Cycling trips can be a fantastic, economical and challenging way to see the world. Slowing down the speed of your trip from vehicle to peddle power gives you the chance to soak in and appreciate landmarks. And all at a more pedestrian pace.
Spoiler alert: the very nature of cycling tours means you are unlikely to be able to stay in comfortable hotels every night. So, are you prepared to swap the comfort of a hotel bed and an airplane seat for the call of the open road and a trusty bicycle? If you are, here are four tips for your first cycling trip.
Plan everything and pin down your dates
You can't do enough planning for a cycling trip, especially your very first. Start by picking your destination. Think carefully about what kind of trip you want, and do your research on the countries you are thinking of visiting. It is worth checking out Ben Groundwater's blog, where he offers his advice for a cycling trip to France. As he suggests, you should learn at least a few words of French - it can make a massive difference.
Once you decide on your destination, think carefully about when you want to go. If it is your first trip, plan to go during the warmest months of the year, as you will be outside for long periods of the day. While the heat brings its own challenges, camping and cycling in the freezing cold is not recommended for your first cycling trip away.
Make sure you have the right kit and equipment
On a cycling trip it can be tempting to pack everything you own. Let's face it, you could need it. But the reality is that you are going to have to carry everything you bring with you and peddle it up mountains and through valleys.
Start with the most important thing, your bike.Go for a touring bike that is sturdy and has racks at the front and back to take some of your luggage off your back. Your bags should be easy to carry and waterproof. You will need to squeeze in a tent, a good sleeping bag and a rollout mat to sleep on. You will also need to invest in a good mobile cooking stove. Don't forget bug spray and baby wipes. Both will be invaluable.
Make sure you choose your route carefully
Picking the right cycling route can be the difference between a truly memorable, liberating trip and one that is fraught with danger and stress. On your first trip, it is worth trying to find a way to avoid main roads - they are often full of cars travelling at high speed, rarely particularly beautiful and often far less accommodating to the cyclist.
So, try and find good online resources that help you get a strong understanding of the road network where you are going and the most recommended routes for cyclists. If your trip is going to be in Europe, then check out the Eurovelo bike routes website - every region of the world will have their own equivalent. Use their recommendations to build your own route map using as much existing knowledge from tips on forums and message boards.
Dodge the detours if you can
It is worth investing in a good GPS device or being prepared to use your smartphone - providing you will get a chance to charge it regularly. Lots of apps are designed with cyclists in mind and will show you the best routes to avoid the crowds.