When I first started going on motorcycle rides, I liked to read other people’s recommendations on preparing for a ride. Although getting your own experience is part of the adventure, learning from other riders’ experience might save me from making too many rookie mistakes.
The information found in this post is based on my experience on travelling in Europe. Although much of it is probably the same wherever you go, I’m sure there are stuff that is different. Particular the paperwork is something that is different depending on your nationality, departing country, and arriving country.
I have divided this into:
- Border crossing
- Personal items
- What I don’t bring
where each section talks about my experience with the topic, and what I usually bring.
For a the checklist that I use for my trip planning, check this document.
If you are a citizen of the European Union, and you are travelling within the European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA), you don’t really need much paperwork with you: driver’s license and the vehicle registration certificate. You don’t even need the green card.
That said, I recommend that you carry the green card, though. You will need it for most Balkan countries (except those in EU).
These are the papers I carry:
- Vehicle registration certificate
- Green card
- Driver’s license
And all in originals. You can carry copies if you want, but copies are not accepted at border crossings.
I do not have an international driver’s license when riding in the visa free countries.
For more information on paperwork, I would check out the Horizons Unlimited website.
I usually choose smaller border crossings as they tend to be less busy. It is not always possible, but if I can, I do.
All my papers are in a zip locked plastic bag that is big enough for the documents and my passport. I just fold the documents so that are about the same size as the passport and so it fits in an inner pocket. I always use the same pocket. My inner pocket is inside the Goretex layer, and the zip lock bag also keeps the documents dry. It is important to keep your documents dry.
A messed up passport can get you rejected.
When approaching the border, if there is a long line of cars, I pass them. It is kind of an unwritten rule for many, that smaller vehicles pass larger, i.e. cars pass trucks, and motorcycles pass cars. If there are only a couple of cars in the line, I usually just wait in line. I have been waved in front of the line by officials at border crossings (although it has only happened twice).
Getting to the booths, there are usually 3 booths, and usually one after another. On an entry to Ukraine once, they had passport control in the lane I was in, and customs declaration in another. That was a bit confusing. I look at what the locals do, and ask if I’m not sure.
Usually, the first booth is the exit of the country you’re coming from. They often only check your vehicle registration and is usually relatively quick.
The second booth is usually passport control of the country of entry. They will validate your passport and the vehicle registration as well as green card.
The third (it there is a third) is usually customs, where they will check the same set of papers again. Let them do their job, answer their questions and otherwise keep suggestions for improved efficiency to yourself. To many East Europeans, smiling is something reserved to friends and family (and flirting), so if they come across rude, don’t let that get to you.
Smiling is for friends, family, and flirting
If I’m not sure as to whether I am done being processed, I ask “OK, finished?” and wave my hand forward. If not, they will say “no” and usually point to the next booth. Even though there are physical booths, they are not necessarily in use.
The fourth booth – and I have seen this only when entering Ukraine, is actually at the point of leaving the border area. At the second or third booths, you are given a paper slip, that looks a bit unofficial. That piece is to be given to official at the fourth booth (or gate) when leaving the border area. This is just a measure to make sure that you have been properly processed before leaving the area. They will keep it.
Once you’re in the situation, it is usually not that complicated and it is quite obvious what the next step is. But if you’re used to just travel inside the Schengen area, it can be nice to know the process of exit, the immigration on entry and customs on entry. Just as if you flew into EU, or to Thailand on holiday.
I always hand over all the papers to the officials, but I do take them out of the zip lock bag first. They often don’t need them all, particular between to EU countries (not Schengen) where they don’t even look at the green card. Border crossing lingo for vehicle registration certificate is sometimes “moto passport”, or “auto passport”. They may ask for it, even if they already have it, but each country has its own version, and the official don’t always know what it looks like. As soon as you point out an official looking document with the license number, make, model, technical data, and VIN number, they are happy. But usually they know what to look for.
If being asked if I want an entry stamp in my passport, I say yes. The stamp is used when exiting the country to validate that you haven’t overstayed. And if you don’t have the stamp, you may have a situation. I have only experienced being asked on an entry into Albania. Anything you are being given, make sure to keep that with your passport.
Generally I don’t speak to the officials unless spoken to. And they usually don’t speak much. They can ask questions about where you are going, but just keep it simple. The officials in the former Eastern European countries don’t always speak English very well. I smile, and do not question their methods.
Sometimes – and particular at smaller East European borders – they may not be used to foreigners, so they sometimes do try to engage in a conversation, like in a more friendly way asking questions out of a personal curiosity. If they do, you know you are in good standing.
Do not take photos in the border crossing area. You may “forget” to turn off your helmet cam. I have asked a few times when I felt the situation was right, but always got a “no”.
Some times you are given a document at check out, that documents you staying there. If you are given documents, keep that with you as long as you are in the country. I have been told it is mandatory to document you accommodation in Bosnia, but I have never been asked to show it. But I keep it anyway for as long as I am in the country.
Don’t leave the hotel without your passport.
In addition, it is normal that you give the hotel your passport for processing. I usually ask to have it returned, which is normally not a problem. I give it to them at check in, and get it back a little later before I go out. If you go out in the evening, you will need to have it on you as you are required to be able to identify yourself, if asked by the police.
You have limited room for luggage, and that room need to be shared with your personal stuff, your equipment, spare parts, etc. This is what I do.
I pack 7 zip lock plastic bags for any trip that is 7 days or more. In each 2½ litre zip lock bag, I pack a pair of socks, underwear, and a t-shirt (preferably wool or running t’s). This is my inner layer. One bag per day.
- 7 sets of inner layer
- Two pair of jeans,
- Fleece shirt
- Light shoes, e.g. snickers or running shoes
- Light jacket that also can be used as an inner layer with my motorcycle jacket
- 1 pair of shorts
At the end of a day’s ride, I take a shower and changes in to a new set of inner layers (underwar, socks, t-shirt). I put the dirty clothes into a zip lock bag for washing another day.
After the shower, it is time for a beer. Then off to a restaurant with the guys, when they’re ready.
I sleep in the clean set as well, and I usually do not change into a new set in the morning, but ride with the same set that I changed in to the evening before. Smells from cigarettes etc usually sits in the outer layers – and it wouldn’t bother you while riding anyway.
If there are no shower facilities, the routine is almost the same, except the shower is replaced by a number of wet wipes.
Throughout the days, I wash my clothes, 1 or 2 sets at a time. I usually only wash my inner layers. As I am only wearing my jeans in the evening, I usually do not wash them on 2 or 3 week trip.
At the end of a day’s ride, I take 1 or 2 ziplocks with dirty inner layers into the shower. I keep the layers I am wearing into the shower too. I place the dirty clothes on the shower floor (or tub), open the water and wearing one layer, I wash my hair while I step on the clothes on the floor. Once the hair is washed and rinsed (I don’t use conditioner), I spend a little extra shampoo and wash the clothes a little more while in the shower.
I try not to think about if others have peed in the shower.
I twist the clothes to get as much water off. Once out of the shower, I roll the clothes in a towel and twist as hard as I can to get the clothes as dry as possible. The use chairs, heaters, hangers, whatever is usable for hanging up clothes to dry.
When it is not completely dry the next morning, I still pack the layers into the zip locks, but make sure that at the end of the day, it is being hanged up. Sometimes, if the weather is good, I strap socks to the pannier of the bike. They dry in no time that way.
I guess it depends on your needs, but outside the obvious toiletries, such as toothpaste and similar, I always bring the following articles.
- Pocket knife
- Wet wipes or baby towels
- First aid kit
Being relatively short haired, I don’t bring a hairbrush, and my hair dry pretty much by running a towel through it, so no need for dryer or anything like that.
I don’t have much insight to what a female rider needs for personal stuff and toiletries.
I sometimes bring a couple of small pocket-sized bottles of schnapps or similar, that I give in exchange for help that I have received. If I end up not using them, I have a little something to drink the last evening on the ride.
I carry a lot of electronic gear, and these days, they all seem to be charged by a 5 volt USB cable. I invested in a 10-port USB charger (it is a bit bulky, but powerful) that charges my phone, helmet (bluetooth), gopros, drone, and watch. Power outlets is always something there isn’t enough of,
In addition, I also carry a 3-way extension cable. Again, I always need that extra outlet.
- Phone and changer
- Camera, batteries, and charger
- Spare memory cards for the camera
- Drone, batteries, memory cards, charger
- Spot tracker, and batteries
I always carry a satellite tracker. There are different makes and models out there, and when I started out years back, I went for the Spot Messenger. Mine is an older version by now, but it gives you and your loved ones peace of mind.
And they work. I have had to use the SOS distress button once in Romania, in the mountains where I had no cell phone coverage. 34 minutes after sending the distress signal from the Spot, I had visual contact with the rescuers.
In addition, if you opt for it, it can leave a breadcrumb trail that is shown on a homepage that your family and friends can check to see your almost-realtime location (Spot sends every 10 minutes).
112 operator may not understand your pronunciation of your location
And even though you do have cell phone coverage, you may not be able to pronounce your location for the operator to understand. The Spot sends the GPS location as part of the distress signal.
Depending on the kind of travel you do, as with the equipment, the stuff you bring for the bike probably varies. But these items are what I have come to appreciate having with me.
- Duct tape in your favorite color
- Cable ties (large, they can always be cut)
- A couple of cargo straps
- Head lamp
- Torch light
- Tire repair kit
There are many opinions on tires as there are riders, so this is what I have ridden, and why I don’t anymore.
Heidenau K60 front and rear. Originally, I rode with Heidenau K60 Scouts front and rear. The reason was the combined off-road capability with longevity. Trade-off: Grip on wet roads and comfort. Due to the hard compound that makes them last, I don’t feel they have a good grip on asphalt. And the front tire is very noisy and it vibrates. Pro: low wear. Con: Comfort and grip.
Continental TKC80 front and Heidenau K60 rear. I used this combo a couple of years as it combined the longevity of the Heidi’s on the rear and the better grip on the front. Particular on loose surface. On wet asphalt the grip isn’t too good. Much more comfortable than the front Heidi’s. The TKC80’s vibrations end when going more than 20 km/h and only on hard surfaces. Pro: low wear, comfortable. Con: grip on wet asphalt.
Continental TKC70 front and rear. This combo is the one I rode with on the last ride. While they perform great on paved roads, I feel that the front is a bit wobbly, and even more on loose surfaces. I felt much more comfortable on loose surfaces with the TKC80 on front. I am seriously considering going back to that. Pro: Low wear, grip on paved roads. Con: Grip on loose surfaces.
My riding style is very laid back. I do not ride very aggressive and I ride way withing the capabilities of both the bike and the tires (and skills). So the poorer grip on wet asphalt is not a big issue for me. But the confidence when hitting gravel is. I feel that when I loose confidence, I tend to freeze, and that’s where trouble starts. So I am seriously considering going back to the TKC80 front with K60 rear combo.
Airing up and down
Some people air down their tires when riding on loose surface. While I’m sure that makes a difference very loose surfaces, I am not doing it. On an ordinary trip, I honestly don’t think that more than 5% is gravel. The rest is paved – a lot of it is poor with potholes, so I’m actually not sure running with low pressure is such a good idea.
If I had a lot of kilometers on loose surface in a trip, I would probably consider knobbies first, then airing down second.
I like to bring a light bike cover. It’s only purpose is to protect if from people. I try to find secure parking for my bike, but sometimes I have to park it overnight at a place with public access.
The idea is, that people are more reluctant to fiddle with a bike that is covered. And I believe it works.
What I don’t bring
If you don’t know if you will be using it, don’t bring it.
- Washing powder. It just ends up getting all over luggage after miles of bumpy roads.
- Water treatment. You can buy bottled water on practically every gas station.
- Local currencies. I bring Euro. Private accommodation always accept euros (notes) and hotels takes credit card. But it is good to have extra euros in case your credit card fail (or the bank blocks it).
- Security chain. They are way too heavy. A brake disc lock with a motion sensor if your bike doesn’t have one is nice peace of mind, though.
- Hiking boots. Takes to much space, and I’m not on a hiking trip. Sneakers or running shoes will be great.
- Formal clothes. Waste of space, unless you’re planning on visiting establishments with dress codes. Not in my plans.
- Camping equipment (if I’m going to Eastern Europe). In Eastern Europe there aren’t a tonne of camp sites, most local do wild camping in the mountains. Staying relatively close to the road, I have always just opted for a basic B&B or hotel/motel. But wild camping is perfectly doable and safe too. In some areas wild dogs, wolves, and bears roam, so that needs to be considered.
Let me know what you think
What do you bring on a trip, what have stopped bringing? I’ll add stuff the the check list.
If you want to see my check list, you can download it from this link.
I’m so happy that I get to travel with Volodymyr (Vova), Thonny and Steen on the Ukraine and Moldova trip next June. Outside motorcycles, we share the same passion for great company, a cold beer after a nice ride, and of course good food. It’s time to introduce the 4 amigos.
The trip plan for Moldova is complete. As always, Backroad Motorcycle Adventure plan includes unplanned changes. We will be 4 riders. That’s the plan. I’m super excited, and I can’t wait for summer to get here. World’s largest wine cellar. 55 km, we get to ride the motorcycles in the caves.
Yesterday, I completed the final episode of the Öland trip that I took with my friend, Thonny, back in September, and posted the video on YouTube.
It was a fantastic ride, but how could it not be, when it had all the ingredients of a great ride; great roads; great weather; great sights to see, and least but definitely not last, great company.
I’ve spent some time on the planning of the Nordkapp & Murmansk trip. Check out the rather detailed plan on the Nordkapp & Murmansk page.
Day 2 of the Öland trip offered a great number of sights to see, and roads to ride. Although Öland is flat as a pancake, it is in its own way breathtaking. This day would take us to from the very north to the very south and back again, seeing only a fraction of what Öland has to offer.
This trip was in a way a milestone, as it was the first trip after quitting my job, to work freelance and to spend more time on adventuring on my motorcycle. Öland is a fascinating place with great roads, lots sites to see, and thousands of years of history, and was an obvious choice for a short weekend trip. Read More
I had been looking for fellow motorcycle riders for some time before the First Balkan Trip. It wasn’t as easy as it seems.
One day I got a message via the community site AdvRider.com from a guy who wanted to know if I accepted hitchhikers. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, surely he didn’t want to ride pillion – and if so, I think I’d have to say no.
I am working on an idea that I first got a couple of years ago, but never got very far with due to the paperwork of getting a visa to Russia: Going to Murmansk, the Kola peninsula.
As much as I love to go adventure travelling, sleeping at borderline dodgy hotels, what is really outside my comfort zone is paperwork and administration. But this time, I need to get over my fear of paperwork.
As I am sitting and editing the 2012 trip for later posting on YouTube, it really brings back great memories from the ride I had with a couple of friends. It was the first ride into the East, which turned out to be the first of many. I find myself returning again and again for the simple fact that they are a lot less urbanized, so you see a lot more going on when riding the backroads.