Editor’s Note: The Monthly Pass is a CNN Travel series that highlights some of the travel world’s hottest topics. This July, we’ll be heading to the great outdoors spotlighting everything from incredible adventures to unique camping experiences.
He embarked on a two-year bike trip around the world with a friend shortly after graduating from high school in 2021.
But just a few months into the trip, Adam Swanson from Minnesota, who was 17 at the time, found himself traveling alone.
Now, after “a few years of non-traditional education,” and cycling through 20 different countries and four continents, Swanson is finally on his way home, and will start classes at the University of Minnesota in September.
“Most of my friends will start their first year of college next year, while I will start my freshman year,” he told CNN Travel.
Swanson, who comes from a family of keen cyclists, has been doing touring bikes for a long time.
“Since I was in my mother’s womb, in Eastern Europe, until I was 14, and we’ve cycled across the US, we’ve cycled for at least two weeks almost every year,” he explains. .
While Swanson had wanted to take a “big bike ride” since he was around 10 or 11 years old, it was the prospect of studying for his college degree remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic that got him to start turning the wheels.
“I didn’t want to start college online,” he told CNN Travel. “So I thought now would be the right time to do it.”
For Swanson, the opportunity to explore the world and learn about different cultures was too good to pass up, and he began planning to go on a two-year bike tour with his friend Henry.
He says he worked around the clock for his family’s chartering company and spent a few months working for UPS to raise money for his travels.
On August 4, 2021, Swanson and Henry flew from Minneapolis to the Netherlands, where they will begin their cycling journey.
“I didn’t plan my way,” he says. “I didn’t train for it. I just bought the ticket and it started when I got to Holland.
From here, the duo cycled through Germany and then on to Belgium, France and Italy before heading across northern Italy to Slovenia and Croatia.
However, after a few months of traveling through Europe, Henry decided he had had enough.
“He ran out of money, and he was ready to go home,” Swanson explains. “And neither was I.”
Then Swanson had to make a big decision. Should he return to the United States too, or complete the rest of the trip on his own?
“When I started the trip, I was thinking that if my friend came home, I’d probably go home too,” he admits.
“Because I’m not necessarily ready to travel on my own. But then he was gone much earlier than I thought he would. So I decided I had to force myself to keep going.”
After a “tough” few weeks of cycling through Croatia during the winter with limited daylight, Swanson decided to travel to Thailand, where it could “be a little warmer and have more hours in the day”.
“Once I went to Thailand, I started meeting a lot of people and learning how to travel on my own,” he says. “Since then, it has been no problem for me at all. It was really easy.
Swanson spent about three months hitchhiking across Thailand waiting for the borders to open so he could explore more of Southeast Asia.
But the restrictions remained in place in neighboring countries such as Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam throughout this period, and he finally gave up and traveled to India in March 2022.
Swanson’s father flew in to join him and the couple spent two weeks touring the country by bike, before continuing to Nepal on his own.
However, cycling through Nepal proved particularly grueling, and Swanson remembers exhaustingly pushing his fully loaded bike across the Annapurna Circuit, a trek tucked into the mountain ranges of central Nepal.
“It took me 14 days to climb this path,” he says, explaining that he later discovered that the path was full of cafes designed for hikers to eat and sleep, so there was no need for him to take this route. many things with him.
“While I was there, my tire blew and I had to fix it with super glue and Nepalese cookie wrap.”
Once he had safely crossed the steep path, Swanson headed to the Nepalese city of Pokhara, and took a well-deserved dip in one of the area’s naturally rejuvenating hot springs.
“It was very nice,” he recalls. “This may be the best moment of my journey.”
He then traveled to Kazakhstan in Central Asia from Nepal and cycled to Kyrgyzstan.
And while Swanson was fascinated by the landscape of Kyrgyzstan, he admits that riding horses through some of the most remote parts of the country took an emotional toll on him.
“This country is like a tourist’s paradise on a bike,” he notes. “It is very beautiful. But the central part of the country is largely made up of grass, mountains and nomads.
“So I would ride in the car for days alone without seeing anyone. No matter how cool it was, just riding with the wild animals and this wild landscape (around me), that was the point where I felt very lonely.
From Kyrgyzstan, Swanson continued across Central Asia to Uzbekistan, where he met Henry briefly.
“He came to visit me,” he explains. “He flew to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and we cycled through Pakistan, Georgia, and half of Turkey together.”
Swanson says he has “nothing against” his friend as he decided not to continue with the rest of the trip, and is looking forward to meeting him again when he gets home.
“It takes a lot of time to spend two years doing it[moving through different countries],” he says. “Maybe he wasn’t ready for that at the time.”
From Turkey, Swanson cycled to Greece, then to Italy, Switzerland and Germany.
At this point he was back in the Netherlands, where he took a flight to South America and spent four months bouncing between Chile and Argentina, before returning to the United States.
He arrived in Los Angeles in March 2023, and is making his way to Minnesota.
Swanson managed to survive on a budget of about $21 per day for the entire trip, and says he actually saved quite a bit of money during his time in East Asia because of the affordable accommodation options.
“I’ve been able to stay on less than $10 or even less than $5 a day for most of my time there,” says Swanson, who tends to either camp or stay in lodges.
“Now I’m in the States, it’s a little more expensive. But I can kind of make up for what I haven’t spent a year ago.
He’s been riding the same Salsa Marrakech bike he’s been riding since he was 14 years old for the entire trip, and aside from “crashing” a few times while in Thailand, he’s been able to make it back to the US without any major incidents.
However, he got off his bike while riding up a hill in California and hit some algae a few months ago.
“I made almost the entire trip without incident,” he says. “I didn’t really have any serious bike injuries on this ride.”
Although the bike rides he took with his family as a child required a lot of planning, this time Swanson tries not to plan his route, and enjoys the freedom it gives him.
“I rarely know where I’m going,” he admits, emphasizing that he at least scans the map before setting off to make sure he has the resources for the different locations he’s likely to pass through.
“Very early on, I realized it’s better to plan without a plan,” he says. “So just talk to the locals and people traveling through the area and figure out the best places to go based on the opportunities that come along instead of planning everything before you get there.”
His parents were following his progress closely and were “very jealous,” according to Swanson, who has been detailing his adventures on his blog, Two wheels one world.
“They want to do a trip like this in a few years,” he says. “So they’re kind of living through me now.”
On June 16, nearly two years after beginning the adventure he had spent years dreaming about, Swanson, now 19, returned to Minnesota, where he met up with cheerful friends and family.
As he prepares to start college in September, Swanson admits he has mixed feelings about the prospect of having to stay in one place for so long.
“I am so sad to give up this lifestyle,” he says. “I love exploring new places, and always seeing and interacting with new people here.
“It will definitely be a transitional phase to transition to a life of staying in one place, studying and staying with regular people (nearby).”
“But I’m excited about it mostly. I’m not excited about (the trip) ending, but I’m excited about what’s to come.