Having done of number of these spring riding trips, and trips to Europe in particular, I’ve learned a few things along the way on how to make it reasonably affordable and more enjoyable. Most of it I learned the hard way — by making mistakes.
Collect frequent flier miles
Airline tickets are usually the biggest single expense, so it helps if you can eliminate that right from the start. You don’t need to fly a lot to do this. Get a credit card that allows you to accumulate miles and then use it for everything.
Go in the off-season
Tourist season, that is, which is late spring and through the summer. Early spring, or fall is better. Hotels, flights, and other things are cheaper, and it’s less crowded.
Don’t do an organized tour
It’s way cheaper to do a cycling trip on your own. Yes, it can be a bit intimidating to do the first time, but if you’re willing to be patient, to make mistakes, be confused at times, you’ll be rewarded not only by saving money but by experiences you won’t get if someone else does it for you.
Find affordable housing
For young people that could be hostels. Also now there are many ways to book private housing where people rent rooms, apartments, etc. (e.g., AirBnB, HomeAway). In Alicante I found a small apartment with kitchen for 34euro per night). The main point is avoid large, American-style hotel chains.
Get a credit card with no international fees
That goes for ATM cards too. CapitalOne is the primary one that I know if. This can be a very big savings, as some will charge up to a 3% transaction fee. Use the ATM card to get cash; don’t change money here in the US or at airport kiosks as the exchange rate and fees will be terrible. Although it’s a good idea to at least have a little cash on arrival, just in case your card doesn’t work. Also a good idea to inform your credit card and bank companies that you will be making international transactions.
Make your own breakfast and lunch
And/or find a hotel that includes breakfast. Personally I like going into local stores and buying food that I can then make myself. Way cheaper, and often more fun, than eating every meal out.
Rent a bike
I’ve had pretty good luck renting bikes, rather than hassling with bringing my own. Airlines now charge ridiculous prices to fly with your bike, and then you have the added hassle of renting a car big enough to hold the bike case, putting the bike together, packing it up again, etc. I accept that a rental is not going to be as nice, and may not fit perfectly, but to me the reduced hassle is worth it. An alternative is to ship your bike — an option if you’re staying within the US but not to Europe.
I’m often guilty of this. Then find that it makes me even more stressed if things don’t go exactly as planned. One of the harder things can be finding and planning bike routes. It does help for this to do a bit of advanced planning to find recommended routes. You can do this with sites like mapmyride, or looking for local bike shops that have route maps, or local clubs, or just doing some Internet searching for recommendations. I remember coming across great routes in the Girona area via pro rider Michael Barry’s web site.
Carry a map, money, id when on the bike
That really should go without saying, but there have been times when I’ve forgotten, or feel (over)confident that I know where I’m going. Then make a wrong turn, or run into a detour. Or forget my water bottles and need to stop for something to drink. On this last trip I stuck a (car) GPS in my back pocket as a last resort in case I got lost (which I ended up using). See below.
Bring a GPS with local maps
If renting a car and driving, this is pretty much essential to reduce stress. On the bike, I would ideally like to have had a handlebar mounted unit rather than fishing maps out of my pocket all the time. Those tend to be too big for racing, but for riding in strange places would be very nice. On my “to purchase” list.
Choose more off-the-beaten-path locations
Especially if you are going to ride, but also I think this applies in general. For me, anyway. Seeing big cities is nice, but for me it gets old after a while. I am happier to find somewhere smaller and more manageable, where I can easily ride, walk, hike, have coffee, and experience some of the local culture. Even in Alicante, it took me about 20 minutes of riding to get out of traffic congestion. Somewhere like Barcelona would have been a mess.
Learn a little of the local language
At least some of the basics: greetings, please & thank you, do you speak English?, how much? where is the bathroom?, another beer please! etc. A little travel dictionary is very helpful. In some places, it doesn’t seem to matter. In Barcelona a waiter made fun of my daughter saying “your Spanish is funny.” But they are dealing with a mass of tourists every day. In other places, people seem appreciative when you try to speak their language rather than assume that everyone speaks English.
Most of all, keep and open mind and at least a bit of a sense of adventure.