As you can see in the picture above, I started my journey with far too much stuff on my bike, but I did managed to slim it down further into my trip. Carrying too much luggage makes the bike heavier and less fun to ride, but it also over complicates your trip by giving you things to pack up and keep track of each day. Below is a list of the equipment I had, sorted into three groups. Necessary equipment, which I definitely needed. Useful equipment, which isn’t really necessary but I think is worth the space to carry as a luxury item, and Unnecessary equipment that I got rid of at some stage. I have written more detail about each piece of equipment below the table.
Honda Transalp 650cc, 2002 model – I had the Transalp for a couple of years before I left the UK in 2011, I originally bought it because it was a cheap touring bike. Whereas now I would look got a decent well known brand, like Honda, Yamaha or BMW, so that I know I can rely on the quality of the bike. Then look at the petrol consumption and tank size, this is so that you aren’t always having to worry about how much petrol you have. Luckily the fuel consumption on my bike wasn’t bad. I could go about 450 – 500 Km before having to go to a petrol station, because I carried an extra 10 litre petrol can with me. Although I had the bike for 2 years already at the start of the trip, there were some changes that I made to the bike to get it ready for the journey. Crash Bars to give the fairings of the bike some protection if I hit anything or dropped the bike, I ordered these online and fitted them myself to save money compared to getting a garage to do the work. I was really lucky that when I bought the bike, it came with a set of Givi Panniers. They are very tough and have a decent amount of storage space, but I didn’t really look into other pannier options because I already had these. One good feature was the keyless access hatch to the top of the pannier for easy access while you are on the road. The bike also came with a small top box, but I saw a cheap large top box on the net. The problem with this top box was the thickness of the plastic. It held up fine on the road but when I was on rough, bumpy ground the plastic snapped and the top box flew off, in the short term I used a bungie net to fasten it back on, then bolted a sheet of metal along the bottom to hold it onto the bike more securely. It is probably worth buying a tougher one if your budget will stretch that far, but it depends on where you are going and the road conditions you will pass through. To finish off my luggage I bought a leather tank case with tank bag. Most tank bags attach to the bike with magnets, but this bag attached to a leather case which straps onto the bike, over the top of the petrol tank. The leather case then had clips for the tank bag to connect to. I prefer this because it not only protects the tank from being scratched by the magnets moving around, by using clips instead of magnets, but also protects the tank generally by covering it with leather. In order to help with maintenance I added a center-stand, this allowed me to lift the bike off the floor so that I could access the wheels for chain adjustment and potential tyre replacements. The last adjustment I made was adding a touring screen, this screen was the highest I could find for my bike and reduced the air resistance against my body by lifting it higher. The touring screen eventually broke when I dropped the bike and rolled it in Namibia. I got my original screen sent to me from the UK before I then sold the bike in Malawi, after riding 38,994Km through Europe and Africa.
First Aid Kit – It is always important to take a first aid kit, whether you are just going out hiking for a day, or taking a longer trip for years at a time. My first aid kit started out with bandages, plasters, antiseptic wipes, plastic gloves, tweezers and scissors. But as I travelled around I kept picking up medications from other people who no longer need them, or from having to buy them when I got sick. For example, travelling through Africa I bought a Malaria treatment which I carried with me in case I got Malaria, or when I was in Malawi I carried medication for Bilharzia. So although the basics of my first aid kit stay pretty consistent, I adapted it for the country or environment that I travelled through.
Tent – I was surprised that my tent lasted as long as it did. It was a very cheap tent from the summer section of my local supermarket. A basic dome tent with a porch style entrance. This tent wasn’t ideal for travelling, as it didn’t pack down very small and wasn’t particularly light weight. But this wasn’t too much of a problem for me as I could strap it onto the bike and didn’t have to carry it around very often. People choose tents for all sorts of different reasons, if size and weight isn’t much of an issue then you can get a cheap tent and just replace it, if it breaks, but when I started researching tents for my trip through Asia I found a lot of better tents for travelling with. I discuss this more in the equipment page for my bicycle trip.
Sleeping Bag – When it comes to the cheaper end of the sleeping bag market, you have to choose between small and cold or big and warm. The smaller sleeping bags are usually stuffed with artificial fibres which are suitable for summer camping, whereas the larger sleeping bags are stuffed with down which makes them better for colder conditions. Each sleeping bag falls somewhere between those extremes. My sleeping bag was a Snugpak Chrysalis, which is supposedly comfortable down to -10 degrees C, when I was in hot places I would just use it as a mattress. This sleeping bag packed down to around the size of a football, which wasn’t too bad with the motorbike. The sleeping bag held up really well, the only issue I had was a small rip at the foot of the sleeping bag where the two sides of the zip meet.
Stove – There are a lot of stoves available, from gas stoves, solid fuel or liquid fuel. I thought that I might have a problem finding suitable fuel as I moved from country to country so I was happy when I found the Primus Omnifuel stove, it uses a wide range of liquid fuels which are available all around the world, including white spirit, methylated spirits kerosene and petrol as well as being able to connect to gas bottles. It packs down small and seems to be very well made. However I did have problems, firstly the stove stopped working in Namibia. I was using Methylated Spirits, which burn dirty and require you to clean the stove regularly, I cleaned the stove and it still wouldn’t work, I ended up carrying it around without using it for several months before I tried to get it fixed in Australia, where I found my second problem. Primus has offices all around the world so I initially contacted the UK office and the Australian office. The UK office was very helpful, I cleaned the stove and sent them pictures, they identified that my stove was missing two filters, but unfortunately they couldn’t send the parts outside of the UK, but at least I now knew what I needed. The final problem was that the Australian office couldn’t get the parts and none of the other offices could send them out of their own country. I sent an email explaining my situation to the head office and also to the Australian office, asking of any possibility of getting the stove replaced as part of a sponsorship agreement, but they refused, which is why I moved to another Omnifuel stove made by another company, the MSR Whisperlite MSR Whisperlite which I talk about in my bicycle equipment page.
Cooking Set – I spent a lot of time googling different cooking sets and trying to work out which was best for me, I eventually decided to buy the MSR Quick 2 system. This set includes two pans, two plates, and two cups, one of the best features, for me, was the fact that the lid has a strainer. This makes it really easy to drain your pasta, I have seen pans of pasta lost to the floor because people tried to drain the pan using a plate, a strainer is definitely the better way to go. The set held up really well, eventually it got some dints and the handle for the lid partially broke, but that was mostly due to it being on the bike when I dropped the bike in Namibia. Now that I am ordering equipment again, I am noticing that a lot of the things I buy are from MSR or its partner companies, they really make some cool stuff.
Clothes – The final amount of clothes that I ended up with was three T shirts, a pair of jeans, a pair of shorts, 2 light shirts and a pair of flip flops. This allowed me to wash my clothes every few days, but I would usually wear things a few times if they didn’t get too dirty so I could get away with washing my clothes about once a week or so, when I arrived in places with washing machines, although I did wash by hand when I needed to. I also had clothes specifically for riding my bike, I had my leather jacket, with shoulder, elbow and back pads, and motorbike jeans which had knee pads and were lined with Kevlar material to stop them from tearing through to the point where your flesh is scraping on the road after a crash. I would also wear my leather British army standard issue boots while riding the bike, or when I went hiking. Ultimately, the amount of clothes that you carry has to depend on the environment you are travelling through and the amount of storage space you have. One great tip for clothes, is to keep them in a pillow case. Then you can use your clothes as a pillow when you are camping. I actually started carrying two pillow cases, one for clean clothes, the other for dirty clothes, although I only used the clean one as a pillow.
Waterproofs – I didn’t spend a lot of money on waterproof clothing, I carried a cheap rain jacket which I already owned, and a pair of waterproof trousers that I had from an old job. I am glad I took waterproofs because I have driven through a lot of rain. Initially I still got wet through the waterproofs, but this was because the air would push the water in ways that I hadn’t thought about. Basically my chest would catch a lot of rain as I moved forward, that water would then run down to the crotch of my trousers and start to puddle there. This would eventually either cause a lot of condensation, or run through the pocket holes of the trousers. I also had to roll up the trouser legs of my jeans to stop water soaking up my trouser legs.
Towel – My towel is one of the few pieces of equipment that I kept with me as I switched from my motorbike trip to the bicycle trip. It is a Lifeventure MicroFibre towel, I prefer this towel to other MicroFibre towels because it has more of a rough finish to it, so it feels like a normal towel, but it packs down into a small bag, dries quickly and is very absorbent.
Tools & Spares – I carried a set of spanners, a socket set, screwdrivers, a pair of pliers and mole grips. These allowed me to remove any part of the bike that I needed to as I was servicing the bike of doing repairs. I could have been more efficient by dropping the spanners and sockets that didn’t fit the bike, but I decided it was better to be safe than sorry. I also carried an air compressor to inflate the tyre pressure, again I went for a fairly cheap model which was kinda bulky. Many of the people I met had bought similar compressors and stripped them down to the component parts without any housing. This saved space but I would be worried about the exposed wires and connections getting broken after some time.
Petrol Can – I took a steel jerry can with me as I left the UK, I thought that it was a great idea as it was strong, but It got stolen a couple of months into the trip. I replaced it with a cheap petrol can that I found in a normal petrol station in Greece. This same cheap plastic petrol can stayed with me for the rest of my motorcycle journey. If I travel with a motorbike again I will just pick up a cheap bottle. The downside to these bottles is that you need to strap them onto your bike. Another alternative is to get specially designed tanks which bolt onto the bike. Personally I think these are needlessly expensive, but it all depends on the budget you are working with.
Water Bottles – Again I started out with a bottle that I bought specifically for my trip, although it wasn’t designed for motorcycle touring. I strapped the bottle to the side of the bike while it rested on the passenger foot peg. This bottle came loose and broke as soon as it touched the road surface. Instead of throwing it away, I trimmed it to make an open top box, which I cable tied to the same place the bottle had been. From then on I would just stand normal two bottles of water into the box and refill them as I needed to, either from a clean water source or from rivers and waterfalls, when I would then use my SteriPen.
Bungies/Tie-downs – These are always useful, whether you are carrying a new piece of luggage and need to strap it down, or if part of your bike falls off and needs strapping back on. I carried spare tie downs and was constantly finding uses for them. Two of the most useful situations were, strapping the bike down in a ferry when crossing the sea, and strapping my top box back down after it fell off in Mauritania.
Laptop – While a lot of travellers I meet travel without a laptop and decide to just take a smart phone, I personally feel that I need one. Whether I am contacting people online, updating my website, editing photographs and videos or organising accommodation. I always have a use for my laptop. I made the mistake of taking an expensive laptop with me at the start of the trip. But this was purely because I already owned it when I started, but I didn’t have it for long. After I was robbed in the first week of my trip(Click to read original Blog post), I went out and bought the cheapest netbook I could find. This was perfect to travel with because it was small and cheap.
Camera – Again, my initial camera was stolen in the first week of my journey. So I went out and bought a cheap digital camera with a high mega pixel count. You can take great pictures with a cheap camera and I started to take better pictures with my digital camera before I got an upgrade to a DSLR. This was actually a gift from Charlie who was my travel buddy through most of Africa. I don’t really have any recommendations for cameras, if you are a keen photographer then you probably already own a good camera that you will want to take with you, otherwise why not stick to a cheap, easily replaceable digital camera.
Mobile Phone – A smart phone can be extremely useful while you are travelling, it is great for checking information or directions as well as the ability to call. But after my phone broke I bought a cheap mobile for $10 in Swaziland. The down side of carrying a mobile is that you need to buy local sim cards in each new country. But if that is something you can afford then it is worth it.
Camping Tools – When you are spending most of your time camping, you really appreciate some tools that make life a little easier. The most important is a good knife. I went for a wooden handle, full tanged bushcraft knife with a blade about 6 inches long. This is useful for cooking and generally cutting things around the camp. It is also really useful to have a head torch, initially I was sceptical as I carried a small torch and didn’t see why I needed to pay for one that strapped to my head. But when you are preparing food at night it is great to have both your hands free to cook with. One of my favourite pieces of equipment is my Titanium Spork, I use it to cook with and eat with and try to have it on me at all times. I would say that you never know when it might come in handy, but I do know, it comes in handy all the time!. Another good thing to carry is a folding spade, this allows you to dig a hole for a toilet but also comes in handy if your back tyre sinks into the sand in desert areas. One thing that most people wont carry, but I am very happy to have, is a folding saw. This has helped to cut fire wood in any place that I camp. I definitely recommend them!
Hennessy Hammock – The Hammock might seem like a waste of space when I am also carrying a tent, and I can see why people would decide not to carry one, but I really appreciate the comfort and variety that comes from not having to sleep in a tent every night. The Hennessy hammock has a large number of accessories to help you customise it for whatever situation you need. It packs down small and goes up really quickly, but its use depends on you having something to tie it to. When there were trees around I would use the hammock and use the tent when I couldn’t put the hammock up. The hammocks are strong and well made, I would recommend them for people who have the space to carry them, or are sure they will have trees around when they are camping.
CamelBak – My CamelBak backpack was great. I didn’t always wear it, but ever when I didn’t wear the bag I would have it strapped to my backseat so that I could still drink from it. Really good for drinking on the move, so great for riding the bike, but also for taking hiking or even just exploring a new city.
Guitar – People regularly laughed when they heard that I was carrying a guitar with me on my motorbike, especially because I didn’t play it all that often, but I like to play guitar sometimes and the Martin Backpacker guitar was perfect. It is smaller than a standard acoustic guitar because the body is cut away. It is a little quieter than a normal guitar but is great around a fire or for practicing when you are alone. Unfortunately I had to sell the guitar before starting on my bicycle trip as I couldn’t get it to fit on the bicycle.
Snorkelling Gear – Again, this set of equipment was something that drew a few laughs, especially when I was driving through the Sahara. But I really love to swim, snorkel and scuba dive. Having your own mask, snorkel and fins lets you snorkel whenever and where ever you want. Definitely worth it in my opinion.
Tube Scarf – I used my tube scarf to keep warm while I was riding through the Alps and used it to keep the dust out of my nose and mouth while I was riding through the desert areas. It takes up a tiny amount of space so it is definitely useful enough to carry.
Sleeping Mat – Cheap foam sleeping mats are easy to find are pretty light, so I went for this option. I met a few people with self inflating mats which contain a layer of foam to help pull it open and suck in air. These mats pack down to around the same size as the foam mats so I didn’t think that they were superior enough to the foam mats to justify the price difference. I have actually found a mattress which is much better than both these options, I have more details about it in my bicycle equipment page.
SteriPen (Water Purification) – A really great piece of kit, the SteriPen range allows you to make water safe to drink by killing all the bacteria. There are a number of different models, some of which are rechargeable either by mains electricity, usb connection or solar power. My SteriPen is a basic model which doesn’t recharge itself, instead I carried a set of rechargeable batteries. Without a SteriPen you would need to either carry water purification tablets, which make the water taste of chlorine, or constantly buy fresh bottles of drinking water, while it may seem like a bottle of water is cheap, the cost soon stacks up if you are buying a few bottles each day. A SteriPen is cheaper than both the other options, on a long trip.
English Language Syllabus – Now that I look back I can see that this was a bad idea, but I was planning to teach as I travelled around and I already owned three folders full of teaching aids, so I decided to take them with me. They fit in one of my panniers, but took up about half of the pannier. I thought that I had enough space to carry them but once I arrived in Morocco and met other adventure motorcyclists I realised I was too heavy. I decided to send them from Morocco to Zanzibar so that I could donate them to the school there. In the end I actually donated them to a charity which gives free English lessons to students and adults, outside of the school system which isn’t of good enough quality to really educate its students enough to reach a good, workable level of English.
Body Armour – It seemed like such a good idea at the time, but I only wore the body armour once before I sold it in Morocco. I thought that the leather jacket would be much too warm in the hotter countries, so the dirt bike style body armour would let me stay cool while I remained protected. The main reason I got rid of the armour was the size of it, it took up far too much space especially as it only had one use and wasn’t needed very often. The leather jacket ended up being cool enough in the hot countries, because of the air flowing past, but the jacket could also be worn when I wasn’t on the bike. I have never regretted selling the armour.
Extra Clothes – While I didn’t start with as many clothes as some people I have met on the road, I still managed to get rid of 3 T shirts, 2 shirts, a few pairs of underwear a pair of jeans a pair of trousers and a Moroccan jalaba. I dumped a few clothes after the first 2 days and the rest was in Morocco. I mistakenly bought a jalaba in Morocco because I thought it would look cool, like Obi Wan Kinobi on a motorbike. I was planning to wear it over the top of my clothes when it was cold. But a jalaba takes up a lot of space, so only a few days after buying the jalaba in Fes, I was trying to sell it in a Youth Hostel in Rabat. Eventually I sold it for what I had paid and was on my way again.
Tarp – Maybe I watched too many Ray Mears shows, but I thought that carrying a tarp, which I could set up to hide under in the rain, would be a really useful piece of kit. It turned out to be unnecessary, especially because I had two of them. The first I left behind in Spain and the second was left in Morocco. A tarp is good if you are setting up a camp for a few days and will experience rain. But I would usually camp in a place for one night before moving on, and when we did camp at places for a week or so at a time, there was very little chance of rain.
Books – I brought about 5 books with me as I left home. Two of them were phrase books, the others were books to read to entertain myself. I don’t think it is necessary to carry more than one book at a time. There are many books that you can exchange for your book in hostels all around the world. You might occasionally end up with a bad book, but you can also find great books that you would never have known about. I also liked to wonder where the book had been before, as I regularly carried books over borders and exchanged them in other countries.
Fishing Rod – I used the fishing rod once and lost the hook and weights. When I did finally get replacements, the rod got stolen from my bike, just north of Barcelona. The fishing rod was supposed to be fun to use while I was in Europe and Africa, but was meant to be a gift for a friend in Zanzibar. I had tried to explain the concept of a fishing rod to him six years before and wanted to take him to the beach and teach him to use it. That is the only reason that I carried it and it never made it that far, so that is the only reason it has ended up on this list.
Solar Panel – I saw the solar panel online and it was really cheap so I thought I would buy it. It was meant to recharge the motorbike battery and was never needed. It was pretty flat, so it didn’t take up much space, but I never used it. That doesn’t mean that I have given up on using solar power. I met a couple in Malawi who had a small solar panel kit which folded down to be a little larger than a smart phone, they used it to recharge mobile phones and rechargeable batteries for torches. This was something I kept in mind for my bicycle trip.
Haynes Manual – The Haynes manual did actually come in useful more than a few times because I didn’t have any experience with motorbike repair. But it is possible to find the Haynes manual in PDF form so that you can store it on your smart phone, so the manual itself is a waste of space to carry.
Other useful links: