13 July 2014

If it's July, it must be France

Let's travel to France!

How can one watch the Tour de France in July and not dream of riding those same roads or traveling through those same small villages seen on TV. The answer is - you can't and shouldn't even try. Just the sight of the road furniture, landscape, stone villages, and sweeping vistas sends me to a place of awe and memory.

Once you have ridden the roads in France you will be a changed cyclist.

Your world will expand, you will be drawn to greater heights and greater distances. You will want to take your bike and travel to new challenges and new experiences. I have seen it happen. I am not talking only about myself, I have seen others catch the bug and accomplish incredible feats or create life changing moments. Whether it is riding the Haute Route, taking a trip with their son or daughter, making their first trip ever to Europe or their tenth trip, the beautiful combination of travel and challenge constantly inspires.

I believe the best part of travel comes from being courageous and flexible enough to be spontaneous. Spontaneity is best based on a solid foundation of knowledge. Courage is just confidence. The memories we most remember will be unexpected, the impact on our lives unknown; and that is the true gift of travel.

France has it all, just waiting for your arrival

I am frequently asked to help others with their travel plans. This is a tremendous joy for me, and an honor. I want them to LOVE it, to feel the passion and inspiration, to want more. I help by offering tips and shortcuts, so that they can concentrate on the experiences. Their questions are solid and when they depart I think of them fondly. In the months of June and July, a few of my mentored travelers launched their journeys. Oh how it makes me yearn to be in France.

From one such fellow email traveler: "Wow! Karen Thank you so much for this information. We are planning on being there for stage 8. Your experience will likely save me much effort and stress. Thank you again!  You should sell such quality information....."

I will try to write up my tips about seeing a stage of the Tour de France as a spectator this month as I sit and watch the race coverage live!

The more you know, the more you will enjoy

I thought I would offer a synopsis of various travel posts I have written over the years. A shortcut to the posts that would be most helpful in planning your trip to France. Even if you go with a guided service (which I fully condone if you have less time to plan and more money to spend), I believe the more you know, the more you will enjoy.

If you are anything like me, pre trip planning is a bit crazed as I attempt to wrap up all work and home projects in one miraculous perfect departure. It's crazy. I don't have it down yet, and I still make mistakes, but then again that is how I have learned so much and can offer advice you will not likely read in guide books or easily find online. My hope is that your trip will cultivate a life-long interest after your journey to France.

Ride somewhere different
Create a simple itinerary

Number one rule for traveling - keep it simple! It's tough to plan a perfect trip on your own, so use the knowledge of bloggers (moi), locals or guides. It is fine to reach out and ask questions to others online. You will have deeper experiences in the process and perhaps make a few new friends for life. But first it is important to know your own priorities and expectations.

I chose three big must-dos for each trip and try to not plan more than three things a day for the length of my trip. I greatly prefer to go to one place for two to four days, and explore or ride out from that one base location.

A sample travel itinerary: Day, Date, TDF stage (optional) and whether attending, travel plans and times, activities, city, hotel & contact information, notes and web links.

When planning my itinerary, I consider drive times, hotel check-out and check-in times. If I really want to do a particular climb, I add in one additional "weather" day. I usually look up several options in one location and decide while I am there, what I will do on the day depending on weather, mood, unplanned events, and energy level. If you are not enjoying where you are at or what you are doing - change it! It is a vacation.

I have a strong preference not to travel too far away from my arrival city on the day of my arrival. Staying nearby for one night lessens the panic if a bike is lost or damaged in transport. You will have time to make corrections before meeting your tour group, friends, or planned big activity. You can use the time to adjust to a new time-zone, be a tourist locally, or find any needed supplies. I also like to stay close to my departure airport the night before I return home.

I try hard to pack with thought, and as light as possible. To make travel preparation easier, I now have a travel drawer at home where I keep all those small must take traveling items. I prepare all my finances (credit cards), phone, cords and chargers, GPS and bike maintenance weeks in advance. I leave contact lists and itineraries at home with airline codes and a credit card, just in case plans need to be changed. I am smart about safety and learn about tollroads, parking, driving, shopping and restaurant etiquette.

A collection of my old posts for encouragement, all by Pedal Dancer:

Getting Ready for Travel

Packing Tips for Cyclists
Travel Lists for Cyclists

My brother Michael and I. So many roads to ride and mountains to climb.
Traveling in France

Understanding road signs in France
Understanding Autoroutes and Toll Booths in Franc
Getting around in France with ease Tips for Traveling in France - Part I
More tips on traveling to France with a bike Tips for Traveling in France - Part II
Also see my guide page: Recommendations and Resources

Being a Tourist in France

Most Popular Tourist Sites in France
How to order a coffee in France
Recommended Reading: Wines of the 2013 Tour de France<
Travel to Provence, France  (best villages in Provence)
The Baguette
Lunch Time in France
Also see my guide page: FRANCE TRAVEL

Cycling In France

My Top Twenty Climbs in France
So You Want to Ride in Europe? 
The Valleys of the Pyrenees in Pictures a visual trip from west to east
The Valleys of the Pyrenees Where are the best bike rides in France?
Recommended Reading: All About Col Signs
The Climbs of the 2014 Tour de France
Best Sportives and Gran Fondos

For the individual mountain climbs in France, please see the climbs and rides listed on this page: FRANCE CYCLING

Recommended Bike Tour Guide Companies in France: Take a Tour - bike tour companies in France

Chances are even if you join a guided tour, you will have travel days on your own before or after you meet up with your group.

Where are you?: Learn this map well, it is very important to understand regions when making reservations in France.

The regions of France

Dream big! And then go get it done.

Epic mountains!
Best coffee spots!
Delicious food!
Great cycling roads!
Quaint towns!
Grand vistas!
Did I mention the wine?

All photos in the post by Karen or Mike & Suz for Pedal Dancer