How The Schengen Agreement Forced Me To Change My European Travel Plans

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!


14 thoughts on “How The Schengen Agreement Forced Me To Change My European Travel Plans

  1. Doug W. says:

    I was wondering if this was going to affect your travel at all. We’ve recently discovered this issue with respect to our upcoming RTW bike adventure. Our plans were to head from Denmark south to Morocco then back through Spain, France, Italy and Greece en route to Turkey.

    We may end up cutting off a bit of our northern tour to ensure that we leave the Schengen area inside of 80 days or so, so that we have time left on our Schengen stay to return. From that point on, we’ll likely be overstaying and just hoping that when we leave via land (ferry to Turkey most likely) that it won’t be a big deal. Fingers crossed, as they say…

    Good luck with your trip. Looking forward to following along online!

  2. Powsinoga says:

    I understand your disappointment. There is nothing enjoyable in time limited, attraction packed journey. For Poles, it’s mandatory to have visa to travel to US, while this is few times bigger area than their own country. The visa allows you to stay for up to 6 moths, so longer than Shengen Visa.

    I’m glad that you’re not going to skip Poland during your journey 🙂

  3. jp says:

    why not get a visa? then you aren’t limited to 90 days. the 90 day limit only applies to entry without a visa.

    • Bicycle Touring Pro says:

      I didn’t want to get a VISA for the trip because of the pure hassle of it all. I just want to go, not worry about getting a visa for any leg of the journey, and have a relatively replaxed time. I could have gotten a residential Visa for any country in the Schengen area, but that would have been a ton of work to process, etc. Instead, I’m just going to jump on an airplane and travel to an area outside the Schengen countries that I am also extremely interested in seeing and experiencing.

  4. Colleen Welch says:

    Thanks for the info. I was not aware of this. I still don’t understand why restricting the amount of time Americans can spend in the Schengan Area makes it easier for Europeans to travel from country to country. Seems like the money tourism brings into the countries would be more important.

  5. Charles says:

    That stinks! I think about people touring with no fixed itinerary. Who set that up and how come?

    • Bicycle Touring Pro says:

      Yes, it does stink for travelers like us who just want to roam with no set plans. Some parts of the world are even more strict about travelers passing through and they want to know exactly where you plan to go, where you will be sleeping each night, how much money you are spending, etc.

  6. Bicycle Touring Pro says:

    Yes, I like eastern Europe a lot actually. I’ve already been to Croatia (and much of the former Yugoslavia). I’ve also already been to Bulgaria and Turkey as well. That is why I am starting in western Europe though – because I have never been to a lot of those places. Obviously some places are easier and less expensive to go to, but if you just stick to the cheap and easy parts of the world, you end up missing out on a lot.

  7. jp says:

    well…almost all countries require visas so it shouldn’t be a big surprise. the united states has almost the same requirements. most friendly countries can enter the USA without a visa, but only for 90 days. after that you will need to exit the country or have a visa.

  8. DJ Yabis says:

    I was actually wondering about your visa situation when I read that you were going to be traveling in Europe for 8 months. I guess it’s also the same for Americans. As for me, I have to go through shit just to get a 3-month Schengen visa as my temporary residency card in Europe is done for. Ugh. Anyway, your plan B seems great!

    Happy travels!

  9. Peter Martin says:

    ” I could have gotten a residential Visa for any country in the Schengen area, but that would have been a ton of work to process.”

    I think you’re overstating the difficulty . You just need to fill out the right form if you need to stay for more than 90 days and your travel agent can help with that if you can’t find it yourself on the net. The same rule applies to Aussies too!

  10. Cathy Kimport says:

    Pie in the sky solution? Let’s add the US to the Schengen area! Infinite travel between US and Europe.

    DO IT.

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