6 Ways To Stay Organised When Motorcycle Touring

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A skill I inherently lack is organisation. Don’t get me wrong, I can plan stuff (like tours), but when left to my own devices, I hardly ever know where anything is – or where I left it.

Experience has taught me this will happen, so I endeavour to put everything ‘somewhere safe’ when preparing for a tour. But inevitably, that safe place always escapes my mind when the time comes that I need said items.

For a while, I was that guy that remembered he’d left his wallet in the hotel room just as everyone was about to set off.

When I got to toll booths, my credit card would be in my roll bag. And when the rain started to come down, I’d spend 15 minutes at the roadside trying to find my waterproofs.

I dread to think how many hours I’ve wasted looking for a USB cable when my phone dies. Or trying to find my passport at the ferry check-in.

But no more!

See, I had to make a conscious effort to get organised. And for me, that resulted in keeping things simple.

If I don’t take much luggage, I can’t take much stuff. And if I don’t take much stuff, I can’t lose or misplace it.

So in this post, I want to go through 6 (and a half) tips that will help keep you organised on your motorcycle travels!

indian cruiser - organised motorcycle touring
Image: Jawed Alnabi

Take Less Luggage To Stay Organised When Motorcycle Touring

In a quest to remedy my poor organisation, I’ve bought all sorts of luggage setups over the years. Like most people, my garage is jam-packed with panniers, top boxes, tail bags, tank bags, rucksacks, and roll bags.

And that’s not to mention the millions of bags, dry bags, cargo nets, pouches, wallets, folders, and cases.

In other words, there’s everything for everything. And for many years when packing for tours, I’d drag it all out of the garage and decide how many possessions I could fit into each piece of luggage.

And that’s when I realised I had this the wrong way around. It occurred to me that I don’t have to use all this luggage just because I have it. And neither do you.

The trick is to sit down and think about what you actually need to take. Note it down, and then decide on the smallest luggage setup you can get away with to accommodate those items.

For example, on a three-week trip to the French Alps the other year, I decided that I needed either my panniers OR my roll bag – not both. So I left the panniers in the garage, which meant I couldn’t pack as much stuff.

On our month-long trip to Norway this year, I left my 50-litre top box in the garage and took only the roll bag and panniers.

And for our next trip, I’m leaving the big roll bag and top box at home and instead using my panniers for clothes. A new rear setup will carry my camera gear.

Minimising the amount of space you have naturally equates to not taking as much stuff. And if you pack less, it’s easier to keep things organised.

motorbike on wooden jetty
Image: Louis Moto

Keep Essentials In One, Easy-To-Reach Bag

Your trip (and its duration) will decide what luggage setup you need. 

If I’m touring with a roll bag on the pillion seat, I like to put my daily essentials in a tiny 5-litre tank bag.

This usually includes my phone, power bank, wallet, any documents I need, and earplugs.

If I don’t need to take the roll bag, I’ll put a small tail bag in its place (with all the above items in it) to keep my tank clear.

Of course, you don’t have to use a tank/tail bag at all. You might prefer a waist pack, bum bag, or leg pack. And that’s fine.

The point is to have those essentials in one easy-to-reach location that doesn’t require getting off the bike and unpacking to reach them.

off-road bike with tank bag - organised motorcycle touring
Image: Steven Andrews

Stay Organised When Motorcycle Touring: Don’t Change The System!

Once you’ve packed and are happy with your setup, don’t deviate from this setup. 

If something lives in your roll-bag, don’t then stuff it in a pannier. And if something lives in your top box, don’t keep it in your tank bag.

Once you have a setup, all your possessions have a designated place. Keeping everything in those places keeps your life organised. And organisation means less stress!

Deep Packing vs Shallow Packing

The only items that should be in your roll bag are those that you absolutely will not need throughout the day. For example, clean clothes, shower kit, evening wear, etc.

Usually, roll bags require strapping, waterproofing, or securing – and this is a faff.

So once your roll bag is strapped safely to the back of your bike, you shouldn’t need to touch it until you reach your destination.

Essentials should be stored in your tank/tail/waist bag, as discussed above.

And anything that might be of use (like your camera, waterproofs, an extra fleece, or a tool kit) should be kept where it’s out of the way but not a hindrance to reach – like a pannier or top box.

adventure motorbike with luggage on shore
Image: Adam Rhodes

Travel Cubes Help You Stay Organised When Motorcycle Touring

If you’re unsure what travel cubes are, they’re expandable bags that you can squish down.

Back in the day, I used to have one for my t-shirts, one for underwear, one for pants – you get the picture. This resulted in carrying so many travel cubes that I didn’t know what was in them!

These days, I have two. One holds a set of clean clothes (that I will change into when I reach my destination). And the other holds my dirty clothes from yesterday that I haven’t washed yet.

Sometimes I also carry a third cube which houses clothes that have been washed but didn’t have time to dry overnight.

If you can get different colours, this also helps. When you get to your destination, you know that your clean clothes are in your blue packing cube. And the clothes that need washing are in the black cube – or whatever.

travel packing cubes - organised motorcycle touring

Pre-Plan Your Overnight Bag For The Ferry

Boarding any ferry is a faff. Once you get onboard, the race starts to secure your bike with the straps provided and get yourself on deck. 

And with all your kit on, you soon start to get hot, sweaty and stressed as you fight with the ratchet straps before the boat moves.

The last thing you need at this point is to start delving in your roll bag or panniers to dig out some clean clothes, your wash kit, and any other essentials you might need on deck.

It’s far better to prepare a bag in the morning before you set off for the ferry. This way, all you need to do when you board the ferry is secure your bike, grab your pre-packed bag, and stroll upstairs.

Everything becomes easy – because you don’t need to worry that you’ve forgotten anything.

And whilst the newbie tourers are sweating and stressing below deck, you’re already in the bar, enjoying a beer and watching the sunset.

cruiser motorbike man with rucksack
Image: Ekrulila

Where To Keep Your Overnight Ferry Bag

This all depends on your bag of choice. I use an old tail bag that has straps and buckles pre-installed.

I put my essentials in the bag (phone, wallet, charger, boarding passes, clean clothes, etc.) and then use the buckles to clip it to my roll bag behind me.

Anticipating bad weather, I also pop it in a dry bag (or use a waterproof cover) on the way there to keep everything dry.

Once on the ferry, I secure my bike and simply unclip the tail bag from the roll bag.

Job done!

Bonus tip: I like to leave my riding jacket and helmet with my bike so I don’t have to carry them.

rider and motorbike with tail pack - organised motorcycle touring
Image: Zszen John

6 Ways To Stay Organised When Motorcycle Touring

Touring on a bike is supposed to be fun. It’s meant to make you smile, feel good, and return with a clearer mind and better perspective on life.

But the stresses and strains can sometimes get the better of us, and we become snappy, short-tempered, and thorny.

Using these simple tips to stay organised can ensure motorcycle touring is the life-affirming experience it was always meant to be.

What about you? If you have any tips on staying organised when motorcycle touring, let us know in the comments!

Top image: Yogendra Singh

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