Why a long bicycle trip in Europe should be in your travel bucket list. Ruben writes about his preparation and experience.

Cycling

Cycling

Crazy for fun and adventure but don’t have the funds for a big trip? Then why not travel by bicycle?

Yes. This was exactly what’s on my mind in the months before planning to travel Europe riding my bicycle. I even met one who traveled by bicycle for 2 years while I was hitchhiking in the Philippines. So yes, that made me more excited about planning my own bicycle trip. Fast forward to a few months ago, I was able to do a 5-month Euro trip, traveling by bicycle for 9,500 km. That’s from Madrid, all the way to North Cape, and back to Helsinki. So now, I am telling you that it is possible. Not only possible, but also super fun and is definitely not for the faint-hearted.

My bicycle trip from Spain to Norway (North Cape) and back to Finland lasted 5 months and I spent 400 euros, ONLY. How was that possible? How did I bike for 9 500 kilometers around Europe?

Now, this post will not go through the specifics of planning a long bicycle trip. If you need to plan one now, and are looking for a road map you can follow, check this article (Yup, the guide is already done for you!). That should help you with all the things you need to prepare before the trip, what things you need to be carrying on a long bicycle trip, with tips and hacks on how to travel without money. Today, you will hear more about the juicier part of the travel – the stories. I haven’t talked about this somewhere else, (not even on my own blog), so be ready to get the full behind-the-scenes retell of a 9,500 km bicycle trip.

 

 

An idea was born

The first idea for the bicycle trip came to me when I was in Australia. I had just stopped traveling to get some money by working in Perth. I was working as a farmer, picking tomatoes and planting strawberries, with a friend of mine. That first idea came to mind while we were in the middle of a tiring day in the farm, and that was one year before the bicycle trip took place. We planned to start the trip from Spain and travel to the northernmost point of Europe (North Cape). We decided to do the bicycle trip during the summer time. Oh, just the plan coming together in my mind felt exhilarating. I was so excited. I love cycling and travel, and to be able to put those two passions together was just amazing. I always imagined about the trip everyday, and it was just complete happiness.

 

 

The preparation

Being in shape not only physically, but also mentally, was both a must. But I don’t really train professionally. I don’t ever imagine myself staying in the gym. That’s not my groove. I mean we love travel right? That’s our hardcore goal. I knew that I had to train and that I had to prepare my body for what’s about to come. I started to run a little bit in Asia just to warm-up. (I was staying in Asia before I started with the bicycle trip). I did a more serious training when I was back in Europe. I had 2 months rest before the bicycle trip, so I maximized that time to prepare my body.

Here’s how my daily routine goes:

 

Routine before cycling trip
Routine before cycling trip

So, as you see, there was a lot of thinking and preparation that happened before the trip. The bicycle trip was much more planned than any of the other trips that I did before. We will entirely be putting our trust in our bodies and the bicycles to make sure we reach our various destinations, and ultimately to finish this trip, so nothing beats getting prepared for what’s going to happen.

 

 

Preparing the bike gears

Preparing the bike fore travel

While making sure that I am fit for this trip, there is also the bicycle trip gears that needed to be prepared. You need to think about the possibilities and what you should be bringing for those.

  1. Will any parts of the bicycle break during the trip?
  2. Is the luggage good enough to store everything I will require in the travel, but light enough to make sure I can travel the distances without having problems?
  3. How many kilometers do we expect to travel everyday?
  4. How are we going to always have food and water in the way and still maximize the budget that we have?
  5. Will there be repair shops on the way, in case the need to have a more professional bicycle repair arises?
  6. What is the weather around the areas that we will go to?
  7. Are there a lot of couchsurfers in the area that we will visit?
  8. What’s our contingency plan in case either one of us cannot bike for a particular distance?
  9. How will we always have fun?

 

Those are just some of the questions that should help you prepare for a long bicycle trip such as this. For a detailed list of the things you need to bring, you will find the complete checklist here. For a quick overview, here are the things that you need to have prepared:

 

Bike trip gear checklist
Bike trip gear checklist

Planning the route to take

Apart from preparing all the gears that we need to bring, and also making sure our bodies and the bicycles are working properly, we also needed to think about the routes. An advice: Be open to changes. This is a bicycle trip. Be clear on your goals to know where your final destination is. But there could be a couple of ways to finish your trip. At the beginning, we thought about going to Switzerland and cycling up until Germany. We finally decided to not take this route because Switzerland is very hilly. We chose the shortest way so that we may be able to properly visit all the countries along our way.

 

The trip begins

Map: europe bike travel
Map: europe bike travel

First stop of the 5-month-long bicycle trip was The Santiago’s Way – a very famous travel spot in Spain. Why did the trip start here and how was the experience? First, we chose to start here because of the route. It was a good place for us to begin our trip, and it was on the way. Second, it was for us to get a feel of this trip. I was our first time anyway. We weren’t disappointed. We cycled until the North of Spain, and from there, we headed to France. That route was very hilly and hard.  It was summer yet the weather at these parts of the continent was cold, rainy and windy. We then decided to take the shortest way, but to make sure to visit the countries around.

 

North Spain was really hard with the bicycle and the weather. Also, we always keep in our minds that we were doing this trip in a very tight budget. Landscapes were amazing along the way, but Spain isn’t the best country for cycling in Europe. We continued cycling to France and the bicycle trip started to improve. The roads were better. Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherland, Denmark and Germany were amazing countries for cycling. You can find bicycle lanes everywhere. Many people are going by bicycle in these countries. Sweden, Norway and Finland weren’t so good but there isn’t too much traffic in those countries which helped a little bit for the cycling.

 

6

 

 

 

Contacting people for Accommodation

Hosts who accommodated me
Hosts who accommodated me

For the first part of the bicycle trip, we were able to sleep for free in the refuge along Santiago’s Way. Sometimes the people working there also provided us with breakfast. You can stay there just for a day, from 3pm to 8am. For us it was perfect, so we started cycling around 9 am everyday and finishing by 6pm. For a big part of the trip, we were able to count on hosts’ help for places of sleep. For the days that we cannot stay with anyone, or for the days there weren’t enough time to reach a destination that is accessible and with a lot of people, we camped on the road.

Camped while biking travel
Camped while biking travel

Wild camping is always great. You can enjoy the nature. It was easy to find places to stay even with the bicycle.  You can access very nice and quiet places. You will of course not have all the facilities that you would like. But it’s amazing to enjoy the quiet atmosphere with great landscapes. The sceneries kept us happy and positive especially during the days that cycling was very challenging. A lot of times the weather was bad. The worst moments during the bicycle trip were in Finland, going down to Lapland. It took us 5 days to cross it. At that time, the weather was rainy and cold. It was really hard to find a roof for shelter in the middle of the forest. With the rain, there were also hundreds of mosquitoes. During the nights of rainy weather,  we couldn’t sleep properly. It was  too much humidity for us and oftentimes we felt cold. Sometimes, the water would reach inside the tent. This is why it’s always important to find a really good location to pitch your tent. A flat place is good so you can avoid getting those unwelcome baths due to the rain.

 

Eating on the road

Eating on the road. Biking trip
Eating on the road. Biking trip

Since we were on a tight budget for the bicycle trip, we make sure we buy food in the supermarket and we eat outdoors. For the first time on this trip, we also tried dumpster diving.  You can’t even imagine how much good food you can find at the back of the supermarkets. You can get food in very good conditions, sometimes they were about to expire, some a few days past the expiry. Despite this, we were able to find everything that you will want for food: meat, fish, chicken, cheese, bread, fruits, cakes. It was such a big surprise for us that we were able to eat extremely well during the bicycle trip.  We usually have milk and cereals for breakfast,  eat sandwich during the day and have energetic bars for snacks. At night, we usually make a fire (if the weather will permit us), and we will be able to barbeque fish and meat.  During times that we cannot find wood to help us create fire, we use the camping gas I brought for this trip. If we were staying with couchsurfing hosts, people treat us very well. They will not even let us cook. They were offering us great dinners and huge breakfasts. If we get the chance to rest, like when we’re staying in a place for a few days, we usually cook for our host. We also use this chance to cook whatever food we have with us to bring on the road the next day.

 

The best moments

Every part of this trip was close to my heart, but I definitely favored Norway the most. Great landscapes! Fjords and waterfalls everyday while you are cycling. A bicycle trip is actually a recommended way of traveling. It’s putting together travel and sport. For us, we weren’t focused in visiting the cities. We prefered to see nature and other natural landscapes. While cycling in North Norway and Lapland, we even saw reindeers. It was such a surreal experience, sleeping next to a river and waking up seeing a lot of reindeers close to you.

 

 

 

Days of exhaustion and not getting enough rest

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Keeping hydrated. Exhausted by cycling. Rest and recover.

This trip was exceptionally fun for us. One that I will talk about many times to people who’d want to hear about what happened. Although I wouldn’t lie that there were moments that we felt physically tired from biking the whole way. After 4 months of cycling, we were feeling exhausted.  Cycling for so many days and not getting enough rest. We cycled for around 100 kilometers per day during  trip. We continued of course since we have already set goals and we wanted to finish the trip. It’s something we can be proud of, and since our love for travel tops all the exhaustion we felt, we were able to continue. Our goal was to reach North Cape, the northernmost part of Europe without taking any transportation, except for ferries. We had to take ride a ferry crossing from Denmark to Sweden, and also to reach the Lofoten Islands in Norway. We also had to hitchhike a couple of times. The first one was to cross the longest bridge in Europe (Denmark, 20 km). It wasn’t allowed to go with the bicycle in the toll road. The second time was in Norway when my bicycle pedal was broken. We had to hitchhike for two days to reach the closest bicycle shop. It was a hard one, hitchhiking in Norway for two guys with two bicycles in places where there were almost no traffic.  We were trying to accomplish the trip for almost no money. That was only a secondary goal. Us finishing this trip is a proof that you can travel with as little money as possible. We wanted to show travelers like you that it is possible. And it is much easier that you think. With enough preparation, effort and positive attitude, there’s no way you should be avoiding this kind of travel.

The end of the trip

After going down Lapland, we started visiting the cities on the coast of Finland, meeting people in couchsurfing and wild camping. After 5 months of cycling, the trip was finally over. Helsinki was our last stop. I took a plane back to Spain and I gave away my bicycle to my last host in Helsinki. I was so excited to go back home, have some rest and share the experience with my family and friends.

Lessons and wonderful takeaways

Biking trip across Europe taught me a lot.

The best lesson in our bicycle trip was that you need to fight every minute for things that are important for you. On this trip, we had to cycle against the wind and the rain, and it was exceptionally harder when climbing hills. After a long day of cycling, you will need to wash your clothes, pitch the tent for sleeping, and cook dinner. The only rest you get is when you are finally going to sleep. A lot of the people we met on the way and our hosts encouraged us, telling us we can finish our trip and reach North Cape. Before our trip, we did have people telling us that it was an insane goal, trying to reach North Cape, and that we won’t be able to deliver on our goal.  So when we were cycling we have to zero in on the positive comments and the encouragement. And yes, it was an extremely fulfilling moment, reaching that point we wanted to reach in the beginning. It was not impossible. We just had to believe in ourselves and push through difficulties along the way, just like how we should tackle all important things in our life.

Cycling tips ends.
Cycling tips ends.

When the trip ended, I felt much more admiration for all the people who travel by bicycle. There are travelers who have traveled more than the distance we finished, and some cycling for years.  Biciclown is a Spanish guy who has been on the road now for 11 years. Rob Greenfield is a very inspiring guy, who travels without money by bicycle, and  Tom is another traveler who’s been 8 years on the road cycling. If there’s an important advice I can give you about a bicycle trip (apart from completing the gears and tools that you need to bring), it is that 100 kilometers per day is a long distance to travel per day every day. You can definitely do it in some days, but doing it consistently every day would be a very challenging task. Make sure to plan the trip well, and best to cycle shorter if you’re not in a hurry and traveling longer.  Europe is a perfect place to start a bicycle trip. People usually respect you a lot when you travel this way.

Are you ready to leave your comfort zone and go start your own bicycle trip? I defintitely recommend traveling by bicycle and experiencing the nature and the world this way. So go get a map and start planning! Have questions? Feel free to comment here and I will hop in to respond to the comments. I wish you all the best!

 

Thanks for reading,

Ruben

hello@gamintraveler.com

 

 

 

If you have liked this article, give your feedback by commenting below. ALso, do feel free to get in touch if you have such interesting experiences.

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  30. Awesome post Ruben. Reading this article made me believe that this is one of those unique, spellbinding and transformative experiences each one must have! I think we should turn it into a sort of initiation before entering our adulthood, may be when you cross a specific age, a ceremony of sorts to allow you to directly connect with the world. Haha. That would be really good to have. But yes you can’t standardize it and make it a necessary part of the education. I feel that only when the inner need for such exploration arises then can the resulting experience have some effect. And, I, for the love of cycling, nature, exploration, and freedom, would definitely love to go on such long journeys, more than once. But not as big ones, not at least now. As a cyclist, most of my rides are commutes within the cities and at times they cross the 100km mark. I would love to start with 200-500km rides over the weekends. Just few day stays, maybe even camping. And several expeditions like these could be the preparation for a much longer trip. Looking forward to read your other articles, especially about this bike trip. I have subscribed to your blog. Here’s to a borderless world connected by an unbroken cycling network! Regards

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