Does the idea of a long bike tour, turning your legs for hours, make you tingle with excitement? Me too! Sadly, if you’re not careful, an extended bike trip can become incredibly expensive. If you wanted to, you could spend an entire month's travel money on a set of handlebars.
There’s nothing wrong with this, but the budget tourer has to be frugal in their approach. I recently cycled my bike across Europe and learned a few tricks along the way.
Here’s my approach to saving cash.
Don’t use campsites. I was once cycling around Italy at 8 pm at night. I found a campsite and asked to pitch my tent. After finding out the price of camping wasn’t much less than the price of a hotel room, I said thanks, but no thanks.
With that, I cycled around the corner, made friends with some locals, and ended up camping in their garden for free.
If there are no locals around another great way to save on accommodation is to simply stealth camp. You’re able to stealth camp almost anywhere. During my travels as well as camping in people’s gardens I’ve camped on the beach and under motorway bridges.
Quieter places in nature can also be nice, and I’ve spent the majority of my nights here. It’s easy to take a quick look at your map and cycle towards the green areas. Once you arrive, all you need to do is walk 100 meters inwards, and you’re ready to go.
Once you’ve done it a few times, you’ll develop an eye for what areas are best to stop off at. Many people sleep in tents, but nowadays I’m more of a hammock kind of guy. They’re easier to keep away from wildlife, and I personally find them much comfier.
If you’d rather not camp out in the elements, then consider places that’ll let you stay for free. Couchsurfing is a platform that puts you in contact with people from all over the world that are willing to host you for a night or two. Even better is Warmshowers, which is the same concept but especially for bicycle tourers.
When you’re on tour, you’ll usually be on the bike, but it’s quite common to want to use some transportation in the less inspiring areas.
I try not to do this. Sometimes I quite like the dull areas as it gives me a bit of perspective and helps me enjoy the nicer parts even more.
Plus, some of the biggest surprises happened to me when I was cycling through duller landscapes.
If you do use transport, make sure you take local buses. Or, another great option is hitchhiking. Backpacker Travel has an excellent guide on how to do it safely. But the simple concept is to stick your thumb out and see if a truck will pick you up. You’ll meet some interesting people. It’s an adventure, and… it’s free!
If you’re not spending cash on accommodation or transport, your next big expenditure will be through food. Especially if you’re cycling many miles a day. It’s easy to want to reward a hard day cycling with a big feast, but you have to stay strong!
In Asia, it may be possible to eat out, but most of the time you’ll have to make do with your own cooking. Don’t worry too much! It can be fun getting food from the local market and experimenting with different recipes. During harvest seasons, you can eat for almost nothing. You’ll find fruit everywhere, and you’ll feel like a proper hunter-gatherer picking food from your environment.
You can also get discounted or even free food from shops that are about to throw food away. By law, shops have to get rid of it, but it’s more than suitable for you or me to eat.
Also, be sure to watch where you get your drinks from. If it’s suitable, you can ask locals to fill up a water bottle from their taps, or in places like Asia, they have water stations where you can fill up from instead of having to buy new bottles each time.
I’m a big fan of repairing everything that gets broken. With a bit of patience, everything from your bicycle to your sleeping bag can be fixed.
Fixing everything myself also helped to give me confidence on the road. It’s a great feeling to know that you’ll be OK if something goes wrong and you’re on your own.