Do you have the summer vacation blues already? While your friends and colleagues start disappearing off to their carefully planned (and expensive) vacations, you’re left wondering how you can get away without busting your carefully planned budget. That’s not going to be easy, considering that the cost of almost everything travel related has gone up since last summer. But before you settle on the couch with your beer and bon bons, there is a way for you to travel without having to dish out a lot of money: bicycle touring.
While it seems like a strange and physically daunting idea, bicycle touring is one of the most cost-effective and easiest ways for you to enjoy your time off. You can get around on your bike for a fraction of what it would cost you to do a similar trip using more conventional transportation, as you won’t be dependent on expensive and polluting fossil fuels. And since you’ll be biking most of the day, you’ll save tons of money avoiding tourist traps and buying stuff you don’t need to cure your boredom. In addition, the health benefits from biking hundreds of miles will make any bicycle tour well worth the time.
Fuel is Expensive
With the sour economy, touring appears to be gaining popularity across the country. Gone are the days that road warriors could just simply jump in their cars and drive hundreds of miles without considering the price of gasoline. But thanks to rising oil prices, gasoline has become a deterrent to hitting the road, forcing many people to stay home. It’s no better flying, taking a train or hopping on a bus, either, as most, if not all, forms of conventional transportation depend on oil products to go. Those higher costs manifest themselves into baggage fees and other annoyances of traveling these days.
And forget about hotels and motels. The lodging industry has seen a renaissance of sorts in pricing lately, with leisure hotel rates this summer up around 9 percent from the same time last year, a record jump, according to research firm The Pegasus View. It’s now not unreasonable to spend around $75 to $150 a night just putting your head down at a two-star motel. That can add up quickly.
But bicycle touring eliminates a lot of those costs. You don’t have to fill up your bike with gasoline to make it go and you don’t have to stay at motels if you don’t want to. A bicycle tour can be as low budget or as fancy as you want it to be, but the good thing is that there is very little lost when doing a tour on the cheap because the two best things about touring are the views and the people you meet along the way. A bicycle tour can be a short as a day or as long as a few years, depending on how far you want to go and what equipment you are on. In general, bicycle tours are truly unique to the participant, which makes for a great vacation for anyone.
Planning & Supplies
So what do you need to tour?
1) A plan – Figuring out where you want to go and planning on how you are going to get there is one of the most challenging parts of touring. It is important that you find a route that can match your physical fitness level. For instance, it may not be wise for someone with a heart condition to set out on a 100 mile-a-day tour along the Rocky Mountains.
When you get a general idea of where you want to tour, you can then look for the bicycle routes in the area to determine your path. There are a number of free websites that carry touring maps and GPS files that you can upload into your into bicycle-specific GPS devices, like the Garmin Edge 800, or you can simply print out and chart the old fashioned way. But while a GPS device like the Edge might seem to be a costly investment for a bike tour, it will save you a lot of grief if you find yourself lost in the middle of nowhere looking for an obscure road.
In the US, while there are few car-free routes available, there are thousands of miles of roads and highways that are virtually deserted.
While you should always be alert, don’t be concerned if you find yourself having to ride along car traffic to get to your destination.
You may choose to cycle in a place far from your home to which you must fly. Bringing your bicycle onboard an aircraft can be tedious and bit time consuming. Watch out for the bloated baggage fees associated with transporting a bike. Most airlines charge $50 to $200 EACH WAY to fly with your bicycle. To add insult to injury, the airlines count the bike as your one piece of luggage, forcing you to pay another fee to bring along your gear and clothes.
2) Gear – loading up on what you is need for the ride is probably the costliest part of the trip. Luckily, what you can bring is limited to whatever you can attach to your bicycle, forcing you to do more with less.
Bicycle – obviously you need a bicycle to tour, but it’s important to get the right bike to match your fitness level and your touring ambitions. There are “touring” specific bikes, but they are usually just regular bikes with racks for your luggage and mud guards – things that can be easily purchased and mounted to most bikes on the cheap.
Pricing bikes can be tedious but finding a good deal can be rewarding.
Don’t be afraid to pick up a used bike at your local bike store or from another bike enthusiast on websites like Craigslist. Also, sending out a message over Twitter and Facebook that you are looking for a bike might alert people in your circle of friends who are thinking about selling their bike.
3) Accommodations - As I mentioned earlier, you can get as fancy as you like on this trip. But cycling into a stuffy five-star hotel or slumming it in a terrible one-star motel can be isolating and boring.
Luckily, those are not your only options. One alternative is to simply bring camping gear so you can pitch a tent whenever you are ready to call it a day.
A number of people want to avoid carrying heavy stuff, like tents and camping gear, as it slows them down considerably. For these people, staying indoors is necessary. Luckily, there is a budget friendly option to the hotel and motel circuit that could save you hundreds. At warmshowers.org, touring cyclists can find thousands of people who are willing to host them while on their journey for free. Sometimes hosts provide a meal and wash your clothes – saving you a ton of money.
But this isn’t just about saving money. Believe it or not, your hosts usually end up being the most interesting part of your journey. We seldom get to meet new people as adults, but touring changes all that. Sometimes, host homes are modest studio apartments, while others can be huge estates with lots of land. You never really know what your accommodations will be like, which can be a bit fun for some people.
There is no right or wrong way to plan or execute a fun bicycle tour. The key is to just get out there and go. You’ll begin seeing the world in a different light and will be forced to interact with nature as opposed to being shielded from it. There really are no limits to how long you can tour or where you can go. If you have the will and the strength to do a tour, you will be rewarded with a very enriching experience.
Cyrus Sanati is a freelance financial journalist whose work appears in Fortune, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. He is an avid bicyclist, having cycled across the Pyrenees, the Cote d’Azur, and throughout the US.