The last couple of months we’ve been busy preparing for what may be the biggest trip of our life. And in doing so, we realised that there’s a lot you need to take into account like: where are you going, how are you going to get there, what do i need for this trip, and so on.
Of course the internet is a virtual goldmine of information on preparing for a bikepacking trip, but sometimes the internet can be a little chaotic or maybe even unreliable.
That’s why we thought it was a good idea to write a blog on how we prepared for this adventure, keeping it as practical as possible. The stuff we describe might be specific to bikepacking the Americas, but may very likely be transferrable onto other bikepacking projects you might have.
So let’s get to it, here are the contents of the blog:
1. Make a plan
2. Set goals
3. What do i need?
3.3. Legal and administrative stuff
4. The route and navigation
6. Don’t worry, be happy!
7. Useful resources
1. Make a plan
- Identify the Where
- Identify the When
- How much time? —> 50km per day
- Brainstorm document
Like most projects, a bikepacking trip starts with an idea. Don’t be afraid to dream big. We knew we wanted to travel and see a bit more of the world. So we dreamt big and decided we wanted to cycle 20.000km…
Two words you need to consider when you want to start planning for cycling the Americas: Where and when.
Where do you want to start? Now is the time to open Google Maps and look what seems possible for you. The Pan-American highway usually “starts” from Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay (Alaska) and goes South from there (because you can’t go more North obviously) to Ushuaia (Argentina). Of course you can also start from Anchorage and go South, or “skip” most of Canada and fly to Vancouver. You’re on a bicycle, remember, everything is possible!
When do you want to leave? This question is of course super personal. We made our decision based on money and the seasons. We answered our Where-question somewhere in June 2021, from there we wanted to keep working in Switzerland to save some more money. Based on our “Where” (which was Deadhorse) we knew we had to start cycling in June to avoid Winter. So we had around a year to prepare the trip. Which is plenty of time (maybe too much?).
So now you know where you want to go and when you want to leave. Next, think about how much time you are going to invest in this adventure.
From our own online research, some personal experience and critical thinking we came to the “daily goal” of 50km of cycling per day. Of course it’s impossible to know exactly how much you’re going to ride per day. But we’ve found that 50km per day is a pretty realistic or convenient goal. Some days you are going to do a little more, some days you might not cycle at all. So with the days where you ride more, you’ll give yourself some slack on the inevitable off-days or days you might want to visit something or stay a few days in a cool place.
But for now all that doesn’t matter, because now you can make a rough estimation of how much time you’ll need for the trip.
Okay, enough chit chat! Time for something practical:
You can’t just prepare a MEGA adventure in your head. Start a Word document to brainstorm and write down your ideas so you don’t forget them. This is also a good place to start making a To Do-list as well. As you continue reading this blog, you might add some stuff to your brainstorm document and To Do-list.
Here’s an example of our brainstorm document (it's in Dutch):
2. Set goals
- Set intermediate goals
- Look for interesting/beautiful places to (partially) direct your route
- recalculate how much time you need
- Make a timeline, don’t forget the seasons!
Allright! It’s time to take a closer look at the adventure. We wanted to cycle from Deadhorse to Ushuaia, that’s a pretty big distance. But what about everything in between these two points?
It might be a good idea to set intermediate goals between your start and end point, these can be anything you want: cities you want to visit, national parks, maybe you know some people whole live along the way,… This will prevent you from missing out on cool stuff. So let’s open up our trusty Google Maps (or Earth) again and start exploring. The internet is a great resource for this as well, there are plenty of people who’ve done it and shared their experiences in blogs or books or videos.
We set our goals basically connecting National Parks in Canada and America (Northern Rocky mountains, Banff, Yellowstone, Yosemite,…). South-America we left a little more open-ended and took the advice of a family member who is from Chili. From Peru go more West of the Andes until you reach the height of Santiago, from there cross the Andes and go to Santiago (where his family lives). From there on follow the Andes on the East side. At some point there’s an established bikepacking route: Carretera Austral to Ushuaia.
The route begins to take shape. It might be a good idea to “recalculate” how much time you’re going need. We used Google Maps (put on Car) to get an idea how much distance our route was and apply the 50km per day onto it.
When you plan on cycling the Americas, at some point you’re going to cross the equator. Which means the seasons are going to flip on you. So it might be useful to include a Timeline in your Brainstorm document where you try to map out where you’re going to be in which season. The goal should be: avoiding winter in places where you don’t want to be in winter (like Alaska or Patagonia).
At first we didn’t take this into account until someone pointed this out to us, so we had to figure out a strategy to avoid winter in Patagonia. Which basically meant prolonging our trip from 1.5 years to 2 years. Taking our time in North-America, staying a little longer in Peru and Santiago.
3. What do I need?
Let’s discus bikes, gear and administration! We’re not going into too much detail here, because this is a bit beyond the scope of this blog. Also it would make it incredibly long and since the attention span of the modern day human is……… wait?! What was I reading?
- Do research before buying a bike
- Think about your bikepacking setup
- Categorise your gear
- Think about stuff like: passport validity, Visa’s, insurance, vaccines
Firstly: we are definitely no bike experts! We did some research on touring bikes, some key features we looked and filtered for where:
- Weight of the bike
- Decent (enough) group
- Did it have a racebike type handlebar
- Did it come with racks
Eventually we bought a Trek 520. We did end up modifying some stuff on the bike, like we installed a dynamo hub for unlimited electricity and put on wider tires with a little more profile for smoother off-road riding.
If you’re a little more unfamiliar with bikepacking bikes and bikepacking setups, there are two big categories: bicycle touring setups with 4 panniers and bikepacking setups with rackless bags (e.g. handlebar bag, framebags,…).
We went for the 4 panniers setups, because it looks more convenient, you can take more stuff with you and for us weight wasn’t really a big issue.
So in the end, this part you have to decide for your own. What kind of bike do you prefer? What kind of setup do you want? Do some research, maybe ask advice in a bike shop or send fellow bikepackers you’ve found online a message. Eventually, put your thoughts and/or decisions in your brainstorm document.
Are you a camper or do you prefer a little more luxury? Both are possible while bikepacking. This will of course have a pretty big impact on your trip, do you need to bring a tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag etc. If you are planning on staying in hotels/B&B’s/… it will also affect your route.
We LOVE camping!! Being in nature, living off the stuff you bring with you, sleeping in awesome scenery,… that’s the dream!
To make it in the wild, you’ll need the right gear. In your brainstorm document you can make different categories:
- Sleeping gear
- Cooking gear
- Bike gear
Now start thinking what you will need during your trip. We like to imagine how a typical day would look like during our trip. Really go into detail with this and think about what you use, wear, touch,… during that day. While you are imagining this, categorise the gear in your brainstorm document. At the end go through this list and see what you need to buy, what you already have and what you might need to replace. If you’re having trouble imagining in detail, we have published our packing list on this very website! Of course we also looked at other bikepackers’ packing list for inspiration.
3.3 Legal and administrative stuff
This is probably the least favourite part for everyone. But it has to happen!
First of all: do you have a passport? Most countries require you to have a passport that is still valid for at least 3 months when entering the country. So if that isn’t the case, you already got some work to do.
For our cycling trip through the Americas, we’ll pass through:
- Alaska (USA)
- USA (again)
Every country on that list requires you having a VISA if you plan on staying more than 90 days. For us, that wasn’t the case except for Peru. The USA and Canada also require a ESTA and ETA respectively, which is sort of a mini version of a Visa. Just complete the online forms, pay the fees and wait for the government to accept your application (which comes within days). Explaining the whole process of applying for a VISA or the E(S)TA form is probably really boring, so we’re not going to write it. But after you’re done reading this blog you can go to this website, where you can find all the info you need for every country you’ll visit.
Riding a bike is VERY dangerous! Not really, but you know, death can be just around the corner if you’re not paying enough attention. Wow, that got real dark, real fast…
Getting a travellers insurance is probably a good idea. Everyone gets sick once in a while, or who knows you might crash your bike doing awesome wheelies and twist your knee. Of course, this is super personal again and there are probably hundreds of insurance companies out there. We personally went with: True Traveller. Their insurances are specifically for adventure travellers and you can customise your policies. We went for the Traveller policy, added the “Adventure pack” and chose to cover our baggage, money and documents as well. Their website was very easy to use and everything was very well explained so you know exactly what is covered and what you are paying for. Now lets hope we never have to use it…
Lastly, for some countries it’s recommended to get vaccinated against icky diseases like Yellow fever, Hepatitis, Malaria,… We just looked into travel insurances, so we got everything covered, right? But that doesn’t mean we actually want to use the insurance! So if there are diseases that you could prevent by simply getting a vaccine, that might be a good idea. A great resource is wanda.be, a Belgian website with recommendations on what vaccines to get for what country.
4. The route and navigation
- Maps, Bike GPS or Smartphone
- Navigation apps
This one’s a little tricky. You don’t know your route into very much detail, only some key points in between your start- and endpoint. You can go old-school and navigate with maps, but if you’re traveling for a longer period of time, that’s going to be pretty bulky. Luckily we live in modern times and we have stuff like Bike GPS’ or just your smartphone!
Yes, that’s right. You can just use your smartphone to cycle halfway across the world! There are plenty of apps on the market to help you navigate. We personally went with:
- Gaia GPS
On both apps it’s possible do download the maps onto your phone. So even if you don’t have any signal, you can navigate to where you want to go. Gaia GPS comes with a yearly subscription (35.99 US dollars at the time of writing), but has greatly detailed maps and information. MAPS.ME is a free app, it is great for navigating in cities because it has very useful info in it’s (offline) maps like stores, hotels, gas stations,…
So with these apps you can make your route from day to day, based on how you’re feeling, what the terrain looks like, landmarks along the way,…
- What kind of sleeping arrangements?
- Plane tickets
- Daily living costs —> 20 euro/day
- Extra expenses
Time is money. That’s what they always say, but in this case it might be the other way around. Money is time!
Keeping track of your budget and looking where and how you spend it makes that you can keep your trip going and maybe even lengthen it! Like many other themes in this blog, this topic is personal too. Are you going to wild camp? Or are you going to stay in 5-star hotels? Either way, both are possible depending on how much money you’re willing to invest in your trip.
Like we said before, we LOVE camping! So our plan is to wild camp as much as possible and stay in some B&B’s or hostels every once in a while, you know, because of the smells…
Warmshowers is also pretty cool! It’s basically AirBnB for bikepackers. You pay an annual subscription fee and you get access to thousands of hosts willing to give a place to stay for the night.
It might be wise to think about budgetary stuff well in advance. Costs like daily living are not the only thing to think about, you also have your plane tickets, extra fees for bringing your bike, insurance costs, unforeseen expenses,…Put all this in your brainstorm document as well!
In our brainstorm document we made a little table with:
- Plane tickets
- Daily living
- Extra expenses
We bought our plane tickets well in advance (to Deadhorse, return from Ushuaia we made an estimation), so we knew the price of that. For daily living we calculated 20 euro per day, knowing approximately how many days we would be travelling, we could make an estimation for that cost. Then we added another amount for unexpected expenses (gear replacements, day trips,…). All that gave us an idea of how much budget we needed to foresee to survive on this adventure.
6. Don't worry, Be happy!
Wow! You’ve almost made it to the end. Let’s take a moment to chill. You’re probably very excited to go on your adventure and want to plan everything RIGHT NOW! Thats ok. Just don’t try to overplan your trip. Leave some things unplanned: like your exact route, where you’re going to sleep at night, where you’ll take a bus or an inland flight,…
Embrace the adventurous spirit of travelling by bike, going into the unknown, exploring beautiful places and meeting interesting people. Don’t let a meticulously, super detailed and thought-out plan dictate where you go and what you do. Try to live in the moment! Who knows, maybe you’ll meet other bikepackers who you can travel with together. Or you hear about a must-see spot from some locals. Don’t worry, be happy!
7. Useful resources
Hopefully there’s already a lot of useful information in this blog. But of course, we couldn’t talk about everything. So here are some useful resources that helped us in our preparation:
- Just a goldmine of information about everything that is bikepacking
- Make sure you check out there Youtube channel as well
- Bicycle Travellers
- Facebook community of bikepackers
- Ask anything you want about anything bike(packing) related. You’ll have an answer within the day!
- Everything you need to know about Visa’s etc. you’ll find here
- Vaccine recommendations for every country
- Very useful information about bicycle routes in Patagonia!
- Look for other bikepackers who are doing what you want to do (or are doing something different)
- They often have websites with useful information on as well
A little disclaimer about this blog might be appropriate. All the stuff we wrote here is how WE prepared for our trip, we don’t want to say that this is the best or most efficient way of planning a big adventure. We just wanted to give you guys an insight in how we prepared and give you some tools to help you prepare for your next adventure!
A little bigger disclaimer now: we wrote this blog before leaving on our big trip. So it is very possible that we forgot some stuff or could’ve done some things a little better. But hey, that’s all material for a future blog!