Dreaming of motorcycle traveling, but still on the fence?
You’ve got a bike that’s road (or off-road) ready; you may already have a rough route in mind. At the very least, you probably have some dream destinations you’d like to explore. You’ve watched countless YouTube videos, you’ve followed a bunch of motorcycle travelers online, and you’ve read an unhealthy amount of blog posts on the topic…and still, you haven’t left yet.
Chances are, you’re hesitating because of the What-If monster.
Is Motorcycle Traveling Too Risky?
Here’s the thing: motorcycle traveling is getting easier and easier these days. You can Google everything and anything from bike models and luggage options to remote border crossings and motorcycle-friendly stays just about anywhere in the world. You can connect with other riders headed the same way or ones that have just completed the route you’re planning to ride. There’s no shortage of different navigation units and apps, information, and social media buzz.
Compared to motorcycle traveling pre-internet, riding around the world today is much, much, much easier.
So what’s stopping most people from riding off into the sunset?
More often than not, it’s not money or time. It’s the what-ifs.
What if my bike breaks down somewhere in the middle of nowhere?
What if I run out of money?
What if there’s another pandemic, war, or some other unpredicted global event?
What if I break a leg or get robbed?
You might be familiar with most of these – or have your own long list of what-ifs.
The thing about the What-If monster is that it’s faceless. It’s unsolvable: you simply cannot plan for every possible eventuality out there and imagine every scenario that may or may not happen. That’s the power of what-ifs: it’s easy to get overwhelmed…and just give up.
There’s too much uncertainty, too many unknowns, and, hell, it’s scary.
The truth is, there is no roadmap for a perfectly planned and executed motorcycle trip. No one can offer you a detailed guide and say – if you do this, this, and this, you’re guaranteed to ride around the world safely, and nothing bad or weird will ever happen to you if you follow these steps.
Such a guide is impossible. And thank the motorcycle gods for that – if there was, it wouldn’t be an adventure journey. It would be a cruise.
Dealing With the What-Ifs
So if the what-ifs are somewhat legit, but they can’t be completely eliminated, how do you deal with them? Ignore them and go for it? Give in and never leave?
I have a better recipe.
Thinking and overthinking the what-ifs isn’t productive. You won’t solve all the possible future mistakes or mishaps this way, since you don’t know what they might be.
What it takes to get over the What-If monster isn’t some sudden onset of courage or willpower. It’s a mindset shift. Here’s a way of looking at it:
When you were in your twenties, could you have predicted all the possible problems, challenges, fuckups, tough situations, and hard times you’ve experienced since?
Yet, here you are.
You’ve dealt with all of those things – more or less successfully, faster or slower, brilliantly or clumsily, but you have, you brightly burning star in this bottomless galaxy.
You’ve figured out jobs, relationships, health problems, economic crises, change, ups and downs, and myriad other things. You’ve learned a lot along the way, you’ve grown, you’ve adapted, you’ve corrected course, you’ve accumulated knowledge and experience, and you’ve gotten better at a lot of things.
And, sure, not everything always went to plan. You’ve messed up. You’ve miscalculated. Maybe you’ve been taken advantage of, maybe you’ve suffered a loss.
Still: here you are, most likely, stronger and richer for the experience.
Motorcycle traveling isn’t any different.
Traveling By Motorcycle Isn’t Rocket Science
If you’ve managed to overcome a host of challenges in your life, what makes you think you won’t be able to figure stuff out while traveling by motorcycle?
It may feel this way because the idea of riding around the world on a bike or covering a long distance on two wheels is something you’ve never done before. It feels like uncharted territory; you’ve dealt with taxes and root canals and crappy bosses, so these things, while unpleasant, do not scare you.
But since you haven’t gone on a long motorcycle trip before, it feels like something utterly different, something where different rules may apply, and you don’t know them all.
Here’s the thing, though: motorcycle traveling isn’t some mysterious, superhuman thing that only a select few can do. At its very core, it’s getting on your bike, riding from one point to another, finding a place to stay, then doing the same for a number of days, weeks, or months until you’ve reached your goal or circumnavigated the globe.
But Still, What If…
Sure, since you’re planning a long-distance trip, it isn’t that simple.
Other factors come into play: different terrain, especially if you’re planning to ride off-road. Different countries and cultures, where you may not understand the local ways of life or the language. Different weather and climate conditions you may not be prepared for. Wear and tear on your motorcycle that’s inevitable on a long journey. Fatigue on your soul, equally inevitable if you’re away for months or years; problems with foreign officials or paperwork; crashes; breakdowns; a possibility of injury; a chance you may run into unfriendlies; and, most likely, a bunch of other challenges you can’t foresee just yet.
So if you’re still plagued by the what-ifs, a neat way to deal with them is to run with them. Imagine your worst what-if, but don’t stop there: keep on imagining. What’s the worst-case scenario? What would you do?
What if my bike breaks down somewhere remote?
Let’s run with that thought, instead of letting it paralyze you. Ok, so you’ve broken down, and there’s no one around. You can’t fix the issue yourself, and you’re all on your lonesome somewhere in, say, Ecuador. What would you do?
Perhaps you’d try to stop a passing car and ask them for a lift to the nearest town where you could get help. Maybe you could walk to a village you passed a few miles back, or perhaps, a passing rider could give you a tow. Once in a town, you’d probably find a mechanic and get help to rescue and fix your bike.
Sure, that breakdown wouldn’t exactly be a pleasant experience. It would be inconvenient. It would take you a while. But you would be able to solve it, one way or another.
Does the what-if-my-bike-breaks-down still hold the same power now? I’ll bet it doesn’t.
Our Worst Motorcycle Travel Mishaps
The exercise of playing out the various what-ifs in your head can be really helpful: this way, you’re not letting fear freeze you. Instead, you’re thinking in solutions, and that gives you confidence.
In real life, of course, those solutions may turn out to be completely different. That same breakdown might turn out to be a complete shitshow where you wait in the pouring rain for hours just to realize the damned kill switch was on. It may turn out it’ll take a week to replace a burned clutch plate. Or, you may encounter a friendly local who will help you out, let you stay at their place, help you fix the bike, and the breakdown will end up being an awesome travel experience.
To give you a rough idea of what sort of mishaps and challenges can happen along the way of a long motorcycle journey, we’re sharing a few of our own misadventures. Could they have been prevented or avoided? Maybe; could they happen to you, too? Possibly – adventure riding can be unpredictable.
But by sharing our own worst setbacks on the road, we’re hoping to show that even then, there’s a solution to everything – and a lesson to be learned.
Running Out of Fuel in Patagonia
Back in 2014, I was puttering happily along the famed Ruta 40 in Argentina on my noble steed, the Zongshen 150. There is one remote stretch between Tres Lagos and Perito Moreno where the road is mostly unpaved and where there isn’t a living soul miles around.
It’s spectacular, but it is lonely. And it doesn’t have a lot of fuel stations along the way. In fact, there’s only one, and I didn’t make it.
Having miscalculated my fuel range, there I was, stranded on a windswept Patagonian plain with nothing and no one in sight. To add insult to the injury, it was January the 1st – so there was little hope of seeing anyone on this desolate stretch of road. People would be nursing New Years’ hangovers, not riding Route 40.
Cursing, huffing, and puffing, I decided to simply walk my bike toward Bajo Caracoles. I had around thirty miles to go, and I knew I probably wouldn’t make it in one day, but I figured it was better than just standing on the roadside.
After about two or three hours of paddling and duck-walking the bike and bracing against the gale-force winds, there was suddenly a beautiful mirage on the road: a black Honda headed my way. Turns out, it was piloted by an American rider who just happened to have a little fuel reserve left. He shared a couple of liters of petrol with me, and we rode to Bajo Caracoles together where I repaid the favor.
That was the end of my fuel woes. I was cold, tired, and deeply unimpressed with myself for miscalculating the range – but I was never in any real danger.
That same year, I got robbed in a small border town between Peru and Ecuador. I’d parked the bike in a gated hotel parking lot and, thinking it was safe, left one of my bags on the bike.
In the morning, it was gone. The straps were cut, and the bag was no longer there. The bike was fine, nothing else was taken, and I didn’t really have anything of great value in that bag, but it was a shitty feeling. It was just some stuff – some clothes, a diary, a few other old and tattered possessions – but it was my stuff, and I felt that a great injustice had been inflicted upon my innocent, unsuspecting self.
I felt pretty shitty about it for about a day or two, then carried on riding. I replaced the diary, bought another woolly jumper, and eventually forgot about the experience. At the end of the day, it was just bad luck; I’ve learned not to leave any stuff on my bike when leaving it somewhere overnight, no matter how secure the parking lot or garage seemed, and that was that.
Stuck in No Man’s Land
Having learned to ride in Peru and bought my first bike there, I’d decided to keep on riding South America and cross into Bolivia. This was my first time crossing an international border with a vehicle – I’d always only backpacked before – and I had no idea it wasn’t that easy to cross from Peru to Bolivia on a Peruvian-registered bike (if your motorcycle is registered in Europe, North America, or Australia, it’s a different story).
Thinking it was going to be all hello, smile, stamp, farewell, I went into the immigration office first and got stamped out of Peru. Then, an official told me I needed to go into the customs office, too, and get a paper for my bike. Alrighty; except at the customs, I was told I wasn’t allowed to leave Peru on a Peru-registered motorcycle as a foreigner. Not to worry, though: if I got a permit from the Peruvian transport police, I could still do it the same day. The nearest office of the transport police was in Puno, about fifty miles back, but there was still time.
I rushed to Puno…and was told the procedure could take a while. I asked the police officer whether I should get my passport re-stamped since it was clear I wouldn’t leave Peru that day, but he assured me it wouldn’t be a problem.
The bike paperwork process escalated into two weeks of going back and forth to various offices and paying various fees, a bureaucracy nightmare I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. Finally, though, I got the papers and headed for the border again, where the customs officials were happy to let me through.
Except on the Bolivian side, I was told I couldn’t enter since, according to my passport stamp, I’d left Peru two weeks ago.
Back on the Peruvian side, I was told I couldn’t get stamped back in since I never entered Bolivia.
I was stuck in no man’s land.
Eventually, a kindly migration officer took pity, stamped me back into Peru in a sort of hush-hush way, stamped me out again, and the Bolivians allowed me to enter.
Was it fun? Not in the slightest. It did question my patience and my sanity quite a few times, but in the end, I got into Bolivia, learned all I needed to learn about temporary bike import papers, and carried on riding to Ushuaia.
Getting Burned Out
I realize the idea of getting tired of motorcycle traveling may seem absurd, but it does happen when you’re on the road for years.
It’s happened to me twice.
The first time was back in 2019 in Peru, where I’d chased Rally Dakar and later found myself in Lima contemplating my next steps. Seeing the Dakar up close and personal left me with a strange longing, and suddenly, merely continuing the journey felt somewhat directionless. I’d traveled plenty at that point; I’d seen North and South America from the saddle of my motorcycle; and, yes, there was nowhere to go but everywhere, but I was overcome by a feeling that something needed to change.
As luck would have it, I got an invitation to race the Hellas Rally Raid in Greece that same year. Knowing nothing of rally racing or roadbook navigation and being a mediocre dirt rider at best, I had little chance of crossing the finish line of a seven-day race. But it was the change I was looking for, so I raced down to Chile, packed up Lucy the Bike, shipped it to Europe, and entered the race.
Switching things up, then enduring the pandemic stuck at home made hitting the road again feel like blissful freedom once more. The burnout was gone, the borders had opened, and the love for motorcycle traveling was back in full force.
Going too Fast
Another mistake that can lead to burnout is going too fast and doing too much. This year was crazy for me and Lennart as we chased and filmed motorcycle tours, traveled Central America and Mexico, I led two women’s motorcycle tours in Belize and Andalusia as Lennart produced videos, and we both worked hard on our freelance gigs trying to keep afloat financially at the same time.
When we got back to Europe after an intense season, the last thing we wanted was another sprint across the continent, another rally race, or another tour. We wanted to hide somewhere, lay low, and recharge, or else we couldn’t even look at the bikes.
It’s tempting to ride as fast, as far, and as much as you can and try to do it all, but finding balance is key. We’re still working on finding ours.
So what’s the bottom line: is motorcycle traveling just too much, or can it be done?
Yes, hell yes, a thousand yes – it can be done. No matter how much or how little riding experience you’ve got, no matter your budget, no matter your age or your bike, traveling the world by motorcycle is the best gift you can give yourself – even if it feels uncertain right now.
You will break down somewhere remote. Weird, scary, and strange things will happen. You’ll feel lonely sometimes, and sometimes, you’ll question your choices. You may run out of money sooner than you thought. You may get stuck somewhere, and you may find yourself wondering, what the heck am I doing here in the first place. You may struggle to find bike parts or your motivation. You may cut your trip short, or you may decide to live off your bike for years to come. You’ll stall and you’ll fall and you’ll swear and you’ll face challenges, and sometimes, it’ll feel like a crazy, impossible mission.
But you’ll also discover the feeling of unbridled freedom. You’ll watch sunrises over mountaintops, ride the world’s loneliest roads, cross creeks and valleys and glacier-capped passes, and you’ll feel overwhelmed with gratitude at times. You’ll meet people who’ll encourage you, inspire you, and amaze you. You’ll find that you are strong, and that your soul belongs in vast open spaces and mountains, the miles disappearing under your tires, the road unfurling ever forward, the world yours to explore.
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