You just keep pushing. You just keep pushing. I made every mistake that could be made. But I just kept pushing.
Biking touring blunders aren’t just for newbies! Even after 7+ years on the road, we managed to bungle our Japan tour; a few minor slip-ups left us lukewarm on the Land of the Rising Sun.
Here’s what NOT to do on your next tour.
Mistake: Heap on added stress at the start.
Bike tours are best when you ease into them. Taking on a new country where you don’t speak the language and are not familiar with the customs can be overwhelming.
We attempted to navigate the densely populated urban corridor between Osaka to Tokyo as our introduction to cycling in Japan. It was a disaster.
Solution: If you’re flying to a foreign country to tour, it’s wise to make things as easy as possible in the beginning. If you can afford it, take a taxi from the airport and book yourself into a comfortable guesthouse. If you’re counting every penny, find a host through Warm Showers or Couchsurfing. Acclimate yourself to your new surroundings. Re-assemble your bike in a relaxed environment. Get used to the new money; learn a few words of the local language. Then set off cycling.
If you’re in a major urban area, you may want to consider busing it or taking a train into the countryside and starting your tour there.
Mistake: Obsess over the budget.
Being frugal is fine. It allows you to tour for longer and experience more of the world. But when sticking to a budget takes the fun out of touring, it’s time to re-evaluate.
Japan is one of the world’s costliest countries. We knew that going in.
Having already spent time in expensive countries (we’d just flown in from Australia which is one of the priciest places on the planet) we didn't think sticking to a tight budget in Japan would pose a problem.
Turns out it was. Australia is all about solitude and wide open spaces. There’s not much to tempt your consumer control when you’re riding through the outback.
Japan is more about culture and cuisine. It’s tough to stick to a budget with so many temptations.
By trying to stick to $20 a day we created a lot of stress and missed out on many of the wonderful things Japan has to offer.
Solution: Give your budget some extra padding in costlier countries. Many cyclists on multi-year tours top up their savings during a working holiday in Australia. Teaching English in Asia is another solid option for earning quick cash to fund a bike tour.
Even if you’re on a tight budget, go ahead and allow yourself a tiny splurge at least once a week. Then you can go back to a steady diet of ramen noodles.
Mistake: Wrong season, stupid!
We’d been warned that Japanese summers can be hot and humid. Having survived 90% humidity in Borneo, we didn’t think Japan’s climate could be all that bad.
Wrong again. Turns out hot and sticky in mega cities is far more uncomfortable that hot and sticky in the jungle.
Had we biked Japan in April and followed the cherry blossoms or cycled the country in autumn as the leaves change, we’d have enjoyed sunshine and moderate temperatures. Instead, we got soaked in the seasonal rains and spent evenings swatting mosquitoes and lay awake at nights drenched in a pool of sweat.
Solution: Listen to advice. Seasons matter more than you think. Sometimes it’s fun to challenge yourself by biking in extreme heat or attempting ‘impassable’ roads in the wet season. Some fanatical cyclists may even enjoy diving into the Patagonian headwinds. But most of us are better off under more pleasant conditions.
Mistake: Attempt to do it all.
One of the best parts of bike touring is the ability to slow down and enjoy the world at a pleasurable pace. Stop for chats with the locals, snap photos of cows, settle into a campsite early and watch the sunset.
When you’re stressed about reaching your destination, all these joys slip away. That’s what happened to us in Japan. First, we had to reach Tokyo, then we had to get to Hokkaido, and finally it really was essential to get way down south to catch a ferry to Korea.
Part of the problem was that we’d succumbed to the “everybody’s having more fun syndrome”. Cyclist X had blogged about this amazing mountain road and we didn’t want to miss that. Blogger Y had written about the fabulous coastal cycling, and Biker Z insisted we’d be fools to miss out on the quiet country roads.
Attempting to ‘do it all,’ generally results in frustration and fatigue.
Solution: My advice is just to enjoy where you’re at and not worry too much about ‘missing out’ on some ‘amazing’ spot. Remember, bike touring blog updates tend to be heavy on adventure and excitement and light on aggravations and annoyances. Take your tour at your own speed and just cycle the spots that really interest you.
Mistake: Bad attitude.
By far the biggest mistake we made during our Japan tour was slipping into a negative mindset. Once you start moaning and groaning about all the things you hate about a place, your tour is doomed.
Solution:Annoyances and aggravations are inherent to any type of travel. The key to not becoming consumed by these inconveniences is acceptance. I’m spending time on this site to help get back on track. Feeling better already.