i.e. Lessons learned the hard way
Here are my favorite travel tips and tricks that I learned the hard way and wish I had known sooner. For more, see all our Travel resources, tips & tricks, including bicycling FAQ.
Scott’s top 12 travel tips:
- Just do it! If you choose to bicycle tour, get on a bike and go. You’ll figure it out fast.
- Enjoy the ride. This may sound cliché, but I was surprised by how many people complained. Travel is not easy, but if you choose to do it, have some fun.
- Go Slow! You are not on “the amazing race” around the world. Spend more time living with the locals, say a week or two or even several months with a family off the beaten path.
- Learn the basics of the culture. What are taboo subjects and actions? What morals would you adopt?
- Learn the basic words of the native language, such as: excuse me, please, thank you, how much, where, left, right…
- Take more photos and videos than you’d ever think you’d need.
- Make lots of notes and trip updates for your friends.
- Drink lots of water. I recommend adding some fresh lemon or lime juice to keep you hydrated. They are full of natural electrolytes.
- Bring a wide-brimmed hat for the sun, and use organic (no petrochemicals) sunscreen.
- Bring an open mind.
- Leave a place better than you found it.
- Remember you are not the only one on this adventure. Everyone you meet may be just as excited to explore your life.
- One of my best travel tips is to always eat at the restaurant with the longest line of locals (not tourists). You’ll get the best food and avoid getting sick from old food or unsanitary conditions.
The Zen of bicycling:
- If you are carrying your bicycle, is it a bicycle or a backpack? You’ll discover multiple uses for many things.
- Innertubes: Make your own bungee cords out of braided innertubes and wire hooks made from wire found or bought. Innertubes also make very grippy handlebar tape, great rubber bands, and elastic ropes that won’t stretch out in the rain, such as staking out your tent in a storm.
- Soda bottles: Obviously they are great for carrying water. Plus they are disposable if they get moldy. They also make good containers for rice, sugar, instant coffee. And they can be used as a boot for damaged tires. And you can cut them in half to make a dish or cup…
- Hammer in tent stakes with bicycle cleats,
- Air clothes on the bicycle laundry rack.
- This one bears repeating: Drink lots of water. I recommend adding some fresh lemon or lime juice to keep you hydrated. They are full of natural electrolytes.
- Tired of drinking warm water? Try putting your water bottle inside a wet sock so that the wind will cool it as you ride.
- As a rule of thumb, I carried one liter of water per hour or per estimated 10 kilometers of hard road.
- Use your water filter as a siphon. This saves a lot of work and your ceramic filters will last longer. Pictured here
- For money tips and tricks, go here >>>
- Buckle backpack to the table so that thieves can’t snatch and run.
- Hide money in seat post, shoe, hotel room or even bury it near your tent. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
- Zip tie panniers to racks so no one can walk away with them.
- Wrap your valuables in plastic bags. By the time it starts raining, it may be too late.
- Boil rags to kill bacteria and stay clean. Fungus and infections are very common in tropical climates. You’ll want to scrub yourself clean at the end of the day.
- Do your laundry in the sun. It kills bacteria and fungus. Put a sleeping bag atop your tent to protect it from UV rays while doing your sun laundry.
- Handwash your laundry in your waterproof panniers. Or use panniers like buckets.
- Use sand or mud for removing grease from your hands.
- Scour inside of bottles with rocks to remove mold.
- Scrub dishes clean with sand
- Wrap dishes with newspapers to also polish clean while you ride, and it reduces the clanging.
- Use the oil on your nose to keep lips from chapping and cracking. Bacon grease or butter is even better.
- The super-secret bicyclist trick: when no ones looking, yank the front of shorts around the front of your seat and let the cool breeze dry out your groin and reduce crotch rot.
- The best way to stay warm and dry is to wrap yourself in plastic bags, especially on the feet. It keeps the wind and water off of you. You can even make a poncho out of a large trash bag and duct tape. I always carry a dozen or so grocery bags.
- Newspaper is also a great insulator for cold nights in the sleeping bag, or extra insulation in your homemade poncho. At night, stuff wet shoes with newspaper to soak up the water.
- Duct-tape bandages can work miracles.
- If you suspect that you may have food poisoning drink warm salt water to induce vomiting. Also helpful to prevent food poisoning and parasites, try drinking coca cola with suspicious meals. And for parasites pineapples and tequila work wonders.
- Shield yourself from the sun. Wear a hat and check to see if your clothes have an SPF (sun protection factor). Stand in the shade when possible. Wear quality sunglasses.
- In a pinch, use mud for sunscreen.
- Latitudes closer to the poles have less natural UV protection in the atmosphere. Also, be cautious of the tropics where the sun’s rays are more direct, and deserts with low humidity (less protective atmosphere).
- Be careful where you stand. Roads, snow and salt pans reflect the sun and you burn even faster.
- You can burn even in cloudy and rainy weather.
- Do not bask yourself in oil. This conducts heat and the suns rays.
- Use zinc oxide to reflect the sun rays.
- Avoid sunscreens that use petrol chemicals. This reacts with the UV light and sweat to form carcinogenic compounds. Unfortunately, this includes almost all sunscreens, but some are worse than others.
- Also, avoid skin lotion that uses petrol chemicals for similar reasons.
- Vitamin E is good for your skin
- Use aloe vera before during and after to nutrify skin cells, de-ionizes the sun damage.
- Use ice to cool your skin during the day. If your cells overheat they will explode, which is one of the causes of sunburn.
- Drink lots of water to cool your entire body inside and out.
- Sun damage is unavoidable. Consider it an investment in your future and your joy of the moment.
- Consider scars as records of your life.
- Your body is meant to wear out, but don’t wear it out in one afternoon.
- Do a little bit of maintenance every day
- Best friends are the simplest things: duct tape, plastic ties, nylon robe, rubber bands, plastic bags, super glue.
- Hang your bicycle in a tree for repairs.
- When all else fails, fix flat tires by stuffing with leaves and grass.
- You can repair tents and panniers by stitching it together with thread, applying some rubbery glue (superglue can erode some materials) and applying a duct tape bandage on top.
- So your rubber cement doesn’t dry out, put a little dab inside the cap or along the threads to seal it. Otherwise, the next time you have a flat tire, all your rubber cement might have dried out. Ugh!
- Hang a flag on a pole about 1 foot into traffic so that motorists can see you and give you an extra berth. (If you are the least bit concerned, just get off the road.) You can also make a nice sign out of your flag, such as: “Cycling around the world.”
- The best defense — a smile. The best offense — a smile. By the time you get in real trouble, it is almost always too late to defend yourself.
- Be prepared to be lost! Knowing where you are doesn’t always help you get where you need to be.
- Learn how to read a map. Even if it isn’t printed on the map, you can identify restaurants, motels, services, water sources and even prevailing wind patterns by the patterns of crossroads, borders, mountains and rivers on a map.
- Always ask at least 3 people for directions. Often the best map is the map in people’s minds.
- Try Google Maps for bicycle directions
- Soak rice in a water bottle while riding to reduce cooking time and gas.
- Have an extra pair of zips for your zippers ready to be shipped to you. These will be the first to wear out on your tent.
- Before you begin your journey, soak everything in water to see how much it really weighs.
For more life-saving tips and tricks, see Supplies.
For more bicycle touring tips and tricks, see our Frequently Asked Questions about the world bike tour.