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ADV NewsRTW Travel Post-Pandemic: What Has Changed?

RTW Travel Post-Pandemic: What Has Changed?

Navigating higher costs, unpredictable delays & changing regulations of moto travel.

Published on 03.17.2023
Traveling by motorcycle around the world post-pandemic
Photo: Michnus Olivier

The COVID-19 pandemic that had caused the entire planet to grind to a halt is now well behind us, and round-the-world travel is possible again. But are we truly back to normal, or are there any lingering effects – and has RTW travel changed post-pandemic? Are motorcycle shipping options and costs, border crossings, and travel expenses similar to what they were in 2019, or are we facing some major changes?

To find out, we chatted with international motorcycle shipping agents, tour organizers, and RTW travelers from around the world.

International Motorcycle Shipping

Traveling by motorcycle around the world post-pandemic
Photo: Moto Freight

Pre-pandemic, international motorcycle shipping was accessible to most travelers. Sea freight shipping along well-established routes such as Europe – Africa, Europe – South America, and North America – Europe was regular and relatively affordable. Air freight routes were equally accessible: according to Kathy Wood, manager at Moto Freight, an international shipping agency, shipping a BMW R1200GS motorcycle from London to Los Angeles via air freight pre-pandemic would cost around $1,550. 


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Post-pandemic, motorcycle shipping options and costs have changed. Wood explains that air freight rates spiked enormously during the heart of the pandemic: as no one could travel, there were very few planes in the air, so cargo space became eye-wateringly expensive, and as more companies turned to sea freight, these pressures amongst other global factors also caused sea freight rates to spike.

“Had anyone been able to travel during the worst of the pandemic in 2021, they would have paid a staggering $9,600 for the same air freight from London to LA. Today’s rate to Los Angeles is around $2,400, so although it’s still more expensive than pre-pandemic, the prices are notably coming down,” Wood explains.

Traveling by motorcycle around the world post-pandemic
Photo: Henriette Thimm

When it comes to sea freight, Wood shares that 2021 and especially 2022 were horrific years because of port congestion and long sea freight delays. “Sea freight as a mode of shipping was overprescribed as fewer companies were moving goods by airfreight. In most areas around the world, port congestion is easing, but delays have always been – and most likely will always be – a potential hazard with sea freight. This is why we only recommend sea freight to destinations where the bike can be cleared through customs without the owner being physically present. This allows us to send the bike out well in advance with additional time built in to absorb any potential delays, and our agent at the destination will clear the bike and store it safely in their warehouse until the customer flies out to start their trip,” she notes.

According to Wood, although the number of travelers is now almost back to what it was in 2019, riders are looking for cheaper options – and safer destinations. “In addition to budget considerations, people are now trying to determine how easy it would be to get out of a certain part of the world should something happen again, and the US and Canada tick that box whereas Central America, as an example, may not,” Wood notes.

Traveling by motorcycle around the world post-pandemic
Photo: Moto Freight

According to her, the most cost-effective destinations to and from Europe are the US, Canada, Australia, India, and South Africa. For Americans, the most viable destinations are the UK and Australia. Air freight is faster, whereas sea freight is typically more economical, but travelers should allow for possible delays. Wood recommends riders plan the broad strokes of their trip – entry point, potential return points, seasons, etc – well in advance, but it’s best not to over-plan the fine details because things may change between now and then – and even while you’re still on the road.  

“Air freight rates from Canada, most notably Vancouver and Toronto, are quite reasonable, so airfreight from these cities is often a realistic option for Canadians and Americans who don’t mind starting their road trip a little early and riding north to deliver their bikes for onward freight. Air Canada is not operating their Motorcycle Special at the moment, but WestJet is looking to announce a similar service running from April until October between Canada and Europe,” Wood adds.

Duncan Johnson, founder of African Overlanders which offers motorcycle shipping and storage services in South Africa, comments that motorcycle shipping is now at least 10-15% more expensive than pre-pandemic, and space on cargo ships is still a problem. “In 2019, we could easily book a container a week in advance. Now, we may have to wait weeks for a container space to free up. This is probably because China is coming back to full working mode – they’re buying out all the containers and paying more than we do, so shipping lines give them priority,” Johnson shares. He adds that despite rising costs, riders are eager to get back on the road. A big part of it is travelers coming back to continue trips interrupted by the pandemic, but equally, Johnson says newcomers are pouring into Africa, too. “My guess is that during the pandemic, as people were stuck at home, they probably watched plenty of YouTube episodes of RTW travel and felt inspired to follow suit and hit the road as soon as they could,” he shares.

Organized Motorcycle Tours

Much like shipping agents, motorcycle tour organizers were hit by the pandemic equally hard – and had to adapt. Alexandra Trzaskowska, owner of Motobirds, an international motorcycle tour company, says that people are eager to travel again, but most riders are more cautious than before the pandemic. Trzaswkowska shares that riders who wish to go on tours on their own motorcycles should be prepared for increased costs and possible shipping delays, whereas riders looking to fly and ride can experience unexpected changes and should purchase good insurance.

Traveling by motorcycle around the world post-pandemic
Photo: Stephen Gregory

“Regarding motorcycle tours, the market is now much less predictable. You cannot plan your tour calendar with a lot of time in advance as people tend to buy last minute. They’re a lot more cautious about insurance options – most look for extra insurance in case of another pandemic or any other reason that would result in a no-show. Although people who are more well-off were the least affected by the pandemic, nowadays – and that’s perhaps also due to inflation and the Ukraine war – most are hesitant to spend big chunks of cash on long and expensive motorcycle holidays,” she explains.

Her advice for people looking to go on an organized motorcycle tour in a far-flung destination is extra preparation, for example, researching things like geopolitical disturbances. “South America remains one of the most popular motorcycle touring destinations, but recent social unrest in Peru, as an example, has caused some disruption. Silk Road is still a desired route, but again, people are a little weary of Central Asia because of the current situation,” Trzaskowska explains.

Traveling by motorcycle around the world post-pandemic
Photo: Egle Gerulaityte

According to her, although travel is now less predictable than in 2019, riders are learning to adapt to a changing situation and expect the unexpected. “People are beginning to understand that planned trips may change in terms of itinerary or route depending on what’s going on, whereas before, this wasn’t acceptable. Additionally, riders are now a little more suspicious about whether it’s really safe to go and whether the departure is guaranteed.”

Trzaskowska’s advice to riders who hope to go on an organized motorcycle tour this year is to thoroughly research the destination, purchase good insurance, and buy flexible plane tickets should something change. It’s also best to double-check local requirements regarding COVID – some countries like Chile still require proof of vaccination or a COVID test. When booking a tour, it’s important to check whether the tour provider is legally registered and has good insurance. Finally, it’s best to aim for destinations that are recovering the fastest such as South America, South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, India, and Vietnam.

Traveling by motorcycle around the world post-pandemic
Photo: Egle Gerulaityte

For riders looking to plan their own trips, she recommends preparing the logistics more carefully than before, especially when it comes to Asia: before, travelers could cross the continent overland, whereas now, most people need to fly their bikes from Nepal to Malaysia due to the changed entry policies of Myanmar, as an example. “On the other hand, traveling the Americas is now easier and safer than before – the Darien Gap crossing is much easier, Central America is generally safer, so this is still a great overland route for independent travel,” Trzaskowska shares.

Independent RTW Travel

How has RTW travel changed for riders who have been on the road for years? South Africans Michnus and Elsebie Olivier who have spent more than a decade traveling the world on their bikes and are currently in Chile say the main differences are higher costs.

Traveling by motorcycle around the world post-pandemic
Photo: Michnus Olivier

“Right now, we’re trying to travel even slower than before because everything’s more expensive,” the Oliviers share. For example, the couple is now preferring long-term stays to save on accommodation.  Spare parts and tires are harder to find as plenty of local shops have permanently closed down, and since most South American countries have to pay high import taxes, pricing has gone up significantly. “The Argentinean peso has really taken a knock, and a tire that would cost $200 can now cost a staggering $400 in Argentina. In addition, companies don’t carry as many spares and parts now, either, since travel has slowed down,” the couple explains.

According to them, if riders are planning an RTW trip this year, it’s now best to add about 25% to the cost initially planned. If you planned to spend $60 a day on the road, now plan for spending $80; if you planned to spend $100 a day, expect to actually spend $130. “In Chile, for example, you either sleep in a drainpipe, camp for $20, or get a hostel for $80 – it’s really crazy how the pricing has gone up in Patagonia!,” the travelers share.

On the other hand, border crossings haven’t changed much – after the initial turbulence caused by the pandemic, most countries have normalized the border procedures, and crossing from country to country isn’t much of an issue. However, requirements are now different for each country, so it’s best to do a little research in advance.

Traveling by motorcycle around the world post-pandemic
Photo: Michnus Olivier

The biggest difference, according to the travelers, is that old advice just doesn’t work anymore. “We would strongly suggest doing your own research rather than trusting forum advice from someone who has traveled in South America in 2019. Prices, availability of spare parts, entry regulations – a lot has changed, so don’t trust the tips from old ride reports and look for more recent information. Have some spare cash and a bit of a backup plan in case things change again, and be prepared for a certain amount of, well, uncertainty,” the Oliviers advise.

Henriette Thimm, a Danish rider currently traversing Oman, agrees that much has changed since the pandemic. Having ridden around Europe and Africa for years, she notes that it’s important to recognize how much of an impact the disruption has had on local communities, too. “Of course, things have changed for us travelers in terms of increased costs and the like, but it’s especially sad to see the impact the pandemic has had on local communities in places like Rwanda, for example. Some hotels and campsites have closed down permanently as locals weren’t able to keep them running; I’ve seen nature reserves turned into farms just so people can get by, seasonal hotel workers laid off for good…it’s been devastating for the locals,” Thimm shares.

Traveling by motorcycle around the world post-pandemic
Photo: Henriette Thimm

However, things might be looking up as more and more travelers return to overlanding; much like in South America, border crossings have stabilized in Africa, and overall, Thimm says traveling is getting back to some sort of normal – as long as you’re prepared to accept higher costs and more unpredictability along the way. 

So what’s the bottom line? While RTW travel has indeed changed post-pandemic and we may never go back to normal, a new normal seems to be emerging. RTW is now more expensive and less predictable, but that’s not stopping intrepid adventurers from hitting the road on two wheels – not back in 2019 and not now.

Author: Egle Gerulaityte

Riding around the world extra slowly and not taking it too seriously, Egle is always on the lookout for interesting stories. Editor of the Women ADV Riders magazine, she focuses on ordinary people doing extraordinary things and hopes to bring travel inspiration to all two-wheeled maniacs out there.

Author: Egle Gerulaityte
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