If you’re on a tight budget, the good news is that it’s still pretty easy to plan cheap bike tours of the UK or overseas. This guide contains five simple travel hacks that will save you money on your next cycling holiday. So you can see more of the world, on two wheels, for less.
There are various tricks to employ when you want to enjoy cheap cycling holidays. Thinking about the cost of every aspect of the trip is key. As a general rule of thumb, the further away you go, the more expensive it’s going to be. The same applies to your trip duration.
So affordable bike tours begin closer to home, whether you go for cheap cycling holidays in the UK or budget cycling holidays in France. Far-flung destinations often aren’t ideal for those seeking the most inexpensive bike tours, as flights will cost more. When travelling long-haul you may also need more time – and when you’re paying for accommodation, time is money.
Don’t forget that you might need to factor in the price of bike hire or transportation as well as flights, accommodation and the other usual costs when planning a cycling trip. If you can bag some low air, train or ferry fares plus budget accommodation, though, you could be onto a winner.
Here are our top five money saving steps to use when planning a cycling holiday on a shoestring. Whether you want cheap cycling holidays in Europe, the UK or further afield.
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5 simple steps to booking cheap bike tours
Guided or self-guided
The first thing to think about is how much guidance you want. There are plenty of luxury cycling holidays led by experienced cyclist guides (we’ve got a separate article on these, here!), but of course these come at a price.
Going self-guided can save you a stack of cash – but remember, never compromise on safety.
If you want to take a self-guided cycling holiday to save money, then we’d suggest sticking to the beaten track, unless you’re very experienced. Heading off into some remote mountain massif will do you no favours if your bike breaks and you can’t fix it or you get lost – and there’s no one around for assistance.
For a solo cycling break on a budget, it’s going to be best not to go off-grid if there’s no guide around to help out. Staying on tarmac will also make it more likely there’s a passing stranger around to help in the event of injury or serious damage to your bike.
To fly or not to fly
It’s easy to check out what budget airlines have to offer when it comes to planning a break. But boarding a plane isn’t the only option open to you.
Staying in your home country is almost always going to be the simplest and cheapest option. If you’re based in the UK, then is there a part of England you’ve always been itching to explore? The Scottish Highlands, the Peak District or coastal Cornwall, for example? If the answer is yes, make sure you read our article on cycling destinations you can drive to from the UK. Then hop onto a train or ferry with your bike and you could be cycling around a new place, getting your bearings, before the sun goes down.
In fact, travelling with a bike by train may also be an option for exploring Europe. Take the Eurostar and you could be enjoying an affordable cycling holiday in France within a matter of hours. Boxed or folding bikes can be transported by Eurostar, though at present fully assembled cycles are a no-no. Check out their Bikes on Board page for further information.
If you want to venture beyond France, it’s worth knowing that you can also take your bike on many European trains. In many cases this does require a reservation, and there may also be a small fee to pay. This option does open up all sorts of exciting cycling possibilities, however – and can be a cost-effective way to take a cycling break.
Another option is to drive to your destination. If you can carry your bike on or inside your car, then you could head to wherever you want to go in the UK or Europe. You could also hire a bike van to do this if you need a little more space or luxury than your car affords you.
Don’t forget, however, that you may need to factor in ferry crossings with a vehicle. Plus, of course, fuel costs. You should also ensure your vehicle insurance covers driving abroad.
It is possible to wheel your bike onto a passenger ferry, and then to wheel it off again at the other end. Job done. Whether this is allowed and the procedure involved does of course vary between operators, but once you arrive you can set off to explore straightaway.
Where your bike will be stored while you’re on board can vary. On some car ferries it will be below deck with the vehicles, and on ferries for foot passengers it could be anywhere deemed suitable by the operator.
For this reason, remove any accessories that could be susceptible to damage or theft, and make sure you have a sturdy lock (or two) to secure the bike. Longer locks will give you more flexibility, and you could also use D-locks to join the wheels to the frame.
It might surprise you to learn that many ferry operators will carry bikes free of charge, or for a low, affordable fee. Always check directly with the operator serving your destination before you travel.
If you are keen to fly off somewhere new, then taking a flight is likely to be the quickest way to get there. It can also be the cheapest option in many cases, especially if you’re flexible and get a little bit clever about how you book.
You can use flight search sites such as Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights available from any given point. On the homepage, enter your preferred ‘from’ airport, then under ‘to’ select ‘everywhere’. Once you’ve added the dates, this will give you a list of results incredibly quickly so you can narrow down the options.
Flight search sites also allow you to set up alerts, so you can be in the know when cheap seats become available. Play around with dates when searching too – the more flexible you can be about when you depart or arrive, the more chance you have of bagging a bargain!
Don’t forget to factor in luggage costs. Checked bags and bringing your own bike will cost more. Make sure you know the exact luggage costs before taking the plunge if taking your own bike is a must. Or look into bike hire or e-bike hire prices at your destination if that’s an option you’re happy to consider.
Also remember to consider how transfer costs from the airport. This article on transporting your bike gives more info.
Taking your own bike is not likely to be an easy option. There’s the risk of damage, and it might also be time-consuming and pricey to arrange transit. If you do go ahead, make sure you have adequate insurance cover, particularly if your bike is one that cost you a lot of money.
Find budget accommodation
Assuming you can drive, take the train or jump onto a plane without spending too much money, then accommodation is likely to eat up the lion’s share of your budget. If you’re going self-guided, then you can stay wherever you like – and spend as much or as little as you want to.
What are the options?
If you want to find cheap accommodation for a cycling holiday, forget about five star hotels. Or even four star ones. You want to be looking at budget hotels, such as those with a three star rating or less.
All-inclusive hotels can be a cost-effective option if you’re travelling with kids who are likely to be demanding drinks and ice-creams all day. Look out for deals offering free places for children. You can also plan your budget more easily. Popular tourist destinations like Cyprus, even more expensive areas like Limassol, can have some good options.
An even better option is to opt for hostel accommodation, or campsites. If you’ll be in the UK or Europe, then the latter is clearly a more viable option in summer than in winter. So the season may play a part in how much you pay for accommodation. The upside is that hotels might charge less in winter – meaning you could snap up a bargain.
If you don’t want to spend any money on accommodation at all, then wild camping is an option. In the UK, this applies in Scotland only as camping in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is illegal unless you have the permission of the landowner.
Find a cheaper destination
Another way to save on accommodation is to go for the long-haul flight. Head for a destination where prices are cheaper – such as parts of Asia or South America – and you could save more than you spent on the flight when it comes to finding a bed for the night.
Friends and family
Before you go ahead and book anything, it’s worth thinking about who you know. Do you have friends or family who would be willing to put you up for a few nights? If you know someone with land or at least a large garden, they may also be happy for you to pitch a tent on their property. As the saying goes, it’s all about who you know, not what you know!
Cyclist-friendly accommodation examples
To get you started, here’s a handful of budget accommodation options that have been recommended by cyclists. These are all in the UK, and are provided just to give you some idea of what’s possible.
- The Wight Mouse Inn, Isle of Wight – 3 star, family-run inn with pub and garden
- New Ing Lodge, Cumbria – 4 star with B&B and dorm rooms, garden, bar and lounge
- Kirkby Stephen Hostel, Cumbria – Converted church with dorms, triples and quads
- Ocean Backpackers, Ilfracombe – Harbourside with private rooms and shared dorms
- Cwtsh Hostel, Swansea – Brand new 5 star hostel in the city centre and near beach
You can find more info on cycling-friendly accommodation in this section of our website.
Play around with dates
Getting a cheap deal can be as simple as switching your dates to a day or two either side. This is because some days are more popular for travel than others, and train and plane fares are all about supply and demand.
Mid week and wonky weekends
Picking a wonky weekend is a lesser-known hack for finding a cheap cycling trip. Book a trip from Saturday to Tuesday instead of Friday to Monday and you could be quids in. This is due to demand: if the airlines and train operators can charge a higher fare for peak periods, then of course they’re going to do just that. If you can, midweek travel tends to be cheapest, but that may also mean using more of your precious holiday allowance.
Avoid school holidays at all costs – unless of course you’re a teacher or parent travelling with kids and you really have no choice. Bear in mind that when schools break up may be different at your destination, but may still push prices up.
The dates you book at hotels can also affect the price. City hotels aimed at business travellers, for instance, will often offer very affordable rates at weekends. Conversely, properties marketed to leisure travellers will often charge less during the week.
Don’t forget about travel insurance
If you’re booking a budget cycling break, then it’s tempting not to fork out for travel insurance. But don’t make that mistake. You’ll be travelling around on two wheels, for a start, so you’re more vulnerable.
Accidents happen. If something doesn’t go to plan, then you need to know that your medical costs will be covered. As well as any liability for damage to other people’s property – and all the other things that travel insurance policies cover.
Make sure you take out a policy that provides enough cover for you and your bike, in the destination/s you’re going to visit.
Cheap cycling holidays summary
If you’re interested in getting away for a few days – or longer – and want to explore by bike, then there are plenty of options open to you. Follow our simple five-step plan and you could soon be tackling those hills, swishing down quiet country lanes or navigating a new city on two wheels.
Here’s a brief reminder of those five steps to budget cycling bliss:
- Go self-guided for the most affordable cycling holidays
- Choose whether to fly, take the train, drive or wheel your bike onto a ferry
- Look for places that offer budget accommodation, such as campsites, hostels or B&Bs
- Pick your dates carefully, and play around with them to see how prices compare
- Take out travel insurance that offers the cover you’ll need if the worst happens
Here are some additional articles that might be of interest:
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