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.
- 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!