Going further afield for the same price as staying at home...
With a bit of planning and preparation, you’ll be amazed at where you can go cycling just for the day. You simply need to get up early, book your flight tickets in advance and keep to a tight itinerary the moment that you exit the plane.
Here is my step-by-step guide about how to book and complete an international cycling day trip by plane.
These photos were taken on an April 2018 cycling day trip to Lake Geneva with Scott. Return flights cost £42 return with easyJet from Manchester Airport.
Find a destination...
I have completed successful cycling day trips by plane to Dublin, Alicante and Geneva from Manchester Airport in recent years. There are only a few cost-effective routes available from regional UK airports, but from London and the South East, there are many European airports that are possible to visit for the day especially from Stansted.
You just need to look for a flight with an early departure time and a return preferably after 1830 from your arrival airport. You can also fly back from another airport if this is an option too. E.g. Leave from Manchester and arrive back into Liverpool.
I always try to never pay more than £25 each way for the flight and try to think of what the cost would be for a comparable UK day trip location to gauge value. e.g. Why go to Lake Windermere when you can go to Lake Geneva for the same price?
The cost for an off-peak return train ticket to London from Manchester is £84.50 as a benchmark.
It's all about timing...
Get up early. Weekend flights leave first thing in the morning so factor in getting to the train station to catch an early train to the airport. The optimum flight departure time is around 0700 which means getting to the airport around 0545.
This will give you enough time to comfortably pass through the airport security check and self-check-in. Carry as little as possible and ideally only bring what you are going to use. You might have to carry everything around with you all day, so make sure you are comfortable and can still be active whilst wearing a backpack.
The maximum flight time should be around 2 hours to get the most out of the day. Spain and the Balearic Islands fall just outside this travel time but are still doable. Any longer and too much of the day will be taken up with being on an aircraft.
The clocks go forward an hour in most European countries and that also means losing an hour out of the day. It’s also important to find an airport with good city centre to airport connections.
I also advise doing international day trips when you do not have to work the next day. I’ve tried going into work the following day and find myself getting too tired at my desk. International cycling day trips should be fun and not full-on endurance challenges that take a few days of recovery!
It's all about preparation...
Prepare a detailed itinerary in advance. Research a cycle route, take print outs, download offline maps to store on your phone and have a place or attraction to visit in mind.
Without a plan or itinerary, too much time is wasted mooching and meandering especially if on the bike. In reality, you only have 6 hours to see and do as much as possible. Every minute counts and you are on a countdown to the plane taking off again.
I always try and book a bike in advance. If the weather is nice, some bike hire locations can be busy. A prior reservation will save time and allow you to jump the queue especially as hiring a bike does involve some time-consuming admin.
Make sure you have the required ID and refundable deposit amount if applicable. It’s always worth paying a bit extra and adding on rental insurance too.
I don’t like using public bike hire schemes abroad because of foreign credit card authorisations and generally having to sign up to a scheme.
If you are planning to ride outside of the city limits and into the surrounding region, then only venture about 90 minutes away from the airport and make sure you have a back-up plan in case of a puncture or mechanical.
Ideally find a cycle route that has a nearby train line in case you need to get back to the city centre quickly or return the bike to the rental shop at a set time.
It’s always advisable to wear a helmet when cycling abroad. The cycle tour often starts in a city that is usually quite busy and in an unfamiliar location. There is more risk when riding on different roads especially if the laws, signs and traffic direction are different from home.
I’ve found that clipping my helmet onto my day bag when boarding an aircraft isn’t a problem. There is also no guarantee that the local bike hire shop will offer helmets if you go to a country without a helmet-wearing culture e.g. Holland and Germany. Take your own to be on the safe side.
Finding someone to go with...
Doing an international day trip by plane will require you possibly having to do the trip solo or with someone who appreciates what you are trying to get out of the day. My friend Scott is a great person to go with because we have similar interests and can ride long distances on the bike fairly quickly.
We also do not like last-minute panics and like to keep to a tight schedule as well.
If you make your aims clear when you book the flights together, then the day should run smoother. It’s also important that your co-traveller does not mind really early starts or late finishes. There is a lot to do in a day as well as looking after yourself, your travel documents and each other.
Food and drinks...
The key is not to sit down at a restaurant to sample the local cuisine or get too hung up on food. This is a time-waster and literally ‘eats’ into the day. Go to the supermarket, buy some daily essentials and find a bench with a nice viewpoint. You can always eat out back at home.
I’ve also been caught out at the hottest time of the day in the past and found myself in the middle of the French countryside without a nearby shop or café to buy a drink for miles.
Make sure you stock up on drinks before leaving a town or city especially if in a more rural region.
There is never any harm in keeping an ‘emergency’ Snickers or cereal bar with you too. The day is long and you have potentially have been up and active without much food or drink since dawn.
Avoid last-minute panic...
Unlike going on a domestic train, you cannot always jump on the next one back home. You are hundreds of miles away from home and booked onto a specific flight leaving with or without you in only a few hours time. If you miss your mandatory check-in time, your international cycling day trip could become seriously expensive.
I advise leaving at least 90 minutes between taking the bike back to the rental location and heading back to the airport.
There should be enough time left in your plan to have a quick look around the city centre on foot, grab something to eat, buy some souvenirs or chill out in a nice spot. At this point, check the flight status of your flight on the relevant app and start heading back to the airport.
The important bit. Getting home...
It’s important to check the airport shuttle times from the city centre before doing anything in the morning. In larger cities, this is generally not a problem as there are frequent trains or buses to international airports such as Geneva. A 30-minute wait in a small, provincial city for a bus will stress you out and potentially cause problems later on at the airport.
Keep all of your documents with you in an easy to access place and get ready for the security check. Once through, stay focused as you are likely to be tired at this point.
Find the appropriate gate and rest there until boarding commences. Upon arrival at your ‘home’ airport, try to get to passport control as quickly as possible.
Manchester Airport is notorious for long border delays and this could mean waiting a long time for another late-night train back to the city centre.
Costs will rapidly rise if you need to get a taxi back home, so use your phone to find out the last train or bus times from the airport prior to take-off.
Hopefully, all of the above has worked out and you are back in your own bed before midnight.
I guarantee that when you wake up the next morning, you’ll wonder if you really flew abroad, completed a cycle tour in a different country and returned home in a single day. I know that I do. Every single time!