Sunday, 1 June 2014
T-Mobile USA international roaming prices
I've leaving tonight for two months in at least six countries Europe. I'm taking my smartphone, and I plan to use it the same way I do in the USA, maybe more.
That's a big change.
Most cellphone and wireless data prices for international roaming have been, and still are, prohibitive.
What I've said in my books and my more recent series in 2012 on smartphones and digital maps for international travel (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) is still true: If you have a suitable (unlocked, multiband, GSM) cellphone, you can get a local SIM card in most countries with reasonable rates for voice calls, and in some cases for wireless data, while you are in that one country. You can even get some SIM cards optimized for global roaming, with much higher but not terrible rates for voice calls in many countries.
But until recently, international roaming data charges have been prohibitive. Travelling from country to country to country with a smartphone has been a recipe for extreme sticker shock. I've heard from people who've gotten bills of thousands of U.S. dollars a week for using a Blackberry while abroad the way they do at home.
It's common to find that smartphone apps running in the background, or that you thought were "on the phone", are running up data charges without your knowing it. Voice translation apps, for example, typically send audio clips to a central server, rather than translating them on the phone. How much use is a translation app you can't afford to use while abroad?
Here's a survey of how much data your phone might send and receive if you use it abroad the way you do at home, and how much that might cost with the largest US wireless voice and data carriers.
The European Union has begun to legislate caps on wireless roaming charges, but these EU rules only apply to subscribers travelling and making calls between EU member countries.
Recently T-Mobile USA has introduced some dramatically different "Simple Choice International" subscription plans that allow (a) unmetered moderate-speed wireless data (you get a limited amount of data transmission at the highest speed, after which it is somewhat reduced) and (b) US$0.20 per minute voice roaming in more than 100 countries for a flat monthly price of about US$50 plus taxes for a single line or somewhat less for multiple lines on a family account.
I was skeptical that there would be some hidden fee (besides the usual taxes) or additional cost. But I've gotten the T-Mobile bills from my trip to Switzerland, Belgium, and the UK with my smartphone in March, and there no charges for international data roaming, including tethering my laptop to my phone to access the Internet when the wi-fi at the City Hostel in Geneva wasn't working. Incoming and outgoing voice calls to and from numbers in the countries I was visiting, other EU countries, and the USA were billed at only US$0.20 per minute plus the expected additional charges for calls to European cellphone numbers. (In most of the world, unlike the USA, the caller, not the recipient, pays the extra fee for calls to mobile phones.)
If there was any surprise, it's that I wasn't charged more than had been advertised.
Most people in the USA don't have passports and never travel abroad, so international roaming is a niche market in the USA. It remains to be seen whether other companies will try to compete with T-Mobile USA in this niche.
For now, however, I know of no wireless international roaming data plan offered by any carrier in the world that is remotely competitive with T-Mobile USA's current "Simple Choice International" plans. These are the first, and so far the only, plans that let you use wireless data services in many -- not all -- foreign countries, the same way you do at home. If you know of other such plans, please leave a comment.
T-Mobile's tariff contains vague terms that allow the company to cut off your service if you use it disproportionately abroad, and not in the USA. I had no problem travelling abroad for two weeks, after being a T-Mobile USA customer for years. I don't know what T-Mobile USA would do if you opened a new account on one of these plans for a trip around the world, left the USA, and used your T-Mobile USA SIM exclusively abroad for months as a time. If you've tried it, leave a comment about how long you were abroad and how it worked out.
T-Mobile USA was founded and is still owned primarily by the German national phone company Deutsche Telekom. Deutsche Telekom has been trying for years to sell its share of T-Mobile USA, and it's unclear how a sale or merger might affect T-Mobile USA's pricing for international roaming.
Saturday, 31 May 2014
Bill Dalton on "The Founding of Moon Publications"
Many large publishers started as self-publishing ventures by individual writers, but that pattern is especially dominant in publishers of guidebooks for independent international travellers.
Arthur Frommer ("Europe on $5 A Day"), Tony and Maureen Wheeler (Lonely Planet), Hilary and Geoge Bradt (Bradt Travel Guides), and Bill Dalton (Indonesia Handbook and later Moon Handbooks) are only a few of the guidebook publishers who started as self-publishers.
Bill Dalton has a fascinating 3-part account of The Founding of Moon Publications this week in Moon's blog.
I signed the publication contract for the first edition of The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World in 1995 with Bill Dalton's successor as Moon's publisher, Bill Newlin. Since then Moon Publications has become part of Avalon Travel Publishing and then the Perseus Books Group, but Bill Newlin is still the publisher.
We've had our differences over the years, but we're still friends, and I'm still proud to be part of the family of authors and the continuing tradition of the guidebook series that Bill Dalton founded.
Friday, 30 May 2014
My objections to airlines' plan to "personalize" prices
Today I filed formal objections to U.S. Department of of Transportation's tentative decision to approve a proposal from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to replace publicly-disclosed tariffs of airfares with "personalized" airline ticket prices.
Most of the initial objections to IATA's proposal came from within the travel industry. These squabbles over the spoils were resolved by a settlement agreement between airlines, travel agencies, and data hosting(CRS/GDS) companies.
DOT has given tentative approval to that "settlement". But neither the "settlement" nor DOT's tentative decision address the concerns of travellers and ticket purchasers.
For example, DOT proposes to require airline to "offer" tickets to anonymous customers. But airlines would be allowed to make that offer, and the price of anonymity, as high as they like.
And if the airline somehow learns -- whether or not you tell them -- that you are desperate to get to your dying mother's bedside? The airline can make its "offer" as high as it likes.
The "settlement" between airlines and other travel companies leaves my objections on consumer protection grounds as the only remaining obstacle to DOT approval of this scheme.
Tuesday, 27 May 2014
"Can I see what information the feds have on my travel?"
Ars Techica editor and technology journalist Cyrus Fariva reports today on the initial response to his Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for CBP’s records about his travel history, including CBP’s copies of airline Passenger Name Records (PNRs):
"You got 72 pages of shit, to put it crudely," he said, explaining that the CBP didn’t give me the crown jewel of what I asked for: my own PNR records. His own PNR records, as he demonstrated in 2009, included far more detailed information, including the IP address used when he booked an airline ticket.
"Why they didn’t include that when you explicitly asked for it, I can’t tell you,” he added. Hasbrouck agreed with Crump’s assessment that the agency’s lack of response was to be expected. "It’s completely erratic. Some people get just the PNR and not the entry and exit data. Whether it’s gross incompetence, malign neglect, or if they’re overworked, whether it’s that they don’t understand the nature of what the data is—[it] suggests that the people doing the redacting don’t know what the data is."
I've posted forms and instructions on how to request your travel records. Please let me know if you’d like help interpreting responses.
Wednesday, 21 May 2014
US Dept. of Transportation OKs "personalized" airline ticket prices
In a potentially disastrous administrative decision, the US Department of Transportation has "tentatively" approved a proposal from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to replace publicly-disclosed tariffs of airfares with "personalized" airline ticket prices.
We are tentatively not convinced by Mr. Hasbrouck’s allegations that customized pricing offers would be illegal because statutory and regulatory provisions still prohibit carriers from charging any price not contained in publicly disclosed, published tariffs, notwithstanding the fact that the Department has exempted carriers from officially filing such tariffs with the Department. The clause in 49 U.S.C. § 41510 under which carriers are to charge only prices identical to those in the tariff "in effect for such transportation" presumed filing of those tariffs with the Department under § 41504 as part of a comprehensive economic regulatory regime. Domestic tariff filing was terminated by the Deregulation Act of 1978. With progressive liberalization of international air services, including implementation of over 100 open skies agreements, the Department has, under § 40109© and 14 CFR Part 293, progressively exempted carriers from filing tariffs in liberalized international markets.
The DOT's tentative decision is framed as an order which "direct[s] all interested persons to show cause why the Department should not approve IATA Resolution 787, incorporated in the agreement in Docket OST-2013-0048, subject to the conditions enumerated in the Appendix... Objections or comments to our tentative findings and conclusions shall be filed no later than 21 days from the issuance date of this order. Answers to objections shall be due no later than seven business days thereafter."
I will be filing detailed objections, and invite and encourage others to do likewise. You can submit comments here until 11 June 2014, either by filling in a Web form or by attaching a PDF or word processing document file.
Here are links to some of my previous commentary on this issue:
- Comments to the US Dept. of Transportation on airline pricing (21 February 2014)
- Airlines claim they are already allowed to "personalize" prices (28 August 2013)
- What's wrong with the airlines' proposal for "personalized" ticket prices? (30 April 2013)
- IATA announces plan for personalized airline ticket prices (2 November 2012)
- Airline ticket price transparency (26 January 2011)
- Are common carriers allowed to "personalize" prices? (20 May 2010)
[Update, 30 May 2014: I've filed formal objections to DOT's tentative decision. You can still go to Regulations.gov and submit your own comments until 11 June 2014. More details.]
Sunday, 18 May 2014
The Amazing Race 24, Episode 12
Cheshire, England (UK) - Las Vegas, NV (USA) - Henderson, NV (USA) - Las Vegas, NV (USA)
At the conclusion of The Amazing Race 24, one member of each pair of racers had to jump out of a helicopter and parachute (in tandem with an instructor/guide) onto the infield of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Earlier in this leg of the race, one member of each team was handcuffed and chained inside a wooden crate that was hoisted into the air, set on fire, and then dropped into a bonfire while they tried to "escape".
No members of the cast were harmed in the filming of this episode. This bit of "reality television" was a play-within-a-play, with the racers playing the part of volunteers picked from the audience at one of the Las Vegas shows staged by the illusionist David Copperfield.
The people we are watching on The Amazing Race are members of the cast of a television show, performing under carefully constructed and controlled conditions. Off camera, stagehands and special effects producers and safety personnel are standing by.
Getting visitors to disconnect fantasy from reality -- so that they don't think about the fact that they are losing real money at the gambling tables and in the slot machines -- is central to Las Vegas' business model. Unfortunately, it's also a temptation in other locales where the opportunity to engage in dangerous "adventure" or "extreme sports" activities is a major attraction for visitors.
Tourists ourselves are also to blame. We want to put our everyday cares aside when we travel, and we want to imagine that we have walked into a "real-world" fantasy or onto a movie set, where the normal rules of physics and mortality don't apply.
The canonical case of where this leads may have been the disaster in which eighteen backpacker tourists and three canyoneering guides were killed in a flash flood in a gorge near Saxeten, Switzerland, in 1999.
Six supervisors and managers of the adventure tour company that organized the excursions were eventually convicted of manslaughter by negligence. But that verdict didn't magically bring anyone back to life, and the incident also shows the danger of relying on a tour company to judge the safety of activities in which your life, and not just theirs, will be at risk.
If David Copperfield picks you from the audience at one of his shows, you can probably play along with some confidence that he's not really going to saw you in half, even if it might appear that way to your friends who are watching the illusion.
But when you are travelling, it's not a staged illusion, and there is no "magic", the lesson of Saxeten is that -- as I've discussed during previous seasons of The Amazing Race -- you can't assume that an activity is safe just because "Everybody is doing it" and it's organized and promoted by a reputable-seeming tour company.
If a tour operator makes you sign a waiver of liability before you take part in some activity, that means they aren't responsible if something does wrong. That doesn't mean that you should back out, but it does mean that it's up to you to make your own judgment as to whether it's sufficiently safe or worth the risk.
You can have plenty of travel fun and excitement without risking life and limb for your thrills. As host and master of ceremonies Phil Keoghan says to the cast at the starting line for each season of The Amazing Race, "Travel safe!"
Sunday, 11 May 2014
The Amazing Race 24, Episode 11
Seville (Spain) - London, England (UK) - Liverpool, England (UK) - Wrexham, Wales (UK) - Cheshire, England (UK)
The most difficult challenge for the racers in this episode of The Amazing Race 24 was to recite a passage of poetry -- in Welsh.
I don't know how likely you are to find yourself in a place in Wales where nobody around speaks English. I suspect it's a bit like Irish: The European Union maintains an entire department of Irish-language translators, but it's rare for there to be anyone in the Hermicycle of the European Parliament who speaks only Irish and not English or any of the other languages into which EU proceedings are also translated.
Yet you are likely to find yourself trying to pronounce the name of the town to which you are asking directions, or to pronounce other written words or phrases in languages you don't understand. We've seen variants of this task on previous seasons of the race, and they represent a common real-world travel challenge.
You don't have to be be able to understand the words to regurgitate them. Musicians routinely sing from memory in languages that they don't understand. For most languages, however, you need to be able to (a) reproduce and (b) remember (with or without some sort of notes to yourself) sounds that don't occur at all in spoken English. Some languages have only a few such sounds. Others have many. There's no simple way to represent these sounds in writing, unless you're conversant with the language you're trying to transcribe, or with the symbols used by linguists.
Variations in pitch, volume, and tempo that monolingual native speakers of English don't even notice may also be significant to meaning in some languages.
Foreign-language karaoke (critiqued, if possible, by someone fluent in the target language) might be useful practice to improve your skill at this travel task.
What works for you?
Do you make up your own phonetic code in which to make notes for yourself? Do you remember the words by chanting them, or by fitting them to a rhythm or a tune? How do you learn or remember the sounds of foreign-language words or phases you don't understand?
Thursday, 8 May 2014
Tell Congress not to legalize more deceptive airfare advertising
Advertised airline ticket prices already leave out many things that used to be included, from meals to checked luggage to carry-on bags to prereserved seats. Case in point: Last month Lufthansa -- not what you would normally think of as a no-frills or low-fare airline -- began charging an extra fee to reserve a seat, even for passengers on long-haul flights paying fares averaging well over $1000.
Airlines don't like comparison shopping, make it as hard as possible, and positively hate passengers who don't care what logo is painted on the tail of the plane. Airlines want brand loyal, price indifferent customers who p;ay (or whose employers pay) whatever the airline asks for -- especially if it has a dominant position in the local market, such as at one of its hubs
Because airlines won't supply fee and surcharge data in normalized form, no airline ticket price comparison Web site allows you to specify, "I will have 1 checked bag and 1 carry-on bag" and then shows you options ranked in order of the total price including the fees for your luggage.
And of course there's the chronic problem of advertised prices at which no tickets are available.
But that's not good enough for airlines, which long to return to the days when -- at least in thre USA -- they were allowed to advertise "base fares" when actual ticket prices could include tens or hundreds of dollars in additional taxes, "fees", and "surcharges".
Sadly, airlines are close to getting their way with Congress on at least part of this agenda.
A bill called, in Orwellian Newspeak, the "Airfare Transparency Act" has already made it out of committee and could be voted on by the U.S. House of Representatives at any time. This bill would allow airlines to advertise "fares" exclusive of all government-imposed taxes and fees.
Travelers United (the consumer advocacy organization I work with as a policy analyst, formerly called the Consumer Travel Alliance), has been sounding the alarm about the "Airfare Transparency Act", with some success. A petition against the bill on Change.org, initiated by Travelers United founder Charlie Leocha, has already gotten more than 35,000 signatures. Please sign this petition and tell your Representative an Senators to oppose the "Airfare Transparency Act".
Airlines claim that requiring the most prominent price in an advertisement to be the total price a traveller has to pay, inclusive of taxes, prevents airlines from disclosing how much tax is included in that price. This is nonsense. No law or regulation prevents airlines from telling passengers how much tax is included in the prices we pay for airline tickets.
In fact, airlines are required by U.S. law to provide each ticket purchaser with a copy of his or her ticket. As stored in airlines' internal databases and computerized reservation systems, each of those tickets (which travelers and ticket buyers rarely see in their entirety) includes a complete itemized breakdown of the fare and all taxes and government fees. Airlines have to include this information in their records in order to collect, report, and pay the right amounts to each of the various taxing authorities: the U.S. government, foreign governments, airport operating authorities, etc.
If air travellers don't know how much they are paying in taxes, or to which government agencies the airlines are supposed to have forwarded which amounts of money for which purposes, that's only because airlines are (a) failing to comply with their legal obligation to provide ticket purchasers with the "virtual coupon records" or e-ticket images that include the complete fare and tax breakdown, and (b) charging "surcharges" and "fees" that actually go to the airline but that are designed to look like (and are often misrepresented as being) taxes rather than part of the fare.
There can be substantial differences in taxes -- US$100 or more -- between flights on otherwise similar routes to or via alternate airports in neighboring countries. So tickets with the same "fare" could cost significantly more or less when the taxes are included. As a result, the "Airfare Transparency Act" would make it harder to compare the total costs of air travel to different countries or airports, or to choose between them on the basis of price.
In addition, allowing airlines to advertise fares exclusive of taxes, while competing train and bus companies continue to advertise prices inclusive of the many taxes they pay, would make it harder to compare prices of air and surface travel, and make train and buses -- which have been gaining market share from airlines -- look less price-competitive than they are. Amtrak has never added any taxes or other required fees to its advertised inclusive prices.
To some people in the USA, advertising prices that don't include taxes may seem reasonable. But most foreigners visiting the USA for the first time are shocked to be asked to pay for goods in a shop or a meal in a restaurant -- often 30% more for a restaurant meal, including tax and expected tip -- than the price on the tag or the menu. In most other countries, all marked prices for goods and services are total selling prices, even if they include "value-added tax" (VAT) or the like of as much as 25%. After experiencing both systems, I and many other people strongly prefer to have marked and advertised prices be "all-in" selling prices. You can still complain about the taxes -- every sales slip or restaurant receipt, like every actual airline ticket, itemizes the taxes -- but It's so much easier to budget and comparison shop when the price you see is the exact amount you will have to pay.
Wednesday, 7 May 2014
US Supreme Court rules on airlines and consumer protection
One of my pet peeves has long been that the U.S. Federal government forbids states from enforcing most of their general consumer protection laws against airlines but fails to exercise its own Federal consumer protection authority against airlines.
The real source of the problem, I think, is the extremist laissez-faire attitude of the US Department of Transportation toward even the most egregious and fundamental forms of airline fraud, such as "codeshare" labeling that is designed to deceive passengers (and often succeeds in deceiving them) about which airlines will actually be operating the flights for which they are buying tickets.
The best solution would be for the President and/or the Secretary of Transportation to put people in charge of the DOT's Aviation Consumer Protection Division who are serious about enforcing even those Federal consumer protection laws that airlines have grown accustomed to ignoring.
But state Attorneys General and state and local consumer protection agencies could pick up some of the slack left by Federal failure to police airline fraud, if states weren't "preempted" from doing so by Federal law.
As long as the DOT does nothing at the Federal level, the limits of what rip-offs airlines can get away with are set by the limits of Federal preemption of state consumer protection law.
What are those limits? That was the question addressed last month by the Supreme Court in Northwest v. Ginsberg.
This was only the third Supreme Court decision since the enactment of the irline Deregulation Act of 1978 to consider the extent of Federal preemption of state regulation of airlines' prices, routes, and services. The previous Supreme Court cases on this issue were Morales v. TWA, in which the Supreme Court struck down an effort by the Attorney General of Texas to enforce state truth-in-advertising laws against airlines, and American Airlines v. Wolens, in which the court found that while state consumer protection laws could not be applied to airlines, airlines could be sued in state courts for some breaches of contractual promises they made to consumers.
The exact basis for the Supreme Court's decision last month in Northwest v. Ginsberg is a bit arcane, but there are some important lessons in the Court's unanimous conclusions.
Northwest Airlines (now part of Delta Airlines) revoked Rabbi Binyomin Ginsberg's elite status and membership in its frequent flyer program because he complained too much: "[Y]ou have contacted our office 24 times [in the last 6 months] regarding travel problems, including 9 incidents of your bag arriving late at the luggage carousel...."
Like all airlines, Northwest reserves the right to alter, abolish, or expel individuals from its frequent flyer program at any time, at its sole discretion, for any reason or no reason. That's an important lesson to keep in mind: Frequent flyer mileage credits or elite status and associated privileges are not rights or "money in bank".
Rabbi Ginsberg sued, however, claiming that (a) Northwest had broken its contractual promises because Northwest's frequent-flyer program rules didn't give the airline unlimited discretion, and (b) "Northwest violated the duty [imposed by the applicable state law] of good faith and fair dealing because it terminated his membership in a way that contravened his reasonable expectations with respect to the manner in which Northwest would exercise its discretion."
Rabbi Ginsberg took his case to the Supreme Court, and lost on all counts. But the Supreme Court gave other airline passengers two paths to redress of their grievances, although each requires the DOT to do more than it currently is doing to enforce existing Federal laws:
- With respect to breach of contract, the lower court found that Northwest hadn't broken any contractual promises to Rabbi Ginsberg. The terms for its frequent-flyer program allowed it to terminate anyone's membership at its discretion. But the Supreme Court reiterated that breach-of-contract claims against airlines can be pursued in state courts. That means you can sue an airline in small claims court, without a lawyer -- if you can prove they didn't keep their promises. That should be easy, since Federal law allows the sale of an airline ticket only if (a) the price is in accordance with a publicly-disclosed tariff specifying all the rules applicable to the fare, and (b) the airline provides the customer with a ticket (which typically specifies which portions of the tariff apply by means of a "fare basis" code which serves as a pointer to the tariff). If the airline sells tickets at off-tariff prices, or doesn't make its tariff public, or doesn't provide tickets that show which tariff provisions apply, the airline can make up the "rules" after the fact. This is one of the reasons it's critical for the DOT to reject the airlines' application for permission to replace published tariffs with personalized prices, and start enforcing the requirements for airlines to provide passengers with copies of their complete e-tickets (not just confirmation summaries) and access to complete tariffs.
- With respect to unfair and deceptive practices, there is no private right of action for consumers against airlines in Federal courts. But the Supreme Court reminded us all that, "Congress has given the Department of Transportation (DOT) the general authority to prohibit and punish unfair and deceptive practices in air transportation and in the sale of air transportation, 49 U. S. C. §41712(a), and Congress has specifically authorized the DOT to investigate complaints relating to frequent flyer programs." The problem is that the DOT has generally turned a blind eye to the most serious and routine of such practices. Typically, DOT takes action on these issues (if at all) only when individuals force DOT's hand by filing formal complaints (which DOT discourages and evades by categorizing letters intended as complaints as mere "general correspondence" with DOT). Preemption of state policing should serve to place responsibility for policing airlines squarely on the DOT. Neither deregulation nor preemption of state action shouldn't be a "free pass" for airlines to engage in practices that would be illegal for any other business under state or Federal law, or both.
The person who's been in charge of the DOT's Aviation Consumer Protection Division since the Reagan Administration has recently retired. We'll be watching closely to see if the new leadership of that office sets a new course toward fulfilling the responsibilities that it's been neglecting throughout the decades since passage of the Airline Deregulation Act.
Sunday, 4 May 2014
The Amazing Race 24, Episode 10 (European Bicycle Touring Resources)
Mt. Titlis (Switzerland) - Seville (Spain)
European Bicycle Touring Resources
I was in Switzerland, Belgium, and the UK on business in March, and I'll be back in Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the UK in June and July on a bicycling trip.
We're flying with our bicycles to Zurich on June 2nd, taking the overnight ferry from Rotterdam to Leeds on July 2, and flying home from Manchester on August 4th. We have almost nothing else reserved in advance between these dates.
Our route, subject to change day by day, will be anchored by visits to places linked to my family history and that of my partner, visits to friends, and a chance to see the start of the 2014 Tour de France in England. (I'm not a racer, but I'm looking forward to the spectacle.)
Our general idea for June is to cross through the Black Forest to Freiburg, then down the Rhine to Karlsruhe. From there, we'll either go west, connecting roughly with EuroVelo 5, or further north down the Rhine (continuing roughly along EuroVelo 15), before heading west to Hazebrouck (France), Brussels, and then the Netherlands.
We have much less idea where we'll go in July in the UK.
If you are interested in meeting up with us along the way, please get in touch.
See the sidebar of this blog under "Bicycle Travel" for links to my FAQs and other articles about bicycle travel.
Below are some of the resources we've been using to plan our trip. I've travelled in all of these countries, but never before by bicycle. I'll update this list after our trip, when I find out which of these, and which others, turned out to be more or less useful than we expected.
GENERAL INTERNATIONAL BICYCLE TRAVEL FAQs:
- FAQ: Do I need to be young, strong, and fit to travel by bike? (No.)
- Buying guide FAQ: How to buy a touring bicycle
- FAQ: International bicycle travel
- FAQ: Riding skills for bicycle travel
- Bicycling maps from Omnimap (The largest selection of international maps available from any source in the USA. Mainly a wholesale distributor, but happy to sell directly to retail customers. Highly recommended.)
- EuroVelo (European Cyclists' Federation planned network of international bicycle routes. Note that many of these are aspirational and do not yet exist on the ground in the form of signage or dedicated bicycle rights-of-way.)
- Ride With GPS (Despite the name, this mapping service is useful even if you don't have a GPS. Free, but you have to register. There are other online route planning services, but I like it that this one allows you to switch back and forth at any time between Google Maps, Open Cycle Maps, and ESRI topographic base mapping and provides elevation and grade profiles in a format I find useful.)
- CrazyGuyOnABike.com ("A place for bicycle tourists and their journals." The best place to start looking for reports on routes, road and riding conditions, weather, etc. from those who have gone before you by bike.)
- WarmShowers.org (Free, worldwide, members-only hospitality exchange for touring bicyclists)
- Booking.com (Lists more hotels, hostels, and B&B's than any other online booking service. Many lodging places listed in the other directories below, such as "Bed + Bike" in Germany, can be booked through Booking.com. Useful when your plans are subject to change, since most reservations don't require prepayment and can be cancelled without penalty up to 24 hours before scheduled arrival. Read the fine print for the rules for specific places and prices. Be sure to mention in the free-text notes when you make your reservation that you will need bicycle storage, since even if there's secure bike storage it may already be full of other guests' bikes if you don't request it in advance -- I've had this happen.)
TRANSLATING BICYCLE JARGON:
- Sheldon Brown's English-French and French-English bicycle dictionaries
- Sheldon Brown's English-Spanish and Spanish-English bicycle dictionaries
- Vocabulaire panlatin du vélo from the "Office québécois de la langue française", the Québécois counterpart of the Académie Francaise (includes all the major Latinate/Romance languages, even Catalan, Romanian, Galician, etc.)
- ADFC (German cycle touring club) dictionaries: English-German, German-English, French-German-English (much better for German than French, naturally)
- Park Tool's Bicycle Mechanic Languages Spreadsheet (not always as accurate, but includes German and Dutch among other non-Latinate languages)
BIKE PARTS, COMPONENTS, AND SUPPLIES:
Prices are often lower in the USA than in Europe, and many Europeans buy bike components from online shops in the USA. But sometimes I've gotten lower prices on specific items, even including the cost of shipping to the USA, by buying them directly from some of these European suppliers. More importantly, if something on your bike breaks while you are travelling in Europe, and you can't repair it or get it replaced locally, these companies can probably get you a replacement part much faster than if you had to have it shipped from the USA. All of these have at least partial English interfaces to their online stores, although detailed descriptions aren't always available in English, and customer service in English may be limited.
I was in Geneva for a week this March, and it was just as overpriced as when I was there at the same season last year. In addition to the bicycle-specific links below, see my previous notes on prices and advice for visitors to Geneva and "La Suisse Romande" (Francophone Switzerland).
- Pro Velo ("The Swiss Bicycle Advocacy Association")
- Switzerland Mobility -- Cycling in Switzerland (Maps, accommodation, and other information.)
- ADFC - Allgemeiner Deutscher Fahrrad-Club (the German national cycle-touring club)
- Bed + Bike (Bicyclist-friendly accommodations certified by the ADFC. Includes Germany and some adjacent areas such as portions of Austria and German-speaking Switzerland. Available on the Web, as an iOS or Android app, or as a printed directory)
- Accueil Vélo ("Cyclists Welcome." Government-certified bicyclist-friendly accommodations, bike repair shops, and other services. Modeled on "Bed + Bike" in Germany and Bienvenue Cyclistes/Welcome Cyclists in Québec, but not yet fully implemented in France. The search form is currently in blue at the bottom of this page, in French only. So far as I can tell, the only way to show these facilities on a map is to start by searching for one of the predefined routes or "stages".)
- Chambresdhotes.org (B&B directory, mainly for France but also including French-speaking portions of Belgium and Switzerland.)
- AF3V - Association Française pour le Développement des Véloroutes et Voies Vertes (Marked long-distance bike routes.)
- France Vélo Tourisme (Official government cycle tourism Web site.)
- French Flanders Tourist Office (in English)
- Pays de Flandre Tourisme (French Flanders)
- Office de tourisme du Pays d'Hazebrouck
- Office de tourisme du Pays d'Hazebrouck
Information for tourists and bicyclists, like almost everything else in Belgium, is bifurcated. There are separate tourist offices and cycling resources for French-speaking Brussels and Wallonia ("Wallonie" in French) and for Dutch-speaking Flanders. Note that "pavé" or "pavés" in French refers to a road surface of paving stones ("Belgian block"), not to asphalt pavement!
- Guide to cycling for international visitors to Belgium (Written for foreign students at the largest university in Flanders. Includes guidance on traffic law and useful illustrations of road markings and signage in Dutch and French, applicable to the Netherlands as well as Flanders and Wallonia.)
- Fietsvriendelijk logies (Government-certified bicyclist-friendly lodging in Flanders.)
- Vlaanderen-Fietsland.be ("Flanders is Bicycle Country!" Bicycle route planner, bikeway maps and guides, and directory of bicyclist-friendly lodging in Flanders.)
- FietsRoute.org/indexuk.php (Bicycle routes in Flanders.)
- Knooppunter.com (Cycling routes, maps, guides, and online route planner for Flanders and parts of the Netherlands, based on numbered waypoint signs at intersections.)
- Fietsnet.be (Online bicycling route planner for Flanders and the Netherlands.)
- Bienvenue Vélo (Directory of bicyclist-friendly lodging and services in Wallonia.)
- Les Gîtes de Wallonie - Bienvenue Vélo (Bicyclist-friendly holiday cottages in Wallonia.)
- Gîtes and guest rooms in Brussels and Wallonia (Government-rated holiday cottages and B&B's. No separate category for bicyclist-friendly "vélo-sympathique" facilities.)
- RAVeL - Réseau Autonome pour Voies Lents ("Network of routes for self-propelled slow travel" in Wallonia. Walking and biking routes, especially routes along canal towpaths and former railway rights-of-way.)
- Les voies lentes en Wallonie (Online map of bike routes, bikeways, paths, and roads in Wallonia.)
- Useful links for bicyclists in Wallonia (From RAVel.)
- Pro Velo (Advocacy organization for bicyclists in Brussels and Wallonia.)
- Fietsersbond.be/ (Advocacy organization for bicyclists in Flanders and Brussels.)
- FlandersFields.be ("The Great War Centenary in Belgium, 2014-2018." The history of the First World War is a major tourist attraction in Flanders, and many special centennial events are being held over the next few years.)
- "Nederland Fietsland" bicycle route planner ("Low Country, Bicycle Country.")
- Knooppuntroutes (Cycling routes based on numbered waypoint signs at intersections.)
- LF Routes ("Landelijke Fietsroutes" or marked long-distance cycle routes)
- Map of all "Fietsers Welkom!' bicyclist-friendly accommodations and services
- Directory of "Fietsers Welkom!' bicyclist-friendly accommodations and services
- Friends on Bikes (Nonprofit membership organization offering homestays for travelling bicyclists for EUR19 per person per night.)
- Cyclists' Touring Club (National UK cycling advocacy organization.)
- CTC Maps (Includes cycle routes and a map-based index of "Cyclists Welcome" services.)
- Cyclists Welcome (Directory of lodging and other establishments recommended by CTC members.)
- Beds For Cyclists (Private, unofficial commercial venture, newly launched for the 2014 Tour de France stages in the UK.)
- BikeHike.co.uk (Online route planner using UK government Ordnance Survey topographic map details.)
- 1914.org (International First World War centenary project led by the Imperial War Museum, London.)
Something I haven't listed that you'd recommend? Leave a comment or send me a message.