Bike touring doesn’t have to cost the earth.
By cooking for yourself, providing your own transport and sleeping in a tent, your daily budget can easily be half of what a typical backpacker might spend to travel the same route. On the other hand, it’s easy to burn through cash if you want to spend your days jumping from café to restaurant and your nights in comfortable hotels.
You have a choice – spend loads of cash and have a short trip, or eat cheap, sleep in fields and travel for a long time. – Alastair Humphreys
Most people find a happy medium between the two extremes. Spend a few nights camping, for example, and you’ll quickly offset the cost of a hotel and meal out in the next city.
Here are a few examples of how far you could get on $500 U.S. in countries such as America, Australia, Canada and much of Europe, depending on which style of touring you decide to adopt.
3-4 Weeks: you can travel for up to a month but you’ll need to stick to a very low budget. This means finding ways to sleep for free such as wild camping, staying with friends or using hospitality groups like WarmShowers. You’ll cook all your own food (mostly pasta) and travel solely by bicycle.
10-14 Days: With $35-50 U.S. a day to spend you’ll have enough for small luxuries like entry to a museum, a light lunch in a café or a refreshing beer at the end of the day. You’ll free camp or stay in campsites most of the time but you might go to a cheap hotel if the weather is bad. It’s possible to afford a short leg by bus or train, if you don’t want to cycle the whole way.
3-5 Days: You’ll be cycling lightly because you probably won’t need bulky camping gear. Instead, you can stay in a hostel or B&B most nights. Alternatively, if you enjoy camping you can take the tent and use your budget to eat most of your meals in restaurants. You may also be able to travel to and from your tour by public transport.
When it comes to extended trips, about $10,000 U.S. is enough to tour for 10-12 months in most developed countries and 2-3 years in cheaper destinations such as Thailand and China. Our total bill for a world tour through 30 countries (from 2006-2009) averaged $23 U.S. per day, per person.
That sum covered routine daily expenses and one-off costs such as flights, visas, vaccinations and bike repairs. It also included treats such as bottles of wine, meals out and nights in hotels.
If we’d wanted to, we could have easily lowered our budget by changing our route a bit to avoid more developed countries and expensive flights between continents.
Plan to set aside $2,000-3,000 U.S. if you want to start touring with a new bicycle and high-quality gear that will see you through many happy years of bike touring. If you’re suffering from price shock, remember that things like a stove and a tent save much more money in the long run than their initial cost, and they give you a great degree of independence.
Here are some approximate costs for items commonly purchased by bike tourists:
- Touring Bicycle (Surly Long Haul Trucker) – $1,100 U.S.
- Bike accessories (pump, water bottles) – $50-75 U.S.
- Campstove (MSR Whisperlite) – $80-100 U.S.
- Headlamp (Petzl Tikka) – $40 U.S.
- Luggage racks (Tubus) – $250 U.S.
- Panniers (Ortlieb) – $300-$350 U.S.
- Sleeping Mat (Thermarest or Exped) – $50-100 U.S.
- Tent (MSR Hubba Hubba) – $275-350 U.S.
For more on gear, see the Gear Guide chapter.
Doing It On The Cheap
Can you do it for less? Of course! Start looking for second-hand equipment. Plenty of people have unwanted bicycles and lightly used camping gear hanging around in their basements. Search eBay and Craigs List. Place a ‘wanted’ ad that tells people what you’re looking for. Check with local cycling clubs and ask your friends if they know of anyone who might have equipment to sell.
This takes more time than buying things new, so start searching as soon as you know you want to go bike touring.
As an example of how far you can go on a small budget, we spent a summer cycling around Europe on bicycles that we bought from a charity shop for just $100 U.S. each. We invested another $150 U.S. in a few accessories (including new saddles), unearthed some old camping gear and set off for 5,000km of cycling adventures.
Friedel and her $100 touring bicycle. (Photo by TravellingTwo)
Our bargain bikes weren’t without their mechanical faults. At that price, you can’t expect a totally smooth ride. but we overlooked the niggles and treasured the freedom they gave us to go touring when we didn’t have the money to buy anything better.