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Portland couple quits jobs to cycle the world with their dog

Posted by on March 8th, 2016 at 11:25 am

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A “family portrait” of Jen Sotolongo, Dave Hoch and their pooch Sora.
(Photos: Jen Sotolongo and Dave Hoch)

Plenty of folks quit their jobs in exchange for adventure, but not quite in the way as Dave Hoch and Jen Sotolongo of Southeast Portland. Since May 2015, Dave and Jen have been cycle touring the world with a unique companion — their 11-year-old Australian Shepherd, Sora. Together, they call themselves the Long Haul Trekkers.

“Cycle touring is by far the most difficult occupation we’ve ever had. You’re at the mercy of the elements, you’re constantly exhausted, and you have to ask for a lot of help from strangers. You also develop wonderful relationships, receive the best education you’ll ever have, and get to eat anything you want.”

After he was unable to gain traction with the Cog Space, a co-work space start-up for Portland bicycle businesses, Dave found himself stuck in the same Corporate America job where he had been for the past eight years. When his exit strategy didn’t go as planned, he threw out the idea of a long term cycle tour to Jen.

“I needed to untether myself from the system and see the world,” Dave said. “Life is too short to sit behind a desk all day long. We spend our whole lives working just to retire, when the reality is that retirement may not come. I had a college friend who died from a heart attack at 33 last year. What is a life worth living if you don’t live it when you have the chance?”

At first, Jen wasn’t so sure about uprooting their lives. She has just gotten a new job in tourism, promoting cycling, outdoor recreation and the history of Clackamas County. It was a great job and she finally felt settled after a year of looking for work post grad school.

As she thought about it more, however, it didn’t take long before she agreed that a travel adventure on a bike sounded much better than life inside at a desk.

Once Jen and Dave committed to touring, they began saving as much money they could over the next year and planning for their adventure. Jen had a friend construct her a custom frame while Dave upgraded from a Surly Cross Check to a Long Haul Trucker Disc.

Working with Clinton Garner of A Better Cycle, their neighborhood bike shop, Dave procured the appropriate gear and essentials for a long term world cycle tour. Additionally, Dave began volunteering with Bikes for Humanity in exchange for a nine-week course in bicycle maintenance. The volunteer experience coupled with the maintenance course prepared him for any number of mishaps they might encounter on the road.

From May to December of 2015, they traveled over 4,200 miles by bicycle from Oslo, Norway to Athens, Greece, by way of Turkey and the Balkans, covering 16 European countries. In January, they set off from Ushuaia, Argentina in Patagonia where they plan to spend the next year or so making their way back to Portland.

Leaving Sora behind was never an option. She travels with the couple at home and they were determined to figure out a way to bring her on this trip. It means regular vet visits to obtain paperwork to meet entry requirements for various countries (11 visits and counting by the time of this publication), purchasing a one-time use kennel to fly Sora from Athens to Buenos Aires, and carrying an additional 70lbs of gear and dog food including her and her Burley Design Tail Wagon. To them, however, the joy she brings to the adventure far outweighs the headaches of having her along.

“Sora is part of the family. She’s like our child,” Dave commented. “When I adopted her, I committed to at least 15 years of love and care. She was a project dog when I got her and the project isn’t over.”

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Bike path sidewalk in Oslo.
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Ptuj, Slovenia.
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Istra, Croatia.
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A picnic in Turkey.
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Rhodope Mountains, Bulgaria.
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Elbe River, Germany.

The couple chose to begin their tour in Europe as a way of easing into life on the road, especially with a dog. Knowing that Europe has some of the best cycling infrastructure and bike shares programs in the world, Dave and Jen also wanted to take the opportunity to study what the best infrastructure looks like and bring some ideas back home to Portland.

They quickly found that while Portland ranks among the top cycling cities in the United States and Oregon is a popular destination for cycle touring, the city and state overall still lag behind what they found in Europe, including countries with smaller economies like Slovenia and Czech Republic.

“We were shocked to enter the small town of Lake Ohrid, Macedonia and find bike paths incorporated into the sidewalks,” said Jen. “We also found them in Rethymno, Greece on Crete and in Bodrum, Turkey. Granted, cars still used the lanes as parking spaces because they’ll park anywhere they want, but the point is, the city made an effort to put it there.”

From inter-country bike paths like the Copenhagen-Berlin, Alpe Adria traversing the Alps from Austria to Italy or the Euro Velo network of multi-country routes, to Germany’s 11,700 kilometers of cycling paths, and routes so well-labeled that maps are unnecessary, Europe shows what can happen to its residents, tourism, and economies when cycling takes priority.

“Everyone felt comfortable on the bike paths in many parts of Europe. Families toured with young children and groups of older people left us in the dust with their electric bikes,” Jen explained.

With the number of accommodations, frequent campgrounds, restaurants, water stations, signage, and accessibility to trains and other modes of public transportation, the couple is brimming with ideas to bring back in hopes they can help further build upon the great work already happening in Oregon.

After spending far less than they had budgeted and not yet ready to head home, the couple decided to extend their journey to South America.

“Cycle touring is by far the most difficult occupation we’ve ever had,” says Jen. “You’re at the mercy of the elements, you’re constantly exhausted, and you have to ask for a lot of help from strangers. You also develop wonderful relationships, receive the best education you’ll ever have, and get to eat anything you want.”

While the cycling network in South America isn’t quite that of Europe or even the US, Dave, Jen, and Sora are up for the challenge, starting with battling the 60-kilometer/hour headwinds of Patagonia.

You can read about their adventures and mishaps, including blog posts by Sora in her “Behind the Spokes” column on on their website, Long Haul Trekkers. You can can also find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

This story was written for BikePortland by Jen Sotolongo.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

58 Comments
  • UncleMuscles March 8, 2016 at 11:34 am

    If I quit my “Corporate America Job” to travel around the world with my wife and dog I might make it about a month before going completely broke and starting to spend my retirement. Let’s not act like this is some choice most people can make. It’s obvious these folks already had money. Travel is crazy expensive no matter what people who “just bummed around the world for a year” might tell you.

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    • Pete March 8, 2016 at 12:01 pm

      True dat, but good for them, though. I know lots of people with money and most do much worse with it than this.

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      • Craig Gifen March 8, 2016 at 12:55 pm

        Funny, a friend was at a birthday party and one girl was complaining that: “there is NO WAY our family of four can live on $100k a year”

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    • Mike Quigley March 8, 2016 at 12:05 pm

      And with a dog too? Lots of countries have restrictions on pets. Plus, I like the line about being constantly exhausted. To each his own I guess.

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      • Jen Soto March 8, 2016 at 12:34 pm

        Mike,

        It’s mostly the island nations with restrictions on pets. Most in our experience have required rabies, health certificates, and deworming pills. Once you’ve done one, you tend get a hang for most.

        And yes, we are always, always exhausted! International bike travel with a dog certainly is not for everyone!

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) March 8, 2016 at 12:10 pm

      UncleMuscles,

      No one is saying anything about Jen and Dave’s choice. Who cares how much money they have or what they’re doing with it? Not everything posted on this site is intended to be a political statement.

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    • 9watts March 8, 2016 at 12:14 pm

      “Travel is crazy expensive no matter what people who “just bummed around the world for a year” might tell you.”

      And you know this from experience? It doesn’t sound like it.

      If you skip the flying part it doesn’t have to cost much at all. I’m curious what all you’d spend the money on? Except for food and some spokes and an occasional laundromat what would you be buying on a bike trip around the world?

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      • Huey Lewis March 8, 2016 at 12:29 pm

        ALL THE FOOD. Come on, man. You ever bike tour?

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        • Brian March 8, 2016 at 12:35 pm

          Beer?

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        • CaptainKarma March 8, 2016 at 1:18 pm

          I did eat a LOT riding RAGBRAI.

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        • 9watts March 8, 2016 at 5:47 pm

          Yep. I ate roughly twice the amount I normally eat on a bike tour. No question. And food was the first thing on my list, as you may have noticed. But 2x what I normally eat still doesn’t come close to all the bills I pay in a given year.

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    • Jen Soto March 8, 2016 at 12:28 pm

      I think you’d be very surprised about how inexpensive travel can be. We spend a fraction of what we spend at home in Portland than what we do on the road. When you cook your own food, carry your own home, provide your own transportation, and no longer have a need to consume, you actually spend very little. It all depends on how you travel. “Travel is expensive” is a common misconception, you just have to think differently.

      Further, we absolutely did not and do not have an abundance of money. We saved for a year before leaving, stopped buying “stuff,” and cut back on other expenses. We also created revenue streams like selling back books, renting our house out on AirBnB, and writing from the road.

      If you and your wife want to take your dog traveling around the world by bike, it most certainly is possible, you just have to say and figure out a way.

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    • Granpa March 8, 2016 at 12:48 pm

      Eat the rich!!

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    • Tomas La Palella March 8, 2016 at 12:52 pm

      I am SO glad to see this as the first comment. These sorts of stories are nice and always deliver plenty of inspirational lifestyle-magazine-quality vibes but the elephant in the room is always privilege.

      There’s an ocean of responsibility between the average person and the subjects in these heartwarming tales of leisure-adventure-travel. Anyone telling you that you’re wasting your life by not following their path needs to report to DEQ for smug testing.

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      • Pete March 9, 2016 at 9:06 am

        Wise financial decisions =/= privilege.

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      • resopmok March 9, 2016 at 11:47 am

        I want to half-like this comment since I recognize there is a significant difference in perspective between those who choose to have children (and thus, much responsibility) and those who don’t. As people age, they often search for a “purpose” to their doings, and the one Dave shares is not uncommon for his demographic.

        There should also be recognition from the readership though, that no matter how hard someone works, they may not have had the societal privilege which allows them to just save up and quit their white collar job to take time off from being a contributing member of society. Some folks have little opportunity to even become that member, despite a strong desire to be. Screams accusing jealousy do not recognize the perspective which sees Dave and Jen’s opportunity painted in this light. The truth is, it isn’t something just anyone can do; those who believe it is don’t recognize their own shackles of the Dream (for more on this, read Ta-Nehisi Coates “Between the World and Me”).

        If you don’t like the story, fine. If you do, fine. If you don’t like the criticisms of the story’s participants, fine. If you “get it,” fine. Can we stop being hostile though?

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        • 9watts March 9, 2016 at 12:16 pm

          I respectfully disagree. I submit that you don’t even need a job to quit to do something like this. Assuming you have a bike ($50 on Craigslist is a decent start), just get on your bike and go. Why does everything revolve around money?!

          I had a friend who on a summer break from college biked from Portland out to Astoria. He had never biked in his life before. He had so much more fun than he expected to that he turned around and biked all the way to Virginia Beach – by himself! I doubt he had much money at all. He probably did buy himself a bus ticket back to Portland, but let’s not get carried away here with the assumptions about What.Is.Required.

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          • jeff March 10, 2016 at 1:06 pm

            because the necessary tools to do so require cash?

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            • 9watts March 10, 2016 at 3:54 pm

              cash – like $50?

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    • fozman March 8, 2016 at 1:27 pm

      I did 10 months of an around the world trip and spent about $30K. Definitely could have done it cheaper, but had a great time. I biked across the US and then for a month in Western Europe, definitely the way to go if you want to save $

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    • dan March 8, 2016 at 5:51 pm

      Cycle touring is one of the cheapest ways to go though. Many years ago when I toured from Singapore to Hong Kong, I averaged anywhere from $100/week to $250/week, depending on the level of development of each country and exchange rates. That was staying in a hotel — not a hostel — almost every night. You’d spend more in Europe or South America, but when all you’re buying is food and hotel/hostel/campground fees, your money stretches further than you might guess.

      Would love to do some cycle touring with our dog! I would probably wimp out and start in the US though.

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    • reality check March 8, 2016 at 6:41 pm

      I wonder where all the start-up $$ raised from the cogspace kickstarter went too. I sure hope not to support this alternate reality.

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      • Chris I March 9, 2016 at 10:25 am

        Kickstarter is a great way to separate a fool from his/her money. It’s amazing to me that so many people support things on there. There is absolutely zero accountability.

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    • flightlessbird March 8, 2016 at 8:58 pm

      Sounds like uncle muscles is just a bit jelly…the trust fund traveler does exist, no doubt. That being said, I always hear this judgment and assumption from folks that haven’t done much traveling and seem to want to make those who have feel guilty for making traveling a priority. There are many professions that can allow for travel too. Got a lot of friends that are teachers and they have great summers (on a budget for sure). I am a nurse and have worked per diem in the past that allows for fairly easy 3 month trips. I used to work seasonally in AK so I could travel the rest of the year. Never once dipped into my massive trust fund….
      I read this story as a couple that worked hard, prioritized a great life experience over the standard American consumption and made it work. I love stories like that. good on em.

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    • Ron March 12, 2016 at 3:06 pm

      So because you don’t have the funds, discipline or courage to do this, they must be rich. maybe you are over leveraged and under motivated.

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  • shuppatsu March 8, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    Where does it say this is something most people can do? Yeah I’m sure they already had money. They were DINK professionals without kids. I’d hope they’d have some money. More power to them.

    I can’t wait for the Bike Snob NYC treatment.

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    • Huey Lewis March 8, 2016 at 12:33 pm

      Double Income, No Khakis, and no kids?!

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  • RH March 8, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    Good for them! I liked this quote from the story: “What is a life worth living if you don’t live it when you have the chance?”

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  • SilkySlim March 8, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    Printing this out to show my girlfriend and pet cat tonight.

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  • Craig Gifen March 8, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    “Travel is crazy expensive no matter what people who “just bummed around the world for a year” might tell you.”

    You’re doing it wrong then.

    I’ve biked the circumference of Australia for 13 months and hiked the PCT twice. Nowadays, I spend more on my mortgage in a year for my home in posh Felony Flats than I did on any of those trips, adjusted for inflation and everything.

    Every single time I met someone who thought I must have been a trust fund kid or won the lottery. It was neither of those. They couldn’t grasp the concept that I funded those trips by working my butt off for a couple of years saving up money, eating a lot of beans and rice, and not spending money on dumb stuff. All my things went into storage and off I went.

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    • Mike March 14, 2016 at 2:21 pm

      So it wasn’t expensive, but it took years of saving and eating like a poor college student?

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  • PNP March 8, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    I love this story. And it comes at a time when my job is making me crazy and I wish I could quit and do something else. Thank you for sharing this and giving me a breath of fresh air and freedom, if only vicariously. And the photos are beautiful.

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    • jeff March 10, 2016 at 1:09 pm

      take a vacation. we just got back from Nepal. relatively cheap 4-week trip, including airfare. and we didn’t have to quit our jobs.

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  • Kirk Paulsen March 8, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    Beautiful story, very inspirational. Life simply cannot get better than when traveling by bike with a dog and a human partner 🙂

    Makes me wanna do the same thing! Oh heck, why am I even sitting here writing this, time to get out on my bike and see the world………….

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  • CaptainKarma March 8, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    Isn’t the law on Air BnB that you have to live in the house 9 months oug of the year?

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    • Chris I March 8, 2016 at 3:33 pm

      Are they paying the AirBnB tax to the city?

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    • Jen Soto March 8, 2016 at 4:29 pm

      Captain Karma, Chris,

      Yes, of course we paid the tax. You have no choice when you put your house up for rent. Also, we did live in the house for two years before putting it on AirBnB. This is what we did before traveling.

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      • dan March 8, 2016 at 5:55 pm

        Jen, ignore the haters and the naysayers, good on you for grabbing this opportunity! You have the rest of your life to spend the rest of your life behind a desk…

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      • Pete March 9, 2016 at 9:04 am

        I’m with dan on this one. Europe is more favorable now than it’s been in a long while because of the exchange rate, and the cost of living in Portland is not as low as people think. When I moved to California I used to joke at how much cheaper the Oregon beer and wine is here… 😉

        I’ll be watching your blog from my desk (and sorry for your furry loss). Safe travels!

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  • has brakes March 8, 2016 at 4:11 pm

    neither of them is ridding a long haul trucker rendering their punny name less than cute

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    • has brakes March 8, 2016 at 4:26 pm

      ehhh just notice his is. slightly less annoyed by this i guess….

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  • Jeff March 8, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    It doesn’t take too much money to live on the road. Ian’s been doing it since the 1990s:

    http://bikeportland.org/2016/02/09/bike-touring-con-man-still-duping-nice-people-years-174489

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    • dan March 8, 2016 at 6:40 pm

      LOL!

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  • fourknees March 8, 2016 at 4:57 pm

    Cost is relative and based on your expectations. I just had a friend take 9 months off of work bike toured in S. Korea/Australia for half the time and drove his car all around the western US the remainder going hiking, mountain biking and visiting friends.
    He stealth camped while biking, and slept in his car or at friends. Food was mainly from the grocery, not eating out.

    He didn’t make a lot, but saved up for 2 years and just did it.

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    • 9watts March 9, 2016 at 12:35 pm

      Exactly!

      A lot of people who comment here give the impression that they probably are materially secure (even wealthy). That is just fine. But that is quite different than what is going on in the comments under this story, which is a bunch of people ruling out that someone who isn’t rich can’t do X—or can’t fool us into thinking they can do X without a trust fund. I don’t think that is at all useful or accurate. Just because you can’t imagine someone doing this for less than $XY,000 doesn’t have any bearing on whether someone less well off than you could and may have done this at a fraction of the cost you think necessary.
      (a) do it on the cheap, sleep in a tent, scrounge food from dumpsters, skip airplanes and the like.

      (b) work as you go, earning room and board or the equivalent.

      I know people who have done both, and they have just as many great stories to tell as those who may have spent a bunch of money.

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  • Ted Buehler March 8, 2016 at 8:25 pm

    I wish TriMet would have looked at the railing on that nice bridge in Ptuj, Slovenia before designing the railings on the Tilicum Bridge.

    Ted Buehler

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  • Ted Buehler March 8, 2016 at 8:37 pm

    Excellent story and photos.

    Folks, make sure you get out of North America once in a while and see the world. It’s a whole different place out there that will change your view of Possible Future Portlands that you can envision and create.

    I hadn’t been out or North America for 7 years, but in the last six months I’ve spent a month each in Europe and in Thailand, traveling entirely by train and by bike. Now I’m now even less satisfied with Portland and Oregon’s bicycle infrastructure and more motivated to get it improved.

    And stories like this make me seriously consider buttoning up my affairs here for a year and heading around the world by bike.

    Thanks for the inspiration and documentation, Jen, Dave and Sora.

    Ted Buehler

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  • flightlessbird March 8, 2016 at 9:01 pm

    Life is about finding ways to travel by bike more…even if it is just to work. Even better with good company. Great post.

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  • dan March 9, 2016 at 2:56 am

    The real question in my mind…has Portland’s rental market now gotten so hot that renting out your house will support traveling indefinitely? Hmm…

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    • resopmok March 9, 2016 at 7:58 am

      You must not have experience being a landlord. It is not conducive to travel.

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      • dan March 9, 2016 at 6:03 pm

        Ha! You are right! That’s good information to have, thanks.

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  • Ted Buehler March 9, 2016 at 10:43 am

    A note on travel costs. (note — topic drift alert)

    As a bunch of folks pointed out in replies at the top of the comments, it’s generally possible to travel on a frugal budget by bicycle.

    In the last 2 years its gotten considerably less expensive due to the convergence of a strong US dollar and low fossil fuel prices. (regardless of whether you like these two elements in other aspects of your life or global conditions, it is very conducive to affordable international travel if you get paid in US dollars).

    Airfares, especially to Asia, are pretty reasonable. (The stalling Chinese economy helps, too). For instance it’s easy to find round trip tickets from San Francisco to Bangkok for under $600, and I’ve seen them for under $500. (look 4 weeks out on a site like Hipmunk or Kayak with flexible dates)

    And, you can carry a small mountain bike in two boxes — frame in one (take out the fork), wheels and etc. in another, that both are under the 62 linear inch total size allowance for regular baggage. So if your bike is small enough, and you’re willing to fuss with making boxes, you don’t pay oversize luggage fees to travel with your touring bike. (first two pieces of checked luggage are free on international flights)

    In Thailand the cost of living is pretty low anyway, when I was there last month is was $6/night/person in hostels, $2 for meals, the rural road network is fabulous for bicycling, and it only takes about $25 to ride the trains from one end of the country to the other.

    In other countries, even if they were “expensive” in US dollars a couple years ago, the exchange rate has changed that you should reconsider it — for instance, the Japanese yen has fallen 33% against the dollar in the last couple years, so anything you would have bought in Japan 5 years ago is now 33% cheaper when purchased with US $.

    If you want to travel the world by bicycle, this year is a time when you can do it safely, comfortably, and very affordably. Especially relative to 5 years ago.

    (Again, the world isn’t a perfect place, and there’s injustice, poverty, privilege, and environmental catastrophe all around. but, in travelling to a far-off land and traveling by bike for a month or two, you may well bring back inspiration and motivation to make Portland a greener city.)

    FWIW,
    Ted Buehler

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    • Ted Buehler March 9, 2016 at 11:31 am

      More thread drift — Just to support my previous post, I plugged in some warm destinations and dates and found rates like this. Round trip.

      Portland => Bogota, Columbia March 12 – March 29, $707 on Delta (Kayak.com)

      Portland => Istanbul, Turkey March 13 – March 31, $845 on Delta/KLM (Kayak.com)

      Vancouver BC => Athens, Greece, April 6 – April 18, $694 on KLM (Kayak.com)

      Seattle => Guangzhou, China, April 11 – April 25, $523 on Hainan, (Hipmunk.com)

      San Francisco => Bangkok, Thailand, April 6 – April 28, $549 on Air China (Kayak.com)

      Note that in Asia and Europe, there’s good train service in many places, so if you like to ride trains, you don’t need to go directly into your destination city, but just get a low cost ticket or comfortable flight time itinerary into the region you’re shooting for, and pair it with a 6 hour ride on a rattly old train across the countryside…

      Also, note that these prices aren’t a whole lot more than I’d pay to visit my Mom in Minnesota on peak travel days around Christmas.

      FWIW
      Ted Buehler

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  • joe kurmaskie March 14, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    You naysayers and malcontents talking smack about these two being priv. trust funders and thinking you have to have money are wrong about them specifically (I know them) and on a bigger scale you are missing out on the real meat of life. I traveled the world by bike with two nickels to rub together and if was glorious. I was raised middle white trash in Fla, with no trust fund, student loans at a public university, took crap jobs and set out with not enough money, worked along the way, made amazing life long connections, learned that the world outside of the evening news and fear mongering corporate media is a damn amazing place. But wait, he was single and young and white – SFW – I was poor and anonymous and without status and I stayed with locals and lived with the people and it was glorious, I ended some of my days tired and wet and hot and bruised and sore and bloody and… it was glorious. Then I went and had a family… so it was over. Wait, I put them on the bikes and trailers and it rocked – a secret summer across America and another one across Canada.

    So haters gonna hate – anyone, and I mean anyone can do this- but most won’t b/c they are asking the wrong questions – focusing on money and equipment and routes and plans and what will happen after – when it’s about attitude and seeing that the society we’ve created is mostly the matrix and despite all your rage or satisfaction it’s still a rate race so if you want to leave the shire and set out on a journey… stray well!. About Jen and Dave – they reached out to me before their journey. I was able to secure them some Arkel bags at a discount – these are not trust fund kids and they had choices to make and they made them… but so what if they were TF kids, the world is for everyone – the goal should be to ease everyone’s suffering and bring laughter and humanity into the universe. And the bike and travel opens you up to these things and ideas and possibilities, rather than shuts you down.

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    • 9watts March 14, 2016 at 7:35 pm

      Nicely done, Joe! Thank you!!!

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