Ever considered cycling around the world? Looking for a way to travel on less than $20 per day? Once a Danish engineer, Thomas Andersen woke up one day and realized that sitting for 10 hours in front of the computer every day was not his passion in life. It wasn’t fulfilling, it wasn’t exciting, and there was no adventure involved – just monotonous routine. Though unlike so many others who simply accept their monotonous routine, Thomas decided to do something about it.
In October 2010 Thomas left his job in Copenhagen, packed a bike and started cycling. Since then he has cycled through 65 countries, and at his peak has traveled 210 km in a single day.
He completed a two month bike tour across India, and made it safely through Syria, Jordan and Egypt before the Arab spring. He worked on an Outback cattle station when he ran out of money in Australia, and has pushed on through the crazy Patagonian winds.
After packing his bike with the aim to cycle around the world, Thomas Andersen has been on the road for more than 4 years and cycled more than 30.000 km. This is his inspiring story, which includes tips and advice for how you can achieve the same!
What do you love the most about travelling?
As a traveller you see the world with fresh eyes, and the locals see you as a breath of fresh air in their own everyday life. This can create some very interesting dynamics.
If you were to believe the media, the world would be a very dangerous place. It is natural that wars, conflicts, and tragedies get headlines on the TV and internet, but what you realize when you travel is that the world is mostly a peaceful place with people who are doing what people do; go to school, go to work, get married, and have children.
I believe it is better so see the world through your owns eyes than through the media.
What inspired you to start travelling?
After three years of university I felt it was time for a change, and I signed up for an exchange year in Switzerland. This would turn out to be a life changing decision.
During the year I spent in this beautiful country next to the Alps I didn’t only learn French and how to ski, I also made new friends from all over the world. After the exchange year I started to travel across Europe and eventually oversees as well to visit my new friends. I guess I have never stopped.
What inspired you to begin an epic journey cycling around the world?
Born in Denmark, I was put on a bicycle almost before I could walk. I have loved to cycle ever since. It has something to do with the freedom of movement, being out in the open air, and having the opportunity to let the thoughts run free. When I later discovered travelling, I naturally chose to combine my passion for cycling and for travelling to form a perfect match.
I started with short trips in Denmark, then a three week ride across the Balkan countries. After another two month bike tour across India I read a couple of books about other people who had cycled around the world. The dream was born!
Tell us about this epic 4 year trip – which countries will you visit, what is your route etc?
I left my home in Copenhagen in October 2010 (click here for my route) The first part of the trip went through Eastern Europe towards Turkey and the Middle East. I was lucky to make it through Syria, Jordan and Egypt just before the Arab spring in 2011.
I then flew to India and cycled across this fascinating sub-continent once again. In South East Asia I made it across Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia before catching a short flight to Darwin in Australia. I cycled across the vast Outback towards Melbourne and Sydney.
When I left Denmark it had only been my plan to cycle to Australia. Down Under I was indeed running out of money, but then I got a job on an Outback cattle station. This was a true adventure in itself.
Since my bank account now looked healthier and my legs were ready for more, I decided to go to the Americas as well. I’m now cycling from Ushuaia in Argentina to Newfoundland in Canada.
How much planning goes into a trip of this proportion?
Not that much really. I already had my bicycle before the trip so I only needed to buy cycling bags, a sleeping bag, and a tent beforehand. Since cycling is a very independent way of travelling you don’t need to know much about the countries you are going to visit.
In the beginning of the trip I spent longer time looking at maps and planning routes. Now I just make it to the country and start asking locals and other cyclists about what roads might be good to try. It’s all very much planning on the go.
How long do you generally spend in each destination? Do you spend time to explore each new city or simply pass through?
How long I spend in a country obviously depends on how big it is. A small country like Denmark you can cycle through in two days. On the other hand it could take you up to 5 months to cycle through Argentina if you also want to make some stops in the cities and do a few detours into the mountains.
On a bicycle you spend most of the time in the country side and in small villages. I do like cities as well, so I try to spend at least a week in the major places I’m passing.
After four years of travelling I find that I do need a longer break once in a while. Sometimes you get tired of sleeping in a new place every night, and you miss friendships that last longer than a few days.
I had my last long break in Arequipa in Peru where I spent over a month. But then your legs start to itch and you know it is time to get back on the road.
Does the landscape ever get monotonous or boring?
On a bike you are not only taking in the natural highlights in each country, you are also visiting everything in between. Sometimes the landscape can get monotonous, but in a way this is one of the things I like about bicycle touring.
When you are in the ‘boring’ parts of a country you can be sure there are no other tourists around. This means you get a unique opportunity to learn about everyday life from the local people. You will eat in restaurants where there is only local food, and everybody will come over and talk to you because they never see other foreigners.
Sometimes the landscape gets truly monotonous over long stretches of road, for example in the Australian outback. Then it’s time to put on some good music (if your Ipod hasn’t run out of battery), as you let the hours, days, or weeks pass by.
Yes, it is definitely hard, though once you reach the ocean after crossing Australia you truly appreciate being there. You feel you have accomplished something incredibly special.
What is the greatest length you have ever cycled in a day?
My longest distance was 210 km in a single day. This was a flat day on the Panamerican highway in Chile with a steady tail wind to help me along.
Even though it was the longest day it was by no way the hardest. Some 50 km days with insane head wind in Patagonia were infinitely harder!
How is travelling on a bicycle a different experience to a more conventional method of travel?
Cycle touring is a very independent way of travelling. You choose when and where to go – no more waiting around for the bus that never comes or is way over-crowded.
True, you have to put in a physical effort to get to your destination, but I think this will make you appreciate your arrival even more.
It’s also a very cheap way to travel as you only have expenses for food, and sometimes a hotel or a hostel if you choose not to stay in your tent. For me it is quite simply the best way to travel.
Are you ever delayed due to weather, or do you ride on regardless?
After four years of cycling it amazes me how few days I have been delayed due to weather. Less than 10 I would say!
I try to arrive on a continent when it is summer and the weather is most pleasant for cycling. If I can see it is going to rain the whole day I might as well stay inside.
In Argentina we would sometimes look at the weather forecast and wait until the crazy Patagonian winds, locally known was the Breath of God, would slow down a bit.
What are your essential travel items?
On my bicycle I’m always carrying a tent, sleeping bag, stove, cooking equipment, and tools for repairing the bike. I also have a small netbook computer and a camera which I wouldn’t travel without.
One of my favourite items is my Kindle ebook reader; so many books in only a few hundred grams, and the battery will last for weeks.
Do you have a support team or is this a solo venture?
This is a solo venture. I find that I’m both the main character, the photographer, the writer, the finance director, the psychologist, the medical doctor, and of course the cyclist on this expedition.
Sometimes it seems like many roles to play, but this is the way I like it. I wouldn’t like to travel with a support car behind me the whole time.
Ever found yourself in a dangerous situation or travelling through a dangerous country?
I was lucky to make it through Syria just before the civil war broke out. When I was there I only met incredible friendly people who offered me to spend the night in their homes as soon as I arrived in new towns.
One of the most dangerous stretches of road I have cycled was in Peru a couple of weeks ago. One day a police car followed me for an hour through some villages that had a particular bad reputation. I met another cyclist and we had a short chat. We exchanged contact information, and a few days later he wrote me that he had been robbed while sleeping in his tent at night.
Luckily I made it through without any incidents.
What is a general estimate for your daily budget on a trip like this?
My budget is around $20 a day. I find that it is entirely possible to comfortably cycle through any country in the world on this budget. In expensive countries in Europe and in Australia I would camp out every night or stay with friends, friends of friends, people from the Couchsurfing or Warmshower online communities, or with people who simply offered me a place for the night when we met on the road.
As I never had to pay for accommodation and only bought food from the supermarket, Australia was interestingly enough one of the cheaper countries I have visited. Though here in South America $20 will get you a simple hotel room and 3 restaurant meals a day.
When you are cycle touring you can turn up or down your daily budget as you need. Some people cycle around the world on $5 a day, others spend time in hotels and spend more.
What is your most memorable moment from the road?
There are so many moments to choose from, though I did have a special experience in Malaysia at one point. When I arrived in the country I only knew one guy. I met him for dinner one night, and he introduced me to his friends in the next city. That night we were 10 for dinner, and I wasn’t allowed to pay for the food or for my hotel room. The next day things went crazy.
My new friends had arranged for two police officers on motor bikes to escort me. Apart from the police, there were also several other bikes and cars that followed me the whole day. Amazingly enough the police stopped the traffic so on red lights I could just continue through.
When we stopped in towns I was shaking hands with mayors and tourist directors, and even signing autographs and giving interviews. It was my 15 minutes, or actually 5 days of fame. Now I think I know how it is to be a VIP!
After crossing the border to Singapore I was just a normal guy on a bike again!
Most practical advice for people planning a bike tour?
The most difficult part of a bike tour is to get started. I found it very hard to quit my job and say goodbye to my family and friends. Once the wheels get rolling you very quickly build momentum, and then the hardest part seems to be stopping again.
I would advise to start very small. Why not go for a weekend ride to a beautiful spot close to your home, bring a tent and spend the night, then ride back the next day? I bet you will feel refreshed for your next week at work. Who knows, starting with smaller trips may just inspire you to plan a longer trip for your next holiday.
Finally, don’t worry too much about gear. In my opinion this is not the essence of bike touring at all, even though some people spend years to research and thousands and thousands of dollars on this. Just use the bicycle you already have and see where it will take you.
Why should people try a bike tour?
On a bicycle you experience the environment you travel through first-hand; the ever changing landscapes, the hills, the weather, the food, the way people react when they see you.
Interestingly enough I have even met people who are doing long cycle trips but who don’t like cycling!
The way of travelling is just so unique and give you so much that it doesn’t even matter if you like to ride or not.