We plan our trips. Sometimes to a T, one that’s often lower-case and situated firmly at the end of the word detriment. One of the greatest joys of travel is the unknown, and it’s through the impromptu — a chance meeting, a wrong turn — that a trip becomes an adventure. Martijn Doolaard agrees. He applies the philosophy to travels that extend beyond casual weekend trips too: between 2015 and 2016 Doolaard spent 365 days riding his bike from Amsterdam to Singapore, and he recently completed another ride from Vancouver to Patagonia that lasted more than two years.
One would think that this type of expedition would have a pre-scheduled route, but Doolaard likes to keep things open-ended. “I have a vague idea of a route,” he says. “There is so much coming your way on such a journey that it is hard to plan. I like to make decisions last minute.” Doolaard learned the practice during his first trip from Europe to Asia, which he planned to end in China but as he arrived at the Kyrgyzstan-China border decided to extend through India, and Southeast Asia down to Singapore.
Doolaard’s second big ride has already seen some equally-considerable itinerary changes. His original plan was actually to start in the Florida Keys and bike clockwise around the United States. “Quite last minute I made the call to fly to Vancouver. I was finishing some freelance jobs in Amsterdam and some other jobs I could do from Vancouver, so that’s how the idea grew to cycle from there,” says Doolaard. Extending the ride into the Southern Hemisphere seems just as spontaneous. “I had never visited Central or South America. Vancouver to Patagonia seemed like a logical straight line to do another big transcontinental journey.”
Equally crucial to Doolaard’s approach is going by bike. The primary reason for this? Bikes are slow. “While others would say that traveling faster would bring you to more destinations, I believed that in between two destinations are 20 more to explore,” he writes in One Year on a Bike, the photo-heavy chronicle of his first journey.
Riding a bike does come with more hardships than planes and buses (“Cycling uphill with a 50-kilogram bike will always be a big struggle,” he says) but Doolaard also notes inverse moments of zen: “There’s nothing better than starting a downhill with a heated body and letting the wind cool the sweat on your back. It’s a glorious feeling which you will never have in a car.”
Naturally, riding a bike thousands of miles through regions that are often remote means that Doolaard has to be self-sufficient for days on end, and that means carrying a lot of gear. The list includes clothing, toiletries, a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, cooking equipment, a full kit of photography equipment and accessories as well as the small necessities like a spork, a notebook and a knife. Some items become more vital than others, and Doolaard let us know — from somewhere on the road between Costa Rica and Colombia — which things those are.
Martijn Doolaard’s Packing List
“I can’t imagine traveling without a smartphone. I use it to communicate and view maps every hour of the day. I use an iPhone 8, but any other smartphone will do the job. It’s more the specific apps that are important. I use Google Maps for maps, but also to check out reviews of hotels, restaurants, activities and sights.
For navigation I use Maps.me. It uses pre-downloaded maps, so it’s good for offline use. Most of the time I have internet via local sim cards, but cellular connectivity drains the battery of the phone so I like to shut the internet off as much as possible. MapOut is another that I use to check altitude in great detail. Then there are of course a number of social apps to stay connected with the world.”
Panasonic Lumix GH5
“Photography is an important part of my journey. It’s how I tell my story. I use a Panasonic Lumix GH5. It’s a professional lightweight camera with interchangeable lenses. I carry four lenses of different focal lengths. I like this camera because it’s great with video as well as stills, and the timelapse function comes in very handy to make selfies — I can put my camera on a tripod on a mountaintop and photograph myself cycling through a valley.”
Macbook Pro 15″ (Retina, 2012)
“My trusty Macbook has been shaken and stirred for about 30,000 kilometers of cycling around the globe and it still performs well. I use it to edit my photos, write stories, read about new places, prepare routes and alongside my iPhone, it’s my main tool to stay connected.”
Bialetti Moka Express 1-Cup Espresso Maker
“Consistently good coffee at any moment of the day — it keeps me going, whether I’m in a motel or camping somewhere.”
“Obviously, the bicycle is the central piece that carries everything and it’s very important to have a bike that fits you properly. The Surly ECR is a steel frame, heavy-duty off-road bike. It’s built to resist and carefully tailored to fit all my gear. My camera is stored in the handlebar bag in front of me. I can take it out and shoot a picture while cycling.”