This Guy is Traveling the World on a Bicycle and you NEED to read his story!
It was a Sunday evening and as always, Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village was crowded. San and I stood on the main road as we tried to decide where to go next. All of a sudden, he pointed at a lone cyclist in the middle of the walking street and said “look at all those flags!”. We looked at him and then at each other and thought the same thing.
Is this person traveling the world on a bicycle?
I knew at that instant that I HAD to speak with him. I rushed towards him and stopped him on his way. Thankfully he was not annoyed but smiled at my curiosity (maybe he was used to it). A quick chat confirmed our suspicion – he was traveling around the word on his bicycle! I told him I wanted to write a story about him on my website, and he agreed to meet us later that week for a meal.
That’s how San and I met Mike Roy, a cyclist who’s traveling the world on his bicycle.
On the agreed day, we met Mike in Dilli Haat. San and I had prepared a few questions but we threw them aside and spent the entire evening talking, eating and drinking. Mike became our friend that evening and will most likely be for a long time.
Anyway, I finally got to interview Mike and here are is HOW he’s traveling the world on his bicycle. This is his story:
DP: Tell our readers about yourself.
I’m 31 years old and was born in the USA. I moved to South Korea to teach English after college and have been working, traveling, and volunteering in Asia ever since.
I’m into cycling (obviously), travel (obviously), the environment, farming, foreign languages, philosophy, anthropology, veganism, and lots of other stuff.
DP: When and where did you start your journey?
In the summer of 2012 I did some practice rides in South Korea, where I had been working, and then on August 14 of that year a Korean friend and I put our bikes onto a ferry and sailed from Incheon, South Korea to Dalian in Northeast China. That was day 1! I made it to Chennai somewhere around day 1000 and am still going!
DP: How many countries have you visited on this journey so far?
Up to seventeen countries depending on how generous you are with the counting. South Korea, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, India, Nepal, plus a day each in Hong Kong and Macau, a couple of hours in Tibet, about thirty seconds in Bhutan, the coast of California in the USA, and a day each on longer layovers in Turkey and Qatar. It’s been a total of about 33,000 kilometers so far.
DP: What inspired you to do this?
Quite a few things – one was that I hosted some cyclists through the Couchsurfing website while I was living in Korea; their stories and photos made cycle touring sound really incredible, and they were both such normal, friendly guys that I got the idea that maybe I could do it too.
Another was that I met a Korean friend planning to leave on his own cycle trip just when I was finishing a contract there and considering what to do with myself next. I might not have had the courage to start an intercontinental cycle odyssey if I hadn’t had a companion at my side at the beginning.
The fact that cycling doesn’t contribute to our planet’s environmental problems is also a major consideration for me. I travel because I want to know the world and experience the various cultures, cuisines, and landscapes it has to offer, but it seems to me that traveling by planes and other vehicles that contribute to global climate change is actually quickening the destruction of those very same things.
Something that’s kept me cycling long after the original inspiration faded from my memory is that it offers such an amazing travel experience. You’re so independent, you can go wherever you want, whenever you want, without making any arrangements at all, and you don’t need to worry about whether or not you’ll be able to find a hotel or a restaurant as long as you’ve got your own tent and stove. This frees you from some of the annoying stuff about travel, like having touts always trying to get your attention, and also keeps you away from the more dangerous spots like train stations and bus depots. Even better, it brings you through all sorts of “in-between” places that most tourists never get a chance to experience. People in villages everywhere are almost always extremely friendly and giving, even if there’s a significant language barrier. It’s really a heartwarming thing to experience.
DP: How did you prepare for this?
One of my Couchsurfing cyclist guests recommended I read the “Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook,” so I bought the second edition and read it all the way through. Now my own stories and tips are published in the third edition!
There are also plenty of websites out there with lots of info for cyclists. Crazyguyonabike.com is one. Individual cycle blogs, including my own, www.threeruleride.com also offer up good info.
In terms of physical preparation, I hardly did any. Cycling was already a big part of my life, so I just kept pushing my boundaries further and further. First to work, then to downtown, then to across town, then to the next town over, then for a weekend loop, then for a week around one of Korea’s islands…I kind of became a cyclist without ever intending to. Now I can ride 150km or more in a day and still have the energy to hang out with new friends after.
DP: What resources do you use?
I do use my smartphone quite a bit.
- The GPS is extremely useful since it works without a cell signal or a WIFI connection. Maps.me is a great offline maps application. Google Maps tends to be a little better with the details, but you’ve got to have a local SIM and a data package to use it, which isn’t always so easy when you keep crossing borders.
- The Couchsurfing and Warmshowers hospitality sites both have apps that I use to find hosts in bigger towns and cities.
- Various messaging and chatting programs to keep in touch with friends and family.
- A compass app to make sure I’ve got my directions right, an altitude meter app so I know how far I’ve climbed on any given day, and a level app so I can measure the slope of whatever mountain I’m climbing.
- It’s really nice to have a Kindle or another e-reader, since you can carry as many e-books as you like without taking up space or adding weight.
- I’ve also got my laptop for blogging and entertainment, an old mp3 player with really good battery life, a flashlight for when I’m camping or riding in the dark, and a UV water sterilizer pen for when I can’t find filtered water anywhere.
- I also carry my own spork, pocket knife, chopsticks, straw, camping pot, and Tupperware so that I don’t have to use disposable silverware or plates when buying snacks.
DP: What do you do to make money on the road?
There’s a saying in the USA: “a penny saved is a penny earned.” I have hardly earned any money on this trip, but I do a lot to keep my spending low. I camp, Couchsurf, or sleep at temples as much as I can to save on hotel costs, eat local food at simple restaurants, do my own laundry by hand, repair my clothes and bike myself, and in general try to prioritize experiences over possessions. Bicycle travel is naturally pretty cheap since you don’t really have space to accumulate lots of clothes or souvenirs, and you don’t need to pay for entertainment since it’s so much fun to ride through the great outdoors and experience local life along the way. I also spend a lot of time volunteering; working alongside locals is a great way to make friends and learn about their lives, and at the same time you usually get your accommodation and food for free. It’s also a nice excuse to get off the bike for a week or two, and a good way to give back.
Traveling has so far cost me about $10 per day – that’s for food, rooms, bicycle parts and repairs, visas, everything. I did a pretty good job of saving my salary while working in South Korea, so as long as my expenses stay low I can keep doing this for another few years.
DP: Do you have any interesting stories that you want to share with our readers?
I have three years of blog posts for anyone who’s interested! Cycling gets you into all sorts of fun situations, like road trips with a bunch of Chinese students trying to cycle to Tibet, or camping during a storm at the rainiest place on earth, or having a Buddhist monk get me drunk on Jack Daniel’s.
Out of all the moments that will stick with me long after I’ve finished my cycling, one experience in Laos is pretty special. A friendly kid on a bike caught up to me while I was making my way up pretty hefty hill. We chatted over the course of the long climb and at the end he invited me back to his village. All the adults were out working in the fields, so I just played with the village children all afternoon, rolling tires around, chasing chickens, throwing my Frisbee. At one point about ten of the children, including a naked two year old, led me through the back of the village to a small river. They played in it without any supervision while I sat on a rock and observed. A few minutes later, they all started gathering flowers from the banks and took turns bringing them to me, mimicking me every time I went “Awwww!”at their sweetness.
DP: What were the most beautiful / scariest / difficult terrains / destinations on the way?
Beautiful – So many places. Jungles, forests, plains, mountains, rivers, oceans, farmland, small villages anywhere….just being on a bicycle makes you so much more awake to the beauty all around you (so long as there’s not much traffic).
Difficult terrains – I’ve come up against the Himalayas a number of times now – first in southwest China, then in the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, then in Nepal, now in north India. Big mountains are always tough because of the long climbs, high altitudes (low oxygen), cold weather, and bumpy roads, but the scenery is so spectacular that it’s always worth it. Plains are nice for the first day but boring after that.
Riding in the hot season in Myanmar and Thailand was also pretty difficult. Sometimes the air temperature got up to about 45C, and the temperature of the road surface got up to 62C! My friends and I had to stop riding for fear that we’d melt our wheels.
I haven’t really been scared at all this whole time. Sometimes it can be a little nerve-wracking trying to find a place to camp once the sun has gone down, but so far things have always worked out well. There’s always a field or a temple or a friendly family willing to help me out.
DP: How often do you get to meet your family back home? How do they react to your nomadic lifestyle?
This is one of the hardest things. My parents came to visit me in Thailand after I had been on the road for a year, and I flew back to the US to visit them just recently, after a total of 30 months or so on the road. We do email and Skype pretty frequently. I also feel like if I were living in the USA, which is such a big country, the chances are pretty low that I’d get to see them more than once or twice a year. At least this way we get to meet up in new places and go on some adventures together.
My parents and friends have been remarkably supportive – reading my blog, publicizing it, helping me find hosts, soliciting donations of money or goods. I think everybody has a bit of an inner vagabond that makes them want to support people on crazy journeys.
DP: Have you even fallen in love while on the road? If yes, how do you deal with it, knowing the fact you don’t end up staying in one place for a very long time. Would you be open to the idea of her joining you on the road?
Definitely. As a matter of fact, I’m going through this right now. Finding a way to make relationships work while on the road is much more challenging than cycling up and over a mountain pass. The former takes a lot of thought and compromise, while the latter just requires shutting your brain off and pedaling for a few hours.
I have often dreamed of having a partner join me on the road, but there are so many obstacles for people who come from different backgrounds. Cultural obstacles, financial obstacles, practical things like passports, visas, and even the plain availability of decent bikes. Plus, even if you could solve all these problems, it’s only a very small minority of people that would be willing to take on the challenges of bike travel, even after having gotten close to someone who can’t shut up about all wonderful experiences it leads to.
It looks like for the next month or two I’m just going to put the cycle away and stay somewhere volunteering together with my special someone. Maybe seeing this article online will convince her to hit the road with me afterwards, though…
DP: You have crossed many countries since the time you started. Is there any particular destination that made you feel “at home”? Where did you stay the longest?
After so much time in countries other than the one I was born in, I feel pretty “at home” everywhere. Korea was actually my home for five years. China was nice because I had a year-long visa and was able to put in the time and effort to learn the language, which always leads to an easier, deeper, better travel experience. India and Nepal, where I’ve spent nearly a year and a half, are also pretty special in this regard – though in this case because so many of the locals speak my language, rather than that I’ve learned theirs. But everywhere else, too, Couchsurfing hosts, churches, temples, friends of friends, and random individuals open up their doors to me and invite me in for a meal or a rest, language barrier or not.
Plus, my bike is my home! I don’t own anything aside from it and the 25kg of luggage I’m using it to carry. It’s got my tent, my clothes, my electronics, and my journal. All of it is always with me, so home is anywhere I park myself for the night.
DP: What’s next? Do you have your next destinations in mind?
Well, I was planning on returning to Sadhana Forest, a reforestation project in South India , and staying for a year as a long-term volunteer. They do really great work planting trees and introducing travelers to a very eco-conscious way of life – living in simple huts, cooking vegan meals, using only solar power, composting and recycling food waste, recycling just about everything. I want to give at least a year of my life to supporting them.
However, at the moment, those plans are on the back burner. I’m letting someone else take the lead for a little while. It’s a different kind of adventure.
DP: What advice do you have for new travelers?
Get out of your comfort zone.
You don’t need hot showers, cushy beds, or banana pancakes to be happy. Try to adapt yourself to local life as it is rather than searching out things that are similar to what you’ve got at home. Opt for small homestays rather than hotels. Volunteer. Do as much independently as you can, rather than letting travel agencies take the reins. Be honest with yourself about what you enjoy and are interested in! It’s ok not to care too much about those famous “sights,” which only make up only a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of what there is to experience out there. Get a bicycle and go!
DP: You’ve named your journey the “Three Rule Ride.” Can you explain what that means?
Yeah. I feel that it’s important not only to be kind to all the people that I interact with directly, but to do what I can not to damage their environments or future wellbeing by any of my actions. So, I’ve given myself three rules to abide by while traveling (though I lived by them in Korea and in the USA as well).
First is “No Gas,” meaning that I try to do as much of my moving by bicycle as possible and minimize my use of fossil fuels.
Second is “No Meat” – I stick to a vegetarian or vegan diet everywhere it’s possible, both for the good of animals and of the environment.
Third, “No Trash.”
Few of the countries I’ve passed through (including my own) have really satisfactory ways of dealing with all their trash, usually just dumping it on the side of the road or burning it out in the open. Knowing that this is the case, I decided several years ago not to buy bottled drinks (including water), not to buy snacks in plastic wrappers, to repair stuff rather than replace it, and in general to reduce the amount of waste I generate as much as possible.
It might sound strict, but actually I think following these rules has in many ways increased the quality of my experiences. I wind up learning more of local languages in order to search out exactly what I’m looking for, going out of my way to find vegetarian restaurants, and wandering deep into local markets in search of that one guy with wholesale peanuts. It’s not as convenient as just popping by the nearest convenience store, but it’s a lot more rewarding.
Meeting Mike tremendously inspired San and me in many ways. We love how he is not in a hurry to check off destinations off any list. He takes things slow, spends times with the locals, learns about the culture and tries to help others as much as possible.
He cares about the environment and volunteers wherever possible to make a difference. We met him at a time when we had just quit meat but were on the verge of falling off the wagon. However, listening to his reasons to be a vegetarian made us more determined. We hope his story inspires you too!
Did you enjoy reading how Mike is traveling the world on a bicycle? If yes, you will LOVE to read how Piya created GOTG Club and travels the world!
A hippie travel writer with flowers in her hair, Sonal Kwatra Paladini should have been born in the 1960s! Bitten by the infamous travel bug, she has an itch to explore resort-free destinations, offbeat islands and small villages. Join her and her husband (Sandro) on their journey as they hop from one music festival to another and explore the beautiful world that they are in love with! Follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.