This post is in response to anonymous questions and comments that I receive via a SurveyMonkey form I set up. If you’d like to send me a question or comment just fill out the form at this website (www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH).
- I love backpacking but I hate having to save up longer than I get to use that money while exploring. How can I make money while traveling? How did you fund your bike adventure with your partner?
I am not an expert on the best ways to earn money while traveling but I can definitely share our experiences. First, though, I think bike touring (and maybe backpacking a well) can be incredibly cheap. If you’re able to end traditional bills like rent, car stuff, electricity, etc. then you can get your monthly expenses down to almost zero. While traveling you basically only need to meet the bottom layer of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: shelter, water, food, and electricity.
Shelter: If you don’t mind living in a tent then this can be cheap or free, even over long periods of time. Couchsurfing and WarmShowers are great websites to find free shelter for a night or three. They each have different pros and cons and different social norms associated with them, but they are valuable. Additionally, many fire stations and churches will let you set up on their land overnight if you contact them ahead of time. And, of course, you can just stealth camp. There is a ton of land that is easy to sneak onto and set up your tent for the night.
Water: Also free. Churches, schools, parks, libraries, fire stations, and even fast food restaurants often have free water available inside or hoses outside the building.
Food: If you carry your own food and avoid eating out then food can be cheap. It won’t be glamorous, but you can thrive off of peanut butter, jelly, hummus wraps, canned beans, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Or, if it doesn’t bother you, you can dumpster dive and find a ton of fine, free food around the country.
Electricity: Also free most of the time. You can plug in on the side of lots of buildings, in parks, and such.
Okay, on to your question about work. Between my partner and we have three different experiences.
My first bike tour I did not have any income or savings. I took my final paycheck at SFL and just hit the road. I utilized most of the tactics above to keep my expenses low, but I also had a few friends who helped me out when my bike broke.
On my tour with my partner, we ended up with two sources of income but started with only one. When we decided to go on the ride my partner basically told her employer that they could either keep her on part-time as a remote worker or she was going to quit. This is similar to the Tim Ferriss approach. As an employee, often the only leverage you have is threatening to quit (just like your only leverage over your parents is your presence in their life). If you aren’t willing to leave then they have all the power.
I, on the other hand, didn’t have income when we started. While my partner worked I helped take care of logistical stuff like route planning, contacting hosts, bike repairs, shopping, etc. Basically, we were able to specialize. After the first year or so my situation changed. I was given a job offer to work part-time for a firm that a friend of a friend ran. The only reason I was offered the job was because I was on the bike ride. I only needed to work part-time, which is what my employer needed at the time. Basically, by taking a risk, raising my freak flag, and living life as I desired things kind of fell into place.
Some people call this “luck”, but that’s too simplistic. I was in a situation to take advantage of an opportunity because of the decisions I made over a long period of time. I decided not to have kids, I ended a relationship with someone I loved because we weren’t long term compatible, I advertise my views on drugs/sex/etc, I gave up a secure career because I was unhappy in DC, I left a secure job in LA because I wanted to tour around the US, etc…. Luck only comes into your life if you put yourself out there and take risks.
Oh, I just remembered something else. My partner and I actually have a friend who has been traveling around the US for about a year now. She was able to find income by using WWOOF to find farming opportunities and looking for temporary gigs in the cities she stopped in. In fact, she found a job with a traveling circus while in Wilmington and made it a full-time gig and she is currently traveling around the US with them and having a blast.
2. I was hoping you could fill me in on what I need for a long distance bike ride. Like what a good bike is, the necessary equipment (I want to travel light), and any insights you might have.
Hmm, a lot depends on your budget and your overall plans. I don’t think you should let your budget stop you though. My first bike ride started on a $100 bike I bought at Target and I probably spent less than $200 on additional equipment. I bought a 1-person hiker/biker tent, a sleeping bag, a bike helmet, and the basic repair equipment. All the rest of my stuff (clothes, food, water bottles, yoga mat, etc) I already had and I just bungee corded to the bike.
That wreck only lasted about 2,000 miles and looked like this:
If you have more than $100 and want something that will probably last longer than half a country then I would recommend spending about $400-$500 on a decent hybrid bike. Any decent bike shop should be able to order you one. When my Target bike broke I bought a Trek 7.1 and used it all the way to the ocean, as a daily commuter around LA for almost two years, and then another couple thousand miles from LA to Montana. I loved this bike and I wouldn’t have upgraded if I was traveling light. In the end, all my equipment weighed about 200lbs and the Trek just wasn’t built for that.
I know you say you are traveling light, but if you decide you want to go heavy or you want a bike that will survive a nuclear apocalypse then you should get a Surly Long Haul Trucker. This is basically the golden standard of touring bikes, but it costs about $1,500 fully equipped. This is what my partner and I have now and we love it. In fact, it has probably saved us money at this point. After about 7,500 miles we have never had any major mechanical issues, just basic maintenance. The bike is a tank and a joy to ride… it isn’t fast, but it’ll get you where you’re going.
So, besides bikes what should you spend good money on? To be honest, there is only one more thing that I think is worth investing in high quality: tires. You are going to get flats, but if you can get high-quality equipment that minimizes flats then it is worth it. Every new tube costs around $7 and every flat can take ~30 minutes to repair (and time is valuable if the sun is setting and you don’t have a camping spot). I can’t recommend the Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tour tires enough. They aren’t the cheapest tires but they will save a ton of time and money.
There are plenty of luxuries that you can get but here are the basics (and again, the cheap stuff will normally be good enough):
- Spare tubes
- Tools to change and fill tubes
- Sleeping bag or blanket
- Water bottles or camelback
- Bike Lock
- Bike Helmet
- Bike lights (front and rear)
- Bike computer to track mileage, speed, etc
- Some way to navigate… maps or GoogleMaps on your phone
- Extra battery system for phone (if necessary), I like the Jackery Giant
That’s about all you need. I hope you get out there and ride. Too much preparation or worry can sometimes prevent people from acting, it is better to step out into adventure unprepared than to sit at home for years waiting for the perfect moment. Perfection never arrives.
I hope that answered the questions, but if the author (or anyone else) has a follow-up question or would like me to clarify something please feel free to message me on Facebook, Snapchat (@pneiger), or using the anonymous SurveyMonkey. Or if you have a completely unrelated question please send it my way.