This is part twelve of a series of posts discussing various aspects of a bike trip I did across the United States in 2012. Part one discussed the start of the trip and choosing a route. Part two discussed my daily routine and nightly shelter. Part three discussed general mileage, elevation encountered, and state-by-state scenery. Part four discussed mileage extremes and water. Part five discussed food. Part six discussed elevation extremes, particularly crossing the Continental Divide at Monarch Pass. Part seven discussed how I used down time and how I kept electronics charged. Part eight discussed mechanical problems and other surprises. Part nine discussed health on an aggressively-paced cross-country bike trip. Part ten discussed how I managed to get home afterward. Part eleven lists all the gear and equipment I took with me. This post discusses the cost of the trip.
Some people have no trouble spending what they make, month after month, never accumulating wealth. I am not, and will never be, that person. My wants are few, and those wants I have (pickup ultimate frisbee, reading) are pretty cheap. I am not susceptible to impulse spending. And I live a pretty unusual life in a number of ways that lower my expenses: not owning a car, not having a phone, and splitting an apartment and utilities (this is less unusual, to be sure). The result is that, for lack of any better ideas, I direct a lot of my paycheck straight to investments. So when I have a good idea — like a vacation — I’ll pounce. So I spent money on this trip far differently from how I spend in day-to-day life.
Breaking down the numbers for this is an inexact science. I tracked everything in Mint, but there were a few complicating factors. I manually recorded cash transactions, but as I had so many of them I probably lost or mis-recorded some. Also, the automatically-assigned transaction names on statements (for non-cash purchases) are…not very precise. So it’s hard to say exactly what one expense or another correlates with. Finally, it’s unclear how I’d break down a gas station purchase where I bought 1) a sandwich for dinner, 2) a pastry for breakfast, and 3) a few candy bars for snacks. It could be considered meals, or it could be considered “snacks”. So in the end, this is going to have to be vague.
I flew home after leaving Yorktown by taxi, I had to take a ferry across the San Francisco Bay to get to Vallejo to start biking in earnest, and I took Caltrain north to San Francisco to start. That was $13.00 for the ferry, $85.31 for the taxi, $538.60 for the plane ticket (purchased four days in advance, note ), $50 for an oversize luggage fee for the boxed bike, and $7.00 for Caltrain: $693.91 total
Sometimes when I camped, I stayed in city parks for free, but not always. Campground fees came to $108.12.
This could be further divided into how the food was used — candy bars and on-the-road snacks, spontaneous ice cream, meals, celebratory dinners, and so on. But my records don’t distinguish this nearly well enough to do it. So the lump sum will have to do: $1455.78 if I haven’t miscounted anything, which I probably have, but this can’t be off by too much. (Yes, you have to eat a lot on these trips.) A lot of this eating was in restaurants, because I was on vacation and I was going to enjoy myself, dangit. It would be easy to substantially cut this number if one wanted to spend less.
Hostels and hotels/motels
My records indicate that I stayed in hostels, hotels/motels, or cabins just over half the time. Sometimes I could have camped but just didn’t feel like it, sometimes I was taking the only option for where I was. The total bill for them was $1114.53. Hotel/motel costs ranged from a low of $43.96 at The Inn at Afton, VA to a high of $117.82 at a Hampton Inn in Ashland, VA. Eyeballing the column of numbers, the median is around $66 or so. Half of them included continental breakfasts of some sort, quite often with make-your-own-waffles and scrambled eggs and bacon or similar. One, in Montrose, CO, happened on that particular night of the week to include an all-you-can-eat barbecue (I stuffed myself with four burgers to justify a slightly-higher cost [which also compensated for no restaurant dinner that night]). Nothing interesting sticks out about the distribution of the costs, or how costs correlated to location.
Most people have phone plans and wouldn’t count that cost here. I don’t, so I paid $104.19 for two months of geographically-spotty T-Mobile coverage. (I’d gotten the phone through work [and dogfooded nightlies as I went], so I only needed a plan.)
Bounce-enveloping my route maps meant I had to pay postage to send unused maps along, four times: $20.60.
Pre-trip bike tuneup, misc. purchases
Besides a tuneup (…to a bike I didn’t end up taking), I got new pedals, a second water bladder, cycling gloves, cycling shorts, a sleeping pad, and a few other things I don’t remember now before leaving. These totaled $471.68. (Minus a 10% store rebate on $300 of it, or thereabouts. And minus the REI discount on $162 of it, and minus more for using an REI credit card, but really, you get the idea.)
Along the way I got a few repairs, replaced a few components and a helmet (no spill — left the helmet on a picnic table overnight, wind blew it off, helmet shot: rookie mistake), had the bike packed up at the end, bought leg warmers, and picked up a spare tire and a several tubes. All total this came to $367.17.
Four pairs of sunglasses (I kept breaking them without trying ), some zip ties, plastic covering for the bike on the ferry to Vallejo, and minor sundries added up to $80.13.
If I’m reading my accounts right, maps for the entire trip were $109.00 (including an Adventure Cycling member discount), and a membership to get the discount was $40.00. (The membership didn’t quite pay for itself on just the maps. It did if you counted part of the membership fee as tax-deductible, as Adventure Cycling said you could, to a specific dollar amount. I then promptly forgot about this when filing taxes this year, so my grand scheme to save a few bucks failed. Our tax system is stupid, yo.)
The bike I purchased for the trip was $929.37 total. Given it’ll work perfectly well for years to come in many other situations, it’s a little weird to call it (at least, the full amount) an expense of the trip. But the number’s handy, so I might as well provide it. (Note: around 10% of this returns to me as store credit for future use.)
Assuming all these records are accurate, the cost minus the bike was $4565.11 ($120ish/day), and the cost with the bike was $5494.38. If I’d had to guess in advance, I suspect I’d have predicted lower numbers. But I had no real expectations in advance, and I made no effort to conform these numbers to the expectations I didn’t have. I can save money and spend less in regular life. (Or even on other trips of different natures. For comparison: ~140 days traveling to, hiking, and returning from the Appalachian Trail came to around $2600. Two weeks and change doing the Coast to Coast Walk in England came to $2500 for two people, plus a bunch of frequent-flyer miles. And I’ve already noted the John Muir Trail was two weeks and change for under $600.)
I have no doubt these numbers could be cut substantially with little effort. Particularly, camping more often, and buying food in grocery stores, would save a lot very easily. Planning a trip with more flexibility, to permit buying a plane ticket earlier, would save a few hundred. A bit further could be cut by someone willing to spend time to do his own maintenance, to an extent. (Tuneup maintenance, that is. I did deal with my own flats and slight tweaks when riding.) I’m not sure what the true lower bound is for someone looking to travel as fast as I had to; my 37-day lens caused me to view many choices very differently than I would have, if I’d had more time. I’m sure I came nowhere close to challenging that lower bound.
Next time, random other observations I haven’t made yet.