Category Archives: Travel Tips

Travel Wisely: Financial Hints from Mr. and Mrs. Moneybags vs. the Pennypacker Duo

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I was recently on a forum reading about budgeting for a motorcycle trip and was shocked at the figures people were suggesting as necessary. One asked if $240/day was enough for two people to travel the States, and another answered that $300 seemed more realistic. Most of us would agree that $300 a day is a ton of money. If you can’t afford that kind of spending, it’s important to realize that you can still adventure on much, much less.

*Note that these characters are my “alter egos”. One voice still reflexively says “spend, spend, spend- don’t think, just spend!”, and the other voice suggests spending what’s in my budget, but not over, and still enjoying the same quality of experiences. Before discovering a more frugal lifestyle, I was Mrs. Moneybags and digging myself into a financial pit… Instead of buying a BMW motorcycle I couldn’t afford  (which I would have enjoyed much more!), it was a Jeep Grand Cherokee that caused me great financial woes…

Two hypothetical couples are about to embark on a motorcycle trip around the Pacific Northwest. One couple believes it’s necessary to spend hundreds of dollars a day (on credit) to have a nice vacation, and the second couple is saving for early retirement and wants to minimize spending they view as wasteful (spending that doesn’t increase their happiness or fulfillment).

Here are their stories:

Mr. and Mrs. Moneybags pack up their beautiful BMW motorcycle and hit the open road. Even though they can’t afford it, they have lots of other fancy things, so they think it’s normal to sit on $24,000 dollars of equipment and farkles* that they’re still paying for on credit. The. Moneybags don’t like to think about how much they spend, and prefer to focus on the experience (confusing a high price tag with a better experience), and really let loose during their two weeks of vacation a year. They work hard to pay off their credit card bills, mortgage, SUV, and shopping habit, so they really deserve a nice vacation. Besides, two people can’t ride together on anything less than a 1200 cc engine, right??IMG_4290

One motorcycle traveling 250 miles a day only uses about $20 bucks a day in gas in the States, if you estimate 45 miles to the gallon for a big bike and gas costing around $3.50/gallon. Breakfast at a country diner is a minimum of $25 for Mr. and Mrs. Bags. Sandwiches and bottled water at a roadside café cost $30, and dinner, with booze, costs $60. They buy a few postcards, a couple lattes and a snack along the way, shoveling out another $20. They stay at the first hotel or B&B they find every night and pay an average of $100 without thought. They can’t afford this lifestyle, but do it anyway.

Mr. and Mrs. Moneybags have succeeded in paying more than $250 bucks due of their automatic spending reflex, and because it didn’t really occur to them that they could spend less and maintain the same degree of happiness and adventure. In a week, they’ve spent $1,785. In two weeks, they’ve spent $3,570. It’s been fun, but they’re starting to feel unhealthy and sluggish from all the restaurant outings, and stressed about the bill they’re racking up. The fitted leather pants Mr. and Mrs. Bags bought for the trip (costing $450 each), no longer fit, and they’re going to join a gym for $75 each per month when they get home. Upon returning home, they also have to pay their housesitter $250 bucks for watering their plants and bringing in the mail. They really want something more in life, but they’re unaware of how to achieve it, and continue to dig themselves into a financial pit trying to find some escape and reprieve from the daily grind.

The Pennypackers do the same exact trip, with a few tweaks. They ride an older motorcycle still in good shape, which they bought for under $4,000, and which doubles as the daily commuter (the Mrs. rides her bicycle to work). It’s a 650cc, with plenty of power for both of them if they pack light. They do own some expensive protective gear, but it’s gear that will last many years and is adventure-worthy, not just for looks. They also have a fixed gas cost of about $20/day. They pack cutlery, a thermos, a camp stove and a couple important cooking staples like butter and salt, so they can make their own breakfast (using eggs and bread they buy at a store the evening before). They make sure to fill up their thermos with excellent coffee for the road (the smart adventurers even carry a little Italian percolator!). Breakfast ingredients cost them $6 bucks. They stop at a bakery and have a picnic with eggs hardboiled from breakfast, bread, cheese, tomatoes and fruit, costing another $10, and enjoy their homebrew coffee. They make sure to fill up their water bottles along the way. They buy chocolate bars for a snack, costing another $4. These two bring a tent, and camp at State Parks for only $12-25 a night. Other nights they plan Couchsurfing for free, prearranging it with hosts. Occasionally they spend $50 on a hotel, or even more if they think the cost is really worth the experience (they still like some luxuries, of course). For dinner they usually make roasted potatoes and veggies in the open fire, with toasted baguettes and hummus or some other delicious variation. For dessert they make s’mores and enjoy the cool evening air and stars. It’s very romantic. This meal costs them $20, including a $3 bottle of wine from Trader Joe’s for good measure.

These two have spent only $60-$85 that day total in a relatively expensive country, $600 a week, and $1,200 in two weeks. Since they rented out their house for $500/week to tourists for the two weeks they were away, the vacation almost paid for itself. They’re fit and healthy, having hiked in the State Parks they camped in. Their wallets are flush with the money they saved by their healthy habits, but they had just as much fun, if not more, than those leather-clad Mr. and Mrs. Moneybags they saw shelling out $13 dollars per sandwich at the tourist trap down the road.

The Pennypackers know how to cut out the wasteful spending (the spending on things that doesn’t actually make them happier), but never feel deprived. They are debt free, on the road to early retirement, and are already planning their next big adventure. Are you?

 

*Term used in the touring community for something that has function and sparkle, hence “farkle”. Often a big waste of money and totally unnecessary.

**Seinfield reference :)

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CGL 125 Mini-Motorcycle Diaries: The Financial Life of an Adventure Traveler -Exposed!

It’s time to crunch some numbers! How much is this trip actually costing me? Can I really motorcycle across multiple countries on an average of $30/day and still afford all the daily necessities of such a big trip?

Let’s take a closer look:

From January 1st to February 18th, I spent most of my time in Chile, one of Latin America’s most expensive countries (it compares to the States in cost, with a plain jane coffee costing as much as $4USD and a dorm bed $20). In these 49 days I spent $1,393, or a daily average of only $28.50USD, less than my self imposed $30/day budget. That’s less than $900/month for all my living, travel and motorcycle costs, which leaves an extra $200 in my pocket for unforeseen expenses (the remainder of what I earn from my rental property, after paying things like mortgage and utilities). Its also less than I’d spend if I were at home paying my own mortgage, bills, food, gas, outings, etc.

In order to travel on $30/day, I just decide what’s important to me and what isn’t, and cut out the spending that’s not adding to the experience or that doesn’t bring me satisfaction.

The math and routine is simple enough. I break my day into three main categories: $10/food, $10/camping or hostels, $10/fuel. With such an economic motorcycle, I usually only spent $8-12/day, generally not exceeding 250km/day in those first 49 days. Some days more or less, but rest days help lower the cost of fuel, and camping lowers the cost of lodging. Avoiding touristic restaurants most of the time, $10/day on food is easy, although I’ll admit to eating mostly granola, chocolate, cheese, tomatoes, avocado, bread, bananas and empanadas while in Chile, which seriously lacks in quality and selection when it comes to food. Argentina will be a different story!

So I’m spending less than $30 for daily costs, but what happens if I factor in the big expenses?

If I add in the $160 visa cost for Argentina and Chile ($320 total), my daily average increases to $35 over those first 49 days. If I add in the cost of the motorcycle and a round trip flight here (into Santiago, out of Bogota if I decide to use it. TIP: Round trip tickets are usually only slightly more expensive than one-way tickets, sometimes even cheaper!) for just those first 49 days, I average $90/day, which is the cost of a mid-range hotel room in expensive cities like Santiago. Over the course of a 6 month trip, the motorcycle ($1,400 with paperwork) and the visas ($320), plus travel insurance ($300), will only cost me $18USD/day, $48/day with a daily budget of $30. Over 8 months, the daily cost would be in the range of $36/day, or $1075/month, still under what I earn for renting out my house (so still providing some buffer to go over). And remember that the numbers here were while in the most expensive country in South America. Most countries will be cheaper. This means that even if I traveled for the next year, my savings could potentially stay intact.

Of course this isn’t a perfect system by a long shot, and I expect a daily average of $45 after 8 months on the road and with every little thing added in. For example, what would happen if my house didn’t rent for a month or three? What if my water heater went belly up? What if my motorcycle engine blew up, and I needed to buy another cheap bike? What if I tire of a 125cc bike and I want a bigger, more expensive bike? In all these cases, I still have my savings to back me up. But in the last three years of owning my house and renting rooms, I have not once had a vacancy over two weeks, and even that is rare. The rental economy in Seattle has been so strong that finding good renters has been relatively easy. Even if the economy in Seattle tanked, I would still be able to rent out rooms (and live in one of the rooms myself) and easily get enough to cover my mortgage and utilities, because after all, people always need a place to live.

But in the meantime, I’ll continue to make the most of it, and to show potential travelers you don’t need $1,000 a week for a grand adventure!

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Product Review: Motonaut gear success!

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When I decided to do this trip, I wanted to have a minimalistic approach to my packing. I didn’t do much planning, but I knew I’d be happier with less stuff than the average traveler. The Aussies brought one set of soft panniers, a Giant Loop, one tank bag, and two Wolfman duffle bags, plus bungie cords and Rok Straps. I’m using a Motonaut Adventure set up (specially designed straps and two 45lt Ortlieb dry bags) that was gifted to me a couple of months ago. I was skeptical at first, struggling to figure out how the straps worked, but after some fiddling and Youtube how-to videos, I successfully fit both bags on a borrowed DR650 just for practice.

I initially thought bungie cords would be more efficient and simple, or cheap soft panniers. Then I remembered the fat blue and black lip a friend gave herself when a rogue bungie cord snapped off our bike and grabbed her lower lip in Europe, and all the time spent making sure the half dozen cords were on properly. And then there was the time one snapped off while I was riding in Australia and nearly got caught in my chain… The Motonaut system seems to keep the bags snugly on the bike no matter how much bumping around I do, and it only takes minutes to pack up, meaning I can sleep in and still be the first ready to roll! In the evening, I loosen the two main straps, pull the bags off, but leave everything else as-is for easy repacking the next morning. If I ride the bike without the bags, I either pull the straps off (which literally takes less than 30 seconds), or tie the excess webbing up. Best of all, I can ride all day and not worry about gear falling off or getting wet, even when I do a rushed pack job and ride hours of dirt.

I also prefer the Motonaut system because it has various adjustment points, meaning I can bring the bags much closer to my body and use them as a backrest, or move them to the back of the bike so I can wear a backpack. One dry bag has all my camping gear and tools, separated by smaller stuff sacks for easy repacking. The other has my clothes stuff sack, laptop, toiletries/small items bag, armored/cold weather pants and snacks. Originally I thought it would be hard to access things since it’s a deep bag, but it’s been great. I just keep the things I need while riding at the top of the bag, and can easily unroll the top to access anything, without taking the bags off the bike.

Security might be an issue, but I have all my valuables in a backpack anyway (wallet, passport, etc), which I strap on top of the Ortlieb bags. It takes seconds to unstrap my backpack and take my valuables with me. I could use a tank bag, but I prefer a backpack for comfort. I have a chain and lock for my helmet and jacket, if I want to leave them on the bike. If I want to leave the bike and take my bags in with me, it’s quick and easy.

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I find it a lot better than panniers, which are a combination of a) extremely expensive b) not waterproof c) hard to take on and off d) heavy and/or e) difficult to fly with. The Motonaut system folds up and fits anywhere. As someone who doesn’t spend the money to ship bikes around the world, a system that will fit most bikes I plan on riding, and a system I can easily pack on my person in-between bikes, is very important.

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Overall, this is a highly efficient and simple setup that I’d recommend to any adventure rider.  A big thanks to Motonaut!

**July 2014 UPDATE: I’ve now traveled 24,000km through 11 countries with my Motonaut system, and still loving it!

Packing Guide to Wilderness Trekking

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Overland Track food for 7 days: Couscous for 7 dinners, one pack rice noodles, crackers, oats and fruit for 7 mornings, falafel mix for 3-4 meals, 6 wraps, one loaf bread, peanut butter, dried figs and dates, 4 large baggies of trail mix with chocolate, nuts and fruit, dried milk powder, tea/coffee bags, spices, 8 vegetable broth cubes, olive oil, one garlic clove, one onion, one emergency Snickers bar. This was not enough snack food for Tom, but was fine for me. He forgot his cheese in the car, but ate it a week later :)

I recently finished the Overland Track in Tasmania, a 65-110km hike through a World Heritage Wilderness Area. I was shocked at the weight most people I met were carrying. As a general rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to keep your pack to ¼ of your body weight, not to exceed 35lbs for a short hike- more if it’s a long hike, or if you’re an experienced hiker.  Many people had packs weighing 25 kilos (a whopping 55lbs!) for just 5 days on the trail. And these weren’t only big men carrying this weight- I saw numerous fairly unfit women struggling under their enormous loads, too exhausted to do any of the beautiful side trails. In one group, the two men and two women each had 25 kilo packs, even though the men themselves were far larger than their ladies. They had way too much food, gear and luxury items (multiple bras, swimsuits, plates and bowls, two pairs of shoes each, enough food to sink a battleship…). They looked at my 16.5 kilo pack enviously (and I thought mine was heavy!), and tried pawning snacks off on me.

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Here’s the food I packed for 8 days on the South Coast Track: 3 packs of rice noodles, couscous and dehydrated peas for 8 dinners, oatmeal and quinoa flakes with dried fruit for 8 mornings, falafel mix for 4 meals, dried milk powder, 16 tortillas, plenty of coffee and tea bags, two soup mixes, three coconut curry packets for couscous or noodles, spices/salt, olive oil. I included a big container of peanut butter, two bars of chocolate, banana chips, crackers and trailmix (not shown). 8 kilos total.

Because the Overland was a relatively easy hike (for those not hiking the side trails to mountain summits, and even those weren’t too hard), you could probably do this hike with just a daypack if you were happy living very simply. Although I was satisfied with the amount of food I packed, Tom struggled with the lack of lunchtime snacks, but it should be noted he eats a lot more than most people and has a very high metabolism. Above is a picture I took of the food I packed for the South Coast Track, which should take 7 days. I packed enough for 8-9 days in case we hang out on a beach or get stuck due to high water crossings.

Here’s a list of food ideas and what I think are the necessities for hiking in non technical/snow/freezing conditions, as well as a list of ‘to consider’ items and luxuries. It’s important to take into account terrain, duration of hike, your specific needs, weather, and how remote you’ll be.

Food Ideas for 2 People: Frugality tip- avoid expensive “backpacking” foods

  • Heavy duty bag for all food (or drybag for $30, helps mask smell, keeps things dry)
  • 1.5 cups Couscous per night feeds 2 – Dinner
  • 1.5 cups fast cooking oatmeal+dried fruit mixed in per morning feeds 2 – Breakfast
  • Tortillas/wraps – Dinner
  • Falafel mix for vegetarians (beans)- Dinner
  • Rice noodles (cooks quickly)
  • Small plastic container of Olive Oil
  • Baggies of salt, pepper, curry, herbs, milk powder
  • Vegetable broth cubes, 1-2 per night for Couscous or rice noodles  
  • Block or two of harder variety white cheese (lasts longer)- Lunch
  • Tub of Peanut Butter (this is my #1 feel-good food item, with banana chips, chocolate and crackers)-Lunch
  • Banana chips- Lunch
  • Crackers in Tupperware- Lunch
  • Dried fruit/trailmix- Lunch (I pick out cashews to use in CousCous for dinner, plus vegetable broth and herbs or curry)
  • Chocolate- Either bars or mixed in trailmix
  • Dehydrated mashed potatoes or vegetables
  • Dehydrated hummus mix
  • Instant coffee or coffee baggies, tea
  • Eggs cracked into bottle and frozen for short hikes
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For the South Coast Track, Tom had other ideas and packed 7.5 kilos of snacks!: extra peanut butter, another bar of chocolate, a bag of chocolate chips, 24 mini snickers, 4 packets of beef jerky, two big blocks of cheese, dried fruit and another bag of trailmix. 15 kilos total (delicious, but TOO HEAVY!)

TravelBug’s Essential Items:

  • Well-fitting backpack and waterproof cover (Osprey’s ospreyAether 70 is my current pack- not that great for packs over 35lbs)
  • Plastic garbage bags to line inside of pack or fancier bag liner
  • Matches or lighter(s) in waterproof container
  • Headlamp and extra batteries
  • Water purification tablets (iodine) or water pump
  • First aid kit
  • Sleeping bag (check warmth rating), plus stuff sack and garbage bag to keep it try, or fancier dry bag/waterproof compression bag (which don’t always work!)
  • Sleeping pad
  • Good, lightweight 3 season tent with ground cloth
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Lightweight stove and fuel in MSR container (+ extra fuel for hikes over one week)
  • Cooking pot with lid
  • Water bottle x2+ depending on water availability (or water bladder)
  • Sufficient food and snacks
  • Spoon or fork
  • Knife
  • Map of area
  • Duct tape
  • Compass
  • Clothing + rain jacket/pants
  • Evening footware (sandals)
  • Extra plastic bags for garbage, things that can leak/spill
  • Sunblock, SPF 30 or higher, waterproof
  • Camera
  • Sunglasses
  • Toilet paper (dig hole 15cm)

To Consider and Luxury Items:

  • GPS Navigator
  • SPOT Device/EPIRB (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon)
  • Toiletries: hairbrush (or just French braid hair) toothbrush and biodegradable toothpaste
  • Hiking poles- good if you have knee issues (I always bring mine)
  • Wash rag, body sponge or unscented baby wipes (pack them out though!)
  • Pot/dish sponge
  • Pack towel
  • Trowel – (dig hole and poo into it- very important in some wilderness areas)
  • Biodegradable soap (try using just hot water to preserve environment)
  • Bug repellent, bite cream
  • Gaiters (may be in the “necessary” category depending on hike)
  • Watch (if you have somewhere to be or use it as an alarm)
  • Warm hat, sun hat, or both (I always have at least one of these)
  • Gloves, depending on climate
  • Windscreen for stove
  • Whistle
  • Needle/thread for blisters
  • Blister pads/moleskin/etc (very necessary for my feet in any climate, if more than 3 days of hiking, or 20km+/day)
  • Small notepad, pen
  • Chapstick (one of my “necessary” items if more than 3 days on trail)
  • Deck of cards, light book or standard Kindle
  • Cord (hanging clothes, tarp or if tenting on wood platforms)
  • Phone, turned off and in ziplock baggie (for end of hike- sometimes a necessity)
  • Sewing kit
  • Feminine products plus ziplock baggies to pack things out while on long hikes

Necessary Clothing: No cotton!

  • Longsleeve shirt (Merino is great. Expensive, but not stinky like synthetic materials)
  • Pre-broken in boots or trail running shoes depending on terrain/needs
  •  1-2 pairs hiking socks (again, Merino is best. Bamboo is nice but isn’t quick drying, which can be a real problem)
  • One pair quick dry pants
  • Lightweight shorts unless you have zip-off pants (I use yoga shorts for hiking/swimming/sleeping)
  • 1-2 pairs undies
  • Sports bra, if applicable
  • Hiking shirt
  • Warmer layer, weather dependent (I often bring my down jacket)

Some Examples of Totally Unnecessary Items:

  • Excessive amounts of clothing. Even if wet, Merino or similar clothing should keep you warm and will dry while you hike
  • Soap/detergent for hikes under 4 days- bad for environment, even the ‘earth friendly’ stuff- use hot water
  • Deodorant- you’re in the woods for Pete’s sake
  • Can opener (don’t bring cans!)
  • Wallet – use plastic baggies

I’m sure this isn’t a comprehensive list, so if I’ve missed something important, please post below!