Did you know that for $9,669.55* you can undertake an epic road trip from Anchorage, Alaska to the bottom of South America in Ushuaia, Argentina and then ship back home? This 125 day, 17,841 mile, trip will take you through 16 countries, a beautiful 4-day sail boat tour, and sights such as The Yucatan Peninsula, Manchu Picchu, Salta de Uyuni, and Torres del Paine. Additionally, US passport holders require no visas in advance. It’s already seeming easy, but it will require some work. Over the next few weeks I will look at Budget, Motorcycle Choices, Gear Choices, Route Planning, and a General FAQ. Lets get the intimidating portion, budget, out of the way so you can understand how you can afford to do this trip.
The following information is based on internet databases and my own personal experience. My personal budget was different as I traveled 27,000+ and did rafting and other additional expenses. Depending on your chosen path and lifestyle, it could cost less or more. Budget planning can be exhaustive, but without it you could find yourself in a financial bind. Ensure you conduct through research. For a complete budget break down, click here.
Expenses during this trip ultimately come down to discipline and proper planning. The
above cost, $9,669.55*, was calculated based on internet resources and my own personal experience. The trip can cost less, or more, depending on you. The primary expenses you cannot avoid are fuel (~$1,579.55), shipping across the Darien Gap (~$1,300), and shipping back home (~$1,500).
Fuel expenses vary based on the country and your motorcycle’s mpg. Belize is $4.01 per gallon, whereas Ecuador is $1.48 per gallon. Be aware of the average cost per country and adjust how much you want to drive beyond the basic path. Based on 38 mpg, for the 17,841 miles, one can expect to spend $1,579.55. For further fuel and mileage break down per county, click here.
The Darien Gap
If you are not aware, there is no road connecting North and South America. Travelers must take either a cargo ship, airplane, or sailboat in order to get to Colombia. Each method has a different time frame and cost, though typically most riders opt to enjoy a nice sailing experience with their motorcycle. The $1,300 average cost was included in the $9,669.55.
Sail boat – This is generally the path most motorcyclists choose from Colon, Panama to Cartagena, Colombia. For ~$1300 a rider and their bike sail along the coast visiting the San Blas islands for 3-4 days, food included. The Captain will help process all paperwork and guide you for leaving and entering the country. These trips book fast, so you will need to book at least a month or more in advance. Also, the sailing season itself is limited due to rough seas. The following are a few of the commonly used sailing services:
- Blue Sailing (email@example.com) – only 1 boat cleared for motorcycles
- Mamallena (firstname.lastname@example.org) – only ‘Wildcard’ can hold a motorcycle
- Captain Jack’s (email@example.com) – only 1 boat cleared for motorcycles
Flying – A more costly method, however it is very flexible to your arrival date and is the most expeditious manner of crossing the gap. You can fly with your bike or fly it and sail. Quotes vary and it is best to reach out to some companies a month prior to arriving. A few commonly used companies are:
Shipping Container – The slowest and, possibly, the most difficult method would be using a shipping container. This shipping route is one of the most expensive in the world based on cost per mile, mainly due to port fees. The cost of this method varies as the container is charged as a flat rate and so one container is shared by multiple riders or cars to reduce cost. The best method for finding a shared container is to reach out on the Facebook group PanAmerican Travelers Association.
It is possible to take a cheaper alternative crossing the gap, though it can be a bit of a nightmare.
Ending in Buenos Aires, riders either ship home or off into another adventure. The costs can be similar, so plan ahead if you want to ride into a new adventure. Shipping from South America is similar to the process of crossing the gap. If you are willing to wait a month or more for your motorcycle, cargo ships are now a logical and cheaper option. For the $9,669.55, shipping with an airplane was calculated which was an average cost of $1,500. Here are a few companies, that have services in key cities which are available to use:
- JCS Motorcycles – Worldwide shipping
- Moto Freight – Airline shipping to and from the UK
- Motorcycle Express – Air freight shipping only between US, Canada, and Europe
- Dakar Motors – Motorcycle shipping from Buenos Aries
- Freight Net – Ship to and from anywhere in the world, this site connects to multiple brokers.
Hostels and Cost of Living
This area of the budget is unpredictable and the costs depend on you. Staying in hostels can bring you both good and bad experiences. Some will have no working AC and cold showers, while others will be complete paradise. It is a gamble, but sometimes it is worth
having a bed to relax in. Beware, though, that hostel costs add up over time and can really damage your budget. Camp as much as you can to be budget conscious, especially in the high cost countries. Most of the time the views from a free campsite are always better than a hostel experience.
Daily costs generally cover food and minimal tourism activities. Even in a cheap country, tourism prices can be very high. In order to counter these prices one should try to eat cheaply or cook
for themselves. When grocery shopping, be aware the imports have a high price and that its best to buy the off brand local items. Depending on the country,
sometimes it is cheaper to eat out for each meal rather than cooking. For example, in Peru cooking for yourself would cost about $6 a meal but for $3 you could have the ‘menu of the day’ which is typically soup, rice, meat, salad, and a drink.
The $9,669.55 cost was calculated with using a hostel for each of the 125 nights, eating cheap or cooking, and engaging in minimal tourism activities bringing the final total to $4,790.
Oil changes, new tires, and milestone maintenance will add up. Typically a pair of tires will last you for 7,000 miles (front last longer), so you can expect to at least go through 3 sets of tires. Depending on your location, tire availability could be difficult or expensive, so plan ahead of time. Oil changes are very volatile in cost. I have paid as high as $20 per liter and as low as $3. Shop the prices as you travel, possibly extending a little further beyond your change window if needed. Due to this, only the cost of 3 economical pairs of tires for ~$500 were included within the $9,669.55.
Overall, be aware of your current mileage on the motorcycle and what expected costs will incur over a 17,000+ mile trip. Just don’t forget about unexpected costs either (I needed a new battery, fork seals, front rim, and much more with hard riding).
Saving and Earning Money While Traveling
As mentioned, camping and being cautious of food costs will drastically reduce your budget. An alternative to camping is Couch Surfing. Not only does this save you money, but it exposes you to the local culture and gives you some wonderful experiences. Another key method to saving money is by avoiding transaction fees. Research what your current debit and credit card policy is when it comes to foreign transaction fees. Some will charge you exchange rate fees and additional fees for using a credit card abroad. ATM fees also add up rather quickly, with some charging up to $10 per transaction, which is limited to $100. Most travelers utilize Charles Schwab brokerage account which refunds all ATM fees.
Earning money while traveling
WorkAway.com: While I personally have no experience in this, a lot of travelers utilize Work Away International to gain international work experience, learn the culture, and make money while traveling. There are requirements and expectations set, as well as a membership fee, but with proper utilization the journey can continue. Another similar site is WWOOF.
Hostel Work: If you hit a hard spot or just want to relax in one area ask around at the local hostels if they are looking for workers. It helps if you are bilingual, but they generally will take an English speaker as most tourists speak English. Sometimes the pay is free accommodation and roughly enough for food and a little more, but it gives you time to work on other projects or just recover with a sense of work purpose and extra cash.
Fiverr.com: Have a special skill that you can do online or remotely? Fiverr and other similar websites connect users to request and sell online services. Users post a request that starts at $5, but more advanced requests will cost more. Give the website a search to understand what skills the Internet is demanding.
Article / Blog Writing: This can be hard to break into, but over time you can gain a large amount of followers that can bring you advertisement revenue. Or outsource your writing ability and experiences to a travel or motorcycle website / magazine.
Overall, the best advice I can give before you embark on this trip is that you cut out needless expenses of your daily life. Consider that in Peru you can stay in a hostel and eat well 3 times a day for ~$15. Saving 10 to 15 dollars essentially gives you another day of travel, so skip movie night and plan on where you will go for that extra day. For further information, or to ask direct questions, visit me at www.asphaltandbeyond.com.
*Calculation is based on one person riding the most direct route, which also includes staying in a hostel dorm each night, fuel (at 38mpg), daily cost of living, and 3 sets of motorcycle tires. Cost doesn’t include border fees, tolls, bribes, routine maintenance, and unexpected issues. Day calculation is based only driving 150 miles a day and staying in a country a minimum of 2 nights. By camping and spending time outside of expensive countries it is possible to cost significantly less.