“Most Battles Are Won or Lost Long Before The First Shot Is Fired” – Napoleon Bonaparte
Planning and Preparation. Two words that define how much we are going to enjoy the unique experiences that come with motorcycle touring. It’s not a matter of ‘if’, but just ‘when’ a poorly planned motorcycle tour will cause issues; some of which may have dire consequences. This article focuses more on motorcycle touring preparation that involves crossing borders between countries, although it will help you plan shorter trips as well.
Visas and Passports
The first thing to do is to start working out a detailed itinerary of where the tour will actually take you and what has to happen in terms of visas, permits and paperwork to enable you to get there and back. In other words, where in the Hell are you are actually going.
Depending on your country of origin, there will no doubt be a country along the way that requires a visa for entry. The best site to get initial information as to whether a visa is required is Project Visa (projectvisa.com). This will give you an idea as to whether you can purchase a visa at the border, or it needs to be obtained prior to arrival. Getting a visa can take months for smaller developing countries, so don’t leave it until you’re about to board the plane.
Take special note of currency requirements as well. I know from first hand experience that the border crossing into Zambia requires US$50 to pay for the visitor’s visa. It had to be in US Dollars. No amount of begging, pleading or arguing will make them change that requirement. I remember queuing up for what seemed like hours to get to the window and present my paperwork. Would he take Rands? Nope. Our fixer found a currency changer who just happened to be close by so I exchanged Rands for US Dollars. Did I get a good deal? You can guess the answer to that one. Back to the end of the line and start again. I make it a habit to always carry about US$200 in small denomination notes no matter where I’m heading.
You will need a current passport. Make sure there is plenty of time to expiry on your passport. I think to do anything these days there is a requirement for a minimum of six months on a passport. Not good to have your passport expire in the middle of the Congo.
Passport for Your Motorcycle
What? I hear you say. There is still a requirement in a number of countries to have a carnet for your bike, or Carnet de Passage en Douane to give its full title. This is effectively a document allowing you to temporarily ‘import’ your bike into a country without having to pay import duties and taxes. The document is stamped on the way in, and on the way out. Do not overlook this vital aspect, as some countries will sting you for up to 400% of the value of the bike if you don’t have one. Wikipedia has a good description on what a carnet is.
Where to Start with the Preparation
Planning and preparation start with knowledge building. Since in any new venture, we don’t know what we don’t know so you need a seed to start the learning process. A great resource to start the planning process is the Lonely Planet books. They are primarily targeted at people who want use the road less traveled by, and new editions with updated information are published regularly. There is also a very active forum (called the Thorn Tree) on this site with travelers regularly seeking and exchanging information on anything imaginable.
Another site that is similar to the Lonely Planet forum, but targeted specifically for international motorcycle touring is Horizons Unlimited (horizonsunlimited.com). This is run by Grant and Susan Johnson, and is the best resource you will find on this planet for comprehensive information on everything to do with planning a motorcycle tour.
Preparation is when you start to get your teeth into the detail. Horizons Unlimited also have a five-DVD set called “The Achievable Dream” which covers every conceivable thing you need to know about setting up for that trip of a lifetime. Last time I checked it was worth $139.00. You can purchase them individually, if some topics aren’t on your needs list. Well worth the money fellow travelers! I bought the original single DVD edition before my first tour of Morocco; and it was extremely helpful. Here are the titles of each DVD.
Get Ready – This DVD aims to inspire you to get off your butt, stop talking and start to prepare for the trip. This includes material from Grant and Susan Johnson’s own ‘How to ride around the world on a motorcycle’ presentation. Lots of video clips and interviews with seasoned travelers and presentations by experts.
Gear Up – they talk about which bike best suits, preparing the bike, what to take and how to pack it for those weeks on the road. Important stuff.
On the Road – What is it like to spend weeks, months or years out there on the road? In this 2-DVD set veteran travelers share their tips (and great stories) for staying healthy, happy and secure on your motorcycle adventure. You’ll get the advice you need to help you cross borders, break down language barriers, overcome culture shock, ship the bike across oceans or war zones, and deal with the ‘stuff’ that happens such as breakdowns and emergencies. Demos include building a shipping crate and first aid for bikers.
Ladies on the Loose – globetrotting ladies share their tips to help you plan your own motorcycle adventure – choose and maintain a bike, decide what to take and tackle rough terrain. They also answer the women-only questions, and entertain you with some amazing tales from the road.
Tire Changing – You can do it the hard way or you can do it the Grant Johnson way. Out there, at the most inconvenient time and place (is there really a convenient time to have a flat tire?) you’ll get a puncture. Can’t always pick up the cell phone and call the local automobile association, so it’s get over it and get on with it.
I would strongly recommend you consider this DVD collection if you are setting off on a long tour. It contains so much good information on what you need to know all in one convenient place.
Vaccinations and Gut Packs
If you’re traveling to remote parts of the planet, then you will need to consult a specialist travel medical center. Don’t wander off to your local family doctor, there is a fair bet he/she won’t know the latest. Travel medical centers will know what vaccinations you will require and over what time frame booster injections will be required. Common ones you may need would be Yellow Fever, Rabies, Typhoid, Hepatitis (A/B), Tetanus as well medication for Malaria.
Your travel medical center will also put together a ‘Gut Pack’ for you. This contains a variety of targeted antibiotics in case you come down with a dose of food/water related gut problems. I always carry one of these; and it saved me from a bad outcome in Morocco when somewhere along the road I had come into contact with food possibly contaminated with human feces. Yes, it does happen despite being careful.
Serious Illness or Injury
If you do fall ill or suffer a serious injury out on the road in a foreign country, what do you do? A lot of developing countries don’t have extensive hospital facilities, trained medical staff or access to pharmaceuticals. An emergency evacuation by air can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. There is one option that is well worth considering, and that’s MedJetAssist. MedjetAssist is an air-medical evacuation and repatriation membership program for travelers who reside in North America. If a Medjet member is hospitalized more than 150 miles from home-virtually anywhere in the world – Medjet will arrange medical transport to the hospital of their choice at no additional cost. They offer a wide range of memberships including short-term and annual options. It is available to residents of other countries but you have to contact them directly to check terms, conditions and eligibility.
This article should give you a starting point as to how to plan and prepare for one of life’s great experiences – an extended motorcycle tour.