While traveling on a motorcycle, we are often more vulnerable to various kinds of danger than we are at home. Riding unfamiliar roads, where street laws are different and drivers are of uncertain skill, where objects including small animals might get in your way, where the night might bring out people you don’t want to meet—these and other obstacles can affect your safety.
Usually, with a bit of common sense, you can manage to survive the experience of riding in strange places, but what I realized with time is that common sense is not so COMMON.
In this sense, after almost 15 years of traveling around the world, I feel confident to write a list of the best tips to avoid unpleasant surprises while traveling. I won’t be covering general road safety, which is another topic, just personal safety when traveling abroad.
1. Ride during the day
It is never a good idea to travel at night and, in my personal experience, it can always be avoided. When you ride at night, your visibility is decreased and you expose yourself to unnecessary dangers. Animals in rural areas will come out to feed, so you may even have encounters with wildlife. In case of emergency, most services will be closed and you’ll be stuck somewhere in the dark, waiting for daylight to come.
2. If unsure, stick to the main road
If you are unsure about the place you are riding through, stick to the main road. Usually, main roads are safer and there is more traffic coming, in case of emergency. If in a bad city, stick to the coastal road too, which is usually the most touristy and nicer part of the city (I used this technique a lot in Brazil, for instance, where favelas were ALMOST never on the beachside part of the city).
3. Try to be less visible (in a bad way).
This might be controversial, but one of the advantages of being on a motorcycle, instead of in a big car or truck, is that we can filter through traffic or hide behind a bush if needed. We can move around more discretely and quickly than any other vehicle on the road. Loud pipes are an example of “high visibility” traits which will trigger attention. Most of the time it’s okay to be visible and have a million stickers on your bike, flashy clothing or look like you just drove off the set of Orange County Choppers, but often when traveling being discrete and less flashy will draw less unwanted attention.
High visibility clothing on the other hand is generally accepted around the world and won’t attract any more attention than a construction worker, in fact, it could draw less attention if the locals also ride with high visibility clothing.
4. Alway park your motorcycle in a closed enclosure at night
Parking safely at night is fundamental during a journey. Even with all the locks in the world, your motorcycle will be unattended for some hours and it will be exposed to potential danger. Try to hide your vehicle if camping, find a hostel with private parking, a hotel with a secure garage, or even ask your host if you can park your motorcycle inside the building. In some parts of the world, it is perfectly fine to wake up and find a motorcycle in the kitchen. Take advantage of it!
If secure parking is not possible, make sure you stay only one or two nights with street parking. Better not to attract unwanted company. A bike cover is okay, but will not spare the curious bystanders that know the area well.
5. Keep your camera rolling
When in foreign countries, you never know what is going to happen, so it’s a good custom to have a little dashboard camera on your bike or on your helmet for all eventualities. A couple of times, having my Sena and GoPro recording the event, discouraged my “aggressor” from acting illegally in front of me. Having video and audio evidence of what is happening could save you on many occasions.
6. Don’t be afraid to ask
Nothing better than asking a local for advice. Some areas look fine on paper and even Google will not mention any danger, but there are certainly some NO RIDING ZONES out there! Never trust your GPS 100% and always have a look at the actual map to see if there’s a better road. Before entering an area that you are unfamiliar with, always ask a local, even if dodgy looking. It’s okay to be lost but be confident about your doubts. Ask a stranger.