I prefer to think of “on a budget” as getting the best value for my money, not being as cheap as possible or going without. With that in mind, I put together this post of how to make your money go farther on the road, but still totally enjoy the experience.
Boiling it down to the basics, there are three main areas that cost the most – fuel, food, and accommodations. So, reducing these costs will certainly help keep your budget in line. Reducing fuel cost is straightforward, keep your motorcycle in top condition and drive for economy. Food is a more complex, however, but doing more for yourself and being creative you will save a lot. When you stop at a restaurant, for example, you are paying for someone else to buy the ingredients, prepare and serve you a meal, as well as maintain a building and staff. Budget accommodations traditionally meant camping, but there are new ways to find great deals if you take the time to find them.
In a nutshell saving money usually equals spending more time and doing more yourself. Some people would view this as inconvenient. But taking charge and doing it for yourself leads to a feeling of freedom and independence in my opinion, saving some cash is a nice bonus.
Let’s Discuss Your Motorcycle
The style and size of your motorcycle is not the topic of this post, however, it needs to be in decent mechanical condition. Breaking down on the road is never fun or economical. Also, it needs to be in tune and not consuming extra gas and oil (dirty air filter, dragging brakes, and bad tuning, in general, can cause oil burning & excessive fuel use).
So, it is assumed that you are heading out on a suitable motorcycle that is up to the task and challenges of a long-distance adventure.
If you want to enjoy the adventure and minimize cost – get it in top mechanical order, do all required service work before heading out. It’s highly recommended that you also learn the basics of how a motorcycle works, and how to do some routine maintenance work yourself. Every time you tackle a job yourself you build confidence and take those skills with you on the road. Personally, as a reward and bonus, I take some of the theoretical savings (over taking it to a shop) and buy another tool that will help me do more next time. A win-win situation.
Motorcycles are perceived as very fuel efficient, but a great deal of variation can occur simply by the way you drive. Jackrabbit acceleration, constant braking and not anticipating the road up ahead will cut fuel economy drastically. Drive for economy, roll the throttle on slowly, shift up a little earlier, anticipate slowing traffic and use engine braking to stay in sync with traffic flow.
Slow down, speeding will consume more fuel and it may get you a ticket. Just one ticket could equal your entire fuel budget for the trip, very easily. Be especially wary in small-town speed traps – follow the posted limit to the letter, or you will be paying up at some point.
- Plan your trip route to avoid the inevitable commuter traffic around cities in the mornings and evenings,
- Mindset – this is a vacation, you do not have to be somewhere, relax, enjoy the scenery,
- Keep a close eye on tire pressure, modest changes can affect gas consumption,
- Put a gas price-checking app on your smartphone -cheaper gas might literally be around the corner,
- Always use Regular/low octane fuel -there is no need or benefit using the hyped up premium offerings.
- Calculate your fuel consumption at each gas stop – a sharp increase in fuel use may indicate mechanical issues.
Set out a rough daily food budget and try to stick to it.
Avoid buying snacks & drinks at the gas station’s convenience store. In fact, just pay at the pump, and don’t even go in to avoid temptation. Minimize stopping at fast food places they do not provide good value for what you get. If your budget is tight keep restaurant meals in general to a minimum. The fancier the building and more pretentious the name, the higher the prices will likely be.
Instead of restaurants where you pay for all the preparations stop at economy-oriented supermarkets. Stop in before your next meal, don’t go in hungry. You can assemble a good low-cost meal at low or add a few items to what you are carrying very easily – it just takes a little practice. And remember, you can buy one apple and one banana at a time. Have a look at the “enjoy it today” items that are often half price.
Another very workable strategy is to stock up on lightweight, dehydrated items before your trip. Backpackers can take weeks of food with them, and they have to carry it all. If you look for sales on these items and buy in bulk you can save, and assemble many good meals.
There are vendors like Mountain House who sell complete packet meals, just add hot water. But they are relatively expensive. To save, shop for the more mainstream dehydrated items, like mashed potatoes, ramen noodles, fettuccini alfredo, instant rice, various entrees, couscous, oatmeal, etc.
Dried fruits are a great snack, but expensive. If you are in it for the long term consider getting a food dehydrator and making your own. taking advantage of when various fruits and veggies are in season. A home vacuum sealer can be used to store and extend the shelf life of many items also. These two pieces of equipment can be used at home and help you reduce your food cost all year round.
Some ideas for portable protein are canned fish (watch the weight on this one), pepperoni sticks, summer sausage, dehydrated tuna meals, hard cheese doesn’t need refrigeration, small servings of peanut butter, and nuts.
For drinks and depending on your tastes – you can take ground coffee that comes in individual bags, many teas, and hot chocolate packets. Add the required powdered creamer, sugar packets – or learn to drink it black.
Do not buy bottled water, it is almost certainly just filtered tap water anyway. You can get a modern canteen/water bottle or just reuse a sturdy soft drink bottle. And make sure to top it up at every opportunity. Get a small water purifier (Sawyer Mini, or LifeStraw products) for $25-20 USD. You can use these to purify water from a wide variety of sources for pennies a gallon/liter. To avoid boredom take a collection of flavoring packs, like Crystal Lite. This will also help you avoid the temptation to buy expensive sports drinks.
Get a collapsible water container, and try to fill it at camp or just before arriving. You will need a fair amount of water for cooking and cleanups. Traveling with a full container is not required, unless you are in very dry conditions, adjust the amount of water you carry to suit, water is fairly heavy and awkward to carry.
Small Cook Kit
Freedom is being able to stop and make a quick hot drink or a small hot meal. The cost of a kit is relatively cheap and will pay for itself in a short time. Get a highly rated backpacking stove, (Etekcity with piezo ignitor, or BSR 3000), fuel canister (Optimus or Jetpower), and a nesting cook kit (Stanley, or GSI type). You can put this kit together for 50 – 75$. Your morning coffee or tea can be enjoyed where you are instead of a coffee shop parking lot or pseudo outdoor café. Plus a hot meal is just minutes away, anytime almost anywhere.
- Mix up the menu, you will get tired of eating tuna, peanut butter, or protein bars every day,
- You can get used to cold oatmeal, just add water, maybe raisins or dried fruit and wait while you have a coffee,
- Check out backpacker forums for menu ideas and cooking tips,
- Fiber helps fill you up, take along some bran,
- Make a condiment kit – collect various packets of ketchup, mustard, mayo, hot sauces, etc. store in a sturdy container,
- Practice your cooking skills at home first, try making a few meals, or a coffee in the backyard or on the porch – see what works.
This can be the most expensive part of the journey. A nightly hotel stay can add up quickly.
One of the best alternatives to pricey (and boring) hotels rooms are services like Air BNB. You can get a decent room and private bathroom for 30 to 50% of the cost of a very average hotel room. However, since it is less standardized availability and quality will vary, but well worth the effort if you like to have a soft bed and bathroom. As a bonus, you may very well be able to park your rig in the owner’s garage, just ask.
Camping at most large parks these days is practically as expensive as a room through Air BnB. There is, for sure the lure of the great outdoors, wilderness activities & sightseeing to consider. But just be aware there are practically equal cost options available. And you don’t have to bring a tent and sleeping bag, gear, or sleep on the ground.
You can seek out other camping options. Farmers and landowners sometimes will let you tent for minimal cost or even free. Finding them is a real challenge though.
The next level down or over(?) is guerilla camping. You find a spot, hidden off the traveled path and just camp out for free. I wouldn’t recommend it, every story I am aware of seems to include being woken up abruptly at some ridiculously early hour, by wild animals or other people coming around.
Summing it up
By reducing major costs you will have more funds to enjoy elsewhere or keep touring for longer.
There are multiple benefits in keeping your motorbike in tune and well serviced, and reduced fuel consumption is one money saver. Driving in a relaxed way will also save on fuel and it’s just a better way to travel anyway, in my opinion.
Freedom and savings are combined when you go prepared to cook and have a small stock of food with you. I am a fan of Air BnB or similar services – spending the day outside on a motorcycle is enough outdoors for me, and a soft bead out of the weather is my top pick.
Whatever you choose to do, it’s all good – get out there and enjoy the ride.