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Sport Methods for Long Term Travel

Sport Methods for Long Term Travel Bicyclers peddle accross continents, kayaks paddle across seas, trekkers hike into the truly remote, and climbers tread into mountainous no-man’s-lands, and these activities are called sports. I call them methods of travel. Though I must admit that in practice there is a difference between the two, but if this difference was [...]

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Sport Methods for Long Term Travel

Bicyclers peddle accross continents, kayaks paddle across seas, trekkers hike into the truly remote, and climbers tread into mountainous no-man’s-lands, and these activities are called sports. I call them methods of travel. Though I must admit that in practice there is a difference between the two, but if this difference was obliterated and the main ethics of long term travel were combined seamlessly with these sporting methods a particularly potent form of world travel would be created.

I image a path of motion across the planet that is peddled, rowed, hiked, and climbed in continuous succession. A method of travel were six months on a bicycle is broken up at regular intervals by weeks of trekking and climbing which leads to an exchange of gear and six months of slow travel down a river on a kayak which is done at a slow enough pace to allow for the satiation of intrigue. All of which would be mixed up with intermittent periods of rest and longer duration investigations in various places along the way. The technicalities inherent to this type of travel are vast, but I aim to work out at least a proposed strategy that I could test in practice.

Critique of typical sports travel

It almost seems as if typical sport travelers move across great expanses of land — across countries, continents — as a necessity of enjoying their sport while the enjoyment of the foreign environs they move through often falls by the wayside as an idyllic fringe benefit. On a sport travel trip the emphasis is often on the medium of movement not really on the places moved through. While the traveler often takes the opposite approach, as the places and people in them are what is of essence.

[adsense]I have often received the impression from many long distance bicycle travelers that they would be just as happy riding around and around one big track for as much as they seem to enjoy — or even see — the places they move through. In point, riding a bicycle 100 miles a day is not going to allow for much sight seeing, people meeting, much of anything other than peddling on endless highways.

The equivalent often goes for boaters, trekkers, climbers . . . The journey to far away lands is all too often just to come out the other side.

I have often wondered what is gained from moving over entire continents under your own power as though the ground is laid with flames under your feet. What is the joy of sitting on a bicycle for 10 hour a day and rarely straying farther than a few miles from any highway? Yup, you’ve seen a lot of roads.

But sports travel is fun, and the accomplishment of moving across a continent is complete. So be it, the sport traveler’s focus is different than that of the vagabond — they are out in the world to ride, to row, to move through and get there. It is the challenge of the journey that is the intrigue which should be at the root of world travel.

Travel means to move from one place to another, travel is what happens between destinations, right?

Ironically, the essence of “travel” is all too often found in staying places. Sport travelers, perhaps, stick to the roots of the definition of travel better than just about anyone else: the journey is what matters not the destination.

Though there is nothing that states that sporting methods could not be used better engage the world, as the mechanism through which to access difficult to reach places, as a way of getting off the proscribed tracks of the traveling hoards that have gone before you. In the philosophical sense, the rush-rush, itinerary strapped, mile hungry sport traveler is an athlete, albeit one that competes against nature, man, and self concurrently.

I must admit that I admire the athletic accomplishments of sport travelers. I regard the person who pushes the bounds of human endurance and covers a large span of geography under their own power faster and better than their peers with awe. I regard the person hell bent on being “first”with extreme admiration. I do not belittle sporting voyages — I may even engage in them in the near future — but I do hold them in a different class than the investigatory travel that I have grown use to. For the sport traveler, the intrigue is the movement, not in the place, the method is the medium.

There are many different ways to travel the world.

Sport methods of travel give access to the world

Critique of point to point travel

Point to point travel is the typical way of moving through the world where you leave point A and then have little exposure with the areas you travel through until arriving at point B. Typically, this type of travel is the hallmark of using public transportation. In point, 99% of a route of travel become inaccessible to the traveler who primarily rides buses, trains, and other forms of public transport — you step on, sit down, and are whisked away to your pre-arranged destination. All of the in between areas of the world — most of it — are reduced to flashing apparitions pondered at from the lee side of a window as you are taken from one dot on a map to the next.

Originally, the term “backpacking” was meant to indicate travelers who were traveling long routes around the world connecting hikes, treks, mountain ascents, and other remote outdoor means of travel, but now is used to indicate any form of tourist who uses a backpack as luggage. To put it simply, point to point travel is the dominant form of tourism in the world, and only very slim areas of the globe are available to the traveler using this method.

Combination of sports and point to point travel

Imagine here a bicycle or canoe journey where the rider is not on the clock, where they stop at each point of intrigue for a few days, a week, or even a month — work, study, set up a longer term camp, and fully interact with their surroundings. Imagine a traveler who uses sporting methods to get closer look at the world they travel through rather as just a device to transport them through it. Think of one year river journeys that only go a thousand miles downstream. Imagine sporting mediums — bikes, boats, boots — being used as a simple substitute for public transport rather than being a class of travel in and of itself: when it is time to leave a town you mount your trusty steed and head on through the in between areas on the map stopping for as long as you want whenever inquiry takes command.

Bicycle trail in the Czech Republic -- I would never have been here without the bicycle.

I have gone on long distance bicycle journeys that looked nothing like that of many of my peers. I would simply ride my bike for a day or two, find a good place to stop, stay for a week, and then travel on for a day or two until reaching some other place, person, or landscape that I found pleasing or interesting. I could stop just about anywhere for almost as long as I wanted — I had my own shelter and transportation — and would take volunteer jobs in hostels when in cities. I use the bicycle as a means of accessing areas of the world that I would otherwise just zoom through on a bus or train. I have experienced places that I never would have using public transport and found that the reception a traveler receives in the little paused at “in between” areas of the world is often far different than in the tourist invested cities.

I remember meeting many other bicycle travelers along my trips who would look at me a touch sideways after I admitting that I have been in towns for one, two, even three weeks, using my bike as a means to closer investigate local areas than as a device to whisk me across the map. Even though I occasionally travel by bicycle, I have never considered myself a bicycle traveler.


Perhaps sport travel is an exchange of the “point” places of the planet for the “in between” areas, while following the rounds of public transport is the converse. Humans seem to have a propensity for extremes, if we envision a bicycle trip across continents we picture ourselves peddling each day, moving across the map in continuously marked off ticks. The equivalent goes for other sporting activities that are often applied in the travel context — kayaking, canoeing, hiking.

I say use sporting methods as a way to emphasize travel, to get to places and meet people, solve problems, gain experiences you could not through point to point travel. Take the time to look around: make the goal visiting places and people, not to work out or obtain an athletic objective. The back door of the planet is accessible through rivers, trails, and side roads: bike, row, and hike them.

There are as many objectives for traveling as there are people completing them. If your goal is to paddle across an ocean in 30 days then so be it, have fun; but if your goal is to see obscure parts of the planet and get to them under your own power then slow down, take a look around, and realized that sporting means does not necessarily have to be the ends of a journey.


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Filed under: Adventure, Bicycle Travel, Boat Travel, Sports, Travel Strategy

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3715 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

3 comments… add one

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  • JR April 23, 2011, 7:37 pm

    Get messy start traveling

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  • Caitlin April 25, 2011, 1:46 pm

    I’ve often felt, too, that sports travelers pay all this money to go to Peru or China or wherever only to concentrate on their sport of choice.

    Well, whatever floats their boat I guess.

    You’d be happy to know that I’ve start my Mexico City blog. Right now I’ve been filling it up with reviews, but I hope to get going on more meaty stuff soon.

    We miss you guys here in DF!

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 26, 2011, 9:19 pm

      We miss you too! So busy with other pursuits here blogging has oddly fell by the wayside a little. Man, sending emails has become 80% of my work day haha. I am becoming some kind of administrator haha. Going to climb some mountains. You should post the url of your Mexico City blog on the page you did about the city on VJT or any other Mexico page.

      It is interesting that many people who travel — myself included, perhaps — seem to think that other people travel for the same reasons they do, have the same goals, the same values. For the cultural traveler mountaineers may seem to be missing the show, but for the mountaineer the cultural traveler may be seen as piddling with small pursuits. It is interesting to look at the shifts in values between travelers and to look at the different aspects of a journey that provide them with the particular sense of essence they are looking for.

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