Booking a cycling trip to France
Welcome to Part 3 of the How to Plan a Cycling Trip to France series, where we look at Booking a cycling trip to France.
Now that you have an itinerary (you can download and use any of my itineraries, download them here one here), and have chosen your car hire and accommodation options, you're ready to book.
In developing the itinerary, it pays to have a little flexibility or some backup options ready to go. This will save you some trouble in case you can't get a flight to where you want to go, or for some other reason.
I usually pick a destination, and have one or two backups which don't wreck the itinerary too much. For our 2010 trip, we really wanted to get into Barcelona, but we saved ourselves $1000 by flying into Toulouse.
Although the trend these days is to use direct booking with the airline websites, I strongly prefer using an agent, as they are flight itinerary ninjas; they can often find crazy cheap fares for you that you wouldn't find online (how about $2300 Around the World for Melbourne-LA-Frankfurt-Toulouse/Stop/Frankfurt-Hong Kong/stop/Melbourne…crazy right?).
To this end, at least for the Aussies, check out Cycling Adventures or Leonie at Travel Affare. I've used both and they're both honest, and excellent.
If you cannot get an airfare for your entire route, you can always use an online booking website (e.g. the airline's web site) for booking a smaller domestic or cross-border flight.
Fortunately for us we were able to get to Toulouse, but had we not, we could easily have driven the couple of hundred kilometers from where we landed to where we wanted to be.
For car hire, normally you can stick the big companies like Avis and Hertz.
In my Guide to Cycling Through France, I discuss some key tips, tricks and things to watch out for when hiring a campervan; I recommend checking out McRent for this. They looked after us pretty well in 2009 and have numerous depots around.
You can of course get around using the very excellent train system in Western Europe, however I'm currently looking at that as the subject of another post.
Be sure you organise a taxi to pick you up at the airport if the car/van hire place isn't at the airport. There is a risk you will have to wait a period of time for a minivan big enough to carry your travelling part and your luggage (including bikes). I speak from personal experience on this; it may be worth seeing if the car/van hire place can pick you up.
Now, here's where we can take advantage of the wonderful Internet. Although I don't have a problem with using travel agents for booking (they're awesome for accessing airfares, and can often find bargains), often times they won't have accommodation in the area you need, or it will be quite limited (and usually more than you intended to spend).
My key tips for finding hidden accommodation gems are:
- Use the internet. We uncovered plenty of places doing Google searches around the areas we wanted to stay.
- Look for search results that provide feedback from people who've been there – that's the most accurate marketing brochure.
- If you can, ask your friends. Thanks to Morgan for hooking us up with this place in the Pyrenees in 2010. Remember, many of these places are run by a couple, who probably won't have invested time and money into SEO to ensure they pop to the first page of Google (which is often the only place we'll look, before changing our search).
- My final tip is for those with Plantinum credit cards or cards with a concierge service; as with a hotel concierge, they are your best friend. I am able to call my Plantinum concierge, give them my dates and locations and budget, and they will find somewhere for me. Use them, they rule.
Some people may wish to leave booking their accommodation and try and find accommodation where they need it, as they need it. Whilst this provides you with loads of flexibility, it is not without its risks, particularly around Tour time.
There are thousands and thousands of people in town during a Tour stage, so hoping there'll be some accommodation free is a little risky, particularly in hotels.
It's up to you of course, but the Guide to Cycling Through France discusses it very thoroughly.
In Parts 4 and 5, I'll cover information, tips, tricks and pitfalls On the Ground, specifically:
- Airport, car/van hire
- Watching the tour
If you have any questions, please ask, particularly in regard of where to fly into, and how to find places to stay.
If you have any tips, put them in the comments and I will add them in to the article if they're helpful.
A significant amount of time and effort goes into these reviews, all with the aim of helping you. As lots of readers say, I give way too much information away for nothing, and it really does take a lot of time and effort (but I do love doing it!).
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