Believe it or not, bike touring can be an expensive endeavor. My bike tour down the Pacific Coast in July costed about $1269 for a month-long excursion (see my previous post, “A Pacific Coast Bike Tour By the Numbers”). Considering that we were on the road for over 30 days, a $40 a day spending habit wasn’t too bad. This cost covered not only food and camping, but it also covered our travel costs, like the airline ticket, luggage fees for our checked-in bag and bike, and multiple ferry rides. This is after spending money on your bike and accessories, such as your racks and panniers. It leads me to wonder – is there a way to bike tour on the affordable side? Let’s see what we can do to cut down on costs for the 3 major expenses on a tour: transportation, lodging, and food.
Another option to save on transportation cost is to look on Craigslist for carpool options or hitch a ride with a friend or acquaintance if they are traveling towards a destination you desire to be. This is probably not the most desirable method for some people and an extra bit of caution is required if you’re traveling alone. There was this guy who I met on the Pacific Coast tour who did just that when he reached San Diego. He used Craigslist to find a ride for him and his bike back up to Eugene, Oregon. He used Craigslist to find all three rides from San Diego to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to San Francisco, and San Francisco to Eugene. I believe he may have had to share the cost of fuel, so that isn’t so bad if you think about. Be sure you tell plenty of people all the information you know of the guy and have someone check in with you from time to time if you do this. I would recommend even taking photos of the person and their vehicle information and send it to someone immediately. If Craigslist Joe can do it, you should be able to, too.
Start from Home
Getting to your start point or getting home may be the most expensive part of your tour. Whether you take an airplane, or hop on a train, or rent a car to get to your destination or back, it’s going to cost you upwards of $200 or more. There is a direct relationship between the travel cost and the distance you’re planning to travel: the further you go, the more expensive it will get. With that in mind, to reduce this expense, the best thing to do is to start your journey just right outside of your front door. Yes, that means you won’t get to see the places outside of your area. Just make sure you plan it so that you include the bike ride back home. Having “mini” bike touring trips like this should satisfy that burning desire to be on the road.
Hiker Biker Camping
Part of the appeal of bike touring is the fact that you get to camp. One of the many reasons why I love bike touring is that I get to go camping at different places each night if I wanted to. Many campsites in California, and in many places in the country, is rather expensive. If you’re fortunate enough, look for hiker bike options. These are guaranteed campsites for hikers and bicycle tourists like yourself. They are far cheaper than regular sites and some may offer free showers (Oregon State Parks).
Warm Showers & Couch Surfing
There are two great sites that allow for travelers to ask people to host you for the night – for FREE. This is a valuable resource as you are traveling through popular routes. Warm showers was created specifically to help bicycle tour riders look for and host other bicycle tour riders. What do the hosts get in return? They get great stories and the opportunity to tell the visitors their own travel journeys. Couch surfing is very similar, but serves a much broader audience. I’ve had both experiences on my Pacific Coast and most recently, on my New England bike tours and highly recommend them to those who are strapped on a budget to take advantage of these two sites. Just remember to bring your tent as some hosts may only host you in their backyard.
When you’re desperate and the riding conditions are not in your favor, the last resort is to stealth camp. That is pretty much pitching your tent somewhere away from anybody on or off the road. This is probably my least favorite way of saving money as you may violate trespassing laws on private property. But when you’re desperate and you come in late at night and plan on leaving super early, it may be your only choice. Just make sure you leave no trace of your presence. I’ve only done this once when I did my very first bike tour to Lake Cachuma. We were at the side of the road on a patch of ivy for the night. It was the most uncomfortable feeling of being vulnerable, but it had to happen as we finished up a century for the very first time. Another recommendation is calling the police department of the nearest town that you’ll hit and see if they have any recommendations.
Also check out my “How to Find Bike Touring Accommodations” post for more ideas.
Food is a major concern when you’re on the road. One way I would recommend to save cost is to buy your staple food of choice, meaning have 1 ready to eat meal with you at all time so when you don’t have the energy to ride to the supermarket or can’t afford to do so, you can eat that as an emergency meal. I would recommend buying a jar of peanut butter and jelly (Smucker’s makes one where they mix both!), some tortillas as they pack very well, and packets of oatmeal for breakfast. I also would recommend carrying some form of complex carbohydrates, such as pasta, so you can cook that when you’re in a bind. It’s key to always have a steady and stable food supply with you at all times. I know a guy who traveled down the coast eating just cheap canned foods. That’s not recommended as it isn’t healthy and usually those items don’t have enough calories to replenish your body. You’re also carrying more weight than you need to, but if that’s all you can afford, go for it. Just make sure you stop soon to ingest healthier options.
Socialize With People
Many people think bicycle tourists are lone wolves who ride silently and not speak to anybody. That is very far from the truth (at least from what I experienced). I met so many people coming down the Pacific Coast. Many people would just offer to share their meal with us. We even had Warm Shower hosts provide us with meals without even asking. Of course, don’t expect that to happen all the time. Be sure you pay it forward when you get the chance to feed another person on a bicycle tour. Don’t be afraid to ask. Most people are very open to helping you.
What’s Your Excuse?
There you have it! The top 3 costs of a bicycle tour eliminated or reduced. So what’s your excuse for not planning that next milestone ride? Be brave and just do it. There’s no day like the present day to take that much-deserved trip you’ve been thinking about doing. At least you’ll know how to do it without breaking the bank.
Do you have any other tips to save money on a bike tour? Have you had any experiences of your own to share on the road? Please post those and questions in the comments section below.