The Question of Money - Budget
There's an old Sioux proverb: 'Only when the last tree has been chopped down, the last fish has been taken, the last buffalo killed, will man realise that money cannot be eaten.'
In today's society, money plays a pivotal role in survival. Many people have asked me how I have financed this extended bicycle ride and what kind of budget I work from; hence I have compiled these thoughts.
Day to day, I average around 5 US dollars. Various extras inevitably round the total to a monthly $200 US. By cycling not only do I eliminate transport costs but I also reach remote areas, where expenses are considerably less than the usual backpacker or holiday destinations. For sure, touring on a bicycle incurs cutbacks, or perhaps benefits(?!), for those acclimatised to a Western style of living. Hot water becomes a luxury, carpets a wistful memory and reliable electricity something of a novelty.
The bulk of the budget goes towards Food and Accommodation. Cities swallow loose change with their luxuries and temptations - the bakeries alone in Kathmandu will burn a sizeable hole in a 5 dollar bill. Just as camping in the wilderness of Tibet, amongst age old ruins, rekindles any leftovers into a small fortune. Some nights, home might be no more than a dusty bed at the back of a restaurant, and supper yet another a plate of chapatis and dahl. Just as for others it will be in the comforts of a satellite dished hotel room, intrigued by the local incarnation of a pizza. Tolerance is a very personal matter. In short, with a mixture of camping, small hotels and home invitations, the equation is balanced. It's possible to eat well, keep clean(ish) and even indulge in a little luxury once in a while.
As a cyclist, food is my fuel. Street stalls are the cheapest and often tastiest way to fill up. Hygiene-wise, I keep to those that seem (relatively) bright and busy - at least the food should be freshly cooked. Rarely more than a dollar, these eateries exude life and character, and seem to me the very heartbeat of a country. In the backpacker haunts, Western food is expensive but the change is inevitably delicious. Cheap fresh fruit is easily found according to the seasons, helping to maintain a balance of vitamins. Juice bars are saviours to hours of riding and in Hindu countries, a few nuts here and there make up for any protein deficiencies. After a long day on the saddle, dinner cooked over the camp stove never fails to take on a gourmet-like quality. In its self-sufficiency, it even feeds the soul.
To avoid adding to Asia's 'Bottle Mountain' and keep my own costs down, I use an MSR ceramic filter to purify dubious water. As a cyclist, it's a necessity to drink several litres a day; purifying water is the only real cost effective and environmentally sound way of travelling. I also carry Puritabs and iodine drops as other effective means of cleaning local water. There's no way of eliminating all non-treated H2O from reaching the bowels, short of denying yourself some of the finest local food and drinks by 'living in fear.' But as they say, what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger.
My nest-egg is carefully monitored by my father, covering the costs of new visas, spare bike parts, clothes, developing photos, sending parcels home and my greatest fix, Email. Perhaps 50 dollars a month suffices, though this can vary wildly. I am very fortunate to have, at all hours of the day, a supportive family to problem-solve and act as go-betweens in situations on the road. From dealing with sponsors, fund-raising for the charity, sending out spare parts, to editing and updating the web site. A matter that can take days to solve in Asia can often be dealt with a few swift telephone calls in Europe, allowing me to get on with cycling. Having a 'mission control,' expertly managed by my father, has helped deal with untold hurdles and kept life running smoothly.
My own costs are met by a combination of personal savings accumulated in the year before I set off - an eclectic range of teaching French, au-pairing and bicycle messengering. While I travel, a regular income from magazine articles subsidises my living expenses and has greatly eased the financial burdens of the trip. I have also been fortunate enough to receive contributions from individuals who have donated directly to the ride. The money raised for Children With AIDS Charity is a separate entity and is not drawn upon for daily funds.
In many 'developing' countries, locals express the belief that all Westerners live in opulent luxury. 'Each of your 1 British Pounds is worth 60 of our Indian Rupees. You are a rich man!' is a regular comment. However I might live in Europe, I am indeed a rich man by average standards of living in Asia - not so much by local economic calculations but merely by the fact that I can afford to take time off work. The knowledge that so many people whose country I visit will never have the chance to visit England can often sit uncomfortably. This roaming freedom, both financial and political, is taken for granted by so many yet the privilege of so few. Whatever our priorities are in life, at least this is a freedom most westerners potentially have.
As a generalisation, where in the West we tend to belittle our posessions, in Asia there is less of a guilt-factor concerning money. Perhaps this is partially a result of a stronger religious undercurrent - whether it be the will of Allah or reaping the benefits of a good karma. To the westerner, the constant fascination over values can feel awkward - How much is your bike? How much is your camera? To the Asians, wealth seems an achievement, a reward for acts past or present. The Indian who wants to know the price of my bike is just as happy to tell me the cost of his new pair of imported jeans.
Yet the common quest to make ends meet breaks down barriers the world over. As well as hotels, hostels, tents and desert floors, I have stayed in schools, train stations, a High Commission, and homes to both rich and poor. Each has been an experience in itself. By travelling frugally, I feel more a part of the hustle and bustle of life around and experience more of a realistic impression of what the people and their culture stand for. I've never wanted to view life through the one way glass of a 5 star hotel, which is just as well...I couldn't afford to in any case!
In context to earnings in Europe, day to day costs in Asia are minimal. The real cost in organising such a journey comes in setting up a bike for touring and investing in all the specialist equipment. For this, I have Wheelie Serious to thank, whose financial as well as technical support is hugely appreciated. I would also like to thank all my other sponsors for helping me meet the outlays of setting up such a journey - insurance, communications equipment and the like - keeping costs to a minimum, and supporting Children With AIDS Charity. Security Despatch have been particularly helpful and resourceful in sending out packages whenever I have needed them . And a special thanks goes to Webmaster Baz for working so hard to keep the trip online and accessible to well-wishers around the world.
In conclusion, this last year and a half has taken twists and turns that I could never have imagined. For sure, without so many the generous gestures and a continued on-the-road income, The Long Ride Home would have reached a more direct conclusion some time ago! I would like to thank everyone who has emailed words of encouragement and inspiration, donated to CWAC and been involved in making this idea a reality.