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.
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