In late 2015, we made the decision to quit our jobs, leave home and travel indefinitely by bicycle. Here is our story.
Phase 1: The Idea
Conceived at the tail end of a 14-hour drive down USA’s west coast, the idea, at least at first, seemed crazy. At the conclusion of our residential lease term, we would leave California and travel the world. Here are a few reasons why:
We love to travel. Our earth is a beautiful and diverse place; we want to learn and experience as much of it as possible!
To move, to breathe, to fly, to float, to roam the roads of lands remote, to travel is to live.”
–Hans Christian Andersen
We are young (and so are you)! We are choosing to “do something crazy” while our knees still work and while we have no dependents. (That being said, Cat is conspiring to adopt a kitten while we are on the road.)
We love being outside. Something about spending most of our daylight hours indoors in front of a computer screen just didn’t seem right. Plus, two day weekends are too short!
Debt can wait. Student loans, mortgages, car payments… for many of us, debt is a necessary evil. Postponing our dream of long-term travel in order to chip away at debt, while certainly “responsible”, was not the right decision for us.
TIP: Of course, we advocate taking some time to arrange finances before setting sail on your adventure – talk to your creditors about finding a repayment option that can accommodate travel.
Why not? ¯_(ツ)_/¯ We live in the age of airplanes and the internet. It’s never been easier (or safer) to have an adventure. Home will always be waiting!
WE’RE TRAVELING: ✓
This early on, we knew almost nothing about bicycle touring. The concept was first introduced to us while backpacking in the mountains of northern Vietnam (our last overseas adventure). There, we befriended an Aussie who enlightened us to the possibility of long-term travel via bicycle. He had toured through Europe and Tasmania, and according to him, there is no better way to experience a place than by bicycle.
With that in mind, Kale began preliminary tour-bike-blog-surfing and casually hinting at the idea. True to her name, Cat was a little more of a Fraidy-Cat at first, but after doing some research, we agreed that traveling by bicycle would give us nomadic freedom and an unforgettable adventure — no matter where we were.
METHOD OF TRAVEL: ✓
Phase 2: The Plan
We began researching destinations and constructing potential game-plans. Almost immediately our attention turned to our finances — regardless of where we decided to go, we would need funds to get there. Let the vigorous saving begin! For us, this meant less bar tabs, more beer on the couch; less fine dining, more home-cooked meals. We filled our weekends with nature, art, and video games — good, cheap fun.
We also applied for new credit cards. The imminent purchase of touring bicycles and gear meant getting ready to spend a chunk of cash. By targeting those credit cards which provided bonus points for high levels of initial spending, we were able to earn major points — these would come in handy when purchasing our plane tickets.
TIP: We ended up getting the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Barclays World Elite cards (big thanks to our former roommate, Max, for always fielding our credit card questions). Both cards are great for travelers (see here and here), and they met our needs in terms of sign-up bonus offerings.
Moving forward, Plan A is to finance our tour with our savings.
If When these run out, we are ready to initiate Plan B and find work to keep the trip going. Teaching English, working in a hostel, or providing services as an independent contractor (in our previous lives, Kale was a corporate attorney and Cat a digital marketer) are all viable options.
No longer distracted by finances, we could now focus on our destination. Neither of us had been to South America before, so narrowing our starting location to the continent was easy. But that’s where the easy decisions stopped. How could we choose between Chile and Colombia? Between Argentina and Peru? Ay dios mio! The entire continent seemed ripe for exploration. To help decide, we made a list of what we were looking for in a destination: a temperate climate, proximity to Patagonia (we’d like to make it down there at some point on the trip), a low-ish crime rate, ample coastline (fewer hills to climb)… and voi la! We found Uruguay… although, we like to say that Uruguay found us 🙂
Some Background on Uruguay:
On paper, Uruguay is impressive. It boasts a socially progressive populace, hundreds of miles of coastline, bohemian beach towns, fertile agricultural lands, and over 600 species of birds (Kale sort of has a thing for birds – see our photo galleries for evidence). Winners of 20 international soccer football titles, including the FIFA World Cup in 1930 (as hosts) and 1950, and with a population of only 3.42 million, Uruguay is arguably the best footballing nation on earth.
The nation is the homeland of:
- Barcelona striker Luis Suarez (pictured above, middle), top scorer during the club’s triumphant 2015-2016 La Liga campaign and the most infamous biter in sports since Mike Tyson;
- Diego Forlan (pictured above, right), top goal scorer at the 2010 FIFA World Cup and voted most luscious head of hair in football; and
- Jose Mujica (pictured above, left), a former urban guerrilla fighter, who, after being imprisoned by the military dictatorship that ruled the nation from 1973-1985, began a political career which would culminate in his election to the office of president, a position he held from 2010 until his term expired in 2015. While in office, the Señor Mujica was described as “the world’s ‘humblest’ president” due to his austere lifestyle and his donation of around 90 percent of his $12,000 monthly salary to charities that benefit poor people and small entrepreneurs.
Beyond riding bikes as children, neither of us had any substantive bicycle knowledge… Seriously, we
are were are total n00bs. Thankfully, it seems that most people who work in bike shops are super friendly — and even though they chuckled at our dumb questions, they were excited to hear about the tour and happy to provide helpful advice.
The folks at Palo Alto Bicycles really took care of us when we walked in one day with no gear, no knowledge, and told them “we’d like two Surly Long Haul Truckers fully loaded for a tour, please!” (we’d done some research online and were fairly certain that the Long Haul Truckers were the steeds for us). We left the shop on our new bikes and, since our roommate challenged us to it, rode them the 12 miles home (after a few laps around the parking lot). Our first ride!
By May 2016, having purchased bikes and some gear, we had accumulated enough credit card points to cover most of our one-way plane tickets from Los Angeles to Montevideo (Uruguay’s capital and largest city). After a glance at Uruguayan weather trends, we set our departure date for early October (hopefully early enough to catch the spring bloom and late enough to avoid the winter).
PLANE TICKETS: ✓
With our flights booked, we could focus on acquiring the rest of our gear and (perhaps) begin training for the tour.
Phase 3: The Preparation
The house we rented while living in Belmont, California sat on a hill. This provided for amazing views of the San Francisco Bay…
…and a dreadfully difficult last half mile to any bike ride. We called the route The Hill. Our training philosophy went something like this:
Bike The Hill every day after work and one long ride on the weekend Bike The Hill when it’s still light outside when we get home from work or when it’s not ridiculously windy and one long ride on the weekend Bike The Hill on weekends when we don’t have time for a long ride
- Bike “The Hill” — or anywhere — when we can
Oops. Our training didn’t go as planned. But, we were able to squeeze in a few awesome rides and lots of great hikes (Northern California is a hiker’s paradise). Not sure if we’d call this “adequate training” for an international bike tour — we’ll get back to you on that. For now, fingers crossed.
So, we didn’t really train. We did, however, attempt to train our brains in the area of bicycle mechanics. In hopes of remedying the fact we were essentially bike-illiterate, we:
- Talked to people at bike shops and others with knowledge of bike mechanics.
- Watched a lot of Youtube instructional videos.
- Attended workshops hosted by outdoor gear retailer REI on changing tires and understanding the components of a bike.
- Disassembled and reassembled Cat’s bicycle. Given that we would need to disassemble and box the bicycles for our flight to Uruguay (then reassemble upon arrival), we decided to do a practice run. We picked up an empty bike box from a local bike shop and with Youtube as our guide, we successfully took a bike apart, packaged each individual part, and fit all the parts within a box.
KNOW YOUR BIKE: ✓
As first-time tourers, we were a little overwhelmed at the prospect of acquiring all the necessary gear/equipment.
TIP: If you can get your hands on it, grab a packing/gear list from someone who’s toured before (our use ours). Having something to start with and to base your own list on is a great idea.
To start with, we received a packing list from a colleague of Kale who had a few tours under her belt (thanks, Libby!). Using this list and others we found on tourbiking blogs, we crafted our own list.
To avoid an instant dent in our wallets, we spread out our purchases over about six months. This enabled us to focus on each purchase (we found the reviews at Outdoor Gear Lab very useful).
TIP: Even though we gave ourselves six months, we think it is more than possible to get gear/equipment together for a tour in four weeks or less (assuming you’re starting from scratch) and probably just two weeks if you already have a bike.
For more details on what we took with us (from bikes to clothing), check out our Gear page.
All bikes tours have a starting point and some have a fixed route. Some are flat and some are hilly. Our trip is open-ended and, given this flexibility, we decided to postpone committing to a defined route until we arrive in Uruguay, where we will (hopefully) gather some local knowledge on destinations, roads, and routes. This has made route logistics pretty easy for now!
To help us settle in (and so that we have a comfortable place to reassemble our bikes), we organized accommodation for our first week in Montevideo. We opted to book a room within a house. The hosts are a local Montevidean couple (a musician and a dancer!) and we are hoping to gather as much local knowledge as possible while we are staying with them.
In addition to packing, our last few days in California were spent ensuring we were up to date with immunizations and vaccines, organizing our finances, finalizing our travel/medical insurance, and (nervously) relaxing with family and friends.
LAST MINUTE DETAILS: ✓
And just like that, we’re off to Uruguay! We’re excited to learn more about the culture, ourselves, and (necessarily) tour biking. To us, traveling is worth its weight in gold. It tunes one’s eyes, mind, and heart to those universal norms that comprise the human experience — love, laughter, food, music — and provides ample opportunities for self-reflection and growth. Through this blog, we hope to document and share some of these experiences. We hope you enjoy following along.
Reflecting back on planning for our bicycle tour, we agree that the hardest part was making the decision to just go do it — everything else has (so far) just fallen into place 🙂