“A car is too fast and walking is too slow. Bicycle touring is perfect to see the world. I want to begin my exploration of the universe by peddling a bicycle.”Jin from universewithme.com
This interview is special. You see, Jin is one of the reasons my own bicycle adventures – and thus this website – came to be. As I publish this interview with her I feel that I’m closing some kind of grand cosmic loop.
When the idea of bicycle travel first sunk its claws into my imagination, Jin had already been doing it for years. As I struggled to decide if I could safely explore the world by bicycle as a woman, Jin’s tales of biking solo through Latin America, Africa, Asia, and – well, pretty much everywhere – offered hope and encouragement.
Today it seems like every bike traveler has an online presence (as a group, we seem to share a love of sharing!), but Jin is one of the originals. Her website, universewithme.com, is a gold mine of trip journals, pictures, videos, bike travel tips, and insightful impressions from more countries and cultures than most of us can ever dream of experiencing.
Jin has been traveling around the world on her bike since 2011, visiting 74 countries in the process and sharing her stories and pictures online. She is the real deal.
Thank you Jin, for your answers below and for inspiring so many of us with your adventurous example. It’s an honor to interview you!
(Alissa) Hi Jin! How did you first get the idea to go bike touring? Did you know it would be such a long trip when you first started?
(Jin) While I saw the Northern Lights in Yellowknife, Canada, I tried to hitchhike to another planet to find a new life. (Literally, I raised a thumb to the sky.) But then suddenly I was afraid of leaving the earth because there would be no oxygen or people in another planet. So, I changed my mind and decided first to explore my planet. I didn’t expect this long.
If you could go back in time, what would you do differently (if anything) when you first started your round-the-world trip?
I will get a driver license. I really don’t have it and it’s nearly impossible to get an international driver license overseas. It can be useful for some tours which I can’t do with my bicycle or if I stay longer at some place.
Which countries would you recommend for a first-time bicycle traveler who is nervous about starting?
I would recommend Europe as it’s safe and easy. You can have cheap grocery shopping at Aldi and Lidl.
Which countries would you recommend for an experienced bicycle traveler who wants to go somewhere very challenging and adventurous?
Definitely, I highly recommend Pamir Highway. This is the best place for the adventure. You would meet lots of other travelers during the summer and you will share all good memories with them. Scenery, culture, adventure, people, friendship. You will get all of this.
Is there a country you have not cycled in yet that you really want to explore?
Iceland – It looks like they are having incredible nature.
Switzerland – I want to visit for skiing
Afghanistan – I saw a beautiful mountain video of their land. I hope their situation gets better one day.
Mongolia – I want to travel with the horse for a week and feel vast land.
Does your bike have a name?
Lucky. Because I do need luck 🙂
Do you have a favorite kind of bike tires?
Schwalbe marathon plus. I had used Schwalbe Mondial, but I didn’t like it much as it had flat tires often.
What kind of stove do you use, and how do you find the right type of fuel in so many different countries?
I have MSR WhisperLite. I always use petrol at the gas station. Australia and New Zealand have rejected giving it to me sometimes due to their regulation.
How do you treat / filter your drinking water to make it safe everywhere?
No, I don’t have a filter. I just buy water many times. Two times I used a treat and filter when it was remote while traveling with other cyclists.
What is your favorite piece of gear that costs less than $20 (USD) – something you love and would be very sad to go without?
Greenfield Kickstand. The best kickstand ever. I always use it from the beginning of my trip. This is the only kickstand that holds my luggage and bicycle. Usually it’s broken every two years and still I must say this is the best!! One time I paid $50 for the shipping when it was only $18 for the product. Still it’s worth it!! THANK YOU GREENFIELD!!! (I don’t know anyone there. It’s not a sponsorship at all.)
What are some things you brought with you in the beginning that you no longer carry? What did you add later?
Sun panel. Probably I bought the wrong gear which doesn’t work well? It broke my mp3 cause it was on and off when there was a car or cloud passing while charging. It was the most useless product I’ve ever had.
There are many products I sold or threw away because it’s broken or I didn’t want any more like a drone, DSLR camera, and a portable printer.
I added a Bicycle Front Bag, Rack Pack Bag, and MSR stove in my third year. I bought some gear one by one as it’s too expensive to buy all in one time.
How often do you do basic maintenance on your bike – replacing the chain, cables, cassette, etc? Do you replace parts early or just wait until they break?
At the beginning of my trip, I changed parts when it broke. But it can make a big problem that I start changing every 10,000 km – 15,000 km some important parts like chain and cassette.
What’s the most serious mechanical problem you’ve had with your bike? Where were you? How did you fix it, or did you find a mechanic to help?
Rear derailleur broke and I couldn’t find it when I was in Ethiopia. I was staying with European diplomat at the capital in Ethiopia that they could order for me from Europe.
Do you plan your route and schedule ahead of time, or just ride day by day and see what happens?
I just decide a big direction once I enter the country like I will move from north to south or west to east. Then I plan day by day.
What apps or other tools do you use for maps and navigating?
Maps.me offline map and Google Maps
How do you communicate with people when you don’t speak the same language?
Body language or google translator
Do you face any challenges because of your gender, nationality, or age?
Sometimes, I get less respect due to my skin color and gender on the street in some countries. When I was staying with local people in this kind of country, my local hosts were very nice and tried to respect me though. It just happened by random people on the street. When I was with an Asian male friend, street bothering like shouting or flirting got really less. When I was with a Caucasian male friend, it nearly stopped. Most of the time I was alone facing all flirting and shouting. I cried a few times because I was too tired of this.
In some countries where solo woman cyclists keep reporting sexual harassment on the street, I tried to find a male cycling partner for my safety.
I love myself as who I am and I understand they do have different cultures such as respectful women don’t stay alone in strange places. So, I still love all of those places where I had this problem.
Sometimes I think about what if I had a male partner on my world tour? Obviously, the trip would be easier without street flirting and shouting. But anyway I have enjoyed my trip and that’s the most important thing.
What are you most afraid of when you travel on your bike? Are you less afraid now than when you first started?
I am always scared and nervous around the sunset to find a place to sleep. I am still afraid of it. I don’t think I get much braver as naturally I get scared easily. I just learn to live with fear because I love adventure.
How do you decide whether to trust people you meet while traveling?
I just don’t trust strange males usually on the street. I am not that friendly to them generally to avoid any confusion on the street. That’s how I have survived over eight years of world tour as a solo female.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself while cycling the world?
Just try cause I never know until I try.
Closing Words from Alissa
September 2021 marks the 10 year anniversary of Jin’s official start date! Though she has spent some time off the bike in Australia during the pandemic, she has not returned home to South Korea since the trip began. I think we can all agree, that is a long time to travel!
Unfortunately, Jin’s dream of cycling home through North Korea, “to show we can be one country,” was denied and the pandemic has complicated her travel plans. In the meantime, she has been funneling her energy into learning to code as an app developer. You can see her work, made with the same playfulness and enthusiasm she puts into cycling (who wouldn’t love a Dancing Llama Calculator app??), on the Play Store.
Thanks Jin! I wish you happiness and hope you can fulfill your ultimate cycling dream when the time is right.
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