5 Lessons Learned Traveling by Motorcycle

5 Lessons Learned Traveling by Motorcycle

There is no substitute for experience

When it comes to motorcycle trips, there are so many things that you discover by experience. Each ride teaches you something about what you will or won’t need for the next time around. These are a few of the lessons I’ve learned while traveling by motorcycle.

You don’t really need all those clothes.

If you road trip anything like me, you spend all day on the bike and arrive at a hotel somewhere around dinner time. After settling in, having a shower, and decompressing from a day in motion – there’s little time left to eat something and check-in with family before you’re ready to conk out and start the process over again the following day.

You wear the same riding gear every day with just the base layers beneath it that need rotation. If you’re a smart packer who chooses fast drying and versatile garments, you just don’t need to pack all that much. All that extra stuff creates weight and aggravation as you unpack/repack throughout the trip.

triumph bonneville in virginia on a a road trip - Lessons Learned Traveling by Motorcycle

When I first started going away, I overpacked with “what if” clothing. Oh, but what if I go out a nice restaurant in town? What if I go to the bar? I wonder if the Queen is visiting? Those thoughts were all because I didn’t really know what sort of a traveler I was yet. I usually came home with lots of unworn items.

As you get to know yourself and grow more comfortable in your own skin, you realize that you’re probably more interested in going to sleep than going to a bar after you’ve been riding all day. Those fanciful “what if” cardigans and such don’t even make a blip on your radar anymore.

Wash and wear. Wear again. Athleisure for the win. This is riding, not a fashion show.

No, there isn’t cell signal everywhere.

I am a part of the last generation to exist in a time before the cellphone became as ubiquitous as wearing pants. Can you even imagine? People moved through the world without immediately knowing stuff or taking selfies.

natural bridge dinosaur statue

Yes, boys and girl, we went places and saw things and NO ONE knew about it until we got our film developed – sometimes weeks later. I’m talking about some real caveman shit.

With cell technology so prevalent in our lives, especially those of us who live around major metropolitan areas, it’s easy to get lulled into the idea that there is cell service everywhere. There isn’t. Even here in the big ole US of A.

Knowing this, I wince when people tell me they are going to only use their cellphone for navigation. My experiences have taught me to have a paper map, a GPS and a cellphone when I’m out long-distance traveling. Each one of these options has its own point of failure. Why limit yourself to having only one arrow in your quiver?

I should be able to make it; an idiotic classic.

Mm-mm. [shakes head]

You know? This is just one of those things you have to learn from experience. And even then, it might take you a few times of sweating with your eye on the gas gauge before it really sinks in.

If you think you “might” have enough gas to make it and you see a gas station? Just stop and fill up!

triumph tiger in death valley - Lessons Learned Traveling by Motorcycle

Listen, you aren’t in that much of a hurry that you can’t stop. Besides, you’re really gonna be pressed for time if you have to push your bike somewhere or have to wait around for help.

Any traveler with a couple-two-three trips under their belt has probably made all sorts of bargains with the universe if it would just let them make it to the next town before the last fumes of gas evaporate. I know I’ve said a few “thank Gods” as station appeared on the horizon.

The spare key to my heart.

Are you a forgetful dumb-dumb like me?

Have you ever torn a hotel room apart looking for your key because you put it down in a “special” place where you wouldn’t forget it, instead of putting it in the regular place you always put it?

Have you ever had your key stick to the magnet on the bottom of your tank bag (see: the last place on Earth you’d look) as you go through your stuff like the Tasmanian Devil searching for it?

Well, friends? Have I got news for you! That extra key they give you for your motorcycle is made for just such occasions. I like to wear mine around my neck when road tripping because I am a complete idiot.

triumph tiger on a road trip in pennsylvania

Be brave, not stupid.

There is a difference between being brave and just being stupid. We all have moments when faced with something new or unknown in which we hesitate before proceeding. And then there are moments when the little voice inside is shouting, “STOP!”

Standing on the Grimsel pass with the Furka pass in the background

Listen to that inner voice when it comes to dealing with people, environments, lodging, weather, navigation, whether or not you should eat or drink something. Keeping you safe is its job.

Being brave or stepping beyond your comfort zone doesn’t mean you have to abandon all good sense. Your intuition will usually steer you in the right direction. After all, no one knows you better than you.

Never stop learning.

Every trip, every ride can teach you something useful. Pay attention to the things that keep you comfortable and content, and try to find solutions for the things that don’t. Never stop exploring.


How about you?

Do you have any lessons learned from traveling by motorcycle to share?

3 Replies to “5 Lessons Learned Traveling by Motorcycle”

  1. Have a 12v charging plug on your bars for your devices (Cell, Gopro, Camera, GPS)
    Have a hardwired GPS. When on a long trip, I always use mine.
    Carry one of those charge packs for the cell as a “just in case”.
    Water and munchies. Get a Camel back for the longer trips.
    I always have a quart of oil in one of my bags.
    Tools.
    Hat.
    Sun block.
    Clear glasses, yellow glasses and HD glasses. You never know what the conditions are going to be.
    For over night trips…. Riding jeans, Riding shirt, leather Jacket, one or two t-shirts, 2 pairs of socks, 2 skivvies, deodorant, tooth brush and paste, ibuprofen, first aid kit.
    Mostly little stuff that can all fit in a tank, tail bag or back pack.
    Know your route. Study street view on Google Maps if you have a route in mind to get your mind’s eye prepared.

  2. I like a paper map, too. I’ve used a sturdy zip lock bag I carry many times, to make an ice pack for injuries and bee stings and to pick wild raspberries. Bring your hole-iest undies and tshirts and throw them out at the end of the day. Just rode a HD bagger Philly to Daytona and back during this heat wave. I enjoyed that other travelers were still friendly these days, wanted to compliment me on my bike and know about gas mileage and how far I was riding, etc.

  3. Yup. You’re right. On all of these points.

    My clothes-bag is mostly t-shirts and undies. No need for fashion on the road.

    I always carry a paper map in case I need it — and I have. When my built-in GPS failed, I was glad to have the back-up.

    I’ve learned to NOT pass up gas-stations for fuel and bathrooms. The anxiety and discomfort of getting stranded or bloated is not worth it.

    The brave/stupid line is hard for me. I’m super-eager for adventure but not always careful about risk. I legit almost killed myself on a trip to Potsdam during a cold month (February). It was below freezing, my body-heat disappeared, everything (including gas stations) was closed that far north, and my hands and legs were shaking uncontrollably. My misjudgment jeopardized my safety and health to a dangerous degree. That was stupid and, looking forward, I’m not sure I fully learned the lesson. I still make bad choices like this. *sigh* A subject for my epitaph…

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