focus of my wanderlust.

Personal Updates The Book The Film

Return To The UK — New Projects On The Horizon

In the last four years I’ve made three visits back home — once by overland transport, once by hitch-hiking, and finally by bicycle. Last week I arrived back without any plans to leave again — the idea being that Tenny and I will now (at least attempt to) settle here.

Aegean sunset

I always have mixed feelings when I touch down on British soil, but first amongst them is that I really don’t know anything about this country. Like so many, I’d taken the world I’d known and inhabited — the little drop of experience I’d gleaned during 23 years in small-town English Midlands, combined with a handful of headlines — and extrapolated it to represent the nation, the continent, the planet. Travelling long-term by bicycle brought my error to light. We all know so little about life on this planet, yet so many of us assume so much.

That’s why I can now answer the question I’d flung about derisively, even sneeringly, while I was preparing to leave back in 2007: Why would anyone, having cut all their ties and gone off into the world, choose to return to this place?

Planning & Logistics Technology

How To Use A GPS Unit On A Cycle Tour

As with many of the technology and equipment articles I write, this one opens with a question:

Do you really need to use GPS on your tour?

Will a GPS unit help you significantly to achieve your goals? Or will it serve as a distraction from the experience? Could you navigate by road-sign, map & compass, common-sense and by asking for directions, and would that be more fun? Would a cycle-computer suffice to keep track of distance — and why are statistics so important anyway?

Still considering using GPS for your next bike tour? Let’s continue.

Films Scandinavia 2011

Arctic Cycle Video Goes To The Festival

The short movie from my winter cycling trip in Sweden and Norway was selected for presentation at the ‘One Shot’ International Short Film Festival in Yerevan, Armenia. In the unlikely event that you’re in Yerevan on Saturday, do pop down to the ACCEA at 15:00 to watch it on the big screen. The festival opens today and will run until the 24th of May.

Judging by Vimeo’s ‘likes’ and ‘plays’ statistics, lots of people seem to have enjoyed this video, although a few sharp-eyed viewers noticed the missing stamp! Whoops!

If you didn’t see the 90-second film the first time around, here it is again:


Read more about this little adventure. If you liked the video, you might also like the short films from Mongolia last year…

Films Other People's Adventures

How This Bizarre Video Came First At An Adventure Film Festival

A few weeks back there was a light-hearted event in London called The Adventurists Film Festival — in their own words, “fighting to make the world less boring”. The overall winner of the open competition came from a bunch of misfits known as the Vagabondz, who drove a clapped-out old van from England to Georgia. I challenge you to watch this 20-minute film in full:


Why did this film win?