Adventure travel is all about freedom, but, as the saying goes, freedom isn’t free. Even if you don’t have a strict time limit, a precisely mapped-out route, and a tight budget, improvising will only get you so far: after all, international borders, motorcycle shipping and documentation, routes, and now, pandemic-related restrictions all come into play. I’ve gone through several different phases of long-distance motorcycle travel planning: from planning nothing at all to attempting to cram events, races, and work into the riding life, I’ve tried several approaches, and most of the time, I still often find myself overwhelmed and confused with all the admin work required to stay on the road.
So what’s the best way to plan your long-distance ride? Here’s what’s worked for me so far:
Just like with riding, planning a motorcycle trip requires looking far ahead. When you’re picking lines riding dirt, you want to pick a long line to ride through rather than pick short lines and change course every time a deep rut presents itself. Planning a longer line, on the other hand, lets you blissfully ignore the ruts altogether. It’s the same with trip planning: if you have to make plans daily – figure out your destination, your route, your possible accommodation or camp spot – every single morning, it’ll soon become tedious. Instead, plan in weeks or even months: work in a few places you definitely want to see or trails you definitely want to ride, and let the rest fall into place around those highlights. Meticulous daily planning isn’t necessary if you focus on the few big things you want to do, freeing up your time to enjoy the ride.
Whether you’re on a tight schedule or have heaps of time, planning in some extra days is always a good idea since adventure travel is all about the unexpected. Even in developed countries, there may be road closures, new border procedures, or your bike may break down somewhere; always budget 3-4 days of potential unexpected delays per month just to stay on the safe side (as someone who once has to do a 1,000-km day just to make it to a border in time before the visa ran out, I can attest rushing like this is zero fun).
Take It or Leave It
This year is when most rally race organizers are finally recovering from the pandemic-related restrictions and scheduling their events, and, starved for cross-country riding and rallies, I tried to cram as many races as I could into the summers months. Big mistake; trying to do too much inevitably leads to a burnout, and I’ve learned to only focus on the 2-3 main rally events I really, really, really want to do, and leave the rest to chance. I’ve selected the Hungarian Baja and Dinaric Rally because these two events are te most interesting to me, and if I happen to make it to Bosnia Rally, too, that’s great, but if I don’t, well, no biggie. You may not necessarily want to attend events on your trip, but the same principle applies to bucket-list destinations and must-see places. Make a list of events, places, or roads you definitely want to hit, and leave the rest in the “oh well” folder. If you happen to make them, awesome. If you don’t – oh well.
The thing about international travel is that it does often require a fair amount of paperwork, especially if you’re shipping your motorcycle. Currently, I’m actively avoiding a stack of forms and permits to be filled out to ship my bike to South Africa; plus, I’ve got to figure out all the vaccine/PCR test policies for different countries, book flights, arrange for a warehouse in Cape Town, and research insurance options. None of this is fun – in fact, I hate admin and paperwork so much I usually leave it for the last minute, which benefits no one at all. I’m learning to simply dedicate a few hours or, if need be, an entire day to deal with paperwork stuff so that’s it’s over with instead of fretting about it on a daily basis and getting nowhere. Embrace the horrors of bureaucracy for one day and then forget it for months – otherwise, the tedium will spread and seep into each day.
There are two types of adventure travelers: those who want to be surprised and those who want their expectations met. I’m the former; I rarely research the places in advance, except in terms of visa/border crossing/shipping information; in terms of routes and landscapes, I’d rather discover it on the go. Some people, on the other hand, prefer researching everything in advance, including detailed route images from Google Earth, other riders’ reviews and recommendations, blogs, forum posts, and social media content. Neither way is good or bad, but going down the rabbit hole of research too deep can have a negative effect: places and destinations may not live up to your expectations, and the element of surprise is almost entirely gone. Leave a little bit of the unknown in your route – after all, you’re going on an adventure.
During the years of riding the world, I’ve learned that I am a spectacularly mediocre rider, and, living aboard a DR650, I have learned all its quirks and inner workings. Because of these two factors, I know – roughly – what to expect ahead in terms of parts and repairs. For example, my clutch plates typically do not last longer than about 1,5 – 2 years due to my subpar sand and mud riding skills, and I like to order them ahead when that deadline starts to approach. I also tend to trash the bike during rally races, so there are always spare spokes and levers at the ready. The system isn’t ideal, mainly due to unrealistic expectations about reliability and my own skills, but if you know your bike fairly well, ordering parts and tires ahead is a good solution, especially if you’re headed somewhere remote and especially if you’re riding a newer bike. It’s one thing duct taping an airbox cover for a DR650 in Chile, it’s another thing finding new clutch plates for an Africa Twin in Mali.
What’s your top long-distance motorcycle travel planning hack? Share the wisdom in the comment below!