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.
23rd April 2012 at 12:12 am #
Wow thanks for the great tips and pricing for the beginner looking to ride. Do you ever feel like the bike is a burden while traveling. Like when you just want to go do a tour or museum do you ever have a hard time finding where to store it?
16th June 2012 at 5:26 am #
I’m planning to be on the road for about five or six months at a time, when I start my world tour. Taking in some remote areas.
What I want to know is not how much it will cost but how to set things up so i can access my funds when I’m out there on the bike. Obviously you can’t take enough cash for a trip of that length and you’d be foolish to carry it with you anyway. Do world cyclists rely on family and friends at home to wire money out to a destination?, do they rely on credit cards? or is there some amazing bank that has branches throughout the world ( not that I know of!). I wish someone would write an in depth article about this complete with real world experiences.
I’m puzzling over this.
16th June 2012 at 8:10 pm #
Hi Steve, we talk about this in our Bike Touring Survival Guide. The short answer is that ATMs are just about everywhere 🙂
17th June 2012 at 2:55 pm #
Hmmm. I didn’t know an ATM bank card could be used at any bank around the world. I’ll have to research. My bank is Japanese because I live in Japan.
I’d be rather surprised if I could use my ATM card in the U.K or U.S.A. for example. But, I’ll certainly check on it, I may be wrong.
18th June 2012 at 12:39 pm #
I don’t know about Japan but certainly our cards from Canada and the UK could be used all over the world and I know American cards are ‘international’ as well.
Think of the many thousands of Japanese people who go abroad every year. There must be an easy solution and I suspect that means conforming to international technology. No one is carrying travelers checks anymore.
19th June 2012 at 1:37 pm #
Good to know that UK and American cards can be used everywhere. That might be the solution for me, so thanks for letting me know.I appreciate your experience as you have many more bicycling miles than I do.
Friedel, I laughed at the last part of your reply. japan beats to it’s own drum and has rarely conformed in any way to international technology which is why the telecommunication systems here have been incompatible with Europe and the U.S,A, for years, much to the frustration of those of us living here. Even the iPod and iPhone struggled to get a foothold here and have only made progress in the last couple of years.It is a cash society in japan and quite normal for japanese to carry large amounts of money around because of the low crime rate.Because they have the habit of doing this they tend to do it overseas too which is not a good idea, so the travel agents here encourage them to take travelers checks on overseas trips.The banks sell a lot of them.By the way,the safe environment in Japan is a huge plus for anyone touring here and If you lose your valuables you are likely to have them returned to you with nothing missing. I kid you not! I once forgot my super expensive camera in a busy Tokyo restaurant ( entirely my own fault ) when i realized my mistake I went back to the restaurant and the camera was right where I had left it. Nobody had touched it. One of those only in Japan moments!That’s also why we don’t worry about huge locks on our bicycles. The opposite of the U.S.A. where you need to watch your bike like a hawk (even with the locks) anytime you are in an urban area. Lucky for me all my travels with bike have been safe and rewarding so far!
Can’t wait to visit more countries on 2 wheels!
2nd September 2012 at 4:35 pm #
I enjoyed reading : ) I think Western Union is a good option to recieve money from your family. It takes 3 minutes to transfer the money, from anywhere to anywhere in the world. You just need your ID or Passport with you.
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