Touring Tip: Planned vs. Unplanned Routes and Destinations

Mar 08, 2013 View Comments by

Touring Tip:  Planned Vs. Unplanned Routes and DestinationsHow do you like your multi-day motorcycle travel adventures, planned in the greatest detail, or completely ad hoc, wake up and go wherever the spirit moves you? This is a topic on which virtually every touring rider has a preference. So let’s explore the benefits of each approach. Planned: In our hectic everyday lives, taking a planned trip, versus an unplanned one, offers notable advantages:

  • Maximize Return on Time Invested: Most of us have to balance job, family, and other commitments with our leisure pursuits. When given the opportunity to take a motorcycle tour within a limited amount of time, many of us want to get the most out of it. This argues for planning these trips in great detail in order to maximize the experience.
  • Confirmed Hotel/Motel Reservations: Touring in high season or to off-the-beaten-path locations may mean that hotel accommodations aren’t readily available when you’re ready to stop riding for the day. Therefore, it can be very comforting to have confirmed reservations and know in advance where you will be laying your head at day’s end.
  • Travel Best Motorcycle Roads: Using a resource like RoadRUNNER to plan your travel route, and downloading that route to your GPS before leaving home, increases the likelihood of enjoying the most interesting roads on your motorcycle tour.
  • Know What to Pack: Knowing your destination, points of interest, and likely off-bike activities in advance provides you a greater chance of bringing the things you will need, like comfortable walking shoes, casual clothes, camera, tickets to events, etc.
  • Mitigate Likelihood of Unpleasant Surprises: Not finding a convenient place to sleep or eat, traveling a congested or boring route, being without appropriate clothing, encountering long distances between fuel stops, and many other similar unpleasant experiences can be largely avoided by planning ahead.
  • Preferable for Distant Destinations and Larger Groups: As you venture further from home with more riding companions, the necessity of planning ahead for food, accommodations, roads, destinations, and similar logistics becomes paramount.
  • Being Psychologically Comfortable: Let’s face it; most of us lead highly structured lives that require constant planning to keep everything in balance. Embarking on an unplanned motorcycle adventure will be very unsettling to many riders and may keep them in a state of high anxiety during the trip.

The touring photojournalists at RoadRUNNER magazine, out of necessity, usually have to rely on highly structured trips. We obviously need to know in advance the route, hotel accommodations, points of interest, likely photo opportunities, and similar items. Without this structured approach we would be unlikely to craft an enticing travel story supported with evocative photographs. Unplanned: Not knowing precisely where you’re going on a motorcycle trip, and where you will eat and sleep, may sound ill advised at first, but it can be both an exciting and rewarding way to travel. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Being in the Moment: Without a fixed schedule or itinerary, it’s possible to focus on, and enjoy more deeply, the magic of the moment. How often in our everyday lives are we able to really “stop and smell the roses?”
  • More Travel Freedom and Flexibility: How often have you happened on something that captured your interest, but there wasn’t time to spend an hour or so exploring it? The great thing about unstructured travel is that you’re not chained to a tight timetable and, therefore, have the flexibility to indulge your curiosity.
  • More Relaxing: Have you ever returned from a vacation exhausted and feeling like you needed a second vacation to unwind from the first one? A highly structured motorcycle tour, covering many miles and sites per day, can be exhausting and stressful. On the other hand, not being a slave to an itinerary can be both liberating and relaxing.
  • Adventure of the Unknown: There is a special kind of excitement in not knowing what is around the next bend or over the next hill. Even being lost and finding your way back can be exhilarating and fun on a trip. Pursuing the unknown seems to trigger a very basic human need to roam.
  • New Discoveries More Likely: Often we humans have to get out of our so-called comfort zones to discover something new. All too often we take the familiar route in the same familiar direction, because the experience is known in advance. But the more a human repeats the same experience the more mundane it becomes. Random activity often is the harbinger of exhilarating new discoveries.
  • Break-Out of Your Routine: Most of us 21st century men and women are intensive planners, which is why taking an unstructured trip is often so unsettling to our usual mode of behavior. Forcing yourself to break with your normal, comfortable routine can be both liberating and renewing.
  • Be More Zen-Like: A highly structured travel schedule usually means that we’re checking off the boxes as we go along: did that, this is coming up next, etc. We’re very much thinking ahead, using our conscious mind. Unstructured travel, however, allows the subconscious to engage to a greater extent. When the subconscious is your guide, there’s no telling what adventures and wonders you’ll discover.

Final Musings: In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that I’ve never taken a totally unstructured multi-day motorcycle tour. I seem to be constantly working on my bucket list roads or traveling as a RoadRUNNER photojournalist, which both require a certain amount of planning. In the final analysis, though, it seems that a hybrid of the two approaches may be the most practical and rewarding for many of us. For example, allow enough time in your planned travel itinerary to explore a different road or spend and hour at an unplanned stop. I remember once sitting for a while on the edge of Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, absorbing the panorama of sculptured rock formations, listening to a lonesome wind, and watching the lazy meanderings of the clouds. Afterward, I felt at peace and revitalized.

Having said all of this, however, sometime I would like to take a completely unstructured motorcycle journey, just to see where the road leads me.
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