…a bike ride through Spain…
…eating with locals…
…enjoying the customs of far-off lands.
Sounds great, but how do you make it happen? How do you prepare, and what do you do once you get there?
Kim and I took our first adventure travel experience together biking through Western Europe. We were completely unprepared. Our only previous travel experience were family vacations to all-inclusive resorts. Kim had never camped before.
However, we bought bikes, plane tickets, and set out on our first real adventure together. We set out to experience the world at a slower pace than home had to offer. We succeeded and so can you!
This is what we learned along the way.
1. Purchase A Plane Ticket
The hardest part of beginning a journey is often taking the 1st step. Draw a country from a hat, throw a dart at a map or follow your heart to the starting point of your sojourn and purchase a one-way ticket there.
- Be sure to give yourself enough time from the purchase date to the flight in order to get your shit together, i.e. research, gear acquisition, and mental preparation.
- A great site for inexpensive airfare is CheapOAir.com.
- Look for a major airline such as British Airways. They will allow you to ship your bikes as checked baggage! Be sure to follow their bike packing instructions. We prefer using the clear bags, this keeps security from having to tear into a bike box and possibly compromise your gear.
- If you want to save some money on bike bags, use a mattress cover instead. Twin size with some duct tape and you will be good to go.
2. Research Adventure Blogs
We live in an amazing time. There are so many adventurous travelers around the world sharing their stories and tips from the road. This is where you can have a lot of fun preparing for the trip.
- “Research” means reading inspirational tales, watching great videos on the subject or area you want to travel, and imagining yourself living abroad.
- We used sites such as www.travellingtwo.com to research route planning tips and gear reviews.
- When purchasing gear we used amazon.com to order just about everything. Having packages delivered to our door was like having 3 months of Christmas.
Volunteering was the single best decision that we made. This extended our trip from 2 months to 8 ½. Kim and I are indecisive and did not plan any route before we were on the road. We knew that we wanted to head east, but that was about it. Using Workaway.info we were able to find volunteer opportunities in area we wanted to visit, thus having something to aim for and a guaranteed place to lay our head upon arrival.
- Volunteer Opportunities we enjoyed:
- Working for a wine touring company outside of Barcelona
- Experiencing the inner workings of a yoga retreat in the mountains of South France
- Wood working for an adventure hotel in the French Alps
- Living on and painting a 50’s era boat south of Paris
- Running a bed & breakfast in Lieden, Netherlands. This was a month and a half of pure unadulterated goodness!
- All of these amazing opportunities will give insight into the region and culture that you would otherwise miss out on. You will meet amazing people, work in gorgeous environments and enjoy some of the best meals of your journey prepared by gracious hosts. There is nothing better than local food and drinks after a long hard day of work.
- This should go without saying, but be respectful towards your hosts. For a few hours of work a day they are kind enough to invite you into their home and share meals, stories and kindness with complete strangers.
4. Stay Connected
Stay connected. If you want. You can always choose to cut ties and travel without the Internet, having only your wits and determination to get you there. Mad respect if you are able to succeed in this way. Kim and I could not have.
- While on the road we learned that you cannot rely on cell phones or WiFi all of the time. We had to stay connected in order to arrange volunteer opportunities, tweet the details of our journey to interested friends and family, and look up how to fix broken gear.
- The tool that worked perfectly for this was the Kindle 3G. With unlimited Internet access everywhere there is cell phone service, a 2 month battery life and storage enough to hold an extra 500 tunes to cruise to. The Kindle was used more than any bicycle tool that we brought with us. And books are heavy.
5. Be Prepared to Be Uncomfortable
Bicycle touring is no cake walk. You will be exhausted, filthy, hungry and lost, a lot. It is the nature of the beast and happens all of us adventure-seeking travelers.
- The terrain, weather and people are in constant flux while on the road. There will be literal mountains to climb and you will break down at least a couple of times along the way.
- Necessity is the mother of invention. Survival is the necessity here. Use the adversity in your adventure to invent a stronger person. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Stay positive and keep pushing forward.
6. Wild Camp
There is nothing like sleeping under the stars, but it can be a bummer when you have to pay precious Euros to do so. There is a simple solution. Camp illegally. Stealth camp, wild camp, or sleep in a campground that is closed for the season.
- Be aware of your surrounds and if you are uncomfortable just bail and find the nearest inn or hostel to get a good night’s sleep.
- It does take some getting used to, but doesn’t always have to be sketchy.
- There were plenty of times that we had every intention of sleeping in the wild but were instead welcomed in by locals with open arms, and food!
- Without being in the right place at the right time, expecting to truly rough it we would not have met some of the most amazing people in our time spent abroad.
7. Have a Good Phrasebook
There is nothing worse than being in a foreign country and overhearing an English speaker yelling in order to be understood. We are not those people.
- Phrase books will become your bible. Every conversation abroad should start with a valiant effort to speak in the native tongue. This is a great ice-breaker and more often than not ended with laughs, conversations in English and sometimes even drinks with the locals.
- We also used them to jot notes, and highlighted phrases that we used often.
- I still know “Where is the nearest camping?” and “We would like two more beers please.” in a few languages.
- I recommend the Rick Steve’s phrasebooks. They contain a more colorful language and a few more liberal phrases that might come in handy.
Try as you might, but there is no way to remember all of the great experiences that you will encounter on the road. Even pictures cannot capture the same emotion that writing can.
- Jot notes as the going gets tough. The most interesting thoughts occur in the face of adversity.
- Get into the habit of journaling. This may mean starting the process in the preparation stages of your journey.
- Find a notebook that you are comfortable with. I used an out of date pocket calendar. It fit perfectly in my handlebar bag, was super light, and accessible.
- Get into the swing of journaling and you will be so happy that you have done so. You will be able to relive your adventures for years to come.
They will also be handy as:
- An end of the day recap while lying in your tent.
- Inspiration for blog posts if you chose to do so.
- Reminiscing on your travels while you are not on the road.
9. Stash Some Cash
You have purchased a one way ticket to Europe and have now come to the end of your journey. Though you would not mind staying abroad indefinitely, you will have to head home.
- You better have stashed away at least enough money to get you back to where you came from. Be sure to account for all of the funds required to find your way home, including: plane tickets home, food while in transit (remember, you can’t use your JetBoil at the airport) and a ride from the airport (taxi, subway, etc.)
- This money should not be touched while traveling. Even if the times get very tough on the road. Your stashed cash is only for the escape plan.
This is what we wish we had known before embarking on our cycle journey through Europe. I hope that it will be valuable information for those of you looking to embark on an adventure traveling experience.
Travel slowly, deliberately and with kindness in your heart and you will succeed in any of life’s grandest ventures.