Travel with your tandem. Share the trip with someone you really care about!
"The travel tips you provide make staying in tough and getting around easier".
A guided tour company is the way to go for those that don't have the time or gumption to set up their own tour.
You can have some really good tours on your own if you are willing to do some leg work and set up your own tour. We have been on three guided tours and one self guided tour in Europe and can tell you the first time or two it is a good idea to take a touring company's guidance and the experience they offer when traveling abroad.
Now that we have a few trips under us and the unguided tour it really isn't a problem but it sure would have been difficult to assimilate not only the language barrier but the cultural differences you have to wade through.
Traveling outside the United States can be a little daunting for some people so the hand holding is not a sign of weakness but should be looked upon as a way to get your feet wet so you can do it on your own later. Granted, there is a cost to having someone take care of all of the details for you, but if you pay attention and learn what they are doing, ask some directed questions and keep your mind open, you can do it yourself.
You are most likely going to take your tandem with you. Getting it there in one piece is pretty important. See the this page for information on how to get your bike there safely.
If you do plan to go it alone, or should I say without a guide, you will need to know a few things. Maybe some of the things that I have learned can save you some headaches.
Here are things I learned while traveling abroad with my bike that might help you.
This is a very valuable piece of advice. If you plan to do any riding at all you will want to get an idea of the routes, the terrain you will encounter and where you can go for alternate routes should you be too tired to do the while ride. Sure you say, I know that. No, really. Take some time, get Michelin maps (the really big, detailed ones) and study them. Know what the symbols on the maps really mean. You don't want to be on your bike and have to guess if the road really goes where you thought it went. We have found that gravel roads are sometimes marked as paved so be prepared for that when you travel over there.
Get a GPS for your bike! On my most recent trip to Spain in June of 2008, I brought my Garmin Edge 305 which I have been using for about a year and a half at the time. and just figured I could follow the turn by turn directions if I needed to get back. They are pretty rudimentary but they work well if you go back the same way you came. You basically get an arrow with a countdown in distance and time until the turn. There is not a mapping feature to speak of.
I have only used the Edge 305 for recording rides and uploading them to the Garmin Training Center. Once on the site you can review the ride and see where you were. This is great unless you are lost in the mountains of Spain (something I don't recommend), then the feature won't really help you because you need to see where you are now, not when you get home. Like I said above, you can follow turn by turn directions to go back the way you came but you can't use a map to find your way back on the device which may be a shorter route in real life. If you want features like that, you will need a better GPS, like we did.
Our rental car didn't come with the GPS that I asked for in Spain so I stopped at Media Markt(a store over there like Best Buy) and bought a GARMIN Nuvi 250W that was made for a car. Once I plugged it in I found that it worked really well as a portable unit but it had a 4 hour maximum battery life (which you find out when lost in the mountains in Spain in the rain) and it was a pain to pull it out of your pocket, put it back in, pull it back out etc. I do have to say that Garmin's GPS units are really accurate. We never had any problems getting a signal (save for a dead battery) or getting a wrong turn. Even when traveling at the fast speeds on the Autostrada in Spain. The phone I took with me (my wife used my Mobal phone), the Blackberry 8800 world phone has GPS, but it doesn't work overseas. What was I to do?
The Edge 705is just the ticket to put on your bike when you travel. Then for the bike wasn't available until I got back. I saw one at the Garmin store on Michigan Ave in Chicago about three months before my trip but it wasn't for sale.
The shop where I get all of my stuff had one that they asked me to use and give a review of it (owner likes me to figure out the "techy" stuff and let him know how it works). It is, first off, so much larger than my Edge 305. The display is crisp and bright with no lag when the map moves. The battery life, over the week that I used it, was very impressive. My Edge 305 lasted about 14 hours at the longest. I got over 10 hours out of the Edge 705. This is pretty impressive considering how large and bright the display is on this unit.
Now that I have used one, wow, it really works!
I can't imagine traveling with out a GPS with me. Even when
walking through Girona or Barcelona it made getting around so much
easier than a map. It doesn't need to be folded, it is
waterproof so you don't have to worry about the rain (it rained on my
Nuvi but not enougth to worry about. I would't want to get
caught in a real rainstorm with a Nuvi. It wouldn't stand up
to the rain.
How are you going to stay in touch with your family and friends while on you travel? Calling cards work okay. Internet phones are a good idea if you have access to an internet connection or cafe. Generally speaking though, free internet connections are harder to find around Europe than they are here in the United States. Most of the sites that you want to connect to in Europe will be a pay per session or pay per hour type. This is true in hotels as well as wandering around.
International cell phone ownership is a good option. Mobal World Phones is who I have used for my travel to Europe. What I really like about them is they are truly an inexpensive option if you only plan to use the phone on trips and not here in the United States. There are no, none, not a single one, hidden charges when you get one of their phones. You simply buy the phone (I got the $49 model), and you pay for what you use, period. You don't use the phone for a year, you don't pay a dime. Compare this to AT&T's plan (higher rates per minute than Mobal's), Verizon (you might get a lower price per minute but you have to buy the $80 sim card and you have to figure in the $15 per month charge for the international plan you have to add).
For the $49 plan, you get a nice Motorola phone like this one. It is perfect for travel. It is small, easy to use and the battery lasts a long time. I found this out when I left my charger at a hotel and we traveled on our bikes for a three day out and back and I didn't have my charger. Battery lasted the whole time.
If you are going to use your phone when you travel overseas like you do here; 10,000 minutes a month, 9000 text messages, etc you might want to consider one of the higher models or just setting up service over there. If you just want a phone to say, call home, check on the kids and stay in touch, the Mobal phones are really the way to go. I even let my friends take it on trips with them and they end up buying one for the next trip. You can get a nifty thing from Mobal too that if you sign up a friend, you get a discount off the per minute charges on your own phone. I think I am up to 50% off now with all of the friends that have ended up getting phones from these guys.
You have decided to take the trip into your own hands eh? How are you going to get around. I'll let you know all of the things I learned about renting a car overseas that can make things easier for you. I can speak from experience with this company Europcar . It was pretty easy to rent a car from them and we got a good price as well. If you are thinking of renting a car and driving over in Europe it really is pretty easy. The signs, as here, are designed to make your driving pretty easy. Use a little common sense and even unfamiliar signs will make sense. Travel shouldn't be difficult. It is a vacation, remember?
What size car to get when you travel? Well, you are going to first lean towards a cheap rental. Something small you think? If you are taking your bikes with you and there are two of you, you can get by with a small 1 series BMW hatchback. Just remember that it will be two bike boxes and luggage and the two of you, that is it.
If there are going to be four of you, you can't get by with anything smaller than a minivan. Not a little minivan type car like a renault Espace or a Picasso. I am talking a VW Sharon or VW Van or Mercedes Vito Van. A little car will fit four bike boxes but not four bike boxes, luggage and people. Believe me, we had people on our trips try to go a little cheaper and they had to end up putting stuff in our van because they couldn't get the people and the stuff all in.
Take a look at this picture to get an idea of what we needed for 18 people on our last trip.
If you look closely, you can see 5 minivans in the picture plus there is one 1 series BMW not there. This was needed to get our stuff to and from the airport in reasonable comfort. A really nice thing about travel in Europe is almost everything is a diesel. The little engines have tons of pulling power and barely use any fuel. (I don't know why the US can't get on the diesel wagon more. Gone are the days of the crappy GM diesels. My 09 Jetta Tdi doesn't smoke, smell or gel up in the winter)
Another thing,you pay for a full tank of fuel upon return whether you want to or not. If you return the car with 3/4 tank, you are still paying for a full refill price so why not return it empty? In 10 days of our last trip, I returned the blue van you see in the middle of the picture with a little less than 1/2 tank. This was amazing mileage because we drove to lots of places pretty far away everyday after we were done riding.
If you can get it in the car you rent, get a GPS. I had reserved a GPS for my car but when I got over there I found out I did something wrong so I didn't get one. Not to be left in the dark on where to go I stopped at this store called Media Markt(this is the link to the widipedia page) and bought a GARMIN Nuvi 250W for the car. If I hadn't bought this guy, getting around would have been difficult. The nice thing was when I brought it back to the US, I was able to get a chip with US navigation and I can use it in my car here when I need to travel long trips for work.
I can't stress how much more comfortable I was with the GPS to get me around. European cities are much harder to navigate by dead reckoning than you think they are. It's a lot harder to get around in a car than it is to get around by bike.
I am very good at navigating cities in the US (of course all men say this). I have lived in a number of large cities and can remember what it was like when I first moved there and had to get around. Learning to get around in Italy, France or Spain is not like being dropped into an American city. They are much older, not laid out in what you would consider to be "intuitive" designs, and have much narrower streets.
All this adds up to much more difficulty in learning your way around. Having the Garmin was like having a local person who could tell us where we needed to go and not get lost. Really, it makes that much difference. The voice navigation is a very big plus because you don't have to stare at the little screen.
What you say? I have never heard of that! Believe me, you probably will never need it. You most likely won't have a car accident or incident but if you are one of the unlucky ones, won't you wish you followed the rules. It would certainly be worth the $20 or so wouldn't it?Get a GPS in your car too. Like I said in the section above, a GPS is the only way to get around. Get the maps and study them so you have an idea of the lay of the land but the GPS will make the travel much easier.
Stuck in the airport
If your travel plans happen to take you through JFK or Ohare, you might want to plan on getting stuck. I have been stranded there more than I haven't. You can see on my bike case page a picture of the results of our last trip getting stranded in JFK. I just found out about this product that might ease some of the pain of a last minute flight cancellation that always crops up during travel. It is called the Mini Motel. I am working on getting a link put here to make your inevitable stranding a bit more bearable. We spent 14 extra hours in the airport. It sucked. The Mini Motel would have been a welcome addition to our baggage. Instead, some of our people made their own out of the bicycle boxes and we all slept on the floor or benchs.
Bike doesn't follow you home?Don't be too worried about your bike if it doesn't make it back on the flight when you are coming home. Three of the last four trips have resulted in mine and several of our trip companion's bikes not making it back with us. The airline had the bike picked up and taken to our houses by courier, a 3 hour drive each way. Nobody had any damage to their bikes on any of our trips. Of course, we packed our bikes in bike boxes. This is 20 people taking four trips. That's 160 chances (4 trips X 2 flights over and 2 flights back per person) to damage a bike. My bike ended up going more miles than I did on the way home and got a few extra airport stamps on the luggage tag.
A word of warning also. In all of our trips to Europe, we have never found peanut butter in a grocery store. Bring your own when you travel.
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