Interview 019: Sam Johnson | From Camper Van to Touring Bike + 18 Things He’s Learned From Life on the Road

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 Looking back now, from everything else I’ve done in Europe, it’s the most ideal place to go cycle touring. There are bike paths everywhere. You’re off of the main road. It’s calm. It’s beautiful!

A natural adventurer, Sam used to work as a professional mountaineer, leading groups on a variety of hiking, climbing, and mountaineering expeditions all over the U.K. and throughout Europe. Living paycheck to paycheck with a nice house, nice car, and lots of nice things, Sam decided it was time for a change in his life, and decided to sell all his belongings, buy a camper van and driving around Europe following his passion of climbing. After a few years and a couple vans, Sam ended up going to Australia, where he bought another camper and continued to live his dream of minimalism and freedom. This all changed when Sam was working and two cyclists rolled up looking for employment. As he got talking to them, he realized that they were truly free and that he too could do a bike tour. 

When I said I was going [on the Annapurna Circuit] on a touring bike everyone pretty much said I wouldn’t make it, so I was fully expecting not to make it. I said to myself I would give it a go and I would just go as far as I can and if I had to turn around, then I would turn around.

In 2017, after flying back to the U.K. and building up his own bike, Sam started to Pedal the Globe, which has since become his handle for social media and his website, where he blogs and posts all about his adventures. While crossing Europe, Sam realized that he definitely did things the right way, as the conveniences of Europe made it the perfect place to gain experience bike touring and develop the necessary muscles. As he got into Eastern Europe, drivers became more aggressive and the quality of the roads degraded. This would prove to be excellent preparation for riding through from Turkey to Indonesia, as he crossed the Asian continent.

From the highs of Turkish generosity, the insanity of Indian drivers, the absolute bliss of Thailand, the beautiful peacefulness of Laos and the food of Vietnam, Sam has had the opportunity to experience the absolute best of people all over the world. Of course, this does not go without some challenges, which is definitely what happened when Sam decided to cycle to Siem Reap on the road less travelled, which took him deep into the jungle, through roads which turned into cart tracks, which further on turned into a winding and twisting pathway, ultimately coming to a dead end. Possibly out of ignorant bliss, or out of the dream that it couldn’t get worse, Sam kept pushing his way through the mud bogs and overgrown paths until he was so completely exhausted from the exertion combined with jungle heat and humidity, that he knew he would have to leave his bike and come back later. Having only brought two bottles of water, Sam was running precariously low, could hardly stand up and only just managed to find a dirty, leech infested puddle where he could rest in order to cool off. Without being able to drink the water, for feel of getting sick, all he could do was to sit and soak in the water until the set started to set, at which point he returned to his bike and made the 20km hike back out of the jungle.  

There were days leaving from Punta Arenas on the way to the Carretera Austral where the winds were in excess of 100kph coming straight at you and it’s impossible to cycle.

On another occasion, Sam had just flown from New Zealand to Chile only to have his bicycle and all his belongings not show up. With a connecting flight quickly approaching he was told that he things would be coming shortly and he could wait for his belongings at his final destination. Unfortunately, this was not to be the care, and it took 5 days of sleeping on the airport floor before his bike and belongings showed up. 

After an amazing adventure through S. America, Sam was unfortunate enough to enter Ecuador 24 hours before the gas riots started. In the early days, he was able to bike several hundred kilometers into the country, before the road blocks started to deny him, forcing him to take refuge in a tiny village for 5 days, all the while waiting for an opportunity to cycle his way to freedom. As he was beginning to run out of food and money, Sam decided to turn around and go back the way he came, where he found a moutain pass that would bring him to a medium sized town. Luckily, Sam survived and shortly after the government came to an agreement with the indiginous people and the roads were opened back up. 

Now, sitting in Colombia, Sam is continuing to make his way around the world in his own unique way. He doesn’t use a cell phone, allowing himself time to get completely off the grid before reaching a town with wifi and getting connected again. He rarely pays for accomodation, preferring to wild camp, even if that means sleeping in a bush in the middle of a park in Singapore.

If you’d like to know more about Sam, listen to the podcast or check out his website.

Cheers Sam. Keep on pedalling.


Follow Sam on his adventures at:

Show Notes

~ 30 sec       Intro to Sam Johnson and episode 019
~ 1m 30s     Sam’s previous career, all about living in a van, why cycle
~ 14 min      Sam telling us about his bike, build cost breakdown
~ 18 min      European leg of his tour and why it’s a good place to start touring
~ 23 min      Cycling Asia, getting stuck in Central Asia, and how wow India is
~ 29 min      How to survive in -18 degrees celcius, using a touring bike on the Annapurna Circuit
~ 34 min      SE Asia, Thailand is amazing but his favourite place is….
~ 38 min      The near death experience in Cambodia
~ 43 min      Best food in Asia goes to??? And sleeping in bushes in Singapore
~ 48 min      Cycling in Australia, the Nullarbour, NZ drivers, and more
~ 53 min      Cycling through S. America, spending 5 days in the airport
~ 1h 2m       Getting stuck in Ecuador during riots, no cell phone, roadside bandits
~ 1h 9m       Current location, all about cafe de ciclistas
~ 1h 11m     18 things he’s learned from two years in the saddle
~ 1h 33m     What’s next for Sam.
~ 1h 34m     Next week on BTA

About the Author
Traveller. Cyclist. Expat. Over 15 years experience living abroad in six different countries. I've travelled to over 40+ countries and met countless travellers, cyclists, and other expats. As a passionate cyclist I've had opportunities to bike tour in some truly amazing places. While definitely not an expert at bike touring, I'm passionate about sharing bike touring stories and helping others learn hacks, tricks, and techniques to improve their touring experience. I look forward to you joining me on this journey of learning about and becoming a better bike tourist.

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