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When Jen and I agreed that we wanted to take a grand bike touring adventure, we were both overcome by excitement, fear of unknown (FOU), and a bit stunned at how much planning would be needed.
As we’ve wrestled with the planning process, here are our Top 3 Tips for Planning a Grand Bike Tour:
Tip 1. Do NOT over plan. Start with the WHERE first.
In our case, the WHERE? piece was by far the most difficult aspect of our initial planning. We wanted a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so just any place wasn’t going to work. We started looking into South America, and given our recent trip to Colombia, we knew the roads were going to be challenging and dangerous. Despite Jen being fluent in Spanish and my penchant for adventure, we needed something a little tamer with more structure. Touring the USA seems a bit pedestrian given that Jen and I snobby Cascadians. So that left us looking east. After much discussion, we settled on building a checklist to help narrow our search.
Destination Requirements Checklist:
– Safe Roads
– Easily Accessible by air
– Dog Friendly
Europe seemed to rise to the top all our requirements. This was incredibly helpful to start with a continent, now, to figure out the exact route and countries is where you can spend and waste loads of time. I spent many hours getting dirty in Excel with exact mileage routes and stops until my head wanted to explode. I learned that the best trick is to use Google Maps to make a high-level route of destinations. Note the time and distance, then divide by the average number of KMs you want to travel per day. Taking the high-level route planning method and parlaying weather patterns narrowed down our trip to Eastern Europe (starting in the north and heading south).
That’s it. Once we overcame the WHERE? hurdle, the other pieces of When? and How? starting falling into place.
Second. Plan the timing of your trip to your needs.
Since we knew eastern Europe was our destination, the weather really dictated when we were going to leave. If we wanted to ride in the snow, then we should leave in Winter or Fall, otherwise, early Spring was the right time to leave. As it turns out, early Spring is also a cheaper time to fly. So it’s a win win. As for what to do in winter, this is a common problem for the bike tourist. The simple answer is head south, far south. For us, that means heading to the Mediterranean. Sure it won’t be t-shirt warm, but we won’t be freezing and the likelihood of snow is small.
Three. Build a financial model of our budget.
I totally nerded out on the financial aspect of our planning. First, I built a total cost model in Excel to get an estimate of what the total cost of the trip. This included a generous daily budget, gear (camping, bikes, clothes, etc.), flying, food, housing, emergency funds, and miscellaneous expenses. Then I looked at the last 6 months of expenses and determined how much disposable income was available (both Jen and I work full time jobs). Lastly, I determined that if we saved for 9 months, we would hit our budget cost needs for the trip. It would be close, but this enabled us to realize our trip was financially possible if we kept to our budgets.