European Motorcycle Touring: Part 3

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21st Century Motorcycle Touring Through Europe: Part 3

Continued from Part 2.

4) 21st century border crossings

Thanks to the Schengen Zone, getting through the EU countries is practically effortless. Leaving one EU country and entering another has the same fanfare as riding from Colorado into Wyoming: there are a few signs, but no one's going to stop you and check your paperwork. Of course you should always have your passport and insurance with you, just in case. This lack of border checks is a little disappointing, as entering a new country should have the thrill (and a passport stamp!) as if you were entering a new world. But it is also a blessing, as there are no hour-long lines to wait in, or bureaucracy to deal with, or even bribes to pay. At most, you may be required to buy a vignette (a small sticker for your motorcycle) that allows you to use the major motorways of a particular country. These vignettes can be completely avoided if you plan on never using that country's motorways, so I like to think of it as an optional expense. Some countries (such as Austria) give you the option of a short-term sticker, whereas other countries (such as Switzerland) provide only an annual sticker.

Speaking of Switzerland, while it is not part of the EU, it is recognized as part of the Schengen Zone. This means that you probably won't be stopped at the border, but the borders are often manned, with the border patrol watching for the illegal transport of goods - and missing vignettes - so be prepared to show them your documents if asked.

If you travel further east or southeast, you may come into contact with countries that aren't part of the EU, or only in a limited capacity. There you will be required to show your passport and insurance documents. If you plan on traveling through eastern Europe you should do some thorough research on the border crossing requirements shortly before you embark on your journey, as the rules can change without too much fanfare.

5) Insurance

It shouldn't come as a surprise that you are required to have insurance when operating a vehicle in Europe. A good tour company will provide you with the basic coverage that you'll need, although you can always beef up that coverage if you so desire. But if you're on your own bike, or renting privately, you'll need to source this insurance for yourself. As this insurance is not part of your normal insurance policy - and not available from them, either - you'll need to do some shopping beforehand to find a broker who can help you out. You should purchase the insurance before you leave home so that it is in full effect as soon as you arrive.

This supplemental insurance for your bike (and yourself) is called "Green Card" Insurance, and it meets the minimum mandatory European liability coverage. The Green Card is an international certificate of insurance providing visiting motorists the minimum compulsory insurance coverage required by the law of the participating countries.

The Green Card system is currently comprised of 47 countries, including all 28 in the European Union, the additional countries that make up the European Economic Area (EEA), Switzerland, Russia and several countries in the Middle East, as well as others bordering the Mediterranean Sea. However, a Green Card is no longer required for travel to the EEA, Andorra, Serbia and Switzerland.


This refers to the International Driving License, which isn't a license at all. It is correctly called an International Driving Permit, and is merely an official translation of your North American driver's license. The IDP allows motorists to drive vehicles in international traffic without further tests or applications. It is also proof that the you possess a valid driver's license from your home country. As the IDP is printed in 10 languages (English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, German, Arabic, Italian, Scandinavian and Portuguese), it provides a translation of your license to anyone who needs to read it. Note that an IDP does not replace your driver's license. As an added bonus, it will also act as an extra photo ID.

The IDP is easy to get from the AAA or AATA, and you can find the application forms on their websites. The IDP is not expensive to get (between $20-$25) and is valid for one year. However, if you're traveling through the following countries, you don't even need to bother with an IDP: Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Mauritius, Norway, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. There are other countries that recognize the IDP, but they aren't in Europe so I didn't list them here.

7) Carnet - You will not need a Carnet du Passage within Europe.

There is never enough time or space to write out everything that could be said about taking a motorcycle tour through Europe. In addition to the points I made above, here are a few random thoughts with which to wrap things up:

- Most stores are closed on Sundays, close early on Saturdays and are not open late on weekdays. Some smaller shops close to the train stations may be open on Sundays/evenings if you really need something.

- Speed cameras - you won't get pulled over, but that doesn't mean that you haven't been caught. Any speeding tickets or other fines will be mailed to you later. Think of it as a little post-holiday souvenir. There is usually a cushion for a margin of error, but be warned that it can get very expensive, very quickly, when speeding through some European countries.

- If you want to race, go to Nürburgring. European roads are generally in excellent repair, well-engineered and the drivers are aware and predictable. But this is not an invitation to speed your way through the countryside, nor drag a knee in the switchbacks.

- Take photos, lots of photos. They will become your memories. They also help you to keep track of what you did and when, since the photos will be in the order you experienced them and have visual clues of place names, etc.

- Keep a journal. Maybe not a full-on "my thoughts on everything", but at least where you were and key points. On a multi-day trip in completely unfamiliar territory, these things can get surprisingly jumbled.

Above all: enjoy yourself. This is your trip, so make it one that you will cherish for years to come.

Colleen First/March 2019

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