Alice Goffart and Andoni Rodelgo biked around the world for 7 years. They started shortly after their first child Maïa was born, kept going through their second pregnancy and gave birth to Unai on the road!
In this exclusive interview they share why they decided to bike around the world, how it affected the children, how it is to live on the road – and how it was to return home after so many years on the road.
Bike touring doesn’t get more interesting than this, but please watch their video below before you read the interview. The video is fantastic – and sure to put you in the right mood for this fantastic story.
How did you decide to bike around the world?
We never decided we were going to cycle around the world.
When we first left in 2004 we were total novices. We had never done any cycle touring, and we just hoped we would be able to make it to Berlin (from Brussels).
The destination did not really matter anyway. We just wanted to have a taste of total freedom. We wanted to leave not knowing where things were going to lead us and not having anything that would restrain us (return date, work, house…). To be able to just move with the wind.
Anything could happen, even having the feeling we weren’t done cycling after 2 months and ready to return home again.
I think if our objective had been “cycling round the world” we may have been intimidated by the thought of it, and maybe never thought it possible. It would have been a totally different story.
But it wasn’t. We just wanted to leave and see what would happen and feel the freedom. If there is one decision in my life that was extremely clear and easy for me to take it was the decision to travel, to quit my job (I liked my correctly paid job with very pleasant colleges and responsibilities), leave our flat (which we really loved) and just take a go at living on the road.
We left in 2004, childless, and came back in 2007 when I was 7 months pregnant. Our daughter was born home and we left again in 2010 when Maïa was 2 (in between we cycled a lot around France giving conferences as a way of saving money to leave again. I also took video and editing classes, and we did some home-sitting to avoid having to pay rent).
In 2010 we knew it was useless to plan anything and we started thinking that we would cycle for a few months, maybe more…
We knew we just wanted to go now. By bicycle there is no need to plan anything, that’s the beauty of that transportation (maybe it’s the beauty of being unemployed and ‘homeless’ too).
You just leave, and that’s it, you are gone. 5 km from your home you are in a totally different reality, not knowing where you will sleep, with no destination, no role in society, no-one to prove anything to, no agenda and no timetable.
I think everyone should try once to leave by bicycle for a few days. There is such a sense of freedom even if it’s just for a week-end…
You gave birth while on the road. How did you manage that?
Most Dutch and Danish women know it, that it is actually easier to cycle than to walk when heavily pregnant.
The gravity is not as tiring and I have had very straightforward pregnancies too.
Travelling by bicycle, I can go at whatever speed I want, I can stop whenever I want and take a nap whenever I want (which is such a luxury that most women don’t have during the first trimester!).
Cycling was not a new activity for me and I was used to listening to my body and respecting it.
As to the belly, I modified my position slightly as I went and stayed a little more upright with my knees slightly more open.
As my pregnancy advanced and it became clear we were not going to go back to Belgium to have our second child, we start wondering where we would be. As always, we did not decide anything, but events happened. Long story short, we ended up in a small village in Samaipata, Bolivia, by chance really, and right away thought this was the right place for us.
I was 7 months pregnant. We rented a small house that was still big enough to receive our families who where going to come to visit us and started to plan for a home-birth.
Did go from having one to having two children change anything?
Well, just as it changes everything amongst any family.
A baby does not need much, Unai was breastfed, so that was easy. I remember I was a bit worried about the food diversification, but it went really easy. As he was still breastfed I knew he had everything he needed and he just served himself from our plates as soon as he could grasp things (6-7 months after he was born).
So he ate bits and pieces of whatever we ate. Rice, vegetables, etc. He was healthy and we just let him be.
Other than that, we only had to buy a little mattress for him. He slept below my duvet and in New Zealand someone gave me a Merinos baby sleeping bag.
At his birth, I also received a beautiful Polartec combi and a bivy bag for the trailer.
We bought clothes as our children grew depending on the weather of the places we were traveling through. In Finland and Norway we found amazing second-hand stores with outdoor gear. They even had gear for our 9 months old so he could crawl in the rain and the mud as much as he liked and still stay dry!
We transported the children by fitting the baby hamac made by Chariot in our trailer (we left with a 2 children trailer though we had no idea we would need it at some point…) so Unai just joined Maïa in the trailer. Although he did not like to stay too long in the trailer the first 7-8 months.
As a small baby we mostly wore him on our backs in a Mei Tai. We felt really comfortable that way.
As Unai grew he felt more and more comfortable in his hamac in the trailer and by 9-10 months, he was always in the trailer when we cycled (just when he was starting to be a bit heavy for our shoulders).
He then did most of his naps in the trailer even when we did not cycle (since on average we only cycle 1/2, maybe even 1/3 of the time).
How did you handle the upbringing and education of your children?
An upbringing on the road brings peace! Maïa was born in Belgium, in between two travels, and I was submerged by contrasted advises, everything I did was wrong to someone no matter what I did.
With Unai, I could just totally listen to what we felt was right, and just listen to my baby and myself.
Moreover, in South-America or Asia, where we were with him as a baby, there is always an older child or a grand-mother. Someone that wants to pick up you child and play with him, so you are never alone as a caring adult.
Children can be as noisy as they want. It will never bother anyone, quiet the oposite.
We bought toys, color pencils and books as they grew older. My parents also sent us french books now and then.
In Ecuador we also bought a little MP3 baffle for Maïa so she could play music in her trailer. She loved listening to music and sing along.
In Belgium reading and calculating doesn’t start before a child is 6 years old. So we did not do school as such, but we naturally started counting, trying to understand traffic signals, etc…
Maïa asks questions, many questions. Answering them or letting her finding an answer is a great way to start all those type of learning.
We came back to Belgium when Maïa was 6, as she was really asking to go to school. She enjoys school now.
At first she was really happy being part of a class with friends. Now, 2 years in, she says she would be just as happy to go.
You have been away for 7 years. How have you been able to afford being away for so long?
We have been away for 7 years out of a period of 10 years. We travelled 2004-2007 (as a couple, when we came back I was 6 months pregnant) and 2010-2013.
From 2004-2007 we spent our savings travelling. We could have bought a house or a car as many others, but we decided to travel. We were 28 and 32 at the time, so we had been working for a while.
Including bicycles, tent, etc. we spent 20.000 euros in 3,5 years.
When we traveled with the children, we continue to have a few small sources of income (we gave conferences, sold articles sometimes, domiciliated in Belgium and got child benefits). Including everything, we together spent about 700-800 euro/month.
Big expenses were visas and ocean crossings. Gear is also a big expense, but those expenses are diluted by time. Food is probably the biggest expense as you travel by bicycle.
I think as soon as you give yourself a budget you adapt yourself to it. We could have spent a lot less if we needed too. We treated ourselves here and there with a hotel room in south-America where it is not too expensive. And we did not look too much at the price of food neither.
I think the best way to save money is just to really have the need to do so. Then you will find the way.
We spent the same amount of money in Norway as in China. The difference was that in China we went to a restaurant here and there or a guest-room, and in Norway we bought pasta and oats in an Aldy. That’s about it.
How did you choose your route?
We never plan things before we start out. First it’s impossible, second we hate it. To me, the joy of traveling is not knowing where I go or why or for how long. It’s just going and see what happens…
And as we go, we meet people that recommend us places to go. People that invite us to come to their house or their friends house. The weather and the wind is also a big reason to follow one direction rather than another.
In general we also seem to be attracted by mountains, so without realising it we always go towards the summits…
How did you handle sleeping and eating?
We have a tent so we are totally independent if we want to, but as we like to meet people we mostly ask people if we can camp on their land. It’s a good way to start a relation and provoque an invitation too.
In terms of food, we have our camping cooker (I like the Trangia (alcohol burner), but we also have a small multifuel as some country do not sell methylated spirits). When camping, we just buy whatever food we find in shops and markets.
We like to cook and food is the greatest pleasure when you cycle and travel. We discover new foods in every country and we can imagine all types of cooking methods for hours while we pedal. Andoni and I talk about food a lot.
But sometimes we can only find instant noodles, oats or rice and then we try to make the best of it. I always carry extra food with me in case we don’t find a shop or a village on time.
I usually have oats, pasta, garlic, oignons, dried fruits, tomato tins and biscuits in the bottom of my bags.
Water is mostly good and treated and people usually tell us when their water isn’t good enough to drink. We carry a water filter and if necessary we use it to filter tap water or well water. Thanks to the filter we don’t need to worry about making it to a village at night as we can alway’s use river water to drink.
What kind of bikes and gear have you used on your trip?
We left with two Farrhad T400 (old models). Very sturdy and simple steel bicycles that could be fixed anywhere.
In French-speaking Belgium cargo bikes are new (I mean we did use old Bakfiets as kids, but those were really simple, heavy 3 gears Bakfiets and nothing you’d like to travel with). So we did not even thought about choosing a cargo bike instead of a trailer at the time.
Now, I’m still not sure what’s the best choice. I use a Pino Hase with Maïa. It has a good compromise for 5-9 years old… but I find those bicycles are not thought for a more sporty use. The geometry of the bike is a bit restrictive.
I find myself too upright on the bicycle, and on the saddle, which is really hard for someone like me that loves climbing.
I like to cycle fast, light and sporty. You get more of that with a good hybrid bicycle and a trailer behind, rather then with a Dutch or German cargo bike that more thought for flat terrain and practical family usage.
Moreover that upright position is painful on the bottom and on the legs, even after a day on flat terrain.
When Maïa was 5, she became a bit too old for the trailer and the Pino Hase seemed the best option. However, we found it too expensive for us. But then we were hosted by a french family and their friends had a Pino they wanted to get rid of.
We bought it. Left my bicycle with that family and continued with the Pino. It is a great bicycle for that stage, although Maïa does not pedal as much as I’d like too (when she does, what a treat!!!).
Riding the Pino is great as we can really talk about what we see together (Maïa talks a LOT!!!!), start reading panels together, etc. Her head is just under mine so nothing restricts us from conversation.
Now, Maïa is 8 and she goes on her own little bicycle and pedal a lot more.
Would you change anything if you could start over?
We wouldn’t change anything.
Biggest problems on our trip has been the weather, wind, rain and snow. But that’s the great thing about traveling slowly too. To actually be outside all the time, feeling the weather in an area and understanding the people living in it.
Living on the road have affected us and our children enormously. We had the chance of being totally available for their first years, living outside, in the nature, listening to ourselves and each other and accompanying each other 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
No timetable and no stress. No neighbours, grandmothers and paediatricians telling you what to do or not to do. No culpabilities about not spending enough time with them. People often tell me how brave and strong I am for having our children on the road, but they don’t realise how much more easy and calming it is.
I carried Unai in a Mei-tai for 6-8 months fully enjoying that period of dependency on the mother without anyone telling me otherwise.
Our timetable was decided by our children and we joined them in their ever present children live in.
We gave each other strength and often the children are much stronger than us. I remember when it rained or when the wind was really strong, and our kids just had the greatest fun playing in the puddles!
One evening in Bolivia, for instance, the sun came down on the altiplano and the temperature was starting to drop. We could not camp as the terrain did not permit it and we were waiting for someone that may let us sleep in a church.
We had been waiting for 1 hour and no-one seemed to be coming. I was starting to worry as the night was falling… then I look at my daughter just climbing up and down the mountains with 2 other 4 year old children, having the time of her life. I remember thinking “she’s having fun… just relax and wait, they’ll come..” And indeed someone did come to open the church.
Is bike touring with children something you will recommend for other families?
After everything I already said, of course, I recommend it!
With a bicycle you can carry quiet a bit without much distress, so it is a really comfortable way for a family to travel (compared with backpacking).
Every family is different. We have to be honest with ourselves and listen to our needs. Who we are and what we like. Listen to our children too and respect their timetable and needs too. That way it can only be good.
What will the future bring?
Who knows? I would have never guessed we end up cycling that long.
We have been back in Belgium since September 2013. I made a movie of our experiences which we are showing through France Belgium and Spain. The public really likes it, so I am quiet happy with that.
But we are still touring as soon as we have some time.
We probably will leave again in a few years, but first we’d also like to have a place we can call home. We are looking to maybe move to the Pyrenees not too far from where Andoni is from. Land there isn’t to expensive yet.
I hope our children will follow whatever dreams they have, one does not need to travel to live like a traveler.
I hope I will pass our values to them. The values of openness, of curiosity, of respect and understanding. I hope they will be fearless.
I mean, fear is good as long as it is out of instinct like fear of fire and of a storm. Fear that helps you avoid imminent danger or that make you respect yourself and be gentle to yourself.
But too often we are manipulated and driven by fears that lock us in cages and make us follow irrational choices.