There are few tasks more gratifying than preparing for a long tour. This is the time to play make believe, to dream of all of the exotic places we’d like to visit and then to scheme of a way to link them together. When Carrie and I decided to take a trip to Europe this summer, we looked at a map of the continent and started naming attractions and regions and countries that we wanted to see: The Giant’s Causeway, the Alps, Norway, Prague, the Mediterranean coast. The dream list grew quickly.
Although we wanted to take it all in, we soon got overwhelmed. Some napkin calculations revealed that we’d need at least a year to see our list of dream locations. Plus, Americans are only allowed in most of Europe for 90 days at a time. It was time to strategize.
The first task was to see about getting around the 90-day travel limit. Most of Europe falls within the invisible walls of the Schengen Area. When Americans enter this area they are allowed to spend up to 90 days within a 180-day period without any special visas or permits. Americans have a few ways to stay longer than 90 days, but none of the options appealed to us.
The good news is that not all of Europe resides inside the restrictive confines of the Schengen Area. The UK allows Americans to stay for 180 days without any special arrangements and Ireland gives us 90 days. That means we can stay in Europe for 360 days without anything more than a standard issue passport.
Three hundred and sixty days. That’s a lot of days on the road. Although there are plenty of bicycle tourists on trips that go on for years, we weren’t looking for that kind of a trip. We wanted to do a long trip but not a looooooong trip. We’re homebodies just as much as travelers. It’s nice to settle down for a while, if only to store up energy and money for another adventure. We also had no intention of touring during the winter. Northern Europe is already rainy enough in the summer.
Aside from avoiding winter weather, we decided to tour from May to October to take advantage of the off-peak airline prices. Since last summer, we’ve been accruing sign-up bonuses from various credit cards to amass a large pile of airline miles. American Airlines will charge you 20,000 miles for a one-way ticket to Europe before May 15 and after October 15. During the peak season they charge 35,000 miles per flight for the same destinations. Since we have about 90,000 miles saved up, we are able to fly round trip to Europe during the off season, paying only the small fees that our miles don’t cover. Thanks to Mr. Money Mustache for teaching us the ways of credit card churning!
With our time table set, we were ready to focus on where in Europe we wanted to travel. Norway was at the top of the list. The fjords, beautiful coastline, and low population density is a perfect recipe for a great time. The UK and Ireland had to be included in order for us to stay for about five months. We also wanted to see the French and Spanish countryside. So with those destinations in mind, we created a general route, starting in London and ending in Madrid. We’ll rely on one flight to get us to the top of Norway, a bunch of ferries to make some connections, and perhaps a train or two to keep us on schedule, but otherwise it’ll just be us and Big Boy rolling along enjoying another trip on a bicycle.