Cycling Europe

Ever wanted to do something so crazy you didn’t even know where to begin? Well I found two fellow Texan travelers that dreamed it and went with it! They decided to push their limits to the extreme- physically, mentally and emotionally. How?

They decided to travel ALL of Europe for a year… on their Bicycles! I am excited to introduce My American Dream’s first collaboration, Brenna and Ian, with some SERIOUS motivation to get you out of that comfort zone! 

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So first and fore most tell us about your plans and how you chose your locations?

B: Well, our very VERY general plan is to cycle to the south of Italy and then ferry over to Greece and work our way back north to Finland. That being said, we like to leave it open to change because you never know who you are going to meet! Even just last week we were planning to head south in France after getting off the ferry but we met a German woman who told us if we want cheap bike parts to go to Holland. So we did, lol. Now we are in Germany- not part of our original plan but still awesome! It’s just the difference between enjoying a lot of different wines in France versus all this beer in Germany

I: A big part of our planning actually relies on us leaving things unplanned. This allows us to be spontaneous and really tailor our trip to how we feel day to day, or week to week. We do have some general ideas though. For example, one of our goals is to cycle down the entire Italian peninsula, sort of zig-zagging around to catch the sites! We got that idea just from talking with each other about places that inspired us. After that, we hope to ferry across to Greece and cycle up the coast of the Adriatic. That idea came in large part from talking with people we’ve met about their favorite places in Europe. So ideas about where we go can really come from anywhere, which is a lot of fun! Sometimes we also have to make decisions not to go somewhere. For example, our original idea was to head into Scandinavia and cycle to the far north of Norway. We eventually decided against it for this trip when we realized how expensive that part of the world is. Scandinavia is still on our bucket list, but we’ll save that for another trip.

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How did you guys prepare to leave on cycles for a whole year? Mentally, physically, emotionally, financially…

B: Mentally/emotionally: easiest ones, I think. We weren’t happy with our daily routine and the linear pattern of our lives. The idea of escaping and being totally free was actually the only thing keeping me sane the last few weeks of work. I’d say the most consideration for mental preparedness had more to do with the dynamic between Ian and I. We had to have a base level of understanding that spending every moment together, cycling and having rough days might cause some strain. So being ready for that was good. Just the other day we had a pretty heated argument over whether or not “most people” dip their cookies in their milk.

Physically: we didn’t prepare in this way at all and so the first few weeks of riding was very brutal because of it lol

Financially: We saved, and saved and saved and saved. For over a year we stopped buying “non-essentials”, went out rarely and lived as far below our means as we could comfortably!

I: The truth is, in a lot of ways we didn’t prepare! We were both athletes in college, so I think we were hoping our minds and bodies could quickly get back into that mode. And it’s actually worked out pretty well. The good thing about cycling is that you can’t help but to get in shape. So even though we arrived in Ireland out of shape, after a week or so on the road our bodies rose to the challenge. I think that the emotional preparation is the hardest. We both felt very strongly that we had to make a change in our lives and that travel was the way to do it, but dropping everything and leaving “home” still feels pretty intense sometimes. Cycle touring is hard and taxing at times, and in the beginning it can feel overwhelming. But once you find your groove, it’s like the veil is lifted and you can really see and appreciate what you are doing. Every day is an accomplishment, and that is really rewarding. Financially, we started preparing a long time ago, even before we had a real idea of what we were going to do. We started saving money as best as we could without sacrificing too much socially. It’s easy stuff, like instead of drinking 6 beers downtown, drink 3 or 4. All those little things that seem insignificant can really add up over time. When we knew we were going to take off long term, we really started saving. We lived in the cheapest (but still livable) apartment we could find and tried our best to put our money towards things that mattered and would help us on our journey. In the end, it doesn’t have to cost much to travel, you just have to decide to do it cheaply. We heard of a woman who cycles from London to Istanbul on something like £1000, so it’s absolutely possible to travel on a budget.

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How did y’all decide it was finally the “perfect time”?

B: Oooh, I don’t really know. We had talked about traveling for years and I landed a good job so I got a little distracted trying to focus on that. Essentially, we decided while signing our next lease. We had a 6 or 12 month option and it got to the point where we were like, “if we don’t do this now we probably won’t”. So 6 months it is. We kept trying to give excuses like “well if I work for another year or two, think how much we could save!”…but it’s like, yeah, that excuse will always work. You could always save more. Save and save and save until it’s been 10 years, you have 2 kids and a mortgage. You’ll have A TON of money saved but you can’t really leave anymore

I: In my mind, it can always be the perfect time, you just have to make it so. Since we both graduated at different times, we were at different stages of our post graduate lives. We didn’t want to set ourselves up for failure in the future, so we did all the things you are “supposed to do” after college. I got an internship as a geologist, Brenna held her full time job for a year to gain that experience. Emotionally, we were ready to travel before doing those things, but we decided to be patient and build ourselves professionally and financially. In the end, our decision of when we would leave really came to when we were signing the lease to our apartment in Houston. They asked how long we wanted it for, we both looked at each other, then blurted out 6 months. So we gave ourselves a legal timeline. Once our lease ended, that was when we would leave.

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What’s your advice for people who dream of traveling but haven’t gone through with it yet?

B: Ah, this is a tricky one. I guess, honestly, I’d say you need to have a very honest conversation with yourself and pinpoint where you are in your life and if you’re happy with all aspects. Quitting, selling everything and leaving for a year or more is definitely not for everyone, but that is not the only way to go about it! I think at the beginning it’s a good idea to plan, if not over-plan, what you want to do and where you want to go. Research, read blogs, look up traveling websites and apps that get you in touch with locals and other travelers (Couchsurfing, helpx.net are my two favorites. If you’re cycling: warmshowers.org). If you’re savvy, and plan ahead traveling isn’t expensive. Don’t have a travel buddy? Again, helpx.net can link you up with other travelers, organizations like “Contiki” organize big groups of people the same age and plan tours (expensive, but you’re never alone), and then Couchsurfing. You are staying with locals every night so you’re only alone during the day and usually not even then if your host is around! Essentially, what I’m saying is that the biggest obstacle that keeps you from traveling will be you (and probably debt from school or something) but that being said you don’t have to fly around the world to travel. I guarantee there are things a road trip away that can scratch that travel itch until you get organized financially! There is ALWAYS a way

I: Kind of like the last question, I would say that the perfect time is unlikely to reveal itself to you. You have to go out and make it yourself. It’s easy to let things get in the way, so you have to make the decision to leave and stick to it. Also, don’t try to have the whole trip planned out before you really know you are leaving. We didn’t know we were going to do this via bicycle until fairly close to our departure. There will always be things you have to sacrifice to do a trip like this, but the sacrifice is worth it to work on yourself.

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If you could go back to the start of your trip what would you do differently?

B: Omg, I’m not sure actually. Maybe buy some different bike parts right away but that only applies to the crazies trying to cycle around, lol. I did get sick after our first flight because I accidentally didn’t eat for like 30 hours so I’d probably eat more.

I: Even though the beginning of our journey was a bit rocky while we stumbled to figure out our groove, I don’t think I would change anything. All the hard times and struggles are what grow you as a person, and that’s what this is all about. Knowing what I know now about cycling, I might have made some changes to the bikes back in the states, but learning about bike mechanics on the road has also been a part of the journey!

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You guys have both traveled quite a bit before. How has quitting your jobs and leaving your “home” been a different experience?

B: I haven’t noticed too drastic of a change yet, actually. Nothing about quitting my job felt particularly hard for me. I miss the paychecks and some of my friends there but that’s it, lol. At this point we’ve only been on the road for about 11 weeks so I don’t think homesickness has really sunk in just yet and the first bit of our tour was in the British Isles where the culture isn’t so so different so it was a nice, and easy, taper into traveling full time. Sometimes I wish that we could apparate back into our old apartment, play video games and sleep in our own bed but that’s usually when I’m tired and cranky and the next morning I’m like “Woo lets cycle to Germany today!!” I’m sure in 10 months I’d say something about missing my friends and family and breakfast tacos

I: Before, traveling was always for a trip. You had two weeks or whatever to see all you could in a particular area. Now, it’s our lifestyle. We aren’t on a trip this time, we are living this way! This means that we can take our time, get to know an area and its people in a different way. One struggle is that we don’t have a place that is just our space. No more sitting at home alone and watching tv or playing video games, reading a book. We can still do those things, but it’s in someone else’s home or in a hostel. It can be exhausting meeting new people every day, but it teaches you to really appreciate those moments when you are alone.

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Okay now real talk, what’s y’all’s budget? How do you guys plan to stay on your budget?

B: The most important question for a lot of people I imagine! I’ll just be very straight forward: personally, I aim for about 500 dollars a month. Some countries are expensive and we’ll spend a bit more and others are crazy cheap and we will spend less. Cycling takes transportation costs out of the picture almost entirely. Couchsurfing and HelpX take most of accommodation out of the budget. We still use Airbnb (rarely) and can camp (we just have a hammock lol) when the weather is nice. We eat out rarely and buy most of our food from grocery stores. There is a massive gap between luxury and comfort, financially speaking. If you are willing to eat bread and bananas for lunch you can expand your travel budget in ways you wouldn’t believe. There is an woman who cycled from London to China or something on £1000. Research! Read blogs! You’d be amazed at how little it costs to do this.

I: I haven’t been looking too closely at the numbers. We stay with people on Couchsurfing or Warm Showers, and we eat most of our food from grocery stores. Eating out is ridiculously expensive, so we view that more as a treat than a regular thing. We’ve gotten better about spending as we’ve gone along, too. When we first started, we were constantly going to cafes and getting coffees. Multiple coffees every day really adds up (especially in the U.K.). I consider myself a bit of a coffee addict, so it’s not that we don’t buy coffee anymore, but we’ve cut back, and we’ve been just as happy! Just like when we were saving for the trip, it’s the little things that save you the most.

 

AHHH!! I am itching to leave after talking to them! I can’t wait for my next trip. Who knows, maybe I’ll find a teaching job and won’t come back. Hope their story will inspire you to take the leap out of your comfort zone to create your own story! 🙂 

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