Unless you’re going on a massive trip, shipping your motorcycle halfway around the globe just doesn’t make sense and on many motorcycle trips you will be flying in and renting a bike.

While riding gear from the rental shop can sometimes be a good shout, you probably already have a helmet, jacket, pants, and various pieces of safety gear you’re partial to. These are all things that can be brought with you – if you know how to properly pack them. Bringing along familiar items should lead to a trip that’s more comfortable, fun and less stressful.

Packing for the Conditions

What kind of riding will this trip entail? The riding conditions in your destination will determine if you can get away with just a carry-on bag or if you’ll be maxing out your checked baggage allowance.

For leisurely rides on country lanes, your gear requirements will be pretty basic: a helmet, gloves and some sturdy boots might be enough. If you’re going to be riding motorways, gravel or remote regions, you’ll need protection that will take up significantly more space. Climate is another important factor – warm clothes take up more space no matter where you’re going.

Rental Gear vs. Your Own

Rental gear can certainly come in handy, particularly if you are only off on the bike for a couple of days or your ride is a smaller part of a bigger trip. In this case, if the rental location offers it, you may well be best suited to using their jacket, pants and boots. This is particularly the case when you are travelling to a warmer climate and you don’t need to worry as much about the elements.

Completely up to you, but I will normally at least take my own helmet and gloves for comfort and piece of mind, but will happily use rented/loaned gear for the rest, if I just can fit it all (or be bother carrying it).

Get the Right Carry-On

An important first step in flying for a motorcycle ride is finding the perfect carry-on bag. Limits vary among airlines and even aircraft models (it’s why you always get gate-checked on Canadair and Embraer regional jet flights), but the standard carry-on bag limit is 22x14x9 inches.
Additionally, you’ll have space under the seat for a personal item, which can probably be around 9x10x17 inches. If you’re going to do this trip without a checked bag, you’ll need to use these spaces as effectively as possible.

Shove It All in Your Carry-On

Yes, this probably sounds impossible. How could you fit a helmet, boots, jacket, armour, and everything else into an airline-approved carry-on bag? You’ll have to get creative to use every possible inch of space.
Your helmet’s not going to fit under the seat, so that’s the first thing that needs to be packed in the carry-on. Next, fill the inside of the helmet with all your soft clothing (socks, underwear, T-shirts, gloves, etc.). Now add your armor pieces, and do some Tetris-style arrangement so they fit together perfectly. Finally, add your jacket and pants in the remaining space. No doubt it’s going to be a tight fit, but you’ll appreciate the time you took organizing this bag when you don’t need to rent anything at your destination – plus it guarantees the airline won’t lose your bag.

Utilise the Personal Item Space

But what about the boots? Yes, the boots will be your “personal item” to be stowed underneath the seat. Again, this space is roughly 17 inches wide, 10 inches deep, and 9 inches tall. Those are the maximum dimensions, too; sometimes certain seats are smaller or have some sort of emergency kit taking up space. It’s going to be hard or maybe impossible to fit some models of motocross boots, in which case you’ll have to revaluate what goes in the carry-on or just accept that some gear will have to be put in checked baggage.

Wear What You Can

A final option for saving space is to wear as much of your gear as possible on the flight. A jacket and pants are pretty innocuous, but you can even don some of your armor and still make it through security (though the more you wear, the less comfortable the flight will be). Boots are another hard to stow item that you could wear, but if you’re flying for more than a few hours, this will be a rather uncomfortable experience.

Insure Everything Else

If you can’t fit everything into your carry-on bag and some of your precious cargo has to go into the belly of the plane, at least get it insured. It’s just not smart to not have travel insurance at any time and especially when you’re carrying gear worth hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars (and let’s not forget about when you’re on the bike). You can probably get a plan for less than $100 if you’re only leaving the country for a couple weeks, and not only will it cover lost or damaged baggage, the policy will reimburse medical expenses that might be incurred during the trip.

More details on travel insurance for motorcycle touring.

Show Up Early

You know why they tell you to arrive at the airport two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international one? Yes, some of it’s because lines are long and security screening can go disastrously awry (those swab tests can be a major time suck), but it’s also to ensure that your checked bag actually makes it on the plane.

Once you drop off those bags at check-in, they need to wind their way through the bowels of the airport, passing through X-ray machines and sometimes being open and rifled through by airport security, before finally getting pulled onto the tarmac by that comical baggage train. These things don’t always go smoothly, and the earlier you arrive, the more time the airline has to correct any mistakes and make sure your bag arrives at the same time as you.

Don’t Book Tight Connections

While Expedia says you can make that half-hour connection, the people charged with transferring your baggage might disagree. When you don’t leave enough time between flights, not only are you risking missing your connecting flight if the initial one is delayed, you’re also chancing it that your bag won’t make it on the same flight as you.

With regular travel, it’s not that critical for your suitcase full of Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops to arrive on time. But when that suitcase is holding your most vital safety gear, it’s crucial. Scrutinise your itinerary before purchasing tickets, and leave at least an hour and a half between flights to play it safe.

Flying with Gear Doesn’t Need to be Hard

When all your gear is laid out on the floor, it can look like a daunting task to get it all inside those bags. Take it one step at a time and it becomes much easier though. Find the things that are most irregularly shaped and start with them. Add soft stuff around it to save space and cushion everything against shock. If something doesn’t fit, know that you can use the checked bag space, but that gear should be insured (and properly documented for making a claim). So long as you give yourself and the baggage handlers plenty of time to make any connections, your gear should arrive safe and sound.