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Adventures in the trailer: experiences and tips for bike travel with baby
I spent two months of my parental leave on the road with a bike and tent. I would like to tell you about these 2317 km full of exciting impressions and daily challenges with my boyfriend and our child. How a supposed thing of impossibility has become a travel routine, an intense time and above all a very empowering experience that I can only recommend to all bike travel-enthusiastic parents!
Lisa (33) spent two months of her parental leave on a cycling trip with her baby and partner. 2317 km, 55 nights in a tent – in this article she explains how this can be done and how this time helped her personally to empower.
Briefly about you:
Feminism, cycling and cake make me very happy.
Your way of cycling/ or, which bike do you prefer to ride?
I prefer to ride a road bike, often I use my steel frame city bike, sometimes i ride with aero bars attached to the handlebar. Lately I also ride with a child’s trailer from time to time. I love to ride up mountains (I’m scared of the descents), but since I live in northern Germany, I often have to make do with dikes and headwinds.
What does cycling mean to you? For me, cycling is my daily means of transportation, my favorite sport, my balance and my empowerment.
Bike trip with baby
Bike touring plans as empowerment for becoming a mother
The idea of this bike trip was born before my child was born. While I was heavily pregnant and turning my rounds on the dike on my Dutch bike, I dreamed of long-distance cycling routes and children’s trailers. The idea of being on the road by bike during parental leave motivated me, gave me energy and strength for the new challenge of becoming a mother. I didn’t know much about that yet, cycling on the other hand was always my constant, my balance, my daily companion.
In summer 2020, my son was born. It quickly became clear that my baby preferred to sleep while moving. At some point, the stroller walks turned into bike laps on the dike again, this time with the trailer, an older Thule model, with comfortably slumbering child in the baby hammock. A win-win situation: my baby sleeps well and finally more exercise for myself and a good feeling for the trip planning – after all, we all want to have fun.
Travel preparations: Planning without planning certainty
How do you plan a bike trip with your first child, whom you are just getting to know, and in times of a pandemic on top of that? This article in the blog Wanderspuren as well as this article from Bergzeit have provided good tips for planning our trip. Nevertheless, the preparations were anything but easy. As a basic condition, we had determined that our baby should be old enough to ride stably in the baby hammock in the trailer. This is not an easy criterion, as manufacturers, midwives and other parents have very different opinions about this. In the end, at least half a year seemed to be a suitable rough guideline to us. At the same time, we considered it important to have plenty of warm weather for camping and being outdoors. Also, the pandemic had postponed the start of the trip, so we started when our son was 9 months old. That was in June 2021.
Route planning and preparation tours
It soon was clear: less is more and flat is the new altitude. Well-built long-distance bike paths and an equally good camping infrastructure are recommended, because wild camping seemed too challenging for us. We decided to go to France – I speak the language, which gave me additional security for being on the road with a baby. In addition, I have spent many racing bike summers on the passes of the Pyrenees and Alps.
We soon had a rough travel route with a starting point and a flexible destination, and we always had the option of changing everything if it didn’t work out. For the cycling practice we made quite successfully 2 to 3 longer test tours. Actually, trial camping was also on our to-do list, but then was canceled due to the lack of motivation for spending the first night in the tent in the wet and cold northern German spring. Will be fine, I thought to myself.
Packing for a bike trip with baby
So we got the touring bikes ready and loaded the panniers. Packing is always a challenge for me – especially with a baby. It felt like way too much and way too little at the same time. In the end, my two front bags were full of baby clothes according to the motto: Rather one more and one size bigger, the child grows so fast. And definitely some was too much, but a few things have turned out to be so good and so indispensable that I have fully accepted the extra weight.
Being on the road: resting instead of racing
So we start on a June morning heavily packed and with much anticipation and excitement.The first stage was mainly by train. A 6h train ride to Freiburg was on the agenda so that we could start a little further south. Bicycle transport on long-distance trains is in principle a great thing, but somehow not yet quite designed for travel cyclists and corresponding luggage – so we have caused a mention in the delay alarm at the first change with our 2 bicycles, the trailer, the 10 panniers (which of course must be dismantled) and the baby in the carrier. But it did not matter, we made it and fortunately there were always helping hands from other bike travelers!
And then finally the first day in the saddle with bright sunshine and surprisingly hilly terrain in the vineyards. The tent setup also works without prior testing and when it starts to rain on the first evening, my feeling is confirmed with the decision to take the big tent, to have done everything right and also our child sleeps unexpectedly well and even almost through.
Nevertheless, the first 10 days are quite exhausting, it rains a lot and wet meadows we have somehow not thought of in the planning. No wonder that our crawling baby grumbles and we first have to find a full-body rain suit.
From initial insecurities to bike travel routine
Is the little one okay? Will we make it to the next campsite? And why does all the assembly and disassembly take the whole day? Many questions and uncertainties characterize the first stages through Switzerland, accompanied by rain clouds, which nevertheless repeatedly reveal breathtaking views of the mountain panorama. However, we stay on the flat and follow the perfectly signposted riverside cycle paths. At some point, the effort and excitement turns into a little routine – a rhythm, indicated mainly by the needs of our baby, but which also gives us grown-ups a good structure and, above all, more ease and travel feeling.
Our daily routine during the trip
Our plan seems to be working well and the motto is to cycle while the child is asleep. In practice, that’s about one to two hours in the morning and a similar amount in the afternoon. Thus, on the flat, a 50 km daily stage quickly turned out to be feasible. The days we ride start with taking down the tent and packing bags. I pack tent poles, the baby unpacks them again. Packing up the tent quickly together with my partner? No chance – someone has crawled to the bikes and wants to play with the chain. Even after optimized handles and teamwork we still needed almost three hours every morning. Sounds like a long time at first, but appropriately enough, our little one was already tired for his first nap in the cozy trailer right at the start.
Cycling when the baby is asleep also means sometimes passing beautiful places, if you want to reach the intended destination and also want to sit on the bike a bit. So we let pass some sights, cafes or viewpoints with a small drop of bitterness, the joy of cycling often outweighs. (By the way, this only made us frustrated, where we were not far from infamous passes, but even without a trailer, this would not have been an option for me with the heavy touring bike 🙂 )
Challenges: Baby jars instead of gels
In addition, there was still the challenge of each stage: to find a place for a very long lunch break that meets the needs of babies: not too sunny, not too wet, and suitable for crawling and climbing. Playgrounds, parks and picnic areas quickly turned out to be appropriate and easy-to-find spots. Then the afternoon stretch and everything was again unpacked and set up, discovered, played, fed, put to bed, and then spend the evening hours with the camping stove menu and route planning for the next day. Mostly we rode for about three days at a time and then took a break for one, rarely two days, no setting up and dismantling, but doing and exploring something else for a change and, above all, replenishing the supplies.
Unterwegs Essen für das Baby kaufen
Whereas on my previous tours every village store, no matter how small, usually provided me with everything I needed, the baby supply has influenced our route planning quite a bit. Jars, baby food and milk powder are unfortunately not available in every provincial store, so the large supermarkets must be integrated into the daily stages. At no time should there be a lack of baby food and diapers, so we once paid 20€ for a small package of diapers in Switzerland.
At the beginning of the trip, I still breastfed at nights, but my son then decided quite quickly that he would rather sleep through the night. In principle, I think breastfeeding is quite practical on bike trips, especially when the baby is still small. However, special attention must be paid to good and sufficient food intake, after all, one moves the whole day. But even with small jars & Co we got our little one well fed- At times we even had to plan an extra baguette for him for the joint midday snack. So riding a trailer also makes you hungry.
Our travel route
We rode 2317 km in 2 months, spent a total of 137 hours in the saddle and trailer and slept 55 nights in the tent (twice there was an indoor stay with friends). Our route first led us from Freiburg to Basel in Switzerland. From there along the Mittelland route with a short detour into the Jura foothills to Geneva. Then we followed the Rhone cycle path to Provence. Due to Provencal heat and overpriced Mediterranean campsites, we covered a stretch in the regional train to then ride on the "Route de deux mer" from the Mediterranean towards the Atlantic. However, the first 200 km of this long-distance cycle route are not yet fully developed and not trailer-compatible at all. That meant some days with exhausting search for alternative routes. Much better and suitable for families the way becomes afterwards at the "Canal du midi". Since we still had time and desire for something other than river cycle paths, we took a detour through the Basque country and cycled from Spain up the Atlantic to the north. There is the "Vélodyssée", a well-developed long-distance cycle path, partly incredibly beautiful through the pine forests along the beach. There we met more touring cyclists with children for the first time. At the end we came to Bordeaux, because there is one of the very few French long-distance train connections with bicycle transportation options.
What I brought from the trip: Empowerment for everyday (mom) life
For me, two months of being outside and biking a lot is one of the big highlights of the trip, especially after the long Corona winter. I was just so impressed that our child made the tent and the trailer his temporary home and that we were able to discover and experience things together. A different rhythm then simply opens other doors – especially also many nice encounters along the way. With the baby and the bike, we caught more attention, were often approached and came into contact more and differently than on previous bike tours.
Nevertheless, a bike trip with a baby is a lot of organization and a lot of (care) work, which I have underestimated at one point or another. However, in the stressful moments we often reminded ourselves that our everyday life at home is actually just as much work, if not even more. So it doesn’t have to be long distances, it doesn’t need a big budget or expensive equipment, maybe just a motivating weather forecast and a dose of adventure to try a bike ride with a baby. Cycling and the experience of trying such a trip has been extremely empowering for me. In addition to a good body feeling through cycling and the sun, I take especially courage and self-confidence for new situations into the (mom) everyday life and of course a lot of anticipation for future bike travel projects with my child.
In addition to our passion for cycling, the blog velomerica by our friends, inspired us for this and also for future bike trips with children. Our friends did a three-year bike trip with their children.
Text: Lisa Sendzik
Proofreading: Sandra Schuberth
Edit & Layout: Sandra Schuberth
Photos: private by Lisa Sendzik