Around the World by Bike: Will Johnston from Carry On Cycling

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Today we’ve got a scorcher of an interview with a guy who very much typifies the phrase “intrepid traveller”. Will Johnston, the enthusiastic face behind Carry on Cycling, is going around the world by bicycle. Having already notched up 30000km plus, Will has dropped my to share a few tips for those looking to do something equally adventurous!

1.Could you briefly introduce yourself, your site and what on earth it’s like to cycle around the globe?

My name is Will Johnston, I’m 23 years old and in March 2012 I left my home in the United Kingdom to cycle around the world.  Against all the odds, and after over 30000km, I’m still going!

My website, Carry on Cycling, was originally intended for my family and friends but has now branched into helping fellow long-distance bike travellers and those keen on starting their own big trip.  I want to tell my story and at the same time offer some cycle touring guidance.

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2. Could you give us a rough breakdown of where you’ve been in the world thus far?

I make a lot of zig-zags so it’s quite difficult to explain in words.  So far, I’ve cycled through 36 countries.  First, I pedalled up and down Scandinavia, then meandered through Eastern Europe to Turkey, where I made a quick detour to Georgia, then cycled across Iraq into Iran.  I travelled through all of the Central Asian countries, over the Pamir Highway, then veered north to cross central Siberia in summer 2013 and dropped down through Mongolia and into China.  The most recent stretch of the trip has seen me ride north to south through China, into Vietnam, then Laos and then Thailand, where I am now.

3.Why did you decide to travel around the world as opposed to focusing on a specific region? What countries are you looking forward to visiting most that you haven’t done so yet?

Over three years looking at Google Maps in my university bedroom there were too many countries and regions to choose from to decide on a particular destination.  I prefered to have the open-ended ’round the world’ trip so that I could zig-zag or change direction at any time.  I also wanted to see how the world changed gradually as I moved eastwards, as opposed to effectively teleporting myself somewhere by aeroplane and starting somewhere completely alien.

I am very excited to visit South Korea, Japan and the USA.  I’m not sure I’ll be able to incorporate the first two into my route (although I’ll try my best – mainly because I want to try to food and meet the cool young people).  I can’t wait for the USA because I have many friends there and wide-open natural spaces are stunning.

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4. What are the most important preparations you need to make when planning on cycling the world?

Most important to realise is that very little preparation is needed.  Once you get going, all the little details fall into place.  A few pointers though.  First, get a reasonable bike.  It doesn’t have to be expensive or flashy (in my opinion it’s better if it isn’t) but it needs to be strong and reliable because there’s nothing more demoralising than breaking down all the time.  For those on a budget, I would thoroughly recommend a second-hand old steel touring bike (mine is a Dawes Galaxy).  Second, have your paperwork in order before you set off.  It’s boring but essential because the government and other offices will start sending emails and calling which can be hard to deal with when on the road.  Have a trusted friend or relative back home who can help you sort these issues out.

5. What should people think about, based on your experiences, most when cycling across the planet?

For themselves, I think would-be round-the-world cyclists should consider carefully the style of trip they want to make.  Are they going to be camping wild, sticking to the lowest budget possible, going slowly or trying to return in time for something, setting out with a mission objective or seeing where the road takes them etc…?  Of course, style can change as the trip goes on, but it’s useful to have thought about this beforehand.

For others, I think round-the-world cyclists should consider the impact they have on the places they travel through.  Always interacting politely and being sensitive to local culture is part of this.

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6. What sites and resources do you use to help prepare for travel of this type? What are they most beneficial for?

Google Maps is my favourite online resource for inspiration and planning.  Bike Route Toaster can be used to find nice secondary roads, give terrain profiles and add waypoints to a GPS.

Travelling Two is my favourite all-purpose cycle touring website.  They are clearly very passionate about bicycle travel, have very good review, location and imaginative advice and even provide a comprehensive eBook for getting started.

I’m also following a number of blogs that started out around the same time as mine.  I’ve made good friends this way: Will Travel Life and Cycling 4 Cancer are good examples of these.  They can be very personal sources of new, interesting travel information.

7.What are the common mistakes people make when planning an around the world travel trip such as yours?

The most common mistake is to worry too much about the planning as though you could make some glaring error which would ruin the whole trip.  Getting out the door is the hardest part, and once you’re out there, you can take everything in your stride.  That said, research, particularly into bureaucratic/visa issues, is important.  I have met many long-distance cyclists who have had to dramatically change their route because they hadn’t realized the area they wanted to cycle through was out of bounds.

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8.How long in advance should you begin to think about this kind of project? What are the first things you need to organize? What things can wait until the last moment?

Cycling around the world doesn’t happen quickly – it’s a big time commitment.  So I think it’s important that anyone wishing to undertake such an adventure feels passionate about it for an extended period of time.  I spent three years at university building up the excitement.  Aside from the motivational aspect, planning doesn’t need to take that long – it all depends on the kind of person you are and your life’s circumstances.  Someone with family dependents, a career etc… will need longer to prepare for a cycling around the world trip than someone like me who had few commitments beforehand.

The bike seems the logical place to start in the planning process.  Then build your equipment around it.  Organize in your head the style of your trip, as I said before.  Will you need a lot of equipment, heavy-duty equipment etc…?  Getting family, financial and government affairs in order need to happen in advance too.

9. What things do you focus on most when you blog about your travels? Why do you choose these things?

I try to present a narrative of my journey combined with posts about significant aspects of the particular place I’m travelling through.  For example, I wrote about the physical conditions and my own emotions while travelling across the heart of the Iranian desert but also released a separate post about religion in the country in general.  As a cyclist, I’m almost constantly hungry, so my blog places due weight on the food of the regions I travel through.

Now in the  ‘guide’ section, I have started writing more for those keen to start their own big trip.  The articles there are based on the numerous questions I receive from interested readers around the world.

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10. If you could think of one thing you wished someone had told you before you started traveling what would it be and why?

Don’t rush.  In fact, a few family members and friends did tell me this beforehand but I wish I had listened to them more carefully.  Time-pressure is a constraint on most, but for those with the luxury of an open-ended trip it makes no sense to rush just for the sake of getting to point B.  Looking back, my greatest regrets are leaving great places just for the sake moving forward.

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