Planning! Every last detail or not?

Discussion in 'Touring and Adventure Cycling' started by HobbesOnTour, 11 Feb 2019.

  1. HobbesOnTour

    HobbesOnTour Senior Member

    The Netherlands
    This thread is prompted specifically by this comment
    on this thread , but it relates to lots of other threads that I have read over the years.

    For example, any discussion about Google maps or other online navigation resources will have at least one person talking about using the Google Earth facility to scrutinise their route to the nth detail. It seems that some will actually “travel” their route on the computer long before they cycle it.

    Without meaning to be critical I don’t understand that level of detailed planning. I don’t even understand those that plan out their daily itineraries and know exactly how far they will cycle, where they will stay and possibly even where they will eat.

    To me, touring is all about the freedom - freedom to go where I want, when I want and probably more important, to stop when I want. It’s also about the feeling of being an explorer. I know I’m not, but the more information I have, the less I feel like I’m breaking new ground.

    Now, don’t get me wrong - I have done short tours where I had a fair idea how far I would travel each day and where I would stay - but these are normally out of season where camping options (and daylight) are scarce. And even then, I don’t think I ever followed the plan as originally set out.

    To my way of thinking, the more detailed and specific a plan is, the harder it is to deal with an enforced change to that plan. Added to that, the longer the tour the more impact an enforced change can have.

    The kinds of things that have happened to me that would screw up a detailed plan include:
    • A back wheel failure on a long weekend test ride for a new second-hand bike
    • A broken saddle pin necessitating an overnight at a petrol station on the road to Verona
    • A crash where I dislocated my shoulder, cracked a couple of ribs and lost quite a bit of skin
    • Snowed in mountain pass
    • Getting totally lost - several times!

    On the other hand, circumstances that lead me to changing my “plan” for the day include…
    • Discovering a wooden hut in a German forest that called out for an overnight stay
    • Cycling through an Alpine valley way past my destination for the night, long after the sun set because the traffic disappeared and the effects of the night falling was glorious, falling asleep in a vineyard watching the stars above
    • Meeting with and cycling with a local and getting a personal tour, on the bike of Strasbourg and so deciding to stay.
    • Meeting other cyclists and cycling “their way” for a while
    • Several beaches in Spain
    • Countless stops at cafes where lunch was so good I had to go back for dinner!
    In the interest of balance, some of the consequences of minimal planning include..
    • Climbing the 2 highest peaks of my route through Northern Spain on the same day (only discovered afterwards)
    • Being surprised by May Day in France when absolutely nothing was open. Emergency rations!
    • Rolling up to a campsite that no longer existed
    • Following a road that became a dual carriageway and then motorway in Italy. All was good until I met a tunnel!
    I think the point I’m making is that I think my touring experiences would be far less valuable if I didn’t have the freedom to wander hither and thither. And even the negatives are all part of the adventure and generated positive experiences in their own way.

    I wonder how much of that is psychological? I’d imagine that if my head was filled with detail such as how far I had to go, the time I had to do it in etc. that there would be less space for where I am…

    I didn’t start out that way. My first (adult) solo, self supported tour was planned in great detail. But it took less than a day for me to break my plan by wandering off course.
    It took a great deal of internal discussion with myself before I did that, though.

    I’m sure I have missed interesting things in areas that I have passed through by virtue of not knowing they are there. Mind you, I have rolled into Fiestas in Spain and beer festivals in Germany that were pleasant surprises too!
    Finding travelling buddies can be difficult too - not everyone wants to do a “fly by the seat of your pants” tour.

    I understand that planning can be enjoyable and a great way to pass cold winter nights. I like to read about where I plan on cycling and I’ll take a bunch of notes about things that might be useful such as local sights, peculiar weather, dodgy places etc. I’ll mark off possible campsites, but I won’t be setting down a daily itinerary.

    I suppose too, that the type of bike you have will influence the planning style. Some bikes won’t handle off-road so knowing road surfaces is important. I ride an old MTB so can go pretty much anywhere.


    Do you plan everything? Why? Do you think you are missing out on anything? What am I missing by not planning in such great detail?

    Are you put off touring because the planning seems too complicated?

    And what are your best and worst experiences of flying by the seat of your pants?
    Ice2911, robjh, overmind and 11 others like this.
  2. classic33

    classic33 Legendary Member

    I've the start and end points, always useful, and a few waypoints somewhere between the start & end. These waypoints can be used as a timing point, going too fast slow down. Or as turn markers, as in I've gone off-route, turn back/around.

    Most of them are in the head, with a paper map for backup/exploring. I'm not afraid to admit to myself I've gone wrong, which unless the map is pulled out will mean asking so
  3. mjr

    mjr Comfy armchair to one person & a plank to the next

    I've been touring with a steadily-growing group and as it's grown, we've planned more. We can't just rock up to a small town and expect to find a dozen beds available at a reasonable price with decent cycle parking, so at least we've prebooked accommodation and the cross-channel transfer. This year we'll probably prebook a transfer on the mainland and a restaurant in the smallest town we're stopping in.

    However, we don't always follow the plan. Sometimes it's because of events (a broken-down ferry in the Netherlands comes to mind), sometimes mistakes (more than a few wrong turns over the years that we decided to style our way out of), sometimes mechanicals, sometimes disagreements (!) and sometimes because someone spots something interesting - so I don't think we're missing out on much. Often the best things have been those off-plan moments (vending machine strawberries!), but many have been entirely planned (Keukenhof, a 15 mile rail trail to lunch by Aalst's carillon, the Menin Gate ceremony, the Wormhout memorial) and I still think it's good to have a plan to change.

    If you're not planning, you might be missing out on some of the things that are more difficult to visit from where you start on a short tour, but if you have unlimited time to tour, planning might be less important. Also, outside Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark (and possibly parts of France, Germany and Spain now), I suspect a little basic planning becomes more important because careless highways departments think nothing of directing everything onto a motorway and leaving cyclists with an annoying detour wiggling alongside a noisy motorway or a long U-turn which seems to me like the worst way to waste one's touring time. Also in some countries, I think places can be far apart, so non-campers probably should check distances between decent stop opportunities rather than end up unplanned night riding in exposed country.

    I've not put off a tour because the planning gets complicated, although sometimes it seems a bit like there's no solution for some of the tour ideas - I guess it's probably best to know an idea is impossible or unlikely before you try to do it - but I did start with a fairly simple tour in the Netherlands the first time, where an experienced tourist in our group booked us hostels in four towns about 50 miles apart and we sat down with a drink after dinner each evening around a paper map and picked the junction bingo numbers for the following day.
    Last edited: 11 Feb 2019
    HobbesOnTour likes this.
  4. mjr

    mjr Comfy armchair to one person & a plank to the next

    King's Day in the Netherlands and Ascension Day in France have also surprised me over the years. And one Sunday in Belgium, we started off in an area where supermarkets were open so we thought we'd stop in an hour rather than keep picnic food in the hot sun too long, but then we rode into an area where supermarkets and cafes were shut, bars didn't do food on Sundays and we just got a little fruit and biscuits and stuff from a grocer's before it shut - just as well, else we would have been drinking on empty stomachs and the afternoon might have gone a bit odd. Early dinner, though, so all was well in the end!

    So I guess I don't plan to the level of checking that shops are open or that places are serving food at lunchtimes! :smile:
    HobbesOnTour likes this.
  5. snorri

    snorri Legendary Member

    This sums up my feelings!

    I found that some planning was helpful for the initial stages of a tour, where public transport is required in order to get from home to a ferry terminal. After leavingthe ferry I headed off in the general direction of where I thought I might like to go, free as a bird.
    I wasn't in the least phased by having to wait for a week in Goteborg for space for my self and bike on a ferry back to the UK, but would not want to spend a week in Harwich or Dover at the start of a tour (sorry Harwich and Dover people:sad:)on the outward journey. I have tried planning tours but find myself falling asleep after a few minutes, it is just so boring trying to imagine where I might go whilst knowing that any plan is likely to be changed following suggestions from complete strangers met on tour.
    An intention of mine to explore Cornwall and Devon after taking the train to Penzance ended in John O' Groats after a chance encounter with a cyclist in Cornwall who was 'training' for a LEJOG. It had only taken a couple of days for me to tire of my slow progress due to the hilly nature of that south western extremity. I suppose some planning would have revealed the hilly nature of Cornwall and Devon, but if I had heeded my research then I would never have done a LEJOG, a tour which gave me the confidence to undertake more adventurous tours in the following years:smile:.
  6. But on the other hand and to play devils advocate.

    I dont understand why people dont plan their routes in great detail and just go off willy nilly.
    Its horses for courses and neither way is wrong or right.

    Personally, I dont understand people who like Marmite. But as long as I am not eating it. I dont care.
  7. OP

    HobbesOnTour Senior Member

    The Netherlands
    In fairness, I've been caught out before in France on Holy days or Bank Holidays, but on that May Day every single place was shut. Every Single One! I
    It's one of the things I like about France. They do know how to relax. Definitely a pain in the ass when you're not used to it, but something to be learned from (I think) when understood.

    Now that makes a lot of sense. Obviously one or two cyclists is a far different proposition than a group of 10 or more. And as for unplanned changes (such as the broken down ferry) I'm presuming that there's a certain calmness that comes from being part of a group? Not something that may be as comfortable for a solo or duo travellers.

    I don't think anyone would fancy being stuck in a port for a week at the start of a tour! :smile:
    Was your first tour as spontaneous as your LEJOGish or did you grow into that kind of spontaneity?

    It's good you don't like Marmite - I believe Denmark is one of the countries it's banned in:smile:

    I was pretty clear that I wasn't advocating right or wrong. I was asking why? What are the advantages and disadvantages that you have experienced?

    I think from reading other posts that you travel relatively lightly, so that will have an effect on your planning level, I imagine.
    I've also seen another thread from you about the challenge of planning your trans-europe race. The race element places its own obligations on your planning.
    I've also read that Denmark has pretty good facilities for "official" wild camping, including shelters & even showers! If so, they must be useful destinations or handy back-ups and therefore useful to be planned in.
    classic33 and Dogtrousers like this.
  8. raleighnut

    raleighnut Guru

    On 3 Wheels
    I enjoy getting a bit 'lost'.
  9. mudsticks

    mudsticks Über Member

    i love marmite :whistle:

    I'm with the Op in terms of lets see what happens - I've got a reasonable idea of where i'm going but not always for the whole trip - and plans can be subject to a change of whim or wind at the last moment.

    To see it all on google earth first, sounds like opening your christmas presents before the day.

    Sure if I was going for days and days across the desert it would be different .

    But in cool temperate Europe , mostly on roads - you're never that far from a shop or a bar - or some kind of help if you need it.

    If in doubt I'll ask a local - i've had brilliant advice ( and conversations, and camping in gardens opps) that way - that i'd never have got from trip advisor or wherever.

    So long as you've got a reasonable map, a tent, and sleeping and cooking kit, food for a couple of days, then the open road is yours go with the prevailing wind - or mood.

    Work and home life is overscheduled enough, with 'to do' lists , and goals , and targets to be achieved - why make your holidays like that?

    I think we're in danger of turning our recreational time into a competitive list of tasks to tick off, peaks to be climbed, kms to be munched.

    A flexible attitude, a puncture repair kit, a decent waterproof, and ultimately - lets admit it - a piece of plastic that will get you out of most bother is all you really need.

    So many serendipitous 'Very good luck' when travelling stories as would fill a book - but most of it comes down to the fact that the majority of humans are helpful, and friendly enough, if you approach them with an open and pleasant attitude.
    Last edited: 11 Feb 2019
  10. Drago

    Drago Guru

    Prior planning and preparation prevents pith poor performance.
  11. classic33

    classic33 Legendary Member

    Not always.
    I know someone who thought he'd covered everything for his family's first, and only, cycling trip. The one thing he failed to plan for was the unseasonal rain. Just shy of three inches in less than an hour.

    They were soaked, bikes were ditched & car hired for the rest of their trip.
  12. classic33

    classic33 Legendary Member

    * joining Horlicks, Ovaltine and Farley's Rusks on the "prohibited items" list!

    Wonder what the fine would be.

    HobbesOnTour likes this.
  13. raleighnut

    raleighnut Guru

    On 3 Wheels
    When on tour I have everything I need for a minimum of 3 days on the bike and replenish stuff as I go. :angel:

    Mind you I used to own a Chicken and Mushroom 'Pot Noodle' that had covered thousands of miles in the panniers. :rolleyes:
  14. mudsticks

    mudsticks Über Member

    Maybe sometimes - but a good bit of 'lets just see how this goes shall we?' Can also leave you with many fond memories of the kindness of strangers - and unexpected but very interesting side-tracks :whistle:

    I've got a packet of emergency cous cous with veg that has similarly come on several trips, and returned home intact.

    I shudder to think of the 'food miles' it's racked up. :cycle:
  15. Drago

    Drago Guru

    Anything you absolutely want to do without fail, if humanly possibly, you should plan for.

    If nothing is set in stone, you'd quite like to see this or do that but it won't be a lifelong regret if you miss it entirely, then take it day by day.

    Set your objective and plan backwards from that, not the other way around.
    Andy in Germany and HobbesOnTour like this.
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