Better than a brick!

Carrying a guidebook is annoying. The thing is as big as a brick and almost as heavy as one, but unless you have almost unlimited time and money in order to figure it all on your own, there will be a moment where you will be glad to have one with you. In fact, you'd have to be a bit masochistic to travel without.

Can't change a Desert?
Read the AMH!
The two excellent handbooks from Chris Scott...

The "Adventure Motorcycling Handbook" is a must-have for the preparation of any long-distance trip, while "Sahara Overland" is the reference for anybody who's planning to venture in the largest desert on Earth.

Merritt and I bought them both and we carried copies of the Morocco chapter from "Sahara Overland" when we went for a 6-week training session south of the Atlas before leaving on our big trip.
The Lonely Planet continental & shoestring series

The first purpose of a travel guide is to help you find a place to sleep and a place to eat, nice and cheap, without having to ride for an entire hour in the dark around a town you don't know, starving, sweaty and exhausted after a long day on the road. In that regard, Lonely Planet flat out beats the competition. With the Shoestring series, you have an entire continent in a book, which is ideal for long-distance motorcyclists. All the guidebooks from LP share the same structure and all the chapters have the same subdivisions. The maps are clear, the prices are usually accurate (they give the exact value: ie. "$11" instead of "Category-B: $10 to $25"), and the information is usually up-to-date.

The second purpose of a guidebook is to make you learn about a country. Don't expect to find much in a Shoestring book aside from a short chapter on each country's history and culture. If you are particularly interested in a country, consider buying a guidebook dedicated to it. Here again the Lonely Planet books are often above the competition but not as clearly as for the Shoestring workhorse series. So shop around...

A critic that people commonly make about the Lonely Planet is that everybody carries it - wherever you go, there is the LP crowd - and it's true in a certain measure if you stick to the traditional tourist circuit like the Gringo Trail in South-America or the Overland Tours in Africa. The counterpart is that this critic only makes the guidebook even more necessary: if you want to avoid the crowds, just go to a place that's not in it!

Finally, there are brilliant travel books written in Japanese, German and French. If you speak one of these languages, it might be worth considering the option.

On a shoestring, they say...
Two little exceptions to the all-Lonely-Planet selection...

The Footprint "South American Handbook" is more complete than the Lonely Planet. Historical and cultural chapters are more developed, remote places are described here that are not in the other etc... LP remains the king in terms of convenience but if we return to South-America, we might choose the Footprint guide this time around.

The "Chile Experience Travel Guide" is probably the most beautiful guidebook we ever saw. All in color with hundreds of notes and pictures, it is a travel guide as much as it is a mini-encyclopedia that will make you love the country. Printed on thin paper, it stays small and compact. We wish they'd make a series of it. Only problem: it is published in Chile and we don't know if they are going to update it (although even if the food and lodging recommendations become outdated over time, the rest of the book will still be worth it).


My favorite map?
The World map!
Everybody needs a good map

A bad map is much worse than a bad guidebook in the sense that it really can get you into serious trouble. A bad map will lie to you hours on end, and leave you crying where no help can be found. And even then, the bad map knows that you don't have any other alternative than to come back to it for more lies and abuses. Yes, a bad map is pure evil: it's loaded with bad juju and it brings bad luck.

A good map, you will learn to love, cherish and share. Pierre is a
buff about maps, as much so as a Nigerian cop. Here is his best selection.
The Michelin Africa series

Are you crossing Africa? These 3 maps covering the entire continent will soon be as precious to you as your reserve of water. Besides the roads and cities, they show in French and in English the road surface, geography, terrain, rain seasons, localities with food and shelter, and even fuel depots and mechanic workshops! How they managed to put all that information on maps that remain an exemple of legibility is truly amazing.

Note that you should buy these maps before heading to Africa, as they might be difficult to find over there.

Hint! After only a couple of weeks, the hot and dry African climate will probably turn the paper crispy like a potato chip, and your precious maps will start to crackle and tear apart at the folds. To protect them, you can laminate them as the locals do, covering them entirely with large clear tape.

South-America and Central-America

Excellent maps can be found in Latin America, edited by the local Auto-Clubs. They are accurate, frequently updated, and often available in border towns or at gas stations. The map from the Auto-Club Argentino also covers the south of Chile, including the Carretera Austral.

Otherwise, the best maps available here are from Rough Guides. The big plus for motorcycle travelers is that they are printed on a rip-proof waterproof sheet of plastic. You can fold it over and over and it still looks like new. The readability is perfect. As for the accuracy, we can only vouch for the Argentina map (we haven't used the other ones).

They are a bit expensive but their quality makes them worthwhile if you stay long enough in a country. We list below the maps for 4 big countries - Mexico, Peru, Chile and Argentina - where the usual biker stays at least several weeks, but they are also available for Baja California, Guatemala & Belize, and Costa Rica & Panama.

Finally, we present 2 continental maps (Central-America and South-America) that will be useful to plan your trip. For actual navigation, tough, and especially if you go off the beaten track, you will need to get more detailed maps - either locally made maps, or one of the 4 maps below.


It might be suggestive but we still find the Michelin maps to be the most accurate and legible. These 2 maps of Europe and Scandinavia will help you to plan your trip. Once you are there, you can easily find more detailed maps at the country or regional level.

America, land of contrasts..
One map doesn't fit all.

America, land of the automobile, land of the asphalt... Not a place for the long distance motorcycle traveler, you might think. But America is also a land of contrasts. Tens of thousands of miles of beautiful trails crisscross the landscape coast-to-coast. Take a good map and from the Snowy Mountains to Death Valley, rediscover what counts amongst the most beautiful scenery on the planet.

There are litterally hundreds of maps and dozens of atlases in every bookstore in America. Most of them are based on data from and the differentiation comes the selection of the data (all maps don't display everything) and its presentation (styles, colors etc...). In the end, the best choice seems to be the American Map Road Atlas. The spiral binding makes it easy to tear off the pages and place those you need in your tank-bag. It displays National Parks and National Forests and, most importantly, cheap public campsites (not all the atlases do). Trails and dirt roads are accurately traced and are within reach of the beginner to average-skilled long-distance motorcycle traveler. And for less than 15 bucks for the entire US, it's the best deal around.

If you explore the desert areas, you should buy the State Maps from AAA for more detailed information, and also consider serious safety precautions. In the land of the 911 Emergency Response, you can still watch the vultures turning above you for hours, so plan accordingly with a good reserve of food and water and maybe a satellite-phone with the local sheriff's numbers.

Two notes to finish:
- The AAA Indian Country Map, published by the Automobile Club of Southern California, is a must-have to vist the Grand-Canyon and the Navajo and Hopi reservations, but it's becoming difficult to find. Get one fast.
- There is a Michelin map for the US too but don't buy it, it's bad!

Other Maps

We haven't been to Asia yet so we are only going to talk about what we have and what we know: the excellent map of Thailand from (again) Michelin.

If there are country maps you are particularly happy with, contact us and we'll include them here after investigation (we'll ask you for photographs of the map, and we might check with other travelers for accuracy if you haven't been all over the country)

And finally, whether you are still hesitating a little bit to leave, or you have already started the final countdown before departure, here are four posters that will help you turn dreams into reality: 2 world maps and 2 satellite pictures, pick your style...

Dictionaries and Language books

Bonjour, Salam, Jambo, Buenos, Hello!

"If I didn't want to meet people, I wouldn't be traveling alone"... It was Pierre's response, a long ago, to a fellow traveler who approached him with a little hesitation.

Whether traveling alone or with others, you must learn basic skills in the languages of the countries you are going to cross. This is not an absolute necessity: wherever you are in the world, you are not going to die of thirst or hunger just because you don't speak the language - and you are almost always going to find a bathroom in time too. But even though learning a local language might not be a life-or-death situation, it still is the single one most important thing you can do to heighten your experience during the trip.

In many places, you don't need to learn a lot. Even if you just babble some greetings and thanks-yous and a couple of sentences about your family, it will be enough to make the locals welcome you with big smiles. And then it becomes much easier to switch back to English or French, or whatever colonial language is spoken there. Anybody can learn at that level with a minimal effort: buy a phrasebook, practice for a few days, et voilà!... you speak Arabic, Thai or Swahili better than 95% of the tourists!

As a long-distance traveler, there are not a lot of languages that you definitely need to learn at a conversation level. The first one is, of course, English. The other three languages are:
- Spanish for Central and South-America (+ Spain),
- French for North and Western-Africa (+ France, Belgium, Switzerland, Québec),
- Russian for Russia and the "stan" countries.
With English, Spanish and French, you can already plan a full RTW trip, crossing each continent from end to end. By adding Russian, you have a backup plan to get around the Middle-East in case a bearded embassy official rejects your visa application just by looking at your passport's cover page (...besides, Russia and Uzbekistan are a lot of fun too!)

I did not mention German because nowadays pretty much everybody who speaks German also speaks English, nor did I mention Portuguese (for Brazil, Angola and Mozambique) because if you speak Spanish correctly, Portuguese will come to you almost as a freebie.

Learning Spanish

Learn the language:
that's when the real fun begins!
Latin America, from Baja California in Mexico to Tierra del Fuego in Chile, is a dream for the long-distance motorcycle traveler. Learn a single language and cross an entire continent... It was the first thing listed in our list of recommendations for South-America.

The best way to learn is to start at home over a period of several weeks to several months before you leave. Take classes at your local university if you can, or buy an interactive package to practice on your computer.

Schools: Once you handle the basics, begin your Latin American trip with at least 2 weeks (and up to 6 weeks) of intensive courses at one of the best schools in the world to learn Spanish. You can find them at Guanajuato or San Miguel de Allende in Mexico (if you start your trip from the north of the continent) or at Buenos Aires (if you start from the south). Prices are reasonnable, at around $10/hour. You will not regret it and besides, these cities are plenty interesting enough to spend all that time learning.

Methods: Merritt very much liked the Rosetta Stone for French: the Spanish edition should be equally good. A note about it, though: it teaches you the languages the way a child learns, by association of words and images, but the method doesn't fit everybody's taste. It seems to work very well for those who have never learnt any foreign language and feel intimidated by it. Other people with already some basics or a degree of confidence will probably benefit more from the Pimsleur program. We haven't tried it ourselves but it comes with great reviews.

Book: We also scoured dozens of bookstores between Buenos Aires and Miami for courses and dictionaries and we found a couple that are clearly above the rest. "Hugo in 3 months" is a mix of lessons and exercises, all clearly presented, in a format small enough that you can take it with you on the trip (the few other books of quality were as big as the Manhattan phonebook) - and it even comes with a CD now.

Dictionaries: The Oxford Mini-Study Dictionary has a very convenient Spanish Verbs section in the middle, and it's full of idioms and expressions (not just plain litteral translations of the words). The University of Chicago Spanish Dictionary is the size of a regular pocket paperback, and much more complete. It's has all the slang you need and we found it less academic, more usable, than the slightly thicker Merriam Webster.

Phrasebook: Finally, for those who just don't have any time to learn and need to grab something at the store the day before departure, there is the very correct Lonely Planet Latin-America Phrasebook. It can also be useful for those who want to complete their lessons at school with practical exemples.

Learning French

Merritt's first words:
"Combien ça coûte?"
Schools: French is more difficult than Spanish, no doubt about it. The best way to learn is probably to contact the closest branch of the Alliance Française and inquire about their classes. They are present in 800 cities and 130 countries in the world: chances are there will be one near you (to find out, visit their web site at

Methods: Merritt loved the Rosetta Stone but it's not for everybody (see what we wrote above in the Spanish section). Otherwise, there is Pimsleur which we haven't tried but for which people say lots of good things...

Book: Same as for Spanish, the "Hugo in 3 months" is clear and compact enough to pack in your suitcases.

Dictionaries: Pierre, like many French students, always swore by the Robert & Collins. The supplies are dwindling so if it runs out before a new edition is printed, go with anything from Collins instead. Also, because French is so twisted, Merritt very much appreciated the French Grammar Gem pocket book, from Collins.

Phrasebook: If you don't have time for anything else, or if you want to complete your classes with real-life examples...

Learning Russian

We haven't gone through Russia, we haven't learnt the language. The recommendations below are made based on the solutions we found to work for French and Spanish, with some additional research on Amazon. You will recognize the same method (Plimseur) and the same phrasebook (LP). Otherwise, the Russian Course from Penguin is highly recommended, and the Langenscheidt seems to be the only real pocket-format Russian dictionary.

Babbling In Other Languages

Imagine the scene... You are in Mongolia, Iran or Tanzania. You stop in the middle of nowhere. You think you're alone but within seconds a group of locals is approaching. Your riding gear, your monster bike: they have never seen an alien like you. They must be wondering "What planet is he from?". You remove your helmet and they hear you addressing them in their language with a big smile: "Hi! How are you?"

This is (almost) all you need to know...

Here are some of the phrasebooks you will enjoy the most during the trip. We can vouch for the quality of those about Swahili and South-East Asia. The other ones consistently get good reviews too.

You don't speak Swahili!?

Travel Stories and Photography

Need some inspiration?

This category might better fit at the very top of the page, as most trips are inspired by reading other travelers' stories and pictures. We present below some of those that had the strongest impact on us.

And if you would like to publish your own stories and photography, you will find useful advices on the
Computers page (especially how to do it without a computer...)

Travel Stories

You will write a book.
A must-have for the long-distance motorcycle traveler & photographer. We met Helge by chance while crossing Africa, a very sweet guy who totally lives up to the legend. The book is unfortunately out of print but you might still find a copy here. Another classic: Ted Simon's RTW trip in the 70s. The hilarious and dramatic diaries of the "Che" and his buddy Alberto across South America in 1951. A timeless piece: Around the world on motorcycle in... 1932!

Travel Photography

20 out of 21 readers gave it 5 stars. A collection of photographs initiated by the United Nations that shows how diverse yet similar we all are. 50 years after its publication, this book continues to make you love the entire mankind. 31 out of 32 readers gave it 5 stars. Same impact as Family of Man: families from around the world pose in front of their emptied house, with all their possessions laid out around them. Now imagine yourself posing in front of your motorcycle with the contents of your 2 suitcases spread on the ground. An instant worldwide bestseller. Stunning photographs and right-on comments: this book brought everybody who saw it the gaze and the wisdom of an astronaut coming back from orbit. A follow-up to the classic: we can't get enough of it. When you're done reading, you will have just one idea in mind: writing your own "Earth From 3-Feet Above".