Plan a Great Biking Vacation: See the World on a Bike

bike, loire valley

Have you ever taken a biking vacation? What are you waiting for?

One of my all-time favorite vacations was spent primarily on a bike. A few summers ago, my husband and I took a week in Prince Edward Island, Canada, and rented bicycles for the duration of our vacation. For seven days, we explored at our own pace, traversing the wooded Confederation Trail across great swaths of the island, pedaling along country roads through rolling farmlands, and navigating cliffside byways that led to secluded red-sand beaches. We packed picnics, or stopped in at little seaside huts or mom-and-pop restaurants for meals of lobster bisque, freshly steamed mussels, and icy-cold beers. As long as the weather cooperated (and it did), we were outside on the bikes, seeing where the day would take us.

Exploring by bike enabled us to see quite a lot, but without the frenzied pace of a tour group or the checklist mentality of a typical sightseeing vacation. It gave us a week full of fresh air and exercise, and the freedom to cover a lot of ground (as long as we were up, stamina-wise, for the outing). In short, it was a delightful way to see someplace new.

If you’re interested in planning a bike-tour or biking vacation, consider these points before you go.

1. Is the destination bike-friendly?

Before you go, make sure that your destination is accessible and hospitable to those on bikes, especially if you want to cover a lot of ground and/or are using the bike as your primary form of transportation. Prince Edward Island in late summer/early fall was incredibly bike-friendly for tourists; a major city for a novice or non-urban biker (say, midtown Manhattan for a week) may be less so. Also consider seasonality – Charleston or Clearwater may be great to explore by bike in spring and fall, but in the high heat of summer, it’s a different story altogether. A simple Google search of “bike friendly” followed by the name of your intended destination will give you a great sense of whether this will be a good option for your upcoming trip.

2. Do you want to travel solo or with a tour group?

Once you’ve picked your destination, consider whether you want to go with a guide – or if you’d like to your itinerary to be self-directed. A guided group package is a great option if you want to leave the planning to someone else, or if you’re looking for a more social experience on vacation. Companies such as Backroads, DuVine Adventures, and Trek Travel specialize in group tours specifically for cyclists. Or, you can choose a self-guided, yet pre-planned, itinerary with an inn-to-inn biking tour. In these cases, you book a biking tour with a B&B, inn, or guided tour company, and you determine your schedule: The inns typically transfer your luggage and personal items, provide breakfast and lodging, and a map with area recommendations – you then are responsible for getting from point A to B (and C and D, where applicable) on your bike. A quick search showed inn-to-inn tours are currently available in California, Cape Cod, Italy, and Spain, among many other destinations.

3. Will you be driving or flying?

If you’re driving, make sure your car is properly equipped to transport your bikes. If you’re flying, you have two options to research: One, if you plan to bring your own bike, look up the cost to check it with your airline carrier; two, if you plan to rent a bike at your destination, find out the rates per day or week from local bicycle rental shops. For the latter option, be sure to compare prices across multiple shops to see which provider offers the most reasonable rate—or has the inventory that most appeals to you. Additionally, try to compare apples-to-apples as much as possible, in terms of bike model options, insurance, and the like.

4. Will you need theft protection for your bike?

A friend recently had a European bicycling trip cut short when his bike was stolen in Spain. If you’re visiting a major city (anywhere in the world, really), or another destination known for theft and/or petty crime, take extra safeguards and precautions so your bike doesn’t get stolen. Check both property and travel insurance options, local law enforcement websites, traveler forums, and similar online communities to get insider tips and ensure you don’t end up like my friend: There’s nothing worse than being bike-less on a biking vacation.

5. Are you in good physical shape?

Finally, if you’re planning a bike trip, ensure in advance that you’re in shape to do it. Many a trip has been spoiled by discovering, in the moment, that the route may be too strenuous for your current abilities. If you’re visiting an area with especially challenging terrain (Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, or the hill towns of the Pyrenees, for example), or if you’re just a little out of practice, get back in the saddle a few months in advance so you’re not taken aback on the trail.

Regardless of the type of biking vacation you choose, know that you’re choosing a trip that’s good for both the body and soul. So get moving – and see you on the road!

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Photo courtesy Clement via Flickr Creative Commons