You’re thinking about planning an independent bike trip to France, but you’re a bit nervous about whether or not you have what it takes to go it alone. How do you know if you are ready? I’m asked this question hundreds of times a year. In a way, it’s a loaded question, one that can’t be simply answered yes or no. Contrary to what you might think, the answer has very little to do with how experienced of a cyclist you are….it has much more to do with your comfort level with adventure, independence and sometimes flying by the seat of your pants!
The great news is that there’s a bicycling in France option for every skill level, budget and time frame. The challenge is to understand your comfort zone and flexibility and then choose an option that’s best suited to you. Making the right choice will help insure that your bicycling experience is a memorable one!
Here’s a list of questions that I forward to readers considering a go-it-alone bicycling trip in France (or anywhere overseas). It’s not a test and there are no right or wrong answers. Hopefully the questions will get you thinking about skills/characteristics that can be helpful if you’re bicycling in the middle of France and you haven’t seen another person all day. By understanding your strengths and weaknesses, you can plan a bike adventure that is suited to your taste and adventure tolerance.
Are you ready for an on-your-own bicycling trip in France?
- Do you love adventure…..do you like taking deviations? Are you the person who always likes to take the fork in the road?
- Do you have a good sense of direction….can you read a road map, a topographical map?
- Are you independent? Are you OK with the idea of being in the middle of nowhere on your own, possibly even without any cell phone reception?
- Can you live in the same couple of outfits (1 or 2 bicycling, 1 or 2 casual) for a week?
- Do you go with the flow…..do you deal well with adversity, like bad weather, flat tire, getting lost?
- Can you handle being momentarily lost and having to figure out how to get back on track?
- Are you willing to trust your travel partner’s navigation skills?
- Can you recognize storm clouds and other signs of impending bad weather?
- Do you have basic mechanical skills….do you know how to change a flat or can you do so with a phone app?
- Do you have the fortitude to stick with a tough day on the bike, even though you may be tired?
- Can you speak or learn 100 basic words of French…..or do you have a translator on your phone or i-pad?
- Do you believe that your GPS can never be wrong?
- Are you willing to carry your own luggage (estimated 25 pounds) in panniers on your bike?
- Do you like the idea of experiencing the backroads of France on roads seldom traveled by normal tourists?
- Do you like the idea of being a sort of “goodwill ambassador” on a bike?
Hopefully as you go through this list you will start thinking about some of the situations and circumstances you may have to deal with when you are bicycling on-your-own overseas. Armed with that knowledge, you can plan a bicycling trip that takes your preferences into consideration. If you’ve answered no to most of the above questions, then perhaps adding a day trip or several half-day trips to an existing vacation may be a good first step for you. If you have no interest in the adventure part of bicycling and if money is no object, perhaps a guided trip with support vans may be for you. For the rest of you, if this type of adventure sounds good to you, start looking for an itinerary that interests you.
When I think back about my first overseas bicycling trip 20 years ago, there was a certain amount of naivety that got me through that trip. We were lucky that first trip along the Danube River: we had minimal bad weather, great bikes and no flat tires. Fortunately for us, the adversity waited until we got much more experienced!
I love traveling in Europe by bike because it’s a great adventure and because I love seeing a side of the country that few ordinary tourists experience. Any adversity we encounter is just a hazard of the experience. I love the experience so much that I’ve learned that even the adversity encountered on a trip becomes a fond memory over time. I can’t imagine my life without all of the incredible experiences that I have had exploring France, Germany and Austria by bike. They have definitely impacted my life!
I hope that this post has helped you understand if you are ready for an independent bicycling trip in France, or anywhere else. Stay tuned for my next post on choosing an itinerary!