A few friends have told me that they think the pictures of biking and camping in the Finnish countryside are super picturesque, but that they wonder if it actually is that idyllic when it is happening. ”Aren’t you struggling and sweating?” ”Isn’t it super hard to bring your bike?” “Did you really bike 100 miles in a dress or are those just for the pictures?”
There is definitely a less glamorous side to international bike camping, which I’m more than happy to talk about! I’m happy to talk about the logistics for anyone interested in trying it themselves, and to hear tips from other people who’ve done it. But to be honest, I love that side just as much! I love taking my bike apart and putting it back together. I love getting my hands dirty with bike grease. Building things with my hands is a thing I don’t get to do often and it’s so satisfying. Building something and then riding off on it? Incredibly satisfying. (And the answer to do I bike 100 miles/camp/assemble/disassemble bikes in a dress? Of course I do, doing things just for pictures is silly!)
Getting your bike there by plane
Some people purchase an actual hard case for their bike, but when you arrive at your destination what will you do with that case? That’s why I’ve found it easiest to pack my bike up in a cardboard box, which i can dispose of and not worry about. You can pick one up from any bike store, for free– it’s what the bikes come shipped in, and they’d just throw them away anyway. Just call ahead and ask them to save one for you. In all the places I’ve traveled to, I’ve never had a problem getting a cardboard box for the return trip. Depending on the size of the box, you might have to disassemble part of your bike– most likely it will be turning the handlebars, removing the seat and pedals. I bubble wrap and tape any sharp-ish metal edges. You might also have to remove the front wheel. You probably want to practice ahead of time and not follow my example– I learned to disassemble a bike 2am the night before a flight to Paris (using these guides from Public Bikes). No matter your type of bike there is probably a guide for assembling/disassembling it on youtube if you don’t know how! Since tools can’t be brought as carry-ons, I put bike tools, pedals and any screws/bolts in a ziplock bag, and tape them to the inside of the bike box. And tape up the bike box well with duct tape. Also, might as well pack some tape in your luggage for the return trip.
Is it worth bringing your own bike vs. renting one? Well, how attached are you to your bike? I’m incredibly attached! I love my bike and don’t have much experience riding other bikes. If I’m going to ride long distances in a bike, I would rather it be one I’m super familiar with. Also I get really attached to things and Peppermint Patty is something of a best friend! I want her to see the world, too. I’ve personally had bad experiences with rentals, so for me, if I am going to be riding it more than a week, and riding long distances, it is absolutely worth the hassle, which is not so much a hassle as a logistical puzzle that I find fun!
Will it cost anything to bring it on a plane? You can check it in as oversized luggage, and in some cases, (Scandinavian Airlines for instance) the airline requests to know in advance that you’re checking in a bike. Airline websites vary how much they say they’ll charge for bikes, but often, if you pack light and only have a backpack besides your bike (which I do!) the staff will just wave off the bike as your checked in luggage and not charge. (Thank you airline staff! You’re so sweet!)
I’d love to hear about other people’s tips getting bikes to another country if they have any!
What to do when you land
If you’ve packed your bike, after you pick it up from oversized luggage, the best thing to do next next depends on how far you are from your final destination, whether public transport allows bikes or bikes in boxes, and whether your final destination has a bike-friendly route. Airports are usually far from city center, and most public transportation is more friendly towards boxed than unboxed bikes, so I find myself most often dragging my bike box to the nearest public transport station, riding public transport a reasonable distance into town, getting off and assembling my bike at the station, and riding the bike to my lodging. As an aside, it’s kind of amazing what being in a slightly precarious situation can show you about the country you’re visiting. While dragging my bike, I’ve never not had super kind people offering to help me. That said, it’s still important to me for my plan to be self-sufficient– I would never plan on getting help on anything and would make sure that I could carry out my entire plan without help in the worst case, but I’ve never had to.
Find an empty space to cut open your box and put your bike back together! The great thing about large train stations is that you have so much privacy! People are so busy going on about their busy daily lives they do that they’ll ignore you for the most part (which I bring up because the first time I assembled my bike in a train station I felt suuuper self conscious about it. But for naught.) Some random strangers might come along and be really nice and point out that you’ve accidentally installed a part backwards (this has happened) or run up to you with wet wipes when they see your grease-covered hands, telling you that they’ve noticed you’ve been working so hard (this has also happened)!
Check the pressure in your tires, and ride off! There’s an indescribably amazing feeling from landing and immediately assembling your bike and riding off to explore this brand new city on it!
Reasons to bike in a foreign country (whether you rent or bring!)
Taking public transport is fun, but on a bike you’ll get to see so much more above ground (compared to a subway) and not behind a window (compared to a bus or train)!
You can stop whenever to take pictures!
You’ll feel so much safer traveling around at night and you don’t have to worry about the last train/bus/subway of the night.
If you get lost super easily like I do, it’s comforting to be able to get back on track faster and have wasted less time than if you walked the wrong way.
Instant fun! Pick a random direction to go riding and you’re bound to see something interesting. Minimum planning required!
Feel like not a tourist!
Day/multiple day trips to the countryside
This also all of course depends on what foreign country, and I have only experience bringing my bike to Europe. I would like to take biking trips in Korean and Japan some time though!
I’ll write more about the logistics of international bike camping next time!