Guided vs. Self-Guided Cycling Trips
Which type of two-wheeled adventure is right for you?
So, maybe you’re thinking of a different kind of vacation this time around. Instead of relaxing in your comfy beach chair sipping a fruity drink with an umbrella in it, you’ve resolved to make your next trip an active one - on two wheels. But where to start, right? While choosing a destination may be the first thing on your mind, you’ll also have to consider the type of cycling vacation you want – guided or self guided. Which one you choose may be right for this trip, but wrong for the next trip depending on destination, difficulty, etc. So, here are some of the pros and cons of each to help you decide which type of cycling trip is right for you.
As the name indicates, a guided tour comes with, well, a guide! And with a guide, you don’t have to worry about anything. All you have to do is make it from point A to point B!
Pros: Here’s the good stuff
Mechanical Shmechanical. In my opinion, the best part of a guided tour is that your guide can help in the case of mechanical problems. The biggest mechanical you’ll likely have to deal with is a flat, but there may be other issues, like your chain coming off. It’s no big deal if it happens once, but I was on a self- guided trip where a chain kept coming off. Having a guide to fix it could have saved me some headaches.
You’re NOT gonna get lost! Since your guide does this for a living you won’t have to worry about reading maps and cue sheets (directions). Sweet! If you’re on your own you have to figure out where you are and where you're going. And, if you're in a foreign country trying to read the English translations, well, it can be hilarious …. except if you’re lost.
Social butterfly! This is a perfect option for extroverts! You’ll meet like-minded people and maybe make some new friends. Guided cycling trips are especially great for solo travelers!
You’ll learn stuff. Your guide is knowledgeable about the region and may even be from the area, so you’ll probably learn some really cool details that aren’t in a guide book. Also, if you stop along the way, having a guide will be an advantage since you might get some perks (like an extra treat at a restaurant or a winery)!
Cons: Yeah, but…….
It’s all about the Benjamins. A guided cycling tour is more expensive than a self- guided one since you’re basically paying for the services of a guide. In addition, you may need to tip that person at the end of the trip. I’m not saying your guide won’t be worth it, but it’s a cost to consider if you have to consider costs. If you’re like me, it’s always a consideration……
You can’t go at your own pace. When you’re on a guided cycling tour, you have to keep up with the crowd. If you want to stop or go off the course a bit to see or visit something you find interesting, you can’t necessarily do that. If you’re a slower cyclist, it can also be a challenge to keep pace with the group. I recently read a review of a guided tour and a couple of riders were left behind by the guide when they couldn’t keep up! Yikes! While that’s probably an anomaly, that could certainly change your enthusiasm for a guided tour in the future!
You don’t play well with others. What if you don’t like the people in your group? Well, my friend, it’s gonna be a long trip……
You’ll miss out. On a self-guided cycling trip from Vienna to Budapest (see post, “Do the Danube on Two Wheels”), we made pit stops in more rural areas, going to local grocery shops to get water and bakeries to get snacks (I mean, you have to fuel up, right?). I taught myself enough Hungarian to get provisions and coffee and read some basic signs so I didn’t end up in the men’s room. When we stopped in these small towns, and I tried to speak Hungarian, people couldn’t have been nicer and more helpful (we even got some extra pastries at one place!). If we had been with a tour, we probably would have missed out on those memory-making encounters.
A self guided tour is a good news/bad news situation. While you're on your own, you still have cues sheets and maps, and the cycling tour company transports your luggage from point A to point B. True, it can be nerve racking, but there are some fantastic advantages to the self-guided option.
Pros: The good news is…
It’s less expensive. A self-guided tour is less expensive than a guided tour, so it helps keep costs down.
Go with YOUR flow. On a self-guided tour, you’ve got a lot more flexibility. You can veer off course if you want to without getting separated from your group because you are your group. It also gives you the chance to be a bit more impromptu. On a self-guided loop tour in Belgium, we changed up the days we did certain routes. Since we were on a loop, we stayed in the same town every night, which gave us the flexibility to ride a route other than the scheduled one, or not ride at all when it was pouring rain. (see post, “It’s Raining…Now What?”).
Authenticity. You may have a more genuine experience with people since you may not have someone with you who speaks the language. Being on a self-guided tour gives you the chance to interact with people on their own turf…..
Alone time. If you’re both on board with a self-guided tour, it’s a really nice way to spend time with your significant other. It’s also a good option if just don’t like groups or group tours.
You have support. You’re not totally alone out there. You’ll usually get telephone numbers to call in case of emergencies. But really, it’s only for emergencies. In my experience, flat tires are not considered emergencies……
Cons: And now the bad news……
You’re gonna get lost. Just know this from the get go. Sometimes, the directions are a direct and/or incorrect translation to English and are super confusing (see photo). GPS may or may not be available. If you have to take your bike on a ferry or a train (yup, it happens), you'll have to figure that out, too. But hey, where’s your sense of adventure? Decide to be okay with not always knowing where you are, or what you're doing and it’ll be a “funner” trip.
It’s all you, baby. If you get a flat, guess who’s gonna fix it? That would be you. ‘Nough said.
It’s scary. Not knowing where you’re going and in some cases, not speaking the language, can be super intimidating. I’m not saying these situations are the most comfortable, but they make for awesome travel stories later!
Help is on the way! Support is available, but it's really only for emergencies. See above.
The takeaway? In the end, it’s all about having a bon voyage so it’s totally up to you which type of trip is right for you.
Have you done a guided or self-guided tour? What did you think? I’d love to hear about it on Facebook!
P.S. Hey, what about equipment you might ask? Well, that was covered in a recent post, “BYO or No? Sports Gear!” so I hope you’ll check that out.