I was puzzling over the perfect gift for my husband’s birthday and kept coming back to the one thing he mentioned most: a desire to take a cycling vacation. I was hesitant to pursue the idea, being a casual rider with a strong aversion to hills; but with a little research, I discovered that there are bicycle tours suited for any ability. I settled on a self-guided, multi-day bicycle adventure in the Netherlands, a flat country tailor-made for cyclists. Seven bike tour vacations are now in our rearview; I was completely sold after the first one.
The Perfect Pace
Biking has transformed the way we travel. On past vacations, our choice of transportation determined how we experienced a new place: we viewed the countryside through the window of a high-speed train, or walked from attraction to attraction on aching feet, or nervously navigated a rental on unfamiliar roads, missing the scenery which passed right outside our car window.
Biking, however, proved to be the ideal mode for getting around at the perfect pace - slow enough to soak in all the sights at our leisure and fast enough to cover a fair amount of ground every day. At this pace, there is plenty of time to smell, see and feel a place, but you cover enough ground to see things that would elude anyone relying on two feet. At this pace, stopping to check directions or visit a castle is easy and stress-free – no searching for the elusive parking space, fast approaching highway exit, or the correct train stop. Just pull over and lock the bikes.
The Hidden Gems
In general, bike tours avoid big city riding as much as possible. Routes tend to wind through less trafficked areas along scenic country roads, small lanes, and rural paths. While major sights are often along the route, many wonders we encounter are not highlighted on the tourist map and often are not accessible by car. These are the hidden gems we would have missed if we weren’t on bikes.
Pedaling through small towns, farms and villages where locals are going about their everyday lives is an authentic way to absorb the culture of a place. We frequently pause to talk with people in their front yards, pop into a church in the village square or stop at a farmers’ market to buy some bread and cheese for a mid-ride snack. If it starts to rain, we duck into a little pub and wait out the weather with a local brew or glass of wine. Back in the saddle for more adventure cycling, unexpected treasures await around every bend.
The End of Planning Angst
One of the best things about a cycling vacation is not having to plan what we are going to do every day. After a hearty breakfast, we simply hop on our bikes and ride the prescribed route, exploring whatever interests us on our way to the next town. Once we arrive at our destination, we check into our accommodation and set off exploring and finding the perfect spot for a well-deserved dinner. The cycling company makes our lodging reservations ahead of time, which eliminates a lot of pre-trip planning angst. The bed and breakfasts, inns and hotels are delightful local establishments we undoubtedly would have had difficulty finding on our own. The bike tour companies give us a guideline to play within, but don’t restrict our spontaneity in the moment.
Biking Vacations to Burn off those Calories
If hanging out poolside in a lounge chair for a week does not appeal to you, you might want to consider a cycling vacation as an active, healthy alternative. I like biking vacations for the daily calorie burn which allows me to indulge in the local cuisine guilt-free. And I enjoy the physical challenge – I have graduated from pedaling the low country of the Netherlands to cycling hill town to hill town on the Istrian Peninsula in Croatia. It feels great to accomplish something I never thought I could do, while taking in spectacular scenery I could never have viewed otherwise.
A Route for Every Rider
You can find cycling routes suited for diverse riding abilities in almost every corner of the world. Many trips can be tailored to your specific needs and interests: you can choose how many days (and how many miles per day) you wish to ride; pick if you want to bike to a new town each day or take a loop route that returns you to a home base; decide what type of terrain your prefer; and elect to carry your gear or have your luggage transported daily to your next destination. Many trip operators offer electric bikes, enabling cyclists of differing abilities to ride together comfortably. Bike trips can be guided or self-guided. Guided trips are group tours with a structured schedule and a guide - great if you like meeting new people and perfect for single riders. We have taken only self-guided trips as we prefer to be on our own schedule and like the flexibility of detouring whenever we see something interesting to explore. Self-guided trips are less expensive than guided trips; however, you need to be willing to find your own way along the route using the GPS device and/or maps provided by the cycling company.
Consider A Bicycle Tour for Your Next Vacation
I highly recommend trying a cycling vacation, a perfectly-paced immersion into the beauty and culture of a new destination. Or revisit a favorite spot, but view it this time from a whole new vantage point. You won’t regret it, and it may just transform you into a two-wheel enthusiast, like me.
Pat McChristian is a lifelong world traveler and regular contributor to the Flashpacker Chronicles. When not on the road Pat lives in Connecticut with her husband, Jeff. Follow her adventures along with the rest of the Flashpacker Co Network on their website: flashpackerco.com or on Instagram @FlashpackerCo.