Without a doubt, the question I’m asked most frequently by fellow bicycle adventurers is why I don’t camp.
The short answer, to spare you reading my trademark novel-sized texts, is that I do not fancy it. At all.
Please note: not camping does not mean staying in expensive hotels or paying for accommodation for that matter! That is a whole other essay that I explore this feature!
For those who require a long, thorough answer…
Before I even delve into that, I want to clarify that I seldom ride after dark if I can help it. Percentage-wise, I would say that only 5% of my stages are covered in the dark, and by that, I mean early morning, late evenings or overnight.
The reason is that it’s not safe as visibility is poor for motorists who might not see me, and for me too, who might not spot all the obstacles on the road ahead despite the good headlight that I have. It also defeats the purpose of cycling places as the whole point of the expedition is to scenically experience the areas that I cover, and when it’s pitch black, there isn’t much to see.
Now onto why I don’t camp.
Bike touring is closely associated with camping. I would even say that for some, camping is the most exciting part of bicycle travel.
Not for me.
I have never camped as I personally don’t see the appeal in it and after a whole day of being outside battling the winds, the heat, the cold, the rain, the snow, the mosquitoes, motorists, dogs, and other animals, and so much other drama, at the end of my ride, I want to be indoors, have a very nice warm shower, a hot meal plus chocolate dessert then sleep in a comfortable bed if that’s available.
More than once, I have received some criticism from those who like to pitch a tent and sleep under the stars and who claim that my style of touring, which is also referred to as “credit card touring”, is “cheating” which I find baffling because I signed up for cycling across countries and, in this current case, across a continent, not to camp across the said masses of land!
The other reason I am not into camping, which I almost forgot to mention, is that it means that my bike will have to be loaded with extra weight from the camping and cooking gear, as well as other components and accessories required to ensure that someone has a pleasant night, if that’s even possible, I wonder.
I also don’t feel safe sleeping outside where there are not four solid walls to shield me from predators, to territorial herbivores such as elephants, buffalos, moose or worse: hippos, reptiles and so forth, without forgetting the most dangerous animal ever: the ill-intent human.
If I feel unsafe, I will not sleep as I will be super alert and if I don’t sleep, then I have just wasted my time as rest is essential for recovery as proper recovery is how I am able to ride the next morning feeling fresh and rejuvenated.
Camping is a whole other discipline and skill that adds up to what one already needs to cycle long distances across countries and continents. I don’t want to overwhelm myself and my brain by trying to add this skillset that I don’t really need to achieve my objectives.
Perhaps if I travelled with a group of knowledgeable people, I would consider it, as not only would I seek counsel from them but I would also feel safer from all the fears, founded or not, as mentioned earlier.
Another reason against camping is that I need to be able to wash my kit (cycling clothes) after each ride and let it dry overnight while I wear my off-bike clothing, which also acts as PJs. That’s how I am able to travel light.
So far, I have never been in a situation when I needed to camp. That is because it’s done by design, as explained in a previous post on how I map out routes for my bicycle adventures. I simply plan my routes from places with accommodation to other places with accommodation.
For example, one of my dream rides is to ride around Africa. Not across as most people do from Cairo to Cape Town or vice versa but to go around it like I did with the continental United States of America.
I started creating routes but somewhere between Morocco and Western Sahara, there is a 600 km or so with no human settlement which means that I cannot find accommodation, so I either would need to camp or hitchhike to be driven to the closest one, which would bother me because I like to ride all my rides, and it might also be a gamble as there might not be many motorists willing to carry me and my bike, and that’s if they have the vehicle for all that cargo to begin with!
Another case is when I rode across Canada on a fixed-gear bike in 2016 in Winter to set a Guinness World Record, as depicted in the documentary short film: “Escape”.
I would have never completed that trip because in the last 1000 km there were 600 km of those (odd coincidence!) that were just barren and daily temperatures dropped to -40C/F and while I did meet some brave souls that cycled and camped along the way when I eventually went ahead with it, I am not one of them.
Fortunately for me, a man that had hosted me two months prior wanted to see that Northern part of Canada and offered to support me by driving his motorhome/RV/caravan all the way there so that I had a warm place to sleep, safe from the elements and wolves if they were hungry for an African-born appetiser, but to also provide me with food because that would have meant carrying three days’ worth of it and having to figure out how to unfreeze it before eating it.
All the above stories are to convey the notion that if I cannot find accommodation, I will simply scratch that ride, leg, or adventure and come up with another one. That is why, for instance, my Africa tour will only materialise if I have a support vehicle that can also act as a place to spend the night.
(When I was cycling around the United States of America in 2022, one of my hosts in New Mexico offered me accommodation in a decommissioned school bus that she once used to tour the entire country. It was one of the most restful sleeps I have EVER had in my life as it was in the wilderness but… behind four solid walls!)
But why not just learn and love how to camp? The answer: it’s not my cup of Rooibos.
It goes without saying that bike touring the way I do ends up being a little bit costlier than camping, which is very true if one is paying for accommodation every single night. In my case, I do it differently, which I will explain here.
However, I like to argue that travelling light by not camping makes me faster, which makes my trip shorter overall, hence fewer expenses. I have not run serious numbers on this, so please take it with a grain of salt!
Finally, by not camping, I get to connect with people and sometimes even create community. Most people go on bicycle adventures to run away from humans. In my case, it’s the highlight of the adventure. Always. The scenic places that I see eventually fade away from my memory but the fellowship that I have with people who host me or whom I meet at motels is what creates experiences that I will cherish forever.
To camp or not to camp whilst bike touring?
That is not a dilemma I ever have or wish to contend with. I don’t camp because that is not how I want to experience and explore the planet on my bicycle. That was also the short answer but if you are here, you don’t mind the long version!
That said… if you found this article useful and want to contribute to my accommodation budget, your contribution to my GoFundMe would be more than appreciated.
Postscript: Another reason why I am not too keen on camping is because my bicycle adventures are long. I could consider it if it was an overnight or a weekend. My shortest journey so far has lasted six months. 180 days in a tent? Not for me but I applaud and respect fully those all this appeals to!
This is a post by JaBig, a Canadian DJ who is (as of this writing) about to cycle across Europe from North Cape, Norway to Tarifa to raise funds for World Bicycle Relief, in addition to embarking on a dream adventure of a lifetime.