My travel plans were set. I was going to spend eight full months riding a bicycle around mainland Europe. The plan was to spend one month in Iceland… two months cycling across England, Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland… and another five months slowly pedaling my way across the Czech Republic, Poland, the Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
But there was a problem!
According to the Schengen Agreement, US citizens like myself can only stay in the Schengen Area (which currently consists of Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland) for a maximum of 90 days within a 6-month period.
While the Schengen agreement makes it easier for European citizens to travel from country to country, it drastically reduces the amount of time a tourist like myself can spend in most of Europe.
Instead of being able to simply jump the border to a neighboring country and continue traveling throughout Europe for extended periods of time, the Schengen Agreement makes it so tourists like myself can only spend a 90 out of every 180 days in the Schengen area.
The US State Travel website explains it like this:
Travelers for business or tourism are permitted to stay in the Schengen area for 90 days within a six month period. Once the 90 day maximum is reached, leaving for a brief period and re-entering the area does not entitle a traveler to 90 more days within the Schengen states. The traveler would have to remain outside of the Schengen zone for 90 days before reentering without a visa.
What this meant for my previous travel plans is that I would not be able to continue through Europe for eight straight months like I had originally planned. Instead, I’ve got only 90 days to travel in the Schengen area before I need to leave and remain outside of the Schengen Zone for at least three months or more before I can re-enter.
While I know several friends and tourists who have overstayed their welcome inside the Schengen Area and had no problems when eventually exiting, I don’t want to risk getting in trouble, being fined, going to jail, or possibly even being blocked from entering the Schengen Area in the future.
So, I changed my travel plans entirely! Click here to see where I am going now.
The first three months of my trip are still exactly the same. I’m still going to Iceland for the first month of my journey and I’ll still be cycling through England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France and Switzerland after that.
However, after my 90 days of free travel inside the Schengen area is up, I am going to jump on an airplane and fly to Istanbul, Turkey, which is a country that currently lies outside the Schengen Area.
Once in Turkey, I will start counting down the days to when I can enter the Schengen Area again. During my three months outside the Schengen area, however, I will be traveling with my bicycle through Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and the Ukraine – all of which are currently non-Schengen countries.
Then, after my 90 days outside the Schengen area is up, I’ll cross back into Poland and complete the final two months of my originally planned bicycle tour before jumping on yet another airplane and flying to southern Africa.
Part of me is super upset that the Schengen Agreement forced me to change my original travel plans. The other part of me is looking forward to these new countries that I plan to visit. In the end, I guess it isn’t really all that bad. It certainly is an inconvenience, and I understand why the European countries have this rule, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
Instead of risking punishment for staying in the Schengen area for too long, I’ve decided to simply change my travels plans around. While I will no longer be traveling to Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia like I had originally hoped… I will be going to Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova instead… and I’m super excited about that!