There is something really special about motorcycle travel. The thrill of exploring new territories, back roads and cultures while riding freely on your bike is why more and more motorists decide on this type of adventure. Before embarking on such a trip, you need to have a detailed plan of your journey, and prepare both you and your motorcycle to fit the conditions you are set to conquer. The point is to have an enjoyable and safe experience—remember, you’re going on a vacation.
I’m sure there are a lot of a people who just put a few things in their bags, get on their bike and leave the house and, on most of the smaller touring adventures, that’s ok. But if you are, on the other hand, planning a 10+ day trip, or just like to have everything under control, then these tips below can help.
Before starting to plan your touring adventure, you will have to answer a few questions.
• How much time do I have?
• What is my budget?
• How many miles/km a day do I plan to ride?
If you have 10 days and plan to ride no more than 400 km (250 miles) a day, your total traveled distance at the end of your journey will be about 4000 km (2500 miles). This way you can figure how far you are able to travel. Be very careful when deciding on your daily riding distance, as it depends on your experience and the type of road you will be driving on. If riding through mountains with tight, bendy roads, your average speed will be rather low, and after riding that way for 400 km (250 miles), you will probably be exhausted. On the other hand, if you’re riding on the highway, that same distance will probably seem like nothing. Keep in mind that fatigue is one of the biggest causes of motorcycle accidents.
Most novice touring riders set such high daily distances that after the third day they start to really suffer from fatigue. As you are not competing in Iron Butt, but traveling for your pleasure, try to keep your daily distance up to around 500 km (300 miles), in my experience, everything above that starts to kill the fun, relaxing part of the whole journey. For me, the most enjoyable is up to 400 km (250 miles) a day. Don’t forget to add in stops for picture taking, sightseeing, resting and food.
If you are taking the highway for the first couple of days to get to a destination where you will be riding, then even 800 km (500 miles) a day rides will be ok. Be sure to consider shipping your bike to your destination, or renting one there if the distance is really far.
Regarding budgeting for your trip, for every day of travel you will need a realistic estimate of the following expenses (try to create an Excel sheet or something alike, which will have all of this information listed by each day).
• Gasoline (depends on daily distance)
• Food (3 meals)
• Sleeping accommodation
• Toll roads
• Attraction fees (e.g. national parks’ entrance fees)
• Daily spending money (coffee, drinks, souvenirs)
Defining your route and/or destination
In today’s techy world it would be a waste if you did not use any of the available route planning software. My personal favorite is Google Maps, and I use it on all of my journeys as it is really user friendly. You should start with a Google search of the area or destination to find out more about it and find interesting scenic roads along your route and all of the attractions you wish to visit.
I travel on highways only to reach my riding destination, then I get off and explore.
If computer software routing is not your thing, standard maps will, as always, do very well. When traveling, I use Garmin GPS at all times, but also always have full printed maps of the whole journey in case anything happens to my GPS unit.
A few notes regarding planning your route
• Be sure to check out when to ride depending on the destination. Some mountain passes are closed until a certain month, and some places are either too rainy or too cold to visit at certain times of the year
• When planning, try to catch all the national parks, mountain passes, lakes and rivers as the road in these locations is almost always spectacular
• Highlight on the map special attractions to see along the way
• Take care of your riding abilities regarding destination and your situation; if traveling in rigorous mountains with a lot of equipment and a passenger, be sure that you have enough experience for this
• Allow for some downtime in the journey to rest before continuing, and to better explore the super interesting territory you just found
Camping, bed & breakfast, hotels/motels and friends. Those are your sleeping options and depend on your budget and personal preference. Also, the big question is will you arrange your sleeping before setting off, or will you be adventurous and look for a place to stay at the end of every day? I’ll leave it up to you; both options have their good and bad sides. If booking in advance, the prices are mostly cheaper (depends on where you are) but there is little room for the unexpected. It may happen that you find a nice place where you would like to stay for an extra day, but according to the schedule you will miss your next sleeping spot if you do. If you go the adventurous way and look for a night’s sleep at the end of the day, you basically have all options.
• If you have nothing booked in advance be sure to look for a place to stay no later than 18h (6pm).
I have always been lucky enough to find somewhere to sleep even at 22h (10pm) but depending where you are, and when you are there, this could be risky
• B&B is probably your best bet in Europe so be sure to look for them
• Stay away from large and popular cities when looking for a place to stay, prices are substantially higher there
• If you are in the city, be sure to look for a place to stay on the exit point of it, the following morning you will skip the morning rush-hour this way if traveling during the week
Border crossings and travel documents
Some countries require special papers or visas to enter them, so be sure to check every one of them (Google it) before venturing there so as not to get stuck at some border.
Motorcycle maintenance and setup
Before you leave for your trip, your bike should get a service and maintenance check to be sure you have no unexpected surprises along the way. Check everything—your chassis, oil and fluids stands, lights and controls, etc.
• Check your tire tread. If you plan to travel 6000 km (3700 miles) and your tires will be good only for the next 4000 km (2500 miles), be sure to change them before traveling, or arrange a place to have them changed on the road
• Most motorcycles don’t have service intervals, as cars do, so you should check when your next service interval (oil and filter change) is, if it is due at the half-way point of your travel, you will have to arrange for it to be done somewhere, or do it yourself on the road
Motorcycle luggage options
On most bikes you can choose between soft panniers (saddlebags) or hard panniers. Hard luggage will always be a better choice as you can lock all of your belongings on the bike, and the weather will not affect them so much. Of course, if your budget does not allow it, soft panniers offer a cheaper option that will do in most cases. I always carry a hard top case + 2 hard side cases + a soft tank bag offering me more than 160 liters of space in total, just right for both me and my wife with all the needed gear. If we are heading camping, I can put extra stuff on the top case (don’t overdo it).
Btw, backpacks don’t count and are no good for any multi-day travel unless you want to have a really uncomfortable ride.
A few tips:
• Keep the heavy stuff in either the tank bag or side cases so as not to disrupt the bike handling too much
• Pack wisely, keep needed personal supplies handy in either the top bag or the tank bag
Travel lightly—I can’t stress this enough. People usually overestimate what they need to take. Experience will help you find the right balance, but be sure to carry some of the below gear:
• Carry water with you (I usually carry 2x 0,5l thermos bottles)
• Have plenty of cash in smaller bills with you as you may find that not all places accept plastic money
• Carry a small tool kit with you, along with the motorcycle manual and some spare parts like bulbs and fuses. Also, don’t forget to pack your chain lubricant, duct tape, flat tire spray and some plastic ties. You never know when you will need any of this
• Carry a list of all emergency phone numbers in the destination country, like motorcycle service stations, breakdown assistance and list of your country’s embassies
• Wear clothes in layers instead of that really thick sweater you have, when you are cold you add a layer and you can lose a layer when you get hot
• Rain suits for you and your passenger, if you have one, are a must; riding when cold and wet means trouble
• Multiple earplugs (whatever kind you choose) also don’t forget extra ear pairs for the passenger
• Pack some snacks if you have the space, like cookies or energy bars
• Something I hope I don’t have to mention is to have all the gear all the time
This list could go on and on… Be sure to check out my full motorcycle packing list so as not to forget something important.
I always carry a disc lock with an alarm, and another long cable 2m (6,5ft) with a lock to tie my helmet and jacket to the bike if I park somewhere and take a walk to see something. If leaving your bike overnight, a good practice is to cover it with a motorcycle cover, that way it’s less conspicuous. Basically, in most countries you will be safe, but you know how it goes, everybody thinks that “someone else got his bike stolen”, “shit doesn’t happen to me”—don’t be part of the statistics, there’s bad people everywhere waiting for a good opportunity.
One thing I never skip when traveling abroad is travel insurance. If your stuff gets stolen, you have an accident or just breakdown, you will be thankful for having it. Medical bills outside of your home country without insurance can get really high.
Before leaving, don’t forget to check the weather forecast for all the areas you will be traveling through, and prepare accordingly if the weather will be challenging and your trip cannot be scheduled for a different time.
So there you go, I hope this helps you with planning your next big motorcycle adventure.
Have something to add to this guide? Please write in the comments below.