Cycling the GDMBR in the USA

How to… plan a route

by Bicycle Junkies

There is no chance at all to see everything.. ever! There, I’ve said it. It doesn’t matter if you plan a long distance bicycle tour or a three week holiday, you have to make choices. Since we get a lot of emails with questions about planning routes, we’ve decided to share how we plan our routes; short or long.

Don’t plan too much!

Yep, I’m sorry to be direct, but traveling the world by bicycle is a lifestyle of surprises, adventure, changes and your ability to adapt to unexpected situations. Sure, you can plan your whole route, from day to day, knowing exactly where you will be on a certain day, but that leaves absolutely no room for the unanticipated. Any obstacle will cause stress (because ‘you are not gonna make it’) and that’s not what you want, right? So, stop staring at Google Streetview, don’t follow the GPS route you planned so carefully from behind your computer and live from day to day. Enjoy the moment, follow the road that looks nice and pick up on tips from other cyclists or locals.

Is there absolutely nothing we plan? No, we do plan a little every now and then, mostly because of the lack of water and food sources. But the planning of these routes happen on the go. For example we arrived in San Pedro de Atacama and wanted to cycle the Laguna Route in Bolivia. There are not a lot of water and food sources along the way and the whole trip from San Pedro to Uyuni would take up something between 8 to 12 days (more or less). In this case we kind of knew our day to day route, but even then we changed our plans a couple of times!

our way of route planning

Let’s start from the beginning. You have a huge world map hanging somewhere and by throwing a dart you have picked your next destination. With the help of internet or friends you figured out the best time to visit this country and you have taken time off and booked a flight. And now the luxury problem arrises: where to ride your bike?
Since I have a map fetish, I buy a fairly detailed map but not too detailed! I don’t want to cary 10 maps for a tiny part of the world. Some people prefer to buy a map in the country itself as soon as they arrive, works fine too. Especially in countries with a different writing such as China, a western map is kind of useless.

With the map on the table we’d like to point out interesting routes and destinations, but we leave the ‘way to reach’ these points of interest to chance. And we expect not to see all of them, sometimes they are too far apart, you change your mind or you get sick.
There’s tons of research you can do on the internet, if you like. Many cyclists blog about their adventures, share their routes and post photos. We’d like to read some of these blogs just to get inspired.

Mind you: you can plan as much as you like, it always is different when you actually are there. The roads are rougher than you’d expected, that pass is too steep or you have a massive headwind. Maybe you meet great people on the way, you fall in love with an amazing mountain scene and decide to explore a bit more or you feel so great roaming around the streets of a pictoresque village. But, oh no, you have planned each day!!! And your GPS tells you to turn left even though right looks so much more appealing!! Let it go…

Even when we cycled the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (a mapped out route), we kept changing our plans. Sometimes you come across such an amazing place to camp; why not stop early and enjoy the view? I admit I like to follow tracks sometimes, such as the GDMBR or Peru’s Great Divide, but I blame my map fetish… 😉

That’s it? Yup, that’s about it! You get off that plane, jump on your bike and follow your heart. Long distance, short distance, it doesn’t matter. The only difference with a long distance tour is you might have to change your route more often to be able to return in time. But in most cases, this is how we plan our route for each cycling adventure.

Cycling South West Bolivia

Cycling South West Bolivi

Some practical tips

First of all look for diversion in your route. Not just long stretches or just mountain passes, different scenery keeps (y)our energy level and enthusiasm higher. Second of all, try to avoid the boring (and probably more dangerous) highways. It’s just no fun riding the shoulder while traffic speeds by. Most of the time bicycle travel is more about the ride itself than the highlights in between, so make sure you enjoy the ride and don’t be fixated on those points of interest.
Remember that it’s not about the distance you ride, that’s a different way of bicycle touring; it’s not a race! Take your time to absorb your surroundings. You can read as many blogs as you like, pre-cycle the whole route on Google Streetview, remember the whole map by heart and know every altitude profile.., it never is the the same as actually being there!

Any questions? Or remarks? Please leave a reply below!


You may also like


Peter de Visser January 3, 2016 - 19:52

Als “controlefreak” met een zwak voor kaarten, voorpret en google/maps/streetview bevestig je met het bovenstaande weer wat
Annelies en ik altijd ervaren: we plannen, maar per uur/dag kan die planning weer anders zijn. Door het weer, de wind, “onze pet”, whatever,wordt het anders.
Verder ben ik weer stinkend jaloers op jouw perfecte Engels.

Groet, Peter de Visser

Martin January 4, 2016 - 01:39

Great with some how to do it posts… Well we all have different ways of planning and some countries has certain visa constraints. We really enjoy the freedom on the road and there by also knowing how far there is to the next pit stop. This gives us the freedom to stop and enjoy where we are as there is no stress on the km. We did a write up on how we navigate

Mark Carrington January 4, 2016 - 03:39

We always plan our routes taking wind direction into account. Into the wind we do shorter days

Bicycle Junkies January 4, 2016 - 10:47

Dankjewel Peter voor de complimenten! En plannen zijn er om gewijzigd te worden, toch? 😉

Bicycle Junkies January 4, 2016 - 10:49

Mark, that’s a good addition to the blog post. Wind can make you plan your route in a certain direction. Thanks for your comment!

Lena September 8, 2017 - 12:30

Dit klinkt heel logisch, dank voor de tips! Wel vroeg ik me af (ik ben toch van het gemak….): zijn er van jullie routes ook gps tracks? Ik zag ze niet op de website… En hoe vinden jullie die kleine paadjes die ik soms op de video zag (Peru)? Ga zelf naar Peru-Colombia-Ecuador, dus daar gaat specifiek mijn interesse naar uit.

Bicycle Junkies September 13, 2017 - 12:37

Hi Lena, we hadden wel een GPS bij ons, maar we hebben de routes niet bewaard. We gebruikten ‘m echt alleen om te navigeren.
Die kleine paadjes hebben we gevonden door routes van oa Andes by Bike of verhalen van andere fietsers op het net. De GPS hielp wel, maar klopte soms niet echt. Dan zit je dus echt ineens op een heel klein paadje! 😉 Heel veel plezier daar!


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.