Thinking about having a cycling adventure? Expert cycle traveler, published author, inspirational speaker and creator of Family on Bikes Nancy Sathre-Vogel talks about following your dreams, finding your passions and how cycling can enhance your travel experience (not to mention that it’s not as difficult as you think). Read on and I guarantee by the end you’ll be ditching your car for a new bike and planning an adventure of your own.
1. What drove you to want to begin exploring the world by bike with your family? Also, how old are your children?
John and I met back in the dark ages (okay… so it was really 1990) when we spent a year biking together in Asia. Bike touring remained a big part of our lives until our children were born. Although we stopped touring once our twins entered our lives, I think we both harbored fantasies of heading out on the bikes with our kids. When they were 7, we took them out for a few days on the bikes. When they were 8, we pulled them out of school and spent their third grade year exploring America by bike. And then they spent grades 5, 6, and 7 pedaling from Alaska to Argentina. Our sons are now 16.
Why did we do it? Because biking is an awesome way to see the world. You see so much more from the saddle of a bicycle than you possibly can from inside a vehicle of some sort. Besides that, traveling on bicycle makes you vulnerable, and that vulnerability leads to magic.
2. How did you prepare them for these kinds of trips?
Prepare? You’re kidding, right? Kids are amazing. They can just hop on the bike and go, no preparation needed. When we first took off they were only 8, so they just did what Mom and Dad did. When we took off for the PanAm journey, they both knew what to expect and could make a more educated decision.
3. What are the benefits of exploring a destination by bike as well as using biking as a main mode of transportation?
There are advantages and disadvantages of traveling on bike. We tend to see more in many ways – we see all the little details that most people zoom past and don’t even notice. It’s like we are more in tune with where we are – we’re one with Mother Nature and our surroundings.
However, that comes with drawbacks as well. Because of the effort involved with getting to places on the bikes, we tend to skip a lot of historical sites that are off the road. Five miles back? That’s ten miles round trip. On a dirt road. That’s a couple hours of pedaling. Worth it? More often than not, the answer is no. If we had a car, then we would be more likely to go.
As far as using the bikes as your main mode of transport, again, it comes at a price. You have to think about your overall plan a bit more carefully. Maybe plan out where you need to go for your errands more efficiently so you aren’t riding back and forth like you can do in a car. But the positive is that you are outdoors and your transport is great physical activity.
4. One of your longest trips you took with your family was biking from Alaska to Argentina. What were some of the highlights and what are some hardships of long-term bike traveling with loved ones?
The highlights is just that – spending all that quality time together, with nothing to distract us from one another. At home, we’re being pulled by our computers, the dishes, or our favorite book. While on the road on our bikes, we took plenty of breaks on the side of the road where we only had each other to entertain us. That’s awesome.
The hardships? For the kids, it was hard to not have friendships that lasted longer than a couple weeks. They barely got to know other kids before needing to leave them. That was hard on our sons and is a large part of the reason we are stationary now.
5. What’s been your favorite destination to tour by bike? Why?
Mexico is incredible. The people are delightful, the food is delicious, and the country is fascinating. Mexico won the Hospitality Award for sure. Another great country for cycling is the USA. Our national parks here are stupendous, and touring from park to park is simply unbeatable.
6. What’s been the most challenging destination to tour by bike? Why?
Costa Rica was horrid because of their drivers. I’m not sure who is teaching those people to drive, but they certainly aren’t teaching them basic principles of sharing the road. It quickly became apparent that we simply could not stay on the main road – the drivers were lunatics. Besides that, Costa Rica is hot and humid, which makes cycling difficult. We needed to take added precautions to make sure we didn’t become dehydrated.
7. Your family has authored numerous books on cycling travel. Tell us about them.
I’ve got three travelogues out:
What Were We Thinking? – about our year in Asia (Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh)
Twenty Miles per Cookie – about our first year traveling as a family around the USA and Mexico
Changing Gears – about our journey from Alaska to Argentina
I’ve also written Bicycle Touring with Children: A Guide to Getting Started, and I’m finishing up another one called Roadschooling: Education through Travel.
8. What are some of the major costs of doing an extended bike trip? How do you save up?
One of the best parts of bike touring is that it’s cheap. We spent about $1,500/month for basic expenses for our family of four. That included food and a place to stay. In more expensive countries, we tended to camp out and cook over our tiny stove. In cheaper countries, we stayed in hotels and ate at restaurants. On the bike, the only daily expenses are food and a place to sleep.
We also budgeted an additional $500/month for other one-off expenses like going to the Galapagos Islands or Machu Picchu. That money could also be used to rebuild the bikes periodically. We would go many months without spending it and blow it all in a week.
My husband and I were both professional school teachers and always lived on one salary. Over the years of saving a whole salary, it added up.
9. How do you go about planning a long-term bike trip and choosing the destinations?
I would say to choose your destination based on where you want to go – we are all drawn to different areas. The whole world is your oyster, so decide where your passion leads you and go.
As far as planning it, you don’t need to plan it at all. Take a few small, weekend trips around your own city to get a feel for what you’ll need on the bike. Amazingly, in one weekend, you’ll figure out probably 75% of what you need to know. After a few weekend trips and maybe one or two week-long trips, you’ll be a pro. Take a class to learn how to fix your bike and you’re good to go!
10. What would you say to someone who wanted to do an extended biking trip but was nervous?
There is something about the bike that leads to magic. I think maybe it’s your vulnerability, but whatever it is, the bike makes people want to reach out and help you. There is no way for me to really put it into words – it’s something you simply have to experience to believe – but trust me when I say that people will go to great lengths to help you out. Just go – and watch the magic happen.
After 21 years of classroom teaching, Nancy Sathre-Vogel made the decision to leave her teaching career behind to travel the world on a bicycle. Together with her husband and twin sons, she spent four years cycling 27,000 miles throughout the Americas, including a jaunt from Alaska to Argentina. Now she lives in Idaho, pursuing her passion of encouraging others to dream big and make it happen through motivational speaking, personal coaching, and writing. She is also a beadwork artist. You can keep up with her adventures at www.familyonbikes.org.