Seeing the Tour de France live – even for just a few stages – isn’t like any other vacation. There’s a lot of traveling involved, a lot of waiting around, and a lot of unpredictability!
My mom and I have spent three recent summers following the Tour from start to finish, without any official connection to the race. No press passes, no family members working for a cycling team, no friends on the staff – it was just the two of us, chasing cyclists around France weeks on end!
We’ve gained a lot of experience, and with Lance Armstrong back in the saddle for this year’s race, I thought I’d share some of the packing tips and tricks we’ve learned along the way. Whether you’re going to the Tour for a couple of days or the whole thing, it’s important to be prepared.
1. Pack Light
This is key, especially if you’re visiting multiple stages of the race. You’ll probably find yourself switching hotels frequently, and nothing is more tiring than lugging your suitcase in and out of each hotel room, through small European hotel hallways, and up and down the stairs. We discovered that by carrying a small suitcase, we could leave a lot of stuff in our rental car and limit the amount we were hauling.
2. Pack a Spare Bag
Your spare bag – preferably a duffel that can be stuffed, empty, into your other luggage – will be your lifesaver as you collect free stuff from the publicity caravan each day. You can also use this bag to store groceries for picnic lunches, bottles of water, and emergency provisions like umbrellas and ponchos. Anything you don’t need to carry inside with you every night can go into this bag.
3. Pack for the Wait
What do you like to do to pass the time? At the Tour, lots of hours are spent waiting on the side of the road for the race to come by, so I recommend packing a couple of books, some cycling magazines, or maybe a deck of cards. Some days you’ll be near food vendors and restaurants, but you could also end up hanging out in the countryside all day, so I recommend always having enough food on hand for an impromptu picnic. Handy, easy-to-find picnic foods include baguettes, croissants, fresh fruit, cookies, and crackers. If you’ve got the chance, think about following our lead and buying a small charcoal grill. While camping on Alpe d’Huez, we grilled sausages, potatoes, and mushrooms for one of the tastiest meals of our trip!
4. Pack Like a Fan
Do you have a favorite cyclist or team? Think about how you can support your favorites! Scour ebay for deals on things like flags adorned with your team’s logo or official jerseys. Once in France, you can buy a plain white sheet at any old supermarket, as well as paint. Painting up a sheet and draping it across your car is a great way to show support for the teams you love. If you want to be particularly daring, buy some high-quality house or wall paint to use on the roads – be careful, though. You only want to do this when it’s clearly accepted by the locals and the police force.
5. Be Prepared
Don’t forget sunscreen, umbrellas, bottles of water, snacks, some spare change to buy a newspaper with the latest race details, and your camera! Plus, if you’re going to the start or finish line, have a pen handy for autographs. You’ll need a good set of maps, a guidebook for the Tour, and if you don’t speak French, a handy multilingual dictionary.