Not sure which type of tour to take? Sometimes realizing what you DON’T want can help you figure out what you DO want. Here’s a list of indicators that a guided bike tour may be a better option.
Be sure to compare this against the related post “Why a self-guided bike tour may be your better option.”
Self-guided bicycle tours eschew the traditional guided group travel format by doing away with the tour guide, daily schedules, and set departures that bring together multiple parties.
Instead, it’s just you and your traveling companions cycling as you wish. You get the use of maps and route instructions provided by a tour company, which provides your rental bike and transports your luggage between hotels while you’re out exploring each day.
This type of tour offers more freedom and independence while providing the convenience of logistical support. But it’s not for everybody!
You want bail-out options (like vans).
On self-guided tours, you’re responsible for getting yourself to your next hotel — even if you become tired, wet, sunburnt, or cold. But you’d rather have alternative transportation (or “bail-out”) options in case your muscles, attitude, or the weather take a turn for the worst.
Many guided tours have support vans (or “sag wagons”) nearby or following the group to carry your snacks and luggage. And you often can hitch a ride if the weather turns, a climb proves overly challenging, or you just don’t feel like riding for the day or a portion of a day’s ride. (Availability varies, though, so be sure to review a guided tour’s “Included Services” if you’d like to have this kind of option.)
You appreciate the in-depth knowledge that a local guide offers and like asking questions.
Guides are typically locals with a wealth of knowledge about the destination’s culture, sites, and history. You don’t want to miss out on any sites or insights, and a guidebook may not be sufficient. And a book certainly can’t respond to your questions!
You enjoy the social aspect of group travel and want to make friends with fellow travelers.
Travel is all about making connections, right? You like the variety of people typically found within a guided tour group and look forward to learning from them almost as much as learning about the destination you’re exploring together. Self-guided touring seems a bit lonely, riding solo or only with your travel companions.
You want to eat at the best local restaurants, picked by the tour operator.
Hotel breakfasts are included in both guided and self-guided tours. But you’re on your own for lunch and dinner with a self-guided tour (though route notes typically include suggested restaurants and cafes). You’d rather not leave getting the best of the local cuisine to chance, though, and appreciate the tour company’s endorsement of any restaurant they take you to.
You like that breaks are planned at the most ideal intervals and places along the route.
Since the guide or tour company has scouted and ridden the route many times, they know the best places to plan rest or lunch breaks: a scenic overlook, a great bakery, a quiet park.
You’re not the best at navigating.
You live and die by your GPS system at home and feel helpless if it’s not charged up before a bike ride or car trip. Paper maps aren’t your forte and you don’t have a strong innate sense of direction. Self-guided tours provide maps and route instructions, but you are responsible for navigating and staying on route. No follow-the-leader here!
Which leads us to…..Getting lost would make you super frustrated!
While some might call it “unintentional detouring,” you’d be flustered and upset if you got lost on your bike, especially in another country. And if you did get lost, you’d want someone (like a guide) nearby to call on or to look for you.
You want language barriers and cultural differences minimized.
You’re not comfortable hand-gesturing your way through a transaction or request for directions. You find it frustrating not being able to communicate easily – that’s what translators are for! Self-guided touring means you interact directly with the locals for anything you need, even when they don’t speak your language. Guides are a liaison for you, though, so nothing gets lost in translation.
A structured schedule appeals to you.
You’re the (wo)man with the plan! You want to know what to expect each day: how far you’re riding and when, where you’ll be stopping, what you’ll be seeing along the way. A nightly briefing from your guide about the next day’s adventure sounds great since you can plan accordingly. Winging it is for the birds!
You don’t want to deal with mechanical problems.
Bike problems happen sometimes, but you surely don’t want to deal with fixing a flat tire yourself or getting to a bike shop for help. While self-guided tours feature a hotline in case of emergencies, you’re still expected to be able to change a flat tire, and bike shops along the route are highlighted in your tour documents. But if you’d rather leave the mechanics to someone else, a guided tour offers more support for breakdowns (of bikes and humans!).