Where do you start?

As I get on with planning our trip to Africa, I often see this question popping out regularly in forums and meetings.

Where do you start?

If you have never done an overland motorcycle trip before,  it can be overwhelming, so many decisions to make, so much choice….

In our couple, I organise the trip entirely as well as being in charge of communications (Blog/website), while Alistair is the mechanic, deals with the bikes, repairs, getting them ready and the sorting out the GPS Open source map stuff. And picking up my bike when I “throw it “on the floor! His words not mine!

The bikes, what to take, and the way to set them up, is a topic that fills millions of pages in forums. We found what works for us through trial and errors. It fits our travel style. There is no perfect bike and perfect set up, only what works for you. And to be fair, we have 2 bikes each, what we call the “big bikes” and the “little bikes”.

The “big bikes” are solid touring bikes. I currently have a Honda CB500X and Alistair has a Triumph Tiger XC. They are perfect for motorways and can do a bit of gravel.  They are not for the roads and trails beyond Europe/ Western world, or at least not for us. So we have the “little bikes”. I have an XT250 and Alistair has a CRF250. Those little bikes can get through anything, they are simple to fix and maintain, light and agile.

But really, for you, the 1st choice, before even talking about bikes is: where to go and for how long. That may influence what sort of bike you take.

These days, we go away for 4 to 5 months. Where? Usually places we have not explored yet. I love discovering new countries, new regions and new cultures. For our next trip, we considered Africa (instead of the US as originally planned!) after a very inspiring presentation at the HUBB meeting in Wales, last year. Leonie, the half of “Amsterdam to Anywhere” did a very beautiful presentation and inspired us to consider Africa.

I got online to look at a map of the continent. Crossing all Africa was out of question as we have time constraints. Visas and shipping the “little bikes” was my first step. The HUBB shipping pages was, as always, very useful.

Initially, I thought about shipping to Ethiopia and ride down to Cape Town. Or even starting in Kenya or Tanzania…. Until, after few quotes and some investigation, I realised that shipping would be cheaper and much easier to and from Cape Town. So it was an easy choice. I like to keep things simple.

For the itinerary I use countries road maps to design a vague route, but that can change considerably once we start the trip. But we still need a general idea. Sometimes, seasons will dictate your itinerary. For example if you go to Ushuaia, you will have to go there during summer. So some points may be “fixed” in your trip, because you can only go there during a certain time only. Other than that, I keep my plans and itinerary flexible. Usually my plan goes out of window within the second day of riding!

I always start my preparations with a spreadsheet. One sheet is the “Getting there” costs and general budgeting: The carnet, required for shipping into South Africa, is added to shipping costs (back and forth) and the return flights.

Another sheet is for visas, carnet requirements and countries specific requirements (vaccinations and anything else). This time there is nothing to do much, but for Russia / central Asia you need to be organised, in term of Visas.

I have also a sheet for “Bikes”. There, I list all the preparation work to be done for each bike (e.g. “new chain” etc…) and Alistair completes it and deal with those.

The “Luggage” list starts with the spare parts to take with us.

My last sheet is with the “To Do” list. It always ends up being quite long!

Oh and I sometimes have a sheet of “places not to miss”.

Basically my spreadsheet is where I put everything about the trip that I have to deal with, sort out or remember.

I end up with a photo of the reason why we cannot disappear for an extended period of time! Luckily we always find someone to take care of him!

So do you start with a spreadsheets? Where do you start?

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