1. What’s our budget? Until recently, you had a choice of two extremes: “on the cheap” self-contained tours, where you’re entirely on your own; or expensive, “all-inclusive” luxury tours. Now there are alternative mid-range programs offered primarily by local overseas bike tour companies.
2. Where do we want to go? Before you select an overseas bike tour — or any kind of tour for that matter — take an inventory of the most important elements you want built into your experience. Do you have special interests like castles, medieval architecture, wine or regional cuisine? Where’s that idyllic scene in your mind’s eye: a quiet stretch of seacoast, an alpine forest or a bustling market square? Are you a family looking for a particularly leisurely ride with kid-friendly, off-the-bike activities?
3. Where do you want to overnight? Nearly all bicycle tourists spend most of their riding time in the quiet countryside, but overnight locations vary. Some travelers enjoy the excitement of the city, while others crave the peaceful setting of a small village or even a rural farmhouse. Families with younger kids may prefer tours with family-friendly features like pools, while those with older kids might want to be sure they’re in a town center with lots of social action nearby.
4. Do we prefer riding with a guide and a group or more on our own? If your family would enjoy traveling with a group, meeting new people, and having a guide and structured schedule, a guided group tour may be the best fit for you. Consider, though, whether your kids are comfortable on tours that consist primarily of adults; if they’re novices, they might be stressed about holding back other riders. If you think your family would prefer to be independent and to choose your traveling companions and daily schedule, consider a self-guided individual tour.
5. What’s are the ability levels of the people in your family? Do they like riding up hills or mountains, or are they more flatlanders — or somewhere in between? Some tours can cater to both extremes, such as bike and boat tours that would enable part of your family to stay on board for all or part of a day, while the others ride. Some also offer tandems or tag-alongs for kids, adult tandems, and — with a huge recent increase in popularity — electric-assist bikes for adults who might otherwise be challenged to keep up or have, for example, knee or cardiac issues.
6. How far do you want to ride each day? Remember you are on vacation and there will be a lot to see along the way — and you’ll be riding for several days, usually back to back. So don’t use your weekly Sunday ride as a guide. We almost never hear feedback that daily distances were too short! You might even look for tours that have rest days built in, as some members of your family may wish to ride while others might stay back and explore a town for an extra day. If you’re not sure, you may wish to consider tours that have easy “bail-out” options such as trains and boats that go along the route or the availability of a support van.
7. What kind of route surface and setting — and overall route — are you comfortable with? Would you prefer a route that primarily follows paved bike paths that are away from traffic? Are you comfortable with light to moderate road traffic? Will going “off-road” even on wide, packed-dirt trails make you nervous (or smile with glee)? Are you comfortable with or do you even welcome getting lost, or do you prefer a route that’s easy to navigate, whether by choosing a route with superb signage or by choosing a company that provides detailed maps and cue sheets or, even better, GPS.
Jim Johnson founded BikeTours.com in 2003, not organizing his own tours but representing local European companies and offering their tours to his clients — typically costing far less than tours operated by North American companies. Since then his company has helped more than 20,000 clients plan their overseas bicycle tours, including family-friendly tours. The company currently works with nearly 70 tour companies in more than 35 countries.
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