Travelling by motorbike is like uncasing yourself and releasing true freedom. Does that sound a bit poetic? Ok, but motorcycle touring really does allow you to travel at your own pace through both cities and totally offbeat locations.
Not to mention the act of riding is far and away more rewarding than catching any old bus! Camping at the foothills of majestic mountains and slow mornings in a foreign country are both favourites of longtime motorcycle travellers.
But with great freedom comes great responsibility! Travelling by motorcycle can be difficult to organise and even downright dangerous. I mean, you are careening around blind corners with nothing but a leather jacket between you and the tarmac.
The times I’ve got to enjoy a motorcycle trip have stood out as highlights of my travels. So I put together the basics for the nervous first time motorbike traveller! And, dare I say, even the veteran pros might be reminded of some good points while reading. 😉
Because hitting the open road astride your badass bike should be a bucket list item for EVERY traveller. This beginner’s guide to motorcycle touring is for you, to go zipping off down Route 66.
After all, the road is always the best teacher.
Why Travel by Motorbike?
“On a motorcycle … you’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.” – Robert Pirsig
This quote sums up what draws a lot of us to travel by motorcycle. The thrill of having the “windows” removed and leaning into every curve of the road is utterly exhilarating.
There’s never the feeling that you’re commuting or simply getting from A to B. You’re busy asking locals for directions and taking side roads into the remote hinterlands of various countries.
Because you often travel to offbeat areas, even the most popular countries can be seen in a new light when you travel by motorbike. Any time you want, you can simply pull over and take an epic photo. At your leisure, you can stop off and have a chat with some locals or explore your surroundings.
Not to mention that, when motorcycle touring, you’re free to design your own itinerary and slow down your travels. These days, there’s rightfully a bit of hype around living minimally and living freely. Travelling by motorbike encourages you to be both minimal in your stuff and maximal with your experience.
On top of alllllll that, the beer just tastes better after a long day riding. 😉 When you kick your bike into gear and take it to the road, you can be sure that you’re going to return home with bountiful stories to tell.
How to Plan a Motorcycle Adventure
When it comes to adventure travel, there are usually two types of people: the ones who over-plan and the ones who under-plan. So I present to you: the dreaded compromise. Before you saddle up and roar off into the peachy sunset, I think you should have a rough plan.
This is not a meticulously kept itinerary that has you in 3 places at once and all your accommodation booked out months in advance. But it’s also not just a napkin with a smudged name of a town that someone told you would be cool to visit.
Still, it’s not rocket science – it’s simply travelling by motorcycle! So with a couple of epic rides under my belt now, I present to you the main considerations to factor into your plan to travel by motorbike.
Number One Tip: Buy a Good Bike
For as many motorcycle travellers as there are as many different opinions on the best bike! But one thing we can all agree on is that spending a little extra money on a bike that’s in better condition will save you money in the long run.
You’ll spend less time sitting on the stool outside the mechanic and more time taking in the scenic and curving roads if your bike is in good condition! And especially if you’re going to be on the road for an extended period of time, it’s gonna really help you out if you know how to fix your own bike.
Take it from someone who learned to take being covered in engine snot over phoning a mechanic every time something went wrong – it’s worth it! Not only do you save money, but if your motorbike adventure goes the way you plan it to, you might not be close to a mechanic!
If you’re in the wops of the Laos jungle or the rolling plains of Kyrgyzstan there’s not always going to be someone who knows how to fix your bike! Plus, it’s so satisfying and such a confidence boost to know that you can make a beast of a bike run with just a little tinkering.
When considering your bike, I’d also consider whether you want to rent or buy. On shorter trips in countries far away, it makes more sense to rent a bike. If you go through a reputable company, the bikes should be well taken care of and you won’t need to spend too much time in the mechanic! However, for longer trips or if you already have a badass touring bike, then service your big beautiful beast and hit the road.
Make A Budget
The secret to motorbike travelling is to treat it like you’re long term backpacking – at least in terms of your budget. That means all the budget backpacking hacks stay in play and you can travel off the beaten path longer.
Once you have a budget in place, you can more thoroughly enjoy the place that you’re travelling to -without the stress of running out of money.
I mean, who doesn’t want to ride the Old Silk Road and channel the empires of years gone past? You’re going to have one of those adventures that sounds almost mythical when you retell it years later. With a proper grasp on the budget of your adventure, you can really lean into the wilderness and slight insanity that always makes a motorcycle trip worth it.
As with any kind of budgeting, putting a price on the trip is like asking how long is a piece of string…
Still, if you have a timeline and a maximum amount that you can spend you’re halfway there. I recommend putting aside 5% – 10% for emergencies and dividing what’s left amongst the number of days you expect to be on the road. When that number turns out to be a little lower than you think is possible, it’s time to go back to budget backpacking basics!
What’s the Deal With Accommodation?
If you’re on the cheap end of a shoestring budget, our old friend camping plays a big part. Get a good motorcycle tent and boom! The world opens up to you.
Of course, if you’ve got a little extra cash to throw around then staying in a hostel and hotels along the way is going to be more comfortable. But I’d argue that part of the experience of a motorbike adventure is the gritty camping style sleeping arrangements. The stars are just a little more clear and the morning coffee just hits different when you’re camping.
When you set up your camp for the night you can leave room for a washing line and hang your clothes out to dry (weather permitting). And you will likely be cooking your own food instead of eating out. Sure, you might have a cheeky can of beer to celebrate the end of a long day of riding, but you won’t be heading out to the club and spending money.
Camping encourages you to slip back in time to when we played cards in the evening and chit-chatted the night away. It’s about more than saving money: it’s about gaining experience.
But, I won’t lie. The motorbike travelling life can be tough. Sometimes – especially on long trips – the spirits can get a little down. And you know what picks up the spirits like nothing else? A hot shower and an actual bed.
It’s worth factoring in a little “splurge” money into your budget so that you can book an Airbnb or stay in a hotel every so often. It’ll do a world of wonders for your morale when riding all day!
Let’s Talk Food
Eat local and cook for yourself.
That is how I would sum up eating on a budget! And trust me, it’s not so bad. If you decide to do a motorbike trip through Vietnam, you’re in luck when it comes to cheap and delicious foods! Roadside stalls abound and they’re all chock full of delectable soup, spiced fruit, and beef cooked in more ways than I have fingers to count.
Even motorbiking through New Zealand as I did, I didn’t totally stick to cooking for myself. I indulged in the pit stop style food: hot chips slathered in vinegar. And I do mean lathered – the completely unbiased fact of the matter is that chips taste better when they’re so soaked in vinegar that they become soggy.
Ok, it’s not the healthiest thing to eat on the road, but I’ll tell you what, after 8 hours of driving, those hot chips tasted bloody divine.
Typically though, if you’re travelling through an expensive country like New Zealand you’re going to want to cook for yourself. This isn’t soo bad though! If you get yourself a nice camping stove then your imagination is the limit when it comes to cooking for yourself. I’ve had particularly memorable one-pot meals – although maybe I was just so tired after the day’s riding that anything tasted good?
What About Those Extra Expenses?
Factor in those extra expenses from the get-go! You never know when a tricky to source repair piece is going to hit you with a big price tag.
Also, knowing whether your trip is going to be a round trip or whether you’ll need to ship your bike home is also important. Shipping a bike is not cheap. But when you compare it to the thousands of extra kilometres and cost of being on the road, it can suddenly become more palatable.
And then there’s YOUR health. What if you eat some dodgy curry and become best friends with a toilet for a few days? What if the worst happens and you come flying off your bike and end up all bruised up? It’s not nice to think of these kinds of things, but it’s definitely worth having contingency plans!
That’s why I recommend having 5% – 10% of your budget set aside for emergencies. Think of it as your wee crash landing pad; your financial leather riding jacket.
Annnnnd, Have Insurance
It’s important we talk about insurance – and not just because it should have your back if your back ends up splattered on the road. A lot of major travel insurance companies DO NOT cover motorbike travelling.
You’ve got to pull out your magnifying glass and read the fine print to find out that they only cover “incidental” motorbike rides.
Look, I’m not gonna get on my soapbox. It’s up to you whether or not you get insurance. But as someone who’s had to crawl into the nearest hospital in Guatemala and get hooked up to the good stuff, lemme tell you: it’s nice to not think about money when you’re sick!
And one travel insurer that does cover motorcycle travel that I’d recommend is SafetyWing. They essentially act as international health insurance and function a little like a subscription service. You pay for the months that you want to be covered. It’s super flexible, the customer service is top-notch, and they follow through when you need them most.
Month to month payments, no lock-in contracts, and no itineraries required: that’s the exact kind of insurance digital nomads and long-term traveller types need. Cover yo’ pretty little self while you live the DREAM!
SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to work! Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.
We Need to Talk About Safety
Well, amigos, it goes without saying that you are intentionally zipping around corners at 100 kph with nothing except a sexy leather jacket between you and the road. You’re also probably hoping to go offbeat travelling into countries where bribery is not so much as frowned on, but given the sly head nod of almost approval.
And then you add in the fact that you’re still travelling and that often involves a drink (or seven). I don’t need to pull my hair out and lecture you about staying safe. You are more than likely going to be perfectly ok and stay safe and healthy during your adventure!
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t give you these top safety tips for travelling by motorbike:
- Know the local road rules.
- Don’t drink, snort ketamine, or otherwise drive inebriated.
- Keep your valuables locked away.
- Know your bike.
- Know your limits.
- BONUS! When the cops start asking for bribes, you stop speaking English…
Packing to Travel by Motorbike
Oooooh boy. Systems on systems!
A motorbike often comes with two paneers and a rack close to the seat. This is not a whole lot of storage so you need to travel light! And yet there are definitely a few crucial bits of ingredients that you can’t go travelling without.
If you’re in the jungle you need mosquito spray. If you’re in the cold tundra, you need bulky layers.
And wherever you are, if you’re on a badass motorbike adventure, you need a badass packing list.
Osprey Aether 70L Backpack
Ya can’t go backpacking anywhere without a blasted backpack! Words cannot describe what a friend the Osprey Aether has been to The Broke Backpacker on the road. It’s had a long and illustrious career; Ospreys don’t go down easily.
Feathered Friends Swift 20 YF
My philosophy is that with an EPIC sleeping bag, you can sleep anywhere. A tent is a nice bonus, but a real sleek sleeping bag means you can roll out anywhere in a and stay warm in a pinch. And the Feathered Friends Swift bag is about as premium as it gets.
Grayl Geopress Filtered Bottle
Always travel with a water bottle! They save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. The Grayl Geopress acts as a purifier AND temperature regulator – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are.
Petzl Actik Core Headlamp
Every traveller should have a head torch! A decent head torch could save your life. When you’re camping, hiking, or even if the power just went out, a top-quality headlamp is a MUST. The Petzl Actik Core is an awesome piece of kit because it’s USB chargeable—batteries begone!
First Aid Kit
Never go off the beaten track (or even on it) without your first aid kit! Cuts, bruises, scrapes, third-degree sunburn: a first aid kit will be able to handle most of these minor situations.
My missus travels with all her clothes in ziplock bags: don’t be like my missus. UP YOUR PACKING GAME!
Packing cubes for the globetrotters and compression sacks for the real adventurers – these babies are a traveller’s best kept secret. They organise yo’ packing and minimise its volume too so you can pack MORE.
Or, y’know… you can stick to ziplock bags.View Our Fave Cubes Or Check Out the Sacks!
Destination Inspiration – Top 3 Places to Travel by Motorbike
This world is full of some pretty epic destination inspiration. There are so many roads to travel and so many more crumbling mountain paths that you can share with goats. But for me, there are 3 places in the world that have the best motorbike riding.
Feel free to have your own favourite motorcycle routes, but I think you’ll find it hard to argue that these 3 places aren’t bloody spectacular!
#1 The Big, Bold, and Beautiful US of A
Ah yes, the iconoclastic home of the bald eagle, Route 66, and 50 states desperately singing the star-spangled banner in an attempt to glue themselves together and call themselves a nation. America, fuck yeah.
The United States of America is a lot of things; ‘boring’ is not one of them. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, they committed to becoming a land connected via highways. Today there are 4 million miles of public roads. Damn!
And all these roads have to go somewhere. The USA has an incredibly varied landscape to match its incredibly varied patchwork of cultures. Motorbike travel across the USA is a wild ride (pun intended) through southern fried chicken, crumbling monuments, the Rockie Mountains, and Walmart.
The sense of spiritual vastness and of resilient lands is inescapable when you ride through the prairies. And yet the cultural bankruptcy is rather inescapable when you see homeless Walmart employees in every other major town. The roads and landscapes themselves make for amazing motorbike travelling, but the USA makes for a wild journey in and of itself.
This was the first country I ever went travelling by motorcycle in – and oh boy, did I save the best for right off the bat! Vietnam simply cries out to be explored by motorbike. It’s a long, thin strip of mountains that taper off into epic coastlines.
The cities are bursting at the seams full of highrises and steaming noodles. Motorbikes are THE choice of transport here and you’ll be one of a sea full of them as you navigate your way through the cities. But as you cajole around mountainous back roads, the cities fall away and the other Vietnam is revealed.
You and your noble steed of a motorbike will have to wait for buffalo to cross the road before you travel on through rice paddies, hill tribes, and mind-melting sunsets. This is all without even mentioning the fact that Vietnam is one long culinary excursion.
Vietnamese food is a perfect balance of salty and sweet; yin and yang. The food is often simply by necessity – for many years Vietnam has been beaten down by poverty and war. But the food is always rich and delectable in flavour. There is so much more to Vietnamese food than pho noodle soup…
You’ll notice a change from noodles to rice; from flavoursome to spicy; from dry ingredients and fish sauce to “green”, fresher ingredients as you move from North to South.
I got so caught up in the excellence of the foods I didn’t even wax poetic about the excellence of the roads! A motorbike trip in Vietnam is really like no other – just know that if it’s your first time exploring the country by motorbike, then you’ll be hooked for life!
#3 New Zealand
Aotearoa, New Zealand. This beautiful, thin slice of sub-tropical island paradise also makes for sublime motorbike travelling.
When I was living on the South Island of New Zealand, my neighbour owned a badass Royal Enfield bike. The stars aligned that we could take a trip together and that sold New Zealand to me: it’s simply one of the best places in the world to travel by motorcycle. The mountains are glorious and sky grazing; the cows are exceptionally curious.
The roads are fairly well maintained and the feeling of leaning into each and every curve reminds you about why you started riding in the first place. Not to mention, the Kiwis are resourceful and friendly. So if any troubles do come up with the bike, a helping hand is never far away.
New Zealand has an edge over its vast neighbour across the Tasman Sea (Australia) in that the distances between places is not prohibitive. You can drive for a few hours each day and end up in completely new landscapes and towns. In the morning it might be subtropical palm fronds and by afternoon it’s snow-capped peaks.
This makes New Zealand doable on a time budget, too.
Final Thoughts on Travelling by Motorcycle
While it might be a little intimidating to the first-timer, travelling by motorcycle is freaking addictive! Once you have a taste of the glorious mountain road adventures, the sneaky food stops along the way, and the satisfaction of a beer at the end of a day of riding, you’ll be hooked for life.
Throw in a tent and a thirst to go further and you’ll be looking to quit your job and travel the world. Freedom camping and unrivalled adventure is something that is hard to top. As long as you layer up with a leather jacket and a wee bit of insurance you’ll know that you won’t be flying off your bike and stopping your travels before they began!
After everything these past few years have thrown at us, a motorbike ride would probably do us all some good.
Remember, motorbike travelling ultimately gives us more time on the road. And the road is eternal, the wind is constant, and what else comes with a guarantee like that?
Bye for now, but not forever!
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