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How To Bike Tour And Travel On A Cheap Budget

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How to Bike Tour and Travel on a Cheap BudgetWe all know from examples that traveling can be as expensive as you want it to be. People have traveled around the world with budgets ranging from $0 to $20,000 a year. Spending more money usually means more comfort. The goal of this article is to share tips and tricks to travel cheaply, but still with some comfort.The most important thing for me is to stay healthy.

Accomodation (Peter)

You can probably make the biggest difference in your budget with the options you choose for accommodation. Especially in Western countries, where even the cheapest hostels will cost you at least 20 Euros a night. But it is easy to avoid paying for a place to sleep at all. I prefer a combination of Couchsurfing and Warmshowers to meet people, wild camping to have quiet nights in nature, being invited by complete strangers for the spontaneity and surprise of it, and finding other crazy places to put down my mat. Couchsurfing and Warmshowers have given me some of the best experiences in my traveling life, both surfing and hosting. It is an excellent way to meet locals, get involved in local activities, and to make new friends.

The Warmshowers list consists only of cyclists and will get you close to cycling clubs, group rides, and other cycling-related activities. In the couchsurfing community you will find interesting and open-minded people of all ages. In some countries or areas (for example, Iran, Colombia, parts of Peru, USA), you will not need to camp in the wild or use the Internet to find a place; you will be invited almost every day. The only thing you need is flexibility and to not have anything arranged for the night.

Another great option is to use¬ https://www.helpx.net/.¬†“HelpX is provided primarily as a cultural exchange for working holiday makers who would like the opportunity during their travels abroad, to stay with local people and gain practical experience. In the typical arrangement, the helper works an average of 4 hours per day and receives free accommodation and meals for their efforts.”

Stealth Camping (Peter)

For me, the most important part of stealth camping (or wild camping or free camping) is how you feel. You need confidence to sleep well out there in the forest or wherever you are. For me, wild camping also brings a lot of joy, brings me closer to nature, and gives me a great sense of freedom.

Where: In my opinion, you can stealth camp basically everywhere. I have camped in the main square of villages, in parks in cities, under big highways, in empty buildings of all kinds, in the forest, in sheds, in people’s backyards and garages, on farmland, on the beach, in churches and monasteries, in closed campsites, on jetties, in bus stops, behind supermarkets, in industrial areas, in schools, under a parked truck, etc. I do prefer the quiet places in nature and that is where I spend most of the nights. Have a look at your map for a green area, stock up on food and water, cycle to the green area, walk 100 m. off the road, and set up camp. As you go, you will develop an eye for good camp spots.

When: It is good to well-time the arrival and departure from your camp spot. In nature, if you have a place that is well-hidden or in a quiet area, it doesn’t matter. But if you are in sight of a road or on private land, it is probably better to set up your tent around sunset and pack not more than an hour after sunrise. You can still spend more time in the place, but because free camping is illegal in most countries, it is good to not have your tent up. In the busier areas I usually cook and have dinner first before pitching my tent. If you want to ask people to camp in their backyard or garage, it is better to not wait until sunset. Most people don’t like you to ring their bell in the dark. Also, it still leaves them time to invite you for dinner. :) When I camp behind supermarkets, I usually have a look at the opening hours and leave well before that. Industrial areas are best on weekends.

Tent: For me, the single most important feature of a tent is that it is free-standing. I estimate that I camped at least 100 times in an empty building or under a roof, just using my inner tent. Because of the concrete floor it was not possible to use pegs. Another thing to think about is the color of the fly. Mine is dark green, which is fantastic in almost all of nature, and almost invisible in the dark. Once it took me about an hour to find my own tent from the place where I had dinner, about 100 m. away because of bear risk. Of course, the tent has to be windproof, especially in high mountains, big deserts, and on the beach. You will be out there alone and you have to survive storms by yourself, without help available.

Alternatives: In extremely populated areas it can be hard to find a place if you don’t like the supermarket and industrial areas idea. Of course, we can use couchsurfing or warmshowers. Also, you can ring bells, talk to people in the street, etc, but this turns out to be difficult in cities. In South America I have heard of people staying with fire brigades a lot. ¬†Myself, I stayed with the police a fair bit. Try if a church is unlocked or look behind it for a place. Look around for alternative-looking people and ask for a squat. I think with all these kinds of ideas, single women will be more successful. ¬†A lot of people sleep every night in many train stations and parks. Not just bums, but also other travelers.

First Timer: The first few times I was stealth camping I was a bit nervous. Soon I discovered that there is almost nobody out there at night and if there is somebody walking his dog or a shepherd or something, they are more scared of me than I am of them. In about 1000 wild camping experiences I was never chased away or hassled in any sense. Which is pretty amazing. Some people are afraid of wild animals. Close your tent for spiders, scorpions and snakes. In bear country take the normal procautions. The other large animals you are not very likely to see. Dogs will be your most frequent guests. Once I heard wolves and once a wild boar.

Start the first time in a forest or in the mountains where it is easy to hide, and soon you will gain confidence and extend your terrain to other places.

Transportation (Peter)

When on a bike tour, you usually cycle, of course, and cycling is free. But many people still use transport to skip ‘boring’ parts. I would advise people to cycle everything. The best surprises always occur where you least expect them. Also, it is good to have some long ‘boring’ roads between the highlights. Time to think, to reflect, is important for the quality of your trip.

Also, consider cycling loops that start from your own house. A long flight might take up more than half of your budget, it is bad for the same environment that you are going to enjoy on your trip, and cycling close to your home might offer more than you expect and somehow feels really pure.
If you really need transport for a stretch, think about hitch-hiking. It is a lot of fun, you meet the strangest people, and of course it is free.

Hitch-Hiking (Stephane)

Peter mentioned that some people try to avoid boring parts of their trip by taking buses. I agree with him – it might be boring scenery-wise, but you will most likely encounter some nice surprises. However, sometimes you don’t have a choice. Your visa might be running out, you might be sick, your bike might need to be fixed, whatever the reason, you might have to take transportation. Then save money by hitch-hiking. No need to take the bus. Yes, you can hitch-hike with a bicycle. I hitch-hiked with 2 persons, 2 bicycles, 8 panniers, 2 dry bags and 2 handlebar bags and was always picked-up.

Basic hitch-hiking rule: Hitch-hike where cars can pull over without obstructing traffic (large shoulders are ideal). When a driver is already going 30, 40, 50 miles an hour, there is very little chance he will stop. So, hitch-hike where cars are stopped so the driver can see you and think about taking you; the best is right after a stoplight. Don’t smoke while you hitch-hike. Try to wear your cleanest clothing so you don’t look like a bum.

Give the impression that you don’t have tons of stuff:¬†Don’t spread out all your panniers, their contents, your lunch, and your clothing all over the shoulder of the road! Pile everything up nicely behind your bike so visually it looks like you don’t have too much luggage with you.

No Smart Car: No need to raise your thumb for compact cars. Depending on the country, truckers will take you (very easy in Turkey, not so much in Western countries because of the liability issue). Pick-up trucks are great in the USA for hitch-hiking. In Turkey, an old guy in a brand new Mercedes picked up my wife and myself, 2 bicycles, and all 14 of our bags. We had to tie the bicycles to the top of the car!! The guy didn’t even care! I was the one feeling bad for the roof of the brand-new car, so I spread out a blanket to protect the nice ride!

Food (Peter & Stephane)

When you are not spending money on transport and accommodation, most of your money will go towards food. First of all, don’t eat in restaurants, unless you are in a country where it is extremely cheap, like in Asia. Take a stove (see the great post by Stephane on choosing a stove) and cook your own meal in front of your tent. Or even better (and cheaper) on a fire. It is fun to gather food in a market, bargain down on the prices, and experiment with new recipes. During the harvest season you can easily eat for free. You will find food almost everywhere. It feels so good to pick fruit from trees, gather berries and nuts. You will find leftovers from harvesting machines: potatoes, unions, corn, tomatoes, carrots, etc. Also, you can pick up old bread in bakeries and ask for old fruit and veggies in shops and markets. Or check a bin or two behind a supermarket.

Another important choice is what you drink. I think a bike tour is your best chance to stop drinking alcohol, coffee and tea, and all kinds of sugar-containing soft drinks. In the beginning, water will seem boring, but soon you will start to feel healthier than ever. It takes some more time to get rid of your caffeine and sugar addictions, but at some point you will start to enjoy drinking water, even when it is lukewarm. Just ask for tap water in a house or shop and take a water filter or tablets for your river water. Of course, the most beautiful thing in the world is to drink straight out of a clear cold mountain stream, where this is still possible.

Cook your own (but local) food:¬†Unless food in a restaurant is very cheap (like in India or Southeast Asia), cooking your own food will save you a lot of money. To really save money, you’ll need to buy (and sometimes experience) local food. What locals eat is usually the most affordable. Go to the market and try new things; you will often be nicely surprised. Of course, you will need camping cookware and a stove. Cooking your own meal by your tent under the stars or in front of a sunset is a real treat.

Don’t Buy Water Bottles (Stephane)

You might think water bottles are cheap, but if you travel for a long time, they surely add up. In most Western countries, you can drink water from the sink (supermarket, McDonalds, etc.). In Europe, a good place to get water is in cemeteries.

You can even knock on someone’s front door. People will not refuse to refill your water bottle, and often enough, you may get more than water (a cup of tea, perhaps an invitation for dinner, to stay overnight, or even a new friend). In developing countries, where it is not recommended to drink water from the sink, a great way to save money is to use a water filter.

Other Expenses (Peter)

In general, I am a big fan of repairing everything yourself as much as possible. Your bike, your tent, your clothes – with a sewing kit and some duct tape you can fix almost anything. It will give you a lot of confidence when you learn to fix everything yourself. Also, by taking a step away from our consumer society by not throwing away something that can still be fixed, this fits very well in a cycling trip. Also keep an eye open when on the road for useful stuff. It is incredible what you will find, even lots of money.

These are just some of my thoughts and strategies on low budget traveling. By following these guidelines, I travel with about 1000 Euros per year around the world, still staying extremely healthy and having a lot of fun, not suffering for lack of comfort. I have seen that a lot cheaper is still possible. Once I traveled in France for one month on 5 Euros, 2 weeks in the US on 0 dollars and a week in France and Belgium on 0 Euros. I still hope to learn more about cheap traveling; it makes bike touring possible for almost everyone.

The Art of Bargaining (Stephane)

Bargaining is a fun way to save money and it is even expected in some parts of the world (ie. in North Africa, if you don’t bargain, you’re not a man!).

Here are some tips for efficient bargaining:

Know your price: In order to bargain, you need to know what price a local would pay for whatever you’re buying, and this takes time. When you first arrive in a country economically different from your own, you will often pay a higher price than you should. Traveling by bicycle is great in the sense that it allows you to live and shop in between touristic areas where there is no dual pricing (prices for locals and prices for tourists) or at least the difference is reasonable. After some time, you get to know what a fair price is for a room, a meal, groceries, etc. Then you’re armed to bargain. When you know what the locals pay for a certain item, you will be confident when you bargain and are more likely to get a fair price with a smile.

Your best weapon is to leave: The last and best weapon you should use when the person refuses to give you a fair price is to leave. This works 90% of the time; if the owner or manager can lower the price, he will run after you and agree to the price you ask for. If he doesn’t, it is likely that either you are asking for too low a price or that he has too much pride, in which case you can still shop around to see if you can get the price you want, knowing that you can always come back to the original seller.

The “1/4 rule”: If you don’t know the price, like when you buy a souvenir in a touristic market, the rule of thumb is to divide the asked for price by 3, 4, or 5, depending on where you are (in Egypt, Tunisia, and India, for example, you can start by 5!). Watch for the reaction of the salesman and adjust your price accordingly. When you’re up to a third of the price, leave and see. If the salesman runs after you and continues to bargain, stay firm on your price; if he ran after you, it means that he will give you your last price.

Quantity discount: If you are planning to buy more than one item, stay more than one night, etc., a good way to get a discount is to first ask the price for 1 item (or 1 night, etc.) and then to ask what discount you would get if you buy more than one item, stay X nights, etc. In other words, if you’re planning to buy a larger quantity, always ask first for the price of 1 unit. Then play your ‚Äúquantity discount” card.

Discount for paying in cash: You can often get a discount if you pay with cash. This is especially true for products that tourists typically pay by credit card. A good example is paying cash for a Turkish carpet in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul (I know it’s very clich√©).

Bargain before consuming: NEVER bargain after consuming (bar and restaurant). Many countries don’t have a menu with a set price. Always agree on a price before consuming. Not only will you not be able to bargain after consuming, but it is much more likely that you will be ripped-off (very important rule for India!).

Bargain at home: Technically, you can bargain almost everywhere. Bargaining is not only for developing countries (don’t try at the cash register at Walmart, though!). The two techniques that work in Western countries are the “quantity discount” and the “discount for cash.” You would be surprised by who can give you discounts. But if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Motels are a good place to bargain back home or any business surrounded by a lot of competition.

Buy Cheap Airline Tickets (Stephane)

Unfortunately, the time when you can hop on a boat and work on a ship in exchange for a ride across the ocean is over. There are still some ways to go by boat, but it is much more complicated and usually more expensive. So the cheapest way to go is by airplane.

Here is my advice on how to buy a cheap airplane ticket. My favorite place to search for the cheapest airfare is¬ www.skyscanner.com, also available as an app for smartphone. For flights to and from Britain, try www.jetair.com¬†and www.ryanair.com – they have ridiculously cheap prices. a good site also is www.statravel.com (students get especially good prices, but regular-fare tickets are still good deals). But you’ll need to get a quote using these three ways: Go to the local office if there is one (they have offices all around the world). Then call the 800# and a few local offices in the country where you are. You will most likely get different quotes every time (agents don’t have the same techniques or willingness to get discounted pricing). Check online: www.bookingbuddy.com allows you to try hundreds of airlines and travel agencies at once. Also, try www.opodo.fr.

Lastly, shop around in local travel agencies – try as many as you can, as the price can vary greatly from one to another (these are usually more expensive, but depending where you are you might be able to get a great deal).

Buy Reliable Gear (Peter)

This is going to be costly at first, but in the end you will save a lot of money. Reliable and good-quality bicycle components, camping gear, and clothing (Schwalbe, MSR, Brooks, Gore Bike Wear, Primus, Terra Nova, etc.)¬†will stand up to your hardest riding days, so you won’t have to spend money to fix or replace things over and over again.

Authors:
Peter Van Glabbeek & Stephane Marchiori

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About Stephane Marchiori

Owner of Cyclocamping.com
Bike touring since 2003, including:
a 5-Year Bicycle Journey Around The World!

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