After traveling the world on motorcycle for two straight years, what I got asked the most about was: how could I afford it! It’s not that difficult with the right budget, so in this article I’ll break down how to budget for a round-the-world trip, where your money will go, and great ways to save.
In This Article…
- The magic daily number for budgeting my round-the-world trip
- How my budget was split between stuff for the bike, and stuff for me
- What to know about shipping your bike vs. riding it
- Fuel: it will cost more than you think!
- How to save money on accommodations and food
After nearly two years on the road, I can confidently say that the most common questions I get asked are “How much is this costing you?” and “How on Earth can you afford to not work for two years?” Well, I’m not rich; I didn’t hit the lottery or inherit a bunch of money. I’m just a normal guy, and the honest (and short) answers to those questions are “$100 a day” and “I worked a lot, and saved a lot.”
People’s work, lifestyles, and financial situations vary greatly, so the discussion of working a lot and saving a lot will vary based on individual circumstances. So rather than go too far into that discussion, in this article I’m just going to expand on the $100 a day budget, and hopefully shed some light onto where all that money goes during a motorcycle trip around the world. Hopefully, that knowledge will help any of you future travelers out there to plan out your own budget for a trip!
Part 1: Budgeting for your Bike
Budget Concern #1: To Ship or Not To Ship?
The first thing to consider when budgeting for a long motorcycle trip is whether or not it’ll be necessary to ship your bike for any portion of the trip. By the time your bike is packed up and loaded on the boat or plane, and you’ve bought a plane ticket for yourself, you’re going to be looking at a minimum of $1000 quickly leaving your checking account. Depending on the distance you’re traveling, you can get to $2000+ pretty quickly.
Obviously, the easiest way to avoid this is to plan a trip that doesn’t require any shipping. But on the other hand, I’ll say that landing on another continent and leaving the airport on your motorcycle for a few months of exploration around new countries and cultures is a pretty amazing part of the whole experience. So if you can swing it, I promise you won’t regret it!
Packing my bike up for the flight from Kathmandu, Nepal to Bangkok, Thailand. Notice the footwear of the workers.
Once you’ve decided on which routes you’ll have to ship through, do some research online (Horizons Unlimited is your best place to start) and make some phone calls or emails to get a rough idea of the cost of each shipment. While researching, make sure to look at price and timing differences between shipping by plane vs. boat.
Obviously, a boat is going to haul your bike for a bit cheaper than a plane, but don’t forget about how long this can take (Christchurch, NZ to Vancouver, Canada by boat was a 5 week ordeal for me). The money you save going by boat can quickly be eaten up if you have to cover accommodation costs while you sit around waiting a couple weeks.
Also, don’t forget to factor in that some shipping agents will require that your bike is crated for the journey. This could cost up to a few hundred dollars, depending on labor costs in the country you’ll be leaving from. For my route, I had to ship my bike a total of seven times (three by plane, four by boat). After factoring in all the expenses associated with the shipments, and the plane tickets for myself, this amounted to nearly 1/4 of the money I spent. So as you can see, eliminating or reducing shipments will have a huge impact on your overall budget.
Budget Concern #2: Fuel
Getting a few liters of fuel (from a couple old water bottles) during a snowstorm in Nepal.
Another large portion of your budget will be spent on fuel. Exactly how much this is will depend on three main factors: miles covered, fuel efficiency, and cost of fuel. A little research online can give you a rough idea of how much fuel will cost in the countries you’ll be visiting. I saw gas prices as low as about $2/gal, and up to $10/gal, but I’d estimate that the average cost on my trip was around $7/gal. As an American who’s used to fairly low gas prices, this ended up being a much more considerable expense (about 15% of my overall budget) than it would’ve been had I stuck around North America.
Bike Budget Concern #3: Maintaining your Ride
Doing an oil change in Pakse, Laos. The owner of the shop I bought the oil from was happy to let me change it in front of their shop, and his son was more than happy to quit working on a scooter to come give me a hand.
And the final bike-related consideration is going to be maintenance. Depending on the length of your trip, you’ll need to factor in things like oil changes, tires, chains/sprockets, etc. I wasn’t too interested in skimping on the quality of these parts, so I usually opted for the good quality stuff – even if it was a little more expensive.
The best way to save money in this area was to do as much of the work as I could on my own (except for the occasional trip to a dealership, just so that a real mechanic could give the bike a once over, for my own peace of mind). I changed oil, tires, and chain/sprockets in various campgrounds, hostels, and hotel parking lots and never was hassled for it, so don’t worry too much about finding some space to work on your bike for a couple hours.
Enough About The Bike – What About You?
So, after all of these bike related expenses, I was left with around $50 a day to cover my remaining expenses, which was mostly divided up between accommodation, food (and beer), and any tourist activities. Souvenirs often make up a good amount of the money people spend while on vacation, but you can kiss that expense goodbye, as you aren’t going to have much spare room on the back of your motorcycle.
How far that $50 will get you depends not only on your lifestyle, but also where you’ll be traveling. In India and SE Asia, $50 could easily last for days, whereas in Australia, New Zealand, or Western Europe, you can get by on $50 a day. Difference is, in those more expensive regions, you’re not going to have any luxuries, and tourist activities will have to be very minimal.
Personal Budget Concern #1: Accommodations
Depending on how you want to travel, the daily expenses you’ll incur can vary greatly. If you’re wanting to stay in a hotel room every night, $50 probably won’t even cover your accommodation expenses. Luckily, outside of the U.S., you will usually have an easy enough time finding hostels, which will usually cost you about $20.
Sure, you’re going to be sharing a room with other people, which is obviously not as private or quiet as your own room, but not only is it a much more reasonable price, it’s also a great way to meet other travelers. After staying in a countless number of hostels (with a couple bad experiences, but far more great experiences), I can say that even if money was no concern, I’d typically opt for a hostel dorm room over a private hotel room, just for the social aspect.
Bushcamping in a makeshift junkyard in Western Australia. Five or six kangaroos showed up after sunset.
Even cheaper (and sometimes free!) than a hostel is going to be camping (assuming you’re not staying in an expensive RV park). An established campground usually isn’t too expensive (although they’re often so close in price to a hostel, that I’d sometimes spend a couple extra bucks for the comfort of a bed), but go a step further and look into the local rules and see where you can camp for free.
True, you won’t be able to take a nice hot shower, but you’re on a motorcycle trip…you’re probably filthy most of the time as it is! Wikicamps is a great app (for iPhone or Android) for finding campsites, and you can even filter it to show only free sites if you’re looking to save some money.
Personal Budget Concern #2: Food
As far as saving money on food expenses, the primary method is fairly obvious; we all learned it the day we moved out of our parents’ house, and it involves things like ramen noodles, rice, and beans. If you’re on an extremely tight budget, cooking all of your own meals is very possible. A basic cookware set is easy enough to carry around if you’re camping, and if you’re staying in hostels, they almost always will have a kitchen with all the cookware you need.
Fresh fruits and veggies at the market in Khota Baru, Malaysia.
Although I did cook some meals on my own (especially in places like Australia and New Zealand, where food costs were fairly high), I also wanted to experience the local cuisine, as I think this is one of the very interesting aspects of traveling. Luckily, experiencing the local fare doesn’t have to involve being waited on at fancy sit down restaurants.
The best meals I had were from street vendors, or in little hole-in-the-wall restaurants that focused on good, affordable food, rather than on decor and formality. And much like staying in a hostel versus a hotel, these are the type of places where you’ll strike up a conversations with the workers or other patrons. So even if money isn’t a concern, consider these types of places, even if it’s just for the social interaction.
Smoked cheese from a street vendor in Zakopane, Poland.
Hopefully with that bit of information, you can make a rough estimate of what your daily expenses will be. Then you just need to start stashing away some of that hard earned money, and you’ll be ready to hit the road before you know it!
Riding logging roads through the hills outside of Vang Vieng, Laos.
What would you like to know more about when it comes to taking a motorcycle trip around the world?