Let’s talk about money. Here’s a blog post I started writing earlier this year when I was earning big bucks in Oz but never got around to finishing and then I completely forgot about it. Recently my dollars ran out in Iceland and I remembered about this entry again.
Money is one of the things I get asked about the most often. It’s one of the most tedious questions to answer but I certainly understand why it comes up.That’s not to say that the reason is always the same: When someone asks me: ‘how much money do you have?’ in Tajikistan then are not asking for the same reason as someone in the US. Actually I find it quite intriguing which countries are the most fixated by how much I have in my bank and how much my stuff costs, but this is a conversation for another time. In this blog I will try to sum up my expenses and give you an idea about how much life costs on the road.
When I was at university I was lucy enough to qualify or maximum financial support. I also took out as much in loans as I could and also worked a job while I was studying. When I finished in the summer of 2014 I had £3,000 in my pocket. (It is worth noting that I have about 20,000 grand debt to my name. Much of the numbers in this blog will be very relative. To someone in Denmark that will seem like a crazy high number. To someone in America the fact that I don’t have to pay any of it back until I am earning a certain amount will make it seem quite appealing. These numbers will mean very different things to all of us.)
After graduating I moved back to live with my Dad in London for 6 months and saved another £3,000. When I left in early 2015 I had about £6,000. Here;s an important point: When I left home I was not trying to cycle around the world or attempting to live on a super-low budget. I just wanted to live relatively cheap and see how far I could get before my enthusiasm for cycling or my money ran out.
The money lasted me all the way to Melbourne, two years from when I left home. By then funds were very low so I got a job, worked like a dog and in 3 months I’d saved up about 4/5ths of all the money I’d spent so far and had more than enough to get me home. Next month I will arrive home in London with something like £5000 less than when I left. I’ll even have a few hundred in the wallet to help me get on my feet starting a new life. It’s all worked out pretty perfect.
Already you will have formulated an idea about whether this is a lot or little. Again, that depends on your background. When I start renting in London I will have spent that amount of dosh in 9 months in the cheapest possible room which makes the last few years of my life seem like a pretty good deal.
You could go long distance bike touring and spend less than I did. I know people who have. But you would find it far easier to spend way more. Let me break down some of my rules for cheap living:
Try not to pay for accommodation. This is what does the most damage but it is quite possible to avoid paying for places to stay. I stayed in a hostel the other week in Iceland and that was the first time I’d paid for a place to sleep in almost 6 months. Mostly I camp but I also stay with people via Warmshpwers and Couchsurfing. I’ve detailed how to avoid paying for accommodation in this blog.
Don’t eat out. Another easy one. Cook your own food and avoid buying prepared meals. Even in the most expensive countries you can eat the budget brand supermarket food and live off very little. I’ve also written about eating in this post in more detail.
I don’t keep daily budgets because they don’t work for me. I have cycled through some incredibly expensive countries and some dirt cheap ones – I could never budget the same for both. The 6 months cycling since Australia (New Zealand, USA, Canada, Iceland, UK) has been far more expensive than the 6 months prior (spent in South East Asia). Every now and then you have to spend money on stuff like bike repairs, flights, and visas which all mess up daily budgets.
Let me give you an example of how I can live in two different countries:
Iceland. Porridge for breakfast with raisins and oats. Ryebread with cheese and salami for lunch. Muesli bars and biscuits for snacks. Pasta in a bag for dinner. Camp in the wild. Total cost £4
Thailand. Sweet bread and fruit for breakfast. Buy lunch. Camp for free by a police station. Buy bottle of cold water, snack on nuts. Purchase dinner in the village. Total cost £2.
You see how different it is? In a very expensive country I get no luxuries. I never buy food and sit outside making my own coffee rather than going into a cafe. But in a cheap country like Thailand I can buy a hot meal for 50p so I get to eat out and still live affordably!
The same goes for accommodation. In some countries I could stay in a hotel for £5 or less so I often did. But in America I never paid for accommodation because even a tent site was expensive.
Much of it depends on your level of comfort. There is no right or wrong way to do it. Are you happy to live of oats & pasta and camp in all weather? Or would you like to buy food in restaurants from time to time and keep a little extra cash for a hotel next time it is raining?
The final thing to note is this: It is not really the day to day living that makes the difference if you’re making your own food etc. For me the real damage has been gear, flights and visas. I’ve probably spent more than double the value of my bike repairing and replacing parts. Visas have cost me an arm and a leg (including travelling around and between countries to embassies). Finally, flights have been the real killer. I think it cost me just over £400 to fly from New Zealand to America. That’s a lot of days on the road for me!
Stopping the cycling and working in Australia was the smartest way to raise funds. I don’t like having to deal with more than one thing at a time so I’d rather do one or the other. Often when people ask me about money it’s because they think I have some financial magic trick to sustain myself – either someone is paying me, or I have a passive income. I have earned some money doing a couple of odd jobs in various places but just extra pocket money. I have actually accumulated a fair bit doing articles for people now. I never approached them myself but I had offers here and there and now I have earned more than £500 writing for people – a sizeable chunk,
I just want to conclude this by saying that the great thing about bike touring is that it is so flexible. You can completely set your own budget and spend what you think is affordable. Perhaps the main point is this: you can live like this for so cheap! My sister bought a bike off Ebay for £100 and it served her just fine cycling across America. All you need is a tent, a stove and you are good to rock n roll. Budget bike touring is important to promote because it makes travel affordable to many people. You might not be able to afford a holiday touring from Lands End to John o’Groats in a Campervan but get a bicycle and a bivvy bag and you’d be laughing!