Pedaling for a Purpose: One Cyclist’s Journey to Highlight the Plight of Refugees

Cyclist Theo Foster aims to finish a 40,000 km round-the-world bike ride to raise awareness for refugees.  


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I’ve been a keen cyclist for years, I always cycled to school growing up and loved the freedom a bike gives me. I started getting into cycle touring as a teenager, going on small camping trips around England. I started building up my confidence and experience gradually and saw going around the world as the ultimate bike ride.  

In 2019, I decided to make my dream of cycling around the world happen and decided to dedicate my lap of the world to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and its 1 Billion Miles to Safety campaign. 

Cyclist Theo Foster stands in front of his bike wearing a hat, long sleeve t-shirt, cycling shorts and shoes. HIs bike is carrying four bags. A yellow wheat field is in the background.

Cyclist Theo Foster.

While planning and preparing my trip and equipment I was shocked to read that at the time refugees globally were traveling one billion miles in search of safety, carrying the minimum for survival. It seems such a contrast to my plans. I wanted to use my journey to highlight the plight of refugees. 

My journey began outside the UN Office in Geneva, Switzerland on 8 April 2019. I rode through Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Türkiye, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and into the United States, where COVID-19 cut the trip short in March 2020. 

In October 2022, I started where I left off in Phoenix, Arizona and cycled to Miami, then onto Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Chile. 

My first trip was 24,000 km and I am currently 8,000 km into part two. Right now, I’m cycling in Argentina and I’m aiming to cycle 16,000 km on this trip to bring the full journey to 40,000 km, the circumference of earth.

When we last caught up with him, Theo had arrived in Panama City following the completion of his ride in North America. His journey from Mexico to Panama was a particularly tough journey and took him longer than expected, but in Theo’s words, “Better late than never!”

I truly believe that cycling is the best way to travel. I was able to intimately experience the landscape and culture by bike. When travelling alone, I’m forced to be fully involved in every situation, which gives each experience a great depth.  

On my journey, I have been fortunate enough to meet refugees and forcibly displaced families multiple times, most recently at a shelter for refugees in transit in Honduras. 

I met a father of two from Venezuela, who was trying to get to the USA, dreaming to work in construction and be able to provide a better life for his wife and children. He had travelled overland to Honduras on foot, including the deadly Darien crossing, doing the whole walk in the same pair of sandals.  

He had witnessed such horrors on his journey and having been through so much hardship, he had such a calm and positive demeanour, still excited for life and hopeful for the future. To hear about his journey and ability to overcome adversity makes my cycle journey seem like a walk in the park.  

I hope to finish the journey at the UN Office in Geneva, where I started in 2019. I’m hoping to arrive in summer this year and complete my loop around the world.

Whilst I have really enjoyed all these experiences, I have learned how much I value the connections and relationships I have with the people I care about back home. I look forward to time with my family and friends, home-cooked meals and driving.  

The important thing to remember is that people do not become refugees by choice. People and families forced to flee conflict and persecution should be able to rebuild their lives and not become trapped by their previous circumstances.

To support Theo’s journey, please visit his fundraising page. 

To keep up with Theo, you can follow him on Instagram here. 

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