Best laid plans
So you’ve made the decision to go and you know – roughly – what direction you’re headed, but how do you go about planning your route?
Some are of the school of thought that you don’t plan at all; just throw as little as possible on the bike and ride in an approximate direction until you feel the need to stop. I totally get that, but it has its pitfalls. Without any planning you’ll not be armed with those little bits of knowledge, that can make the difference; like whether you’re going to be travelling at altitude (it’ll be cold, mountains passes could be closed), like what the border formalities require in terms of paperwork (oh, maybe I should have got that Russian visa before I left), like when and where fuel will be available, if you can use credit cards where you’ll be, or whether the region you’re heading to is on the Foreign & Commonwealth Office travel warning list.
Equally, you could miss some amazing roads or incredible sights or scenery and not even know about it.
Still not convinced? Believe me, there’ll be enough unexpected things happening en-route, that even the best of planning can’t provide for, and they’ll make sure it will be an adventure.
Here’s what to think about:
- Once you’ve picked your country or continent, there’s nothing better than to surround yourself with hard copy maps and guidebooks. It’s old-fashioned, but nothing beats the crinkling papery smell as you unfold a map for the first time, stand back and look over your new playground. Identify roads with green lines, plenty of squiggles, or those that go over closely packed contours.
- Then take to the internet. Who else has been there and what do they recommend? The Horizons Unlimited website is great for this type of advice. www.horizonsunlimited.com. If you want to add some culture, the UNESCO World Heritage website is a good start for stop-offs on your route.
- Check with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (UK) or your own country’s equivalent for advice on whether you need any visas in advance for travel and also what are potential hotspots. Travelling to places with an “against essential travel” warning are often not covered by travel insurance and are best avoided.
- Once you get your approximate route in mind, think about some of the nitty-gritty. We prefer to keep big cities and main routes to a minimum, as urban areas are generally more expensive, less safe and have heavy and often chaotic traffic. Better to stick to smaller towns and quieter routes…
- …although on any major long-distance ride, it’s wise to plan in stops where there is a bit of infrastructure, so you can iron out any issues you may have had with the bike – servicing, new tyres, getting spare parts etc. and even just to take a break from the road for a few days; it’s surprising how travel fatigue can creep up.
- If your route is very remote – no facilities or places to stay – you’re going to have to plan on being totally self-sufficient. Camping gear then comes into play and this has a knock on impact on your luggage and packing.
- Planning should also take into account when to go. Trying to get to Prudhoe Bay, some 3000 miles north of the Arctic Circle, in any month other than June to August is realistically unachievable and could leave you freezing in a snowdrift. Know your climates.
- Be aware that you always think you can cram more into a day that is actually realistically comfortable, whether it is in terms of miles to be ridden or places to be visited. Routes should be planned to take into account less, rather than more miles, and should be based on a riding style that suits your country – you can go a lot further, faster in Europe, than you can in Africa or Asia. We’d always advise you put in a few rest days too, so you are not riding every day. They can also act as contingency days if things don’t quite go to plan.
- If you have a border to cross, that will take time. We plan to stay close the a border the night before and be ready to get there first thing in the morning. Depending on which border, the process could take all day! Likewise, if there is something unmissable to see during a riding day, factor in time for sight seeing.
- Don’t be afraid to adapt your route as you go. Local information about roads and safety is useful and it can mean avoiding a trouble spot, not taking a road that has a recently collapsed bridge or knowing where you can get fuel. But taking advice from locals as you travel is a bit of a double-edged sword, as many will simply try to please. On balance, we will use local police to help and we will try and get factual information, rather than the road is “good” or “bad”.