Cycling is about adventure and personal challenge. It’s the magnet that draws us back to our bike and out the door. Cycling is addicting and once you’ve exhausted the trails or roads close to home, the travel bug clutches at your spirit. Videos or photos of desirable ride locations dance in front of your eyes and you can’t help but exclaim, “I want to go there!” Maybe it’s Sedona, maybe it’s Whistler, could be the Alps in Europe or even as far off as Nepal.
Once you eagerly decide on the travel location and grab your buddies, reality sinks in; the budget. How much is it going to cost? How can you make it more affordable? As a racer and adventure enthusiast who has trotted to the furthest corners of the globe, I can empathize with a tight budget and always find shortcuts to save money during travel. It seems as if once you step into an airport, the credit card winces.
I want to share with you some of my favorite tricks for traveling on a budget. The first most important thing to consider is how much it will cost to travel with your bike. You can usually rent a bike somewhere but let’s be honest, it’s better to ride your own bike. The best tool for your belt is cost awareness. It can be a nasty surprise at the airline counter when you learn that your bike is over the 50lb allotted weight, or that the luggage charge is heftier than you imagined. There have been times where my luggage bill is higher than the actual price of my plane ticket.
My recommendation is to always search for flights on airlines that charge the lowest bike fee. Some airlines charge you for a standard piece of luggage but they don’t overtly gouge you. Other airlines stick you with an additional luggage fee leading to many choice phrases of profanity and vowing never to fly with them again.
Note that some of these airlines allow your suitcase to fly free. The $75 charge on Southwest and Frontier are balanced out with a no charge policy for the first and/or second piece of luggage. Watch out for airlines like Spirit or Allegiant who have lower base fares, but nickel and dime you with even stricter luggage policies. Another interesting tidbit is that the gate agent can have an influence over how much you pay. I have had gate agents feel guilty for charging me due to moral reasons or were cyclists themselves. They have charged me the price of a regular piece of luggage and sometimes charged me nothing! I have also had the alternative; gate agents trying to overcharge me because they don’t even know their own policy. Another scenario to exercise caution is when traveling with an airline partner such as Air Canada/United. I just learned this one today! This morning I traveled via airplane. I booked my flight through Air Canada, which was a direct flight from Canada to the USA. I had an Air Canada confirmation number, but when I got to the airport, I was instructed that my flight was serviced by United and I had to check in based on United’s policy. If I had booked my Air Canada flight to take advantage of the $50 fee(plus the cost of the first checked bag) and was redirected to United and stuck with the $150 bike fee, it would have been very upsetting. Getting as much information as possible is the best way to protect yourself.
The next issue? Your bike case. Some hard cases are so heavy that with simply your bike and the case, it’s overweight. You’ll get stuck with overweight fees in addition to the bike fee. You can travel with a cardboard bike box, but I have personally had them ripped open and returned to me with gaping holes! I’ve been using an Evoc case for years and I have never had a problem traveling with my bike. Thule has also recently released a bike case that appears to be competitive with the Evoc case.
Sonya unpacks and builds her Pivot Mach429SL mountain bike after a trip to St. George, Utah for a 100 mile race.
Once you get to the airport, you could face the dreaded moment where your bike is on the scale and it’s overweight. I leave room in my carry-on or I bring a back-up cloth grocery bag as my “personal” item in case I need to remove something small from my bike suitcase. Don’t panic and pay the overweight fee! Take your pedals and rotors out of the box; or stick your cycling shoes in your carry-on bag.
Other travel tips
- Rental cars: Sometimes it can’t be helped; you have to rent your car from the airport. However, if you can deal with the headache of renting off site, you could save 50% on a rental car. Rental car locations at airports charge a premium. I will opt to take public transportation or a taxi into the city and reserve my rental car from an off-site location. If you book with Enterprise, they pick you up for free if you’re within an allotted radius. So, as an example; I’m traveling to Boulder, CO. I take the bus from DIA to Boulder and get off at the bus stop closest to and Enterprise location. I call Enterprise, they pick me up, and I save big time. You can also usually fit your bike into a standard size vehicle so skip the SUV. Some places are nicely planned so you can get around with no car. If you have your bike, you can even ride to the trailhead!
- Download: This isn’t related to budget, but it does relate to riding on your trip. You can find .gpx tracks on Strava if you’re in an unknown area by using the search options. I often use this method to find local routes and put them on my Garmin and voila! I have a ride. Other great options are going to the bike shop and getting a map and ride beta from the employees. Some trail systems have their own smart phone GPS app (Sedona, North Shore, Whistler, Squamish, and many more do!)
- Use Apps: Yelp, Happy Cow, Trip Advisor. These are all helpful to find healthy options around you. I also highly recommend getting the app and a free internet account on www.TripIt.com. It takes all the travel confirmation emails from your inbox and puts them into a calendar for you. I’m constantly traveling and this is the only thing that helps me keep my logistics in order!
- Grocery shop: Most hotels have a fridge and microwave. While dining out is a nice treat, it can get expensive very quickly and also isn’t always the healthiest option. I like to save dinners for restaurants, and stock my hotel room with food for breakfast, second breakfast, and lunch. Oatmeal or granola are tasty and easy breakfast options. For lunch, I’ll make sandwiches. Sometimes, I even bring my own coffee and French press because it’s easy to find boiling water. You can also get some tasty premade meals at places like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s to stick the fridge.
(Note: that if a couple hundred bucks is not a problem, just get it from the airport. It is a hassle to get a car off-site, but if it makes or breaks your budget or is a deciding factor for your trip, it’s worth it!)
These tidbits will arm you with knowledge and a leave you smooth pedalin’ next time you go on a cycling adventure! Leave a comment to share your favorite travel tips!