Planning is the initial part of preparing and should be done first; you’ll save a lot of money (believe me!). You can find my article on preparing for your tour here.
Once you have a basic plan you can begin preparing for your journey. When I brought a cyclist friend of mine on my cross continent tour she often wondered how I planned the trip. I really didn’t know what to tell her except she needn’t worry about it (I showed her my composition notebook full of my planning; I couldn’t explain how I planned it in one sitting. However, she then began asking questions related to preparing for the trip. She would ask what sort of gear she needed and how does she know if it’s the right type/quality, what type of identification she would need, and if she was in good enough shape to go on such a tour. I plan on answering these here for you.
However, before I begin I need to stress an important detail on gear. Test it. This mean everything: clothing, tent, stove, fully loaded bike, etc. If something was missing from the component list or if something was missing, this is the time to find out.
So, how do you know what gear is the right gear (or the wrong)? The most familiar article of clothing is your best friend – go with what you know. If you don’t know what you want, the simple answer is to read as many reviews as you can from other touring cyclists until you know what you need. There are many good reviews at crazyguyonabike , REI, and at amazon; however, amazon doesn’t have touring specific reviews.
Aside from gear, identification is very important to the touring cyclist. If you are going on an international cycling trip a passport will be mandatory along with two other forms of I.D. (carry a photocopy of your passport, and don’t give the original to anyone you have suspicions aren’t who they say they are). It’s a good idea to have your passport expire over 9 months from the end of your tour to give you leeway in case it takes longer than expected or you get hassled by the border patrol. If you are going on an in country trip it might only be necessary to have an up-to-date drivers license (although you may want more in case of emergency). I was questioned for a while going into the U.K., because my passport was set to expire in 7 months even though they only give 6 month visas.
Lastly, how physically fit you are has almost nothing to do with bike touring. Of course, if you can barely walk to the refrigerator and back to the couch with your chili cheese dog you zapped in the microwave, I’d consider doing some prior exercise. However, if you can ride a bike at least 10 miles you should be good. Touring is not a race, slow down and enjoy it!
*Note to readers* – If you feel I have left anything out in regard to preparing to leave your house let me know. Some of it might be covered in Planning your bike tour. Again, these two almost go hand in hand.