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  1. #1
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    tour planning - campsite/inn booking

    Hey folks,

    I'm curious how much planning/booking you do when touring. I want to start some light tours staying at either campsites or inns. I have a worry about not finding any vacancies anywhere and being stuck on a bike in the middle of nowhere (a bet excessive). But I also don't want to worry about getting to the next place in time all the time, what if I want to hang out in one area for longer? etc. So how do you keep the freedom in balance with always having a place to stay?

    (I'm in southern california where campsites and hotels are often booked it seems)

  2. #2
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    Well that's the rub. We don't want to lock in, but the world wants us to commit.

    I just show up and throw myself upon the mercies of the locals. Of course, that doesn't always work and I sometimes have to ride 20 miles or more to find someplace to stay or camp. Many people claim to stealth camp, and I have no doubt that they do stealth camp, but that's not easy to do in populated areas like most of non-desert Southern California.

    I think the best strategy is to start riding at the crack of dawn. Then you'll want to quit early and so be motivated to find yourself a place to stay around 4PM. That's too early to stop for anybody driving a car so you have a good chance of getting those spaces / rooms not yet reserved or the ones where reservations have been cancelled at the last minute. Also, plan to stay out of tourist areas. Enjoy them on your bike and then ride out of town to the "less desirable" venues.

    Of course, since you probably have a cell phone, it shouldn't be that big a deal, and in some situations very advisable, to call ahead and make reservations when you know you'll be able to show up.

  3. #3
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    I like to book the first night when I fly into a place. So if I'm flying into Heathrow to start a tour in London (as Rowan and I did in 2007), I'll book a room in a hostel in London for the first night. It's nice to know you've got a place to stay when you fly into a city. I also like to book the last night before I fly out of a city, but in the situation in 2007, we waited till we actually got to London before we booked the last night.

    Otherwise we wing it.

    Most of the time it works out all right. Occasionally we have ended up camping in some non-traditional places.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cyclesafe View Post
    I just show up and throw myself upon the mercies of the locals....

    I think the best strategy is to start riding at the crack of dawn. Then you'll want to quit early and so be motivated to find yourself a place to stay around 4PM. That's too early to stop for anybody driving a car so you have a good chance of getting those spaces / rooms not yet reserved or the ones where reservations have been cancelled at the last minute. Also, plan to stay out of tourist areas. Enjoy them on your bike and then ride out of town to the "less desirable" venues.
    +1, that has been my strategy. I'll only make a reservation on first night - or if I'm in an area I expect things to be especially tight. However, my normal preference is to not have reservations but instead to stop early enough that I can ride to next place as necessary. Over time, my "early enough" has become a little more early though I still leave at same time in morning, so mostly all works out.

  5. #5
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    I can not remember ever making a reservation for a campsite or room while on tour. Traveling in a self-sufficient manner means to be prepared to adapt to changing and uncertain circumstances. This uncertainty has led to many positive interactions with local people helping me solve my problem or defaulting to stealth camping depending on the situation and location.

    Police, church ministers and local tourist offices have helped me at times in various countries around the world. I have slept at train stations or ferry docks, behind police stations or army barracks as well as often in local people's homes or backyards.

    The fear of no place to stay often triggers our western need for complete certainty and control at all times with a secure reservation in hand. Flexibility is the key to relaxing and enjoying some of the uncertainty and chaos offered by the bike touring experience. I tour to have an experience different from my normal predictable home life.

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    What machka said, book something for the night you fly into a place and the night before you fly out. If you're headed for a really popular spot where you expect a crowd, booking a place as far ahead as you are able will save you a lot of aggravation and money. At a lot of small hostels, hotels or campgrounds, the owner or staff will pack up and go home if business is slow. A phone call at midday if you expect to be arriving late can ensure that you'll have a place to crash.

    A lot depends on where you're touring. Off the beaten track you can get away with a lot less planning. Stealth camping isn't tolerated or easy everywhere, though, and if the last cheap bed or campsite is taken in a big city or popular tourist area then you can find yourself forced to pay a much higher price than you planned on for accommodation.

  7. #7
    Every lane is a bike lane Chris L's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka View Post
    I like to book the first night when I fly into a place. So if I'm flying into Heathrow to start a tour in London (as Rowan and I did in 2007), I'll book a room in a hostel in London for the first night. It's nice to know you've got a place to stay when you fly into a city. I also like to book the last night before I fly out of a city, but in the situation in 2007, we waited till we actually got to London before we booked the last night.

    Otherwise we wing it.

    Most of the time it works out all right. Occasionally we have ended up camping in some non-traditional places.
    That's pretty much what I do too. I'll book a room in a major city when I'm arriving, but even when I've been out of luck with that (as I was in Christchurch in 2006), I've always been able to find somewhere to camp when I've wanted. The only downside is that when you're dealing with cities, the nearest campground is usually MILES away from the city centre. The other thing to remember is that when you arrive at a booked out campground with a bike, people often make allowances, as happened at Nimbin a couple of months back (they were booked out because of their Mardi Grass festival), or in Bright in 2008.
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    I have never booked a campsite when touring. Even campsites that display signs saying they are full can find space for a bike and little tent. they just dont have space for a car ans 12' X 15' tent. If you want to stop at a particular Inn in a popular travel area you will probably have to book and make adjustments to the rest of your tour to suit.

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    All good advice. As AdrewP said campgrounds are not usually a problem for bikes. We don't usually follow any of the "standard" routes so it is sort of pot luck for accomodations. As also mentioned, with a cell phone it usually is not an issue. When we are not sure what is available in the next town we ofen call information and the operator will tell us if there is a motel, and make the connection for us. We only bother to call ahead on weekends (Fri & Sat) or holidays.

  10. #10
    Cycled on all continents JohnyW's Avatar
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    Hi,

    I only book a room on my arrival day (rarely on the departure day). I ever got a bed (when accomodations are general available). Sometimes expessive - sometimes cheap and ugly - but I ever got one (and I arrive normally about 1 hour before sunset)

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    Ok, so I am on the opposite coast planning the same sort of thing but with the problem of there not being many camp sites around. Stealth camping can be problematic, especially with a bright orange tent...

    I called someone at the NYDOT about bike maps (maps on the way) and campsites and he suggested checking the KOA and AAA websites for camping information. I hadn't thought of it as I was only looking at state parks.

    http://www.koa.com/where/ca/index.htm

    http://www.aaaca.com/Searcher/Result...&sp=sp&ct=ACSC

    It's a shame but there doesn't really seem to be a good overall directory/guide to campsites, public and private, or at least not that I can find.

  12. #12
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trueblood View Post
    Ok, so I am on the opposite coast planning the same sort of thing but with the problem of there not being many camp sites around. Stealth camping can be problematic, especially with a bright orange tent...

    I called someone at the NYDOT about bike maps (maps on the way) and campsites and he suggested checking the KOA and AAA websites for camping information. I hadn't thought of it as I was only looking at state parks.

    http://www.koa.com/where/ca/index.htm

    http://www.aaaca.com/Searcher/Result...&sp=sp&ct=ACSC

    It's a shame but there doesn't really seem to be a good overall directory/guide to campsites, public and private, or at least not that I can find.

    I keep suggesting that cycletourists go to their local automobile association.

    In Canada it's the CAA: http://www.caa.ca/home-e.cfm
    In the US it's the AAA: http://www.aaa.com/scripts/WebObject...e.woa/wa/route
    In the part of Australia where I live now it's the RACV: http://www.racv.com.au/wps/wcm/conne...t/Primary/home

    All these associations can provide you with all sorts of travel information. They often have accommodation information, fairly detailed maps, travel insurance, and all sorts of stuff that is useful to a cycletourist.

    You can get a decent amount of campground information from your local automobile association, but the books and brochures they give you will only provide information for approved campgrounds (approved by the automobile association) ... not all the campgrounds that might be available.


    The next place to go for this sort of information are Tourist Information places. Your local Tourist Information place (go to the biggest one in your area) will likely have the campground and accommodation guide for your local state or province, as well as the surrounding ones. So if you're tour is starting from home, and going to a neighboring state or province, you should be able to get the campground and accommodation guide for your entire tour. Those campground guides are generally more comprehensive than the automobile association ones ... they tend to include all the campgrounds in an area, approved or not. But interstingly, I've noticed some overlap between the automobile association information and the tourist information campground guide, but each will list places the other does. It's good to have both.

    While you are visiting the Tourist Information place, also ask for the "attractions and events" guide for the state(s) or province(s) you're visiting. That guide will tell you what sort of things are going on in the towns you might be passing through, and various tourist attractions to drop in and see along your way.

    The downside of the Tourist Information place is that if you're travelling to another country or even several provinces over, they won't likely have much information.


    Maps ... paper maps, of course ... are a good source of campground locations. Most maps will put little green triangles or whatever their chosen symbol is in most places where there is a campground. If you're not used to reading paper maps, I encourage you to go to a store with maps and get some, a variety of them with a variety of detail, and work with them. I find them so much more informative than anything online. One thing you'll notice when you start doing this is that there will be a symbol for a campground or a place where tenting is allowed, and there will be another symbol for a park where camping is not allowed. These two symbols often look similar but they mean two different things.

    Here in Australia the local news agents, most books stores, and many camping goods stores have a wide range of maps from general state maps to specific maps for certain areas of the states ... right down to ordinance and topographical maps. All these places may also have books on the camping, trails, etc. etc. available in the area.


    And many small towns have small municipal campgrounds. These may or may not be included in the automobile association guide, the tourist information guide, or the map. But if you figure you'll be somewhere in the vicinity of a certain town that night, you can look the town up on the internet, or pop into the nearest tourist info place you see along the way and just ask if there's camping in or near a particular town ... or even just roll into a town, stop by the nearest petrol station and ask there. And while you're riding you can just pay attention to the signs ... if there is a campground coming up, there will be a sign for it. You'll figure out what to look for.

  13. #13
    Senior Member neilfein's Avatar
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    If you're touring in an area popular with cyclists and campers, there may be guidebooks you can get. Some are useless, some are a wealth of information.
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    For what it's worth, we've been on the road for over 1,000 days now. We've booked almost none of those nights and never failed to find somewhere to spend the night. People are incredibly receptive to cyclists. Even if we see a campsite that is 'full' we will ask because they almost always can make room somewhere for another tent. I just wouldn't worry about it. Especially if you are self-sufficient (camping gear, cooking stuff on board). If you are willing to free camp, you can avoid the busy campsites altogether.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trueblood View Post
    Ok, so I am on the opposite coast planning the same sort of thing but with the problem of there not being many camp sites around. Stealth camping can be problematic, especially with a bright orange tent...

    I called someone at the NYDOT about bike maps (maps on the way) and campsites and he suggested checking the KOA and AAA websites for camping information. I hadn't thought of it as I was only looking at state parks.

    http://www.koa.com/where/ca/index.htm

    http://www.aaaca.com/Searcher/Result...&sp=sp&ct=ACSC

    It's a shame but there doesn't really seem to be a good overall directory/guide to campsites, public and private, or at least not that I can find.


    Woodall's is the largest directory of campgrounds ( both public and private) in the USA. You can find their guide online, at book stores and most public libraries . Since Woodall's is a subscription service that the campgrounds pay for, not all campgrounds are listed in the Woodall's guide. Many states have a campground owners association that has thier members listed on a website. In NY for instance ; http://www.nycampgrounds.com . Yahoo and Google maps also list campgrounds in thier search results. when planning a tour I probaly use Google and Yahoo map search more than anything else.

  16. #16
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by avatarworf View Post
    For what it's worth, we've been on the road for over 1,000 days now. We've booked almost none of those nights and never failed to find somewhere to spend the night. People are incredibly receptive to cyclists. Even if we see a campsite that is 'full' we will ask because they almost always can make room somewhere for another tent. I just wouldn't worry about it. Especially if you are self-sufficient (camping gear, cooking stuff on board). If you are willing to free camp, you can avoid the busy campsites altogether.
    I agree ... I have only spent somewhere between 150 and 200 nights on the road as a cycletourist over the past few years, but I could probably count on one hand the number of places I've booked before I left on a tour, and there might be a few more that I booked, or called up to inquire about, once I got on the tour.

    There are all kinds of options out there.

    Just as an example ... my cycling partner and I pulled into a busy coastal tourist town in Queensland on a weekend night, and rolled up to the campsite at 9:05 (the closed at 9 pm). We decided to try ringing the bell and see if we could talk them into giving us a little corner somewhere. They weren't impressed, but finally decided to let us stay on a teensy patch of grass next to the check-in area as long as we did not use the toilet block and as long as we were out by dawn. And they were happy to charge us something like $15 each for that courtesy. They told us there weren't any other places in town of any sort with room, and we'd have to take their offer.

    We left, went around the corner to the hostel, and got a room there for about $20 each. The hostel was almost empty and was the cleanest place I've ever set foot in. I had a huge, sparkling clean bathroom all to myself and a comfortable night's sleep in a warm and cozy bed.

    You just never know what might be around the corner.

    Another time we planned to stop in a little town in Tasmania. I didn't see any campground signs on the map, but figured we'd find something there anyway. My cycling partner opted to cycle the bit coming into the town, and I opted to take the bus (I needed a break from the cycling pace we were on). We agreed that whoever got their first would try to find accommodations. He arrived first and headed straight for the pub. I arrived about an hour later and he infomed me that we were staying with a guy who worked in the pub, in the 1800s inn he was renovating. It was a very ... interesting ... night, and a fascinating building. An experience that makes a great touring story later (I can tell you if you're interested) ... and an experience we would have missed if we'd meticulously booked ahead everywhere along our trip.

  17. #17
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    I usually always book the first night,

    Other than that I HATE booking rooms. I would rather just follow my nose. But sometimes,depending where you go, it is necessary to book the whole tour ahead of time.

    I would imagine that camping might be less of an issue of booking in areas where they have a policy of not turning away hiker / bikers. I was considering touring Yellowstone and I figured I would have to camp the whole tour because I really did not want to book cabins a whole year ahead of time.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka View Post
    They weren't impressed, but finally decided to let us stay on a teensy patch of grass next to the check-in area as long as we did not use the toilet block and as long as we were out by dawn. And they were happy to charge us something like $15 each for that courtesy. They told us there weren't any other places in town of any sort with room, and we'd have to take their offer.
    Wtf, $30 for a piece of grass in a caravan park until dawn and you weren't to use the facilities? I can't imagine on what planet that would be reasonable... $0 would be the correct price for that service.

    Steve

  19. #19
    Every lane is a bike lane Chris L's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stevage View Post
    Wtf, $30 for a piece of grass in a caravan park until dawn and you weren't to use the facilities? I can't imagine on what planet that would be reasonable... $0 would be the correct price for that service.
    If I recall correctly, Machka's tour coincided (at least in part) with the summer school holidays. Coastal towns in New South Wales and Queensland have a reputation for trying to screw people over during these times, and this may be just another example of that.
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  20. #20
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    It was December 19th and the place was Caloundra ... it was very busy all through that area. But we were actually quite surprised by the reaction of the campground people there ... everywhere else we went in Australia was fine.

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