The cost of longtime travel & shipment

One of the questions that I keep seeing over and over again on Forums & Social Media is “How much do you spend a day when traveling ?”.
That question has more right and wrong answers than “What oil should I use?”. The truth here is that there are so many things factoring into this that it seems impossible at first to come up with a straightforward answer. What I’ll try to do in this article are 2 things. First to give you a rough overview of what I spent on my way from Alaska to Bolivia and in the second part to point out the things you may not immediately consider when thinking about travel expenses.

Now bear in mind most of this will relate to Centra- and South-America.

I’ll try and break this down into smaller segments for ease of reading and so you can just skip over the parts you may have already figured out.

Shipping

A lot of things to factor in here depend on where you go, how long you’ll stay away and where you live.
For example, if you live somewhere in Europe and want to ship your bike to a different continent(that’s not Africa) you’ll be easily looking at 1500-2000€ upfront just for that. Keep in mind that shipping doesn’t just include the cost of getting your bike from point A to point B. There are

costs for a crate(200-400€ unless you want to build it yourself), insurance for transport, actually getting the crate to the airport and customs and cleaning fees. None of these are static values and some companies may include all those costs in their quotes while others might just quote you for picking up the box and you picking it from an airport or port. Some transport options(namely container shipping) won’t even require a box but, again, it depends where you want the thing to go. Finding space in a container might be easy for “common” destinations like say Valparaiso or Montevideo but for example, if you want to ship your bike to Alaska Airfreight is the only option.

Vehicle Insurance

This mainly covers 2 things. Insurance for your bike and insurance for your health. While health is something that you can pretty much decide for yourself the insurance for the bike isn’t. You may opt to go without health insurance but vehicle insurance is mandatory in most countries. It’s, of course, impossible to give even a rough estimate of how much it will cost you as it depends on countries and duration. But bear in mind that depending on the country you will need to get insurance ahead of time or may only be able to purchase it at a border crossing. Do your research on this topic AHEAD of time and don’t just run into the blue hoping for the best. When in doubt, buy insurance. Not so much for liability but to get away from corrupt officials. I ran into a situation in South America where I KNEW I did not need insurance but a corrupt Cop tried to bully me into paying a fine because I didn’t have. Eventually, he gave up because of my insistence on “No hables Espanol” but you might not be so lucky. On a different occurrence, I entered Peru twice. The first time nobody cared about insurance, the second time they insisted I buy it(I eventually just drove off but still 🙂 ).

On the way to Ecuador
On the way to Ecuador

 

Also outside of Europe you will be hard pressed to find insurance that covers more than one country. There may be smaller groups like Mercosur where it’s possible to get one policy for multiple countries but chances are you’ll need one per country. As I said, do your research beforehand as even if each country appears cheap it can add up over time considering how many countries you are going through.

Health Insurance

A topic that is entirely up to you, I know a number of people that opted to trave completely without insurance. It’s a gamble. You may stay healthy for years on end or you may fall sick and need hospitalization two weeks in(as happened to me in Nepal). Health insurance is easier to give numbers on price wise. There are a number of companies that will offer worldwide insurance, just make sure you find one whos policy covers indefinite stays(there are a number of cheaper ones that limit you to 30 days at a time and you have to return to your home country in between).
What I opted for when I went on the road for a year was World Nomads. They offer 2 different plans, Standard and Explorer, that offer slightly different coverage and will cost you about 100-150€ a month.
That figure, from my research, seems to be more or less accurate for all other offerings as well. So if you want to go for full coverage insurance calculate with these numbers.

Border crossings

As a European no matter where you travel you’re not used to paying fees at a border, even before Schengen this was not something that happened. However, if you move to Central America, for example, you’ll quickly grow accustomed to various fees(and bribes) to be paid at each border. This depends on where you travel as well as, and this may sound weird, which country you are from. For example, US citizens pay a premium when entering certain South American countries. Again, do your research ahead of time. Vehicle permits don’t come cheap in some places.

Accommodation

You may have guessed, a difficult one again. If you travel light and do wildcamps the entire time you will basically end up spending almost nothing on accommodation whereas staying in anything from Hostels to Hotels will cost you at least 7-10$ a day. When in Central and South America I alternated between camping and cheap Hostels and ultimately ended up with accommodation costs of somewhere between 100-300$ a month(Costa Rica is expensive). A tip here is that you don’t need to book ahead if you’re willing to settle for less. In non-First World countries the cheapest places will most likely not even have a website or be bookable through Tripadvisor etc. just roll up and ask for a price. In most places, you can always haggle.

Food and Water

First off, drinkable water from the tap is a thing of the past south of Mexico. In most places in Central and South-America, you will either have to filter/purify your water or resort to pre-bottled water from the store. If you bring a water filter(~60€) you can always filter water from rivers or lakes or alternatively use purification tabs. I prefer the filter as it will not just filter out unwanted bacteria but also dirt. Muddy water after purification tabs is still muddy water. Plus the purification tabs mostly work based on chlorine which can mess up your stomach big time(ask me how I know…).
Food is a rather simple issue as long as you don’t want to eat out every night. Small stores usually aren’t expensive if you stick to what’s locally grown. This was actually the smallest “permanent” cost factor day to day. If you plan ahead with cooking and look out for what you’re buying where you can easily get away with <5$ for food every day and still have a decent meal.

Salar de Uyuni
Salar de Uyuni

Bike costs

Now, this is a tough one as it’s the most unpredictable of all. You never know what will break. No matter how well you prepared it’s always the part that you don’t have that you will need. So even if you account for some maintenance and repair costs bear in mind that you may need to ship in parts from an outside source and that it will cost you some money. The ongoing costs will also include fuel, oil and other wear and tear parts. Tires are a HUGE factor especially on big bikes as in South America if you want a European brand tire like a TKC80 it will be just as expensive if not more than in Europe. If you don’t know your bike by heart learn what it’s crucial wear and tear parts are BEFORE you leave. Do your fuel filters need regular changing? Can the Airfilter be cleaned or do you need to replace it? How long will your tires last on average?
Overall in 9 months of traveling on the bike, all these things accounted for almost 60-70% of my monthly costs. The faster you travel, the more fuel you burn, the more expensive it gets, simple logic. If you take your time and not do 300km a day you can make your trip last a lot longer than when racing and making miles every day.

Bribes and the emergency stash

Be prepared to pay bribes from time to time, that’s just how the world south of the US border works. What is advisable to carry a second wallet with some expired cards and a little cash in it. When the crooked cop asks you for 100$ for some bogus issue either go with the “I don’t speak the language” approach or failing that just show him your empty wallet, he’ll be happy to take what you have but you can still save money this way.
Emergency money is also important. What’s even more important is that you hide it will. I suggest maybe 300-500$ hidden away somewhere for those occurrences when everything goes wrong and you need to get out of a tight spot of some sorts. Be it at a border crossing or just breaking down and having to pay somebody at the back of beyond to weld something back together with no ATM in sight.

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