If you've come here looking for an extension of the January 2018 Modern Moto Magazine article you've come to the right place! I wanted to expand upon a few of my points to give readers a little context for why I gave the advice I did in the article. Disclaimer: If you're reading this article and you don't live in the US, some of these things won't apply, such as specific advice on IDPs, but a lot of the tips are just good basic advice for traveling and riding.
So, if you're looking to rent and ride motorcycles in another country, let's get to it!
Not all insurance is created equal. I've heard plenty of horror stories from people who assumed their insurance would cover them adequately in another country, but found out they were wrong! It's up to the rider, always, to understand what their own insurance covers and what a rental company's insurance covers. If their fine print is in a different language, this becomes all the more important. Do your research before you leave home, calling your insurer first to find out what you need to check for in the other party. Trust me, it's not the first time your insurance company has gotten this question, especially those that cover motorcyclists. Covering damage to the rental bike is only one aspect of insurance. There's the all important YOU and the other people involved in an accident to consider, as well as property damage. The laws in different countries make this even more complex, but don't let this dissuade you from doing it. All I'm saying is, ‘know before you go'.
International Driver's License:
While a rental company might not require your international driver's permit in order to rent the bike to you, if you get pulled over or get into an accident, they will require you to produce it. It's an extra step to get one of these before you leave, but it is not at all difficult. You merely head to your local AAA office in person (otherwise it takes 4-6 weeks by mail, like a passport) and fill out a form like this one, and give them $20 bucks. You also need to provide a front and back copy of your driver's license and 2 passport photos.
An IDP (International Driving Permit) along with your US Driver's License, serves as a valid form of ID in over 150 countries, and it translates your information into 10 different languages, so it's a handy thing to have. For more information check out this FAQs page.
Cell Phone Coverage: I can't begin to explore all the different options for overseas calling plans. Differences in carriers, international plans and the phone itself that you use all provide variations that would be impossible to discuss in detail, and they change all the time. That being said, here's what I know: Some phones are already “unlocked” and you can buy a new SIM card in the new country, pop it in, and have coverage locally, but know that if you do this, you will lose the ability for friends and family to get ahold of you on your regular number. You can give them the new number but for me it was an exercise in frustration trying to get the new number to people and have them keep something temporarily like that. If you're on vacation for just a week or two this is a lot of work and a lot of valuable time you could be enjoying the other country that gets spent trying to deal with technology issues.
My advice instead is to take an extra old phone. Every time I buy a new phone, I keep an old one as a “back up” just in case I drop my phone or it breaks otherwise. If you don't do that, maybe someone you know has an extra phone they could lend you for a couple of weeks. That way you can use one phone for the new SIM card and still keep your connectivity to “home”. Another idea is to stay connected and use text or calling over WiFi or an app like “What's App” to communicate with US friends / family. The third easy option is to buy a disposable phone in country that offers a limited local text and calling plan and use that for emergencies and local calling.
The point is, you don't want to be left in country on a motorcycle without a way to call for help, like I was. I switched out my SIM and had local text and data for my phone but no ability to call anyone, and being on the side of the highway in 90 degree heat and blazing sun is not the ideal place to figure this out! Lastly, some phone companies are better than others about international calling plans. It can be really expensive so call around and get your best deal. T Mobile has a fantastic international calling plan included in their regular plan, so if you travel a lot, you will want the best phone and plan for you!
Cell Phone Mount: Speaking of cell phones, ever since I started mounting my phone on the handlebars of my bike to be able to use the GPS function, it's difficult to ride without it! The solution? A portable handlebar mount like these options from RAM Mounts (no I'm not getting any kickbacks from RAM I just like their products!) They hold your phone securely in place, even with all the vibration experienced on a motorcycle, and if you're using the GPS on the phone it really helps with visual clues. This becomes especially important when riding in foreign countries with unfamiliar roads and signs that are in different languages. Due to the satellite functionality, it also keeps you going when cell coverage is sketchy, like it was in the hill towns outside of Seville! Alternatively, you can bring a GPS unit, but you'll still want something to mount it to the handlebars so that you can stay safe while navigating in unfamiliar territory.
Charging Brick: I can't stress enough what a pain in the ass it is to run out of juice while you're traveling on backroads. Having a good quality, fully charged brick to bring your phone back up to power is absolutely essential. Even if your phone is fully charged when you leave for the day, music, communications, data downloads and GPS will drain your battery quicker than you think, so having a way to charge without having to beg a cafe owner to use their electricity while you sip an espresso for an hour or two is pretty important. Who wants to burn valuable daylight sitting there charging your phone or GPS? While some of the bigger rentals have charging portals built in, renting or borrowing smaller bikes doesn't allow for that luxury, and you need to be prepared! I often travel with a solar model, which can be strapped onto your bike to charge while you're riding. Also some USB adapters can be plugged into the battery on the bike with a couple of screws and a little know how.
Know The Language: If you're an English speaking American, it might shock you to know that while there are many countries and cities in the world where English is spoken, there are many more where it isn't. You might be able to get by with point and talk gestures, simple guidebook phrases, or even Google Translate, but for complex communications, like the kind needed to understand a motorcycle rental contract, knowing the language becomes even more important. If you don't or can't reasonably communicate effectively, either beforehand to make the arrangements or while you're in country, consider hiring a translator. Pleading ignorance at the scene of an accident is only going to make you look stupid and entitled, and there's already enough of that stereotype flying around about Americans, so do yourself a favor and do it right. Anyone who rides knows a machine like that is not a toy, and it's important to understand both your rights and your responsibilities surrounding the rental. Do your due diligence or don't take the risk, plain and simple. In the end it's your fault if you ride without understanding and something bad happens.
The other part about the language barrier is just getting simple directions and talking to the locals enough to order food and drink, pay for gas, etc. I realize that's part of the fun of traveling and that's the part I thrive on, but it can be scary and frustrating for someone with little experience in foreign countries. Don't let that dissuade you! If you take the above advice on having a fully charged cell phone with translation apps and a pocket phrase book you can have an amazing adventure!! Most people love that you are willing to try to speak their language and if you're humble and kind it will go a long way toward creating bridges of understanding.
Know The Rules of the Road: One of the scariest things for me was not the act of riding a motorcycle in a foreign city, it was getting used to the lack of order and RULES OF THE ROAD in a foreign city. There are almost more Vespas and small street bikes than cars in some European cities. They go where they want, they cut off drivers, and it's amazing to me that more people don't get into accidents (although most countries have STRICT laws about using your phone while driving so that helps!)
Ok so that's the expanded version of the article at Modern Moto Magazine. If you ride and are interested in a gear, fashion and safety focused magazine for women who ride motorcycles, subscriptions are available in print or digital formats at: www.modernmotomagazine.com