A lot of planning goes into my long-distance rides. I’m just that kinda guy. I like the adventure, but I like it to go fairly smoothly. I’m not one to just ride off without an idea of where I’m going and what I’m getting into. Perhaps that’s why I love Mexico and Colombia so much. I’m a believer in the “fail to plan, plan to fail” theory.
On the other hand, there are problems with over-planning. Here are the two that I discuss most often with other travelers.
The Downsides of Extensive Pre-Planning
First is the idea of “paralysis by analysis”. That is, you over-analyze certain aspects of travel to the point that you are either afraid to launch, or never get to the point of launch. I haven’t had this problem myself, although I have been accused of it, and I may have come close once or twice.
Second is a problem that I did encounter myself during my first trip: I researched where I wanted to go so fully, using the internet and travel guide books, that when I got to those places, I felt like I had already been there and seen it, and it was a bit of a let-down. There is a fine line to knowing where you want to go, and still saving much of the wonder and awe for the experience.
Having said that, I’ve sketched a rough plan of our initial route. It’s always necessary to take into account the weather patterns when planning a long ride, so that’s where I usually start: which hemisphere and how far north or south during which months. I like to try to stay in the early Fall / late Spring climates as much as possible, while avoiding the rainy seasons, especially in tropical climes.
More Plan “A” Details
As I mentioned in the last post, our Plan “A” is our “best case scenario” of leaving in May for Europe. Here’s a bit more detail of what we have in mind for the rest of 2021 assuming the world is safe and welcomes travelers (fingers crossed, but not holding our breath):
We’ll ride from Texas to Toronto, Canada, making stops along the way to visit friends. Once in Toronto, we will ship the bike and fly to Dublin, Ireland. As we’ve spent some time in Ireland already and plan to return later, we’ll tour England, Wales and Scotland before heading to Netherlands, hopefully in time to catch the Green Day concert and the Assen MotoGP races.
From there, we’ll head north to Norway, all the way to Nordkapp, which is commonly referred to as the northern-most point in Europe (though technically, it’s not quite). Nordkapp, or North Cape in English, is a typical start/finish point for those doing the “Cape to Cape” route (Nordkapp to Cape Town, South Africa). Then it’s down through Finland to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. At this point, much depends on our timing. We will have been traveling at a pretty good pace, and it will be time to make a hasty exit of the EU due to Schengen limitations.
The Schengen Visa
For those of you not familiar with the Schengen Agreement (like me, a short while ago), I’ll try to sum it up in a short explanation, that may not be totally correct, but for our purposes should suffice. There are 26 countries in Europe that are part of this agreement, and a few others which participate in some but not all Schengen rules. This agreement allows for open travel between countries, particularly for EU citizens. If you are not a citizen of an EU country — for example, a US citizen and passport holder — you will get your passport stamped when you enter the first of these countries. That starts a 180 day clock. You are allowed to be in the Schengen countries for a total of 90 days out of every 180 days. They don’t have to be consecutive. So, as an example, let’s say you cross from England (not a Schengen country) to France on January 1, and start your 180 day clock. If you stayed in these 26 countries for 90 days, you would then have to exit around March 31, and stay out until July 1 when your 180 days expired.
Or, say you started on January 1 and after 60 days of traveling around France, Spain, Germany, and Italy, you returned to England on March 3 for 30 days. You now have used 60 of your 90 allowed Schengen days, and 90 of your 180 total clock. So then on April 2 you return to Austria and Switzerland for 30 days. You have now hit your allowed time in the Schengen area, and must leave until July 1 (your 180 day clock runs out).
Confusing? Somewhat. And restrictive. Intentionally so. But for travelers like us, it primarily means that we can’t just spend a year or more exploring Europe. While it is my understanding that it is not strictly enforced, it is frowned upon if you overstay your 180 day limit by a significant amount. And I don’t really want to find out what happens.
Schengen Ignorance is No Excuse
I actually encountered — or more accurately, created — this situation in 2016 when I left from Zurich and shipped my 250 back to the States. I had no idea why the Swiss Immigration officer was giving me a hard time about not having a stamp in my passport for when I entered from England. I had never heard of Schengen back then and didn’t stamp in when I crossed from Folkestone to Calais on the Eurotunnel train. I kept telling him that I flew into London and rode my motorcycle to Switzerland. He kept asking me where my stamp was in my passport when I entered France. This made no sense to me because it was an open border; I simply rode off the train and into France and the rest of the EU. Eventually he stamped my passport and allowed me to leave Switzerland, but he told me not to do it again. I never understood my mistake until researching for this upcoming trip. I am thankful in hindsight that he was lenient. I could have spent a lot of time in the Zurich Airport trying to prove when I entered the Schengen area and how long I had been there. I had the receipt from the train, and I had my GPS track showing my route and dates. That’s the best explanation I could have offered. Now I know better.
Another problem with the Schengen 180 day time limitations goes right back to what I mentioned at the beginning of this post: my desire to stay in the moderate climate seasons. If you have a 90-day limit in a 6 month window, it means that if you arrive in late May, you must leave by late August and cannot re-enter until late November. Or Winter, in other words. Which makes planning a motorcycle tour even more difficult.
So, based on this, we have several options for November through late February. But we won’t be done with Europe yet. Even if we leave, the bike probably won’t.
Travel Immunization Passports
There’s been a lot of discussion lately regarding what international travel will look like post-COVID. I’ve seen several articles mentioning the concept of “immunization passports”, and a company in Switzerland has been designing a digital version of just such a thing. (This is also not new; Nigeria has had digital “e-Yellow Cards” since 2019).
I’ve also read responses from people online that claim that requiring an immunization in order to travel into another country is somehow a violation of their rights, as if this is a new concept introduced by the current pandemic. I’m not going to get political here, because I tend to avoid that at all costs, but this is not new, and if you haven’t had a “Yellow Card” or International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP) before, then you apparently haven’t traveled as much as you think. The ICVP has been around in one form or another since the 1930s, and has been in its’ current form basically since the 1950s and smallpox. These days it is most often obtained by tourists intending to travel to certain countries where Yellow Fever is prevalent, but is based on a factor of the risk in that country and the country you are coming from. High Risk countries require you to have proof of Yellow Fever vaccination before you can enter, or at least be able to provide proof at the border if asked.
Regardless, we are voluntary travelers. Which means if we want to visit certain places, and those places require us to receive certain vaccines in order to go there, we must make a decision: either we get vaccinated, or we don’t go. We are guests in their country, and we don’t blame them for their decisions. As such, we have weighed the pros and cons, and decided that we will obtain any necessary vaccinations that will allow us to travel the world. This includes Hepatitis A&B, Typhoid, MMR, Shingles (due to our “advanced age”), and a few drugs that we can carry with us. Note that some of these prescription drugs that are considered “typical” in the US can actually be illegal in other countries, so always check the laws in all the places you intend to go.
Plan B and Beyond
As I mentioned in the previous post, our Plan B and C is basically just extending the Plan A start until July or later. But if we wait much later — say, September or so — then we will have to change our route, as it will quickly be too late to be as far north as we want to go. Due to weather, we’ll end up along the Mediterranean and further south if it’s October or later. Yes, I know, it’s a terrible conundrum…Portugal? Southern Italy? Greece? Turkey? Tough life.
And then there’s Plan D, which is looking more likely by the day. Plan D will “D-Lay” our European leg until 2022, and we will set off around the continental US. Even though we’ve both seen many national parks, there is something different about being able to do it at a much slower pace, without the worry of an end date. And there are many parks and sights that we haven’t yet seen at all. Of course, in these times of travel restrictions and social distancing, the desire for families to get outside and travel has grown very strong, and RV sales have gone through the roof in the past year. This puts an extra load on campground reservations and park facilities. We have ways around some of that: traveling on a motorcycle with a tent allows us to camp in places that the average family in an RV can’t or doesn’t want to go. We’re okay with remote sites, and we also will take advantage of the kindness of other travelers when the opportunity presents itself, whether that entails sharing a campsite or letting us pitch our tent in their yard.
I think we’ve got it covered pretty well with no need for a Plan E unless the world changes drastically yet again between now and then.
Next up, we’ll talk a bit about how we travel in places like Europe on a small budget.