Moto Camping: The Lessons Carry On


Written by Alexandra Fefopoulou and Stergios Gogos (WorldVespa.net). Posted in Tech-n-Tips

When we started packing for our RTW ride, one of the first things we put on the floor next to our clothes, motorcycle gear and cameras, was the camping equipment. Making the decision on what tent to buy, what sleeping bags and mats or what gadgets we should carry wasn’t an easy task. There’s too much information out there and sometimes its abundance can be as confusing as it is helpful. Since that day back in 2013 we have come a long way, learned a few things and have made adjustments, not only regarding our equipment but mainly regarding the expectations and realities about camping on a long-term bike trip.

The source of knowledge is experience, and this was the case for us. From the absolutely amazing, yet terrifying, first night of wild camping in the Western Sahara, to the sleepless night at an organized campsite somewhere in Brazil thanks to partiers, almost every camping experience can be described by one word: unpredictable! Although unpredictability is the heart of adventure, being as well-prepared as possible is key to enjoying the ride and avoiding nasty surprises.

Keep in mind that a long-term trip is not a camping excursion as there are some key differences. In a camping excursion, there’s usually a very specific route, duration, and destination. In a long-term trip, things are blurrier; often the route is just a general idea. The duration of a long-term trip is generally imprecise and there may be no clear destination.

Sometimes finding the perfect spot is easy. You just have to keep riding until you get there. (Lesotho)

So, let’s start from the basics: the tent.

Ours is a three-person dome tent, waterproof, easy to pitch and freestanding. The importance of good quality waterproofing is obvious, but why a three-person tent as there’s only two of us? Extra space may be less important in a short camping excursion, but in a long-term trip it’s crucial. The tent is your home—not just a bed. So, what otherwise might feel cozy during the first few days can be suffocating over the long haul. As to why a freestanding dome tent would be the best option? We were always flirting with the idea of ​​a big tunnel tent. We saw other travelers using them and were a bit jealous of the space and the large, protected porch. Initially, the only reason we didn’t buy one was the higher cost. However, we never regretted our dome tent. Countless times we had to pitch it on hard surfaces with restricted space (on cement patios, decks, under sheds, at parking lots behind gas stations, etc.) where a freestanding, relatively small tent was a huge advantage. And it was truly surprising all the times we had to spend the night at places like those.

Moto Camping Lessons gearThis is all the luggage we carry on our scooter. Camping gear is as important as our helmets.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to find the balance between simplicity and comfort. What about a motorcycle tent with a porch large enough to fit your bike? I’m riding a small classic scooter and I wouldn’t want to sleep right next to it—let alone a big, heavy adventure machine. There’s always a risk of it tripping, which is how my first tent was destroyed at an organized campsite in Zambia.

Rules and Regulations

Every region/country has its own camping rules and regulations. And, camping cultures between countries might differ significantly. For example, in Bolivia the few organized campsites are almost exclusively for foreign travelers, while in Argentina there’s no city, town or village without a municipal campsite. There are countries where wild camping is totally prohibited by law—such as Greece, where campers can be fined—or protected regions and national parks with specific rules.

If you plan to camp where the rules are unclear, don’t hesitate to ask. There’s always the option of trespassing, which can be tempting. But, the reality is that you don’t know why it is prohibited. What if there is some danger you’re unaware of? Putting yourself at risk is one thing, but endangering local wildlife or contaminating a pure area is another. In any case, be respectful of the rules and accept that there may be differences between where you’re from and where you’re visiting.

From our experiences, one thing is certain: asking has always been a great idea. In Paraguay for example, one night we set up camp by a river, and while cooking dinner a fisherman and his wife approached warning about a storm on its way. We had no idea. We ended up camping in their yard. Not only did we have a restful and quiet night sleep, but we also had a unique experience as the lady was a traditional healer who shared with us secrets about medicinal plants and ancient techniques.

Moto Camping Lessons ParaguayThe camping spots we find are not always perfect, but sometimes all we need is just a place to dry our gear. (Paraguay)

Everyday Tips

If you are planning to camp in the wild, remember this: never wait until the last moment. There’s a chance you will not find a good spot and even if you do, you may be too tired to enjoy it.

Sometimes an organized campsite is a better option, especially in sparsely populated regions with large land properties where it’s difficult to find a spot—or when you just need a warm shower. When there’s plenty of free space in an organized campsite, the first thing we do is find the best spot. Depending on the circumstances, that can be by the only tree, next to a picnic table, near power outlets, etc. It’s also probable that you’ll never be left alone. I learned this the hard way in Namibia under the only tree. When I arrived, I was all by myself, but later, every single other traveler who arrived camped with their tents wedged next to mine. In that case, after a sleepless night I moved to the ugliest spot of the campsite.

There’s a common misconception that if you travel and moto camp, then you can get by with instant noodles and canned foods. This can be the option, but only on some occasions. More than often you’ll be able to find fresh food that can be eaten raw or cooked, so don’t be overly concerned about how to maintain a healthy diet. Just remember to stop in the last town/village before where you plan to camp. And keep in mind: always carry something for breakfast as you will need the energy to pack your stuff and load your bike.

Moto Camping Lessons mealWho said you can’t have a nice, fresh and healthy meal while wild camping? (Lesotho)

Technology

There are a great many apps and internet sites for locating spots where travelers share their finds, including information about private businesses—such as farms, gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, hostels—whose owners allow camping. Be careful with this kind of information. In some cases, these otherwise unknown spots become so overcrowded that it creates issues with the local communities. Or, there are petty thieves who’ve also heard about these “hidden” locations. There may also be situations where the owners of the land or businesses that once allowed campers have changed their minds.

Aside from those matters, what about the pleasure of discovery? There’s nothing like the feeling of finding the perfect spot near a river where you can sleep under the beautiful starry sky.

Expectations vs. reality

Your camping experiences can be both infuriating and humorous at the same time. Also bear in mind that what you see on social media can be very different from your perceived reality at the time. We noticed this on our own social media posted photos. Everything was always a mess in our photos: pots and pans scattered everywhere, clothes hanging to dry, panniers and bags open, with us being greasy, sweaty and too tired trying to strike a pose. The other thing we realized was that much of the time we ended up camping in some ugly or even weird place—like a parking lot behind a gas station, in the yard of a local, even next to a landfill. So, be prepared! Be prepared for the truck fumes, mosquito attacks, drunks partying with loud music—but also, be prepared for the best experiences of your life, gazing at a sky filled with trillions of stars, hearing the peaceful sounds of nature in a thick forest next to a river or the ocean.

Moto Camping Lessons BotswanaCamping on the Makgadikgadi Salt WorldVespa.net Pans and watching the sunset was an absolutely surreal experience. (Botswana)


WorldVespa mini bio portraitstergios and Alexandra first with in 2014 in the Democratic Republic of Congo while stergios was on his RTW and Alexandra was doing Ph.D. field work. Since then, they’ve been traveling together. They write, film, photograph, and ride their vintage Vespa scooter around the world, combining their passions—and have recently released their first book “Rice & Dirt: Across Africa on a Vespa.WorldVespa.net

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