6-Month Bike Tour Expense Report

Here are my monthly expenses during my 6-month bike tour.  February includes the cost of my new Surly Long Haul Trucker touring bike along with panniers, racks, etc; July includes a $130 flight from Panama City to Cartagena; and August includes my $150 return flight from Bogota to Orlando (with a $60 charge for my bike).  Oh, and I had my camera stolen twice in June (the first time on a bus in Guatemala, and the second time in the mail), which cost about $250.

Month Expenses
Feb (Bike) $1,573
Mar $685
Apr $797
May $428
Jun $954
Jul $819
Aug $769
Total $6,026

As you can see, bike touring is cheap!

I was in the US in March and April, and in May I entered Mexico and continued South.  In June and July, I was passing through Central America, and in August, I was in Colombia.

In the US, I didn’t pay for any accommodation.  We either stealth camped, camped at church grounds, or found a host through CouchSurfing.org or WarmShowers.org.  In Mexico, I was hosted by a lot of CouchSurfers, but those opportunities dwindled in Central America.  However, motel-like accommodation in Central America (residencias) were super cheap — mostly about $5 per night for a private room with a fan. And I stealth camped when I was in a pinch.

Food is expensive in the US, so we ate camp food (mac & cheese, instant mashed potatoes, baked beans) a lot, but many times we benefited from the kindness of our hosts.  But we would sometimes get a gift from a stranger.  I remember one time in Louisiana, I was hanging out outside a post office waiting for Ryan and an older Cajun Indian man asked me about what we were doing.  After I told him our plans to cycle to Panama, he handed me a $20.  I tried to refuse, but he wanted me to take it, “Lunch is on me.  I like supporting with these kinds of things.”

In Mexico, Central America, and Colombia, prepared food was very inexpensive.  Actually, I found that the cost of buying food at the grocery store was about the same as buying a prepared meal at a family-run restaurant.  So it was an easy choice for me — I ate at small restaurants the entire time.  This was great for two reasons: (1) I got rid of my camping cookware to cut down on bulk, and (2) eating local food is an important cultural experience.

So in summary, food was definitely the largest expense.  It’s interesting to see in the monthly cost breakdown that my expenses in the US were similar to when I was in Latin America.  It speaks to the high food prices in the US as we never paid for accommodation and many times we were fed by our hosts.  In Latin America, I paid for most of my food and accommodation, yet my expenses weren’t significantly higher.  I loved being hosted as my favorite memories are from meeting people along the way, but the flexibility of being able roll into a town at the end of the day and finding a cheap place to stay was great.


Aracataca (Colombia)

Tim brought me into his tiny apartment. Front room > Hallway > Bedroom. The two rooms were tiny cubes with a tiny bathroom in between off the hallway.

There were a few odd things about the bathroom. The first was that there wasn’t any door on it. So Tim might walk by the bathroom as I was taking a poo. Another weird thing was that the water was on for only a few hours each day, so Tim had a garbage can underneath where the water trickled out – out of a faucet that was high up on the wall, like a shower head. But it was nothing like a shower head. Even when the water was on, I tried to turn the handle to get more flow, but it only trickled.


Tim said I could sleep in the front room on the concrete floor. I pulled out my sleeping pad and sheet – it was so hot, I didn’t need a sleeping bag.


I showered in his humble, door-less bathroom. I stood there, exposed, dipping a basin into the water bucket and pouring it over me.

There was no furniture in the front room except a white patio chair. I offered Tim the mangoes I picked up off the road earlier that day. We sat outside – Tim on the patio chair, me on a concrete block – eating mangoes and entertaining a couple of the local crazy people who came up and wanted to talk. One guy kept shouting a word, like “Tica! Tica!” which didn’t mean anything, and seemed to want Tim’s t-shirt.


We walked into the center of town, a couple of blocks away, and got some jugos naturales. The ones I got in Aracataca were probably the best I had in the entire trip, and they were $0.60. It was incredible. Tim and I sat there drinking the nectar of some weird fruits for a while. I treated him to seconds.


Tim had a plan for eating within a tiny budget – his money comes from tutoring English to a few students (definitely not in demand in Aracataca), and selling his poetry on the street. He brought me to a meat stand where they grilled weird cuts of meat. I ate some nasty shit. Some tough, weird-textured thing, like the lining of a stomach or something.


Tim told me I could stay as long as I liked. I got a sense that Tim was lonely in Aracataca. It was a really poor place, and most of the people were uneducated. He told me that there are places to rent there that cost only $25 per month. Although Tim was a little isolated, he planned to stay there until it became a huge tourist attraction. He believes that Aracataca, the birthplace of Gabriel Garcia Marquez is the true Macondo, the fairytale place that Marquez wrote about in his books. Tim believes that heaps of tourists will visit and he’ll be able to give them tours, and start a hostel. I figure he’ll be waiting a long time.


Tim came out to Colombia from the Netherlands to start a trip through all of South America, but he spent a year in Santa Marta, and six months already in Aracataca. He’s really taking it slow, but figures he’ll get around to seeing other countries eventually. He hasn’t been home or seen his family for about two years. And he told me an interesting fact about the Netherlands. It’s not correct to call it “Holland” because Holland is a province within the Netherlands. A lot of the Dutch immigrants that came to the US seeking religious freedom were from the Holland province, so that’s how the misnomer evolved.


The following day, Sunday, he and his friend had plans to float down the river, not on a boat, or an inner tube – just float with your body. I joined them. We walked a few miles up the river, working up a sweat, and then we got in. It felt awesome. The river was really shallow though and we had to prop ourselves up over the rocks most of the time. It took us about two hours to float back to town. At that point, I was exhausted, and ready to get the hell out. As we approached our exit, there were crowds of families making soup on the banks of the river. Apparently it’s a Sunday custom.


When we got back to Tim’s place, we realized that we’d left his white patio chair outside when we left for the river. It was gone. His only chair. His only piece of furniture. He was pretty disappointed since he didn’t have the money to buy a new one. So now his only option for sitting was on the concrete block outside his place.