Cycling holidays: a responsible way to discover the world

Tour operator or cyclist? Be inspired by AWOL to organise an environmentally friendly and socially sustainable cycling holiday anywhere on earth!

Asian Way of Life cycling holidays

Travelling by bicycle is by many perceived as ‘weird, wearing or slow’. Countless times while cycling I have been asked: ‘Why do you take a bicycle, if you can afford a car? Why don’t you just board the vehicle that is following your group with the luggage?’. Curious bypassers stared at us as if we were literally from another planet. Friendly and supportive, but honestly surprised. The mystery of love for cycling off the beaten track is clearly not yet solved.

“There is no better way to get acquainted with a country, its nature, and the local population than by bicycle.”

However, Asian Way of Life (AWOL) has over 30 years of experience organising individual cycling holidays to South-East Asia. And nowadays also to other countries like Rwanda and Turkey. The concept invites travellers to explore ultimate freedom. Flying to unknown destinations and cycling from town to town. Through ever changing landscapes to catch a glimpse of what it means to live somewhere utterly different from what we are used to. And to finally discover that despite differences we all crave for the same things, like love and security.

The beauty of travelling by bike

It probably won’t be a surprise that AWOL is a Dutch tour operator. Based in the land with more bicycles than people, due to the fact that the Dutch owe on average more than one bicycle per person. Before a necessity, nowadays an admired sport and hobby by many. It is an environmentally friendly and socially sustainable way to discover different places.

Cycling holiyday: into town in Rwanda

Moreover, a cycling holiday is personal. A unique experience that won’t ever be the same twice. Every journey is one of a kind, especially since AWOL doesn’t book accommodations in advance. They offer travellers a framework and routing to design their own trip according to their wishes and expectations.

AWOL has recorded every cycle route in their Cycling Route Booklet with a GPS track. The Cycling Route Booklet provides direction and space. Which road will offer you the most cycling pleasure, where could travellers stay for the night and what shouldn’t they miss? The routes are constantly updated to make sure travellers can make the best and most responsible choices.

A cycling holiday:

  • Offers a unique insight into the day-to-day life in small villages you would normally easily pass in a car or touring bus
  • Is an active way to work on your own physical well-being and explore new territories in an environmentally friendly way
  • Gives you the freedom to decide to spend more time in a certain place or speed up your pace to challenge your own capacities
  • Is socially sustainable because you don’t only visit tourism highlights. And you’re able to contribute to the local economy by spending money outside the regular tourism circuit
  • Offers an intense experience, because as you move slower from place to place. There are more opportunities to meet locals, make photography stops and enjoy regional delicacies

How to turn a cycling holiday into a beneficial experience for all

In this article, we outline different ways to turn a cycling holiday into a beneficial experience for all. Not only for the traveller, but also for the local community. How do you make sure the money spend benefits the inhabitants and not only multinationals or government-led organizations? How do you compensate for CO2 emissions and what else is within your reach to make a positive impact as a tour operator and traveller?

Cycling holiday: rice field in Asia

1. Compensate CO2-emissions or travel by train

The only reasonably fast way to travel to faraway destinations is by plane. In an era where time is money, most people don’t find the weeks or months to undertake the long and tiresome journey overland. Of course, the flight industry faces many challenges regarding sustainability.

However, by compensating the CO2 emissions of your flight or the flights of your customers, you’re able to support all kinds of projects that benefit the living conditions of people around the world. AWOL always calculates the CO2 emission for our booked flights. And thereby offers their travellers the possibility to compensate their CO2 emissions. Thereby, they always recommend booking direct flights. As most emissions are discharged during take-off and landing.

The train is a more environmentally friendly way to reach holiday destinations. A combined train and bicycle holiday is arguably the most CO2 neutral option a traveller is able to choose.

2. Stay, eat and breathe locally

Tourism absolutely has the potential to be beneficial for all. But in many cases, travellers don’t move outside the established tourism bubble. Therefore, money often doesn’t end up in local communities, but instead at international hotels or government-led facilities.

That’s why AWOL develops their routes off the beaten track. And they recommend their travellers to eat, stay and breathe the local atmosphere. This way, their journey will be an unforgettable experience and hopefully contribute to a higher income. And on the long run even better living conditions in the country. AWOL always shares a list with sustainable travel tips at the time of booking. This motivates travellers to behave responsibly and respectfully during their trip.

Examples of our sustainable travel tips:

  • Keep in mind you are a guest. Behave in accordance with the values of the receiving country. Spend your money at local shops, restaurants, and accommodations
  • Use water and energy economically. Filter drinking water, recycle packing materials and use a solar powerbank
  • Don’t book excursions that are animal unfriendly, like elephant riding or tiger petting
  • Ask someone’s permission before taking a photo of them. If they don’t grant permission, please respect their wishes
  • Don’t reward begging. Instead donate money to development organizations to invest in a better future

3. Partner with an NGO or social business

As a tour operator it may be a good idea to partner with an NGO or social business. Of course, such a partnership could be designed in various ways. AWOL is a proud partner of Resirest. A social enterprise that connects travellers and locals by food experiences, such as a market visit, lunch, or dinner.

Travellers are received in a family’s home. They directly receive the money the traveller paid in exchange for their hospitality and a home-cooked meal. Food connects people and makes it easier to overcome differences, talk about daily life and exchange experiences. Another option is to enable travellers to donate a set amount to a development organisation at the time of booking. This way they are able to make a positive impact beforehand. And in an accommodating manner, rather than reward begging during their holidays.

Visiting a coffee farm in Rwanda

Bicycle excursions add value

Even if you are a tour operator in another niche, a bicycle excursion is a valuable addition to your program. You could cooperate with a local travel agency to organise a day trip by bike to introduce the concept of cycling abroad by your customers. To many it might seem an odd idea, especially when they are from a country where cycling is uncommon. However, the unique combination of sports, adventure and sustainable travel will convince even the most skeptical.

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