What are the costs of bike travel? 1

What are the costs of bike travel?

The answer is simple. Everyone has a different budget when it comes to bike travel. Some cyclists spend 1 euro per day, others 100 euros per day on their bike trip. Which is a huge difference in the costs of bike travel. It all depends on how you live life on the bike; as a dirtbag tourer, a credit card cyclist or somewhere in between.


Besides that traveling the world on a bike is a beautiful way to discover new places, a world trip on a bicycle is often way cheaper than many other ways of traveling. There is no need to spend a lot of money on expensive tours, hostels, and transport.

With your bike being your transport, the costs of gasoline, buses or flights can be close to zero. Often are you forced to camp somewhere for there is no accommodation around anyway. And going on expensive tours is out of the question. Every day on the bike is a tour. So you can understand, it is not so difficult to keep the cost of bike travel low.

The lower your budget is, the more creative you have to get to cut down on costs. Hotels and restaurants are probably off-limits for long term budget bike travelers. You will have to wild camp or use warmshowers a lot, find places or ways to buy food cheaply and maybe even work from time to time. We found, the longer we are traveling, the easier it is to keep costs low. We’ve adapted to a relatively cheap but still luxurious way of life.

Costs of bike travel

Dirtbag touring: What can you expect with a budget of €5,-  per person per day in South America?

  • 80% wild camping, warmshowers, casa de ciclistas and hospitality of locals
  • 20% cheap hotels and hostels
  • No pizza, no latte macchiato or any other fancy stuff
  • Anything you want to eat while cycling, within reason of course
  • Able to pay for replacement parts or bike mechanics

Long term bike travel: What can you expect with a budget of €15,-  per person per day in South America?

  • 40% wild camping, warmshowers, casa de ciclistas and hospitality of locals
  • 50% cheap hotels and hostels
  • 10% sort of fancy hotel or airbnb
  • Occasional pizza, latte macchiato or any other fancy stuff
  • Anything you want to eat while cycling, within reason of course
  • Able to pay for replacement parts or bike mechanics

Credit card touring: What can you expect with a  €100,- per person per day in South America?

  • Jet set lifestyle
  • pizza everyday
  • pick up truck at your disposal
  • champagne & kaviar
  • no adventures

Our budget and costs of bike travel in South America

We budgeted €1000,- euro per month for two people, € 500,- per person, for our bicycle trip in South America. That is about € 15,- per person per day. This includes all the daily costs for that year.

Daily costs are food, accommodation, bicycle expenses like replacement parts, medical expenses and any other unexpected expenses. The € 15,- per day does not include flights and initial costs of the gear.

In the first few months, we lived slightly above our budget. At that time, our costs for bike travel were high. Which in hindsight was unnecessary, but we felt we needed some luxury. Eventually, we naturally grew into living on a budget. And our budget is, as you read, not a very tight one. 

Within a few months, we kept to the budget. Nowadays we mostly live under budget. We are content with our costs for bike travel and the way we live our cycling lives. So for 15 euros per person per day, we have the freedom to travel the way we like.

What do we spend our budget on?

The funny thing is that we don’t spend a lot of money on cycling days. On the days off the bike and the periods of rest in bigger cities, we spend most of our money. Those days we stay in a hotel, a comfortable cottage, or an AirB&B. We treat our selves a delicious latte macchiato with oreo cheesecake.

When we are on the bikes, cycling in remote regions, we are often forced to wild camp and make do with what we have. We love camping by the way, so that’s a bonus. When only bread, tomatoes, pasta and bananas are available in the next village, that is what we will have for dinner.

It actually makes life a lot easier. There are no distractions or temptations to spend our money on. The choice of what to buy is restricted to almost no choice and luxury is fresh bread with fresh coffee. It won’t get easier to stay under budget that way.

What are the costs of bike travel? 2
Wild camp
What are the costs of bike travel? 3
Ordering not one but two cheesecakes and cappuccino!

Accommodation 

Lots of cyclists cut down on accommodation costs by using warmshowers. It is a lovely platform where cyclists welcome fellow cyclists into their homes. However, we haven’t really been using warmshowers ourselves. Cycling provides a lot of freedom and our plans change constantly. We don’t like the hassle to contact hosts a few days in advance and stick to that plan.

Another known phenomenon amongst cyclists in South America is ‘casa de ciclista’. These are often houses owned by people who offer room to sleep for cyclists. You are asked to make a small donation when you leave, but it still beats the cost of a hotel 

Besides warmshowers and casa de ciclistas, there are a lot of other options to get free accommodation. You can ask locals to pitch the tent on their property. Schools often have a place to pitch the tent or to put your mattress somewhere. Fire stations in South America are often very welcoming to cyclists and will have a place for you to put your mattress. The same goes for police stations. And the local church might be able to help you to pitch your tent somewhere or even offer a bed.

One more way of getting free accommodation is volunteering at hostels. Most hostels let you stay for free if you are willing to work a few hours per day. Most of the time you’d have to some cleaning, reception work, preparing breakfast, or other chores.

Food 

We don’t cut down on costs with food. We eat what we like because it is too important to get some proper food. Being hungry all the time is already a pain in the ass, so cutting down on food to keep costs for bike travel low, is a no go for us.

Vegetables and fruit are relatively cheap and make good nutritious meals. However, in South America, you cannot beat the low prices of a ‘menu del dia’ (€ 2,50) in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. We have thankfully made use of a menu del dia for more days than we can count.

costs for bike travel
We are always hungry

Transport 

Ok, the bike is our transport, but we still took quite a few buses. Depending on the country and bus company these can add to the costs of bike travel. Extra costs are charged to put the bikes in the cargo hold. On average extra costs for bicycles on the bus are half of the price of the bus tickets. However, we found out that the cheaper bus companies are often more careful, cheaper and more willing to out you bike safely in the cargo hold. Double win on keeping costs low.

Gear 

Gear and the few clothes you will have are used intensively. We lost a few things on the road and had to replace some parts. New brakes, a rain jacket, shorts, shirts, shoes, etc. Some things will break down on your trip and you will have to spend money on it.

Do remind yourself that many things can be mended. There are a lot of tailors in South America, so it’s easier and cheaper to have your shoes mended than to buy new ones.

Costs for bike travel per country 

Of course, the costs per country differ. When we crossed the border into Chile and ordered two coffee we were shocked to hear the prices. We looked for camping to keep costs low, and they asked 35 euros to pitch the tent. We thought we would never be able to travel in Chile on our planned budget. 

In expensive countries, you just have to get more creative. More wild camping, no luxury buys and pay a bit more attention to the prices in the supermarkets. Eventually, we managed with the budget, but also because we planned in advance.

Because we knew Argentina and Chile would be more expensive, we had a lower daily budget in Peru and Bolivia. Those, together with Colombia are the cheapest countries. Ecuador, Argentina, and Chile the more expensive countries.

Especially touristy regions are more expensive. Which makes sense. A downside to the touristy regions, besides being more expensive, is that people are less willing to help. They are used to making money of travelers, so don’t be surprised if you only find paid accommodation.

Conclusion costs of bike travel

You don’t need a bag full of money to start bicycle touring or bikepacking. Especially in South America, there are many ways of keeping costs low. With a little bit extra, you will be able to afford some luxury. In the end, it is all up to you to decide exactly how much you want to spend. 

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10 Comments

  1. Hi Anna.

    Great read. And very helpful information.

    Did you ever have problems finding spares for the bike? And did you have to have parts mailed in? I’m curious how long one might need to wait for the part to arrive. And if there are any logistics issues with customs.

    Thanks! And happy travels!

    Eddie

    1. Hi Eddie,

      Yes, we had problems finding spare parts for the bike. We have a bicycle with Rohloff hub and Magura brakes, and it is challenging to say the least, to find spares for those more ‘European type of touring bicycles’. Next time we would definitely opt for a more ‘standard bike’ with Shimano brakes to not run into these problems.

      We, therefore, had to send over new parts from Europe. Ordering the new parts and sending took about twee weeks. It was quite a hassle with custom services and import taxes, but eventually, it all came through. We recommend to send it with DHL or FedEx (not cheap), we heard too many stories of packages that never arrived with local shipping.

      Hope this helps in preparing your next adventure!

  2. Hi Anna,
    Very helpful! That’s great information. I imagine it is an issue if you are on a set schedule. Fortunately, I will have the flexibility to adjust my itinerary if problems arise. I understand the Rohloff is problem free. But it sounds like that might not have been your experience? Would you opt for a derailleur over the Rohloff?

    Thanks,
    Ed

    1. Hi Eddie,

      We didn’t have any problems with our Rohloff. Fortunately! It works great and is maintenance-free. That is also why we choose a Rohloff hub in the first place. Personally, next time we would opt for a derailleur over a Rohloff. The main reason: if a derailleur breaks down, there is always a local shop to fix or replace it. If the Rohloff doesn’t work properly, you need to send Rohloff hub in for repair. If you don’t see that as an issue and find a maintenance-free gear hub worth the extra investment, go for Rohloff. BTW: another interesting drive train technology is the Pinion, it also maintenance free.

      Cheers,
      Pim & Nienke

  3. Hi Anna,

    Thanks for that! I like the idea of a traditional derailleur but will pay extra for a gear box that provides more range on the lower gears. I’m a little nervous about surviving steep climbs in the mountains.
    Can you give me some idea what it’s been like touring during Covid? Do you see any challenges locating bike shops that are open for service? And are there any scenarios where you feel outdoor cycling, camping, and ocasional hotel stays (alone) is a bad idea? My general impression is it’s safe. But I can imagine unplanned situations, like border crossings where you might be forced into grouping with others.

    Thanks again! Your comments are very helpful!

    Safe travels!
    Eddie

    1. Hi Eddie,

      I can’t give you an update on what’s like to do a bike tour during Covid. We decided to go home (March 2020). For us, it didn’t feel right to continue cycling during Covid. Besides, it seems rather difficult to tour in South America at the moment because of the corona measures, closed borders and hotels. Other cyclists we met in South America have tried to continue, but with all the regulations they eventually also decided to return home. Each country has its own corona measures, but from what I know many borders (country and provinces), campsites, hotels and shops in South America are still closed.

      Hopefully, the situation will improve rather soon! What is your planned itinerary (which countries)? And when are you planning to go?

  4. Hi,

    Thanks! That makes sense! Especially if the route is transnational. Luckily, I’ve had no problem riding in California a few days at a time.

    My plans are not solid yet, but likely begin in San Francisco, down Baja California, then on the Trans Mexican trail from Mazatlan to Queretaro. I’ll take a break there. Then fly to Europe to start a trip from Norway to Georgia.

    Timing is dependent on vaccine, lifted travel restrictions to Europe, receipt of a new bike ( Co motion Divide) and renting my home. Hopefully I’ll be good to go Sometime mid year. But later in the year is also fine as the weather will be cooler in Mexico.

    My biggest worry is not being able to secure quality vegan foods like lentils and grains that I can cook nightly. For now, I’m putting together my gear. And riding every day to get into shape. Then embark on what will hopefully be a 1-2 year expedition.

    Where are you guys headed next?

    Eddie.

    1. Hi,

      That sounds like a great itinerary! Regarding vegan food: you should check out the blog of http://www.stepoutandexplore.com or cyclingabout.com. They are both vegan and have been on the road for a while (+3 years). I’m sure they have some great tips when it comes to secure vegan foods and cycling.

      Our future plans are still open. But Russia, Georgia ánd going back to South America to discover even more bikepacking routes are all on the wishlist.

  5. Thanks for the links!

    Latin America is definitely on my list. I’ve spent years living and working in Buenos Aires and traveled the entire continent, mostly for work. Returning on a bike would be spectacular.

    I’m looking forward to getting on the road. I’d like to stay in touch if you don’t mind. Bouncing ideas and sharing experiences would be nice. I don’t know if it is your case since you’re traveling in a pair, but I sometimes wonder if riding alone is something I can handle for extended periods of time, I’ll find out soon enough:)

    Eddie

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