The simplest approach to getting your bike abroad is to take advantage of the baggage service offered by the airlines. Major US and European airlines stock specially designed boxes for the purpose of transporting bikes in the cargo hold. The cost per box ranges from nothing to $20. In addition to the charge for the box, the airline may charge an extra baggage-handling fee.
Policies and pricing vary between carriers, but we've discovered that European carriers typically accept your bicycle as your second piece of checked luggage and will thus transport it at no additional charge. On the other hand, US carriers tend to charge an extra baggage handling fee; in fact, you can expect a charges as high as $150 round-trip. Beware, US carriers seem to have difficulty articulating and administering a consistent policy regarding the handling of bikes. Our recommendations are to (1) verify and re-verify the airline's charges for bike shipment and (2) include the cost of shipping your bike when comparing airfares.
To prepare your bike for shipment in the box provided by the airline, you will first need to remove the front wheel and the pedals. To fit your bike into the box, turn the front fork so that it's parallel to your bike and if necessary, lower your seat. Before sliding your bike into the box, remove accessories that may be damaged in transport, like your rear-view mirror.
In anticipation of the bike-packing process we have several recommendations. First, practice removing your pedals. Secondly, pack into your carry-on bag the items you'll need for packing your bike into the airline-provided box. These items include your pedal wrench, Allen wrenches, a roll of packing tape, a fat black marker, and a plastic bag for your pedals and any accessories you may wish to remove. Most airlines DO NOT have the packing tape necessary to assemble their own boxes or the appropriate writing instruments to label the box; so, bring your own and have them readily available for use. Also, we highly recommend carrying the plastic bag containing your pedals and any accessories you have removed from your bike with you onto the plane. The airline-provided bike box has holes for use as handles through which any loose contents could fall out. If you're concerned about your front wheel possibly scratching the paint on your bike frame, you may wish to consider carrying bubble wrap with you to the airport as well.
Though our bikes have never been damaged in transport using the airlines' boxes, we cannot guarantee your bike's safe arrival. Should your airline fail to transport your bike safely, seek assistance from airline personnel immediately.
Another option for getting your bike abroad is to have it professionally boxed by the folks at your local bike shop. Because the box your local bike shop will use to pack your bike is much smaller than the box provided by the airline, however, considerable disassembly of the bike is required. Of course, that means you have a whole lot of re-assembly to do upon your arrival. Another downside is that you'll have to figure out a way to transport your bikes to the airport in these boxes, which can be a major logistical challenge unless you own a large SUV.
Finally, there is the option of purchasing a hard case in which to transport your bike. Depending on the type of case, however, considerable disassembly may be required for packing your bike into the case. Should you decide to purchase a hard case for transporting your bike, you may leave your bike case with Diverse Directions for the duration of your tour for a nominal charge.