Preparing for My First Cycling Tour in Europe

The Plan

Simply put, I’m going on my first cycling tour in Europe, traveling around Italy, France, and Spain for four months. Does that sound wild to you? It does to me too! But that’s my plan. 

I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve cycled a few long days near where I live, but I’ve never ridden a fully-laden bike (except a tandem, where someone else helps!). I wouldn’t really count myself as a cyclist. 

My hope is to stay with friends, and friends of friends, as much as possible. Then there is a website called Warm Showers. It is similar to Couchsurfing, except that it is just for long-distance cyclists. I am excited to explore this. And for the nights when neither of these options is possible, I will find a campsite. Or wild camp, which is camping in nature and not at an organized campsite—another thing I have never done! 

The Decision

At this point, you might be asking yourself, why on earth am I doing this? Well, I guess the seed was planted when my cousin cycled from Bristol to Beijing to show what is possible with cancer. He cycled on a tandem, and I joined him for three days just before COVID-19 hit. I hadn’t ridden more than 20 kilometers before that trip if that. But he was able to do lots of the hard pedalling! 

We stayed one night with a Warm Showers host, one night camping, and one night at a last-minute cheap hotel due to rain. That gave us the opportunity to wash things. And I loved it! This led to me borrowing my friend’s bike. Once Spain’s strict lockdown eased, I started cycling around the local area. I loved the freedom the bike gave me to go anywhere and not have to rely on public transport. 

 

Thus the seed of embarking on my first cycling tour in Europe was planted. I originally planned to do it in spring 2022. But I was enjoying waitressing and learning flamenco in Seville so much that I postponed it. But now it’s time. I was very happy with my life in Seville, and I’m looking forward to starting my studies to be a teacher in September. But both of those lifestyles were and will be intense, without much free time. And I’m ready for some adventure. A complete change. I’m not sure how I will adapt to a kind of lifestyle I have never experienced before, but I’m looking forward to finding out! I’m also looking forward to building up my fitness through my daily cycling. Since I’m not in a long-term job or relationship, now is the time to do it. 

The Fears

Lots of people have told me that I’m so brave to be planning this wild adventure. But I don’t really see it as brave. A challenge, yes. But not really brave. I know the country and I speak the language. I won’t be going anywhere really remote. And, I have enough leeway with my budget to cope if something goes a bit wrong. Also, I’m going by myself, so I can go at my own pace and don’t need to worry about training or keeping up with other people. 

There are, however, a few things I’m nervous about—but they’re not the things that other people assume. For starters, I’m quite scared of the dark! So cycling, and especially pitching my tent and cooking in twilight or darkness, is going to be a challenge. Once I’m in my tent no monsters can come and get me(!) so it will just be a question of using my headtorch to provide enough light to get everything done before I get scared and retreat to my tent! Hopefully, this experience can help me start to overcome this fear. 

Two other things I’m scared of are spiders and dogs. Both of which may well make an appearance during the trip. Spiders I reckon I’ll be able to deal with if necessary, but I’m quite scared of what I’ll do if I encounter an angry dog. I just hope I’m lucky enough to avoid the most aggressive ones. 

Wild camping in itself is also a new challenge I will face on my cycling tour in Europe. One that makes me not exactly scared, but certainly nervous. Learning how to find the right spot without being disturbed, sleeping by myself in a place far from nearby settlements, and coping with all the camping and cooking stuff when I’m tired after a long, rainy day are the aspects of the ride that will bring the most challenges. But it’s also something that I think once I learn to do it, will actually be exhilarating and rewarding. 

The Challenges

I go through stages of feeling excited, then overwhelmed. There is so much to organise! And it’s extremely difficult to plan something you’ve never done before. Luckily Google exists and Facebook groups, and a couple of people I know in person have done cycle touring trips before. But it’s still quite overwhelming to work out how I am going to do it and to get everything sorted in the limited time I’ve got. 

One thing I have struggled to work out is how much gear to take. Most people say that their main mistake on their first trip was packing too much stuff. But I don’t want to forget anything important! I’m also not a strong cyclist, so the less weight I have to heave around, the better. However, there are still so many decisions to make. Are neoprene socks worth it? Will a rearview mirror be useful to be aware of stereotypically bad Italian drivers?! Comfier or lighter-weight sleeping mat?

Another difficulty is route planning. I still only have a vague idea of where I want to go (start in Sicily and go north!). It would be nice to be on marked cycle routes some of the way. But I don’t want to stick to any pre-planned route because I want to have the flexibility to see where the journey takes me. I want to cycle to a delicious restaurant someone recommended, divert to an available Warm Showers host, or add an extra section to my trip that I hear is worthwhile. But not having any idea of the route each day can paradoxically be logistically hard work and freeing! Also, a few people have expressed interest in joining me, and they are keen to know exactly where I’ll be.

The Anticipation

But when I leave my concerns about logistics to one side, the excitement kicks back in. I’ve been reading blogs and a book about people who have cycle toured—everything from a week in Europe to spending years cycling all over the world. One thing they have in common is the feeling of Living, with a capital L. This complete change in routine leads to a change in perspective. Suddenly different things are important. You feel a closer connection to nature. You’re not hurried. You live in the moment. I can’t describe it in words, but I hope to experience it. 

I’m also excited to wild camp. As mentioned before, it is certainly a nervous excitement, but the excitement is there. I’m looking forward to the freedom it will bring, as I will be able to travel anywhere with less reliance on money and material things. Hopefully, there will be a couple of stunning, Instagram-worthy wild camping spots. Although, I know the reality is that most will be utilitarian and not pretty. 

Another thing I’m looking forward to during my cycling tour in Europe is meeting people. Travelling by myself will mean plenty of time alone with my thoughts, but that will also make it easier to talk to people I meet along the way. Likewise, I can’t wait to get to know all the lovely people who may end up hosting me and to hear their stories. And while I meet all these people, I will be exploring Italy. I haven’t been back since Erasmus, so I have a few places on my list of “must-visits.” And I’m sure I will stumble upon many beautiful, unexpected spots too. Of course, being in Italy (mainly), I will also be exploring their food! Italian cuisine is my favourite, and I’ll be needing all the energy I can get.

Follow My Journey

Phew! There’s a lot to think about here. Maybe it will even sow the seed of a future cycling tour in Europe (or elsewhere) in you! If you’d like to hear more about this biking adventure, keep your eyes peeled as I’m sure I’ll be writing another article or two about it. Maybe we’ll even be able to have some sort of live catch-up or Q&A later in the ride. Stay tuned to Dreams Abroad to find out.

For now, I aim to post updates over on my Instagram: @kirabrowne95. Feel free to follow if you’re interested! Following a friend’s suggestion, I have also created a Spotify playlist for all those hours by myself on the bike. But it’s not just any playlist. It has been created by friends and people I know who are adding songs they think I’d like and that will keep me motivated on my ride. I’d love it if any of you wanted to add some songs as well! There’s a link here. And of course, if any of you live in Italy or know people who do, and you might be able to offer accommodation (just a sofa or even a space for my sleeping mat on the floor, and a shower), a cup of coffee, or other assistance, then do get in touch. Let’s see where this ride takes me!