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IamA a traveler with 115 countries under my belt, sually travel by bicycle. AMA!

Aug 31st 2014 by Meph248 • 53 Questions • 283 Points

My short bio: Hey everyone, my name is Patrick and I have been travelling around the world for over 7 years now. I am heavily into sports and usually ride a bike everywhere. I just came back from Ireland, country #115, previous to that I rode a carbon roadbike from Westafrica to Europe. My next tour will be through the Siberian winter, from Europe to Japan.

By now I have been to every country North/Central/South-Americas, Australia & New Zealand, 50% of Africa, ~33% of Asia and every country in Europe, except Belarus.

You can find our more about my tours on my website: http://unlocked-achievements.com/

I already did an AMA 7 months ago in r/bicycletouring, in case you want to have a look. http://www.reddit.com/r/bicycletouring/comments/1uydcc/ask_me_anything_im_a_bicycle_tourer_with_over_100/

I'm happy to help people that want to travel as well, but don't quite know where to start.

My Proof: https://twitter.com/UnlockingQuest/status/506149665063329792

*awesome typo in the title: sually = usually. :D

Q:

How do you manage financially?

A:

Some savings, some passive income (Rent from my house and donations from a PC game mod I make), some odd jobs, and free equipment sponsored by companies.

But most important is keeping the costs low. Travel by bike, camp a lot, and cook yourself, and the highest costs dwindle down to almost nothing.

I say a bit more about costs in an interview I did here: http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/i-headed-towards-africa-because-i-have-never-been-there/


Q:

What's the name of the mod?

A:

Some asked that already, so I just copy paste the answer:

It's very obscure. It's for Dwarf Fortress, an american indie game that is somewhat of a cult classic in the roguelike genre. Its even in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. :D

Tarn Adams does all the work, I just happen to write the currently most popular mod for it. Masterwork Dwarf Fortress. The name derives from the quality rating of ingame items, which go from well-crafter up to Masterwork. http://www.bay12forums.com/smf/index.php?topic=125633.0

The community is the best I have ever seen on the internet and is the main reason I spend so much time on it. The people there are amazing.


Q:

DF is huge on reddit!

A:

And I'm huge on DF. ;)


Q:

You made masterwork? I gotta hand it to you man, that's an awesome mod, as a long time veteran of vanilla though I could never get into it, it looks very daunting.

A:

Yes, thats me.

I needed something to counterbalance all that physical work and traveling, so making something creative and intellectual that actually produces something for several thousand people is... nice. I like it.


Q:

It's funny how Dwarf Fortress is actually pretty intellectual. What is Dwarf Fortress programmed in anyhow?

A:

Originially its C++, but the source code is not open. Most mods use a token system in Raw textfiles unique to DF, but dfhack also uses C++, lua and ruby. And there are third party utilities, in python, perl, visual basics, you name it.


Q:

Most dangerous country you visited?

A:

Officially: Somalia, most dangerous country in the world. (I felt very welcome and safe, also got police/military escort for the largest part.)

Un-Officially: Anywhere where I was forced to ride a bicycle on a highway. Traffic is the biggest danger, not animals, disease or bandits.


Q:

I'm from Somaliland aka north Somalia, it's very safe the only thing that could kill you is being board to death. I can see how Somalia is dangerous, Somaliland has a democratic elected president and peaceful power transfer. Their own currency army police too

A:

It was indeed Somaliland I visited. From Djibuti to Hargeysa and from there to Ethiopia. You guys are super welcoming, although I got some complaints about my choice of dress. Tight cycle gear doesn't work well in islamic countries now and then.


Q:

How did you like Ethiopia?

A:

I like the country for its geography, but the people are a curse. Sorry to say it, but it ranks on my personal list very, very low. Only place where kids randomly run up to me and throw rocks or hit me with whips (they are usually sheperds and drive some animals).

It was quite tough, and the food was among the worst I had. (I know that ethiopian restaurants in the western countries are fancy and have good food, but an ethiopian village is something else)

I am not the only one who had this experience, a friend of mine just rode through there, 5 years after I did it, had the very same problems.


Q:

Where in Ethiopia did you visit? That may have been part of of the problem. Properly cooked Ethiopian food is amazing!

A:

Came from Sudan, went to Gondar, north to Shire, Adigrat, axumite empire stuff and through the simien mountains, down Mekele, to Lalibela, to Addis, Harare (which was nice), Bahir Dar, Dire Dawa towards Djibuti/somaliland, and all the way down from Addis to Moyale to Kenia.

I think I saw most of it. I liked Addis and Harare, and the sites in Lalibela, but the food was horrible. Injera, Injera, Injera...


Q:

Yeah you definitely saw a good portion of the country. I'm sorry you had a bad experience there, I love it out there! I will admit though, Ethiopian food in the U.S. tastes way better than Ethiopian food in Ethiopia.

A:

Not sure how you travel/life, but with the bike you burn a lot of calories and you are slow. So you stop 4-5-6 times a day for food, and mostly in the tiniest of villages. Yes, Addis or Gondar had good food, but mostly I was in the middle of nowhere.


Q:

Back up a moment! Northern Ireland Deserts?

A:

Cliffs: Northern Ireland. ;) (the formatting was bad)


Q:

Ah, well at least Northern Ireland made it in there in some form! It's always nice when NI gets talked about for something positive.

What was your favourite place in the UK, not including the Northern Irish cliffs?

A:

I dont know much in the UK to be honest. Comes from being an Island, I cant get there easily with a bike. :P

Never been to scotland or wales, only know London and Stonehenge, and the way in between.


Q:

Have you been to the Copper Canyon at Chihuahua Mexico?

A:

No.


Q:

Do you have any countries or areas of countries that you would suggest avoiding because of danger? I'm particularly interested, but not limited to your experience in Africa.

Also why every European country except Belarus?

A:

Not really. You have to ask around locally and have a good timing. Obviously active warzones are bad, as are places with natural catastrophes like volcano eruptions or wildfires. But you can at least enter every country without entering those no-go zones. I would even go to Afghanistan and Iraq, as soon as I do a tour in that area.

Belarus: I was in Kiev but waiting for the visa would have taken so long that I would have missed Christmas with my girlfriend. Honestly I would have gone there even then, but I already knew that I will pass through it when I go to Moscow this winter. There is no other reason, it just randomly happens to be the last. Ireland was the second last, for no particular reason.


Q:

do you recomend a high tech aluminium bike or something like that or a common steel frame which could get welded if broken?

A:

Considering that I rode a full-carbon roadbike on my Saharacrossing, I would say neither. Steel is too heavy for my taste. Aluminium is ok, but also more heavy.

Getting stuff welded is more a myth than anything else. Even if it works, the bike handling will never be the same, and I would rather get a new frame, than ride a broken one. Too risky.


Q:

Around how many tires / rims have you repaired / replaced through-out your journeys? :)

A:

Rims: 0

Tires: A new set about every 5,000-10,000km. Schwalbe Marathon Plus hold a long time.

Inner Tubes: Probably 70 patches, and at least 12 new tubes.

Bikes: 5. I am on my fifth bike now, getting ready for number 6. (fingers crossed, depends on sponsors)

Overall I have to say that high-quality bikes are pretty mainentance free, if you treat them well.


Q:

What mod did you write?

A:

It's very obscure. It's for Dwarf Fortress, an american indie game that is somewhat of a cult classic in the roguelike genre. Its even in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. :D

Tarn Adams does all the work, I just happen to write the currently most popular mod for it. Masterwork Dwarf Fortress. The name derives from the quality rating of ingame items, which go from well-crafter up to Masterwork. http://www.bay12forums.com/smf/index.php?topic=125633.0

The community is the best I have ever seen on the internet and is the main reason I spend so much time on it. The people there are amazing.


Q:

It looks right up my street man, gonna check it out

A:

If you do, do yourself a favour and do not start with that mod. The game is insane, and people need lots of time to learn it. Look around the forum for the Starter Pack (http://www.bay12forums.com/smf/index.php?topic=126076.0), it will suit you much better.


Q:

OK thanks, I do like depth in my games though. I mostly play Skyrim with Requiem mod, and a bunch of survival mods, it really doesn't get more hardcore than that.

A:

Frostfall and Realistic Needs? :P


Q:

You've got it man, what an experience!

A:

Hehe, yeah, not only the real world has adventures. Good book collections and RPGs are as good a the next tour.


Q:

Oohhh...I wouldn't recommend winter though, maybe summer, even then...

A:

I want winter. :) Last winter I cycled to Kiev, with -18° as coldest point, now I want more.


Q:

It reaches -25 to 30 at nights though. Will you be cycling throughout the country?

A:

Both train and bike. That way, if its too cold for cycling, I can switch to train. And this time I take a different bike and different clothing. Gradual progressions, maybe I can go to the arctic/antarctic proper after this. :)


Q:

Ah well that seems more workable. Do you continue after dark?

A:

Depends on climate and traffic. But usually I would say yes, especially if daylight hours are short. Makes no sense sitting in the tent for 18h, and just cycle 6h.


Q:

Safety wise how do you deal? I'm pretty sure you'll encounter few drunks on your trip in my country.

A:

*shrugs

I will see then. No idea.


Q:

How many U.S. states have you visited and which ones are your most and least favorite?

A:

I dont know how many, ~20 or so.

Most favourite: Colorado.

Least favourite: Probably something in the center, idaho-oklahoma-ish.


Q:

How old are you? Any tips to people who want to do the same? You are a hero!

A:
  1. 27 years. I started doing this with 19.

  2. Lots, but please do ask more specific questions, otherwise I might write an essay and its tips that dont fit your situation. ;)

  3. I am just like you or anyone else. Literally anyone can go places, meet people, do stuff. No special skills required (also nice to have)


Q:

How did you meet people whilst traveling? Do you think the experience made you more confident? Did you ever feel especially lonely?

A:

Meeting people is the easiest thing while traveling. Honestly its inevitable, there is no way not to meet people.

Be it on public transport, hiking, biking, dormitories in hostels, just talking to other foreigners in foreign countries (Lost in Translation is a great movie about that), being approached by strangers, approaching strangers, asking for help... it happens automatically. Sometimes it's even a bit too much, especially in hostels.

Yes, I'm about an unlimited amount more confident now than before.

Lonely on tours, also yes. Worst was the 1 year tour to Southafrica from Germany. It was just me on a bicycle, and while you meet people, they are not people you can relate to. It was quite hard finding someone to talk to. The internet helps a lot. But I also traveled a lot with my girlfriend, who comes with me when she can. :)


Q:

What is the best country for bike traveling? i.e. road conditions, driver attitudes, etc.

A:

Anywhere western/southern Europe. I'm from here, so I thought its standard. Man, was I shocked when I cycled in the US.

There is literally no driver attitude against cyclist over here, and you dont have to ride on the road anyway, there are international bike paths. I say that again, we have a large network of bike routes connecting countries.

Have a look at the map: http://www.eurovelo.com/en/eurovelos

If you want first hand info, this guy literally cycled ALL OF THEM. https://www.facebook.com/cycleguide He cycled pretty much everything everywhere in Europe.


Q:

The USA is slowly stepping up it's bicycle culture. I wish it would hurry up!

A:

People are way too used to cars. I couldnt believe when I saw suburbs without sidewalks. Its either car or nothing. Crazy. And apparently drivers hate cyclists, its quite sad to read the stories that find their way to me.


Q:

I think some of it has to do with traffic and road setup. If the cars and bicycles have to slow down and risk hitting each other, they naturally get angry. Certain places have better roads laid out for sharing. Most drivers are all good, the ones who take stupid risks are the ones who give the rest a bad rap.

Most cyclists are all good, the ones who take stupids risks are the ones who give the rest a bad rap.

A:

True. And the small amount of cyclists plus the concept of suburbs. These dont exist in Europe in that form.


Q:

Are you buddies with Alastair Humphries? Sounds like a similar bio.

A:

He did interview me. :D But I am a couple of years younger than him, so maybe I get to his level of crazyness when I am his age. I am trying, just got more stuff for my packraft. Conquer the sea!


Q:

How many times have you been robbed/had stuff stolen from you?

A:

Robbed: 0

Stuff stolen: 1 bike ~2000€ value (in Germany),

1 handlebar bag ~900€ value (Peru, on the Amazon on a boat),

400€ in cash + some documents (Indonesia, I had denguefever and left it somewhere in my haze... when I got back, it was gone. My own fault)

Thats it. My girlfriend has much worse luck with here stuff being stolen, but she is very carefree with it, while I tend to look out for it better.

No one has ever threatened me with violence of any kind. Except drunk tourists or so. :P


Q:

Hallo Patrick, wenn Sie Iran besucht haben, was ist eine Sache, die Sie würde uns darüber erzählen?

A:

His question in english: Hello Patrick, after you visited Iran, what would be a thing you would tell other people about.

Nach dem was ich bisher vom Iran gehört habe, sind die Leute extrem Gastfreundlich. So wie im Sudan oder Somaliland. Ich hab von jeden dem ich kenne der im Iran war, nur Gutes gehört. :)

In English: What I heard so far about Iran is, that the people are extremely hospitable, similar to Sudan or Somaliland. I have only heard good things about it, from everyone I know that went to Iran.


Q:

Wie sicherst du deine Sachen gegen Diebstahl?

Vor allem, wenn du draussen übernachtest.

How do you secure you belongings when sleeping, especially if you camp outside?

A:

All my stuff is in the tent, except the bike. Its locked to any solid metal object, fence, largeish tree trunk... its usually right at the tent entry, and one of the lines is tied to it. If someone moves it, the tent moves.

I never had problems with people trying to steal from my tent. Mostly because they never find me, I start camping when it gets dark, and leave in the morning when it gets light.

At some point I had a motion sensor on the bike that gives a very loud alarm, but after three false alarms in heavy wind (and you really dont want to crawl out of your tent at night in heavy winds to disable it), I decided not to use it anymore.


Q:

I see you went down the east coast of the US. Did you use the east coast greenway trail? If you passed through New York City, how did you like it?

A:

New York City is nice, I have been there twice, once without bike, once with bike. The east coast is actually one of the parts without bike, I entered the country in Miami (coming by plane from Costa Rica) and just hitchhiked/bussed up till New York.

The second time I came by bike, doing the Route66 and that stretch in Canada before coming down through Vermont towards Boston and down the coast till NYC, but not on any specific bike route.


Q:

What motivates you to live your life the way you do?

A:

Well, I travel to cool places, meet friendly people, eat tasty food, do a lot of sports and keep fit, have 24h free time a day, 365 days a year, and while I do work hard, I only work on things that I personally think are worth the time. My hobbies.

So I dont really understand the question, I dont need a special motivation for what I do. I love it! :)

(I realize that I cant do this forever, but why not grasp the opportunity till I am 35 or so and settle down)


Q:

how would would you say you've spent doing this?

A:

~50,000€ (?) over a 7,5 year period. (I have about 20.000€ worth of equipment, but much of it was free)


Q:

What's the craziest, most weird or scary stories you have from your travels?

Also, what did you find the easiest? Traveling as a 19 yr old or as a 27 yr old?

A:

27 all day. I have so much more knowledge, you can drop me off anywhere in the world, I'll be fine. There are literally no worries at this stage anymore. 50° desert on a bike? Ok, I need X and Y, and do this. -35° in Siberia? Oh right, I know exactly what to take, what I need and dont want, and how to do it.

Craziest story: There is a island on lake victoria that is owned by a british millionaire. He literally build a castle on it. Only way to get there is with the weekly supply boat. Only way on the boat, is by being on the list. Only way to get on the list, is to know someone who has been on the island. (Its free stay, free alcohol, free weed, all day, every day)

As someone who doesnt take any drugs, neither alcohol nor weed, it is a pretty strange place.

Other than that its always crazy when you randomly meet people again. German guy you met in a buddhist monestary, where you learned viapassana meditation? Lets run into him in Melbourne.

Guy on a bike, who talks to you online without knowing who you are on a online board (about that game mod), and we are cycling both in the same country, Peru. Years later sitting in Tunesia, he is in the same hostel, I only knew it by the facebook post he made. Months later, he sleeps on my couch for a couple of nights. Same guy that introduced me to packrafts, and is the reason I own one now. :D


Q:

That island seems like something out of a dream or a film, jealous! Hope to start traveling once I finish my degree, appreciate this AMA

A:

Thank you. :)


Q:

What is your opinion of e-bikes?

A:

Cant be used for travelling. Lets say you cycle 10-12h a day. The battery lasts for 3-4. Then you camp, and cant charge it. You will lug around 5-10kg extra for the motor and the battery, but seldomly have the chance to use it.

For city, especially elderly or unfit people, they are awesome. For touring? No. I looked into it a lot, I wanted to do a larger tour with one, but after a few days of research... just no.


Q:

Can you speak any other languages? If so, what was it like to speak them in the countries of origin? If not, did you pick up a significant amount of a language when visiting a country?

A:

English is a foreign language for me. Native German speaker here. I also learned latin for 5 years in school and I can do reasonably well in Spanish.

I understand texts in Portuguese, French, Italian, Dutch...

Yes, you pick up a lot. Speaking English in England or Spanish in Spain is just like speaking it anywhere else. Not quite sure what you meant with the questions.

It gets weird when you learn a bit of a language in a country that it not its origin. For example Spanish in Argentina, or French in Westafrica. You learn stuff thats very regional, and later one wonder why the people in Spain or France do it differently. :D


Q:

Whats the least favorite country you have visited?

A:

Indonesia.

I almost died, because of wrong info I got (drowning while rafting alone), lost 400€ of gear, got dengue fever, my girlfriends electronics got stolen, (worth 800€), my documents with 400€ cash got stolen, my glasses broke, and did I mention dengue fever, and no one speaks English, and everything is slow, and I spend 10 days on steel ships eating rice with fishheads.

Thats only true for Sulawesi, Timor and Flores though... after it, Komodo, Bali and Java, was fine.


Q:

Most interesting man in the world comment right there

A:

More like Bad Luck Brain in that month.


Q:

What country or countries had the most unfriendly people? (Just so I know which ones to avoid.)

A:

For me its Ethiopia, but it might differ from person to person. Too friendly people can be just as bad though. ;)


Q:

Which countries had over-friendly people ?

A:

Middle East, Arabic countries.

Edit: No, ignore that. I only saw the question without context first. The people in the middle east are the most friendly, but they are not the over-friendly-getting-on-your-nerves people. These you find in densely populated countries, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh and central Africa.


Q:

When did you realize that it was time just to get out there and see the world?

A:

When I was 13. :)


Q:

How big is your belt to be able to fit all those countries under it?

A:

A bit larger than the bible belt, but much smaller than the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.


Q:

What is your opinion of Britain?

A:

Thats a super broad questions, and I dont have any specific feeling about Britain. Its a country like any other in western europe.


Q:

How did you prepare physically for your trips, especially the first time you decided to do this?

A:

Not at all. I was already running Marathons and going to the gym/rock climbing all the time, and just came from my 9 months mandatory military training.

Edit: To be a bit more helpful: You dont need any special training for tours as a backpacker or cyclist. Training helps, but if you dont have it, it will come to you on the tour.


Q:

Your website says "The main goal is visiting all 193 UN member states, or in other words: Visit every country in the world." but yet you include Taiwan and Vatican City in your list. Why do you include them and not other places like Palestine and Kosovo?

Also, the flags for Lesotho and Libya need to be updated : )

A:

Both Taiwan and The Holy See hold special positions. And, as I learned just now, Palestine does too. ;) I had to look it up, they have it since 29 November 2012... apparently the list I used when I made the website was older than that.

Kosovo has the votes of most members, but hasnt been ratified yet (?)

tl;dr: Its not really important, its an arbritary goal. I just wanted to say "I want to go everywhere", and I had to take some way of counting countries.


Q:

Well, be sure to at least include Palestine or else you'll probably end up losing some supporters.

A:

Or I can just remove Vatican and Taiwan. ;) Then its only actual UN members.

But I wouldnt want supporters that think such a technicality is a huge thing anyway. I am woefully unpolitical and what Isreal does to Palestine and Palestine does to Isreal is none of my business at all. If I travel through these countries, than as a visitor, a neutral observer.


Q:

I've been really inspired by travelers like yourself in the past few years and I just recently moved to China to start traveling myself. I'm saving up money now and I'll start seeing more of Southeast Asia next year.

You've been traveling for over 7 years, but how much of that has actually been travelling? Do you take extended breaks to go home, rest and raise money, or have you been traveling non-stop for 7 years? Answered here

Whats the longest you have sent in one place during the 7 years and where was it? Why were you there for so long?

Also, How do you deal with Visas? Do you need to apply for a visa for every country you have visited, or is that something you can often do at the border? Are there any / many countries that don't require a visa to enter?

I know that's a lot of questions. Feel free to cherry-pick the ones you want to answer. I'm really interested in this kind of travel and any advice you can offer is great! Thanks!

A:

I spend about 2 years in Germany in between, and 5 years on the road.

Longest stretch was 18 months on tour.

Longest time in one place: 5 weeks Buenos Aires to learn Spanish. 8 Weeks in Santa Marta/Cartagena on the Colombian north coast, because its nice. My girlfriend also made her diving licences there.

The visa question I cant answer for you, because its different for each country of origin. Places that let me in (or require a visa) might not do that for you. EU passports are pretty good, and I can get into about half of all countries just at the border.

If you want to keep in contact, add me on facebook. I am always happy to help starting travelers with tips, contacts or a place to stay. :)

Where are you from? (I can answer the visa question a bit better then)


Q:

How many U.S. States have you been to?

A:

I dont know. In my experience only US americans have a thing for "we have states and they are different and how many have you been to."

I guess 20 or so? I only count countries, not individual states inside countries. ;)