Cycle Touring with Kids is a blast. It’s fun, it’s challenging, and it changes your perspective on family travel.
If you’ve been following this blog a while, you know we’ve recently come back from a 9-month RV adventure with our three kids, now ages 9, 7, and 5. But this wasn’t our first family adventure. When the kids were 6, 4, and 2, we took off for a 567-kilometer cycle adventure from Kingston, Ontario, to London, Ontario, where my parents and brother & family live.
We (perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not) prepared very little for that trip. We decided we wanted to go on an adventure, we ensured we had the essentials, and we left. We hadn’t done much conditioning, and though I had run a few triathlons in my day, I hadn’t hopped on a bike for more than a 20-minute ride for a good two years prior to heading out on our cycling adventure.
It all worked out.
If you’re thinking of cycle touring with kids, we don’t necessarily recommend doing a tonne more planning than we did, but you should do a little planning. Here are the essential steps if you’re planning on cycle touring with kids.
1. To prepare for cycle touring with kids, book some time off.
If you’re not self-employed, have a discussion with your supervisor about when you can take some time off and for how long. Have a conversation about the best time to take your vacation (or sabbatical, depending on how long you’re planning on cycling for). If you live in the Northern Hemisphere and don’t plan on putting your bikes on a plane, ask for time off in the late spring, summer, or early fall, depending on the weather in your particular cycling route.
If you’re self-employed, you can’t just drop everything and hop on bikes; however, you can get pretty close if you do some planning ahead of time. Contact clients and let them know you’ll be taking time off (let them know your exact dates), and give them a deadline to get work to you. Let them know you won’t be taking any work after that date, and be sure you stick to your guns on that. Get that “out of office” notice on your email automation as soon as you’ve decided your dates.
2. Decide on your route for cycle touring with kids
If you’re a newbie like we were, it’s probably best to choose a route that’s not too hilly. The route from Kingston, ON to London, ON has a few hills, but it’s mostly flat, which helped us out as we were carrying a lot of weight (more on this in a bit).
3. Gather your equipment.
The first thing to remember is that you need a lot less than you think you do when travelling with young kids. Having said that, it’s nice to be somewhat comfortable on a big adventure. So we did carry more weight than most on our cycle tour.
Whereas most experienced cycle tourists would laugh at the amount of weight we were carrying, I don’t regret pulling a trailer full of our camping gear instead of packing the gear directly on the bikes. It made things way easier since we had three kids with us. Whenever we needed anything, it was easy to access it in the trailer. It also made the bikes easier to balance and ride. If I go cycle touring on my own some day (which I hope to), I’ll still pull a trailer with my camping gear and computer, as I’ll be working on the road, as always.
So the first step in gathering gear is deciding what you’d rather do: pack gear on bikes or pull a trailer. If you want to do the latter and don’t yet own a trailer, you’ll need to buy yourself one. We had an early model Chariot (now Thule) and swear by the workmanship of their equipment. We also own Thule bike racks. Their stuff is solid.
You’ll also need a way to sleep and eat: a tent, a sleeping bag for each person, plates, cups, and cutlery. A camping stove is optional, in my opinion. You can survive on sandwiches and salad pretty well if you need to.
Another optional that’s not so optional for people like me (who have back issues) is some kind of mattress to put your sleeping bag on. We carried deflated air mattresses and just inflated them each night. Another essential is an emergency kit, including a first aid kit, but also a whistle for each person in case anyone gets lost. We also highly recommend Road IDs with an emergency contact number engraved on it for all family members.
Another important thing to pack is a small repair kit for your bike(s): a spare tire, bike pump, and some patches.
5. Learn some basic camping if you don’t already know it.
Some pretty important things to learn are how to store food to avoid attracting animals and teaching kids about what to do if they get lost in the woods. Before heading out on an adventure with kiddos, be sure they know basic safety for adventuring: always telling someone where you’re going, using a map and/or compass, and knowing what to do if they get lost. Remember your code word or phase! If you have the opportunity to take a camping safety course with your kids, all the better.
6. Become part of a travel community
Being part of a travel community isn’t just about cutting travel costs (though that’s a big plus). Being part of a travel community allows you to stay with locals and really get to know how people live in the places you visit.
It also helps you make a tonne of friends and opens up your life to new and often pretty special experiences. We are members of Couchsurfing and Warm Showers, and we highly recommend becoming part of these travel communities before you head out on the road.
7. Plan your schedule (but don’t plan too much if you can help it)
Once you’ve gathered all your equipment, decided on a route, and secured time off, be sure to plan a little bit so you have a place to stay for the next few days. However, I don’t recommend over-planning, as a lot can change during a self-propelled trip. You want to leave some room for last-minute change of plans, like getting too tired and deciding to stay an extra night somewhere.
Where will you go on your next adventure?