Travelin' Around the World by Motorcycle

This page was in preparation for my trip, which was has now already been undertaken. If you're interested in the results see

This is an on going information seeking page. I'm compiling information from where ever I can find it in preparation for a journey. Who knows when/if it will happen. ...but as a goal, it's fun. I'm putting it on the net to share ideas with other people thinking of doing the same.

This Document contains

Route information

My main goal is to visit and experience diverse cultures. I'm not in it for an endurance record. I'd like to do as much of this as my money situation will allow. It's not important to me to actually make it all the way around the world, but for starters I'll plan my path that way. My itinerary is very loose. The purpose of it is to keep my options open by being aware of possible routes and problems. From past experience, I see myself changing my route based on information I get along the way from locals and other travelers I meet, weather, mood, etc.

Central America:
start from home (currently Champaign Illinois) drive south through Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and then Panama. At the Darien gap in Panama, the trans American Highway ends, so I'll take a ferry from Panama to Lima (Peru).

South America:
I'd like to travel along the coast and in the mountain ranges along West the side of South America. From Peru, avoid the Peru/Ecuador border, I'll travel to Bolivia, Chile, Argentina down to Tierra Del Fuego, and then up Eastern Argentina to Buenos Aires. I hope to pick up a ship in Buenos Aires to take me to Cape Town South Africa. While waiting for a ship to sail, I'd like to twittle around Uruguay and Paraguay. I might also consider flying to Cape Town. I expect the trip by ship to take about 10 days.

At the moment I'm considering traveling along the Eastern countries of Africa due to more political stability. I need to do more research on this continent in regards to maps, carnets and roads. While I hear the general disposition of the Sudanese (from Ted Simon) is not friendly, I think it would be a blast to visit Egypt by bike. However, Being in North East Africa there are a few road blocks. Being a US citizen, I don't plan to enter Libya or Iraq. Likely I wouldn't be allowed anyway. Further, I'm not so interested in crossing Jordan, Syria. I've been told it's very difficult to get a Iranian visa. This means that I would either take a ferry from Northern Egypt to Turkey, or I cut across the Sahara desert up to Algeria and Morocco and cross into Spain at Gibraltar. Crossing the Sahara is one of those been there done that things. I've checked out the road maps across the Sahara and have been considering gas tank size accordingly. The crossing would be some what dependent on seasonal timing.

Where I enter Europe whether from Turkey or Spain will determine the route. As goals, I'd like to travel up the coast of Norway because I think it's one of the most beautiful places in the world. Also, I'd like to travel through Eastern Europe because it's one of the most rapidly changing areas.
Because travel through Iran may not be possible due to visa restrictions, I'll have to travel North of the Caspian sea. Doing the silk road from Turkey to China sounds like an interesting route. While traveling through China, I was under the impression that land vehicle crossings are not allowed into China except from Hong Kong. However, I've heard of several travelers who have done this, such as Jim Rodgers (traveled on a million dollar budget). I'd love to travel through China and then into SE Asia. If it's not possible, I'd likely travel from Turkestan, Pakistan, India, excursion to Nepal, back to India and then take a ferry from Madras to Singapore. Burma does not allow land entries and I've been told it's not possible to cross Bangladesh easily. From personal experience I know that it is cheap to go island hoping across Indonesia and on to Australia. Timor, I would take a ferry or plane to Darwin Australia. Timor to Australia should be about $350 by plane. Cheaper by ship. After bummin around Australia I'll likely fly to LA and drive home.

Much of the route will be determined by the seasonal changes. I'd like to be following the summer. However, this puts some serious time restrictions on travel that I'd rather avoid. Traveling close to the equator, this shouldn't be as much of an issue.

I've checked on rates to get the bike from North America to Europe. According to Luftunsa and American Airlines, it would cost $700-$1000 with a 3 day turn around from Chicago to Frankfurt. By boat, I've been told that the price from Toronto to Amsterdam is about $350 with a 1 month turn around. In both cases, the bike must be crated. For freighting info, call:
Freighter World Cruises (818)449-3106.
TravLtips Association (800)872-8584 in US, (800)548-7823 in Canada.

As far as time, I'm thinking along the lines of 2-3 years, however, emphasis is on the cultural experience rather than just driving around the world. While skipping two continents Thomas Fuller did his trip in little over a year. Ted Simon however did his trip in 4 years. Ted Simon (Jupiter's Travel) took a leisurely 4.5 months to travel from London to Johannesburg, crossing into Africa via ferry from Sicily to Tunisia and then traveling along the East coast. The distance was 12,245 miles. His Route was London->Europe->Africa->South America->Central America->USA-> SE Asia->Middle East->Europe->home. Total trip was 63,400 miles in 4 years.

More comments on routes...


Carnet are a major obstacle for traveling around the world with a vehicle. A Carnet is insurance to the country that one is about to enter that one will take the vehicle back out, otherwise an import duty must be paid on the vehicle. In some countries this can be a huge sum. Iran charges 600% import duty for a vehicle entry. Fortunately only 150% if it only has two wheels. India will charge 250 - 300%.

Before getting a carnet, you must know which countries will be visited, so that you'll know how large of a carnet will be required. You'll need to keep the equivalent of the maximum amount of the carnet deposited at the bank for the duration of the trip. If you don't leave the country with the vehicle, your deposit goes to pay for the import duty charge. If your bike is stolen, this seriously increases the magnitude of your grief! AAA once offered insurance based carnets but has dropped this due to lack of interest. I've heard that European auto clubs offer carnets but I don't yet know if they are offered to foreigners. The Canadian Auto Club CAA, offers carnets. Contact Susan Danas at the Ottawa CAA branch (613) 247-0117/(613) 226-7631. They issue carnets for both Canadians and Americans. She can send you a carnet FAQ. Chris Scott in his book 'Desert Biking' mentions Campbell Irvine Insurance as a source for carnet insurance. I'm in the process of checking into what this company offers. Campbell Irvine Insurance, 46 Earls Court Road, London W8 6EJ.

For travel in Africa, a carnet is required. Most countries in South America require a carnet. Australia requires a Carnet. Europe does not.

A good source of info on Carnets can be found in the Lonely Planet's Travel guide to Africa.

A carnet deposit is incentive for getting a cheap looking used bike.


I'm still researching this aspect. I'm under the impression that motorcyclists in Europe are required to have proof of insurance. Apparently, a standard green card is required and typically costs $100? per month... others have told me $50 per year. I haven't checked out the details. One lead I have for green insurance cards is: Michael Mandell (800-245-8726).

Published info on the subject:

Some of these books can be picked up from Whitehorse Press: (800) 531-1133. I found Ted Simon's "Jupiter's Travels" at my local library.

Choose a Vehicle:

Which motorcycle to choose: Calling from experiences of traveling through South East Asia by motorcycle, the bike will need to be suited for situations where road conditions can can be as bad as no road at all. Nothing can compare to a pure dirt bike that seems to prefer bad conditions. However this class of bike can be extremely uncomfortable on long trips. The dual sport class bike was invented for just this reason creating a hybrid between a cruising bike and a dirt bike. Examples of dual sport bikes would be:
My wife and I chose to go with a BMW R100GS and an R80G/S which I've added custom PD extensions. It might be an advantage for us to have the same bike however for part exchanges. The important spare parts that we'll be carying such as spare ignition system is for the most part interchangeable. The primary reasons for choosing these bikes are: To see the net discussion on this topic, click here

In preparation, I've been teaching myself about motorcycle maintenance and repair. I've been compiling information on BMW motorcycles particularly in this area and keep the info on line. see BMW (R) motorcycles Also, I run the bmw-tech mailling list for techinical discussions on bmw motorcycle mechanics.

A couple good reference books on maintenance and repair for BMW motorcycles include:

Later Note: The Yamaha Tenerre bikes (esp. XT500) are choice bikes for North Africa Desert crossings due to reliability, fixability, and other dirt bike characteristics. For crossing deserts, lightness of the bike counts for alot. A true dirt bike might be almost half the weight of a BMW GS. If I were considering a dirt bike, I would look into this one.

Modifications to the motorcycle:

I have a stock '92 BMW R100GS that I'm starting with.

Motorcycle related things to take along

As far as parts I may need while in the middle of no where, I'm planning to take along a couple phone numbers of part suppliers in the US. Since there isn't a BMW parts dealer in Champaign IL, I'm use to mail ordering all of my parts. I figure it won't be much different in Zaire, except that the mail order parts supplier should have a relationship with an international delivery service. Most places deal with FedEx, and since FedEx acquired Flying Tigers international should be covered. I checked with DHL for shipping costs. Delivery of a drive shaft (which is likely the heaviest item to fail) from the US to Zaire would cost about $228 with a 4 day delivery. $196 to Argentina with a 5 day delivery. For such a rare severe failure, this seems a reasonable price. However, for smaller things more likely to fail, it's a good incentive to take some spare parts. I haven't checked prices with Flying Tigers (FedEx). DHL phone number in US is 1-800-225-5345 international is 1-602-921-8831.

Estimated Cost

Calling from experiences in South East Asia, I think it is possible to live on < $500 per month in third world countries. There is a little slack factored in there to help average out costs in more expensive countries, and also the occasional splurge tendencies. This includes food and housing. In many of the countries in South East Asia, I was able to get a meal from between $.20 to $2.00 with an average around $1.00. I'm hoping that bringing a tent along should bring down the housing costs in North America and Europe. A camping stove should help with costs of food in these same countries. However, the five months I spent traveling SE asia, I'm glad I didn't cary a tent or stove because there wasn't much opportunity or desire to use them. Campings sights are for a leisure activity that doesn't exist in many third world country cultures.

For gas, I'm figuring 60k miles / 38 mpg = 1,600 gallons x $2.00 per gallon = $3,200. The cost of gas varies radically depending on the country so does mileage. One of the cheapest places in the world to buy gas is in the USA. Oil producing countires like middle east, S SE Asia, Central and Northern S America, I expect the cost to be around the same or cheaper. On the other extreme, I paid over $4 per gallon in Scandinavia. I just returned from Germany where gas was $5 per gallon (66% tax). It's cheaper to fuel up in Belgium ~$2.5 per gallon and then drive through Germany if I can carry enough fuel. For prices on South and Central American Gas, click here.

Tires I think are the most expensive maintenance cost. Currently I'm considering Avon Gripster. 1 rear tire costs $80 and lasts >10k miles. Front tire costs ~$60 and lasts ~15k miles. Total cost is $720. Metzler Sahara 3 is one of the nicest tires all around, but is costly and has a short life span. Estimated costs with Sahara 3's is $2000. More tire info here. Of course, choice of tire is dependent on availability in the area that I'll need it.

I'm figuring on $8 of oil per change x 15 times = $120. oil filter is $7 x 15 times = $105. oil gaskets = $1 x 15 times = $15.

The R100GS is known for having driveshaft u-joint failures around 30-50 thousand miles. This is $250 part replacement in the US. Three times this price in Isreal.

An amount of money should be set aside for surprise repairs along the way. Depending on how much of an optimist I am at the time of departure will determine this amount.

The route and time will be influenced by how well the money situation is holding out. If money is running short, the trip is sped up.

Related Info...

Other travel related web sites

Bernd Tesch has been researching round the world trips by motorcycle for the last 15-20 years and has published a couple books on the subject (in German). He is an excellent source of information and runs a shop which custom makes equipment for this kind of travel. He has a catalog available for travel equipment and can be reached at:

Bernd Tesch
Zur Fernsicht 18
D-52224 Stolberg-Zweifall
Ph./Fax: +49-2402-75375

Some more info on Bernd Tesch

Dave Thompson