How to prepare for your adventure
First of all, the tough part is deciding where you want to go…..so many choices. Perhaps you already have a “bucket list”, or perhaps you want to trace your family roots.
Once you pick a destination, then you need to decide when and how you want to travel. It is time to research on the internet and also check out travel books. Most travel books are geared toward drivers; but, there are some good cycling routes available.
When do you want to go? Airfares differ, depending on time of year and whether you want non-stop. They also vary, based on the airport that is chosen.
Once your general destination is made, you will want to determine the MUST see places and how far you want to cycle each day and this will begin to put a plan in place. It is helpful to have a map handy, at this point.
Over the years, planning the route itself has become much easier; what with downloadable maps, GPS devices and the increased number of “greenway” routes across Europe. Many of these are repurposed rail lines and bike friendly roads.
One of the best options is Google Street View. They have been nearly everywhere. There are a few countries which have pushed back, due to privacy reasons, and don’t allow the use of Street View (most of Germany, Austria and Switzerland). For the rest, you can virtually “walk through” much of a planned day’s ride. Of course this is no substitute for the ride itself; but, it is helpful in some key transition areas and gives you some views of checkpoints to keep you on track as you do the actual ride.
We highly recommend using a GPS device, which indicates right away if you go off course. This can save you from becoming lost or having to retrace your steps. If there is a language barrier, the GPS is a valuable travel companion. Locals tend to want to help; but, the best intent can lead you far astray sometimes. GPS eliminates verbal misunderstandings.
As for places to stay, many can now be booked on line. You can read reviews and get costs and usually see pictures.
For us, we generally like to cycle in summer, the high season. Accommodations can book up fast; especially in popular tourist spots. You want to tie these down as soon as you can. If you don’t pre-book, you may find “no rooms available” or spend lots of time looking. You may even have to ride on to another town to find accommodations.
If you are connecting by train at the start or end of a tour or from one spot to another, we found that deutschbahn.com is an excellent place to check. Keep in mind that many old stations still have stairs that can be difficult to negotiate with a bike and panniers. You need to allow time for transfers at train stations. By pre-planning, we know which trains take bikes and which ones have the fewest train changes from point A to point B.
Packing is one of the most important things. Pack as light as possible and leave some room for special things you may want to buy along the way. Do practice riding around your hometown with fully loaded panniers, just to make sure you are accustomed to the weight. At this point you may leave out a few things. Remember, there is nothing wrong with washing out some clothing in the sink or finding a laundromat. Also, don’t forget your raincoat. Even if you travel to sunny Provence, France in the summer, you may still encounter some rain. It’s best to be prepared. Be sure to pack essentials in your carry on, just in case checked baggage is delayed or misdirected.
Bringing your own bike or renting as a major decision. For many years, we brought our own. The airlines were more accommodating, back then and also more reasonable. We were able to check our bike box, which was loaded with our bike, as well as a pannier and clothing. This allowed us to bring on board one carry on (pannier). We did not have to pay extra for the bike to travel.
Times changed and currently, it is pretty costly to bring your bike. We have had good experiences with bike rental in Europe and have even been able to arrange that they deliver to our hotel starting point and pick up where we designate, at the end of our riding. Granted, it is not your own familiar bike; but, we found that the equipment has been good and it took little time to adjust to the rental.