No Stupid Questions: Cycling Across Land Borders, Custom Bike Builders, & Top 5 Things To Pack

A reader writes:

I have an ambition to set off for Australia from Norwich in the UK in 2025 when I retire at the age of 67. I have never cycled more than 240 miles in a single multi-day ride. But I love being out on two wheels and am inspired by the stories and photos from bicycle travellers like yourself. I am an experienced traveller so am familiar with foreign lands but have the following questions for you, if you have the time.

How best to prepare for and cross international land borders with a loaded bike?

Firstly, thanks for the questions! I think riding from the UK to Australia is a beautiful ambition and I wish you all the best with it. I’ve answered your various queries individually below.

Regarding preparing to physically cross land borders on a bicycle, if you are the lucky holder of a British passport, it’s usually quite simple. Here are the steps I’d take for any given country:

  • First, check which official border crossing points can be used by foreign (third-country) citizens, and use that information to plan your cycle touring route. Guidebooks and their online equivalents usually have this information in the section on getting into the country in question. (Tip: east of Europe you’ll find Caravanistan very helpful.)
  • Next, check if you need a visa to enter by land. Many countries are visa-free or have visa-on-arrival schemes for British citizens, but these are sometimes for airport arrivals only. A basic overview of requirements can be found on Wikipedia, but the best place to look for up-to-date information is usually the website of the country’s embassy in your country of citizenship.
  • If you need a visa in advance, check how, where, and when you should apply for it. The best case scenario is that you’ll be able to cycle to the appropriate embassy/consulate, usually in the capital of the previous country, and apply there, taking it one step at a time. Some countries are more fussy and will make you apply from your home country, so choose your overall route with this in mind. You probably already know this.
  • Documents in order, simply ride to the land border! You will go through the two sets of border control checks: one for the country you’re leaving, and once for the country you’re entering. This may take time, so leave plenty of it. As a cycle tourer, you’ll usually be sent to the same queue as motorists, rather than foot passengers, and usually with fewer customs checks unless the official on duty is in a bad mood. You don’t need a carnet de passages for a bicycle as it isn’t a registered motor vehicle.
  • Leave the country before your maximum permitted length of stay runs out, get your visa extended, pay a fine on exit, or do a “border run” as appropriate. That’s it!

I have thought of buying a Stanforth bike for the trip, but am aware of the Oxford Bike Works as well. I am looking for something made to measure — any preferences?

I am of course biased towards Oxford Bike Works because of my long-standing involvement with Richard’s flagship expedition bike, but the truth is that both outfits have long track records of building made-to-measure touring bikes perfectly tailored to demanding trips like your planned UK–Australia ride. I would probably choose whoever you can most easily visit for consultations and fittings!

What are the 5 highest priority items you would pack in your panniers when setting off on a trip like that?

  1. Tools and spares kit (keeping my bike on the road is the first priority)
  2. Camping gear (tent, sleeping bag, camping mat, inflatable pillow, sleeping clothes)
  3. Cooking gear (stove, fuel, cookset, salt, folding knife, mini washing-up kit)
  4. Off-bike clothes (as versatile as possible in function and form, packed into a separate drybag)
  5. Medical kit (general first aid plus specific medications – I like Nomad Travel for this)

You might be interested in looking at my detailed kit list page, with the caveat that this is what works for me, not necessarily anyone else!

And finally, good luck! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little jealous – there’s nothing quite as thrilling as taking off on your first long-distance cycle trip.

Hope this helps!