How much does it cost to bicycle tour? On all the ‘Bicycle Touring’ sites I visit there is always a question about the costs associated with bicycle touring. What is the cost? What is your daily budget? How do you get the time?
Lately I am seeing a lot of questions that revolve around sites like ‘kickstarter’ where people are actually attempting to have others ‘fund’ their tour. This post is not about that. I am simply breaking down the costs of touring into three verticals that I can then plan around and price out.
How much does it cost to bicycle tour? It depends on how these verticals relate and depend on one another:
1. Daily, Weekly, and/or Monthly costs
2. Equipment Costs
3. Current Lifestyle Maintenance costs
You need to decide which touring style fits you and make equipment purchases and budget decisions that support that path. Lodging is the number one factor in your budget, followed by food and water. These simple lifestyle decisions impact your route and what equipment is needed. With the right route you could carry as little as a credit card, a light tool bag, and water bottles and ride from hotel to hotel, conversely with the right equipment you could tour for a year and never pay for a place to sleep.
You may find yourself in my shoes where the cost of a tour in time and health greatly outweighs the monetary cost e.g. My time is worth BILLIONS!!!
1. How much does it cost to bicycle tour – Daily, Weekly, and/or Monthly Budget
BicycleHobo Daily Budget: I am shooting for $10 per day that will be mostly on food with the occasional laundry stop every 2 weeks. Only in desperate circumstances will I seek out a hotel. My routes take me outside of any metro areas and I am self-contained for camping, cooking, washing up, and laundry without spending money outside of supply stops.
This is perhaps the most important facet of your bicycle touring budget and will dictate your equipment and your route. It breaks down to lodging, food, water and extras. If you are sleeping at hotels and eating out a good deal you could be looking at a daily spend of $100 or you can try to sleep for free every night and carry 3-5 days worth of food in your panniers. What goes into making these choices:
A. Lodging – Where are you going to sleep tonight?
Lodging is without a doubt the largest direct cost you will face while on a bicycle tour. In the US you will be hard pressed to find a hotel room that is priced under $65. I have pedaled into campgrounds that have asked for $22 for a tent site.
If you need a hot shower and warm bed everyday you will be spending a great deal of your budget on lodging and perhaps less on equipment.
The flip side of this is stealth camping. If you can find free spots to hang your hat and wash up outside your tent you will save a great deal on accommodation with a larger upfront equipment cost. One note on stealth camping is that ‘asking permission’ is just as cool and often less trouble than you would think.
B. Route – Where do you plan to ride?
Lodging will also be an important factor in your route. If you need a hotel to sleep in you will need to plan things and make adjustments so there is a rental for you. If you can stealth camp you will probably choose a route that takes you into more open, less populated areas. Other free lodging options are CouchSurfing.org and WarmShowers.org. These sites allow travelers to link up with hosts and spend the night as a guest. I have never done this and prefer to avoid anything that brings me into contact with and makes me depend on strangers. I hate people, sue me :).
C. Food – What’s on the menu?
Food would be the next most expensive item we need to discuss. Will you be stopping at restaurants for every meal or will you be stopping at grocery stores and buying enough to carry you to the next couple stops. Can you even go as far as finding a locally supplied Farmer’s Market?
One meal at an inexpensive restaurant could pay for up to five meals prepared from a grocery store stop. Again equipment is needed if one intends on ‘cooking’. Even if you are just going to make coffee in camp you will need some type of stove to boil water. I met one bicycle tourist who only carried an assortment of dried fruits and nuts. I have seen people in campsites create gourmet meals with little more than a backpacking stove and two small pots.
Will you be eating out or cooking in? Make sure you adjust your daily budget accordingly and make sure you have the right equipment. Bring sardines and instant mashed potatoes.
D. Water – Where are you getting your H20?
Let’s add water into the equation. While clean tap water is available in the US will you be near a faucet or way out in the boonies where you will need a filter? Will you buying water? More equipment decisions vs.convenience/lifestyle decisions.
2. How much does it cost to bicycle tour – Equipment Costs
BicycleHobo Equipment Costs: I have toured for over 15 years and have all the equipment I need. I would say that I carry less than 30 lbs. of equipment but it enables me to ride and live self-contained for 3-5 days at a time. I would say I have $2300 worth of equipment in my kit.
This is a fixed cost. There is nothing more frustrating than spending a lot of money on unused equipment. I have spent a small fortune on bicycling and camping equipment. I have purchased ridiculous items like a titanium coffee press. I have spent hours online researching the best and lightest stoves. Don’t just start buying what you ‘THINK’ you need. Take some smaller weekend trips and dial in your equipment to your touring lifestyle.
While not exactly ‘cheap’ all of the equipment needed to go on a bicycle tour should not break the bank. The only thing that is 100% necessary is a bicycle and a willing rider. I would suggest a number of smaller trips to dial in equipment and really set needs and expectations. I have ridden across the US 3 times and dialed in my kit accordingly. I am making changes to it for my next ride and will post a gear list when I am set.
There are a number of great sites that can help with equipment choice, do-it-yourself ideas, and/or what you might use that is already in your possession. Bicycle touring is cheaper than many vacations. Equipment should really be a fixed cost that you are comfortable with. look at the following sites for ideas, inspiration, and equipment costs:
Some of my equipment for my next tour will come from thrift shops. No need to spend $60 on a Merino wool t-shirt when I can nail a Merino wool sweater for $5. Use your head. Make decisions that make you comfortable and don’t get too wrapped up in the ‘adventure marketing hype’.
3. How much does it cost to bicycle tour – Current Lifestyle Maintenance costs
BicycleHobo Lifestyle Maintenance Costs: This is a fixed cost for me. I am lucky [or maybe unlucky] here as I am able to shut down my life and limit my ‘away’ costs to the price of a po box, a safe-deposit box, health insurance, cell phone bill, and money set aside to restart my life. I am considering not carrying a cellphone on my next tour and relying on free wi-fi and on my last three tours I did not have health insurance. I realize that people may think that is crazy and I am looking into a policy for health insurance.
This could be a fixed cost but it varies from rider to rider. Some of you want to tour but have so much overhead that it seems impossible: house, car, children, loans, debt, etc. Start cutting costs and prep for when opportunity knocks next.
CrowdFunding Your Tour?
I am seeing a lot of this online and it makes me smile. I will not be donating money so you can ride around on a bicycle tour. The thing is don’t let ‘funding’ stop you. It can be really economical to bicycle tour or travel around the world. Don’t over think it just go. It’s not about the money, [even after I am breaking down the daily costs] it’s about the experience.
To be constructive about ideas, I favor what these guys are doing. Raising the profile of Bicycle Touring as an adventure travel sport and making media:
- TIRED OF I.T! – HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BICYCLE – THE BOOK!
- RIDING NORTH – THE MOVIE
- Janapar – A TRUE STORY DIRECTED BY JAMES NEWTON FILMED BY TOM ALLEN
If you know of any Bicycle Touring media projects that I can buy and review please send me a note.
If you are interested in a long tour start making the decisions and choices in your personal life that support an extended vacation. This translates to long vacations also. Believe me it’s possible to live on $10 a day for two years if you balance things out correctly. You deserve 180 – 360 – 720 days away from the rat race, I know I do….follow me and watch me make it happen. So…How much does it cost to bicycle tour?