Guesthouses, Hostels, Inns etc.
If you prefer to stay in guesthouses or hotels, you need to make sure there are conveniently located options at reasonable intervals along your route. Some booking sites I have used in the past are hostelbookers.com and hostelworld.com. Both sites provide reviews and booking facilities for all types of accommodation, from $2 a night dorm beds to $500 a night hotel rooms. The best thing is, these sites list all their accommodation by town, so even if your first choice is unavailable you get a list of other options close by.
You should book your accommodation in advance, even if it is only by one day. Arriving in a town, only to find that the guesthouse is full because of a wedding, then having to schlep all over the place to find somewhere to sleep, is not what you need at the end of a long day of cycling. Booking in advance will also allow you to find out if they have secure storage for your bicycle.
Given the nature of bicycle touring, carrying some sort of emergency shelter is advisable. There are a number of options, the smallest of which is the emergency blanket. Usually silver, to reflect your body heat, an emergency blanket packs down to the size of a matchbox. An emergency blanket is a minimalist option for shelter in an emergency, you should also consider other options like a pitch-able tent fly, a bivvy, or a camping hammock.
If you prefer to camp out, you need to consider if camping going to be safe and secure along your route. A really good way to ruin an otherwise brilliant trip would be to have your gear stolen by thieves, or worse, to come into contact with someone whose aim is to hurt you. If camping along your route poses an acceptable level of risk, you will need some camping gear: a shelter, comfortable sleeping arrangements, and cooking equipment. You will also need to think about security, just in case something happens.
Your choices in this area are, broadly, a tent, a hammock, or a bivvy. With any of these options, you need to consider the climate and environment where you will be travelling. Consider the following questions:
- What temperatures will we be experiencing, both during the day and overnight?
- Are insects going to be an issue? Particularly important in malarial areas.
- How much rainfall can we expect? Tropical areas experience seasonal monsoons, you probably don’t want to be camping when the monsoon hits.
Tent – affords you more privacy than a hammock or a bivvy. A tent can also accommodate more people, as hammocks and bivvies are generally designed for one person. A tent should be lightweight and easy to erect. A neutral or natural coloured fly will draw less attention to your campsite. A tent with a vestibule gives you extra undercover storage area for your kit. A fly that can be erected by itself as a temporary shelter is a bonus.
Hammock – these are an interesting option if you are a solo traveller (my research yielded only one hammock capable of accommodating two people). They pack down to practically nothing, and are usually extremely lightweight. Aside from the dimensions, a hammock has the advantage of keeping you above ground dwelling fauna (snakes, and other creepy crawlies). There are a few recognized problems with camping hammocks; not all of them provide a horizontal sleeping surface, and there are issues with cold patches underneath you while sleeping (when a sleeping bag is compressed its insulation capability is reduced). The other drawback with hammocks is that you need something to attach them to, which could be a problem in some areas (think grasslands or the desert).
Bivvy – minimalist camping at it’s best. A bivvy is essentially a bag that you put your sleeping mat and bag in. They come in various designs, some have netting to prevent insect encroachment, others have a pole to create an air space above your head. Using a bivvy places you directly on the ground, which means you are vulnerable to run-off from rain and the above mentioned creepy-crawlies.
Given that a cycling tour involves the expenditure of a lot of energy during the day, it is important to get effective rest at night. Key to a good night’s sleep is overall comfort, and a feeling of security. Choose your camping equipment with these factors in mind.
Sleeping Bags – your sleeping bag needs to have the correct rating for the temperatures you will experience on your trip. Too warm or too cold and you won’t be comfortable. Given the grimy nature of cycling, your sleeping bag should be capable of being machine washed – synthetic materials are better than down in this regard. Invest in a sleeping bag liner, it is easier to wash than an entire sleeping bag and periodically you’ll get that fresh-sheet sensation that you probably miss from home. Size and weight will also be considerations, as you will need to fit everything into the limited storage capacity of your panniers.
Sleeping Mat – these come in various shapes and sizes. The cheapest alternative is the insulating foam kind – simply a roll of thick insulating foam, they are often blue in colour. A blow-up mattress, or Li-Low as they are referred to in Australia, is another option. Li-Low’s are prone to leaks and are often constructed from thicker rubber which can be quite heavy. Self inflating sleeping mats (Thermarest® is one brand) are more expensive, but they are lighter than a Li-Low and more comfortable than a roll of insulating foam. They are constructed from modern materials and include things like tough nylon outers that are resistant to abrasion, that said they are also prone leaks after extensive use, but are easily repaired with a patch.
If you are camping, chances are you will be cooking for yourself. You will need some basic equipment to do this safely and effectively. The most basic requirements for camp cooking are:
- Cooking pot
- Plate/bowl/cup to eat from (at a stretch you could eat from the cooking pot)
- Cutlery/spork to eat with
- Knife for chopping
- Hygienic chopping surface – the roll-up chopping mats are great for this, check the kitchen supply area of your local department store.
- Dish-washing gear – food hygiene is really important when you are travelling, and dirty pots in your panniers is just begging for creepy-crawly incursion.
*Fires – in a lot of areas, you are not allowed to start a fire for cooking (this is particularly the case in Australia during bushfire season). Cooking fires scar the ground for months after you have left, and create space for weeds to take over. Cooking over a fire also leaves you with black and sooty cooking gear which can be a hassle to pack. A cooking fire may also attract unwanted attention.
Most thieves are opportunistic, they don’t want to have to work too hard for their ill-gotten gains. Make sure you make things difficult for them:
- Buy yourself a big ugly bike lock and cable, and make sure you lock your bike to something immovable at night. Attaching a simple bell to your bike at night when camping could give you enough warning that someone is messing with your gear.
- Obviously you shouldn’t leave anything valuable lying around your campsite.
- Having a personal alarm or something that makes a hell of a racket (like a referee’s whistle) could help to scare away anyone who comes into your camp at night.
- Don’t be a hero, if they are willing to hurt you for something as trivial as material possessions, just hand it over. Your life and safety are worth more than even your treasured touring bike.
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