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How to Choose a European Bicycle tour: Guided or self-guided?

Most commercial European bicycle tours come in two flavors: guided and self-guided. Or, put another way, group and individual.

Guided group tours have long been the norm for American bike travelers in Europe. On most tours, one guide rides with the group, while a second guide drives a support van. Everything is planned out: hotels, routes, meals, luggage transfers, sightseeing tours and so on. The guides point out places of interest, organize excursions and activities and are there in case of breakdowns (mechanical or human).

Self-guided individual tours are popular with European travelers and with increasing numbers of American cyclists. Self-guided tours are a money-saving alternative–and often preferable to traveling with a group.

Self-guided does NOT mean that you’re totally on your own. With self-guided tours, the tour operator still organizes the hotel reservations and the luggage transportation from hotel to hotel. The accommodations are usually the same as on guided tours. You often follow the same routes.

Most tour operators provide you with comprehensive information package with the marked route, a detailed route description and tips on sights, cultural highlights, scenic stops and recommended restaurants. Many tour operators offer a hotline in case of emergencies or problems.

If you prefer to be independent and to choose your traveling companions and daily schedule, consider a self-guided tour. But also consider your comfort level with a foreign language, reading maps and signs, ordering food, and dealing with breakdowns and minor emergencies. Since some self-guided tours have a minimum of just two travelers — or even one — you should not count on riding with a group. For some people, this is part of what makes traveling fun. If you’re not one of those people, a guided tour may be the better choice.

As far as what’s generally included, here’s a standard list:

Guided

Self-Guided

Lodging

X

X

Breakfast buffet

X

X

Evening dinners

X

Optional

Support van or bus

X

Informed travel guide riding with group

X

Luggage transport from hotel to hotel

X

X

Admissions and tours according to the program

X

Tour description, travel material with route maps

X

X

Detailed route planning

X

X

Emergency hotline

X

Riding with group

X

Sometimes

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