After my recent first-time motorcycle trip to Europe (Split, Croatia, to be exact), I figured I would share some of my tips on how I prepared (and also what I wish I had known). From goats in the road, to switchback after switchback, straight mountain drop offs, confident European drivers who like to cross the center line, and road signs I’ve never seen, I sure got my fair share of learning experiences. However, for as many times as I felt nervous or unsure, there were double the times I widened my eyes in awe at the amazing views I saw and smiled at the wonderful people I met. Croatia was a beautiful place to visit and ride, one that I will never forget. Check out these 10 tips on how to prepare for an international moto trip – and feel free to share some of the things that may have worked for you as well!
Riders have three options here, which are listed in order of costliness: (1) Purchase a bike in Europe, ride it, and then ship it back home, (2) Ship your own bike, or (3) Rent a bike. Obviously each option has its pros and cons. Having your own bike is ideal but costly, as is purchasing a new bike in Europe. Renting a bike is the more common option; however be sure to rent from a reputable company, and it’s always best to ride a style of motorcycle that you are familiar with.
Where to ride is always a key question. My ride in Croatia was amazing, with views of the Adriatic Sea and mountain landscape on each side of me as I cruised along. The roads were well paved, twisty and oh-so-fun. Other desirable riding locations include: Portugal, Italy and Switzerland (to name just a few). Do your research, and make sure your riding destination fits with other plans for your trip.
Part of preparing for an international trip includes making the decision on whether to ride solo or in a group. Riding solo can be completely liberating and exciting on its own but does pose some safety risks if you aren’t familiar with the area. For a first time Europe moto trip, it’s recommended that you travel with a group (either your own group or connect with a local tour company that knows the area). Be sure to review motorcycle safety prior to riding so everyone is on the same page. Being a HOG member has its benefits as well and gives members the opportunity to link up with group members in other countries.
If you decide to rent and/or book a tour through an agency, made sure to ask the following questions: How long has the company been operating? Do they have any recent reviews online? What does their insurance cover? How often do they maintain their bikes? Researching a solid tour company is imperative to having a good trip and experience abroad.
Give yourself enough time to book flights and accommodations (a few months in advance is ideal). Keep in mind the weather at that time of year, and also consider what motorcycle parking at hotels or B&B’s looks like. Many consider May, June and September or October great times to visit Europe as it tends to be less busy and prices are more reasonable. Weather tends to be pretty mild during these times as well (not too hot, not too cold). You may want to consider booking travel cancellation insurance “just in case”.
Make sure you research the area and get to know it before you travel and ride. Perhaps the area you want to travel to is not motorcycle friendly (that would be good to know!). Plan a general itinerary, look up local restaurants (perhaps they are closed on Sunday for religious reasons), gas stations (know how many mpg’s you get!), and get to know the wildlife that frequents the area (we came upon a group of goats on the road during our trip!). Make sure you know what currency that country deals with (I assumed Croatia was Euros, but learned before the trip that they use Kuna currency).
For the most part, road signs are similar to ours, but there are certainly some I saw that I had no idea what they meant. Make sure you prepare in advance by knowing important road signs for the area you are visiting. You should also find out whether the country you are going to travel in requires an additional visa, and if there are any general laws that would be helpful to know. A quick search online will find you the information you need (make sure it’s a reputable source), and it’s always good practice to just be on your best behavior! Don’t text and ride, drink and ride, speed, or do drugs. In other words, just be a good person and you won’t land yourself in jail or worse.
Make sure you look into whether your current plan provides coverage in Europe, and ensure that both you and your bike have proper insurance coverage before riding. Some countries will require proof of insurance before they will consider issuing you a visa, and some tour/rental companies will require that you have additional insurance coverage on top of what they may provide. Also make sure you have proper health insurance for traveling before you go!
While it’s desirable to turn your phone off and get off the grid for a bit, you also want to make sure you have the option to make a phone call in an emergency or look up some information if needed. Most cell phone companies have an international cell phone plan that is affordable. It’s also not a bad idea to give someone back home your travel itinerary and establish check-ins (especially if you are riding solo, or in remote or off-road areas).
An international cell phone plan will also give you access to GPS, Google Translate services, and the ability to look up other information while traveling. If you really want to get high-tech, having a SENA Bluetooth system among a group of riders is a great way to communicate while riding.
It’s true, less is more on a motorcycle trip. Pack items that you can wear or use twice, and pack smart. Don’t forget key items like your passport, identification and cash, plus other items like battery power packs (and/or a cigarette charger/USB cable), a 110 > 220 volt electrical adapter, first aid kit, snacks, paper maps (GPS won’t always work), sunscreen, and tools.
For gear, pack for the weather but make sure you wear proper gear! On my trip, I packed a Joe Rocket Canada leather jacket, plus a textile jacket. I brought my helmet in my carry on, and brought a tinted visor plus sunglasses. I brought two pairs of gloves (leather and textile), a good pair of boots, and two pairs of riding jeans plus armoured pants, and a set of rain gear. High visibility colors are always helpful when riding in an unfamiliar area as well. I always pack one set of gear in my carry on just in case my checked baggage is late or lost (yes it happens, and yes it happened with someone in our group) so be prepared!
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