A master class in making your dreams come true.
How much does it really cost to travel the world by motorcycle? How long is a piece of string?
A wise person once said, “Work out what to take with you and how much money you will need, then halve what you take and double your money.” But there are ways you can dramatically reduce your cost of living, and you may just be surprised at how cheaply you can live if you put the effort in.
To travel the world on my motorbike, I sold my house and its contents, paid off my debts, closed down my business and put the remainder of my belongings in a box marked “to keep,” where it still sits in my parents’ attic three and a half years later (I have no idea what I left in there). I worked out that my tiny budget would last me 16 months – if I found some way to live off $20 a day! And I believed my journey through all seven continents aboard my trusty Honda CRF250L would take me at least two years.
Now, it doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that the figures did not match the dream. I didn’t care. I was full of optimism, and the romantic image of riding off into the sunset engulfed my mind, leaving no room for realistic thought processes. I was out to make memories before it was too late, damn it! I had no desire for security or possessions. And so I packed my bags with camping gear, three T-shirts, three pairs of knickers, a Leatherman, some other general overlanding “stuff” like maps and a mosquito net, and set off.
In the Heat of the Day
I’m often asked, “How can you afford to keep going?” This always catches me off-guard, as I’ve long since stopped worrying about it. At least, I don’t keep a record. How do I manage it? I guess I must be achieving a healthy work–ride balance. The memories created are priceless and cost becomes negligible.
“It’s all very well being romantic,” I hear you cry, “but we all have to eat!”
It’s true – one cannot live on memories alone. So, here are some tips for keeping that road-trip budget low and the experience high. Remember, great memories are made from interacting and problem solving. This philosophy will enrich your adventure in a way that hotel rooms won’t.
Imagine yourself hot and tired in the middle of a strange country somewhere in Asia. Riding through traffic is like playing Grand Theft Auto on acid when you have just about run out of adrenaline. Your face is black with diesel fumes and now you need somewhere to sleep. You yearn for a soft pillow and a cool vanilla milkshake. You want nothing more than a fluffy dressing gown and a cockroach-free hotel room where you can wash away the grime of the day. You stand on the side of the road mentally counting your pennies and wondering if you should “just this once” treat yourself, or whether you should find a campground and start the task of setting up your tent before it gets dark.
Your brain is screaming “Just get a hotel. No one will know. Tomorrow I’ll go back to budget travel no matter what the day throws at me.”
Of course, I’m inclined to believe that it’s important to say “to hell with the budget” occasionally. Your senses can sometimes get overloaded and you might just need a quiet room and four walls to stare at. I call this my “reset” time, and that’s okay. However, be aware that this really is just going to be a no-brainer night. Your story ends here for the day and it comes with a hefty price tag. Instead of giving in immediately to your overstimulated brain – take five. Find a nearby street stall with a plastic chair on the pavement where you can sit and people watch for a half-hour with a glass of something cold. Rehydrate, cool down and relax. It’s amazing what can happen in that short 30 minutes.
The Kindness of Strangers
On more occasions than I can remember, in just those circumstances, a far more interesting and cheaper solution has presented itself to me, often in the form of a kind stranger. The kindness of strangers is important, and you quickly learn that there is often a helping hand when you need it most. Explore, safe in the knowledge that people are generally good. Learn to say yes to offers of hospitality. Trust your instincts. Some of my favourite nights have been the ones where I have accepted an invitation for dinner and found myself staying overnight on some spare floor space, well fed and further educated in the amazing and endless hospitality afforded me by some of the poorest people in the world.
I’ve stayed with every religion, every race, rich and poor, on my travels so far. I have slept in soft beds, with “servants” bringing me breakfast in the morning; slept on floors that I’ve shared with five members of the family; washed from buckets of rainwater in the backyard; and peed in just about every type of toilet imaginable.
Be open to feeling uncomfortable. Try a different style of comfort. Forget what you have learned and be open to another way of life if you really want to take value from your journey. Don’t think like a tourist. Immerse yourself in the local way of life and, in return, share your stories, entertain as you go. Keep in mind, you are a window to another world that some people can only dream of.
Being a biker also gives you the added bonus of a built-in worldwide community. You’ll be surprised at how often your bike draws in new friends. Again, practise saying yes to offers of hospitality. Be prepared to change your plans at the drop of a hat.
Making the Most of Your Budget
You’ll save the most money by carrying camping gear, and especially cooking equipment. Even if you’re in a hotel room, you can make your own dinner with the equipment you carry. I call this “hotel camping.”
An inexpensive stove is fine. For the fuel, use blow-torch canisters; they’re a lot cheaper and you’ll find hardware stores everywhere.
There are many great camping spots out there that are free or cheap with basic facilities. Check out apps like iOverlander, where other travellers mark on the map and share information about great spots great spots.
It might take a bit of practice to get your routine going – loading and unloading the bike, remembering where you put everything (“Argh! It’s getting dark and I can’t find the headlamp!”), and, of course, feeling safe out there on your own. However, you’ll soon find that camping under the stars with the songs of crickets all around and the gentle sound of the river nearby could be one of the most rewarding experiences of your trip. Wake up to the sunrise and smell the flowers.
If you know you’re going to be camping and it’s been raining or damp, pick up some wood from the local town for a fire or, if it’s dry, go into the woods and pick some up for free (only use dead or fallen wood). A fire can really make a difference to your state of mind, and your freezing butt and hands after a hard day’s ride.
If you love your coffee, carry a small espresso press, so you don’t have to compromise on taste. When in coffee-making regions, buy local beans, choose a pull-off with a great view and immerse yourself in the local flavours. Make every pit stop special with small yet inexpensive treats.
Visit local markets and buy the local produce. It’s cheap and fresh, and you’re contributing to the local economy at ground level. If you don’t feel like cooking, then eat street food. It’s inexpensive, yummy and often a gastronomic education. Don’t be frightened to step out of your comfort zone.
A Break from Camping
If a hotel is out of the question but you need a break from the old tent, surf the net. There are more and more websites for travellers these days, offering free or cheap beds for the night. Possibly the most commonly recognized is Couchsurfing.com, but there are many more out there. Check out biker forums, too – Horizons Unlimited (horizonsunlimited.com) and Adventure Rider (advrider.com) have local bikers offering “tent space” all over the world. This often means a spare room and a hot meal. Housesitters.com offers long- and short-term opportunities worldwide as well. You may find yourself cat sitting in a free house overlooking a beautiful lake for the winter, or alpaca herding on a ranch in darkest Peru. Be creative. Budget-life on the road doesn’t have to be painful!
There is no right or wrong when it comes to bike choice, but consider an economical motorcycle with good fuel consumption if your budget is tight. Remember, small and light can save you money on shipping costs, too, while reliable can save you money on parts.
And Finally . . .
Buy a local SIM card – it will save you a fortune in roaming costs. They are very easy to pick up, with airtime and data often extremely cheap. Just make sure your phone is unlocked before you leave home.
Make money as you go: sell your photos on iStock, write travel articles, tell your story to local groups for a fee (or a donations tin). If you can sing – busk! If you have a trade – trade it (there are many websites for this, too).
Mostly, keep an open mind and an approachable manner. Return favours whenever you can before you move on. Whether you believe in karma or not – roll with it! You’ll be amazed at the rewards.