It’s been four weeks now since I landed in the Netherlands.
Yesterday I did my first presentation about the ride from Alaska to Costa Rica. Now it’s time to also write about how, looking back at it, I’ve experienced this trip. But I also want to explain some practical stuff about it and what the financial picture look like.
I started this trip with a one month ride on Iceland. I decided to do so mainly because my flight to Alaska had a stopover there and for only a few bucks more I could spend a month on this popular island. The first two weeks I was struggling to really get into the flow. The first days riding from Reykjavik weren’t particularly beautiful (TIP: start, if possible, with a few beautiful days of riding). I never really research the places I’m going, something that proves sensible on days like those. Luckily the surroundings became more impressive soon enough. I’d love to go back there someday to cycle the eastern half of the country.
From Iceland I flew to Alaska. The country it all started with. Looking back now I’ve spend quite many of the greatest moments of my trip in that state. The Dalton Highway, the five days I spend with 70-year-old Chip in his wilderness camp, all the wilderness camping, the breathtaking nature. Camping in the wilderness had been something I looked forward to be also kind of scared me a little. But soon enough it became second nature. Every afternoon I would just take a turn into the bush and look for a nice spot to camp. Pitch my tent, make a fire, cook. I enjoyed it to the fullest. This will always remain the trip in which I became super comfortable with wilderness camping.
In the far north of Canada I spend some more time in the wild. The Icefields Parkway was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. A road that I’d looked forward to ever since I left the Netherlands. But before I could start on it I had to recover from dehydration for which I’d been hospitalized. Something I hated but also scared me and made me feel incredibly stupid for letting that happen. I was so happy to be on my bicycle again ten days after I collapsed. A lesson learned.
The U.S.A. is a country I didn’t look forward too. It was ‘on route’ and because I also want to see the ‘less fun’ countries I decided to cross it anyway. I really missed being immersed in foreign culture and if there was anything I wasn’t excited for it was fast food chains and more big trucks.
It proves again that if you don’t expect much your expectations are easily exceeded. (TIP: don’t have very high expectations). Now looking back I’ve really enjoyed cycling in the U.S.A. The coastal road was very quiet in wintertime. Looking for a place to camp became a sports I really enjoyed. Cycling in the snow was quite the experience and the National Parks were beautiful.
Don’t go to the U.S.A. (definitely not the west coast) if you’re looking for culture (TIP), but it’s great for nature.
I was pretty excited about getting to Mexico. Baja California (+Sur) was great when it comes to the scenery. Giant cacti and camp spots everywhere. The mainland was quite a disappointment though, maybe exactly so because my expectations were high and many people had told me that on the mainland I would experience the ‘real Mexico’. The villages with its squares, churches and markets were really nice but the roads were big, busy and dangerous. South of Mexico City things got better, even though the mountains were killing me with an average altitude gain of about 1400 meters a day. Just before crossing into Guatemala (at Frontera Corosal) it turned into real jungle and also the western part of Guatemala was rural and remote.
I hadn’t heard many great stories about Central America from other cyclists. One of the reasons why I hadn’t given myself very much time to cross it. Looking back, I sure would’ve enjoyed spending some more time there, especially in Guatemala and Nicaragua. Preferably with a man by my side. Cause the constant whistling and yelling of man is just exhausting. I’ve experienced it wasn’t nearly as bad when I was there together with a man. This makes Central America a lot less attractive to me and I’m glad that I, in a relatively short time, got to see this area.
So far for my review on the countries.
Now I’d like to shortly shine a light on some practical stuff that you might be curious about or even would want to learn about while preparing your own trip.
Riding your bicycle in temperatures below freezing can be torture or a party, depending on your preparations.
Wilderness camping in Iceland, Alaska and western Canada was just amazing. You can literally pitch your tent anywhere without having to worry about comments or other hassle. Just make sure you get well informed about the wildlife and how to deal with it. For a starting and maybe slightly nervous camper these are perfect areas (specially in summer when it’s 24 hours off light). For everybody who loves wilderness camping these places are heaven!
Riding your bicycle in temperatures below freezing can be torture or a party, depending on your own preparations. It’s not too hard to stay warm while riding, but when stopping.. Whenever I stop to eat something (outside of course) I would cool down really bad within minutes. The best I could do to prevent that was to immediately put on my down jacket. After a stop I would often start riding with the down jacket on only to take it off again about 10 minutes later as I got too warm. I rode with MTB winter shoes and merino woolen socks. Nonetheless my feet would often get numb and I’d have to warm them up with my hands. A real find are the ‘hotties’, those nasty chemical little bags that you have to kneed to get them to heat up. On extremely cold days I would use these to keep my hands warm. Mittens are great, and you can put the hotties with your fingers, which is impossible with gloves.
I hadn’t mapped out my route before I took off. I only had a few places on my list: Alaska, Dalton Highway, Icefields Parkway. While on the road more places got added to that list; Top of the World highway, Death Valley, Salvation Mountain and Slab City. My route forms itself as I go mainly inspired by the recommendations of locals and other cyclists, the weather and my mood (solitude, people, mountains, flat, culture, nature).
The main thing I’ve learned during this trip about planning is this. Some years ago I could draw any lone on the map and enjoy cycling that route. The excitement and enjoyment was found in just cycling in a foreign place. Now that I’ve cycled in a lot of foreign places, that in itself isn’t that exciting anymore and I really have to start putting thought in where I go. I need to pick specific and beautiful routes to really enjoy it now.
Especially central America is considered an unsafe place by many. And it’s true that there are gangs in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala and murder takes place pretty much on a daily basis. Nonetheless it’s a pretty safe place to cycle through (based on my personal experience). Tourists aren’t really a target for those gangs. They can pretty much do whatever they please but if they’d target tourists they’d be in trouble. Apart from that the locals can tell you where to go and which places better to avoid. If you stick to their advice you’re very unlikely to get into any more trouble than you could get in any other place.
Of course I can write lots more about those subjects (and more). In the coming year I’ll write in more detail about some of those in articles on the more practical side of travelling by bicycle.
But here’s just one more. One that a lot of people seem to wonder about.
So how much does it cost? Riding your bicycle from Alaska to Costa Rica.
During the one month in Iceland I spend about € 8,- a day. To be able to spend that little you’ll have can’t stay in campgrounds and you’ll have to cook all your own meal, buying your supplies at BONUS (TIP: ‘cheaper’ supermarket with a pink pig as their logo).
Because my ride from Alaska to Costa Rica took exactly 12 months I’m gonna give a financial overview of one year of traveling.
If I add up the expenses I made using my credit card I come to a total of €1755,- for the 7,5 months I spend in the U.S.A and Canada. The only big unusual expenses were buying a Ipod € 135,- and going on a ferry in Canada € 213,-.
During the 4,5 month I spend in Mexico and central America I spend € 1725,-. The only unusual and big expenses were the contract of my SPOT (emergency gps) € 200,- and buying a guitalele € 100,-.
I love to be self-supporting and can make due with very little. It feels good to not rely on money too much.
As you can see I’ve spend nearly the same amount of money in the ‘cheaper’ countries of central America and Mexico in 4,5 months as I did in the U.S.A and Canada in 7,5 months. How is that possible?
First of all, in the more ‘expensive’ countries I never stay in a hotel, ever, and I never go out for food. Wilderness camping is free and cooking your own meals is cheap. Apart from that there are a lot more WarmShowers members who I regularly stayed with and where I got invited for food and sometimes even was given snacks for the road.
In ‘cheaper’ countries like in central America camping isn’t always safe or practical. Accommodation is more affordable and I ended up paying about € 7,- for a room every now and then. Also the food at food stalls and simple restaurants is cheap and (often) tasty. But even meals of € 2,- several times a day keep adding up in the end. That’s why in countries in central America and Asia I ended up with a much higher average then in (western) Europa, Canada and the U.S.A.
All together all my creditcard bills for that year add up to € 3480,-. We can make that € 4000,- considering I’ve used my other bank card a few times and had some cash money with me.
Add € 765,- for the insurance to that (pretending I did have insurance during the full year, which I SHOULD have had). The two flights, from and to the Netherlands, cost € 1160,-.
All this together makes € 5925,-.
(I haven’t added my monthly payment for my Dutch health insurance to his.)
Divided by 365 days that’s € 16,23 per day.
12 months of travelling on a bicycle through North America, including flights from and to Europa, a 2-day ferry ride, a guitalele, the contract for my SPOT emergency gps and insurances.
I tell you all these numbers because I get asked about it a lot. I kind of know what I spend more or less. I usually say I spend between 3 and 12 euro a day. And if I strip that 16,23 down of all the stuff that’s aren’t the daily expenses on food and lodging, it indeed comes down to an average of about € 7,-.
So, here’s another calculus. One that I like to share with you, because many people tell me they couldn’t afford a one-year trip.
Imagine, you make € 9,- per hour (that’s pretty much the minimum in the Netherlands). To earn € 5925,- (my all-inclusive year budget), you’d have to work 658 hours. That’s 82 full workdays, nearly four months.
You don’t have to be a millionaire or have rich parents to travel the world. I finance my trips with some money I saved over the years working only part-time, some donations, my blog for WeLoveCycling and my presentations.
I know there are cyclists that travel on half the budget that I spend. I also know there are many who spend (at least) twice as much and still feel like they travel low-budget.
I love to be self-supporting and can make due with very little. It feels good to not rely on money (‘the root of all evil’) too much. But I also don’t want to deny myself things that I need to travel safely and healthy because of the costs (something that is needed money for in most parts of the world).
This was a little peak behind the screens of my ride from Alaska to Costa Rica. In the coming year I’ll be writing several articles that tell more about the practical side of biketravel.
In a month and a bit I’ll get on my bicycle again. Whereto? That still isn’t clear. But I might be able to tell you more about that in my next blog.
As for now I’m mainly enjoying being back in the Netherlands and with my family and friends.
I’ll be back in the saddle before I know it.