One of the most common questions we are asked after we say we’re on a year long cycling adventure is ‘How can you afford that?’
It’s a great question and I’m always happy to answer. Travel is certainly a luxury, but even extended travel can be more affordable than it seems. I hope some of the people asking how we are paying for this adventure feel inspired to save for and go on their own adventure – whatever that might be.
But to answer the question, first I explain that Derek’s teaching job has a program that will allow staff to save a percentage of their salary over a set number of years and then receive that saved salary in a sabbatical year (or semester). In our case, Derek saved 25% for three years and we are receiving the full 75% this year.
It’s an amazing program and although we initially felt the difference in his reduced salary – especially during the 5 months that I was looking for work after being laid off from a journalism job a few years ago – we quickly got used to it and still managed to continue to aggressively pay off our mortgage and afford treats like ski trips to Quebec City, a trip to the Grand Canyon and our usual summer camping trips.
My current work is promoting sustainable transportation. When I requested a year’s leave of absence to ride all over the place with my family and experience some of the best cycling cities in the world first hand, my employer enthusiastically and generously granted my request. (Thanks EnviroCentre!)
Knowing that we’d both return home to jobs we love (and that pay well!) gave us peace of mind to leave for a year and the freedom to accrue some debt, if necessary.
We finished paying off our mortgage before we left so we are able to use the rental income from our house to pay for house insurance, extended health insurance and property taxes.
Our dear old 1920’s house needed some expensive squirrel removal, new windows and electrical work before we rented it, so the rental income (after we cover the heat and hydro costs) is also paying for that.
In terms of other expenses, I stopped saving for my retirement this year. I’ll start that again when we get home and start earning our regular salaries. Derek will have an option to buy back the year he was absent for his pension when we return. This year, we are tapping into a special savings account to contribute to the kids’ education fund – when we return we’ll go back to contributing from our regular funds.
Our daily budget is roughly $90 US/day. With the Canadian dollar rising in value, our money is going further. (It’s now 79 cents to the US dollar). But even when the Canadian dollar was lower we had the same budget because we found we needed at least that amount to cover our daily costs.
Surprisingly, that budget has worked in The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, Colombia, Cuba and now the US. We have camped everywhere but Colombia and Cuba where we stayed in hotels, Airbnb and hostels (Colombia) and Casa Particulares, which are like bed and breakfasts (Cuba). Each time we came to a new country we’d give ourselves at least a week to make sure our budget was reasonable.
When we started off, we were keeping closer tabs on our spending, but then the kids got bossy in the grocery store and wouldn’t let us buy nice cheese in Europe. After one particularly rough grocery episode, Derek and I had a team meeting and decided not to talk about how much things cost, so that the kids wouldn’t feel responsible for sticking to the budget at any cost. We didn’t save for years to eat cheap cheese and skip dark chocolate and ice cream!
I think being flexible with your budget -if you can – is really important when you are travelling by bike because you don’t always have control over your choices at certain points in your route. For example, there were State Parks in California that charged $45/site. And others, with Hiker/Biker sites that charged $5 per person, but the kids were free. So sometimes our camp fees were $45 and other times they were $10.
Similarly, when we were riding through Big Sur, sometimes we had to buy groceries at convenience stores which were pricey and we could easily pay $60 for a day’s worth of groceries for four hungry cyclists. But when we were staying in Portland, we found lots of great deals at our neighbourhood Trader Joe’s and paid $100 for several days worth of groceries for all of us plus Grandma and Grandpa.
Here in the US we have stayed with incredible Warm Showers hosts. This is one of our very favourite things about touring in the US. It’s been a great way to meet other touring cyclists and a fantastic resource when we’ve had bike emergencies or when we are visiting a city that doesn’t have camping close by. We relish the friendships and conversation and feel like we are getting to know the area we are riding through so much better by connecting with the folks who live here. For cyclists on a tight budget, warm showers would help you tour longer as you’d definitely be saving on lodging costs and often sharing food with your generous hosts.
Sometimes we go to museums, art galleries or other places like that. If admission isn’t too expensive then we include it in our daily budget – or spread it out over a few days. If it’s a big ticket item – like the aquarium in Monterey that was $130 for the family – then we dip into the special Grandpa fund. Derek’s dad gave us $1000 for special treats on the trip and this is what we use it for.
Finally we have expenses that are not part of our daily budget – like plane tickets, train tickets, vehicle rental, the occasional hotel, bike repairs and equipment and clothing repair or replacement. Some folks like to include all of these expenses in their daily budget. But because these expenses are unpredictable, I prefer to think of them separately.
Just this past week repairs to the tandem (new back wheel and bottom bracket replacement) came in at $300. It’s already a feat to find a bike shop able to do a quick turn around on a weird bike – I’m glad that we just have a ‘pay whatever it costs’ attitude for repairs, especially when Derek takes care of so many of our bike repairs himself.
In our case, we pay for this category of additional expenses first with Derek’s salary, then savings and then (when those run out) with our line of credit. I’m estimating we will have to pay back about $10,000 – $15,000 on our line of credit when we return home in late July after a year on the road and probably 10,000 kilometres.
I should mention that our line of credit was very helpful at the beginning of the trip when we had a lot of expenses but hadn’t yet received one of the two lump sum payments from Derek’s work. Even if you don’t plan to use a line of credit while travelling, I would recommend setting one up for just in case situations.
We are both strongly debt adverse but a debt level of $10,000-$15,000 seems reasonable at the end of such a grand family adventure – where we have had so many enriching experiences and opportunities. We plan to have it paid off in 6-8 months. At which point we’ll start saving for our next big adventure, of course!
Hope this post helps make your travel dreams seem more attainable!
And thanks to Mount Hood for being so beautiful!!