The Questions

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How do you deal with the exposure of sleeping alone in a tent at night?

Helen Lloyd: If you mean exposure from people then, when I camp alone in the wild, I make sure I pitch the tent out of sight from people, houses and the road, and that no-one has seen me. If I don’t find somewhere suitable, I will ask in a village or at a farm (depending on where in the world I am) if there is somewhere safe I can camp. In African villages, the chief is there for your protection and will ensure you are safe and I was never concerned for my safety. If asking at a house or farm and I don’t get a good vibe from the people there, I make my excuses and leave. If it feels right, it will usually be ok.

Eleanor Moseman: Considering that I am the laziest cyclist in the world and will sleep in a ditch next to the road, or under…I gave up caring a long time ago. Also, my tent is orange. In my screwed up head, post 2.5 years…I have a theory that people won’t bother you if you look like you aren’t trying to hide anything. Also, being less than 500m from a road at times…makes it great when a lazy ass has to run to get help from passing traffic. Never happened, but I play it out in my head.

Sarah Outen: Mostly this feels fine but sometimes I freak myself out. So far there have been no real problems – just a curious Chinese man opening the tent door and peering in at six o’clock in the morning and a boisterous Kazakh shaking my tent to wake me up and say good morning. Use your instinct to decide whether it’s best to steer clear of settlements or seek company and a roof over your head or a garden for the night. If steering clear, then hide your tent away from the road, and the same for the bike. I tend to lock my bike and loop a guy rope round the pedal in the hope it would wake me up if someone messed with it. I had a bit of self defence training before I left and it was useful for helping me think about what I would do if anyone attacked me. Most useful thing (rather obvious) is make a lot of noise and fight back. Remember that most people want to look after you rather than harm you.

Amie Thao: I sleep more comfortably when I have permission to pitch my tent, such as in a campsite or someone’s yard, but that happens rarely. I prefer to find a quiet and secluded place and free camp. No problems with people or animals yet, but part of my brain is on alert for danger causing me to wake up several times during the night. Some people suggested that I sleep with a knife for protection, but I am a pacifist with no weapons training. The worse thing that could happen is that the knife is used against me, the second worse thing is that I would attempt to hurt or maim someone. Most likely, if I fell asleep clutching a knife—I would just feel paranoid. For me, the best way to avoid harm is to camp somewhere hidden. If people can’t find you, they can’t hurt you. But in my experience, if they do find you—they will probably give you a cup of tea.

Loretta Henderson: Other then my ovaries keep getting stuck in the tent door things work out ok; I figure no one knows whether there is solo female in the tent or a pair of lunatics as long as I don’t get out of the tent.If I am discovered people are only curious and want to visit.Chewing bubble gum with nomads in Mongolia and giving bicycle rides to Turkana tribal children in northern Kenya outside my tent door are some of my favorite memories.

Emily Chappell: After the first few nervous nights of wild camping I began to feel safer in my tent in the middle of nowhere than I do anywhere else. I actually feel more vulnerable in campsites, and when I’ve got people’s permission to camp on their land, because then people know I’m there, and there’s no saying that even the kindest host won’t get drunk two hours after I’ve fallen asleep and decide to come and bother me. But when I’ve hidden myself away in a forest, or a quarry, or behind a hill, I know it’s very unlikely anyone will come walking past once it’s got dark – they’ll all be at home, having dinner and going to bed. And I tell myself that, if I happened to be walking through the woods at twilight and spotted someone’s tent, I’d probably give them a wide berth, both for their privacy, and because I might be a bit scared myself.

Back to questions

Do you worry about getting stranded without food/water to keep you going?

Helen Lloyd: No. I prefer to carry more food than I really need and there are not many places where water is really a concern, as this can be obtained at any village or stream. It’s only in some desert areas where there are longer distances between villages or farms that you need to work out how much water you need to carry. There have been one or two occasions when I have started to get low on water and been unsure how far to the next village, and I find it hard not to think about how much I have and whether I should ration it or just drink it because I am very thirsty. So now, I prefer to carry too much water than not enough.

Eleanor Moseman: Of course, but my boots are leather so I could eat those. Also, if I’m around civilization, again, wave down traffic. If I’m not around civilization, I can usually find wells, fresh water, or glacier melt. Ain’t no thang!

Sarah Outen: It’s happened a few times that I’ve run out of one or both on a day – for various reasons, but never to the extent that I am going to shrivel and die. Always make sure you buy food and fill up with water wherever there is an opportunity and ask locals about the road ahead and where you can next find more. Be prepared to ration and face a hungry/thirsty day from time to time – it’s an adventure after all!

Amie Thao: Not yet. It is easy to find food and water in Europe.

Loretta Henderson: I have a water bag with back up water that I never drink, it came in handy while crossing the Sahara in Sudan. Right now, I have two cans of tuna fish and instant noodles that live in my panniers. I have run out of food, instant drink mix will keep me going if need be.

Emily Chappell: I worry far too much about this, and there’s no need. When I crossed the Taklamakan Desert I was carrying about 14 litres of water, and only ever used 4 or 5 before I came across somewhere I could get more. And I’m hoarding (ahem) a couple of kilos of ’emergency’ food, that never gets touched, because I’ve never been in a situation I considered an emergency. At some point I will get round to having a clear-out, and I probably won’t miss it.

Back to questions

How do you plan your route, and find your way?

Helen Lloyd: I plan my route simply by deciding which place I want to go to next, looking at a map and choosing the route that looks the most interesting. Sometimes if I am tired, I’ll pick the main, direct route. Other times I’ll choose the smallest, hilliest tracks and most scenic routes. I usually carry a GPS too, but I rarely use it for navigating, except when entering big cities which can be very confusing.

Eleanor Moseman: I choose the smallest roads possible, such as those tiny black lines on Chinese maps. I also use local maps when I can, such as China, because most foreigners can’t read Chinese so it’s very secluded places. Also by talking to locals. And of course I use the “Lonely Liar” as a guide of places NOT to go.

Sarah Outen: Route planning will depend on the goals of your journey, the timing and the seasons and the challenge you are seeking. For me, it was mostly about looking for the most direct routes between the launch points for my ocean row. Had I had more time, I would have planned to divert more along the way or taken a more circuitous route. I carry maps of the country I am biking through and have a small compass on my bell for directional help, and the sun is always useful if it’s bright enough. It’s good to ask 2 -3 people for directions if you are unsure.

Amie Thao: My goal is to cycle to Seattle via Vietnam, but the timetable and route is flexible. I am open to new ideas about where to go next. I used a paper map for my first solo trip across England and Wales, but now I navigate using a Garmin 62s with maps found on the internet. It is great to pinpoint my location, track my route, and find addresses, but I don’t rely on it for routing. I choose my route by talking to locals, then I use Google Maps to find roads and Google Earth for elevation profiles. When I have chosen some waypoints, I input my route into the GPS.

Loretta Henderson: A lot of countries with just a few roads I hand draw a map and take a quick look for distances and how much food and water I should carry. Oceania, Asia, Middle East into Africa, I usually look at a map and head towards wherever feels right, if it does not feel right I chose another route.

Emily Chappell: On its grandest scale, my route planning is almost unbelievably vague. I know roughly what direction I’m going in (currently east, soon south), but details like which countries I’ll ride through don’t get filled in until the last possible moment (usually when I have to apply for a visa). The main factors affecting my route are offers of bed and board from lovely people (I try never to turn down an invitation) and annoying geopolitical restrictions like borders. (I didn’t visit India this time round, because the only way in or out overland is via Pakistan. If you want to carry on east (i.e. to China or Burma), you have to get on a plane.) Day-to-day I carry a road map of whatever country I’m in (admittedly this works better for small countries than big ones) and tend to navigate using road signs (a map that has place names in the local language/script can be helpful). Riding into and out of cities is the only major challenge. In most countries I could resort to using google maps on my Kindle (slow, but ultimately effective), but behind the Great Firewall of China that didn’t work, and I wasted many fruitless and frustrating hours asking directions and repeatedly being sent back the way I’d come. For these occasions alone, I can completely see the point of a GPS.

Back to questions

What do you do when your bike breaks down?

Helen Lloyd: I fix it. Or if I can’t, I find someone who can. It’s an inevitable part of cycle-touring, that the bike will break. I carry some spares and tools, and together with duct tape and cable ties, I can fix up most problems that are likely to occur. It’s not really worth worrying about, there’s a solution to every problem.

Eleanor Moseman: First I give myself a little pep talk about taking care of business. Dig out the tool kit and “get ‘er done!”

Sarah Outen: The first time it happened – 11 days in – I sat at the roadside and cried my eyes out. I was so frustrated with myself because I couldn’t remember how to get a certain cable undone and my attempts to true the wheel were not going very well. Normally I try and fix it myself or find someone who can help if I get stuck, though of course this could be hundreds of kilometers away. Bikes are universal and pretty forgiving, so there’s normally someone somewhere who can help. It’s worth having someone at home you can call or email for advice, too.

Amie Thao: The most common problem I’ve had are punctures. I took a puncture repair class in Seattle, but managed not to get any flats until two years later on my very first day of cycle touring. 17 punctures later—I am getting quite good at fixing them. I haven’t had any major problems with my bike, just normal wear and tear—I’ve replaced a tire, tubes, chains, brake pads, a cassette, etc. I am not a great bike mechanic (yet), but I learned about my bike before touring by ordering all the parts and putting it together myself. By doing so, I learned how everything fits together and can swap out cables, chains, brakes, tires, etc. and adjust things when necessary.

Loretta Henderson: I got a funny compliment the other day about my mechanical skills. He said “For someone who has no idea what they are doing and is always just guessing you are doing remarkably well”. I have also gotten help from friends on skype video. I am really lucky sometimes. For example, this morning on tour in Malawi a fellow bicycle tourist that I camped with fixed my MSR int multi fuel cook stove which has been broken for almost 2 months and after my failed attempts I assumed had cooked itself to death.

Emily Chappell: Thankfully, I’ve had very few breakdowns over my past year on the road. Before I left I spent several months agonizing over every single component of the bike, trying to work out whether I should go for parts with a reputation for durability (knowing that I have an extraordinary talent for wearing out even the toughest kit), or whether I should err on the side of replaceability, and go for old established designs that are easy to source and repair wherever you are in the world. I mostly went for the latter, but aside from the usual wear and tear, I’ve had almost no disasters. Usually when something goes wrong I can fix it myself (I’m not the greatest mechanic, but I built as much of my bike as I could, and got someone to teach me wheelbuilding, so that I’d know how to put things right when they went wrong), and when I can’t, there’s usually someone around who can. People have a habit of popping up right when you need them, no matter how unlikely this seems at the time.

Rachel Hugens: In planning my first ever cycle tour to NZ and Australia 1992-93, my strategy was to:

  1. Buy a very good bike with good components to minimize the chance the bike would break down. I bought a custom Davidson Bike built in Seattle and I’m still riding the same bike today after 2 more long tours (of course the components have been replaced).
  2. Research: I talked with lots of other cyclists about what kind of tools and spare parts I would need with the idea, if my bike broke down and I had the necessary tools/parts someone more adept at fixing bikes could help me. A must have for a cyclist is electrical tape which is equivalent to duct tape for builder J
  3. Took a small bike repair book that if I had the right tools/parts and I was alone or isolated I would be able to fix the bike….eventually. I also took a bike maintenance course though about all that helped with was changing a flat tire.

Hint: Since wheels and spokes are vulnerable on a heavy loaded touring bike, for our last tour through Asia, we had tandem wheels with 48 spokes built for our bikes.

Back to questions

How do you get up in the morning and carry on when you’re tired or it’s really hot or really cold?

Helen Lloyd: If I’m in a town, really tired and in no rush, I don’t go anywhere. I stay until I’m better rested. If I need to continue for some reason, then I just get up and get on with it. A couple of strong coffees usually helps! If it’s really hot, I’m probably somewhere it’s really hot every day, so I know to get up early and cycle before it gets too hot, and then I stop and rest in the middle of the day. It’s all about the siesta then. If it’s really cold, then the best thing to do is get up and get moving. You soon warm up on the bike.

Eleanor Moseman: Like the crankiest bitch you’ll ever meet. There’s not a lot of things worse than waking up in a puddle of your own sweat being taken over by your stench at 5am in the blazing Central Asian sun. Well, there is the other side. Waking up freezing to grab one of your 5 pairs of frozen socks hanging from the tent, to squeeze them into frozen boots that won’t bend because the water has frozen in the soul.

Sarah Outen: Sometimes this is the hardest thing in the world. The irony of course is that once you’re out of the tent and into your routine and on your way, the day rarely feels like such a challenge. You need to find a trigger point or cue for getting you out – something/someone that inspires you when you think of it. Often for me it’s the realization that if I don’t get out and go, then I am not going to make it to my destination or back to London. Be kind to yourself though – don’t beat yourself up. I would say that in dodgy conditions where hanging around dithering isn’t going to do you any good e.g. heavy rain, cold etc that having a bit of a routine in your mind before you step out of the tent is a good idea. Pack everything as much as you can, eat and drink and then go for it as swiftly as possible. Then celebrate with a happy bike dance. The key is finding something that works for you.

Amie Thao: I don’t like to suffer. If I’m tired or it’s very cold, I usually stay in my sleeping bag and read for as long as possible. If it’s very hot, I try to break camp and move on quickly. If I’m very miserable, I call it a day and hide under a tree, at a library, or in an temperature-controlled mall with my Kindle. Books are my solution to just about everything.

Loretta Henderson: An insatiable curiosity to know what is up ahead fueled by a giant cup of coffee.

Emily Chappell: Food is a big motivator for me, so on winter mornings the very first thing I do is eat – sometimes I have to keep the Nutella in my sleeping bag with me to stop it from freezing. And then I remind myself that I will probably be more comfortable on the bike than in my sleeping bag anyway. But if I find I’m getting really lazy, or grumpy or demotivated, I read that as a sign that I’m overdue a rest day. I’m not always good at listening to my body, but I’m learning that it always responds better when it’s well fed and well rested. And then I remind myself that my next pitstop is x miles/days away, and the only way to get there is to keep riding. And I get on my bike and go.

Back to questions

How do you deal with the monotony of parts of the road?

Helen Lloyd: It doesn’t happen often for me. But music helps. Turn on the iPod, and pedal along to some upbeat tunes.

Eleanor Moseman: With my monotone singing, of course! Or games…I like to throw rocks and kick tumbleweeds. Some of you have seen that I really enjoy dancing too.

Sarah Outen: Audiobooks, radio downloads and music are big favourites, especially if there is traffic about. I love wildlife so am always on the lookout for creatures or interesting things in the landscape. Of course there are some parts where you just have to zone out and plug the miles for fear of insanity setting in! I find myself making all sorts of lists and calculations of time and distance and days until my next destination, thinking about dinner, recalling poems and songs and reliving situations or calls with people from home. The answer is basically anything that works to keep you in the saddle and moving onwards! Life on the road is like anywhere else – it’s not all excitement and drama.

Amie Thao: By distracting myself with music, audiobooks, podcasts, and university lectures. Sometimes I have my Kindle read to me in a robot voice. If it doesn’t seem safe to use headphones, I try thinking about various projects or potential lives I can pursue.

Loretta Henderson: I have been known to make fun of animals on the road, i.e. a cow with a nice set of number earrings, extreme free range chickens, piglets with uncanny destinies always seem to make me laugh.

Emily Chappell: I daydream like I haven’t daydreamed since I was a child, reliving the past minute by minute, day by day, year by year, planning and imagining the future in as much detail as I possibly can, mentally drafting things I plan to write later, and obsessing about food. Usually I can ride for days without getting bored, even in the most uninteresting of landscapes. The only time it gets difficult is when I’m in too much pain to be able to distract myself, or when I’ve been on the road for too long, and have run out of things to think about, and need a day off to recharge myself with a bit of human company and culture.

Back to questions

What was your scariest moment?

Helen Lloyd: Probably when a snake rushed towards my tent because it had been disturbed by Lars (who I was travelling with). It made its escape from Lars and I thought it was going to come in through my tent door which was open and then the two of us would have been trapped and I didn’t know if it was poisonous and we were several days from the nearest village or road. Luckily it went straight under the groundsheet and out the other side. (When paddling the Niger River in Guinea).

Eleanor Moseman: A boy pinned me down in a “lu guan” after threatening to kill me for hours and hours. Feeling his hard on against my thigh and thinking, “Oh my god…this is ALL OVER!” This happened in the first 2 months of my tour…I kept on keeping on. Fuck him.

Sarah Outen: Nearly weeing on a snake in Kazakhstan was up there at the top of the leaderboard for a while until I got to the outer edge of China and was harassed by a guy one night on a lonely road. It was my own fault – I had been warned not to cycle at night, but had intended to camp somewhere along the way. A guy kept following me and getting in my way, grabbing my leg and asking for sex. In the end I turned around, barged past him and his motorbike and cycled back into town, shouting as I went.

Amie Thao: Last December I woke up in my tent on a hillside in the Czech Republic to howling and barking that I didn’t recognize. The werewolves (or whatever they were) called to each other from different hills, the sounds coming closer and closer. I drifted in and out of sleeping imagining that the howl-barks were being used to triangulate my position and organize an attack.

Loretta Henderson: By far the most courageous thing I have ever done is retrieving my camera from a pit toilet in China, saving one thousand photos, writing and video for my upcoming book and, my solo female bicycle touring website.

Emily Chappell: Before I left I put a great deal of energy and effort into imagining all the scary situations I might end up in, preparing myself for the worst. But in reality, most of the bad stuff that has happened to me (dodgy men, vicious dogs, etc.) has been more annoying than frightening, and nothing springs obviously to mind as the ‘scariest moment’. I am still far more afraid of things like visa deadlines, personal failure and running out of money than I am of people or animals. I think the only time I felt genuine fear was when I was preparing to ride through Indus Kohistan, weighing up the ever-present risk of kidnapping, and my journalist friend pointed out that almost everyone who is kidnapped in Pakistan ends up being killed. Suddenly, as I sat there in his comfortable Islamabad living room, everything became extremely real, and I felt an unfamiliar chill in the pit of my stomach. I ended up taking the bus through Kohistan.

Back to questions

What would you recommend on your lower half, padded shorts or not?

Helen Lloyd: I sometimes wear padded undershorts and baggy shorts over the top. Some times I don’t bother with the padded ones. Everyone’s different, so just go with what you feel comfortable in. You will never see me in lycra only, but some people like it, even if I think they look ridiculous. Each to their own. They probably wonder why I wear two pairs of shorts. If you’ve not done much long-distance cycling, I’d definitely recommend wearing some form of padded shorts to start with. They are definitely more comfortable for the backside.

Eleanor Moseman: Break in a $100 saddle and no padded shorts. Cuts down on that, ehemm…odor?

Sarah Outen: Padded all the way for me, but I’ve not really tried non-padded for any distance so I’m a bit biased. 3/4 length ideally or normal length shorts through super hot areas. I generally have pairs on the go and swap and wash after as few days as possible, depending on water availability.

Amie Thao: I carry padded shorts with me, but have only used them for the first week or so of each trip. After that, my bottom gets used to the saddle and I don’t need them anymore.

Loretta Henderson: Three years ago when I started cycling around the world I had exactly zero km of cycling experience. I figured if I found I needed to buy cycling shorts I would. That day never came so I have never used them.

Emily Chappell: I love my Assos shorts (unfortunately I have expensive tastes), but this is one area where everyone’s different. If you can, it’s worth spending a few months figuring out your ideal shorts/saddle combination before you set off on a tour – get the pain out the way before you have to ride 100km a day without running water! That said, I started out with a set-up that had worked for me for several years, and for some reason everything started to hurt a few months in, and I ended up having to change my saddle and shoes in Islamabad. Nightmare.

Back to questions

Are women more sociable, i.e. like to achieve together, rather than do it alone?

Helen Lloyd: Not sure about this. I’m a woman. I’d say I’m sociable. I’m also happy in my own company, so I prefer to travel alone. Being by yourself it is much easier to meet other people. When I travel with someone else, I spend most of my time with them and meet fewer people from the places I am visiting. Since I travel to understand new cultures and people and places, it make sense to travel alone. Everyone’s different but I’m not sure women are more sociable than men.

Eleanor Moseman: Fuck all ya’ll beeyaches! Ride Alone, Die Alone!

Sarah Outen: I don’t know too much about this one, having made most of my journey alone. Travelling solo has great benefits too – I think you’re more likely to be welcomed in by people on your own and equally are more likely to seek company of locals when alone. I had a Chinese guy join me for the ride across China (on a complete whim) and loved the company.

Amie Thao: I like to connect with others and achieve things cooperatively, but Olli (my male co-pilot) is the same way. It’s hard to make generalizations about gender, but it does seem that male cyclists are more competitive and are more interested in the technical side of touring, such as bikes, gear, and statistics. Women might be more sociable, but when I decided to cycle back to Seattle, the fact that I was alone didn’t factor into my decision at all. I just went for it and met my social needs by talking with people and—after 7,000+ kilometers—adding a co-pilot.

Loretta Henderson: Occasionally I meet other cyclists heading my way on the road and join them for a day or two. Men or women, groups or solo, it is all fun!

Emily Chappell: Judging by my own experience, and the other cyclists I’ve met and spoken to, I’d say no. I haven’t crossed paths with any other solo women, and the female cyclists I have met were all riding with their husbands or boyfriends. I think this had less to do with being sociable, and was more because they didn’t have the confidence to go it alone, or were too happy with their partner to want to leave him behind, or (worst case scenario) were only on the road because he wanted to be. I haven’t met any groups or pairs of women riding together (there are numerous men riding in twos and threes), which would suggest that women are less sociable. But then, there’s also the issue that so many women are put off cycle touring before they even start, because they think it’s too difficult, or whatever. If all of these women were on the road, maybe the stats would look a bit different.

Back to questions

How do you deal with unwanted attention from men?

Helen Lloyd: It depends on the kind of attention. Ignore them; put up with it; make a joke of it; get angry; walk away. Every situation is different, so it really depends.

Eleanor Moseman: Ignore or use swear words in their own language. Those Chinese lessons paid off, eh?

Sarah Outen: Be firm, make noise and cycle on. I found the Kazakhs and Russians very forward and cheeky in asking for sex. I found that being quite School Ma’am about it worked well. There has only been one time I have had to physically push a guy away from me. Mostly just shouting and cycling on has solved the problem.

Amie Thao: I haven’t encountered many problems with men (except for that one groping incident…) There are more incidents related to my race than gender, such as the occasional ‘Ni Hao‘, bowing, photos being taken of me (without my bike), comments such as ‘Hey Chinese dragon!’, or uglier things such as variations on ‘Ching Chong bla bla bla bla”. I usually ignore, try to educate (I’m not Chinese), or get angry at them. This has been a problem mostly in the Balkans and with men and women.

Loretta Henderson: I stick out my tongue and make funny noises or just about anything else that entertains me. I am always thinking why on earth anyone would find me attractive at that moment. Usually dirty, fresh from the tent, sweaty, hair that has not been combed in a decade, occasionally smelling of armpit etc. Oh la la…. the pants a tingling crowd is endlessly amusing.

Emily Chappell: I ignore them or get angry with them. If I have to yell at them, I try to imagine that I’m much older than I actually am (perhaps about their mother’s age), and act as if I’m absolutely outraged they’re not giving me more respect. One thing that’s worked for me a couple of times is to appeal to the protective instincts of an older/kinder-looking man, if there’s one around, though this obviously has its risks too.

Back to questions

Have you tried wearing a skirt when cycling (perhaps with shorts underneath)?

Helen Lloyd: No. I rarely wear skirts ever, so I’m unlikely to wear one while cycling.

Eleanor Moseman: Yep…and I would watch men’s heads twist around trying to peek under. So, no, worthless.

Sarah Outen: Nope. But that’s only because I don’t really do skirts. I always wear padded lycra shorts on the bike, though would consider ‘adventure’ type trousers too, depending on climate.

Amie Thao: My favorite warm-weather-thing to cycle in is a skirt with built-in shorts from Patagonia. It has zips on each side to allow free movement on my bike. The fabric is fast-drying and doesn’t wrinkle. When it’s cold, I wear leggings underneath. I like that it is less casual than my trekking trousers for city wear.

Loretta Henderson: YES and I would more often if it did not blow up so much or threaten to get stuck in the chain. I usually just pull a skirt over my shorts when I get off the bicycle.

Emily Chappell: Not since I’ve been touring. But I sometimes wore a denim miniskirt over my lycra when I was working as a courier in London, to hide my arse from lecherous taxi drivers. You need to be careful that it doesn’t get caught on the saddle when you’re getting off the bike.

Rachel Hugens: My first cycling tour was in 1992 to NZ and Australia for a year, and I did not want to “look” like a cyclist. At that time took a skirt with me that I could quickly pull on when not on the bike. I also took a silk skirt and top that rolled up into nothing that I could use as a “nice outfit” when not cycling. Items on a tour have to do double duty. For example, I had a sleeveless top that I could also wear as a vest over another shirt, just to change up the look.

Travelling through Indonesia & Malyasia, I created my own “skort” with a cycling chamois bottom and a wrap around skirt (from Terry). I did this for two reasons: again not wanting to look like a cyclist or offend the locals (Muslim), and to make doing laundry easier. It was not necessary to launder the skirt as often as the chamois bottom and a skort is all or nothing. In a tropical environment especially, drying items could be a problem, this is important. I could also use the wrap around skirt when off the bike sightseeing.

I also took a long Macabi skirt and I used a scarf as a belt that in a pinch, I could take off to cover my shoulders. I had a Buff I used as a headband so if I need to cover my hair I could do so quickly. This item was also multifunctional to protect my neck in the cold or as a hat etc. When in Muslim countries, I did not cycle with sleeveless tops but with shirts that at least had some shoulder covering.

(And you can read my friend Vicky’s review of her (much loved) cycling skirt here.)

Back to questions

How do you deal with periods, cramps and really bad PMT days?

Helen Lloyd: I deal with it the same as if I wasn’t cycling. Just get on with the day and if it’s painful, take some paracetamol. I think really bad PMT days are more of a problem for anyone you are cycling with at the time. They’re the ones who get the brunt of the bad temper! Fortunately, I don’t get it too bad… I’ve been told!

Eleanor Moseman: Lots of caffeine and ibuprofen. Although I’ve been known to pop some codeine. The withdrawals on those bastards suck though. I’m one of those ladies that has really really bad cramping.

Sarah Outen: Mooncup is the only way to go here. Every woman in the world should have one! Reusable, eco-friendly, clean and easy to use. I don’t suffer too much with cramps and find that exercise makes everything feel better too – body and mood, so I would say on the PMT days, get out and ride, if only a little bit.

Amie Thao: I use a menstrual cup by Mooncup and sterilize it between periods with boiling water. Luckily I am blessed with short periods (3 to 4 days) and have almost no symptoms besides an upset stomach. If I am in a terrible mood, the best thing to do is to stop ruminating and distract myself with something inspiring.

Loretta Henderson: Not much to talk about here. I do travel with a enormous ziplock bag of applicator tampons just in case. Cardboard applicator tampons make really good fire starters and work in first aid situations as well. I like having things in the panniers that have 2 to 3 uses.

Emily Chappell: My menstrual cycle is very irregular at the moment – during the first nine months of touring I think I only had three periods, which was great in some ways, though also meant I couldn’t predict when they’d eventually show up. One of my biggest challenges was coping with an unexpected, heavy and painful period whilst riding across the Qinghai Plateau, where running water and privacy were rare commodities (and it was even rarer for them to coincide). I use a Mooncup, which saves having to dispose of tampons, etc., and always carry an arsenal of tissues, wetwipes, bottled water and painkillers, just in case. But I’ve mainly been lucky, and most of my periods have coincided with rest days. One woman I spoke to (riding with her husband) said that she has to have a couple of days off, because hers are so painful she can’t ride, so they organize their schedule around them. My feeling is that it’s much better to follow your body’s rhythms, rather than fighting them, so if you find yourself tired, fragile, grumpy and in pain for a few days, then just go with the flow, and spend some time sitting around eating comfort food, if you can afford to take the time off.

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What do you wear when cycling through more conservative countries?

Helen Lloyd: I’ve not really cycled in conservative countries. If allowed, I would probably still cycle in shorts (mine are baggy, knee length ones anyway) and have a pair of trousers handy to put on when I stop. I often cycle in a long-sleeved shirt now even when it’s hot because it protects from the sun. But same with the trousers, have a long-sleeved top handy for in town.

Eleanor Moseman: Long pants with the drive train side leg rolled up mid calf and a men’s button down, long sleeve UPF collard shirt.

Sarah Outen: I haven’t been anywhere particularly conservative on the bike but my standard bike fare is a long sleeved collared shirt (quick drying etc.) and lycra shorts and a buff. In churches I would always put trousers over the lycra too – so as not to scare anyone!

Amie Thao: I haven’t been in any very conservative countries. I wore long sleeves in Albania and some other parts in the Balkans where the women are more convered up.

Loretta Henderson: In the Middle East/Africa I had to buy what I could find at the market. I ended up wearing men’s Pakistani pjs and a buff on my head. I am always looking around for the perfect pair of 3/4 length cycling pants. I started the girly girl gear for guys too section on my website with loads of good clothing options in mind.

Emily Chappell: Iran had the most conservative dress code of all the countries I’ve ridden through. I wore an Indian kurta over my normal cycling clothes, and fashioned my own sporty hijab out of a Swrve merino cycling cap and a buff. Since I was there in winter this was no problem at all – I ended up keeping the headwear on 24/7 when I was camping, and would have been wearing full-length trousers anyway – but in the heat of summer it might have been a little less comfortable.

Rachel Hugens: I think it is important when travelling in other countries to be aware and respectful of their culture. Learn minimally the language to say “hello”, “goodbye”, “thank you” and not expect everyone to understand or speak your language. Travelling through Indonesia, Malaysia, where Islam is predominant, I cycled in a skirt, had a long skirt to wear when not cycling, kept my shoulders covered and was prepared to cover my hair with a buff that I used as a headband.

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What kind of budget per day did you set yourself? And how did you go about setting it?

Sarah Outen: Million dollar question. Mine fluxed according to where I was and what my schedule was. I had to make it across Eurasia to the edge of Russia by a fairly immovable date and so sometimes ended up spending money on hotels or cooked food in order to help me make this crazy deadline, where normally I would want to base my schedules around a more leisurely pace and camp and cook in more sensible places.

Amie Thao: My daily budget is $10, although I don’t keep close tabs because I work on the road. I aim for $10 or so because that feels sustainable and covers my basic needs depending on the country. I never feel deprived, but I am frugal and rarely pay for accommodation, entrance fees or transport. I don’t drink or smoke and won’t buy or replace things until absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, my total yearly expenses are approximately $10,000. Over two-thirds of that are student loan payments and the rest is health insurance. Some people work to pay off debt before traveling, but I decided to pay it off while traveling. Luckily by working 1-3 hours doing web design or development, I can cover a few days on the road. After being away from home for over two years, I have almost as much money in savings as when I started.

Emily Chappell: I didn’t set myself a daily budget, because I knew it would become a constant source of guilt, and also that it would fluctuate wildly from day to day, season to season and country to country. Instead I try to exist on the bare minimum, always go for the cheapest option and only spend money on things that are absolutely necessary. Often I’ll be able to go for a few days without spending anything at all (e.g. when I’m in wilderness areas carrying all my own food, or when I’m staying in someone’s house), but some days I’ll end up parting with more than £100 in one go (like the day I stocked up for winter in Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria, or any day I’ve had to apply for a visa). No matter how necessary this is, it always hurts a bit.

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Forgive the slightly graphic description, but men can ‘shake off’ much more effectively than women when going to the loo outdoors, with no loo roll. In my experience (and from talking to other women), women often end up with damp and smelly pants. A friend of mine uses her hand – not great when there’s no water – and I’ve experimented with a sponge (rinsing it through) and loo roll in a plastic sandwich bag. Using loo roll and then burning/burying it after just a wee seems a bit excessive. Any other ideas?

Eleanor Moseman: I carry a wash basin with me. There is nothing better feeling than a good face wash and a crotch cleanse at the end of the day. Also, if I’m not in a rush and after I pee…I just squat there a little longer and let the wind blow me dry. It actually worked really well along the Taklamakan and the Kazakhstan Steppe. It was like my bidet back home that had the air dryer. So fresh and dry.

Sarah Outen: Guys have it so easy! Leaves or pebbles are quite good if available and a sandwich bag to collect the day’s paper until a more significant event warrants burning (burying can also work), though watch out for opening the bag after a day or two… SMELLY!

Amie Thao: I have a urinary device called a pStyle. It is a piece of plastic that allows women to pee standing up. You can use the edge to scrape off excess urine—the equivalent to ‘shaking off’. It is useful in busy places where I feel too exposed to squat, but it does require a splash of water to clean. A warning: accidents can happen if you’re in a rush! I prefer to use toilet paper and always carry a roll or two with me in a waterproof sack. I keep used paper with me until I find trash bin—burning it takes too long. As for smelly underpants, I take advantage of public sinks and faucets to ensure that I always have a clean-and-drying pair on hand.

Loretta Henderson: In my article “Is peeing in the snow really considered artwork?” I laugh a lot about being a proud professional outdoor pee-er. Toilet paper is very thin and disintegrates in the pockets. Travel tissues packs last longer in my cargo shorts pockets. I use tissues and/or water every time and bury the paper or travel with it in a ziplock baggy and and then throw it away.

Emily Chappell: I usually use a leaf, a stone, or whatever’s to hand to blot myself, or just let myself dry off for a few minutes. In parts of China there was so much used toilet paper blowing around that I felt less guilty about adding a piece or two of my own (shocking!). Smelly shorts can be a problem though, and can quickly lead to saddlesore, especially in hot weather. I sometimes go for a week without a shower, but I wash my shorts as often as I can, and no matter how tired I am in the evenings, I’ll clean my saddle area with a wetwipe, sit around naked for a while (given adequate privacy) to let the air circulate, and put on clean cotton boxers to sleep in. After riding through Iran, Pakistan and China, where toilet roll is a rare commodity, I always make sure I have at least one tissue in each of my pockets, just in case!

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What makes you cry?

Eleanor Moseman: Well a few things…ending a 6 year relationship on the road, over Skype. The following nights got a lot of silent cries. Not the bawling type…but the “I’m lying here all by myself and there is water crawling out of my eyes”. Thinking I’m lost with no water. But that only lasts about 2 seconds after I scream and then shout, “Moseman get your shit together, you are wasting energy and water!” or in the winter, “Moseman, you are going to have eye’cicles!” Oh, and then I cry when I nearly die in a river crossing in Tajikistan. I would burst in tears for the following 2 days pushing my bike up a pass and realizing I nearly died and was a total moron too. Emotional shit makes me cry…I’ll never cry because of pain. NEVER.

Sarah Outen: I cry at allsorts of things on the road. Humbling hospitality and kindness from people, witnessing how tough some people’s lives area and if I am having a particularly shocking day amid deep tiredness I might also get teary too.

Amie Thao: Too much.

Emily Chappell: Babies and weddings. Unexpected kindness (or food) when I’m tired and fragile after a long day on the road.

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  1. I’m reading your questions and I want to answer too! But I’ve only toured as one half of a couple. Mind you, I don’t always feel safe at night as if someone tried to get into our tent, or animals attack our camp then he would definately NOT wake up.

  2. Thank you so much for this list – even though I just finished my first (but definitely not last) bike trip with my boyfriend I enjoyed reading it. I look forward to more questions and answers in the future!

    I wanted to add another idea to the “shake off” question – I started carrying a small squeeze bottle with a tiny pointy nozzle so I could spray myself with a tiny jet of water! If you can’t be dry, at least water is clean and not smelly. You could also wipe off the excess water with half a bandana saved for that purpose. The bottle I used was actually a very well rinsed bottle of oil for a Rohloff hub.

    A question I’d like to add is about safety – relative to cars and trucks on the road. My scariest moments have all had to do with near misses due to bad drivers and I’d be interested to hear what other cyclists have to say about this – especially how they stay safe, maintain confidence and continue to enjoy the roads with lots of traffic. A rear-view mirror is essential, as is avoiding roads under construction in China – when in China I really recommend keeping up with the most recent blogs/forum posts to see what roads are being re-done because they should really be avoided.

    A few suggestions for the bike-touring community: maybe a forum thread about the state of road construction in China on CrazyGuyOnABike (though it would really need to be kept current). I don’t think I would recommend a static list of safe roads/countries – it’s too difficult to generalize – and roads change fast. All I can say to fellow travellers is to avoid busy roads at all costs and ride carefully.

  3. Thanks for all the good answers! Very interesting 🙂

    Re the first question, I think after spending the night on my own in a tent on the grass in front of the station in milton keynes, with groups of drunk people roaming round who missed the last train back to London after seeing the Prodigy play, i could camp in most places without being too worried now 🙂 it started raining, i had a tent, i put it up, noone batted an eyelid, i went in and clipped the zips shut, noone came to move me along or assault me so I went to sleep. it was a bit bizarre but much better than the alternative (staying awake out in the rain). Generally you are much safer than you think you are.

  4. I’m male, however, I read all questions and answers in one go. I found them really interesting and helpful.

  5. I’ve got 26 days until I set off on my solo tour to Oz from the UK. Thanks for this list – really useful and making it all seem rather ‘real’! Awesome.
    Sleeping alone – hmm. I’m actually scared of the dark (things that go bump) – but I’ve read that one either has to camp where NOONE can see you, or where EVERYONE can see you. Looking forward to the challenge. I’m past the days of periods thank the goddess. And the rest I’ll cope with when I get to it – I’m going to be verrrry slow and ooze into new countries and cultures – hopefully that will help with 1) getting fit and 2)getting used to the environment and all it might throw at me.

  6. I’m male, and I’ve cried (once) when on the road. If it were more than once, I’d probably be less likely to admit it, haha! At the end of a month’s tour where I lost 200g of weight per day, to put it in context. It was a day when no amount of willpower will make the day’s ride happen and there’s not even a train to bail one out even if one goes down the cop-out cheating route (which takes a hell of a lot to go wrong in order to do, I must note). Oh, and you’re actually outside a train station looking to do that, but no trains anywhere useful and the SNCF website is notoriously obtuse, so you couldn’t even work that out in advance… The wind is blowing right in your face, you’ve gotten a bit ill from bad sleep and exhaustion, and you’ve been woken by a jackhammer 2m the other side of the hostel dorm wall at 8am for two mornings in a row – just when you needed the extra hour in bed until 9am, because you were only in a hostel in the first place due to getting ill! There’s a lot to be said for getting away from it all. Woodpeckers versus Jackhammers, I know which I prefer… Caroline’s post above about kipping outside the station in Milton Keynes is too funny! I’d never trust Londoners or nearby people to London, to leave me alone, although Prodigy fans maybe are OK… Putting one’s tent down on a heavily dog-poo-laden piece of grass in the dark and waking up to realise you miraculously managed to NOT put the tent in dog poo, is a nice way to start the day… but number one rule, nearly, is bring a good head torch!

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