Details on how much our extended family trip cost?

What does it cost to travel as a family for nearly 3 years on bicycles?

That’s a good question. It also happens to be one of the hardest questions to answer.  I encourage you to read my article about how to afford an extended family vacation first, then come back and read this.

I can give you an idea of when we spent while traveling from Alaska to Argentina, but that won’t necessarily be how much you would spend. Asking how much a trip like this costs is kind of like asking how much a house or a car costs.

One family can buy a house in small town America for $30,000 and be perfectly happy. Another family might buy a mansion in Manhattan for millions. So how much does a house cost? Anywhere from very little to a whole bunch.

Or maybe we should think of it in terms of cars. My last car was a small, second-hand Saturn. It got me where I needed to go. It transported the kids to school. It was fine for me and my family. I paid $5,000 for it. Another family may require a brand-new SUV for $50,000.

That’s how it is with travel. How much does it cost? It depends on how you travel and what your needs are. If you demand 5-star luxury resorts, your journey will be expensive. If you are content in old, run-down, ma & pa hostels, it won’t be nearly that much. Carry a stove and cook your own meals or eat in restaurants all the time? Buy a bunch of souvenirs or take only (digital) photos?

With all that in mind, I’ll give you a breakdown of our expenses as we rode our bikes from Alaska to Argentina. Keep in mind that we rode our bikes, so had virtually no mass transit expenses (other than the occasional side trip in a bus when we left our bikes behind). We spent most of our time out in small villages rather than cities.

We rode fairly cheap bikes, so had limited up-front expenses. Our costs before we hit the road were around $8000. My bike and Davy’s bike cost around $1000 each. Our custom tandem was $5000. We already had most of the gear we would need. You might be starting from scratch and needing to buy everything. (Click here for info on what to look for in a touring bike. We’ve also got info on all our gear here.)

Not including start-up costs, our overall budget was around $1500/month for the four of us for basic day-to-day expenses.

We also budgeted in an additional $500/month for one-off miscellaneous expenses. That may be a trip to the Galapagos Islands or Macchu Pichu. It may have been a flight back to the USA to pick up supplies or the costs involved with rebuilding the bicycles.

Which means our total budget for a family of four cycling the world came in at around $2000/month or $67/day.

Housing was our biggest expense. Although I don’t have hard data, I would guess that we generally paid about $600/month for places to sleep.

Camping in Peru

  • Through the USA and Canada, we camped most of the time. When we could find them we stayed in campgrounds, but generally there were no campgrounds around so we simply pulled off the road and headed into the forest or desert to pitch our tent. We avoided big cities unless we had a warmshowers contact to stay with. Showers were frequently in lakes or rivers.
  • Starting in Mexico, we got hotels in the cities, but asked permission at a ranch or restaurant to pitch our tent in their yard while on the road. It was generally 4 or 5 days between cities and we usually waited until then to take showers. The hotels we found there cost about $30/night.
  • Throughout Central America we discovered camping was miserable. The heat and humidity made a night in our tent nothing more than a sweat fest. After not sleeping too many nights, we decided it was worth it to us to pay for hotels all the time. It varied by country, but overall, they probably averaged about $25/night
  • In Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia we continued with the hotels, but had many people offer a place in their home for us – which brought the cost down significantly. When we did stay in hotels, we paid about $15 – $25.
  • In Argentina we started camping again as the distances were too great to accomplish in one day and hotel prices had soared. Fortunately nearly every town there has a campground so we were able to take advantage of them for showers. Between towns we wild camped by the side of the road.

Food was our other big expense. With the four of us outside pedaling all day, we consumed a lot of food! Our general rule of thumb was to eat in restaurants if the four of us could get good meals for less than $10 ($2.50 each). We probably spent between $400 or $500 per month on food.

  • In the USA and Canada, there was no way we could eat out. We cooked on our little stove or ate sandwiches.
  • Mexico was surprisingly cheap! We could get plates of beans and eggs with as many tortillas as we wanted for about $2/person. We didn’t cook hardly at all. It was here that we started finding roadside fruit stalls – whenever we passed one we loaded up with whatever kind of fruit they were selling – tangerines, mangoes, pineapple, granadillas…
  • Starting in Belize, prices went back up, so we rarely ate at restaurants. I discovered some little Chinese takeout places where I could get an enormous box of fried rice for $5, so we ate that a lot and filled out our diet with stuff from the grocery store. As we continued south through Central America prices fluctuated a lot. Sometimes we cooked every day; other times we ate all our meals in restaurants. We used our basic $10 for the four of us rule.
  • Colombia and Ecuador were great for food! The standard bandeja consisted of juice, soup, meat of some sort, rice, fried plantains, and veggies – all for about $2.50!! We frequently found there was too much food in one meal for us to eat, so we shared 3 plates between the 4 of us.
  • In Peru and Bolivia, the food wasn’t quite as good as farther north, but still very doable in restaurants. We rarely used our stove.
  • Argentina was a whole different story – restaurants were difficult to find and expensive when we did. We quickly learned to rely on our stove again and shopped assuming we would be cooking every evening. Even so, our food costs definitely went up in Argentina.

The rest of our budget went for other, incidental things. New shoes or t-shirts when the old ones wore out, bike parts, books to read, etc… This part was hard to predict in that we could go for months and not need anything – and then all hell broke loose and we spent a thousand dollars in a week!

We found we spent far less while traveling than we did when living in our house in the USA. We didn’t buy souvenirs at all (how could we carry all that on the bikes?), so our expenses were only for housing and food and a bit of sightseeing. Life was good on the road!

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

Connect with us!

We love to get to know new people. Send us a message!

, , , ,

11 Responses to Details on how much our extended family trip cost?

  1. Kathleen McDade December 24, 2009 at 1:20 pm #

    I apologize if you’ve discussed this before — I’m new to your blog! But I wanted to know whether you own a home, with associated expenses? Or are you currently fancy-free as far as that goes?

  2. nancy December 24, 2009 at 2:45 pm #

    Hey Kathleen! I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned here or elsewhere… Anyway, we opted to keep our house. I know a lot of people make the decision to sell it, but for us keeping it was the better option. Our house is paid for, so all we have to pay now is the insurance and taxes. We use a property management firm to rent it out, so we don’t have to hassle with it at all. The income for our house is actually paying about half of our expenses right now. The other half is from our retirement account – we decided life is too short to not take advantage of it, so we’re spending our retirement early!

  3. Snickers December 26, 2009 at 12:11 am #

    Hey, I wanna try some of that “friend rice” in Belize!

  4. soultravelers3 December 26, 2009 at 10:23 am #

    It really is a hard one to say how much extended travel costs because it depends so much on the places and HOW one travels.

    I am always astounded by families that spend over 100,000 dollars on a trip around the world or some of the astounding sums some pay for a week or two of travel!

    Slow Travel is not expensive, maintaining stuff is. One can even travel for free! ( google the Matador article).

    We do a lot of biking ( & walking, mass transit) plus cargo ships, buses, trains, camels, sailboats, ferries, horses etc, but we also use a small, green RV w/solar power that serves as a wonderful, home/storage/transportation vehicle that allows us to “live” in 5 star resorts in places like Barcelona, Tuscany, Croatia, Greece, France etc or often even for free! (Indoor & outdoor pools, water parks, gyms, zoos, beaches, free kids clubs, restaurants etc)

    We also splurge sometimes on 5 star hotels or restaurants, go to the best museums etc, although mostly we eat healthy food we cook ourselves. We live frugally, but also splurge on things like weekly piano & violin classes or John Hopkins CTY online classes, endless books for our voracious reader, or tours or experiences that enrich us all like one of Pompeii or Troy etc.

    We also rent luxury furnished homes by the month with every convenience like the 3 bedroom/2 bath one we are in right now in Spain with stunning Med sea view that is 1o minutes from the sea and an hour from the Alhambra and the best skiing in Spain. One can swim in the sea & then snow ski all in a day.

    Europe is one of the best places to observe & understand the value of being fluent in several languages & immersing in a local school is one of the easiest, most thorough ways to learn! In the upcoming global world, those that are fluent in several languages will have serious advantages.

    We travel the world for MUCH less than we lived at home & like you, want families to know that it is easier, cheaper and more enriching than most know!

    There are LOTS of ways to travel and with good planning one CAN do extended travel & live large on very little money.

  5. the unwashed January 3, 2011 at 2:09 am #

    2000 a month? very little money? most people on the earth earn less than this a year. when you get to our country we will take your money and then we will eat you.

  6. dw March 24, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

    The negative comments are so puzzling to me. You guys are awesome! Can you tell me how you deal with health insurance/health care?

  7. nancy March 24, 2011 at 2:01 pm #

    Health insurance is a biggie! We picked up a policy from IMG with a high deductible for emergencies. Health care in most countries out the USA is very cheap, so we figured would just pay for most everything but still be covered in the event of a big accident or long term illness.

    Now that we finished with our journey and heading back to live in the USA, health insurance is a huge issue. If we can’t find an affordable policy to pick up, we will have no choice but to leave the USA as our current policy stipulates that we are out of the US for at least six months every year.

  8. Rachel Denning September 8, 2011 at 7:27 am #

    This is very helpful. And I’m LOVING the new look to the site. Way to go Nancy!!


  1. How much does our trip cost? | Ecuador Today - December 24, 2009

    […] View original post here: How much does our trip cost? […]

  2. How to afford long term family travel - April 21, 2011

    […] How much does it cost? […]

  3. The Simple Cost of Traveling the World | The Great Family Escape - June 13, 2011

    […] Vogel Family of  Family on Bikes cycled from Alaska to Argentina and spent less than $75,000 dollars in 3 years.  And they have 2 […]

Leave a Reply