In 2007 I traveled with my bike to Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. I flew into Frankfurt, Germany, cycled up the Rhine River, and then cut east toward Berlin. From there I traveled into Poland, south to Prague, and then west again back to Frankfurt. Along the way, I stayed with a few strangers from the WarmShowers.org website and lived with a German family near the city of Hannover.
While on this trip, I both packed and acquired various sheets of paper, which I would like to share with you now. I hope that by sharing this information with you it will help you better understand what paperwork you should bring with you on your own travels… and it might give you some ideas for paperwork to pack and/or save that you might not have otherwise have considered.
So, without further adieu, here is a complete list of the paperwork I brought with me and acquired along the way as I traveled with my bike through Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic in the summer of 2007.
The first step in any long-distance cycling adventure is getting to your starting point. For me, my starting point was Frankfurt, Germany/ I purchased a round-trip ticket from US Airways and if I remember correctly, the price of the airfare (including free shipping for my bike) was just $650 USD. Before I left home, however, I printed out my flight information so I would have it with me at the airport as I flew from Salt Lake City, Utah to Phoenix, Arizona to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and finally to Frankfurt, Germany. I would take this same route on the trip back home.
Bicycle Baggage Policy Printout
Before I arrived at the airport, I also printed out the US Airways bicycle baggage policy off of their website. This way, I could show the policy to the person checking me in at the counter in the event that there were any problems. This is a huge tip for you if you plan to fly with your bicycle! If the airline you are flying with says they will fly your bike for free on their website, but you show up at the airport and they tell you something different, there isn’t much you can do. But if you show up with a copy of the baggage policy printed off the website on the same day that you ordered your ticket, and you are willing to fight with the airline’s management a bit, you can usually get your bike to fly for free. But having this printout from the website is a must! Without it you stand very little chance of flying with your bike for free.
For this particular trip through Europe I created a detailed itinerary of the distanced I planned to travel each day and the names of the places I planned to spend each night. In the end, however, I only followed the first couple weeks of this itinerary and then threw it out completely as I went off on a path unlike anything I had previously planned on doing. You can read more about creating an itinerary for your travels in this article.
I also created a sheet that contained the contact information for the various individuals, hotels and campgrounds I planned to stay at along the way. This way I could contact these people/businesses if I got lost, or show the address to people on the streets who might then be able to point me in the right direction.
In addition to the nightly accommodation information shown above, I also packed a list of contact information for my friends and family back home. A modern bicycle traveler might store this information in a cellular phone, laptop computer, or other such device, but on this trip, I simply printed out a list of all my contacts and had that information within quick reach for phone calls, emails and postcards that I wanted to send back home.
Important Work Information
Not everyone traveling by bike is going to be working at the same time, but it something I do quite often. Because I need to work while I am traveling, I also packed a sheet of paper containing my client’s contact information and other important notes that I would need in order to conduct my work while traveling with my bike. (This information has been blurred below to protect my clients’ privacy.)
Email Correspondence Printouts
Before leaving for Europe I contacted a number of people and asked if I might be able to stay with them for a night or two. The Warm Showers list is a great place to find people looking to host a traveling cyclist. I contacted a few people from the list before I left home and they emailed me back and forth prior to my arrival in the country. In order to make sure I showed up at the right address and that I remembered our email conversations (many of which had taken place months prior to my arrival in Europe) I printed out our email conversations so I could read them a night or two before I arrived at each individual’s home. This way I was able to refresh my memory in regards to who these people were, thus giving me something to talk about from the first minute I arrived at their home.
One of the most used pieces of paper on my trip was a map that I had created that showed the route I planned to take and the locations of each city where I planned to spend a night. I used this map both to remind myself of where I was going, and to show people I met along the way where I intended to travel. Because I was in countries where many of the people do not speak English, this map was a nice and easy way to communicate with people even though I did not speak their language.
Boarding Passes & Claim Tickets
Below are my boarding passes for two of my flights with US Airways. Attached to the ticket on the right are my two baggage claim tickets – one for my bicycle and the other for the cardboard box containing my four red bicycle panniers.
I did quite a bit of train travel while I was in Germany and the Czech Republic. You can see some of my tickets in the photograph below. I found the trains in Germany to be incredibly easy to navigate, on time and quite clean!
Welcome To Germany Sign
During the middle of my trip I stayed with a family about an hour outside the city of Hannover, Germany in the city of Helmstedt. Their daughter, Natalie, has stayed several times with my parents in California, so they wanted to reciprocate the favor by hosting me in their home. When I showed up at their house, I was greeted my a home-made sign that Natalie had strung up for me over the doorway . “Welcome To Germany Darren” is what the sign read.
Notes From Natalie
While staying with this German family was a lot of fun, it was also kind of strange. Natalie’s parents do not speak English so I could not communicate with them… and Natalie barely spoke to me (either intentionally or because she was just caught up in being a teenage girl). Either way, I would wake up each morning to a note that Natalie had left for me before she went off to school. You can see some of the notes below. I held on to them because, at the time, I thought it was so strange to be staying in a home with people who were unable to speak to me, and the only person in the family who did speak English, only communicated with me in notes slid under my door in the early hours of the morning.
Helmstedt Border Museum Info Sheet
The city of Helmstedt, Germany was once a crossing point between East and West Germany. I visited the city’s small museum and was educated on The Berlin Wall and the sheer number of people who tried to cross from one side of the wall to the other. I was surprised at 1) how brutally those trying to cross the wall were treated and 2) just how many people were able to successfully cross from one side to the other. If you are ever in Helmstedt, Germany, this tiny museum is definitely worth a quick look.
Helmstedt, Deutschland Newspaper Clipping
While in Germany, staying with my non-English speaking hosts, I was interviewed by the local newspaper. They asked me about my impressions of the country and about my travels with my bike. The article that was published refers to me as “not a typical California sunny boy” and is overall quite embarrassing. Nevertheless, I did get some media attention from my travels and I was grateful to the reporter and photographer who came out to speak with me.
Letter From My Hosts
When I left my German host family, the mother wrote me a letter, which Natalie then translated and typed out on the computer. The letter says that they were sorry they could not speak with me and that they hope I was not bored. It says that there were days when they did not speak with me and days when they showed me a lot – including two car trips to Poland. I was very grateful to have been allowed to stay with this family, but I think they were happy to see me go.
These are a bunch of other ticket stubs for various modes of transport I used while on my trip. Trains, busses, etc.
Contact Info For People I Met
Traveling by bike gives you the opportunity to meet a lot of new people. Many of these people, I was able to exchange contact information with and some of them I keep in touch with, even to this day. Below you can see three random pieces of paper on which I wrote down or received the contact information of people I met while on my travels. I’ve blurred out their information to protect their privacy, but I think you get the point.
Finally, I packed and picked up a few maps for my travels. The two maps on the left are ones I picked up in the cities of Hannover and Frankfurt. The map of the right is the main map I used to navigate my way through Germany, Pokand and the Czech Republic. This map is simply a normal driving map I got for free from my local AAA. It does not show bike paths on it or have any sort of additional information. I used this map, in conjunction with a GPS to find and navigate my way across Europe… and it worked just fine.