Either you just finished reading about my latest road trip from Asheville, NC to Canada and back or you’re ahead of the game in your planning and want some additional advice. In July I rode over 4,000 miles with nothing more than what I could fit in my luggage; I refused to use my GPS, pay for lodging, or to take highways. What I got out of that was an unforgettable and life-changing experience. Regardless of whether you adopt my three rules or not (and you should), this article should be helpful. This is not a comprehensive guide because planning is not a universal process. What works for me may not work for you; but, I’ve tried to include tips, online resources, and what I believe to be essential gear.
First and foremost, ditch the GPS, try to spend as little on lodging as possible, and avoid freeways. Get lost on your road trip, sleep under the stars, force yourself to accept responsibility for your actions by not relying on a damn computer. When I ride I often want to get away from technology – so why have my phone tell me when to turn? Force yourself to be present in the moment by having to stop and ask for directions, highlight your atlas, and take the time to explore. You’ll learn a lot about yourself that way.
Make sure to read about my 4,000-mile road trip from Asheville, NC, into Canada, and back, and why I adopted those three rules.
Planning can and will take much much longer than you think. If this is your first road trip, heed my warning: do not wait until right before your trip to plan your route, lodging, budget, etc. In the months leading up to your road trip, you need to be taking weekend trips, testing your camping and riding gear, researching roads, and making sure your finances are in order. Personally, I find the planning process exciting. I have something to look forward to; it gives me an excuse to pack up and take off for the weekend to test my camping gear; I tend to pinch pennies and tighten my budget quite a bit; and I love working on motorcycles so I get to go all in there, too.
Don’t begin planning your trip narrowly. Instead, think of your trip in broad terms. Do you have one big goal for the trip? Make that the turning point and then fill in the blanks to and from that destination while making the route. You don’t want your trip to be rigid from the outset; if it is then you’re going to miss out on roads, sights, and memories. Like and big project or assignment, develop a general idea of the trip and don’t be afraid to let it change and takes its own shape.
Sure, you can rent a tour guide or go through a business for your road trip and you’ll never get lost, have a bed every night, and will take some of the best roads possible, but you’ll miss out on the essence of a road trip. A road trip isn’t about hiring someone else to navigate and tell you where to go, especially on a motorcycle. Road trips are about freedom, about making your own choices, a road trip with a guide is like one of those mandatory fun/outreach days your boss makes you go to. You’re not deciding what’s fun, you’re being told what is fun. That doesn’t mean you should disregard advice and resources; heck, this article – and website as a whole, for that matter – wouldn’t exist if that’s what I supported.
There is a plethora of information available on the internet that’s relevant to planning; but, there is just as much BS out there, too. All I can say is to tread carefully; you don’t have to buy the expensive luggage or take a certain route to enjoy a road trip. That’s not what a road trip is about. It’s about breaking free from such influences and creating something on your own.
Route Planning – MotorcycleRoads.com
Paved country roads are the best, state highways are next. Freeways are the worst…[L]earn how to spot the good ones on a map. If the line wiggles, that’s good. That means hills.
– Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Robert Pirsig was onto something when he inserted small kernels of wisdom, such as the one above, into Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Freeways and main roads are boring for a specific reason – they’re designed to be efficient. A road trip isn’t about efficiency, it’s about the trip in and of itself. Weaving country roads, state highways, and national byways are ideal for a road trip. These roads, however, are often local knowledge and unless you have traveled through the area before you’ll likely miss these roads. Thankfully, MotorcycleRoads.com compiles user-submitted routes into a customizable map. It’s free and has literally thousands of routes ranging from short jaunts to weekend-long voyages.
Lodging – FreeCampsites.net
FreeCampsites.net runs in the same as MotorcycleRoads.com as it compiles user-submitted information into a searchable and customizable database. Users submit lodging with varying accommodations, such as road access, water, horse trails, fire pits, etc. The lodging available ranges from free parking lots to paid camping sites. I’ve used this site in the past for weekend backpacking trips and have incorporated it into my motocamping planning.
Putting MotorcycleRoads.com and FreeCampsites.net Together
After you have a broad idea of your road trip, begin browsing both MotorcycleRoads and FreeCampsites. If you find a route that leads you to a site or good stopping point, then jump over to FreeCampsites and find lodging. If you find a campsite close to one of your interests, then see if you can connect routes on MotorcycleRoads.com to reach the campsite. For me, this is when planning gets fun; it turns into a puzzle and you’re just connecting the dots. It also helps to have a physical road atlas to notate your route, make notes, and freehand your trip when the internet is a dead end.
What About Food?
I typically do not eat out while on a road trip simply for budgetary reasons. I also travel light when it comes to food because I enjoy a large dinner. Heavy meals in the morning and during the day weigh me down and make me groggy/sleepy, so I tend to eat light breakfasts and lunches (probably more than most people still). I always carry a mixture of trail mix, instant coffee, peanut butter, fruit, and oatmeal for that purpose. Then, while I’m en route to my campsite I stop by a local grocer or roadside stand to buy ingredients for dinner. Dinner is my splurge meal while on a trip. Rice, sausage, potatoes, onions, and peppers – all cooked in a pot – is my all-time favorite campfire meal to prepare after a long day of riding.
Be realistic doesn’t mean don’t be ambitious, but if you lack experience in the saddle then don’t plan a solo cross-country trip; similarly, if you’ve never been camping alone, then don’t think you’re ready to remote camp in Yosemite. Road trips will test your skills regardless of your abilities and you should work within your skill set.
Regardless of whether you’re planning a road trip or not, every rider should have a certain level of mechanical proficiency. You have AAA and have contacted garages along your route for routine maintenance? Great, that’s very responsible; but, what happens when you don’t have cell signal or AAA is unavailable? You need to have a basic level of competency for when things go wrong. The following are the basic motorcycle and camping/survival-based skills that are necessary to handle a myriad of situations during a road trip.
Motorcycle Mechanical Skills
- Checking and adjusting tire pressure and fluid levels.
- Checking and adjusting chain tension
- Being able to clean and lube your chain
- Chain replacement
- Repair a flat tire with roadside repair kit
- Checking and replacing spark plugs
- Checking and replacing fuses
- Replacing headlights, taillights, turn signals
- Oil and oil filter change
- Battery replacement
Camping and Survival Skills
- Constructing your tent
- Building a fire
- Hanging a bear bag
- Use a compass
- Map reading/basic navigation
- Basic cooking/boiling skills
- Knot tying
- How to use a knife
Having these skills in your arsenal is great, but you will need additional tools and resources, too. I’ve separated the essentials from what I bring for my road trips. I’m not a man of luxury, but I almost always carry more than what I need.
Motorcycle Maintenance Essentials
- Tool Rollup/Multi-tool
- If you use a tool roll, then you need to make sure you have the proper sockets, screwdrivers, Allen wrenches, etc. prior to leaving. Similarly, multi-tools can be sorted by metric/standard or region (Japanese, European, American, etc.).
- Zip ties
- Tire plug kit and handheld pump
- Chain lube
- Spark plugs
- Chain master link
You’re not prepared to undertake major engine work with the tools and parts listed here, but you’re going to be able to the most common repairs that pop up during a road trip.
- Motorcycle Luggage/Army rucksack
- First aid kit
- Cooking Set
- Sleeping Bag
- Bic lighter/waterproof matches/Magbar fire starter
- Road atlas
- Extra clothing
Current and valid registration and insurance, proper identification – including your passport, if necessary – and any other information pertinent to your health, safety, and identity should be carried at all times.
My Motocamping Gear List
This is what I brought with me for my 4,000-mile trip from North Carolina to Canada. I obviously won’t bring this amount of gear with me for a weekend trip; I will always bring the essentials (above) and a good book or deck of card, but, the rest is unnecessary.
- Icon Alliance Dark and replacement visor
- Joe Rocket Velocity Mesh Jacket
- River Road Twin Iron Gloves
- Puma En Route Riding Shoe (discontinued) – closest alternative Puma 250
- Ear plugs
- Camping permits
Tools and Equipment
- Tool roll with necessary tools
- Sharpie marker
- Tire plug kit and handheld pump
- Spare key
- 30 oz. fuel bottle
- First aid kit
- Nalgene bottle and extra water container
- Chain lube
- Columbia fleece pullover
- Long sleeve shirt/henley
- boxer briefs
- Nike Cross Trainers
- Cooking Set
- Sleeping Bag
- Bic lighter (or waterproof matches)
- Camp mug
- The hammock market is currently dominated by Eno, but Grant Trunk is much cheaper and doesn’t suffer in quality.
- Journal and Pen
- GoPro HERO4, mount/tripod/selfie-stick, spare batteries, and spare SD card
- Cellphone and charger
- Solar charger and energy bank
- Travel shampoo
- Toothbrush ant toothpaste
- Bug spray
- Spare contacts, contact solution, and contact case
- Microfiber Camping Towel
My final piece of advice for planning is to be flexible. I was supposed to reach Yellowstone with my most recent trip but only made it into Canada – and that’s more than okay. I was overly ambitious with my trip but I reassessed my situation, made adjustments, and still had a worthwhile experience. If you encounter difficulties while planning, don’t just give up. Look at the difficulty as a form of guidance for you to explore some other alternative. The same goes for your actual trip; don’t let a closed-down road ruin a trip. Make the trip your own and unique. Pull out your atlas and find a detour, you may even find something even better that way.
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