FAQs, tips and tricks to help you plan your bicycle ride around the world.
Here are some short answers to frequently asked questions about how to ride a bicycle around the world. You’ll find links to longer answers. And, my book, Falling Uphill, also answers questions in even more detail, but these are more like stories to make you feel as if you are actually the one riding a bicycle around the world. The answers below are the cut-and-dry version. These are also good conversation starters for schools and book clubs.
Where are you from?
These FAQs are a summary of the young adult edition of Falling Uphill. The print edition has fun stories to illustrate each question. It is easy to read and comes with photos, a teacher’s guide and classroom activities to help students turn their dreams into reality.
This may not seem like an important question when planning your trip, but it is one of the first things people you meet will want to know. Where you are from and the culture you are born into will also subconsciously frame your trip. One of the benefits of travel is that you will begin to see a lot of your beliefs are just artificial filters. For the record, I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, Planet Earth, Sol System, Milky Way Galaxy, the Known Universe, and have called various places home. Now I consider myself a citizen of the world because we are all in this together. The world is a small place — small enough to ride a bicycle around!
Who are you?
Again another innocuous question when planning your trip, but one you will be both asked and asking yourself. To many people, you will be a remodel. If you are not careful, people will put you on a pedestal, thinking you have some special characteristic to do this heroic feat of riding a bicycle around the world. As for my answer, I always told people that riding a bicycle around the world was my dream and that they would be equally good at whatever they choose to do. I liked to ask them, “If you could do anything, what would you do?” More about me.
Why did you ride your bicycle around the world?
Essentially, I decided to find the meaning of life or die trying, because my life seemed meaningless, and I figured if there was rhyme or reason to the universe, I would find it. For a longer explanation, see the introduction to my trip around the world by bicycle.
Why did you travel by bicycle?
Simply because I love riding a bicycle. I feel as if I am flying through the world and truly a part of all the sights, sounds and smells. However, I had never heard of anyone traveling the world by bike. In fact, for several years I thought I was the only one to attempt such a thing. Keep in mind this was back in the early ’90s. The internet was still in its infancy, blogs didn’t exist and searches never showed any results for something like “how to ride a bike around the world.” Also, I lived in the United States, where riding a bike isn’t a normal activity, and traveling by bicycle was unheard of to the average person. So, I began because I wanted to do something never done before, and I wanted to contribute something lasting to humanity. People often ask: Did you break a world record? It turns out that it has been done, but I estimate that I was among the first 150 people to have accomplished riding around the world. To put that in perspective, it is much rarer than climbing Mt Everest and even less than the number of humans that have been to outer space. Now, this form of travel is often called “bikepacking”.
How do you ride a bicycle around the world?
A bicycle ride around the world begins with a single pedal stroke. After that, my journey was essentially day to day, mile by mile, one pedal stroke at a time, one heartbeat at a time. More specific info on how to ride a bicycle around the world.
Where did you go?
I cycled every inch to meet my goal of circumnavigating the globe under my own steam. (The equatorial circumference of the planet is 40,077 KM.) And, that’s not including my 10,609-kilometer warm-up ride across the USA from border to border and coast to coast, or the trips afterward to relearn my own country. View the map. Or, view the list of countries.
How did you plan your trip?
Primarily I followed the weather and the wind. Crossing the equator at times; the seasons are in opposition, for example from fall in Argentina to spring in England. And I left my schedule rather open-ended to account for fate and chance. I also simply asked the locals for advice. An interesting fact about cycling: it is possible to follow good weather all around the world only at the speed of a bicycle — walking is too slow and cars are too fast. Read the summary on weather.
How much does it cost to travel the world?
I averaged about $25 USD per day, including airfare, equipment, and enough money to visit the local attractions and have some fun. It was possible to tour for as little as 3 dollars per day if I bush camped, cooked my own food (or restaurants in undeveloped countries), filtered my own drinking water, and washed my laundry by hand. Unless I was near a city, which was seldom, this is what I had to do. View the detailed expense report and the pre-trip estimate.
How did you afford it?
Basically, I worked all the time and never spent my money on anything that I didn’t really need to survive, i.e. no music or movies or fancy cars, no wining and dining. I brought a bag lunch to work every day. And, I invested my money.
Did you work along the way?
No. I considered riding my bike a full-time job. Besides, my goal was to see the world. So, I saved my money beforehand.
Were you alone?
About half the time. I spent the first 15 months cycling with Dennis Snader, who called my bluff to cycle around the world. In Europe, Dennis decided he found what he was looking for and went home.
Do you have any advice?
What is the biggest mistake you see travelers make?
At the risk of sounding judgmental, the biggest mistake I frequently see travelers make is being judgmental or defensive. I especially disliked seeing other Americans saying they were from Canada. I realize we live in a politically charged climate, but that won’t change unless we are honest about who we are and how we can improve. So I recommend rather than defending yourself or your country, and rather than trying to prove your point, just listen and ask questions about why people think what they think. Try to understand who they are first before ever explaining who you are. In fact, to encourage people to speak I avoided mentioning my trip or under-exaggerated it so that the entire conversation didn’t result in how and why to ride a bicycle around the world.
Do you have any idols/heroes?
I admire many people for many things. I especially love people who live life with a sense of passion and confidence. I don’t like to idolize anyone though, and it makes me uncomfortable when people place me on a pedestal as one of the world’s great cyclists, which sounds silly but it does happen. After all, idols are meant to be broken and I think we can all have our moment on the pedestal in the sun. However, I do think I have an important story to tell because we are all on a journey through life. I hope that people learn from my experience (and mistakes) and use that to jumpstart their own lives.
Were you ever sick?
Acute salmonella intestinitis, giardia, Montezuma’s Revenge over and over again, dengue fever, boils, strep throat, conjunctivitis, irritable bowel syndrome, prickly heat rash, plus every other little thing you’d probably not care to imagine. View the summary on health and safety.
What did you bring with you?
I carried over 200 items, and I still can’t figure out how. View the bicycle touring supply list.
What was your favorite…?
Specifically: I often cite climbing Mt Everest and earning, not just the physical achievement, but learning how it was really the emotional sense of pride that was my prize. However, I can say without exaggeration that every experience is worthwhile; the challenge is learning how to see the best in everything. That sounded cliché, but the truth is that most of the time riding a bicycle can be a painful, lonely and boring experience, and you will certainly see some of the worst things that humanity has to offer, so one must train themselves to see the positive, even if that positive is just a learning experience. View the Top 10 List of best and worst places in the world. Top 10 favorite foods. And more top 10 lists.
What kind of bike did you ride?
Basically, a very strong and durable steel mountain bike (steel can be welded by any auto mechanic or farmer) with downhill racing rims and Kevlar tires. Read more about my bike with a cool slideshow and neat captions.
How many flat tires (punctures) did you get?
How many tires did you wear out?
About 10 sets. In South America, I had to use a local brand, and they would explode about once a week from the weight of all my gear. Plus, I wore out my gears 4 times, wore through four rims, 12 chains, 4 seats, and more.
Did you have any major breakdowns?
6 broken spokes, 9 welds, 2 snapped chains, 1 mangled derailleur, 2 broken seats, 1 snapped rear cog set, two broken racks (Blackburn aluminum racks are crap), and many minor breakdowns, like bolts falling out due to the vibration. (I do maintenance and replace worn parts regularly.)
How do you ride a bike across the oceans?
I put extra air in the tires.
How many miles or kilometers did you average?
My goal was 80 kilometers (50 miles) per day. The furthest I rode was 187 kilometers in about 6 hours. On the contrary, I’ve done as few as 35 kilometers in seven hours of pedaling not including breaks, and one day I did less than 10 and most of that was walking my bike through mud.
How long does it take to bicycle around the world?
It took me 4 years, 500 days of continuous bicycling plus pitstops and sightseeing. You could do it in about 2 years if you feel like it is a race.
How much weight did you lose?
I lost 65 pounds of fat and gained 15 pounds of muscle. Those pounds really melted off after eating a salmonella sandwich in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and cycling over the Andes Mountains on nothing but bananas and Coca-Cola. Read more about Scott’s dramatic change.
Didn’t you get tired?
Yes! Both mentally and physically. I rested about 2 out of 7 days plus vacations. Now, my body is a bit worn out and I’ve reached the point of diminishing returns as far as bicycling is concerned.
Did you ever get in an accident? Or, were you ever injured?
Ironically my worst accident happened while riding my bicycle to work in San Francisco as part of my training for the world tour. I was run over by a pink-haired hippy. The Bionic Scott.
What’s the worst thing that happened to you?
Some teenagers were trying to frighten me and lost control of their scooter and ran into me head-on and injured me severely and destroyed a lot of my gear. A close second was spending a day in Zimbabwe prison.
What’s the best thing that happened to you?
It’s more difficult to quantify this than the worst thing. I feel it was the cumulative effect of all the people I met along the way.
Were you ever injured?
Facet syndrome, dislocated wrist, bruised tailbone, sprained knees, heat exhaustion, sunburn, hyper-extended elbow, saddle sores, nappy rash, broken heart, and every other little thing you can imagine.
What did your family think?
Like most people, they thought I was crazy. More >>>
What was the most difficult aspect of bicycling?
For most people, I think finding their dream is the most difficult, followed by committing to doing it. For me, my greatest difficulty was my personal battle with depression being amplified during the moments of bad weather and extreme loneliness. I also struggled in the cold weather much more than the hot. And the headwinds, those damn headwinds! And the aches and pains of over-exerting myself and malnutrition.
How many times did you crash?
Dozens of times. Almost all were very minor. A couple of crashes took some time to recover, but nothing that one doesn’t expect doing this kind of thing.
Did you ever cry?
What did you eat?
3 times whatever the locals eat. Read Scott’s All-you-can-eat Diet.
Is it safe?
Safer and friendlier than riding a bike in America. As you travel people will tell you where to go and where not to go. It’s that simple. Not much planning is needed. In general, it’s the big cities that are unsafe. The rest is more a matter of preference. You’re biggest safety issue will be avoiding collisions, but that is just the nature of the beast of bicycling, and most countries have more respect for bicycles than Americans. Along with that, you’ll want to take the usual health precautions and stay clean.
Were you ever robbed?
Yes. I was held at gunpoint (one main with a revolver and another with a sawed-off shotgun in Antigua, Guatemala. I’ve also been burgled many times, conned and blackmailed.
What did they steal?
The robbers took my brother’s tape recorder, which I dropped on the ground when I ran away. The burglars usually take little stuff, as if I won’t notice it, like: food, toothbrush, lighter, and water bottles.
How much water did you drink per day?
I averaged about 8 liters up to 25 liters per day in the Australian Outback.
Did you ever have trouble with animals?
Dogs chasing me. Mice, opossums, raccoons, crows, cockroaches, and monkeys stealing food. Wild boar, dingoes, wallabies, jackals, etc. prowling around my tent all night. Nearly trampled by a herd of wild elephants (twice). Stung by a scorpion in my bed. Annoyed by flies, mosquitoes and gnats; they’re the worst. Generally speaking, there is a shortage of wild animals in the world and too many people.
What was the most dangerous animal that gave you trouble?
Did you do any training?
I had six surgical operations to get ready: knee surgery, eye surgery, and skin surgery four times. Plus, physical therapy, chiropractics, vaccinations and some weight training.
What is your job?
I used to be a graphic designer. Then I rode a bike. Now I am a graphic designer again.
How old were you?
I spent 4 years traveling around the world, from 31 to 34 years of age. Plus year 27 crossing America on my warm-up tour.
Did you work along the way?
Sometimes, I stopped to help people plant food, build roads, fix cars, etc. but not for money.
Did you ride for a charity?
No, I bicycle for myself. My goals were spiritual ones.
Did you have sponsors?
No, it is easier to earn the money myself. Besides I don’t want to answer to anyone.
Are you married?
No. I didn’t have a girlfriend, wife or children. It wouldn’t have been fair to leave them.
Would you do it again?
I haven’t decided yet.
How did it feel to return home?
This is a big question. But basically extreme culture shock. I finally saw my own country with the objectivity of a foreigner, including all the good and bad. I didn’t feel I had a place to stand anymore in this culture that is materialistic and lacks community and offers happiness in a bottle at every turn.
What did you learn?
The longer answer is that I finally did discover the meaning of life and happiness. In part, I learned that I create my own life and am responsible for my own emotions. On a deeper level, I discovered that we are all the same. That sounds cliché until you have the experience. An excerpt from my book describing my greatest discovery:
“One mystery was that everywhere I went, sometimes dozens of times per day, people asked me the same questions. Most had never read a newspaper or watched television; some had never seen a foreigner, heard of America, or even knew in which country they lived. It was a fascinating mystery. How could all these people (regardless of age, race, gender, culture, or any other factor) be asking the same questions in the same order? Then serendipity smiled and I realized that it was a key to human nature. People everywhere are fundamentally the same: we all have fears and doubts, and we all have hopes and dreams. The questions people asked me were evidence that we are all on a similar journey: traveling a path from struggle and survival, learning to befriend our fears, through a quest for meaning and happiness, and ultimately seeking peace and enlightenment”.
How do I ride a bicycle around the world?
There’s a lot of wisdom in the statement: Just do it! Of course, I recommend reading my book Falling Uphill to get the flavor of one journey; your journey will be very different. Mine was about the inner journey, not the bike, so anyone may enjoy it. There are more books and advice here for those preparing their own travel or expedition.
If you did it again, what would you change?
Go slower. Enjoy the moment more. Meaning to really internalize the cliche: “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Spend longer periods of time in small communities to really get to know the culture. For the most part, I wish I had less angst and spent the time to create more meaning in my life and other people’s lives, rather than thinking there was some exterior solution (meaning to life) that would make me happy. I also wished I had documented the trip better: more photos, more emails and newsletters, and I wish had brought a video camera. On the other hand, if I didn’t have the angst and the soul-searching drive, I probably would have been content to stay home.
Do you plan to write a book about bicycling around the world?
I already did! Falling Uphill is a best-selling, award-winning account of my journey around the world!
One man’s quest for happiness around the world on a bicycle
If you really want to know what makes Scott tick, Falling Uphill is his magnum opus, the best-selling, award-winning book about his 4-year journey searching for the meaning of life (as featured in the New York Times), including many harrowing adventures, like being thrown in prison, mugged at gunpoint, nearly dying of dehydration, and equally as many heartwarming moments. More info.
Are you going to make a movie about bicycling around the world?
Lots of people ask this, and a few people in the business have expressed interest. I’d love to do a documentary full-length feature production. (I’ve read several books on screenplay writing to get ready, like Screenplay by Syd Field and Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman.) I imagine the cinematography of a lone figure riding through the natural wonders of the world would be amazing. For now, I only have this short film, which has been featured in many places.
What are you going to do next?
What’s bigger and better than riding a bicycle around the world? Almost everyone I meet asks me some variation of the question: “What are you going to do now? What’s bigger and better than riding a bicycle around the world?” If you want the full story, including the inspirational answer to what really comes after a monumental experience of a lifetime — you’ll have to buy the book :)
BTW! Just because I finished cycling around the world, lived my dream, and had the adventure of a lifetime, doesn’t mean life is over. In fact, why not get a new dream and have another adventure of a lifetime?
What are you doing now?
I still love to ride my bike, but now my garden also fulfills the purpose of communing with the world. For the latest update, please read “Scott’s Adventures” in the Argo News.