When I left home I was convinced that cycling around the world would be a dangerous undertaking. I hid all my valuables and carried a knife in my handlebar bag so that I would be ready when someone tried to rob me. Surprise, surprise – nobody ever did. I’m sure that cycling in circles around London for two years would be more dangerous than riding around the world.
That said, there are plenty of things that can go wrong. Here are some thoughts on general safety…
Sadly, it does happen. If somebody holds a gun up to your head there’s not very much you can do about it apart from coughing up all you have. If you do get robbed it’s far more likely that someone will slip a sneaky hand into your bag when you’re not looking, rather than mug you in a confrontation. Always keep your valuables at hand and in sigh – never leave them unattended. Keep them in your handlebar bag and clip that off when you need to leave your bike.
If you travelling on a bicycle you probably don’t look very rich but in plenty of countries you’ll be considered a millionaire just because you are foreign. Waving around a fancy phone and wads of cash won’t help you look like anything other than a walking ATM.
Don’t put all your money in one place. I usually separate it across 3 stashes – some in my money belt, some hidden in the lining of my handlebar bag and the rest somewhere else secret. A personal favourite is inside the actual handlebars. I also carried a large US bill in a pill fob around my neck for the first 18 months until I lost that. Whoops…
I always carry an emergency stash in the local currency and USD. When I run low on money I take more out rather than tapping into my emergency money. That way should you get nicked, or can’t find a working ATM (which often happens in some parts of the world) you always have a little left.
In the same way that you shouldn’t put all your money in own place, you should not put all your money in one card. Take two and leave one hidden away.
Most of the time I don’t carry much cash but it wasn’t possible to use ATMs in Iran, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan when I was there so I had to carry an uncomfortable amount of dollars across the countries.
I keep my smart phone hidden in the lining of my handlebar bag. That way when people asked to see my phone (which often happened in the Middle East/Central Asia) I’d just show them my old Nokia brick-phone and they’d look very unimpressed. That phone is not just a decoy – I have my old UK sim in it and have the phone as an extra in case of emergency.
If you don’t want your bicycle to get stolen then lock it up! I grew up in London where people nick bikes for fun. As a result I don’t take any chances. I carry a D-lock and a cable too so that I can leave the bike and both wheels locked. If someone wants to pinch the bags then so be it but I rarely leave my bicycle unattended for a long time.
Often when I’m camping I lock my bike to the tent. I doubt it has ever been necessary but I do it for peace of mind when I go to sleep. I also cover the bike with a waterproof bike parka so you can’t really see what it is unless you are right up close. I have heard stories of Mongolian horsemen stealing cyclists’ bikes from outside tents and riding off across the steppe in the middle of the night…
I am a bad person to ask about this. My first aid kit consists of a couple of plasters, a packet of painkillers, some imodium pills and an inhaler. I never took any malaria medication, have had no vaccinations and have no travel insurance.
You are unlikely to get anything worse than food poisoning. Be warned, you will get food poisoning. You will eat anything you see without worry until one day you will get sick. After that you will suspiciously eye everything offered to you.
Guide books often warn you against stuff like ice cubes and salads in ‘developing’ countries. My advice would be to eat and drink as the locals do. Your system will toughen up. It is better to get a little sick once in a blue moon than spend months cautiously considering everything you place in your mouth and offending people by rejecting the food they are offering.
It’s hard to monitor where the bacteria come from on food. With water it’s a little easier to filter stuff. Don’t buy bottles all the time – they may be cheap but they’ll add up very quickly. Just get a decent filter and get water where the locals do.
In much of the world people have no idea how to drive. They just get in their car, drive as fast as they can, beep their horn as much as possible and just hope to make it home alive. Unfortunately you have to share the road with these people. This is why you will avoid main roads wherever possible…
I’ve never had one that works properly, but consider getting a good rear-view mirror. They make a huge difference as it is harder looking over your shoulder and keeping balance on a touring bike than one with no added weight.
Different countries have different problems on the road: Chinese manic car drivers, Indonesian motorbikers and Australian road trains…. Keep your wits about you!
The world is becoming more connected by the day. Cycling around the world is technologically very different to what it was a decade ago. Internet cafes are dying as WiFi becomes more readily available and the planet is syncing up with smart phones. In most of the world it is possible to get a SIM card with data (for cheap) that will connect you with home. It may not work outside of towns but will still be the most convenient way of sending message back home.
If you are going anywhere very remote you may wish to carry a tracker like this SPOT one. Again, it’s not something I carry but something you or your family may find re-assuring as you can send a GPS location at the end of every day (also useful for mapping your route).
I was more scared of dogs that anything else on this trip. I’d already encountered aggressive canines in Eastern Europe and rural Turkey and other cyclists’ stories made me very nervous about them.
In certain countries the dogs are a real menace and they will bite you. You will hear very different advice on dealing with chasing dogs, from squirting water at them to pepper spray. Let me tell you how to deal with them:
Firstly, stop! Dogs are fast. There is something about moving bicycles that makes them go mad. If one snaps your ankle while you are zooming along there’s a good chance you could lose balance.
Show them who’s boss. Shout short sharp words at them and act more aggressive than they. Most dogs in the world get rocks thrown at them and they will understand the gesture of you reaching down to pick up a stone and throwing it. You don’t even need to do it for real most of the time. By making noise you’ll often alert the owner who will control the dogs for you. Then you can tell the owner something rude about their dogs and pedal off again…
(The rocks work on angry monkeys too!)
Cycling solo around the world is certainly not dangerous as a female but obviously you will encounter troubles in other departments to us lads. There are a lot of perverts in the world and they are almost entirely male. I have met many women cycling the world and most of them have a dodgy story in this department. None of them ‘terrible’, but uncomfortable nonetheless – sly grope, inappropriate remarks, dudes tossing themselves off at the side of the road (really don’t get that one but it happens a lot!). It’s strange to note that the Muslim areas that I feel like I’m treated the best as a foreign guest are usually the places I hear the most horror stories from solo women. Consider putting on a wedding ring for the countries where people won’t be able to get their head around the fact that you could be ‘let free’ without a husband.
There are many amazing girls cycling the world (see WOW) but a little more caution should be exercised in some situations like, for example, don’t stay in a random bloke’s house unless he is there with his family.