How to go on a Motorcycle Adventure

Welcome to the How to Go on a Motorcycle Adventure Guide! Here’s everything you need to know about preparing for and going on a motorcycle trip or RTW epic including paperwork, choosing your bike and gear, planning routes, shipping, safety and loads more…  

Motorcycle adventure riding in Kyrgyzstan
Somewhere in Kyrgyzstan...

Contents

How to go on a motorcycle adventure and ride RTW

This is a big deal. If you’re reading this article, then you’re considering leaving home for a few months or years – or completely leaving your old life behind for a new one on the open road. Either way, a motorcycle adventure means something epic and life-changing is about to happen and you’re probably grinning ear-to-ear just thinking about it.

But amid all the excitement and YouTube travel videos, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or get put off by the amount of pre-trip work ahead of you. Don’t be… thinking of motorcycle travelling is a big deal, but preparing for one isn’t. It just needs a bit of time and methodical planning.  

It doesn’t matter if you’re off for a few weeks or gone for years round the world, use this guide to help you get started with your planning. It’s half the fun (well, not half, but it can be fun). Get this stuff right now, and it’ll make all the difference in the long run. Good luck!

It’s your trip

What exactly do you want from your motorcycle trip? There are plenty of people out there travelling on two-wheels, they’ve all got their own idea of what they want and no two trips are the same. Really take the time to consider what you want before moving on to the next stages below, as what you want from your trip has an impact on every decision.

For example, some bike travellers don’t enjoy off-roading, so there’s no point opting for a small capacity single-cylinder machine. Some people hate camping, so there’s no point them heading into Mongolia.

Have a think about what you do and don’t want, make a list, stick to it and don’t get bogged down by what other people are doing. It’s not their adventure, it’s yours.   

And if you’re more interested in road based travels and touring, check out these guides as well:

READ MORE: Motorcycle Touring for Beginners
READ MORE: Motorcycle Travel Guide: Europe
READ MORE: All Europe, UK and Touring Guides

Choosing your adventure motorcycle

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you need a £20,000, fully-loaded adventure bike monster, dripping in accessories, sat-navs and shiny trinkets. It’s not true. And it’s also not true that you need a lightweight sand-battling desert weapon either.

The whole thing is silly. There are people out there on big adventure bikes who swear you need one of those. And there are those on small capacity bikes who knock them for saying so. There shouldn’t be this ‘my bike is right’ club mentality. The truth is, travelling is extremely subjective, we all want different things and so different motorcycles suit different people’s needs. 

To figure out what bike suits your needs, we’ve detailed the main questions, loads of great tips and info into one packed and super comprehensive guide…

READ MORE: How to Choose an Adventure Motorcycle for Travelling

off-road adventure biking in Mongolia
Riding through Mongolia's Gobi Desert

What are my bike options?

You really can go on whatever you like. But, if you’ve already got a bike in mind and are looking into the adventure bike category, check out our Adventure Motorcycle Reviews page for in-depth bike reviews from real world travellers. You’ll find what they love about their bikes, how they’ve prepped them, modifications and much more. 

Motorcycle Reviews by Motorcycle Travellers

Detailed reviews from world travellers.
REVIEWS

What motorcycle luggage do I need? 

There are loads of motorcycle luggage options and configurations out there including soft, hard, plastic, polycarbonate and different variations from soft panniers and tank bags to top boxes and duffle bags. The main question is hard vs soft luggage and we’ve got dedicated guides and reviews to help you figure out what’s right for you. 

READ MORE: The Motorcycle Luggage Guide
READ MORE: Hard vs Soft Panniers for Adventure Bikes 
READ MORE: Motorcycle Luggage Reviews 

The Motorcycle Luggage Guide
A typical Mongolian view

How to pack for a motorcycle adventure

You’ve got three tasks here:

1. Get everything you need for the trip
2. Condense and minimalize
3. Get rid of everything you don’t need

Number one is the fun bit. Make a list of everything you think you need for your motorcycle trip. Easy!

Number two is a balance. Everyone’s idea of what they need is different. It all comes down to what you want and don’t want to live without and what you’re prepared to compromise on. For example, we all need a toothbrush and most people will pack a normal brush. But at one extreme end, some travellers will cut the plastic handle in half to save size and weight. And then at the other end are those who pack electric brushes because they don’t want to compromise on dental hygiene. 

Another example are towels. Some travellers take a normal towel, some take tiny microfibre towels and others use a sock. 

Find your own balance and try and condense and minimalize on the things you can. If you really want a big towel and that makes you happy, then take it! Just be prepared to start hacking off your toothbrush handle instead. 

Number three is harder than it sounds. The difficulty is overpacking. It’s incredibly easy to do and you will do it. So, you need to be absolutely ruthless as minimalism is your friend.  But remember, no matter how ruthless you are, you will still overpack, even experienced travellers overpack. If there’s anything you’re not 100% sure you’re going to need, leave it at home otherwise prepare to post it home or ditch it on the road.

READ MORE: The Complete Motorcycle Trip Packing List
READ MORE: The Motorcycle Camping Gear Checklist
READ MORE: Our Round the World Motorcycle Packing List

Afghanistan Mad or Nomad (3)
Entering Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor

What to pack for a motorcycle adventure

Personal clothing

Your personal clothing section won’t be as big and bulky as the dreaded camping bag, but it can get pretty close if you let it. Here’s a few tips for keeping it small.

You don’t need eighteen pairs of pants and three jumpers in the same colour. Pack light, small and smart. If you’re heading to warm countries then one or no jumper will do. Wash your clothes more regularly and take less in the first place. 

When choosing clothes for your trip, make sure to ditch all cotton and instead go for synthetics and wool, which will keep you both cooler and warmer when needs be, dry quicker and wick sweat and moisture away from your skin.

Most clothing bulk comes from evening wear in colder temperatures. Consider using a small, foldable thermal jacket that doubles up as your motorcycle thermal and your evening/ camping jacket like the SubZero jackets we use. There’s no point carrying a big woolly jumper for when you’re off the bike and using another thermal jacket for riding. 

If you are heading to cold countries, another option is to ditch the heavy and bulky layering system in favour of a single heated jacket. Check out the below guide for more info on thermals and heated kit. 

READ MORE: How to Choose Your Adventure Riding Gear  
READ MORE: Motorcycle Travel Gear Guides
READ MORE: Motorcycle Clothing Reviews
READ MORE: The Best Heated Motorcycle kit

broken down in the pamir mountains near khorog
Snapped pannier rack in Tajikistan

Motorcycle camping gear

Your camping bag will be the biggest bag on your bike. We’ve met travellers who have been on the road for six months and not set their tent up once. They actively looked for a place just so they could say they camped at least once and then ditched the gear. If you hate the idea of camping then consider if you really need the bag. And if you want in for emergencies then only take the bare minimum. The necessities are: tent, sleeping bag, roll mat, stove, cooking equipment and torch.

The tent, sleeping bag and roll mat are the bulkiest and take up most room. Opt for low volume, lightweight and compression kit that can be packed away as small as possible.

READ MORE: The 10 BEST Motorcycle Camping Tents
READ MORE: The Ultimate Motorcycle Camping Gear Checklist

Adv bike camping in Mongolia
Typical motorcycle campsite

Stove

We suggest using a multi-fuel stove, like the MSR DragonFly. It packs up small, is light and easy to refill because it runs on petrol or diesel. There’s no point taking gas canister stoves as once you’re out of Europe they’re near impossible to refill. Don’t forget your matches. 

Pots and pans

It’s better to spend a little more when purchasing cooking equipment as there’s no other way to get smaller, lightweight and compactable pots and pans. The cheap stuff rusts up and is heavier and you’ll end up spending more in the long run. We use MSR’s Quick 2 System, it’s a little larger than other two-person sets, but we cook often and so it’s worth it for us. Don’t forget lightweight but sturdy plastic cutlery.

Camping extras

You’ll also need miscellaneous stuff for cooking including a decent knife, washbowl, tea towel, sponge, washing liquid and a mini chopping board. It’s also worth taking a small water-tight container for spices, salt, pepper and sugar. We also carry a small picnic blanket, which comes in very useful.

We carried a couple of small camping chairs to start with, but they broke. Every time we saw motorcyclists with chairs we were mega jealous. It’s a slice of luxury but very bulky and not absolutely necessary.

Motorcycle tool kit

Taking a toolkit for general repairs and servicing as well as oils and lubricants is a good idea. Tools are heavy and it’s easy to fall into the trap of over packing here. We suggest having a read of our comprehensive guide.  

READ MORE: How to Pack the Ultimate Adventure Bike Toolkit 
READ MORE: How to Make Your Own Tool Luggage
READ MORE: SBV Adventure Motorcycle Tool Kit Review

Ultimate adventure bike tool kit
Our complete RTW tool kit

Security

If you’re heading into some particularly dodgy areas, you may want to take a chain, lock, security mesh net or bike cover. We’ve already written a detailed guide with 10 top tips for keeping your motorcycle and gear safe while travelling. Check out the guide below: 

READ MORE: Motorcycle Security while Travelling

Food, water and fuel

Unless you plan on eating out for every meal (which will get very expensive, very quickly), you’ll need to take a food bag. We use a waterproof Kriega US30 strapped to our crash bar to hold our food. You could get away with a smaller Kriega US10, but we opted for the bigger one because we camp often and like to cook our own food.

For water, we use a 6.6litre Rotopax water container. This is enough to drink from during the day, for emergencies and to cook, wash and clean with. If you’re going to be off-roading most of the time, consider using a bladder pack. Depending on where you’re travelling, you could also take water purification tablets.

We also carry a 6.6 litre Rotopax fuel container, which slots next to the water container. This was especially useful in Uzbekistan where we went hundreds of miles without a petrol station in sight.

Electronics

The important electronics are your mobile phone, charger and adapter. Your phone can be your sat-nav ,translator, camera and used for help in emergencies. However, it’s likely you’ll want to take cool pictures of your trip, so also consider a camera and a laptop (if you absolutely need one). Electronics can pile up, so try and keep it as low weight as possible.

READ MORE: Top 5 Free Travel Apps for Motorcycle Travel
READ MORE: The Motorcycle Travel Photography Gear Guide
READ MORE: The Best Motorcycle Sat Navs
READ MORE: The Best Motorcycle Phone Mounts

Wash Kit

It’s important to keep up with your hygiene on the road. This one’s a bit obvious, but we’d recommend, toothbrush (handles optional) and paste, floss, flannel, shaving equipment, small tube of shower gel and shampoo, soap, hand sanitizer and a face cleanser for all the dirt that’s going to be blasted into your face all day long.

Paperwork

Keep your important paperwork in a water-tight pack. It’s a good idea to also keep a small USB pen with a backup of your paperwork elsewhere on the bike.  

Miscellaneous

Here’s where you can add a few extra necessities like a first aid kit, penknife, map and compass (only if you’re going to use them), sunglasses, a small foldable rucksack for when you’re off the bike, dry compression bags to keep everything dry. 

Adventure riding gear

Forget the adventure catalogues and glossy mags. Sure, the riders look pretty cool with sun glistening of their goggles, immaculately branded kit deflecting dirt and their KTM’s front wheel high in the air as the rear tyre spits dirt.

But that’s not long-term motorcycle travel and you don’t need top of the range jackets and trousers to go on a motorcycle adventure – no matter how long you’re going for. It’s seductive marketing and there’s plenty of well marketed garments dubbed “Adventure” motorcycle clothing, which are wildly inappropriate for long-term motorcycle travellers. Of course, a lot of that kit is high-quality and good stuff, there’s no denying that, but that doesn’t mean you need it or that it’s right for you. 

So, what do you need? It depends on where you’re going and the type of riding you’re doing…

How to choose adventure riding gear for travelling
Somewhere in Northern India

Where are you going?

Try tapping in adventure motorcycle clothing into Google and you’ll find an endless sea of super-dooper kit that’s bullet proof, rain proof and nuclear bomb proof… Sounds like you need it, and some people will, but most of it is pretty unnecessary for someone riding round-the-world. Think about where you’re heading and the temperatures you’ll be facing first, that will help put into perspective the kind of kit you need. 

After 15 years of riding in temperatures ranging from -20C to +48C, I’ve found the best option is a lightweight jacket and trousers, a pair of military boots and waterproof throwovers. Before you spit out your Cheerios, here’s why… 

The reason I opt for that set-up is because of the constantly changing temperature and climate we travel through. It can be freezing cold one month and boiling hot the next. So, it doesn’t make sense for us to take Gore-Tex Pro Laminate for example, as we’d swelter in the hot countries and the kit would be unusable. 

If you know you’re only going to be riding through South America and it’s going to be hot the whole way, then opt for light, mesh kit with plenty of ventilation. 

motorcycle adventure
Laos' 4,000 Islands

If you’re planning a ride to Nordkapp and then onto Russia, then Gore-Tex waterproof gear is a must.

But, if you’re travelling through multiple climates, keep your kit as light and comfortable as possible. Adapt to the weather by layering over the top or underneath of your motorcycle clothing. When it rains, chuck your throwovers on. When it gets cold, layer up or use a heated jacket. When it gets hot, just use the gear you’ve got. 

Adventure motorcycle clothing is big business. There are hundreds of brands out there and a complex world of kit to choose from, making it hard to know what you do and don’t need. If you’re getting suited up for a big trip, have a read of our comprehensive gear guide.

It’s packed with detailed info on the different types of helmets including flip front, adventure lids, road and off-road, adventure suits, boots, gloves, thermals, heated kit and extras. There’s examples, top tips and what type of kit we use on our adventures.  

READ MORE: How to Choose Your Adventure Riding Gear
READ MORE: Motorcycle Gear Guides and Reviews 

Motorcycle travel destinations

Choosing where you want to ride is a big decission and will greatly affect every aspect of your planning, from budgeting, to how long you’re going for, paperwork, kit and so on. 

Chances are, if you’re planning a motorcycle adventure, you’ve probably got a place in mind you’d like to go. But if not, that’s fine too, we have plenty of friends who simply set-off one day and have pottered around the world without a plan. Of course, it is easier to have a rough idea of where you’d like to go first, as sorting visas and paperwork on the road can be difficult and near-impossible for some countries. Also, inevitably, shippng will get in the way and is expensive. 

Take a look at our Destination and country guides and the detailed Motorcycle Travel Guides in each country page to see what’s involved in the countries you’re interested in travelling through. 

READ MORE: Motorcycle Destination Guides

Adventure bike team in Tajikistan
Entering the Wakhan Corridor

Budget

Budgeting is the big one and typically the number one question when it comes to motorcycle travelling, or any prolonged travelling for that matter. 

Motorcycle travel doesn’t have to cost a fortune and there are plenty of ways to keep things low cost. You can make it as expensive or as cheap as you like.

If you go for a £15,000 bike, sleep in hotels every night, go out to eat for every meal, drink loads of beer and don’t do any repair work yourself…then yeah, it’s going to cost a fortune. 

How to budget

There’s a lot to consider when starting to work out how much you’ll spend on a motorcycle trip. Let’s say you’ve already got the bike, kit and gear. What’s now important are the countries, their visa and import rules and how you get to the next country. 

So, if you’re heading to Africa, you will need a Carnet, which will be expensive. Will you ride home or ship your bike back? Consider those costs. 

If, however, you go to Central Asia, then there’s no Carnet to pay, and potentially cheaper return using the Trans-Siberian Railway or cheaper shipping firms. 

Look into how you will get from country to country and what you need to get into each one. Calculate how much you’ll be spending on fuel each month in that area, if it will be possible to camp and if you’re likely to cook your own food. You’ll soon get a rough idea. You can adapt and change your expenditure while on the road as you learn new tricks for keeping costs down and petrol in the tank. 

For loads of top tips and ways to save money while motorcycle travelling, check out the below packed guide:

READ MORE: How to Motorcycle Travel on the Cheap

Paperwork

Paperwork is the boring and stressful part of planning a trip, and it’s also one of the most important. There’s no point having the lightest packed, swishest motorcycle if you don’t have a visa to get into the country! Check out our dedicated paperwork guide at the bottom of this section. 

Again, what paperwork you need depends on the country you’re travelling through. 

Here’s what you need to consider:

  1. Do I need a Carnet de Passage to enter the country or will I be allowed in with a Temporary Import?
  2. Do I need a visa to enter, how long does it last, where can I get the visa from?
  3. Does this country require a Letter of Invitation?
  4. Do I need to pay for a compulsory guide for this country, like China and Myanmar?
  5. Will this country be upset if I’ve visited another country that they’re not friends with? Do I need an interview first, if so, where?
What you might need:

  1. You may need a Green card for some countries, like Turkey.
  2. If you’re travelling as a couple, you may need a marriage certificate for some countries.
  3. Do I need to prove I’ve had particular vaccinations?

You will definitely need:

  1. Passport with plenty of blank pages
  2. Driver’s licence 
  3. International Driver’s Permit (IDP) (you don’t need this for every country, but there are some countries who will not let you operate a vehicle without one, like Japan).
  4.  Vehicle registration documents
  5. Travel insurance. You don’t need to show that you have travel insurance to enter a country, but it’s so important that we stuck it here anyway. Don’t leave home on a motorcycle trip without it. Check out our UK motorcycle insurance guide for loads of top tips!

READ MORE: The UK Motorcycle Travel Insurance Guide

Top Paperwork Tips
  1. Make sure all your addresses and details match up on your documents. It can cause trouble with the more pedantic border guards.  
  2. Make multiple backups of your paperwork. It’s worth having your originals securely squirreled away on your person. Make colour copies and have them easily accessible on the bike. Buy a cheap USB and also put your documents on there and keep that secure elsewhere. And finally, give copies to a trusted friend back home, or email them to yourself just in case. Sounds like overkill, but you’ll be happy you did it if you ever need it!
  3. Make a laminate copy of your driver’s licence and passport. If you’re stopped by unscrupulous cops who demand a bribe in return for your passport, you’ll feel a lot happier saying no thanks and riding off if you gave them your laminate copy.

READ MORE: Motorcycle Travel Paperwork Explained
READ MORE: How to Deal With Bribes on the Road. 

Afghanistan soldiers in Wakhan
These Afghan soldiers were incredibly friendly. Bribing isn't as rife as it once was.

International motorcycle shipping

Riding long distance means that at some point you’re probably going to need to ship your motorcycle. This could be to get it home after a long journey, or to get it to the next continent or even to ship it to a starting point. 

Shipping and freighting your bike sounds like a logistical nightmare with loads of options, sea and air freight, agents and customs etc. But it doesn’t have to be! 

To help, we’ve produced a detailed and comprehensive guide with an industry expert that walks you through everything you need to know to freight your bike below:

READ MORE: Ultimate Motorcycle Shipping Guide  
READ MORE: How to Transport your Bike from the UK to Europe

We have an International Motorcycle Shipping Companies Finder page with new companies being added every week. Check out the page, click a country you’re interested in shipping your bike to or from and see what’s on offer. 
International Motorcycle Shipping Companies
Welcome to the Motorcycle Shipping Companies Finder. This page lists worldwide freight forwarders, companies, agents, fixers, ferry services and detailed guides. Click a country on the map to see what's on offer.
Read More

Get some adventure bike training

Motorcycle training is a brilliant way of easing yourself into being psychologically ready to travel alone to far flung lands. Knowing you can handle the terrain, or at least have some experience in what to do and how to best tackle it makes an insurmountable difference. There’s no point having a fully kitted out bike, all the crash protection and gear if you’re not comfortable riding. 

And you don’t have to do your training on a big bike either, there are plenty of enduro and dirt bike schools you can start off with and work your way up to riding a bigger bike or even taking your own. 

It’s not only rider training that helps, a lot of adventure bike schools also offer basic mechanical training on how to keep your bike in working order, maintain it while travelling and deal with common problems on the road like punctures. 

We’ve put together a dedicated page for listing the very best off-road motorcycle training schools in the UK that we’ve attended. Check them out and see what you think. 

READ MORE: The BEST Off Road Motorcycle Training Schools

What they don’t tell you

Once you start to tell people your plans and that you’re thinking of travelling on a motorcycle, you’ll find everyone is an expert. There will be a lot of people telling you how hard it’s going to be (when they haven’t ridden before), how dangerous it’s going to be (when they don’t venture further than Spain for the annual holiday) and how expensive it will be (when they have absolutely no idea). There will be a lot of naysayers. 

And when you Google and YouTube motorcycle travelling, you’ll no doubt see bearded vagabonds fixing engines in the middle of Mauritania. It’s not like that and you don’t need to be an expert at everything to have an adventure. 

Anyone can motorcycle travel. Don’t be put off by anything anyone says. It’ll be the best thing you ever do. 

READ MORE: What they Don’t tell you about Motorcycle Travel 

Read more on going on a motorcycle adventure

Thanks for checking out our How to Go on a Motorcycle Adventure Guide. We hope you enjoyed it! Here’s a few more articles on preparing for and going on a bike adventure that we recommend you read next. 

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If you liked this How to go on a motorcycle adventure guide or have any questions, please leave us a comment below!

7 thoughts on “How to go on a Motorcycle Adventure”

  1. hi mad or nomads. great read, me and a friend are planing a big ride for next year and came across your site and all its useful info. were struggling to find info on insurance for the bike though. Any thoughts?
    Thanks
    Mike

    Reply
    • Hi Mike, thanks for your comment! That’s awesome you’re planning a trip with your mate. Yeah, motorcycle insurance is a pain. So, assuming you’re from the UK, you can get your bike covered for the UK and Europe, but further afield there is no motorcycle cover available. Perhaps there’s some specialist companies, but i’ve never heard of them and dread to think how much that’d be! Basically, once you’re out of Europe you’re on your own and the bike is uninsured. When you arrive at borders, you may be required to buy third party insurance. It’s not normally worth the paper its written on, not all countries require it but a lot do and if you don’t buy it you could get in trouble. For example, entering Georgia you must now buy insurance, without it you get fined on exit, but it’s not obvious when you enter that you need it, you will need to find a little insurance kiosk somewhere past the border. Japan on the other hand wont let you ride without insurance first. Mongolia requires insurance, but you can ride into the country without it and will find an insurance booth not far from the border where you can haggle the insurance price. It’s worth getting these third party insurances to be on the safe side.

      Don’t forget, travel insurance is a separate insurance policy and something you definitely need. Have a read of this article: https://www.madornomad.com/motorcycle-travel-insurance/

      All the best with your planning, and please feel free to message anytime with anymore questions!

      Reply
  2. Great article and really, really detailed. Especially like all the packing advice as it’s always hard to know what to take and very interesting to know what people who are already travelling are using. Thanks guys

    Reply
  3. Wow this is a serious guide and I thank you for taking the time to write it. I’ve always wondered how folk managed to ride around the world and what sort of budget they have. I’ve had a look already at your travelling cheap guide as well. All bookmarked ready although i’m not sure if it’ll be an around the world one or more of a staged ride. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    • Hi Craig, thanks very much for your comment.
      We’re actually working on a new guide detailing what it actually costs to ride RTW. So check back soon for that one. But glad you found this one and the Travelling on the Cheap guide useful.
      Good question – it completely depends on how long you’ve got and what your budget is. There are pros and cons to each scenario. I assume if it’s a staged ride you would ride a continent for example at a time and then ship home or store your bike. If not, and it’s a few countries at a time then I assume you’ll be buying/renting and selling each time. What’s your timeframe, budget and where are you thinking of going exactly?
      Cheers,
      Andy

      Reply

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