4 Ways to Cycle Around the World

June 6, 2019

How can you climb the French Alps, wander through Roman ruins in Turkey, cross the United States, or explore the Australian outback on a shoestring budget that would make even the most frugal backpacker blush? The answer is surprisingly simple with a bicycle.

In this era of high gas prices using the oil that fuels global warming, the bicycle remains one of the best-kept secrets both in order to travel cheaply and to get to know a culture and often the locals.

Outside of a group of diehard enthusiasts, the idea going on vacation by bicycle hardly occurs to most people. If it does, thoughts of “too hard” and “just for the young” keep many from further exploring the idea.

The truth is that bike touring only has to be as strenuous as you want to make it. Don’t fancy camping every night and crossing continents at a racing pace?

Go instead for a laid-back ride along Europe’s canal and riverside paths no traffic and flat or a jaunt through New Zealand’s vineyards, stopping at a B&B each night. There are so many ways to tour by bicycle. You can pick the one which appeals most to your budget, experience, and sense of adventure.

Camping in Kyrgyzstan, on the shores of Lake Song Kol, after cycling all day

No matter how you do it, your credit card bill is almost guaranteed to come out healthier compared with equivalent trips using motorized transport. And do not forget the bonus of equally slimming effects on your waistline!

Independent Cycling Tours

Budget-conscious travelers will be drawn to the most economical form of bike travel — the completely independent tour. Just drag your bicycle out of the garage and head off on your own self-designed trip.

You will plan your own route, carry your own bags and avoid restaurants by cooking most of your own food. At night you will camp or use youth hostels and basic hotels. This is how expedition cyclists cross continents for pennies.

Group Cycling

A great alternative to independent cycling, especially for newbies. Check out rides arranged by nonprofit clubs and charities. They will sort out the route and accommodations while helping with any mechanical issues.

Cycling through the alps as a group

Registration fees can be incredibly low; close to what you’d spend anyway touring on your own without the planning hassle. If you want to cycle in France, there are tours throughout the country such as Discover France Adventures.

How about six days riding through New York State for $500, including luggage transport, vehicle support, maps, camping spots, and more? That’s the Great Big FANY Ride, and it’s just one of many.

Self-Guided Bicycle Tours

Such tours are the next step up in bike travel and represent a good mid-range option. Tour companies all over the world arrange packages that include rental bikes, a daily cycling plan over quiet roads or paths, and accommodations ranging from farmstays and B&Bs to luxury hotels.

All you do is jump in the saddle and start moving. Luggage can be transferred between hotels and reassuringly there is someone just a phone call away if it all goes wrong.

It is no problem to stop by a lake for a swim or see a museum because there is no group to keep up with. The Danube River Cycle Path in Austria is one of the most popular spots for these tours, with hundreds of families following it each summer.

After one or two self-guided trips, you’ll know better if you want to try solo bike touring or not. We describe one such tour through the Netherlands on TransitionsAbroad.com.

Luxury Cycling Group Tours

Such tours are the ultimate in pampered cycling travel. If you are focused on a luxurious cycling adventure tour, rather than traveling on the smallest amount of cash possible, check out this option.

It won’t be cheap, but for the same amount of money you would spend on a bus tour, for example, you should find smaller groups, hotels, and perks such as meals included.

Everything is taken care of. There’s a tour leader cycling alongside, mechanics on call, and a van to carry your bags and souvenirs. You can even get a lift if you’re tired. Many such tours can now be customized.

Whichever option you choose, here are a few more tips to consider:

  • If you need a bicycle, consider buying it used. Take a bike-savvy friend and hunt around thrift shops and yard sales for a sturdy second-hand model. The same applies to gear you might need like panniers, cycling bags that hang off a rack on your bike. Search online sites like eBay and Craig’s List for bargains and consider making your own panniers if you’re handy with a sewing machine. There are many sites online that show how to make your own bags. Don’t even think about trying to use a backpack instead of panniers. It is unsafe because the backpack changes your center of gravity and throws off the balance of the bike, not to mention being uncomfortable.
  • Look into folding bicycles like the Brompton and Bike Friday. Folding bicycles are particularly valuable if you are planning overseas travel because they pack into a suitcase, making them a breeze to put on trains, buses, or airplanes without any extra charges or the hassle of boxing your bike. The catch is that folding bikes cost a bit more than their run-of-the-mill counterparts but you will see your investment recouped the first time you fly. They’re also easy to carry into your hotel room for maximum security.
  • Skip hotels and use cycling hospitality groups. Traveling by bicycle does not just offer you a cheap way to see the world. You can also hook up with local cyclists in dozens of countries who will open their homes to you for a night or show you around their area. WarmShowers is one such organization geared to cyclists worldwide.
  • Explore your own backyard. Unless you are trying to escape winter, there is no need to blow a lot of money on a flight. Bike adventures can be found close to home. Just jump on and start pedaling towards that museum in the next county or the home of a friend living one state away. The journey might surprise you with what you notice from the seat of a bike, even on roads you have traveled many times before by car. Starting out in familiar territory helps calm many first-time jitters.
  • Train beforehand and start modestly. The longer the tour, the less need there is to train because you can improve your fitness slowly as you go. Still, at least one trial run is a good idea to make sure you can handle the daily distance you plan to cover and to work out any kinks with your equipment. A small amount of training will prevent many sore muscles during the tour itself. And don’t let your ambitions run wild when planning your route. You can always add extra miles if you are covering distances easily, but if you set high targets and fail to meet them you will likely be miserable during the journey and come home disappointed.