This year our group of cycling friends are doing a 3 week self-guided bicycle tour of Europe. There are some good reasons we are doing a self-guided tour instead of one with a tour company.
Costs – planning your own tour will save you a lot of money but we are staying in hotels comparable to what you would find on many cycling tours and it is a lot cheaper. If you are camping the savings are even more significant.
Dates – you can travel when you want taking advantage of cheaper midweek airfares or a charter flight. And again you can go for odd periods such as 10 days or however long you are able. Many of the bike tours are for only one week and start on a Saturday or Sunday which does not always work for the best airfares or your available dates.
Destination – you can cycle where you wish as tour companies only feature the most only the most popular destinations. For example we are cycling along a section of the Rhine one way which is something a bike tour would not offer. The we are going around Lake Constance which is a popular tour but we are following it up by using a Swiss National Cycling route across northern Switzerland, not generally featured on a tour. And forget about the long distance linear cycling routes such as the Romantic Road, EuroVelo 6, East Coast route in the USA as most tours follow a circular route.
Sightseeing – to keep costs reasonable tours do not always include the most important sightseeing options. I was on a guided tour which went to Padua in the Veneto Region of Italy and on arrival the group just cycled right to the hotel. A friend and myself visited the Cappella degli Scrovegni for an amazing experience and many others in the group later told us they wished they had joined up.
We often break up longer cycling tours with a day of hiking along the Dordogne River in southern France rented canoes for a day for an experience my companions are still talking about years later.
The other riders on this guided tour missed some of the most interesting sights along the route.
Accommodation – we like to stay in a variety of accommodation including small family-owned hotels, historic building, B & B’s or hostels which may be not be suitable for tour groups. When visiting southern France we stayed in Saint-Cirq Lapopie, a small mountainside medieval town which has no hotel large enough for groups. This year we are staying in a B & B with a garden patio right along the bike route and the shores of Lake Constance.
Pace – we can set our own distances and pace to see what we wish to see. I have cycled from 40 to 110 km in one day to get the most from our cycling vacation. The day we did 40 km we spent the entire morning sightseeing Lausanne, Switzerland and then did a quick ride to the next town of Montreux.
Companions – I prefer to ride with other cyclists I know who are always from my local bike club. It just makes for better conservation and you already know you get along.
Bicycles – while there is a certain convenience with using rental bicycles I still prefer my own bike which I am used to riding.
There are many tour companies which feature a type self-guided tour which usually includes accommodation, luggage transfers, some meals, bicycles and route directions however you will find with some planning you can do the same thing yourself for about half the price.
I have taken guided tours as they can be handy as a small part of a larger tour or if you are not able to find a companion for your journey and do not wish to ride alone, I understand as it is always more fun to share experiences during a trip.
With all the information available on the internet and numerous signed long distance routes such as EuroVelo or those of the Adventure Bicycle touring organization in the U.S. self-guided bicycle tours are much easier to plan than they have been in the past.