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Old 12-26-08, 05:01 PM   #1
Speedo
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Economics

The thread about Independent vs Organized touring caused me to start thinking about the economics of my tours. My wife kept careful records of our 2008 tour in the Finger Lakes region of New York. There were four of us. We camped each night. We shared the driving of a single vehicle to carry our stuff. All of our expenses went into "The Purple Book", even the lunches we ate in restaurants. As a result we have the total cost for every expense for the week.

Camping (eight nights): $220.75
Car ($0.50/mile for 560 miles): $280.00
Restaurant Meals (3): $141.70
Food and wine: $513.00
Total: $1155.45

Notes: We made campground reservations in advance. That hurt because Reserve America hits you for $9.00 for each separate campground reservation. Also some of the campgrounds required a two night minimum even though we only stayed one. Food and wine includes all meals, snacks, wine (with each dinner) other than the ones we ate in restaurants. It also includes gas canisters for our two burner Coleman stove. The restaurant meals also include two peach pies we carried away from the delightful Flour Petal Cafe in Geneva, NY. The trip was nine days and eight nights. $288.86 per person, or $36.11 per day, per person (calling it eight days).

Somehow I remembered it as more, but the Purple Book doesn't lie. $36.11 per person per day is pretty cheap. It was also quite plush. Our dinners were pretty elaborate. Salad and wine every night. Mostly chicken dishes with rice or pasta, with a fantastic asian spicy beef dish one night. We bought local corn on the cob whenever we found a farm stand. So there was corn on the cob pretty much every night.

I really should write up that tour on CrazyGuy, but in case you're interested the pictures are in a Flikr set.

Anyway, I'm curious. What are your touring economics?

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Old 12-26-08, 05:25 PM   #2
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That does sound cheap, but I think it's accurate - touring by bike is quite reasonable. we are a family of four traveling on bikes right now with no support vehicle. We live very easily on about $1500 per month, or about $50/day for the four of us. We don't go to restaurants hardly at all but buy food in grocery stores - we end up spending about $30/day on food. The remainder of the money goes for campgrounds or whatnot.

It is very rare that we check into a hotel but will if weather is severe. We do stay in campgrounds when one is available but more often than not, we are not near a campground so we camp out in the wild and don't have to pay.
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Old 12-26-08, 06:09 PM   #3
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There really isn't any real way to figure out what your day to day costs are going to be bike touring overall. Costs are almost 100% local. Some places are a lot cheaper than others. $40 a day is a pretty cheap-- small groups are often cheaper than solo trips, per person. Urban stops cost more as a rule.

Local bike clubs often do sagged tours for around this cost ($40-$60 a day)--- they are often a really good deal to get started in touring.

Of course, it's very possible to go cheaper....way cheaper. I did when I was younger, but I was really poor at the time. But my question is...why would want to? (Unless you're super broke).

I have a friend who rode coast to coast here in the US, spending some crazy small amount like $12 a day. Stealth camped the whole way, ate chick peas and other bulk health food bought at big urban centers, did 100 miles a bunch of days. He managed to ride clear across North Dakota with almost no human contact, partly because he didn't have any money to spend and partly because he was sure those Right wing, gun lovin' No Daks would hate his Vegan hippie lifestyle. (I've been to N.D. a bunch of times and think its full of really nice people who love cyclists, but I couldn't change his mind)

Spending money locally buys you contact. You meet people. It helps the local economy, it makes people have a positive view of cyclists. I understand that every cyclist has a budget, and some are a lot bigger than others. As a teen, I started touring with 2-3 day outings, fueled by 3 cans of pork-and-beans and a jar of peanut butter. I'd buy day old bread and orange Shasta at little stores along the way.

I spend a lot more now, but I can afford it.












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Old 12-26-08, 06:13 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Speedo View Post
Notes: We made campground reservations in advance.

Somehow I remembered it as more, but the Purple Book doesn't lie. $36.11 per person per day is pretty cheap. It was also quite plush.
I would have a lot of difficulty making campground reservations in advance. I rarely know where I'm going to be by nightfall, and especially not nightfall several days in advance! On my tours, the closest I've ever come to making advanced reservations was for the first night in London on Rowan's and my Europe tour in 2007, and calling the hostel in the next town at about 2 pm, to see if they had space for when we got there in a few hours on a Friday night during my Australian tour. And I only did that 2 or 3 times. Otherwise we wing it!

And $36.11 sounds about right. I estimated (educated guess) that my 3-month Australian tour cost me about $30/day, including a cruise out to the Great Barrier Reef, two flights within Australia, a 3-day car rental, and a few other tourist things, but not including the flight to and from Australia.

We ate inexpensively ... usually from grocery stores. Although during the last month there, we changed the eating pattern because of the heat. We'd get up and leave camp at some unearthly hour of the morning (on a bowl of cereal - $0.50), cycle for several hours until it got hot (with some stops for fruit either from the trees that lined the road or inexpensively from fruit stands ($1)), then hang out at the beach for a while, and then go into a town for an Australian burger. Australian burgers are complete meals that can keep you going for the entire day, and at that time, they ran about $6. And then we'd head for the nearest rest area or whatever for the night.

We were also able to stay for free in a few places because of friends and family, and camp for free in quite a few places. Australian rest areas have a 48 hour limit, and there are several free campgrounds. But even when we paid, it was usually only about $5 each for a campground, and about $15 each for a bed in a hostel (about once a week).

Amusing story ... in one place, we were looking for a campsite, but had gotten to town a little bit late so most were full. We found one who was willing to give us a teensy patch of grass for our tent, and we'd be let in to use the toilet once that night, but that was it ... all for $30 ($15 each). We asked about a hostel in the area and were told that there was one but that it was full and would charge us a fortune. However, we opted to leave and check the hostel. The place was immaculately clean, new-looking, virtually empty, and we got beds for $20 each. We lucked out with that one!!


Touring Europe, on the other hand, adds up to more than $30/day ... mainly because of the exchange rate.

Last edited by Machka; 12-26-08 at 06:19 PM.
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Old 12-26-08, 10:05 PM   #5
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Interesting responses.

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Originally Posted by tacomee View Post
small groups are often cheaper than solo trips, per person.
Yeah I think that's true. Due to the reservation system our camping costs were kind of high, but split four ways it wasn't so bad. On the other hand if we were to increase the head count on our trip we might need more camp sites, and a larger (or multiple) vehicles. Four seems about right for what we were doing.

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Old 12-26-08, 10:09 PM   #6
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I would have a lot of difficulty making campground reservations in advance. I rarely know where I'm going to be by nightfall, and especially not nightfall several days in advance!
That's because you are on an adventure! We were definitely on vacation. Very little was left to chance. We even picked out the town with a laundromat in advance! It's not so hard to do for a week. I wouldn't like to have to plan that way for a more extended trip.

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Old 12-26-08, 10:21 PM   #7
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Oh, for those interested in touring in the Finger Lakes, you can probably get away without reservations. With the exception of Watkins Glen during the big race weeks, on weekdays, the state park campgrounds are pretty empty. Most weekends there were some vacancies too.

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Old 12-26-08, 10:42 PM   #8
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Quote:
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I would have a lot of difficulty making campground reservations in advance. I rarely know where I'm going to be by nightfall, and especially not nightfall several days in advance! .
Yep - that's me! We have a REALLY hard time predicting when we will be somewhere. Fortuantely, most people understand that we just can't know in advance and are willing to work iwth it and be flexible, that's very hard for some people to do!
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Old 12-26-08, 11:48 PM   #9
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From memory, and thus rounded, my costs for my nine day August Pittsburgh to DC trip.

Car rental - King of Prussia to Pittsburgh International Airport, and Union Station, DC, to KOP - 130 dollars. Add 20 dollars for tolls on the highways, and 40 for gas.
Hotel rooms - (Cumberland and Williamsport, MD) - 130 dollars
Hostel - 15 dollars
Campgrounds - 21 dollars
Bike repairs - wheel truing - 20 dollars; replacement of chain - 25 dollars

Food easily averaged 30 dollars or more a day. I always ate out at breakfast and dinner, although "out" was often as not from a Sheetz or other mini-mart store. I would often bring something such as trail mix to eat for lunch. So let's estimate 300 for food.

Other expenses:

Batteries for camera - 10 bucks
bug spray - 10 dollars
sunscreen - 10 dollars
shipping of excess gear from Cumberland, MD - 12 dollars.
laundry - 5 dollars

*********

While I didn't begrudge the food expenses back in August, I note that I probably could cut a lot of the fat, so to speak, from my budget by eating in the campsite. Also, two hotel rooms were one too many considering the good weather I had.
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Old 12-27-08, 12:14 AM   #10
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Pittsburgh and DC aren't cheap places, Historian. You would have saved money if you were in cheaper part of country. But you did get to see a great part of the country. Northern California isn't cheap either-- but it's a great place to ride!

Look at it like this. Did you have any fun? How much was that worth? What else would you have done with that money?

There are cyclo-tourists who spend $300 plus on holiday. I would too if I had the money! But there isn't any reason you still can't have fun for much, much less.
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Old 12-27-08, 07:10 AM   #11
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Pittsburgh and DC aren't cheap places, Historian. You would have saved money if you were in cheaper part of country. But you did get to see a great part of the country. Northern California isn't cheap either-- but it's a great place to ride!

Look at it like this. Did you have any fun? How much was that worth? What else would you have done with that money?

There are cyclo-tourists who spend $300 plus on holiday. I would too if I had the money! But there isn't any reason you still can't have fun for much, much less.
I wasn't in downtown Pittsburgh, and I only passed through DC. The bulk of the food costs were spent in towns like Hancock, MD and Paw Paw, WV. I'm not criticizing my spending, since I had a great time eating at some very nice places, and I didn't have to cook or haul around cooking gear. But in a thread on economy it's worth discussing less expensive alternatives.
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Old 12-27-08, 07:37 AM   #12
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Estimate of expenses on the "Neils on Wheels" tour from Pittsburgh to DC, June 2008. These are from a spreadsheet we kept.

Car rental from Limerick, PA to Pittsburgh International Airport - 133 dollars.
Gasoline - 55 dollars
Tolls - 14 dollars.
Campgrounds - 14 dollars
Dorm room at Frostburg University - 40 dollars
Hotel on first night - 64 dollars
Tour of Fallingwater - 32 dollars

Unfortunately the accounting broke down as the relationship between the riders did, so I don't have details on the food expenses beyond what I put on my credit card. Most expensive meal on tour was 35 dollars at the Firefly Grill in Ohiopyle, but that was for four people, since we treated two folks to lunch. More typical was 17 dollars for dinner at a place in Boston, PA, for two people. Wine isn't included in the total since I don't drink. I estimate, leaving aside wine, we spent about 25 dollars a day on food for each of us. The lower costs were from being treated to an occasional meal and eating in camp more often. And in my case, not eating at all one day - I was severely bonked the day following my crash and fractured rib. (Yeah, I know, that was stupid of me.)

As I noted on the notes to the subsequent trip, we could have saved substantially on costs by eating more in camp. I don't begrudge the expense, however.
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Old 12-27-08, 07:54 AM   #13
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Partial breakdown of expenses on the "Neils on Wheels" Christmas tour. (I call it the Christmas tour; Neil F. calls it something else.) Four days, three nights, Philadelphia to Doylestown to Bethlehem, PA, and then home.

Hotels - 275 dollars
Food - 30 some dollars a day per person.

No car expenses this time. We both had train expenses - Neil F. from North Jersey to Philadelphia, I from Spring Mill to Philadelphia, and both of us from Fort Washington to Doylestown.

There wasn't much economizing that could have been done on hotels. I doubt Warm Showers folks would have hosted us on Christmas weekend. Also, staying at the Hotel Bethlehem was a highlight of the tour. That was the most expensive hotel, at 112 dollars a night.

Even touring in a highly developed area such as suburban Philadelphia in the winter, we could have economized a little by not eating 'out' so much. There was little choice in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve - we were lucky there was room at the inn - but we could have utilized grocery stores for lunches and cheap pizza places for dinner along the way. Still, we had a good time.
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Old 12-27-08, 08:23 AM   #14
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Location as was said plays a big part in this. In some places there just isn't much to spend money on. What are you going to spend money on in Mitchell OR, Twin Bridges MT, or Pippa Passes KY? Touristy places like the Pacific Coast or larger towns offer more chance for spending money.

What the focus of the trip is is a big factor too. If the main focus is the riding and meeting the local folks, I think it keeps the costs down. If you are doing lots of off bike stuff you have more chance to spend money.

I can imagine myself doing a sub $15 per day tour if I really wanted to and I can also imagine maybe approaching $100 per day in a different circumstance. I really have a hard time imagining myself spending much more that that unless I really change my style of touring to something entirely different. Still, something in the $20 to $40 per day range most likely even if I don't make any particular effort to be frugal.

My tastes run toward simple relatively inexpensive choices, but not depriving my self either. Mostly camping with a mix of cooking and simple restaurant meals is the style I like. My guess is that most riders would average $20-40 per day if going that style in the rural US. I am not poor so I don't need to be more frugal than that. OTOH if I were rich, I am not sure I would spend any more while on tour unless I chose to tour in a different location.
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Old 12-27-08, 09:38 AM   #15
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My economics depend on where I am going and how long I am going. A few times I brought along camping gear only to find within a few nights that after riding all day in the rain, what I wanted most was a warm, dry bed and a hot shower (or at least warm)... and good local food. I love to eat and love to try the food of wherever I am. So, my day-to-day costs can vary: rooms can be from $25 to $150 per night, food may be from $10 to $50 per day. Then there is the cost of getting there which can be a few hundred dollars if it's somewhere in Canada or up to $1k to $2k if it's further away. So, what I do to make sure I neither skimp nor break the bank is take an average of lodging (~$40/day), food (~$25/day) and $1000 for flights. If the trip is short, I budget $100 per day plus flight; if the trip is long, I budget $100 per day in total. My hundred-day trip cost within $80 of $10k.

To keep the overall cost of touring down, I use air miles to cover the really long-haul flights.
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Old 12-27-08, 03:45 PM   #16
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I think $100 a day is a pretty good benchmark, birvine. Yeah, you could go cheaper, but at this stage in my life, I wouldn't want to. Along Hy 101 on the West Coast of the USA, there are a great collection of low cost cyclists campsites-- many with showers. This makes it a pretty cheap tour. Vermont wouldn't be nearly as cheap, I'm guessing (although I still want to ride the Green mountians)

I've toured in Montana where I could camp for free-- but after a couple of days, things got pretty darn stinky. Using motels and pay campgrounds with showers drives up the costs a bunch, but do you really want to wash out your cycling kit in the bathroom at Arbey's? (I did this for a whole trip when I was young and broke BTW)

It's a matter of a person's bank account and comfort level I guess.
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Old 12-27-08, 04:23 PM   #17
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My tastes run toward simple relatively inexpensive choices, but not depriving my self either. Mostly camping with a mix of cooking and simple restaurant meals is the style I like. My guess is that most riders would average $20-40 per day if going that style in the rural US. I am not poor so I don't need to be more frugal than that. OTOH if I were rich, I am not sure I would spend any more while on tour unless I chose to tour in a different location.
This is my style of touring too ... simple relatively inexpensive choices.

I don't mind going several days without showers and laundry facilities, and I like eating grocery store food ... and those things bring the cost down. Then I turn around and spend the money on something like the cruise out to the Great Barrier Reef. I'd rather have the experiences and memories ... to spend the money on seeing and doing things along the way ... rather than spending it on where I'm going to sleep, what I'm going to eat, and trying to maintain a clean wardrobe.
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Old 08-06-11, 08:18 AM   #18
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Stats for another tour. Tour of Northern New England.

The trip was nine days of riding. We stayed in hotels, motels or inns seven nights. One night at a friend's house. The costs we accounted for were for the hotels, most lunches on the road, snacks, nightly chocolate and whiskey, the cost of the vehicle, and the dinner stuff we brought to the potluck at our friend's. That came to $557 per person. Some of the places we stayed provided breakfast; I think we had breakfast out four times. We had dinner out for seven nights. So, I'm guessing that eating out cost about $270 per person. I think that's slightly high if anything. That gives a total cost of $827 per person for the trip. The Blue Ridge Bliss, all inclusive (seven days, six nights) camping trip we did last summer was $1100 per person. Doing it your self really does save a lot of money.

With the hotel/inn stays and all restaurant dinners, this trip was quite plush. On the other hand, both my wife and I missed the camping, and eating in restaurants for every dinner gets a little old after a while. We also missed the camaraderie of working with the group to make dinner in the evenings. So, plush is not always what we want.

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Old 08-06-11, 08:46 AM   #19
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I would have a lot of difficulty making campground reservations in advance. I rarely know where I'm going to be by nightfall, and especially not nightfall several days in advance!
Interesting that you brought this up now.

We're about to set off on a trip to Canada, and I think I have done more planning for this trip than any other trip I've done. I've written up a possible itinerary, and have even gone so far as to book accommodations for 3 nights of the 3 weeks.

I'm not particularly comfortable doing all this planning and pre-booking, but in order to see all the family and friends we want to see in 3 weeks, there was just no other way. We're also not taking camping gear with us, so we don't have the option of just stopping wherever we want along the way.


One of my coworkers keeps telling me how much he would like to go to Canada ... he's seen pictures and thinks it is just beautiful (and it is!), but one day he asked me why Canada was so expensive. I thought that was a little bit of an odd question. It is more expensive than some countries, but it is comparable to, if not a little bit less expensive, than Australia.

And then I realised ... he keeps talking about a tourism package sold here in Australia. You see it in newspapers, on TV, and everywhere. This package consists of a cruise from Vancouver up to Alaska to see the glaciers etc., and then a VIA Rail train ride across Canada. You can do just one part (cruise or rail) or both. And that package is indeed quite expensive. I tried to explain that there are other options for seeing Canada, but that's all that is advertised here, so the impression is, I guess, that's the only way to see Canada.

Last edited by Machka; 08-06-11 at 08:58 AM.
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Old 08-07-11, 07:13 AM   #20
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I'm a lazy economist when it comes to factoring my leisure expenses, but I've easily done my tours with 20 dollars a day for covering all food and daily expenses including a lunch out and beverages during the day (soda, coffee once or twice as travelling interlude/ gas station stop courtesy purchase, etc..)

I cook dinner and breakfast, usually.

I can include a occasional campground and keep it in the 20/day by scrimping the budget, but if campgrounds are regular stops i will factor another 10 bucks a day for campground camping so campground trips would be more like 30 bucks a day in NA.

I haven't done europe by bike yet but have expectations of it to be perhaps a third more to twice as expensive, just from the lanugage barrrier/ clueless / local 'taxes'

bikepacking trips can be slightly less expensive but watch out for those foraging purchases when you ride by the supermarket....all of a sudden you''ve bought a watermelon 'because it looked tasty' and no place to carry it in your framebags....

I always find my first time getting to a place that sells food after a backcountry bike or ski or mountaineering trip is akin to a being a caveman in a candy store - sometimes the foraging is utterly barbaric, and can scare young children.

Think of all those times YOU may have that barbarian in the convenience store -


who else has caught themself simultaneously inhaling a packet of beef jerky, a doughnut, and a quart of chocolate milk waiting in line, all the while giving some kid looking at you agape the 'that's right, i'm an out of control adult' staredown?

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