The Money Post
(Written and posted by Laura. Just shows Russ because it is being updated on the iPhone.)
Of all the questions we receive, by far the most common are the ones about money… How much is it costing us to be on the road? And how are we funding it?
While we’ve answered a few individual email questions, we haven’t really put up a post about the subject. In part because we’ve just been so busy, and in part because we wanted to wait a bit to really see what our burn rate would be.
Today, we’re sitting beside Lake Camanche is California’s gold country, waiting for an overnight package from Rivendell with a new rear wheel for Russ (we discovered this morning that his rim decided to split open). Between the price tag for this hasty purchase and taking the time to total up expenses and check in with our respective bank accounts, we’re focused on money today… and decided it would be the perfect time to post on the subject.
So… let’s start with how much it’s costing us to do this. First, let me say that it’s really hard to accurately estimate how much a tour is going to cost. Before we left, we thought about our usual purchases on shorter tours and decided that we would probably run about $40 per day. We assumed roughly $10 per night for camping (thanks to Hiker/Biker sites and reduced prices during the off-season), leaving us $30 per day for food (which seemed like plenty, considering that we’re cooking our meals). And we assumed that necessary new gear purchases or indoor accomodations would be relatively few and far between.
What we’ve discovered is that touring in the US is not cheap. In fact, much less cheap than we were expecting. And our estimate for food costs has proved to be terribly low. We will admit that we eat well. We like good food and ration that, since this is life now, there’s no sense in “making do” with bad food the way you could on a shorter tour (i.e. eat dehydrated food for two weeks, then go home and eat normally again). For example, riding down Highway 1 was beautiful and a great opportunity to meet other touring cyclists, but you pay a king’s ransom for food at the small markets. Items are marked up at least 15-25% over an urban market, and often it’s closer to 50% more. And, unless you want to carry 30 pounds of food to make it from large market to large market, you pay what they ask, because they’re the only game around. (Some days, we only passed one small mini mart, and that’s where dinner came from.)
Gear purchases have also proved to be higher than expected. I’m going to assume that this is because all our previous tours were shorter length trips and we never really had to deal with anything wearing out. On this trip, we’ve had to replace tires, cables, a shifter and now a rear wheel. Add to that… clothes that have worn out, our camp knife that chipped badly, piles of gauze to bandage Russ’ recent burn… and you can see how the unexpected purchases can pile up quickly.
The only area where our estimate proved fairly accurate is with lodging. In Washington, Hiker/Biker camping sites are $14. In Oregon, they’re $4 per person. In California, they’re $5 per person. At Lake Camanche, where we are now, which doesn’t have Hiker/Biker, the camping fee is only $8 for a site. And most of our urban adventuring has included a home-stay, which knocks our lodging cost down to $0. (Granted, we also paid $32 for a KOA site a few days ago, but the expensive spots are fairly rare.)
All told, we’re averaging about $65 per day, plus the cost of gear and health insurance. That might not seem like a huge difference, but it’s enough to cause us to burn through our savings much quicker than we imagined.
Which brings us to the second part of the question… How are we funding this trip? Up until now, we’ve been running off of money that we had saved up. Russ booked a lot of photo shoots in advance of our leaving town and set aside a lot of money. I got laid off and set aside a good chunk of my severance. We sold most of our possessions. And we got a bunch of donations. We left with close to $14,000 saved up.
One of our big goals has always been to find a way to make this trip self-sustaining. It’s pretty hard to plan enough and set aside all the money you would need for a leisurely year-long (or longer) tour. So, we figured we would have enough to get us started and then we would add to the pot as we traveled.
In practice, this is much harder than we imagined. Partly because it’s hard to plan when we’re going to be in a particular area far enough in advance to set up jobs and partly because it’s hard to want to get off the bike long enough to put in the time it takes to work at our respective professions. So, we haven’t been able to figure out how to be self-sustaining yet and it’s a bit nerve-wracking as we watch our savings dwindle.
Can you do it differently than we are? Certainly. We met a tourist who’s only eating ramen noodles and peanut butter. He swears he loves it, and obviously it keeps costs down. But, personally, I can’t eat the same thing over and over for days on end. We could also turn sharply east and head into the hills where we could stealth camp and save some pennies that way. Or we could completely skip all the urban centers where we end up wanting to eat at restaurants or buy good microbrew beer… but then we’d have to sacrifice what we really want to do on this trip for the sake of money (and we wouldn’t get to meet nearly so many of you wonderful readers!).
We’ve gone back and forth many times about the question of trying to reduce our spending versus trying to make the money we need to continue our trip at the pace we’ve been going. It’s a tough one to answer. On the one hand, we really like the kind of trip that we’ve been on for the past three months. We’ve enjoyed all the food and all the destinations and the freedom to choose (within reason) whatever we want as we go. But, if it means that we’re going to have to call it quits after just four months on the road, is it worth it? If we decided to skimp on food just to be on the road for another month or two, would we even be able to enjoy the trip, since we wouldn’t be able to travel the way we would fully choose? We keep coming back to the feeling that money (or lack of it) is a terrible reason to make any decision… and, yet, we haven’t figured out how to convince Safeway to give us a bag of groceries in exchange for anything other than cash or credit (and traveling on a credit card, by the way, is something we long ago decided against). And then we get our IRA statements and wonder if we shouldn’t just cash it all in and worry about the future on another day.
Those are just a few of the anxiety-laden questions that we’re looking at right now. It may be more than you all asked for, but we thought we’d be honest.
In the meantime, we’d just like to thank everyone out there who’s gifted us with a donation. We have been delighted to get such support from folks around the world who are following our journey and cheering us on. It means a lot to us and we feel truly blessed to be able to tap into a community of like-minded folks. If you’re tempted to make a donation yourself, know that we will be very thankful for you as well.
And, as the holidays loom larger, consider gifting your loved ones with a custom bicycle headbadge, or a bike mustache, or some handcrafted jewelry, or a photo shoot. We’re aiming to have photo books and prints up for sale soon as well.
The Money Post | Insurance November 3, 2009 at 5:50 pm
[…] rest is here: The Money Post Posted in Travel Insurance | Tags: cost, per-day, plus-the-cost, […]
Chandra November 3, 2009 at 6:35 pm
All I think I should say is WOW and congrats!
Michael Julius November 3, 2009 at 8:15 pm
I just read this and maybe this is unsolicited but I feel your pain. My wife and I are cyclists and photographers and we also like freedom.
Have you considered teaching in Asia? We are doing very well in Taiwan putting away money for our continuing education. We live here in a furnished apartment but have little more than our bikes, computers and cameras.
I guess I am just curious about how you define the nature of your nomadic commitment. Does it still count to go to a town or city, perhaps sublet a place, and spend some time working in your respective fields? Are you not still ‘traveling’? I ask this rhetorically because it comes up for us as well.
Anyway, I was just wondering. I think that your aspirations are wonderful.
James NomadRip November 4, 2009 at 5:17 am
You’ll figure out the right balance of priorities before too long. Ramen and stealth camping sounds like more fun than going back to a house and jobs, but that’s just me 🙂
Bryan November 4, 2009 at 8:04 am
Head down to Mexico for the winter. Eat fresh red snapper on the beach and drink 50-cent beer.
Cyclin' Missy November 4, 2009 at 9:17 am
Laura – Where can I see your jewelry? I’d love to check it out.
Logan November 4, 2009 at 12:02 pm
This is a fantastic insight for those of us considering a similar longer-term tour. Thank you for addressing this sensitive issue! Are you looking for any ideas on cost savings and income generation? Tammy and I have learned a great deal of tips through web 2.0 interaction with her readers and asking open ended questions. Everyone handles finances differently of course and there are many successful strategies, however, outside perspectives have given Tammy and I the opportunity to consider new tools and re-evaluate our priorities for our expenses and income sources.
If you are looking for input let us your readers know. 🙂 We are overflowing with ideas but don’t want to presume that anyone wants to hear them, especially on a sensitive topic like money. 😉
Cheers and good luck! ~L
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ashley akers November 4, 2009 at 1:20 pm
Laura, I was just coming to say that you should put an etsy mini on the front page of this website. When I saw the above post:
“Laura – Where can I see your jewelry? I’d love to check it out.”
it confirmed my idea. People want to know all about your lives, and you should put it right out there where they can find it.
Diana November 4, 2009 at 6:28 pm
One of the main stumbling blocks to a long tour, as I see it, is medical insurance. Can I ask what insurance you can manage to afford to buy? The best I’ve been able to come up with costs over $3000 for a single person for a year.
Daniel Milnor November 5, 2009 at 8:25 am
Glad you wrote this post. I can imagine the tension you felt dealing with this. Being a photographer, and someone who is always striving to find the balance, I too find myself wincing when it comes to finances. The easy path is to conform, but thankfully it seems you are not on this path.
I’m trying to plan a “simple” cross country ride, and the time off and lost revenue are the prime concerns, which seems odd, but I can’t seem to find a way around it.
I think your doing what you can, booking shoots, etc. What about getting seasonal jobs? Or temp jobs to save up? As long as you are still living the way you want, seems like the mission is still on track. Good luck, have fun.
Guy November 5, 2009 at 11:40 am
How about comercial or vendor adverisements? It’s a chilling thought but with the reviews and endorcement of products that work and don’t work thats free advertising that you shoulld get some kind of cabbage.
Chris Cavs November 5, 2009 at 1:20 pm
I think money is the number one reason why most people never try something like this. It is a big weight hanging over your head, and can ruin a trip unless you’re willing to sacrifice a bit in certain areas. It’s something I’ve been wondering about your trip, and I’m glad you’ve been forthright about it. Here’s hoping you figure out a way to make this all sustainable, even if you have to take a short break at home.
Rich November 5, 2009 at 8:05 pm
I’ve enjoyed reading your blog but have yet to comment…. The Money Post piqued my overwhelmingly frugal nature.
Seems to me one of the themes of your journey is that you are MAKING something wonderful, actually creating it. Laura, you shape globs of metal and wire into works of art. Russ, you compose and capture images with an artistry that has never before been applied to the subject of cycle touring. Together you are trading those craft skills for, well, an adventurous life. I find that fascinating.
Those financial constraints may be the best thing that ever happened to you. They may force you to apply that craft ethic to the problem at hand.
I can’t wait to see some of the inexpensive yet epicurean-worthy feasts you devise to nourish yourselves through the coming months.
The cost of the “stuff” involved in bike touring and travel can be draining. I would love to see you apply the bartering nature of your journey to this problem. In some ways you are fortunate that you can do so now, while pedaling in the U.S., where costs are relatively high. A custom-made head badge seems to be a fair trade for a replacement rim. A post to a bike forum would likely yield positive results.
Your honesty is refreshing. Mistakes, worries, blunders, those are the things that bring me back for more. Keep it up, albeit with fewer blisters.
Catherine Scott November 7, 2009 at 10:10 pm
I agree with one of the other posting folks here who mentions the idea of settling somewhere for a short amount of time to build up some cash before moving on. Perhaps you could stay with Russ’family (or some friends) for a few weeks+ when you come through town and save a little more at that time.
I also like the bartering idea (obviously for certain items this will work better than others).
Any chance you can connect with Jenna or someone for more media exposure?
One last idea – what about 2-3 days a week of eating more simply and cheaply and then splurging on special days? Just a thought.
All that being said, I think you should enjoy it while it lasts and cherish the memories. There’s nothing that says you can’t stop – work for a year or two – and then take off again! WHEEEEE!
robyn November 10, 2009 at 7:15 am
You will figure this out – it’s all part of the shakedown. There is some middle ground between urban food places and ramen. And if you choose the stealth camping and noodles route (no pun intended), it doesn’t mean you have to do it forever. Then town stops will be a treat to look forward to. I think it’s a great opportunity to see how pared down/frugal you can live and still be content. Thank you for letting us all be a part of your adventure! It’s so inspiring! Keep going!!
Jon, onehumanbeing November 12, 2009 at 1:29 am
I look forward to seeing you two on Friday evening… maybe a winter stop over in LB, short term studio apt, photo gigs for Russ (the District…), make some money during the Giving Season ahead, then move on after the New Year…
Just a though. See you at Happy Hour!
Where to start | Cycling Simply August 29, 2011 at 5:30 am
[…] they started on less than half of what I’ve stashed away. It’s not like I don’t have any skills to fall back on […]
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This is something I have wondered at, but I figured you guys were basically doing it as you’ve described. Being a Taurus, and loving food and knowing all the health benefits we get from fresh veg, etc., I would definitely say don’t skimp on good food. Especially if you are burning so many calories biking every day! I am sure there are certain compromises you can make to save money–some of it may be with food (i.e. 1-2x a week eat something like ramen), some of it may be with lodging (like a farm stay), and some of it may be with work or gear (sponsorship?). Either way you guys are doing great, and I commend you for living a unique life! Your journey is very inspiring. Next time you’re in Portland, you’re more than welcome to stay with us!