If you’re reading this to get a sense of the places I’m visiting, you might want to ignore this post and the next couple. They are likely to be long-winded whines about the day-to-day of cycle touring a’la Watson. If I do include pictures, they’re likely to have nothing to do with the topic of the post – it’s just a place for me to write my thoughts and dump my images.
Today’s topic is money. I didn’t really set out with a budget in mind. The last time I cycle toured properly was over ten years ago and I tried (and failed) to stick to £10 per day. This time round £20 seems more realistic, but I’m struggling even to nail that. Tightness is a defining characteristic of mine. On the one hand, I’m proud of it, because if I hadn’t been as mean as I have for the last decade, I wouldn’t have had the money to do this trip. On the other hand, I’m embarrassed by it because it sometimes feels like money is my primary focus and I miss out on things because I worry too much about the cost. Every Euro I spend is fretted-over; is it worth it, does it represent ‘good value’, can it wait, could it be better spent elsewhere, on something else?
Some people I meet think £20 per-day is a luxury, and I’m sure you can do it for cheaper, but often those people are looking through the telescope of advanced age and/or are ignorant about cycle touring in western Europe.
Here’s where my money goes when I’m cycling (rather than sitting around in hostels and campsites, workawaying or crashing friends’ holidays):
Campsite: infuriatingly this ranges from E2.50 to E15, with little practical difference between the two extremes. All I want is a patch of flat, well-drained grass and access to a toilet, drinking water and a shower. The fancier places have bars I don’t want to spend my money in, swimming pools I’m too lazy to swim in and all sorts of ‘facilities’ for well-heeled campervanners. By the time I arrive at one of these places, I’m in no mood to shop around for something cheaper, even if that were an option (it hasn’t been yet). Wild camping obviously brings this cost down to zero, but I’m not (yet) a brazen camp-in-parks-or-cemeteries-or-sportsgrounds-or-wherever kind of guy. I’ll do it when I have to, but in reality this is pretty rare.
Hostels: so far I’ve only stayed in two. I’m sure you know the deal. I’ll probably use a fair few more, especially in cities as they provide somewhere relatively safe and central to store my bike and possessions whilst I go and aimlessly wander the streets like a vagrant. E10-15 per night.
Host gift: if I’m couch surfing or warm showering I’ll generally try to arrive with a bottle of wine, but often this isn’t practical. I don’t want to lug the weight all-day and a shop safe enough to leave my bike outside might not present itself in the closing miles. In those instances I’ll often nip back out and pick one up, or whatever the host might need (beer, dessert, ingredients). In reality this has ranged from E5-10 per night, so pretty similar to camping.
So accommodation is pretty much half my daily budget.
Road-food: as distinct from restaurant food. Not roadkill – I haven’t got that desperate yet. It’s a constant battle to balance nutrition with calories-per-Euro. At rest a robust young buck like me needs something like 2250-ish calories per day according to the Harris-Benedict equation, and Strava frequently tells me I’m burning 4000-5000 calories cycling (I’m not sure if they subtract the 6-ish hours I spend riding). So, anyway, a lot, even taking into account my dodgy arithmetic and the myriad variables. To get this much down I resort to a lot of junk. In a typical day I might eat a loaf of bread, half a jar of jam, quarter a jar of peanut butter, a pack of biscuits, two bananas, an apple, an orange, a big bowl of rice and two tins of sardines. Even that cheap rubbish costs over E5 per day.
Restaurants/bars: these almost never make it past the Watson value test, but when they do they really smash my budget. I might be socialising with friends, or it could be Sunday and supermarkets are closed, or I want wi-fi or electricity for route-planning or host-begging purposes. A couple of small beers is cheap (E2-3) but meals have set me back E10-20 and potentially shortened my trip by a day!
Booze: in the last few months before my departure, I calculated that I was spending more on beer (and it is beer in the UK – wine and spirits don’t interest me much) than I was on rent. This makes me sound like an alcoholic, and I’m pretty sure I’d fulfil some of the criteria, but it’s the main way I socialise. And I really like beer. It’s pretty cheap in Portugal and Spain, but I haven’t been properly (IE falling-down, speech-slurringly, karaoke-wailingly) drunk since I started. I haven’t even had a hangover, which is incredible for me. The opportunity just hasn’t presented itself; the people I’ve been with have been responsible, or preoccupied with cycling/walking, or both. I’ll occasionally have a small can with lunch, and sometimes enough to get a hefty buzz going, but I’ll also go 4-5 days without anything, so let’s say E2-5 per day. Wine works out cheaper, but I’m on the verge of accepting that I’ll never really enjoy wine like I do beer. Even ‘Wine for Dummies’ has failed to convert me.
Miscellaneous: this is where it all adds up. Toiletries, sim-cards, train tickets, tips, cinema tickets and all the other things I forget about. It’s got to be something like E2 per day.
That’s my on-the-road expenditure. If I hang around with friends for a few days the costs shoot up dramatically, but if I do a workaway position for a week or two, I spend almost nothing.
See, I told you it would be boring. Congratulations if you made it this far. I’ll buy you a drink as a reward next time I see you.