Monday Q&A: How Do You Pay for a Big Motorcycle Trip?
One of the most common questions I get when I talk about the Americas trip we took is “How did you pay for it?” People want to know how we were able to take off for four months and leave behind our work to travel overland by motorcycle. But I think that what most people want to know when they ask this question is “How could I pay for a big overland motorcycle trip like that?” So today, I’m going to delve into the strategies for paying for a lengthy overland motorcycle trip.
Ballpark Your Costs
One of the most important elements of figuring out how to pay for a big motorcycle trip is to figure out how much it’s going to cost. A couple of weeks ago, I did a post about how much big motorcycle adventure trips cost. If you haven’t read it already, take a look and think about what kind of trip you’d like to take. Do you have the time to travel slowly and save your pennies, or will you be on a deadline that requires you to travel quickly and potentially pay more as a result? Will you camp, or stay in hotels? What will you eat?
Give yourself a rough ballpark for the length of the trip and the amount of money you think you’ll need, and then add some more money on top of that. An extra 20% is a good starting point, although YMMV. Once you have an idea of how much money you’re going to need, you can look at the combination of strategies that will help you finance your big overland motorcycle trip.
Top Strategies for Financing an Big Adventure Motorcycle Trip
If you look at the big world travelers in our niche of a pastime, you find a few common themes in how these folks have financed their endeavors. Some of these things may not be possible for everyone, and some of them may not apply to you. You may need to use more than one strategy to come up with the cash for a big trip. Or you may find a completely different way to finance your travel. Many of the tips I outline here are not viable for everyone, and there are specific pitfalls for some of these strategies that I don’t specifically detail in this post. If you want more info or have questions about one of these techniques, by all means, feel free to contact me.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, I want to make one thing very clear: where there’s a will, there’s a way. If you make up your mind to take a big motorcycle trip, and you put your energy into setting it up and financing it, the Universe – in whatever form you believe, God, Karma, Positive Energy – will help you. So if the task seems daunting, don’t let that stop you – believe, work toward your dream and you can make it happen.
Save Up the Money
The path of least resistance is to simply save up your money and go when the time is right. In this scenario, you’d pump a portion of your disposable income – for some people, it might be eating hot dogs and ramen and pumping every spare penny into savings – and go when you’ve reached your financial goal. Obviously it’s easiest to do this if you have an income that far exceeds your expenses.
If you’re living close to your means, you can try to reduce your expenses so you can funnel more money into your trip savings. Cutting out unnecessary expenses is easier when you look at it in terms of a tradeoff. For example, one mental game I play is: “I can buy this, or I can have X days on the road.” If it’s a matter of spending $50 bucks on something, I ask myself: “Would I rather have this or a day on the road?” For a $500 purchase, it’s 10 days on the road. When you think in these terms, it really adds up, and you can build your savings one day at a time.
Another common strategy for financing a big adventure motorcycle trip is to sell something. If you own something valuable, you can get a good chunk of trip financing by selling it. Some overland motorcycle travelers even sell their homes to finance their trips. Personally, we’ve sold things like stocks, artwork and a grand piano to help finance our travels. We’ve come to believe that the experiences that come from traveling are more valuable than *stuff* we tend to acquire in our day-to-day lives. Living out of your panniers for four months gives you a new appreciation for what you actually “need” and that has made it easy for us to sell stuff to finance our trips.
Word of caution: if you do actually sell your house, have some idea of what you’ll do when you return. Maybe you can crash with friends, or parents, or maybe you’ll have enough cash tucked away into a savings account to rent an apartment when you get back. Selling your home and heading out on the road is a romantic idea, but many people would find the stress of this reality interfering with their ability to enjoy the travel. So think realistically about your living situation, and your ability to cope with being “homeless” – before you toss the chips to the wind. You may still decide to do it, and if you do – that’s great! But do it with open eyes and an open mind – not denial.
Find Work Along the Way
Another strategy that some people use to finance lengthy motorcycle trips is to find work along the way. This is easy for me, as a writer – I can do work for my clients back in the United States from anywhere I have an Internet connection, and advances in technology have made it easy for me to get paid electronically, transfer the money to my bank account and withdraw it with a debit card at an ATM around the world. If you have a job that lets you work remotely via a net connection, this can be a valid strategy, as long as you plan for time out to work and can find places with reliable Internet.
Many people have also helped to finance their trips by writing about their travel. Even if you’re not a professional writer, you might get a travel blog or a motorcycle magazine interested in your travel writing. You might also search for a book contract or some other form of paid writing to finance your trip.
But if you’re counting on stopping somewhere along the way, and getting a local job to make some spare cash, be careful. Most countries have laws against foreigners working within the country, and if you find an “under the table” job and end up getting screwed somehow, you’ll have no legal recourse with the authorities. In some countries, this may be a viable option – but most of the time, this idea won’t actually work.
Dip Into Retirement Accounts
Some people dip into retirement or 401(k) plans to finance overland motorcycle travel. This is certainly a viable option, particularly if you’ve worked with your employer for a long time, are fully vested and have a good amount of money at your disposal. But be aware that this may come with tax repercussions, in addition to eating into your retirement funds. Before you make a decision to finance your overland travel by dipping into IRAs, 401(k)s or other retirement accounts, consult a financial advisor.
Be Independently Wealthy
Some people who travel on big motorcycle trips just have money. Maybe they’ve retired early, maybe they inherited money from family or maybe they had a fantastic business career and made a ton of money. This isn’t the norm, but when you’re traveling, you’ll occasionally encounter people who just have the money to travel and didn’t have to do anything special to finance it. If you’re one of those people, though, you’re probably not reading this article. (Don’t hold it against them – some of the independently wealthy people I’ve met have been genuinely awesome people, who have been just as enriched by the travel experience as someone who had to work their ass off and make sacrifices to do it.)
It’s not that uncommon for people on big overland motorcycle trips to borrow money. Typically, it happens when they’re well into the trip and find that they didn’t have enough money to begin with, or when they encounter something unexpected that eats into their available cash. If you’re in a tight spot, you may be able to borrow money from friends or family. If you have a credit card, it might help to keep it in reserve for a trip like this, so you have emergency funds from which to draw should your other financial resources become tapped out. You might also take out a loan before your trip, in the form of a home equity loan or personal loan, to help finance your travel. This is generally not advisable, though, as you’ll have to pay it back and it can cost you a ton.
In my opinion, the best case scenario for financing a big overland motorcycle trip is residual income. Residual income comes in many forms: rental property income, income from ongoing sales, such as book sales or software sales, other types of royalties, affiliate income – the list is not insubstantial. It can take quite a bit of time and effort to build a good residual income base (one to several years – sometimes more, occasionally less – depending on your background and finances) but it is absolutely worthwhile. Once you’re earning residual income, that money keeps coming no matter where you are and what you’re doing. It’s like magic. I’m currently working on building my residual income stream for the next big trip, and cannot recommend this strategy highly enough in the right circumstances.
Sponsorship is becoming more and more viable as a way to finance many aspects of our lives. Businesses want to get their name and products out in the world, and sponsoring a big overland motorcycle trip can be a great way to do it for the right business. A business selling motorcycle modifications, for example, might be interested in sponsoring a motorcycle traveler who can demonstrate how their modifications perform on the road. A gear company might want to sponsor a rider who wore their gear. There are a lot of ways to approach and leverage sponsorship, and lest you be in any doubt of its efficacy…
One of the best examples of sponsorship done well is BMW sponsoring the TV documentary series “Long Way Round” with Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman. BMW gained invaluable exposure through this series, and I have no doubt that a large percentage of its GS motorcycle sales occurred as a result of people seeing the show, deciding that motorcycle touring would be great and buying a BMW to go out and take trips. If KTM had followed through and sponsored the trip, we might see a very different adventure motorcycling climate today. But this is one example of how sponsorship can pay off for the business.
Financing motorcycle travel through sponsorship isn’t for everyone. Generally, sponsors will need a good incentive to get on board with you – particularly if you aren’t well known in their target demographic. You need a good pitch, which will clearly demonstrate to sponsors WHY they should sponsor you – what they’ll get out of it, not why you deserve it – and get it in front of the right people. Sponsorship alone may not pay for your travel, but it can definitely help defray the cost of equipment, and even some of your travel costs if you get cash from sponsors.
Kickstarter is becoming an increasingly popular way to finance a wide variety of things. Authors are kickstarting books, bands are kickstarting albums – and people are kickstarting documentaries. If you can put together a good pitch for a motorcycle travel documentary, a picture book or some other product as a result of your motorcycle travel, you stand a decent chance of Kickstarting it. The key to a successful Kickstarter campaign is to be creative, and to offer people something they’ll really want, that they can’t get elsewhere or that they’ll be thrilled to contribute to.
Pick and Choose the Right Options for You
Ultimately, there are a ton of options to finance overland motorcycle travel. The strategies outlined here are some of the most common, but if you’re creative, the possibilities are truly endless. Most people pick and choose a combination of these strategies to get them the money they need for overland motorcycle travel. The key is to choose realistic, achievable strategies that work for you, your skill set and your strengths. And then do it.
And don’t forget – you can still have an adventure without a ton of money. Nathan the Postman did just that on his epic adventure: “Sydney to London on a 105cc Honda Called Dot” – which remains one of my all time favorite motorcycle adventure stories. Nathan is proof that you don’t need a big bike, expensive gear, a ton of kit and endless cash to take an awesome motorcycle trip.
All you need is a dream and some determination.