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Touring in the developing world: Why do you do it, or why have you avoided it?

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Touring in the developing world: Why do you do it, or why have you avoided it?

Old 12-09-15, 03:53 PM
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Touring in the developing world: Why do you do it, or why have you avoided it?

I'm often struck how most of the touring destinations discussed on this forum are limited to the developed world, i.e. USA, Canada, Europe, Australia, NZ, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, S. Korea, & Japan. Other bike touring resources out there aren't nearly as geographically limited as this one. The members here are mostly located in the USA, Canada, & Australia, and with only a few participants from non-English-speaking countries.

I'm curious about those of you who have done a fair bit of touring but have avoided developing countries. Why have you stayed away from them? Fear of not speaking the local language? Discomfort about being in a different culture? Safety concerns? Crime fears? Health concerns? Fear of seeing poverty up close? Political reasons? Other reasons?

For those of you who have ventured into developing countries, either on or off your bike, why have you done it, and did you enjoy it?

I've toured in many developed countries, as well as many developing countries. I find both very satisfying. There are certainly some places I would avoid, but there are many places in the developing world which make great touring destinations.
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Old 12-09-15, 07:04 PM
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I've ridden in both developing world and developed world and enjoyed both. Some considerations:

- Language is a concern for both developed (e.g. Russia) and developing (e.g. China) countries I've ridden. There are also developing countries (e.g. India, Thailand) where language hasn't been as big of a concern. So language by itself is not a consideration for me for developing vs. developed. It is a consideration of where I'm more likely to ride by myself vs. ride with others. Language also affects my confidence of how quickly I might get myself out of a situation.
- Climate is a consideration for rides I've done. Again that is somewhat independent of developing vs. developed - though equatorial countries seem more likely to be developing.
- In general, I like the cultural differences and connecting with people from another culture - more than I am fearful or repulsed by them, so on average being somewhere different is more of a positive than negative. Health issues, safety issues, poverty issues are not necessarily positive but also not a deterrent to going.

I agree with you that there are a number of places in developing world that are excellent touring destinations and so I'm more drawn to find new places and explore them - regardless if they are developing or developed countries.
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Old 12-09-15, 09:17 PM
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This type of question always reminds me of an Aldous Huxley Quote:

"To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries."
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Old 12-09-15, 09:57 PM
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For me it has to do with time and financial constraints. I only have so much time off and a family that also needs to share in the disposable income expeditures so I aim for remote or scenic areas that I can access easier. I would love to bike Nepal/Tibet if I could (bucket list). I expose my family to cultures in other ways like hosting international students.
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Old 12-09-15, 09:59 PM
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Language, culture and other unknowns are a concern but what stops me is limited vacation time, logistics and cost of flying. After paying mucho dollars to get somewhere while worrying about my bike, spending my days getting from A to B isn't my idea of a good vacation. There are places around the world I hope to visit but I don't think I'll bring the bike.
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Old 12-09-15, 10:50 PM
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I haven't done int'l touring basically, only started any touring fairly recently. Seems logical to do initial int'l tours in countries where language/customs more familiar but now with all the blogs & forums one can get much info about touring in many different countries. Bumped into a local guy who was preparing for a south China tour--he'd been there before & despite not speaking significant Chinese he said it was a blast. He had a 70's vintage cheapo Falcon bike, stayed at cheap motels etc.

Developing countries sometimes safer than people assume. I liked the blog about touring thru Botswana w/flip-flops & cheapo single-speed bike:

https://scottsnextadventure.blogspot.com/

After reading that I looked up Botswana crime stats that turned out to be roughly equal to some parts of US. Also I read about an old German guy who rode 'round the world & had little problem--his bike was stolen in UK just a week before tour scheduled to finish.

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Old 12-09-15, 11:31 PM
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Originally Posted by axolotl
For those of you who have ventured into developing countries, either on or off your bike, why have you done it, and did you enjoy it?
packed up and left the us-of-a ten years ago. moved to "our china," first to learn chinese,
and now teaching english on a tropical island. consider it pre-retirement........work 12-16
hours/3-4 days a week. nearly four months paid (!) vacation. easy access to awesomely
groovy touring destinations.

here at home i've got daily rides through the pineapple plantations and coconut groves,
to traditional villages and beach resorts. airport nearby with flights to the mainland or
to singapore with connections anywhere. also have ferries (with train/bus carried aboard)
to the mainland.

we also have a couple golden weeks...one week breaks. short breaks like that i like
to ride around the island here.

longer vacations....6 weeks to two months are for travel. cheap flight to singapore
with connecting flights to:

myanmar, malaysia, thailand, vietnam, cambodia, laos, phillipines, india, indonesia,
phillipines, australia, and so on.

i enjoy one way flights to bangkok, then cycle back through thailand, cambodia and
laos to china.

rarely have language problems. got me a groovy lonely planet southeast asia phrase
book (paper, no batteries needed, 5 languages) that will handle most situations.
regardless, almost anywhere you go, you can find someone who can speak enough english.
ha, and with chinese engineers everywhere, building roads, bridges, dams, power
stations, railways.........can always get directions.

there's rarely violent crime here directed at foreigners. sure, you've got pickpockets
and scams and border corruption, but nothing dangerous unless you put yourself
into a bad situation.

plenty of variety..........food, culture, scenery. food and lodging super cheap. daily
budget staying in guesthouses around $20-25. excellent (and unique) transport
network....buses, tuktuks, ferries, mototaxies, water buffalo, trains, canoes.......
never gets boring.
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Old 12-10-15, 01:02 AM
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BTW, I was born and bred in Canada yet nobody spoke English where I grew up.
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Old 12-10-15, 01:59 AM
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Well, regarding Southeast Asia, I'm currently living in a developing country (Philippines), and I travel to other countries in the region, but I struggle with the thought of bike touring here, other than perhaps credit card type touring on shorter routes, possibly in Thailand. I do think about it, and my gf and I have toured a bit by motorcycle, but the conditions here in SE Asia are a bit overwhelming for me personally.

Things that I personally think about when considering travel here and in other developing regions by bike:

1. Food/water concerns probably top the list - I hate being sick and so don't take risks with streetfood. In Thailand I tend to be more adventurous as their hygiene and cleanliness seems better, but not here or in some of the other countries in this region. Despite my love of Indian food I don't even want to go to India, due to poor sanitary conditions, lol.. so when you're touring where will you eat? What about water? Sometimes bottled water isn't available. Also.. if necessary, where will you sh*t and how do you wash your hands? That can be a problem here and in some countries, not so much in Thailand.

2. Climate - it's so hot and humid here I can barely WALK outside sometimes much less cycle for hours. The sun here near the equator is brutal, except perhaps for right now in the 2-3 cooler months. How do you go into temples and things when you're sopping wet from sweat? Or covered in mud from the afternoon rains? That said, I do bike regularly here, but I know I have a nice shower, and air con if necessary, to come home to.

3. Drivers - the drivers here in Philippines are nuts, and frequently not of a high intelligence. They pass on the right, make u-turns anywhere, drive without lights, speed excessively and so on. I drive a car here and manage fine but I sold my motorcycle after too many close calls. I regularly have cars coming head on at me when cycling, in my lane. I was almost killed in Chiang Mai by a driver who ran a red light. If you are in an accident, good luck getting to an emergency room on time, because they also don't move over for emergency vehicles and traffic congestion in major cities is horrible. Oh yeah, and your health insurance won't do you any good so get the optional travel insurance!

4. Bugs/disease - Dengue and Malaria are on the rise all over this region, and in rural areas there are poisonous snakes, spiders, etc.. so I prefer to stay in known, tourist-friendly accomodations that have online reviews, are clean, have window screens, etc, these are more easily accessible by car or motorcycle.

5. Air pollution - it's often horrible in the cities here, especially from diesel particulates.. sometimes also in rural areas from cooking fires, forest fires, etc. The smoke from the burning forests in Indonesia obscured areas of Thailand and Philippines (1000 km away) for weeks at a time this year. You couldn't possibly have biked in it. It was causing major respiratory illness. I actually have asthma but it's well controlled here due to the humidity.. but those conditions would kill me, and in fact many people died from it.

6. Security - least of my concerns to date - no real issues as long as you take precautions and have situational awareness, but once again when you're traveling by bike you may not know where you will end up. Again, this is probably the least of my concerns - finding a comfortable bed to sleep in, a decent place to eat, and a clean bathroom when necessary is a lot higher on the list.

Despite all this, I actually like it here, lol.. but I have low interest in touring by bicycle. It seems like it would be a hardship. I have two bikes here (road and mountain) and I have certainly thought about it from time to time, but a motorbike makes it a lot easier, can cover more distance, see more areas, etc. And they are ridiculously cheap to purchase, run, etc. Sell when you're done with your trip. The major expense is the airfare to get here - everything else is cheap.

Last edited by mtnroads; 12-10-15 at 02:39 AM. Reason: clarification
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Old 12-10-15, 06:55 AM
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Sorry, but the U.S is still developing. Developing into what remains to be seen.
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Old 12-10-15, 08:25 AM
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mev, I'm glad you chimed in, since you've biked in far more places than most folks on this board. You mentioned climate, and I'm always careful to try and pick the times of the year where the odds of good cycling weather are in my favor. (I think that's good advice for any destination.) In northern Thailand and Laos, for example, December to February has near perfect weather--dry and not too hot. In Sri Lanka and Malaysia, I picked months to avoid monsoon periods in the areas I wished to visit. In most of Mexico and Central America, the northern hemisphere winter coincides with the dry season, as well, so that's when I went.

I also like observing and experiencing cultural differences. I also like to practice foreign languages. In Laos, there wasn't much English (or French) spoken in villages, but I got by with a phrasebook. I would sometimes get amused looks, but a smile goes a long way.
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Old 12-10-15, 08:36 AM
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Originally Posted by mtnroads

1. Food/water concerns probably top the list - I hate being sick and so don't take risks with streetfood. In Thailand I tend to be more adventurous as their hygiene and cleanliness seems better, but not here or in some of the other countries in this region. Despite my love of Indian food I don't even want to go to India, due to poor sanitary conditions, lol.. so when you're touring where will you eat? What about water? Sometimes bottled water isn't available. Also.. if necessary, where will you sh*t and how do you wash your hands? That can be a problem here and in some countries, not so much in Thailand.
I think you're concerns are overblown. First of all, you can find bottled water pretty much anywhere these days, and there are lots of reliable and lightweight pumping systems available now. I spent the night in isolated villages off the electrical grid in Laos and bottled water was readily available there. BTW, the only water-related illness I ever had was giardiasis which I contracted in either British Columbia or Washington state, and I was never drinking stream water, so I don't know how I contracted it.

I've never understood the fear that many (most?) people have about street food. You can see the preparation right in front of you and make an educated decision about hygiene. I eat street food everywhere (especially SE Asia & Mexico) and have never gotten sick from it. I have, however, had non-serious food-related stomach or bowel issues from restaurant food in lots of places, including the USA.

Finding a place to sh*t simply hasn't been a problem.
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Old 12-11-15, 12:18 AM
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You're probably right, especially in Malaysia and Thailand, where I haven't had a problem with streetfood. I guess here in the Philippines, and some other less developed countries it worries me more. But yes, I'm overly cautious. On the other hand you will never find friendlier people than Filipinos so everything's a trade-off. I'm headed to Hanoi this winter (not cycling) and I suspect there won't be any issues.
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Old 12-11-15, 08:57 AM
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This is a really good question that I don't think receives the thoughtful dialogue that it deserves.

If you come from a highly developed country like the United States, touring in a developing country raises serious issues relating class dynamics and privelege. Let's just look at what is implied when you tell a local that you're touring through their country.

To do something like that, it's understood that you have, or recently had, a steady job that provides enough time off that you can just put your life on pause for a few weeks. Underemployed people likely don't enjoy paid vacations. Even if you're not on a paid vacation, you're still comfortable enough to be able to just take the hit. Again, something most Colombians (for example) don't get to do.

Aside from living a lifestyle that allows you to galavant around a foreign country, being on tour implies some degree of wealth. The cost of travel alone is likely out of reach for many people with whom you'll interact, nevermind the cost of your 2015 Long Haul Trucker and Ortlieb panniers.

You see where I'm going with this. Being from a highly developed country, you are inherently priveleged in such a way that affords you the opporitunity to ride around region X. Of course that's not your fault, but it's important to be mindful of how you express your privelege and relative affluence. Especially if you're white, it's important to consider a country's colonialist past, and how your being white and relatively wealthy might come off.

I'm not necessarily saying that one should NEVER tour in a developing country. In fact, I think privleged people should. It teaches humility and hopefully fosters an appreciation for the kinds of issues I'm raising here. But dear lord, if you do it, don't be flashy, don't be an *******, and engage people thoughtfully. Don't be surprised if your bike gets ripped off. Be mindful of your presence. If you really want to do things responsibly, do some volunteer work on your off day.
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Old 12-11-15, 11:32 AM
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Originally Posted by suburbanbeat
This is a really good question that I don't think receives the thoughtful dialogue that it deserves.

If you come from a highly developed country like the United States, touring in a developing country raises serious issues relating class dynamics and privelege. Let's just look at what is implied when you tell a local that you're touring through their country.

To do something like that, it's understood that you have, or recently had, a steady job that provides enough time off that you can just put your life on pause for a few weeks. Underemployed people likely don't enjoy paid vacations. Even if you're not on a paid vacation, you're still comfortable enough to be able to just take the hit. Again, something most Colombians (for example) don't get to do.

Aside from living a lifestyle that allows you to galavant around a foreign country, being on tour implies some degree of wealth. The cost of travel alone is likely out of reach for many people with whom you'll interact, nevermind the cost of your 2015 Long Haul Trucker and Ortlieb panniers.

You see where I'm going with this. Being from a highly developed country, you are inherently priveleged in such a way that affords you the opporitunity to ride around region X. Of course that's not your fault, but it's important to be mindful of how you express your privelege and relative affluence. Especially if you're white, it's important to consider a country's colonialist past, and how your being white and relatively wealthy might come off.

I'm not necessarily saying that one should NEVER tour in a developing country. In fact, I think privleged people should. It teaches humility and hopefully fosters an appreciation for the kinds of issues I'm raising here. But dear lord, if you do it, don't be flashy, don't be an *******, and engage people thoughtfully. Don't be surprised if your bike gets ripped off. Be mindful of your presence. If you really want to do things responsibly, do some volunteer work on your off day.

People flocks to developing countries by the tens of millions every year for vacation. Pacific island paradises, the Caribbean, and all places between. Money is spent like mad. Entire island countries which have almost no natural resources depend on tourism for existence.
Just saying- acknowledgement of having the financial means to vacation in exotic places isnt a bad thing and those who are welcoming the visitors completely understand their clientele isnt poor. They will also, rightfully, push for more spending to take place since it benefits them and their economy.

I agree a person shouldnt be a jerk and flaunt wealth, but I think that applies everywhere. I loathe seeing that even here in the highly developed and insulated midwestern US.
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Old 12-11-15, 12:28 PM
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I think it may be that this is a great first place to sign up and become part of the bike touring community. And first tours are most likely going to be in familiar places with fewer challenges. Baby steps. I think once you get to the point of discovering roads less traveled, confidence and self-sufficiency kick in. Perhaps that's also the point where less planning and the joy of not knowing and figuring it out becomes a part of touring.

But that's all speculation. I know for me, I plan on doing trips through Africa (Cairo to Cape Town) and Asia, but I'm likely going to work my way up to those trips. My first trip was going to be the East coast of the US, but discovered that the Pacific Coast was not only well traveled by bike, but also had a guide book that outlined the entire journey, and even then, I ran into a few difficulties. My next trip will be Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. It was going to be Europe, but I kinda want to explore my own back yard first. Also, it will give me more time to learn German. Growing up, I was able to visit many arts of the world, and my parents, when I was in University, asked me where I wanted to visit, and I said, "Can I see my own country?" Until then, I had only seen Southern Ontario and a bit of Quebec. The wonderful thing about North America is that the topography is incredibly varied.
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Old 12-11-15, 01:27 PM
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Originally Posted by suburbanbeat
If you come from a highly developed country like the United States, touring in a developing country raises serious issues relating class dynamics and privilege.
Agree that your are coming from a different perspective and your attitude matters.

However, a few items I've found:
- Smiles are fairly universal
- Something about traveling under your own power that sometimes sets you apart from the other tourists

In some of these countries, there are flashy resort areas where folks essentially jet in for a short holiday and then jet back out again. Definitely a clash of worlds in those areas - but also when I'm cycling or visiting in those areas I feel more like I'm put into the "tourist bucket" and in some ways not quite as comfortable in the out of way places. I'll bias towards more basic accommodations or more local foods in part because of it.

In some parts of these countries where fewer tourists go, a cycling tourist is more of a curiosity. That curiosity goes both ways. I'm trying to better get a sense of how people "really live" and they are trying to figure out who is this stranger, why are they here and what are they doing. This is where smiles and listening and observing come in.

Even while not touring, I'm more comfortable in somewhat more basic circumstances. I've done this over past years when I've worked a month or two from our Bangalore, India offices. I'll rent a local furnished apartment rather than going into the western hotels. I also try to travel by foot, bicycle or local buses rather than taking taxis or other transport. It makes me an oddity to my engineers working there, but they've figured this out by now.
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Old 12-11-15, 01:35 PM
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UK Cycle Touring Club has a 100+ year history .. and there is the CGOAB site which has more journals to read thru ,
if the touring in the developed north is not interesting, to see and learn History of those places.
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Old 12-11-15, 01:40 PM
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Originally Posted by axolotl
I've never understood the fear that many (most?) people have about street food. You can see the preparation right in front of you and make an educated decision about hygiene. I eat street food everywhere (especially SE Asia & Mexico) and have never gotten sick from it. I have, however, had non-serious food-related stomach or bowel issues from restaurant food in lots of places, including the USA.
Educated guess is just talk, exactly what food related education does the actual buyer have or knowledge of local practices. Isn't it China were street vendors use radioactive coal. I am just reacting to a word, you are probably generally right, and in particular relative to restaurants.


Finding a place to sh*t simply hasn't been a problem.
That may be where the drinking water concerns arise from.

I do feel better and plan to stop giving ten percent of my income to overseas heath, microfinance infrastructure, and sanitation charities.
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Old 12-11-15, 02:21 PM
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Originally Posted by mev
Agree that your are coming from a different perspective and your attitude matters.

However, a few items I've found:
- Smiles are fairly universal
- Something about traveling under your own power that sometimes sets you apart from the other tourists

In some of these countries, there are flashy resort areas where folks essentially jet in for a short holiday and then jet back out again. Definitely a clash of worlds in those areas - but also when I'm cycling or visiting in those areas I feel more like I'm put into the "tourist bucket" and in some ways not quite as comfortable in the out of way places. I'll bias towards more basic accommodations or more local foods in part because of it.

In some parts of these countries where fewer tourists go, a cycling tourist is more of a curiosity. That curiosity goes both ways. I'm trying to better get a sense of how people "really live" and they are trying to figure out who is this stranger, why are they here and what are they doing. This is where smiles and listening and observing come in.

Even while not touring, I'm more comfortable in somewhat more basic circumstances. I've done this over past years when I've worked a month or two from our Bangalore, India offices. I'll rent a local furnished apartment rather than going into the western hotels. I also try to travel by foot, bicycle or local buses rather than taking taxis or other transport. It makes me an oddity to my engineers working there, but they've figured this out by now.
This is a fair point. It's probably safe to say that most people reading this, and most bicycle touring folks are more responsible tourists than someone who spends a week at an all-inclusive. We typically visit and support underserved rural areas, and there's definitely something to that. Anyone touring in a developing country should aim to patronize locally-owned eateries, hotels, etc. rather than chains. You're right - that's probably something we all usually do anyway, but it's worth including that in this thread.
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Old 12-11-15, 02:54 PM
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I don't really have the opportunity to tour away from home much. There are places I might want to go. I think it mainly comes down to why you tour. For me the main thing is I like to ride the bike, and I like to camp. I don't really think I want to do either in the third world for the most part. If my main motivation was meeting people and exploring cultures, I think I might choose to backpack. My dream is to ride through an endless Yosemite valley with perfect roads, no people and camp without snooping bureaucrats wherever I want to. The dream isn't possible anywhere, but there are many first world places that are second best.
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Old 12-11-15, 03:06 PM
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Originally Posted by suburbanbeat
This is a really good question that I don't think receives the thoughtful dialogue that it deserves... Be mindful of your presence. If you really want to do things responsibly, do some volunteer work on your off day.
I feel that when I visit impoverished places, but I am not at all sure it is really what is happening. Often people like backpackers are regarded as lowlifes, not properly dressed, touring is kinda a bum's lifestyle. Many of the places one might consider visiting have a Four Seasons tucked away somewhere, an normally poor places have super rich who line up for climate change dollars then come home and live the life. Comparatively we are inexplicable. I don't know what people in other countries think of us, or even sometimes in my own country. I certainly don't feel any anguish about my colonial past, we didn't go to any of those places, and at the time we were poor enough on our own farms, or white collar in Canada. If you are from the US, the colonial phase is not in the past.

I think for the most part people have no idea what our gear costs, or we would be in a lot more trouble, anywhere on earth. Why do people let us camp on their property or give us meals, it isn't because they think we are super rich tourist with lots of time and money. If only they knew. If I drove my F-150 into someone's farmyard and said I was travelling from Ontario can I use your yard for a camp-ground, they would set the dogs on me. Tourists are supposed to spend 50-100 dollars every time they get out of the car. We are like martians to the average person, without the constant probing.
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Old 12-11-15, 04:22 PM
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Originally Posted by MassiveD
I don't really have the opportunity to tour away from home much. There are places I might want to go. I think it mainly comes down to why you tour. For me the main thing is I like to ride the bike, and I like to camp. I don't really think I want to do either in the third world for the most part. If my main motivation was meeting people and exploring cultures, I think I might choose to backpack. My dream is to ride through an endless Yosemite valley with perfect roads, no people and camp without snooping bureaucrats wherever I want to. The dream isn't possible anywhere, but there are many first world places that are second best.
You know what you like and what motivates you, so more power to you. You might be surprised, however, that there are places in the developing world which would meet your criteria. Parts of Chile and Argentina come to mind. Some of the most gorgeous scenery I have seen anywhere on earth is there. (Chile is a relatively prosperous place and might not be considered a "developing" country anymore.) Northern Laos also has great scenery, and the mostly excellent roads were remarkably traffic-free. I encountered a couple of dozen other touring cyclists there, but none of them were camping due to the very cheap accommodations which were usually available. Some cyclists who had brought camping gear told me they regretted bringing it.

Last edited by axolotl; 12-11-15 at 04:30 PM.
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Old 12-11-15, 04:49 PM
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I prefer to bicycle from my house and return that way. I might take a leg of the trip by train. Since three weeks is about my longest vacation that limits my range. I still have many new places in my area to visit. I can't see spending hours and hours on a plane putting up with rude people while shelling out big bucks to go overseas.

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Old 12-11-15, 05:43 PM
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I avoid it because of problems like this. New test: Rio's Olympic water consistently contaminated
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