To Plan or Not To Plan, That Is The Question - CycleBlaze

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To Plan or Not To Plan, That Is The Question

Graham Smith

Apologies to The Bard for the Subject title to this thread. 

Shakespeare wouldn’t have clinically asked, “In how much detail and how far ahead do you plan cycle tours?” Yes I know bicycles weren’t invented when young William was waxing lyrical, but he did tour with his travelling theatrical shows.

Let me explain rather than digress. At fairly short notice, my adult son and I have decided to do a short cycle tour in Taiwan after Christmas. We’ve booked the return air flights from Australia. We have the bikes. We have leave from work. I’ve read some Taiwan information. I started a journal. Surely that’s enough planning.

 I’m trying to convince myself  we can land in Taipei on 28 December and work the cycle touring out from there. As a chronic over thinker and risk averse planning type, I must admit I am struggling with this ad hoc approach.

The bottom line questions are: 

What’s your approach to planning cycle tours? Do you plan months ahead to the nth degree of detail? Or do you let fate work it out for you as you roll off toward the horizon?
Is there a happy mid point between zero planning and analysis paralysis with cycle touring?
And what have real world experiences taught  you about cycle tour planning? Is less more? Or is more essential? 

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4 months ago
Jean-Marc StrydomTo Graham Smith

We usually just book the flights and the first night's accommodation.  Then, given that we have a vague route in mind (and the route will certainly change as we go along), we tend to wing it from there because we never know how far we might want to ride on any given day.  Using offline tools like and iOverlander makes planning-on-the-go pretty easy and if we can connect to the 'net it gets even easier.

But there are always exceptions.  We are heading back to Patagonia again in a few weeks time, landing in Puerto Montt on the 18th of December with the usual first night booked at a hostal next to the big Unimarc (where we can stock up on grub and gas cylinders). We have done the Careterra Austral and further southwards through Argentina to Puerto Natales before so we have enough knowledge of the route to take things as they come.  However, the first exception is that we have booked a room in Chaiten for Christmas Eve.  Immediately it places constraints on us in that we have to get to Chaiten by Christmas but no further.  The second exception is that we have booked flights from Ushuaia up to Buenos Aires on the 29th of February so we have to be in Ushuaia a day or two before that.  Hopefully our "planning" means that this date is achievable.

Living on a bicycle with just the bare minimum simplifies life so if you ensure you have an idea of how you will find food and don't get anxious about where you might lay your head down for the night there isn't much for which to plan. 

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4 months ago
Gregory GarceauTo Graham Smith
To plan or not to plan, that is the question.
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The hotelier's outrageous rejection,
Or to take up arms against them.
To end them, by sleeping in the great outdoors.
Ay, there's the rub:  Pack a tent.
To ride, to camp, perchance to dream,
The sweet, sweet dream of freedom
From the shackles of advanced reservations and excessive planning.

Sorry, Lord Graham, but I couldn't resist taking your Shakespearean conundrum one step further.

Indeed, for those of us who LIKE camping (and even for those of us who don't mind camping,) having a tent makes the planning a lot easier.  A tent gives you more freedom and more options.  No reservations necessary.  No worries about hearing"Sorry, no room at the inn."  However, I've only been rejected three or four times when just riding up to a motel with no reservation, though I haven't exactly been touring in anything that could be called "touristy" areas.

Anyway, as much as I like to present myself as a happy-go-lucky, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, free spirit who leaves himself open to whatever options strike his fancy, I still have to plan some kind of a route.  And once I have a tentative route, I've found that my tentative route ends up being very similar to the route I actually end up taking.  Still, I like to have options.  A rigid schedule sucks.  If I don't have a schedule, I don't have to worry about falling behind schedule due to spending half a day hiking or swimming or writing wine reviews.  And on those occasions when I have to fly home, I don't make my airline reservation until a couple of days before I get to the airport, even though I know it will cost me quite a bit more.

In conclusion, yes, I plan just enough to allow for the things I don't plan.

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4 months ago
Graham SmithTo Gregory Garceau

Greg your point about the tent is spot on. My survival priorities are 1.Shelter 2.Communication 3. Water, especially in Australia where I usually cycle tour and where human settlements are often a long way apart.
Indeed I can’t remember a recent cycle tour where I haven’t packed a tent or bivvy, so this imminent Taiwan tour will be an exception. We won’t pack any camping gear at all, so we’ll need to be a bit more mindful of daily planning.
Taiwan seems to be fairly densely settled with lots of accommodation, so unlike Australia and USA, there should be plenty of room at the inn for wandering bards and cyclists.

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4 months ago
Graham SmithTo Jean-Marc Strydom

Jean-Marc I like your approach to planning. It sounds as if you have ample competence and confidence from lots of cycle touring experience.
The willingness to adapt to whatever situation pops up is certainly useful, perhaps essential, in cycle touring. Unlike most other forms of transport there is always going to be unpredictable timing on a loaded bicycle.
All the best with the forthcoming Patagonian tour. That’s a part of  the world which intrigues me but I’ve not yet made time to travel to. It’s on my very long  Wishlist of Cycle Tours 

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4 months ago
Scott AndersonTo Graham Smith

I’m a slightly reformed overplanner who in the past has generally plotted out the entire tour in advance, lodging included.  I’m trying to build more flexibility into our tours.  Easier to do now that we have more time on our hands.

As far as Taiwan goes though, I’d at least want to have a general familiarity with the country and what parts of it you hope to see, and know something about it’s interesting topography (surprisingly mountainous) and climate (quite wet and wild on the east side, quite dry and densely populated on the west).  I don’t think you’ll have any trouble finding lodging as you go, except possibly around New Years.  I might figure out where you want to be over the holiday and book ahead.

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4 months ago
Graham SmithTo Scott Anderson

Thanks Scott for that New Year holiday tip. Your and Rachael's most recent Taiwan journal here on Cycle Blaze has been a mighty help and very encouraging for this forthcoming tour my son and I will be doing in Taiwan. It is  especially helpful since we will be there at a similar time of year you were. 

For most of my working life, I've been in jobs where I had to learn to be reasonably good at planning even though it isn't my strength. Part of my challenge nowadays is not carrying over my lifelong work patterns into cycle touring.  A interesting reflection is that when I first started professional work over 40 years ago, it was after spending many months on non-stop cycle touring. It took me quite a while to adapt to the different discipline of working life after being conditioned to the almost ultra-freedoms of being a free range cycle tourist and solo traveler. 

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4 months ago
John PescatoreTo Graham Smith

I'm a planner, two major reasons:

  1. I really don't like surprises, not even surprise birthday parties...
  2. I really, really enjoy the planning part for some reason.

Early in my career when I worked for the US Secret Service, I was constantly travelling and the demands of the job were basically to avoid all surprises! I think that set my pattern once I started bike trips - my previous multi-day bike rides as a teenager were of the "hey, tomorrow let's strap sleeping bags on our bikes and bike 100 miles to Montauk Point."

But, I also found that I enjoyed the planning, logistics and "what if" for bike touring, hiking, family vacation, group bicycle weekends, etc. On long flights for work trips I could pour over maps (I'm skewing old here...) for hours putting routes together.

I'm really not a very good bike tourist - the part I enjoy the most is being on the bike and pedaling.  I'm really bad at stopping to enjoy stuff along  the way, perfectly to ride by and say "Wow, look: a unicorn is right next to that waterfall!" but keep going...

Once I got married and had kids, I had to learn to stop and smell the roses more but I revert back to form on solo tours!

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4 months ago
Jeff LeeTo Graham Smith

I don't like to plan much anymore. I almost never know my exact destination for the day when I ride out in the morning on tour, and I've even done a completely spur-of -the-moment, week-long tour where I literally didn't know which direction I would be going until I rode out of my driveway and checked the wind.

On two longer bike tours where I originally did have routes planned out, I ended up abandoning them, and headed in completely different directions.

I also never plan for how I'm going to get home when the tour ends. The idea of having plane reservations (If I flew, which I don't anymore anyway) is anathema to me. Knowing that I had to be somewhere on a specific day and time would drive me crazy.

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4 months ago
Graham SmithTo John Pescatore

John that’s a really good description of the way, and why, many people do cycle touring, especially the planning, the way we do. Work and family life so often needs good planning to prevent unwanted surprises for others. Those habits of a lifetime then transpose seamlessly into cycle touring. I don’t think being very thorough is a good or bad way to plan a cycle tour. It just a way. Just as there are numerous styles of cycle touring, there are many different and equally effective ways to plan cycle tours.

And as you mentioned, planning and preparation can be as much fun as the cycle touring itself. For example, reading others’ cycle tour journals provides a lot of vicarious travel enjoyment, inspiration and information as well as being part of the planning process.

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4 months ago