I’ve been on several long bike trips and twice the airlines have lost my bag. The first time Delta left my bag at RDU and, most recently, American left my bag in Philadelphia. I’ve had to learn the hard way how to be better prepared. Here are some lessons learned:
- Departure (Europe) – You can try to save money and arrive the day before you start cycling. However, I recommend you arrive two days prior. It gives you more time to get acclimated, especially if you’re going to be at a high altitude.
- Departure (US) – I also recommend arriving two days early in case the airlines lose your bag or your flight gets delayed. It took 18 hours for American to deliver my bag. If I had arrived the day before, I may have missed Day 1 of the trip.
- Pack Your Bags – When I traveled for business, I learned to pack 5 days’ worth of clothes in one carry-on. However, it is almost impossible (unless you’re Tim & Leslie) to do that on a 7 to 10-day trip. Therefore, you need one carry-on and one checked bag.
- Carry-on Bag Part 1 – Pack everything you need for cycling in your carry-on. This means shoes, pedals, socks, kit, gloves, helmet, bike computer, sunglasses, and your saddle. I was lucky to find bike shoes in France because most bike shops are closed on Sundays and Mondays.
- Carry-on Bag Part 2 – Pack extra clothes. When I got to France, another cyclist told me that they lost her bag and it took 3 days to get them. I said, “No way. My bag will be on the next plane!” Guess what? It took 3 days. I had an extra day of clothes, but not three.
- Checked Bag – Pack your kit for each day in a 2-gallon Ziplock bag. It makes it easy to just grab a bag, knowing that you have everything, including socks. Also, if you don’t have time to wash them, you can zip up your kit and not stink up the rest of your bag.
- Cycling Gear (Cold) – Plan for cold weather if cycling in the mountains. Pack a jacket, vest, arm warmers, leg warmers, and warm gloves. The mountain peaks in Europe and the US can be cold even in the summer. Descending may be chilly, if not downright cold.
- Cycling Gear (Wet) – In addition to a rain jacket, pack an extra pair of shoes. If your shoes get soaked from being in the rain (or from sweating), they won’t be dry the next day. Also, pack a casquette (cap) to help keep the rain out of your eyes.
- Bike – I’ve always used the bike provided by the travel company. However, if you’re bringing your bike, buy or borrow a hard bike case. A friend had a surfboard in a custom soft cushioned bag get dented on a flight back from Hawaii.
- Lost bag – Talk to someone in person. The Air France customer service rep had me write down where I was going to be each day. She was the one who ultimately got me my bag, three days later, in my third hotel. Delta couldn’t even locate my bag.
- Keep your receipts – If the airline loses your bag, keep your receipts and submit a claim to the airline. Delta paid for my shoes, pedals, and cab fare.
- Don’t fly with me – Seriously, everyone in my company knew not to be on the same plane as me. Something crazy will happen. I could write a book about it. However, they would probably list it as fiction, because most events don’t seem credible.
If you do all the above, you’ll be fine. The best part about having a Plan B is that you have a Plan B.
Good luck with your travels.