A recap of our trip around Europe has been long overdue. We flew out of Madrid on October 15. It’s now almost the new year. This trip needs a proper ending.
It’s safe to say that we had a wonderful time for the five months we were cycling through Europe. We met loads of friendly people and rode through some truly breathtaking landscapes. But when friends and family have pressed us to name the highlight of our trip, we’ve struggled to reply. The best answer we could come up with has been to name our favorite aspects of each country:
- England/Wales: The land of tea and cake didn’t disappoint. We had our fare share of both in between navigating the circuitous but peaceful paths from London to Pembroke. Brits know how to do quaint and comfortable.
- Ireland: The Irish deserve their reputation for their warmth and friendliness. Nowhere else as travelers did we feel as welcome as in Ireland. The country is also home to some lovely cycling. We particularly enjoyed the Dingle Peninsula, the Burren, and the Connemara.
- Scotland: The weather was consistently miserable but the Islay distillery tours and the coastal roads in the highlands made the visit worth it. We also enjoyed our stay for a few nights at the Kyle of Tongue hostel, where we spent time drinking tea, reading, and chatting with fellow travelers while waiting out a nasty storm.
- Norway: Norway wins hands down for its beautiful scenery and nearly perfect roads. I can’t even begin to describe how consistently spectacular it was. It’s one of the those places that requires you to be there to fully appreciate its splendor.
- France: France was our favorite place to eat and Paris became my new favorite city. We probably ate on average two baguettes with tomatoes and cheese per day. The fresh food fueled us during the hardest riding of our trip. We particularly enjoyed the Ardèche and Vercors regions near Grenoble.
- Spain: Spain is home to the kindest drivers of any place we’ve cycled. It’s also the country we’d most like to revisit if we were to return to Europe. It has quiet roads, cheap food, and a tranquilo vibe that encourages you to slow down and savor the moment.
By the numbers
What’s a good summary post without some gratuitous metrics? People have asked us how much we spent and how many miles we rode. Until now we only had vague notions. Here’s the nerdy trip summary:
- Total days traveled: 154
- Total miles cycled: 5,543
- Average miles cycled per day: 36
- Most miles ridden in one day: 79
- Total nights camped: 106
- Total dollars spent on our trip (including airfare): 9,446
- Average dollars spent per day: 61
- Total tire punctures: 0
- Total ferries ridden: 25
- Total baguettes eaten: so many!
If we were do it all again, we would use the knowledge below to take our trip from great to greatest:
- Trips longer than three months become a bit of a slog for us. While in France we went through a bout of homesickness that almost saw us leave Europe a month early. However, we’re glad we stuck around to see Spain. In the future we’ll probably limit the scope of our trips to prevent travel fatigue.
- Smartphones aren’t very smart when they’re unable to connect to international networks. My phone didn’t have a SIM card slot so I had to hunt for wi-fi to help us plan, connect with locals, and keep in contact with friends and family.
- Maps.me was our travel hero. The offline maps app was crucial to help us navigate on the go. It helped us find grocery stores, campgrounds, and points of interest on top of showing us where the heck we were.
- We should have learned some French before the trip. Although the French were kind to us as we mangled their wonderful language, we felt isolated because of the communication barrier.
- Take more advantage of Warm Showers. We stayed with only two Warm Showers hosts, both in Scotland. As has been our experience since we first tried it in New Zealand, our hosts went above all expected levels of generosity to ensure that we had a nice place to stay for an evening. We tried to connect with more hosts but had trouble because of our inability to predictably make phone calls and check email.
- You need less than you think. We’re seasoned bicycle tourists, and we like to think we pack efficiently, yet we sent home a drawer-full of unnecessary clothes in Ireland. I updated our pack list with post-trip notes to show how we would pack if we were to do the trip again.
- Paper maps are still useful for planning. While the Maps.me app was perfect for navigation during the day, old fashioned paper maps helped us see the big picture. We found that maps at around 1:400,000 scale provided enough detail to allow us to choose the best roads while still giving us the lay of the land for a whole region.
- Maxing out airline miles is a huge money saver. We spent the year prior to our trip signing up for new credit cards to collect their sign-up bonuses. We flew with our bikes from San Francisco to London, Aberdeen to Tromsø, Trondheim to Paris, and Madrid to California for about $1,500, which was made up of taxes, surcharges, and bicycle baggage fees.
- Don’t attempt to ride into Madrid. Spain is a great place to tour by bicycle, but our scariest day of riding was our route into Madrid. Be smarter than us and take the train.