Monday Q&A: How Much Does a Big Motorcycle Adventure Trip Cost?
One of the most common questions that people ask anyone who’s done any big overland travel is: “How did you pay for it?” Many people seem to have a perception that a big long-distance motorcycle trip is something that costs a ton of money, or it’s something they dream of doing but never think they’ll be able to afford. I intended to write a post today about financing a big overland motorcycle trip, but found that first, I had to look at how much it costs, which takes a surprising amount of space. So I’m breaking this article down into two parts, and today we’re going to look at the first part of that question: how much does a big overland motorcycle trip cost?
How Much Does it Cost?
Personal riding and travel style plays a huge role in how much a big motorcycle trip costs. Based both on the research I’ve done and our personal experience, the most common expenses are:
Generally speaking, the faster you intend to travel, the more you’ll spend. The logic is:
You’ll cover more miles (and typically at a higher speed) so you’ll spend more on gas. If you’re traveling fast, you may be less inclined to cook your own food, so you’ll spend more on eating. You may not have the time or inclination to hunt down the cheapest lodgings, or to spend time stopping early to hidey-camp, so you’ll spend more on lodging. Repairs are always a big question mark – you could drive up the amount you’d spend in repairs by stressing your bike if you’re riding long, fast days, but it may not make a difference. If you’re shipping your bike and you’re on a tight deadline, you’ll probably spend more. And you may pay extra “fees” if you’re in a hurry, in the form of tickets or paying too much at borders or giving in to extortion attempts from corrupt officials, just to get back on the road quickly.
If you’re not traveling on a deadline, you’ll probably be inclined to travel more slowly, and you can save money. You can save on food by cooking your own meals. You can save on lodging by camping more often, or staying in one place for a week or a month and finding cheaper lodging for the longer duration. You may save on gas if you travel fewer miles, or if you travel slower. And if you can afford to ship your bike by a slower method, like a boat, you’ll probably pay less than someone who’s traveling on a deadline and has to fly.
And then there’s the fees. You can get through most places in the world without paying any extra “fees” if you have the time. When corrupt police stop you and attempt to extort a bribe, you can usually get out of it by playing dumb. After a while, they’ll get tired of attempting to get money from you and send you on your way. But if you’re in a hurry, you may just pay them to get back on the road.
You may also find yourself paying less at border crossings. If you can avoid “helpers” you can often pay less at a crossing. In the one case where we used helpers, they attempted to extort a bribe for the official on top of their fee, and I’ve talked with people where the “helpers” have set up a system with the border officials where they charge “additional fees” that the helpers then split with the border folks.
Then there’s the one thing you can’t control: costs in the area. If you’re traveling through an expensive area, like Europe, you’ll pay more than someplace less developed, like Bolivia. We found much of Central America to be quite cheap, but then when we got back into the more developed countries like Costa Rica and Panama, we had sticker shock. Again in South America; things were relatively cheap up until we got into Chile and Argentina, where prices skyrocketed again.
What did it cost us to ride from Boston to Ushuaia in 4 months, including flying back home and shipping the bikes back home?
This is an excerpt from our trip blog at Corporate Runaways (slightly modified to reflect subsequent data):
This is just what we spent on the trip itself – not what we spent before the trip getting everything ready – but this is how our costs broke down:
Total Spent on the Boston to Ushuaia Trip: $19,700
Transporting us*: $3,600
Transporting the bikes**: $4,500
Bike service: $2,000
Other repairs/replacements: $1,200
*The cost for transporting us includes two plane tickets from Panama City to Bogota, and two plane tickets from Buenos Aires to Boston, MA at the end of the trip.
**Transporting the bikes cost around $1,800 to ship them over the Darien Gap, from Panama City to Bogota, and around $2,700 to ship them home to Boston from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
***While this wasn’t the plan when we left, we ended up staying in hotels most of the trip. Camping was very difficult to find throughout most of Central America, although it was more available in South America. You could absolutely save money by not staying in hotels.
However, the total cost for hotels in Mexico/Central America was probably around $1,000 (just guessing at a $20 average, which might be too high – I’m erring on the expensive side for the sake of estimating). South America through Peru was probably another $500. It wasn’t until we got to Chile and Argentina that the hotels started getting really expensive (and subsequently we started camping and bush-camping more) and we spent probably $1,000 on hotels in 25-ish days of Chile and Argentina, so if you camp here you can save a ton of money.
So estimating, the total cost we spent on hotels was probably around $2,500. You could practically cut that number in half by camping exclusively in Chile and Argentina, but you’ll need good gear for the cold nights. You get diminishing returns by camping in northern South America and Central America, although it is a big area to cut costs.
So this breaks down a few ways, depending on how you want to look at it:
We rode around 18,000 miles on this trip, so the cost breaks down to around $1.09 per mile (or roughly $0.54 per bike per mile).
We were on the road for 115 days, so the cost breaks down to $171 per day (or roughly $85 per person per day).
However, a HUGE portion of that cost is shipping the bikes and flying ourselves over the Darien Gap and home at the end of the trip. So if you cut those costs out, you’re looking at:
$0.64 per mile, ($0.32 per mile per bike);
- or -
$100 per day, ($50 per day per person).
If you camped exclusively:
$0.51 per mile ($0.25 per mile per person);
$79 per day ($40 per day per person).
The relatively high per day cost was because we were traveling fairly quickly. If you were traveling more slowly and covering less ground, your per-day cost would go down because you wouldn’t be spending as much on gas and you wouldn’t be crossing borders as frequently. Theoretically, you could get this cost down if you cooked your own meals, too…
But compare that to our cost of living here in Boston, which is AT LEAST $100 per day – sometimes significantly more – and you come out ahead on the road.
- Atlas Rider made a 90 day, 15,000 mile trip for $6,406, for a cost per day of $46.06, or a cost per mile of $0.42.
- Taking the Road South – our friends Naomi and Alberto from Canada – did a 24,479 mile trip in 194 days for $17,970.16 (including shipping the bike home). That translates to $92 per day or $0.72 per mile – or $46 per day per person, and $0.36 per bike per mile. They’ve calculated an “operating cost” that doesn’t include shipping or major bike service, for a day-to-day total of $60.70, or $30 per person per day. $0.48 per mile, or $0.24 per bike per mile. They only stayed in hotels about a third of the time, and they did a lot of their own cooking.
- Some folks on Horizons Unlimited say they spend around $20 to $40 per person, per day depending on whether the country is “cheap” or “expensive” – that’s mostly with camping and cooking their own food, and staying on a tight budget.
Bottom Line: What Will It Cost?
So. If you’re on a really tight budget and are willing to spend more time per day hunting down the cheapest food, hunting down groceries to cook, rough camping, etc. – you might be able to do it cheaper. Assuming you didn’t have any bike troubles and didn’t have to ship your bike.
But our costs seem pretty consistent, so you’re most likely looking at $20 to $50 per person, per day, depending on where you’re traveling, where you stay and how you eat. Or between $0.25 and $0.50 per mile, per bike, depending on where you’re traveling, costs, etc. If you have bad luck with your bike, or you stay at nice hotels, eat expensive meals, etc. you could be looking at as much as $100 per person per day, depending on costs.
Add a lot to that if you’re shipping your bike, or if you have to fly.
Next week on the Monday Q&A, we’ll be looking at how to finance a big overland motorcycle trip.