How to Take a Time Out From Your Job and Travel the World On Less Money

Just like Debs and Jo from Brakes and Cakes, you don’t need a fancy bike to travel the world.

These two fantastic women took a time out from their regular jobs to see the world by riding second-hand bicycles during their first bike tour ever!

Read on and learn all about their wonderful story – and why cycling is fast enough to get places, but still slow enough to enjoy the beauty of the world around us.

Cyclists Debs and Jo
Cyclists Debs and Jo. Photo credit: Justin Balog

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Debs Butler, 34, usually a teacher, Jo Welford, 37 usually an academic researcher, but have been cycling since September 2015.

Both English, Debs is from Lincoln, Jo from Harrogate, Yorkshire. Have lived in Leicester for the last ten years. Currently, on the ferry from Finland to Sweden.

Away from cycling, Debs plays the guitar, enjoys reading and a range of sports. Both play cricket — very English! Jo likes a range of sports and hanging out with her large family.

Cyclists Debs and Jo

How and why did you get into cycling adventuring and traveling?

We both had pre-university ‘gap years’ that were not especially adventurous but included long trips away from home. Debs had camped a lot growing up, Jo more as an adult.

In 2011 and 2012, we took a sabbatical year. During this time, we decided to cycle around New Zealand. Our only previous cycle trip was ten days eating cheese in Normandy, so it wasn’t great preparation for arriving in an extremely hilly country without any bikes or kit. We just thought New Zealand was a good cycling size, and we’d read a few cycle-touring books. So we bought some cheap second bikes and started riding, and later on we sold them before we left New Zealand, and bought new ones for the world tour.

It was brilliant seeing stuff from the road and getting ourselves places with our own power, so from that bike tour of about 1500 miles came all of the others. Once we had completed Vancouver to Winnipeg later that year, anything seemed possible by bike.

Cyclists Debs and Jo

Why is adventuring and traveling important for you?

Means you really appreciate having a fridge when you get home. Though having a selection of clothes to choose from becomes and bit overwhelming! (Instead of just, what is cleanest/driest).

It’s really important to learn about the world we live in, and cycling through it is a great way to do that. Fast enough to get places, but slow enough to see.

What has been the best and difficult parts of your cycling adventures?

Sections of the trip have been great for different reasons. The Western half of the USA had spectacular scenery, Europe had loads of history and great cakes, Japan had something weird every day!

It gets tiring always having to work out when or where you will sleep and eat. This happens when you are moving all the time, so we find that by staying somewhere for a few days we can usually overcome this feeling, and remember how exciting it is to be away.

Cyclists Debs and Jo

How do you eat and sleep on the road?

This varies by country. In Southeast Asia, we slept in guesthouses and ate at roadside places and markets. Everywhere else we camp and cook, with occasional bakery treats or eating out to try local food. Camping is a mixture of campgrounds, asking landowners and sometimes wild camping. We never trespass.

We have just changed tents from a tunnel (Vango Pulsar 200) to Semi Geodesic Coleman Tatra 2. Pluses and minuses to both. Will need to use the new one for longer before deciding on a favourite. Didn’t think the Vango Pulsar is as good as its predecessor the Spirit 200+.

Can’t remember what our sleeping bags are, but we have women’s specific and it’s great that there’s not loads of wasted space at the feet end, they are exactly Debs’ height.

For cooking we have a Trangia. It’s not usually too much of a problem to find alcohol fuel as long as you are not in a Muslim country or Latvia.

Cyclists Debs and Jo

What are your best advice for new cyclists and backpackers?

Pack less stuff. We see a lot of cyclists and backpackers with far more kit that needed. This was especially true of non-camping backpackers in Asia with bags big enough for a person to get in, plus another smaller rucksack. You will be more comfortable the less you carry.

Start with the trip you can afford, however big or small. It doesn’t have to be a massive trip, it just has to be your trip. Start in your home country and avoid costly and environmentally unfriendly flying.

For people starting cycling trips, don’t try to ride too far at the start. We know a number of people, often they are already road cyclists, who expect themselves to be able to ride a similar mileage on tour. You can, but you might not enjoy it at the start. Reassess, it takes time to navigate a new place, you have to pack up unfamiliar kit, you want to stop and take photos. Go slower and enjoy.

Cyclists Debs and Jo

How do you prepare for your cycling adventures and how do you finance them?

We both play a lot of sport and cycle for commuting and socially, but we definitely don’t train especially for bike tours. There’s no way we’d be motivated to ride around our village with four panniers unnecessarily. We are in reasonable cycling shape and after a couple of days you get used to the extra bags, by the end of the first fortnight you feel good!

No sponsors or fundraising.

For our current world cycle, we saved for three years before the trip started. We bought new bikes but had most of the other stuff, so hardly spend on kit.

We have been travelling since October 2015. We estimate our costs to be about ¬£1000 per month for two. Though it’s gone up since Brexit – the British pound took a big hit.

Cyclists Debs and Jo

What has been your best adventuring purchase below $100, and what other favorite gear do you have?

Decathlon down/polyester puffa jackets. We had a really cold spell in France in 2015. Debs had a near hypothermic morning. Next day we went to decathlon and bought warmer coats. They are still in good condition and warm us up straight away. Don’t stuff down quite as small as a 200 dollar one but as the were 26 euros each (reduced from 40) they are brilliant. Only downside – they are the same colour, so we look a bit weird at campsites in matching jackets.

This one is a bit cheating, they are currently below $100 because the pound sucks.

We have Therm-a-Rest Neoair sleeping pads. You blow them up and get a good few centimetres off the ground. We reckon we’ve slept on them over 350 comfy nights. Like the sleeping bag, the medium length is exactly Debs height.

Our other favorite gear would be Lifeventure thermal cups, which can fit in a bike bottle holder and keep our cups of tea lovely and warm. In hot countries, they kept ice icy for a good few hours too.

How do you balance normal life with cycling and travelling?

In the last six years, we’ve worked for three, travelled for three. We’re on the way home now to work again and spend time with family and friends. That’s what we miss most. No doubt we will soon be saving for the next trip.

Cyclists Debs and Jo
Cyclists Debs and Jo. Photo credit: Susan of ‘Jumping At The Bean’

What will the future bring?

More cycling! We’ve still got a ‘to cycle’ list as long as your arm. Also, more long distance walking, we really enjoyed hiking the Hillary trail in January in Auckland.


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