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  • Writer's pictureAndy Marks

Solo Motorcycle Touring - 10 essential tips for a first timer, from a first timer

Updated: Apr 25

If you have been reading my blog recently, you will know that last September I went on my first solo motorcycle trip. I loved it and will definitely be doing it again, but it didn’t just happen. I spent a lot of time reading advice, packing lists, gear reviews and building up to it.

If you’re planning to do something similar there are hundreds of blogs and Facebook posts that will tell you everything you need to know, the vast majority of which are written by people with a lot more experience than me. Instead of simply regurgitating everything you can read elsewhere I am going to try and focus on the things that really helped me as a first timer, and can be easily overlooked or taken for granted by some of the more experienced riders. 

So, here we go - My 10 essential tips for a first timer touring solo by motorcycle

1) Start small/local

I’m sure we’ve all read the books and listened to the podcasts about people who have passed their test on Monday and set off around the world on Tuesday. Let’s be honest though, that isn’t really on the cards for most of us. I, for one, can't afford it and, if I am being honest with myself, wouldn't have had the confidence anyway.

Load your bike up with the luggage you plan to take and go for a ride, camp somewhere close to home and, if something goes wrong, it's easy to bail out and head home - even in the middle of the night.

A Honda NC750X looking towards the South Downs
My bike loaded with luggage and about 5 miles from home

2) Book the first couple of days if you are nervous

Or book all of it if winging it isn’t for you. Personally, I'm a lot more comfortable doing something when I have a plan. But part of the experience I was looking for involved keeping it flexible and making it up as I went along. I really struggled with this in the weeks leading up to it, but kept reminding myself it would be OK and set off with just a ferry and three nights camping booked.

From then on, I didn't book anything. I just turned up at campsites and even a hotel without booking - I never had a problem and it was a lot easier than I had expected it to be. I am a convert and will be doing more travelling like this in the future. However, having the first few nights booked is what got me on that ferry in the first place. Try it...

A motorcycle and tent set up on a campsite
The first campsite I stayed at in France was probably the least remarkable, but I was there

3) Aim for a location/event

Have a rough direction in mind, even if not a specific destination. I was going to the WSBK at Magny-Cours, so the first couple of days were fairly well set in terms of route. From there I went to visit the Millau Viaduct, but whether it took me a day or a week to get there didn't really matter, it just gave me a heading and a bit of a focus.

From the Millau, I headed towards Nice, I didn't make it because I decided to turn north and spend more time in the Alps. It didn't matter at all but having a point on the map to aim for definitely helped me get going in the morning.

4) Ride safe

I know this sounds daft but lets be honest, you are going to be a long way from home and (possibly) on your own. I'm definitely not going to start telling you how you should ride a bike; but what I am going to suggest is that you should stop regularly and not try to cover too many miles each day. Being fresh and alert will make you a lot safer. If your average Sunday ride at home is 75 miles with a lunch stop, don't set off and try to do 250 miles a day - you won't be safe by the end of day two, never mind the end of the week.

If I had one tip for a Brit riding in Europe, or anyone riding on the opposite side of the road to what you are used to, it would be to look around a lot more at every junction. I've ridden quite a lot in France now and I'm OK with my own road position, but I have had a few close calls turning left and 'forgetting' that I am crossing another lane of traffic.

A motorcycle and picnic bench
Regular stops keep you fresh and comfortable as well as letting you soak up your surroundings

5) Look after yourself

Following on from the last point - staying fresh on the bike is important and riding every day is surprisingly tiring if you aren't used to it. Lets face it, you'll also enjoy your surroundings a lot more if you aren't tired and grumpy. Eating, sleeping and drinking properly is really important to keep your energy levels over several days or even weeks.

Most of us can get away with a few beers and a late night in the hotel bar for a night or two, but it will quickly catch up with you if you do it every night. As well as impacting your focus while riding, it can seriously affect your immune system and increase the chances of you getting ill. Who wants to be ill on holiday?

6) Slow down

You'll hear this one a lot from the experienced travellers. But I don't think we always realise just how much they mean. Trying to cram a lot into every single day just means you miss more, and don't have time to fully appreciate what you do see. I averaged about 170 miles a day last September, but some of the best days were ones when I travelled a lot less than that.

We all travel differently but my advice here is to soak up your surroundings and don't feel the need to crack on as soon as you stop. If you only do 25 miles in a day (or even have a day completely off the bike) but spend a few hours exploring a town or city, that's all part of the trip. It took me a week to really relax about this and not feel like I needed to get going as soon as I stopped. Having had time to reflect on my first trip, don't be surprised if my next one has some very short days, or even days off to do something without the bike.

A church and town in Belgium
Lunch overlooking a pretty town in Belgium was just what I needed on what was turning into a long day

7) Start and finish early each day

Firstly, and trust me on this - it’s a lot less stressful looking for a campsite at 3pm than it is at 7pm. 

I was travelling in September and it was dark by about 8pm. There's not always a lot to do after dark when you're camping so I was in bed by 9 most nights. That meant I was up and on the road fairly early the following morning. As well as experiencing less traffic, it opens the day up and allows for a lot more flexibility.

A motorcycle parked next to an empty road in the French countryside
The roads are quiet in southern France, especially first thing in the morning

8) Take something to do in the evenings

One of the things about finishing early is you spend quite a bit of time sitting on the campsite. Sometimes there are people to chat to, a bar, or a local town to go and explore. But sometimes it's just you and your tent in a field. The piece and quiet is wonderful, but it's also nice to have something to do, at least some of the time.

This is a personal choice and different people will choose different things. Personally - I took headphones with me and listened to audiobooks in the evening. This was great but I did miss actually reading so I'll be taking a kindle with me next time.

9) Keep a journal 

I've touched on why I kept a journal, and why I would do it again in a previous post which you can read here. At the risk of repeating myself - you'll be amazed how much more various events sink in and how much you remember what would otherwise have escaped you. Give it a try and stick with it for a few days. You'll get into a routine and get better at it, I certainly did.

10) Actually go 

Another daft one, but something a lot of people (including me) can just keep putting off. Use what you’ve got and don’t wait until you are 'ready'. Well meaning individuals will give you a full packing list and instil the virtues of top of the range kit - 'buy cheap buy twice' is a common phrase. But do you really need a £800 tent or a £350 sleeping bag for a long weekend in France in June?

You'll almost certainly come back with a list of things you wish you'd taken, things you want to upgrade and I guarantee you'll unpack a few bits wondering 'what was I thinking taking that!' Most importantly though, you will have been and you'll have the pictures and stories to tell.

Three motorcycles on the Eurotunnel
I couldn't help but wonder why I hadn't gone sooner while sitting on the Eurotunnel coming home

11) The bonus tip - Ignore everything I have just said and do it your way

If you can glean something useful from the above then that is great - but it's your holiday at the end of the day. If you want to ride a maximum of 50 miles per day, carry your favourite pillow for comfort and stay in 5* hotels that's great. It certainly doesn't make your trip any less noteworthy than that of someone who camped on stone floors without a matt and did 500 miles a day. Get out there, enjoy it, and share the pictures when you get home.

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