"If I knew back then, what I know now..."
As he makes final preparations for The Marathon Ride, BMW Motorrad-supported rider Andy Dukes has realised that he should have spent at least six months planning his trip of a lifetime. But when time and money are tight, sometimes you just have to squeeze everything into two. Here are Andy’s top tips for quickly getting ready for a round-the-world adventure.
Be prepared to compromise.
First of all, I know how lucky I am to get the chance to do a ride like this, but I’ve worked hard, saved hard, and I think I might just be able to get around the world on my budget. However, I love to work so I kept going for as long as I could – right until the end of 2016 – and it’s only now I realise that I should have given myself longer to prepare. I had no idea just how many tasks I need to complete before I leave, so any wannabee adventure travellers should take note of the following advice, so they don’t make the same mistakes as me.
Don't worry about the bike.
Go with your gut instinct on the bike you want to take. Everyone has strong opinions on this topic and it will come down to your riding ability, how much gear you plan to carry, whether you prefer shaft-drive over chain-drive, and your budget of course. The simple truth is that you can go around the world on a scooter – people are doing it right now – so don’t get too caught up in this decision.
The perils of paperwork
Contrary to what some riders say, you can’t just pack your panniers and head off into the sunset – not if you want to cross borders anyway. And depending on your nationality and current political affairs, your paper trail of vital documents can be considerable. My advice is to get your paperwork in order before anything else, because in almost all cases, you simply can’t leave home it. I’m talking about passports, visas and carnets.
The passport needs to have lots of free pages for stamps and visas and it needs to be valid for at least six months after you plan to return home. In my case, I just ordered a new one, with 50 per cent more pages that I’m sure will be filled up with stamps, and I’ve also managed to get a second passport, in case of theft, confiscation, difficulties with having visited certain countries.
As for visas, there are all kinds of requirements and restrictions for visiting certain countries, and these change all the time so again, the best advice is to start early. Of course you have to know your route to know which visas you need, but your foreign office website should be able to help with up-to-date info. Some countries require a ‘sponsor’, a personal letter of invitation or evidence of having booked an organised tour ‘package’. It’s certainly getting harder to enjoy the so-called freedom of overland travel, that’s for sure. Then you have to decide if you want to spend hours, days or weeks personally visiting embassies and consulates to get your visas, or paying an agency to do the leg-work for you. It costs, but they know what they are doing.
The carnet is probably the most important document you’ll need if you are planning to visit places such as Iran, Pakistan, India, Africa and more. It’s a temporary import document for your bike and it takes time and money to acquire. Furthermore, if it’s not filled in properly when you return it, you can lose some or all of your hefty deposit that you need to lodge with the companies that provide carnets. There are no shortcuts, so do your research, pay your money and guard it with your life. Then there is the obligatory International Driving Permit, Green Card insurance, personal and medical insurance, finances, etc. The list goes on, so don’t procrastinate on sorting all these out in advance.
Route Planning should be fun, but it’s only when you go deeper into your research, that you realize that the road ahead is anything but straightforward. For example, in my case my ideal route east would have taken me through the ‘Stans’ (Turkmenistan, Uzbikistan, Tajikistan etc.) but at the time I plan to travel the unpredictable weather conditions, snow and landslides in the high altitude mountain passes has forced me to stay further south.
Keeping the brakes in pristine condition: Just in case of smaller defects, he must be able to fix them by himself.
But a visa refusal for Pakistan has meant that after riding across Iran, I’ll have to hop across to Dubai and freight the bike to India instead. For route planning, get good quality, waterproof and tear-resistant paper maps in advance, and study them well. If you’re planning on using GPS, don’t expect your sat-nav to work like it does in western Europe. Expect routing challenges and embrace them all with a positive attitude.
It goes without saying that you need to keep fit while you’re on the road – and good nutrition and hydration is vital. Watch what you eat, but eat and drink well whenever you get the chance. Keep snacks on you so that you can give yourself an energy boost when tired, and if you’re taking cooking equipment like me, have an idea of how to create a nutritious, tasty meal with just a few ingredients. Then there are the dreaded vaccinations.
There are some nasty diseases out there and even the inoculations against catching them can make you feel awful, so know what you need and get them done in good time. I’ve just spent a few days on my back following a reaction to a couple of vaccinations (Yellow Fever and Hepatitis) which has delayed my course of Cholera treatment. The sickness and loss of energy has taken its toll on my planning, so like everything else, earlier is better.
More than equipment.
You could fill a book on this topic and people have, so I won’t go into any detail, apart from saying that the more you take, the heavier your bike will be and the harder it will be to pick it up when you drop it – and you will drop it. Think of your trip as a unique chance to pack your entire life’s needs into two panniers, a tank-bag and a dry bag.
So, in these confined spaces you’ll need to have bike tools, spares, consumables (oil, chain lube, coolant), cooking equipment, tent, sleeping bag, roll mat, all clothes (including in my case running clothes and training shoes), wash-kit, food, water, and mobile office – if you’re planning on documenting your trip.
Keeping in touch.
We’ve briefly discussed communications above but if like me, you need to sell a few stories to put fuel in the tank, then you’ll need a laptop, filming equipment, microphones and more. And as much as I’d like to take digital SLRs, lenses, tripods and lights, it just ain’t gonna happen. Instead, I’m investing time in learning how to use Go-Pro and Sena cameras, iPhones, mini Rode shotgun mics and other space-saving pieces of kit effectively.
A final word of advice.
When all is said and done, don’t forget to enjoy all the excitement and build-up to what is meant to be the most exhilarating thing in your life to date. It’s easy to get lost in the details and planning, and forget that you’re about to do something extremely special. Take a deep breath, remind yourself that you’re one of the luckiest guys (or gals) you know, and smile. It will be the best thing you’ve ever done.