This is part of my new interview series, designed to demonstrate the wildly varied ways we can live, work, and chase our dreams. Please keep in mind that, since these are interviews, the opinions, methods, and websites contained within do not necessarily reflect my own views or experiences. (Which is, in my opinion, part of what makes them wonderful.)
Tell us about you and the adventure you’re on.
I’m currently cycling “around the world,” meaning that I’m on an extended cycling adventure through multiple countries (and continents). I’ve been on the road for 21 months now and plan to spend the next year cycling my way up the Andes before starting the very different more sedentary adventure of making a home on the Oregon coast. I love all things outdoors: camping, climbing, cycling, running, fishing, skiing…You name it. I also love meeting new people, eating spaghetti and pesto, and playing with just about any animal I find.
What made you decide to travel? And why by bike?
I was fortunate enough to travel with my family when I was younger (as my father traveled for work) and at 16 I did a rotary exchange in Belgium, which definitely opened up a lot of travel possibilities to me. Then, when I graduated from high school, I bought a one-way ticket to South America and spent a year backpacking, trekking, and climbing my way through the Andes and, best of all, experiencing life on the road. After a year of living, working, and studying in Bend, Oregon, (a small extremely outdoorsy ski town) I decided I wanted to travel again before finishing university, but I also knew that I wanted something different.
I chose the bike because it allows me to have full independence, to get off the beaten track, to travel cheap, and to live a totally different lifestyle in nature 24/7. Basically travel has always come naturally to me and biking was the perfect way for me to combine my love of travel with a sustainable and outdoorsy lifestyle.
What did you do to prepare for your bike trip? What do you wish you’d done to prepare?
To prepare, I bought a bike and left! I didn’t train and, actually, I hadn’t even ridden my bike fully-loaded before leaning. You really don’t need to prepare for a trip like this as long as you have time to just stop when you are tired and gradually increase your stamina as you go. I prepared my gear by doing research online, which was great since I ended up with high-end stuff that is still working great even after nearly two years of heavy use.
How do you fund your bicycle travels?
I lived very cheap in Oregon and worked as a nanny to fund my trip. I left with about $13,000 in my bank account and still have more than enough to last another year (even after two years of travel). Bicycle travel is very cheap if you cook your own food (or eat local food in cheap countries), sleep in your tent, and do your own thing. You never need to pay for tours when you are on your bike.
What’s the biggest challenge of distance bike travel?
The biggest challenge…That really depends on the country. In India it was the people and the harassment, in Georgia (the country) it was the heat, in Turkey it was the snow, in Patagonia the headwinds, and, here in Argentina, its finding water when we are in really dry areas. We haven’t really had any ongoing challenges, as each country is different and provides a different physical or mental challenge.
What has been the greatest joy?
The greatest joy is cooking dinner at sunset by a beautiful river or lake and then falling asleep under the stars no matter where we happen to be. There are tons of highs and lows while cycle touring. Sometimes a long downhill can be the best part of the day or sometimes it’s jumping into a river after a long hard climb. The only really consistent joy that we have every day is falling asleep under the stars in a tent.
How has the experience changed your life?
The experience has changed my life in innumerable ways. For one, I’m much more aware of women’s rights after experiencing the harsh conditions of India. I’m more worried about waste and consumption and really want to avoid what our society considers the norm on both of those domains once I return home. I appreciate nature a million times more and will continue to enjoy it and everything it offers once we return home. One of the biggest things is also the kindness of strangers. We have been taken in by people off the street, I’ve been invited into homes in every country to share a meal and stay the night, and now I fully appreciate how great humanity can be!
Any tips for people thinking about taking off by bike?
Just do it! Cycling around the world only sounds crazy until you actually do it. It’s simple and once you begin everything falls into place.
How do you choose where to travel? Do you look for established bike routes or map things yourself? What tools do you use?
We usually choose our route based on what other cyclists tell us or just on where we feel like being. We have changed our route dramatically, from pur plan of southeast Asia to Europe and Africa to South America, so who knows where we will end up! That being said, we have realized that our main goal is to cycle the highest and most beautiful mountains and find the best fly fishing and camping along the way.
What’s your favorite place to cycle?
Georgia had been one of our favorite countries. It is beautiful, extremely friendly and hospitable, and easy to cycle. We highly recommend this tiny county to anyone in a heartbeat.
What was your least favorite place for cycling?
India was definitely the most difficult. But though I had many negative experiences that left me with a bad taste in my mouth, I had some of my most positive, as well. Overall, we were least impressed with Nepal.
What’s next for you?
Next up my boy and I want to build a yurt, explore Oregon and North America, and, eventually, start a family and start cycle touring and exploring with them!
You can Shirine, her boy, and her adventures at Wandering Nomads.
Have any of you done a distance bike journey? Where, when, and what did you think?
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Hi. I enjoyed going through the article. I am 48 years of age and I cycled in the year 2012 from everest base camp to kanyakumari, the southernmost point of mainland in India touching Bangladesh & Pakistan borders… A total of 11906 km in 63 days. It is a national record and I became the first person ever to have taken a mountain bike to everest base camp.
Posts like this always got me like, “what am I doing with my life?” Yeah seriously biking all around the world is a lifelong dream, but I just do not know where to start!
If you could please give me advice.. it’s a dream I’d really like to make a reality!
Hi Greg – I recommend visiting Shirine’s website (linked in the post above) and shooting her a message. I’m sure she could point you toward more resources.
I always want to leave everything behind and go on a bicycle travelling trip for a year or so. This post is truly inspiring and thought provoking to me. Thank you!
Really interesting to read about people that live in a different way to myself. I really love cycling but don’t think I could live the same way that Shirine does. Thanks for sharing her story.
Interesting post Shirine. Never thought from this angle. I think its the riding experience that binds us all together and that is why we share our journeys with each other. Yay!! to riding. Cheers.
I haven’t done done a distance bike journey yet. It’s still in my bucket list anyway :(
[…] :: Cycle around the world. […]
Wow, this is so inspiring. It’s great to know that how, with a little determination, $13,000 can last so long.
Cycling around the world is one of my dreams which I have since my early days on the bike. For now, I can only read about other people stories like yours. But hopefully one day I will do it myself.
I just wanted to ask you if you cycled through Armenia which is very close to Georgia. If so what is your opinion about the roads there and the overall feel of the country?
Hi Alek –
I don’t think she keeps track of this old interview. Best to head to her site (link in interview) and send her a note there. :)
I have one question, for a long tour on bicycle what tools are necessary to keep?
Shirine doesn’t track this post (it was just an interview she gave a couple years ago), so I recommend reaching out to her through her website.
Hey Gigi, just checked out Shirine’s website as you suggested and I am amazed! What an inspiration! Bikes are great for travelers and for the environment.