Once more into the fray I was thinking as I pack for another ride. Whilst not an expert I have travelled a bit. I jotted a few things down that I find helpful.Sicily 2016
I try to match my rides to dry seasons.
Climates to travel
This is a handy site to work out when is the best time to ride a destination. It breaks down most countries into their distinct climatic zones which is much better than looking up weather averages at perhaps the city you are going to fly into which may have no bearing on where you are riding. South Africa and Vietnam are a couple of good examples to see how things vary so dramatically depending on which way you point the front wheel leaving town.
There are so many airline search engines now days, a new one every day. I was an early adopter of online ticketing as far back as mid 90’s when home internet started few airlines even had home pages but in Sydney an online travel agency launched followed by one in Perth. The fares were often listed on a page like specials of the week and they would post your ticket in the mail but the prices were immediately better than any retail shop and the rest is history. I mostly use Kayak and Skyscanner. Neither is superior and both have some airlines they omit. I try to vary travel days as much as possible. Skyscanner lets you look an entire month and occasionally reveals a great fare available only a certain date. It will search local language providers too but I always do my booking direct with the airline site. Kayak seems to have a deeper search and will turn up things Skyscanner completely misses. I try many variations on a route and look at the indirect flights which can be a great alternative using a lengthy stopover to provide a night in a hotel rather than long haul red eye at twice the price. I have obtained the most amazing deals by searching flights from alternative countries that are cheap to get to from here but that may not be feasible outside of Asia.
It is so much easier for a small ride if you can rent a helmet and jacket but this is not always an option. You technically can take a helmet on a plane as carry on luggage (except nanny state Australia which I am informed has banned it) but some airport security staff have stopped me in the past (Philippines, Macau) and begrudgingly allowed me to proceed after berated me for not checking it in. These airport security nazi’s have become a law unto themselves and so now I pack it in my check luggage and put the clothes that would have been in it’s space in light messenger bag as carry on. My carry on bag then is actually much lighter and less bulky than carrying a helmet around. I request a fragile sticker at check in which means little but so far it has survived. If you remove the back protector from your jacket and pack it separately then your jacket can be folded if needed. Make your bag easy to identify in case for when it gets lost. Luggage name tags are not in vogue for some reason, you will wish you had one when the luggage belt stops without your bag arriving.
Make sure you have a power bank with you to keep your phone charged. Not just for entertainment but for when you are delayed and luggage is lost and you need to communicate or book new hotels or flights. Many motorcycle rentals in Asia do not include hard luggage but if you have one good waterproof bag about 35-40 litre size then this can serve as your luggage on or off the bike, just strap to rear seat no need for panniers and much easier at the hotel. In the odd place where I worry about petty theft I secure to bike using notebook cable lock per below method. If you need more than this while in eating lunch your travelling in places I have not been yet. I never take more than 7 days of clothes. It means you need to hand wash but you will have to anyway unless on a very leisurely ride with ample days off – but motorbike rental charges usually mean keeping the wheels rolling with rest days before or after. Some pegs with hooks will let you hang up hand washed items in hotels where the hangers cannot be removed from cupboard.
Travelling in warm SE Asia I pack ultra light rain gear, bicycle rain pants and bicycle rain shoe covers and a lightweight hiking rain jacket that doubles as a wind breaker under my mesh jacket all of which packs down to tiny space compared to motorcycle branded gear.
I hate flying. As writer Paul Theroux says “ You define a good flight by what did not happen, you didn’t get hijacked, you didn’t crash, you didn’t throw up, you weren’t late” I could add a few to this – there wasn’t a huge check in queue, immigration weren’t on a siesta, there wasn’t a baby screaming for three hours. It’s the one aspect of travel where I think luxury (ie business class) is clearly better. Otherwise I agree with Paul Theroux that luxury is the enemy of observation and dilutes the experience. Seat GuruOnce caught twice shy. Before picking a seat I like to know the layout of the aircraft and see where the toilets are and seats close to divider walls or seats that do not recline fully, basinet areas. I know some planes off by heart but still double check.
Having lounge access makes air travel less miserable. I already had access to Star Alliance lounges but fly that group rarely now in Asia. I joined this lounge scheme about 5 years ago as no matter what airline I fly I can access a lounge. Sure there is an annual fee and small fee when you access the lounges but it is not expensive for what you get. Airports have crazy prices for lousy food so you pay the same but get less when you could be relaxing in a lounge. Meals vary, some are modest, some a full buffet with wine or beer. All have comfy quiet place with wi-fi. It makes world of difference especially on stopovers to take a shower.
There are lots of them so allow heaps of time and have the patience of a spider. Try to have something good to read on your phone, it makes the endless waiting pass easier. After check in if possible don’t join first queue rather look for ones that will obviously move faster. You want the x-ray queue without the family with 1/2 dozen backpacks. You want the immigration officer who is barely looking at people not the one with a scorn asking questions. On arrival you want the customs guy not opening every case. It’s worth noting in some airports they have VIP express lanes, airline loyalty schemes might grant access to some but you can also simply buy a VIP pass. Bangkok (BKK) in peak season has over 1 hour queues at immigration in both directions, you may want to consider it.
I will never tell a rider what to wear but please consider travel insurance. If you look for just the essentials then you may be surprised how cheap it is. You can always pay out of pocket for lost baggage or new plane ticket but hospitals and rescue services can demand your insurance policy before doing anything. All policies will exclude dangerous activities and a number of them list motorcycling, examine the product disclosure before you purchase.
Booking.com / Agoda (same company)
I compare and use other hotel booking sites or the hotels direct in some locations but often for flexibility these sites make travel easy. My tip is note that hotels pay to be promoted up the listings. So even if you sort by rating or price be sure to scroll down, down down. You might see the rating fall/price jump and turn around but on a little bit more you come to all the hotels not paying to be on page one which often are better deal. Always read beyond the first few reviews, hotels can pay to have reviews featured, naturally favourable ones. There is a offer of $20aus cashback if someone clicks above link and makes a booking, no strings attached.
Airbnb I no longer use. I did for awhile very successfully but then the prices spiked and once you add the cleaning fee and the Airbnb fee the real cost is no saving. I like having an apartment with washing machine in some places like Europe where there are no coin laundries but the same apartments are on Booking.com with no fee to cancel your booking unlike AirBnB and often can be found discounted on one of the booking sites. Maybe I am missing something but I see no reason to even look at Airbnb anymore.
Roads to ride
Reading other rider blogs is often where I get the idea to visit somewhere and ideas for roads to ride. If visiting Australia or Japan then you are already at the right place since there is a wealth of info on those places listed on this site (Australia) (Japan) Good riding blogs elsewhere come and go, so I recently developed my own map for best riding roads in Thailand which is not the most comprehensive but lists all the main riding roads I have ridden and a few more. There has been a couple of best road sites for New Zealand come and go so I also made a map with the best roads there which I have ridden.
Both are a work in progress than I will refine further when I have time. By comparison there are countless sites listing best motorcycle roads for Europe and the alps. I like Motorcycle Diaries the best, there are more comprehensive like Alpine Roads but you can get lost in the detail. There are a few worldwide sites like Best Biking Roads where people can add what they think is a good road but without firm moderation they can become misleading. I used that site occasionally with mixed results. Looking at motorcycle tour company routes is not a bad idea to get a helicopter idea of where to go. When I rode North America I used Motorcycle Roads US which I found better than the other more widely known Best Motorcycle Roads site that lacked moderation of suggested routes. When I return there I will look to access to Butler Maps which from all accounts are the definitive listings but the previous site I used was accurate and actually if riding the American Byways then the combination the two might be all needed.
Ride with GPS
I use this site to make my routes. It’s free to join and no charge to use. Very simple, you just click on map to make your route. You can drag and bend routes, undo, add custom POI and custom waypoints instructions to show on your GPS, change route colours and see altitude and instantly see Google street view of the road on the fly. When done save and export to a .gpx file that can be used in your GPS. I’ve tried the other route planner tools and their big weak point is not able to see street view while planning which I find essential. On the road Google Navigation is improving but still limited number of waypoints compared to a GPS and the presentation is poor compared to my GPS.
I may need to change devices in future but for now I enjoy how easy to operate a GPS is with gloves while riding, being able to pan the map and zoom and easy select a place to add as via point or ask where is nearest gas station or ask to recalculate alternative route. The lane guidance is essential in big cities also. I wrote a lengthy article elsewhere on how to use a GPS for touring so I wont repeat that here. I use a So Easy Rider case with rental bikes so no need to wire anything to battery. A power bank fits in case behind the gps and the strap system will attach to even the hardest shape like a scooter without clamps or tools.
On my phone I have a few apps I rely on when travelling and all are free. Appbox which has all my currency exchange rates in one and other tools. Accuweather which has rain radar built in. I always have offline maps for where I am going using Maps.me, often this Open Street Map tool has more details of hotels and shops than Google maps. Rail line apps for any cities I am exploring. Uber and Grab taxi apps. Kindle app with at least one book I want to read. Ride with GPS app to review routes. Skype with credit although I prefer Whatsapp recently. Google translate app. Vivino the wine rating app to explore the local reds and apps for the above listed hotel and flight booking sites. Data is very cheap now in many countries, as little as $5-$10 can set you up with local sim and data for your trip so no need to suffer slow hotel wi-fi.
And lastly a bit of static. I don’t know about you but I just find Trip Adviser full of misinformation. I guess any public forum without firm moderation ends up with the problem but this site is overrun with opinion rather than valid info. Also have you noticed the proliferation of fake travel blogs? A couple of successful ones years ago inspired a few to mimic, and now we have the ‘fabricated traveller’. A wandering soul, whom seeking adventure left home to travel, along the way found enlightenment and true love and is now recommending via click bait pages full of affiliate links the hotels and tours where the magic happened. But the person and life story is all fabricated and repeated on a dozen other sites masquerading as blogs. That’s what the net has become. Fake personal life blogs, fake reviews and fake posts on forums. You are being conned folks.
Nothing fake here. Not making any money either so as usual I’ve got it all wrong it seems. I’m off to ride in SE Asia, escape this cold. Transmission will resume again in February, see where I am riding on Instagram.Seasons greetings, Warren.