Jammin thru the Global South FAQ
— Background, Trip Prep, Planning — 8 min read
Why am I doing this?
Professional: I'd like to make a career switch from engineering into humanitarian affairs and will be studying for a distance masters in Sustainable Development from the University of London during this trip. I hope to get first-hand knowledge of the various humanitarian needs through the regions I'll be traveling through, which will help me choose an area to get involved in at the end of the journey, such as water resources, appropriate technology, etc. I hope to use this trip as a stepping-stone to the next chapter in my life.
Personal: I was bitten by the travel bug at an early age and this trip will be a culmination of many years of planning, researching and dreaming. Having traveled in small bits and pieces to various countries, I'd like to see more of our beautiful Planet Earth and I'm at a point in my life that this is feasible.
Why so long for the trip, 2 years?
The general route is dictated by the regional climate, meaning that I'm trying to avoid the rainy season in most places along with extreme temperatures (height of summer and winters). From this data, two years to circulate around Latin America and Africa allows me to synchronize nicely with the seasonal climate. Also, I need enough down time to get some studying done. I'm planning to ride for a few days, then stop for a few days, see some sights and get some reading done for my courses.
In addition, in my research for this trip and through communication with seasoned long-duration travelers, I've learnt that 'the slower you go, the cheaper it gets,' referring to the majority of expenses on these kinds of trips being related to transportation (self or public). Staying in places longer will reduce my average daily costs, allowing me to stretch the dollar and travel for longer.
Why on a motorcycle instead of a car?
Besides the old adage of "four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul," benefits of motorcycle travel over automotive:
- overall cheaper cost, initial and running (better gas mileage, cheaper maintenance).
- simpler regarding complexity of machine; I am able to fully tear-down my motorcycle and perform most repairs on it with relatively few tools.
- size; I need only about 4 ft to get through with my motorcycle, compared to at least 8 ft for a car. This could be a narrow bridge, a goat path road up into the mountains or around fallen debris on the road.
- versatility; a motorcycle, especially a dual-sport one, is able to traverse over most any surface including wading through 2 feet of water (rivers).
- openness; us riders jokingly refer to car drivers as 'cagers' as in the driver is caged in the car compared to being exposed and out in the open on a bike. Car drivers will probably see this as a downside, however once you become a rider, you'll see this as a positive. Yes, you have to brave the elements, but with appropriate gear, comfort can be achieved in most weather situations and feeling the wind against you makes you feel more connected to your local surroundings compared to being nicely cocooned in a car.
- friendliness; the vulnerability of being open on a bike allows curious strangers to approach and make a new friend.
Will I be carrying a gun or other lethal weapons for self-defense?
No. Firstly, it's highly illegal to cross borders, especially across developing countries with weapons of any kind as this will be seen as a threat and quickly lead me to the local jail, which I don’t want. I also feel that weapons can quickly escalate situations unnecessarily. I'm more on the Buddhist side of the spectrum and believe in soft power; going in with a smile, being friendly and respectful can diffuse most confrontations. Of course, there will be some situations where a weapon might be useful, but I will deal with them as they arise.
With my travel experience to date, I've learnt to be aware of my security in all situations; not being paranoid, but just being aware - making sure I'm not being followed, looking for exits from crowded places, recognizing unsafe parts of a new city, etc. I will try my best not to attract attention by flashing money or fancy gadgets in hopes of deterring common mugging. While I'll be hiding money in various places on me and on the bike, I will only have small change easily accessible along with a false wallet (with expired ID and credit cards) to easily hand over if I'm being mugged.
I'll also be using my brown skin to my advantage, hoping to pass off for a local in most places (the world's going beige :p ). After learning Spanish, I'm sure I could easily pass for a regional citizen in most of South America. I'll have to pick up Portuguese for Brazil. I might still stand out around Africa (I do know French for West Africa), but since there are so many Indians everywhere who migrated many generations ago, I might still pass off for a resident.
I do have mace/bear spray that I bought for bears in Alaska, but it wont be practical to be walking around everywhere with it. I'll still be taking it when I head off into the wilderness for protection against animals.
Where will I be staying?
Primarily it will be hostels and cheap hotels along the way and camping where possible, but I will be looking to stay with locals as much as I can. There are different avenues that I will be using to get in touch with people willing to host passing travelers, as it will be a more enriching experience to meet and stay with locals. I have done this on all my previous trips and made many new friends along the way. Resources: ADVrider.com Tent Space List, HorizonsUnlimited.com Communities, and CouchSurfing.org (similar concept to the previous two resources, but open to the general public, not just riders).
How am I funding this trip/lifestyle choice?
I lived frugally while I was working in the US for a major corporation and saved and invested my earnings with this trip in mind. However, its not a lot and I'll be looking to stretch the dollar as best as I can and am open to donations :) If you feel you're getting something useful from my trip report, please consider a small donation (paypal button on website) towards petrol or a meal on the road. Thanks.
How will I get access to money?
ATMs are widely available in all major cities and that will be the safest way to withdraw funds. I've chosen banks that don't charge ATM withdrawal fees or at least, charge very little. Where possible, in safe locations, I will use my Capital One credit card, specifically because they don't charge any foreign transaction fees and give good exchange rates.
What about the health risks?
I've taken all the recommended immunizations (yellow fever, hepatitis a/b, typhoid, etc) and will be highly conscious of the food and water that I drink. In general, as long as it's hot and cooked in a relatively clean place, it'll be safe to eat. I love eating from roadside shacks and haven't gotten sick, yet. Plus, growing up in developing countries has probably left me with a pretty good immune system that hasn't been weakened by my time in the US. I'll be using a LifeSaver Water Filter that can filter out practically all viruses and bacteria and other water soluble contaminants. I will be carrying first-aid supplies and with a mother and sister being doctors, immediate advice is only a phone call away.
What if I get sick?
Diarrhea is probably the most common illness to plague travelers and I'm aware of how to tackle it (oral rehydration solution). Besides that, preventing mosquito bites will go a long way in disease prevention and I plan to use appropriate repellent where needed.
Do I have medical insurance?
I won’t be having any medical insurance since it doesn't seem to be practical for me being an Indian citizen. The costs for travelers from India is quite exorbitant and just paying for medical care as it rises will be a more cost effective strategy. I looked into medical evacuation insurance but currently that only applies to North American residents and once I leave the US, I give up my residency there.
What if something breaks on the motorcycle or I get a flat tire?
Over the past few years, in preparation for this trip, I have learnt how to properly maintain and repair most any breakdowns, including fixing flat tires and mounting a new tire. I will be carrying specific tools such as a chain-breaker for more complex servicing.
Do I know anybody in these countries that I'll be traveling through?
Not yet, but I'm likely to once the journey gets started.
What does "Jammin" mean and what's its significance?
"Jammin" is the username I selected when I joined my local Chicago sportbike forum and its significance has to do with Bob Marley's feel good song with a positive pulse. It's significance also stems from my constant need to have music playing, which is one of the reasons why I like long motorcycle trips as it allows me to listen to lots of music while bobbing down the road with my noise-isolating etymotic er-6i earphones.
How will I stay in touch, communicate?
Internet cafes are ubiquitous the world over and getting online should not be a problem. I will be updating this blog along with twitter and facebook every few days or whenever I get a good internet connection. I will also be traveling with an international roaming SIM card to make important phone calls and will be using skype for free webcam calls to my parents, so that my mom can see that I'm alive and well.
How will I cross from South America to Africa?
I'd like to take this 3 week journey on a cargo ship (Grimaldi RORO) from Buenos Aires but there are some logistical issues with that idea, so I might end up flying across, putting the bike on a pallet in the cargo compartment.
When am I coming back to the US?
I'm not sure.
Isn't Africa really dangerous? Don’t they still eat people there? LOL
Yes, Africa is less developed than the rest of the world but that immediately doesn't make it more dangerous. There are dangerous places all over the world, including in your home town and one just needs to be aware of them and take the right precautions. And besides, I spent 8 years of my childhood in a remote corner of southern Africa and I can tell you it's a beautiful place with warm, friendly people.
Wont I miss home and my bed and all the other comforts?
Having lived in Zambia soon after birth and then growing up in India, "home" is a concept I've learned to adapt to wherever I happen to be at that moment in time. On my short motorcycle trips up to this point, I've noticed that I did not miss the comforts of my home even when things were going bad, so I think I'll be fine. I'm aware of "traveler's fatigue" and with an open-ended journey like this, I should be able to slow down and break the journey for a while if I need to. Yes, I'm going to miss my kitchen as cooking is a highly pleasurable activity, but I think I can fulfill that desire on this journey. I gave up watching regular TV a few years back and thus won’t be missing any programming, besides watching Formula 1 races. I will miss having almost instant access to high-speed internet, being part of the "plugged-in" generation, but I'll learn to live without it. I will miss my friends and I don't like to say goodbyes as the friendship doesn't need to end there and hopefully we can meet in the future.
If you have any other questions, do let me know.
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