Most people think I put a ton of effort into determining the route for my two-year motorcycle trip around the world; but the truth is, only a tiny fraction of the route I ended up taking was planned ahead of time. Here’s everything you absolutely need to know about planning your route in advance – along with what you should just figure out along the way!
In This Article…
- “Macro-planning” your initial route
- Weather concerns, border entry restrictions, and motorcycle restrictions
- What to know about visas and “carnets” (visas for your bike)
- Things to watch out for along the way
- Getting the most out of your route by adjusting it as you go
When it comes to the planning aspect of a year plus, multi-continent motorcycle trip, many people assume that I spent years planning out every little detail of the trip. For those of you that would rather fly by the seat of your pants, you’ll be happy to hear that actually a relatively small amount of time went into organizing my journey, and I only started planning these few things about five months before I left.
With that being said, there definitely are some aspects that I needed to be careful about planning out – that’s what we’ll be going over in this article.
Getting an idea of where some of my stops through Europe will be. All of my route planning was only done a few months before my trip began, but I made continuous adjustments along the way.
First Things First: “Macro-Planning” Your Route
Let’s start with the route, because many of the next steps in planning will depend largely on what regions and countries you plan to go through. At this point, I’m not talking about a route which includes turn-by-turn directions; just a very rough, general idea of the route you plan to take.
For example, my initial route requirements were that I wanted to fly my bike into the United Kingdom, I wanted to visit some friends in Germany, and I wanted to go through South East Asia. With these destinations determined, I started playing connect the dots, adding in other places that stood out as must-sees. Then I constructed a rough timeline of which countries I’d be visiting during each month.
When doing this, don’t forget to allow yourself a little flexibility on this schedule, as you might not want to always feel rushed when you really fall in love with a place (and it will happen.) Once you have this list that includes where you’ll be and approximately when you’ll be there, you can start to determine any logistical adjustments that need to be made.
For example of things you need to consider, ask yourself: will the weather dictate any changes to your schedule? You’re definitely going to run into cold days and rainy days, but you probably don’t want to subject yourself to areas with cold winters, or rainy seasons in places like southeast Asia. Small adjustments to your route and timeline – such as adjusting your departure date by a month or two – will probably be enough to solve most of these problems. However, you might just have to come to terms with the fact you won’t be able to visit every place on your list.
Going over a cold and snowy mountain pass on my way into Kathmandu, Nepal.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to ride high into the mountains in Northern India when I was there. It would’ve been an amazing area to see, but it was the middle of winter, so not only would it be a miserable place to be on a motorcycle, but many of the mountain passes aren’t even open around that time of year.
After any changes have been made in order to avoid bad weather, look into closed borders, and any special requirements for getting your motorcycle into the countries you want to visit. Some border crossings are impossible (Morocco – Algeria, for example); you won’t be able to enter some countries with your bike (Vietnam doesn’t allow bikes over 200cc); and some countries require expensive guides and fees in order to enter with a vehicle (China and Myanmar) which maybe be too expensive to justify depending on your circumstances. Any of these situations could easily force you to make adjustments to your route.
Step Two: Visa and Carnet Requirements
At this point, your route (really, it’s probably just a list of countries you want to visit) should probably be set, but there are two more steps to take before moving on.
First, look into visa requirements for all the places you’ll visit. For any countries that require them, make sure you know where they can be acquired. There are a few questions you should ask yourself about the visa process:
- Can everything be done online?
- Can you get one when you’re crossing the border, and are they available at all border crossings? (Keep in mind, some countries will grant a visa on arrival at major airports, but you won’t be able to get one at the border.)
- Do you need to visit an embassy to get the visa? If so, can you do that before you leave, or will it be long enough before you arrive in that country that you’ll need to stop at one of their embassies while you’re on the road?
Once you’ve gathered all the information on visa requirements, look into carnet requirements. Some countries require a carnet (essentially, it’s a passport for your motorcycle, so they can make sure that it also exits the country; it’s meant to keep people from illegally importing a vehicle and avoiding any associated taxes.)
If a carnet is going to be required, get in touch with your automobile association, and see if they can either issue you one, or point you to someone who can. And brace yourself for the cost associated with it. If you aren’t going to use it for many countries, it might be worth changing your route and avoiding having to get a carnet, depending on your budget.
Step Three: To Ship, Or Not To Ship?
Depending on your route, there may be times you need to organize shipping for your motorcycle; whether it’s to get over large bodies of water, or to avoid certain countries or regions that you either can’t (or don’t want to) go through.
This would be a good time to look into companies (and their costs) that can do this shipping for you. Planning the specifics isn’t something that needs to be done months in advance, but it’s at least nice to know what is possible and the approximate costs before you leave home, or at the very least, before bad news will require any drastic re-routing, backtracking, and wasted time and money.
The Best Route Plan is a Flexible One
Now that you have this “macro-route” figured out, its time to plan some of the finer details. But don’t be too worried about planning every route and stop out perfectly. If you’ve got the time to go on this long of a trip, you should allow yourself some flexibility to make changes, and also to take advice from locals and other travelers that you’re going to meet along the way.
When I arrived in the UK, I was immediately made aware how pointless it is to really plan out the details. I’d planned my whole route and plenty of my stops through the UK, but when I arrived and was waiting for my motorcycle to clear customs, I got to talking with one of the guys working at the cargo terminal of the Glasgow airport. It turns out that he was an avid motorcyclist, and upon looking at my map – which had my entire UK route highlighted – he immediately started making changes, sending me on the best roads to get me from one destination to the next, and telling me a couple roads to avoid, which despite looking nice and twisty on the map, were in pretty rough condition and wouldn’t make for good riding.
I never would’ve ridden this amazing road through the mountains in Albania if I’d had a rigid schedule. I only learned of this route a couple weeks before hand from a guy I met in Slovakia.
For the next 50,000 plus miles, I maintained this idea that route planning could be done more or less at the last minute, which allowed me to consult with people I met along the way that were able to help point me to nice roads or interesting sights that I would never have known about otherwise.
Planning The Finer Details
So, what are the “finer details” that I’m taking about? Pick out specific sites and cities that you want to see, and stretches of road that you can’t miss. Research the countries you’ll be visiting online, or pick up a few guidebooks from a bookstore. Talk to friends and family that have been to these countries and get suggestions from them about must see places; and if you trust their judgment, get their advice on places that are worth skipping.
Factor in road conditions depending on the country (and do a little research, don’t just assume third world countries all have terrible roads; I was shocked with the unbelievable quality of the roads in Northern Thailand, for example) in order to see what kind of distances you can reasonably ride in a day. Even on the main, well-traveled roads, conditions could easily make riding a couple hundred miles (perhaps even way less) an exhausting, all day affair. And for safety sake, you don’t want to be stuck out on the road after dark due to being overconfident in how many miles you could knock out in a day.
Rough road going through Rauxal, India. I had an exhausting, 10hr day and didn’t even ride 200 miles.
Now you should have a good number of places you’d like to visit along the way. But also, don’t forget to allow yourself some extra time, as you’ll surely hear about other must see places while you’re on the road – and making these unplanned stops will likely end up being some of the most memorable parts of your trip.
So, now that you’ve got a good idea of your route, the next things you’ll have to work out are what all you need to bring along, and how self-sufficient you’ll need to be. That’s what I’ll be going over in my next article, so stay tuned!
My entire final route, beginning to end. Only a small fraction of this was planned ahead of time!