Cycling Africa with Mark Lawrence

Case Studies in the 9 to 5 alternative: No. 6

Welcome to a series of profiles on alternative lifestyles. If you think that you (or someone you know) would make for an interesting interview, drop me a line.

A couple of weeks ago, I get an email from a guy named Mark. It reads:

Hey my name is Mark Lawrence. Friday was my last day of work. I have left the corporate world. I plan to bike across Africa.

How’s that for an introduction?

Meet Mark Lawrence. Currently living in Chicago, Mark recently left his job as a banker and is currently training to cycle across Africa. Besides salsa dancing and “urban exploration,” as he puts it, Mark’s likes also include couchsurfing and languages–he speaks Spanish and is currently learning French.

When I asked Mark to provide a little background behind his decision, he wrote:

I went to school. I graduated. I got a job at a bank. I was doing everything “right”. And then it hit me; I asked myself: What do I really want to do? How do I want my life to turn out? Is what I’m doing now going to get me there? I saw many people at work that weren’t happy. They had been working there for so many years. They got their few weeks off a year and that was it. I started contemplating a million other ways of making a living besides sitting in a cubicle. This included learning French, teaching English in Asia (or elsewhere), but my mind kept wandering back to a solo bike ride across Africa.

Well there you have it. I’ll let him tell you the rest.

So, you left your job, and now you’re going to be cycling across Africa. Why?

The African continent has always fascinated me every since I was a kid. From a real young age, my grandfather would show me maps and pictures from around the world. He’d show me a figurine or something and then point out in the atlas where it was from. The photos and stories were relentlessly interesting. I wanted to go on a journey through Africa so I can see and experience it for myself. Taking a two week vacation can be tiring and expensive. Now that I don’t have to be at work, I can take as long as I want to soak in the African continent. This bike trip is not a race. It’s about doing Africa at my own pace.

Let’s talk logistics. What’s your route? How are you going to handle visas? How long will this take?

I plan to start in Cape Town and end in Cairo. No scratch that, Ill end in Alexandria. Whatever happens in between, nothing is set in stone. I’d like to spend some time in Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Malawi. Then I’d like to head through Tanzania (with a jaunt to Zanzibar), head through Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia up through Sudan and end in Egypt. I will head from the bottom of Africa to the top. This will definitely not be a straight line across the continent, but a zigzag across places as they unfold. I don’t want this to be a trip with a set itinerary where I have to be at certain points at certain times. With all the unknowns, and with such a long time frame, this would also be unrealistic. I am excited to see where the road will take me.

As for visas, countries like South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana don’t require a visa if you are staying in the respective country for less than 90 days. For other countries, most visas can be obtained at the embassy in the bordering country and will be issued within 24 to 48 hours. I don’t expect everything to go 100% smoothly, but since I have no timeline or flight home I have to catch I don’t have to worry about time delays. A visa delay might even be a good thing as it would allow me to stay meet people and have experiences I otherwise wouldn’t have had. I approximate that this trip will take about a year, but I have no way of knowing for sure. I could fall in love with a certain city or country and stay much longer. I might cycle much faster than I could have previously thought. I won’t know until I’m on the road.

How do you prepare for a trip like this, both mentally and physically?

I don’t think there is a way. I will be fueled by my excitement and passion for the experience and the journey. I have spent countless hours researching a million different topics related to this trip. I have read Riaan Manser’s Around Africa On My Bicycle. I follow cycling blogs like my former roommate who is biking from Berlin to Beijing or The Big Africa Cycle. I plan to do some practice cycling in Europe before I head to Africa, and I have some rudimentary biking “experience” down in the US. However, nothing will prepare me more than just getting on the ground and doing it.

How are you financing the trip?

I am financing the trip through savings that I have amassed over the past two years. I read and was influenced by the book Vagabonding by Rolf Potts. Rolf Potts dispels the idea that long term travel is expensive and for the rich or retired only. He advocates how long term travel can be achieved by anyone with an adventurous spirit and is actually much cheaper than you would think.

When I first started saving as much money as I could, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was saving for, but I knew that it would provide a cushion of freedom that would allow me to explore opportunities without having to be tied down to a 9 to 5 job. I had a number of ideas for what I wanted to do and finally decided on a bike trip through Africa. Every dollar I saved excited me as I knew that it I was closer to being able to “buy my freedom.” I would not have to stay in job I didn’t like just so I could pay the bills. I had successfully “bought my freedom” and decided to use it to bike across Africa. I’ve never been happier or felt more free!

Any other ridiculously awesome plans for your future?

Before Africa, I plan to do some practice cycling in Europe. The only plan I have is to visit certain friends in France. Besides that, I’d like to jaunt off and explore Europe without any particular plan, course, rhyme, or reason. I’m going to let coincidences and random events dictate where Ill head. When the time feels right, Ill head to Cape Town. I’m looking forward to taking in the world.


You can follow the Mark Lawrence’s adventures around Africa at Lifestyle Ignition. If you have any additional questions or comments, feel free to comment below and I’ll do my best to make sure he sees them!

12 thoughts on “Cycling Africa with Mark Lawrence”

  1. Alan, thank you for the awesome interview!
    @Nate Thank you for the support! I love when people just make the decision to do what they want and go for it too!
    @Earl Thanks for the support always! You have been an inspiration. I have followed your blog for some time now!
    @Rob Glad this could be inspiring. The biggest decisions are the greatest!
    @Dave & Deb I hadn’t seen your blog before this, but you can bet I will sure be a regular reader! Be in touch!

  2. I too cycled part of the Tour d’Afrique – through Tanzania, Malawi & Zambia. Too bad you’re going south to north. One of the best rides of my life was on the longgggg downhill to the border from Tanzania to Malawi. Fantastic scenery, good roads & hours of downhill.
    Hope you have a great experience. Despite the bad press Sudan receives, the majority of the riders loved the people of that country and hated the stone throwing kids of Ethiopia.
    Watch out for money changers at the border – have a calculator handy so you don’t get scammed – seriously.

  3. It sounds like you are going to have a fantastic time Mark!

    I am looking at cycling through parts of Africa with some friends, the only problem that we can foresee is either being chased by wild dogs or trampled by elephants when we camp. Its all good fun lol.


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