Having spent the last seven years living on the road, I’ve made plenty of rookie mistakes while traveling. Smart travel isn’t something that only comes with experience, though: a little bit of research, planning, and questionable decision-making prevention go a long way. If you’re planning your first long-distance motorcycle journey or a fly and ride, here are my rookie mistakes – and how to avoid them:
Call Your Bank
This one is simple and obvious, but that’s why it’s so easy to overlook: before you set off, call your bank and let them know where you’ll be traveling. Otherwise, they may block your card when you try to pay for things in Mexico or Colombia – it’s a lesson I learned the hard way when I first landed in LA, tried to pay for a coffee, and had my card blocked because I’d forgotten to tell my bank I was going to the US and South America. Whoopsies.
Keep Your Essentials Close
For years, I hadn’t had a bad flight or a misplaced luggage scenario. So much so that I had completely relaxed and on a trip from Havana, Cuba, to Lima, Peru for a fly and ride motorcycle tour last year, I packed like a complete rookie – half of my essentials, including bike documents, in the checked bag. A big no: somehow, I arrived in Lima but my luggage ended up in Mexico City, so in addition to having to buy a toothbrush and some clothes for the first couple of days, I lost quite a lot of sleep over those bike papers. Luckily, the airline located my bag and sent it to Lima three days later – but ever since, I always pack all my essentials and important stuff in the carry-on.
Check Your Insurance Policy
And not just because of Corona: not all insurance companies add motor sports or outdoor activities to their travel policies. If you’re riding your bike and planning to go rafting, zip lining, or sailing, just make sure all of this is covered.
Nowadays, WiFi is abundant just about everywhere you go, so it’s easy to take it for granted…until you’re left without it. Always download offline maps and star places – I promise you it’ll come in handy.
Before you go, scan all your important documents – your passport, visas, motorcycle documents, and flight tickets – and print hard copies. In case you lose your documents, having digital and hard copies will make it easier at the embassy; when it comes to bike docs, have them laminated and offer them to police and military officials instead of the originals, unless they demand to see the real papers. This is to avoid having your passport seized and a bribe extorted – it’s never happened to me, but I‘ve heard plenty of stories from riders who have experienced this.
Back Up on Cloud
Having my phone stolen somewhere in Ecuador in 2014, I wasn’t too heartbroken about the device itself – but the fact that ALL my photos were gone was devastating. Always back up your digital files on a cloud or a collection of SD cards – it’s tedious, but it’s worth it. SmugMug is an excellent place for your photos and videos, and Google Drive is OK for documents and files.
Travel Out of Season
Another no brainer, but it’s easy to forget that everything is cheaper, quieter, and more accessible out of season. The same goes for weekdays and early mornings: travel when others aren’t traveling, and you’ll save money and peace of mind.
Bring Several Cards
Most people in this world are good, and travel is generally safe… and still, anything can happen. After being robbed in South America, I was left with no money at all for two days because I only carried one debit card. Ever since, I have at least three cards with me, and I use a no-fee prepaid card for ATM withdrawals to save on extra charges.
Have a First Aid Kit
This one is easy to overlook, but do pack some essential meds and first aid items wherever you go. Some antiseptic spray, hand sanitizer, painkillers, cold meds, diarrhea pills, and bandaids don’t take up much space, but it can save you a lot of headaches – literally and figuratively – on the road.
Carry Mosquito Repellent
I’ve had dengue fever twice, and it’s a nightmare – but a preventable one. Carry a strong mosquito repellent wherever you go, because once you get into tropical regions, it’s better to stay protected as much as you can – malaria, dengue, and yellow fever are all nasty diseases, and you want to avoid them at all costs! I kept forgetting mosquito repellent before (and sunscreen, for some reason), so now, I just carry one small bottle with me even if I’m not headed to the Amazon basin – just in case.
What rookie mistakes have you made while traveling? Let me know in the comments below!