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How to budget your next motorcycle trip

1 July 2020

Many people dream of making a long motorcycle trip, but where do you start with planning and budgeting your first or next motorcycle trip?

Often people email or message me asking for information about my expenditures. Also questions like, how much does it cost to ship a motorcycle from Europe to South America, what insurance do you have for your motorcycle, and how much do you spend per day for a hotel and food, are common questions I receive often.  

I always find it difficult to answer these questions. My way of traveling may not be your way of traveling and the costs mostly depend on where in the world you ride, and how fast you travel. But perhaps the more important reason why I can't answer these questions is that I don't save every receipt and calculate the exact expenditures every day! 

In my early backpacking days, I used to live on strict daily budgets, but since I started traveling on a motorcycle, my motto has been: try to travel low budget, but don't count every single dollar so you can enjoy the ride! 

Maybe I don't remember every dollar I have spent, but what I can do is create a checklist for motorcyclists who want to go on their bike for a motorcycle adventure. So at least you know the main categories that will take bigger or smaller cuts out of your budget! The exact calculation is up to you to do, or not do.

Destination

First things first! In order to make a proper budget, you need to have some idea of where you want to go and the route you would like to take. Why? Because your budget is largely determined by the area you go to, the duration of your journey, and whether you bring your own motorbike or not. 

When you have a general idea of the country(ies) you want to visit and how long you want to travel, you can sit down for a more detailed budgeting of your next motorcycle adventure. 

Motorcycle

Making a motorcycle journey starts with determining the bike you are going to travel with. You have roughly three choices: (1) ship your own motorcycle that is registered in the country of your residence, (2) rent a motorcycle locally, or (3) buy a motorcycle locally. 

Which of the three options you choose, depends mostly on the nature of your trip. Are you planning to just explore one single country? Then your cheapest option is to rent a motorcycle locally, or buy one and sell it when you finish your trip. 

If you rent a motorcycle locally, keep in mind that you can't customize the bike to your needs! You'll have to be a little bit more flexible and work with what you get. Make sure to check the motorcycle very well before you set off. I rented a Royal Enfield Himalayan in India before buying one and that rental bike had some previous ‘owners' who had beaten up that bike so badly that the swing arm was damaged. I noticed it when making a test ride on the motorcycle and I was glad I did! Before you set off, make sure that the motorcycle is properly insured and that you carry the basic spare parts and tools with you. 

Are you planning to make a long journey that involves lots of border crossings? Doing such a trip on a rented motorcycle is not an option. So you'll either have to ship your own motorcycle or buy a motorcycle locally and have it registered in your name. I have experience with both of these options. I bought my first adventure bike in India and traveled with it through 25 countries to the Netherlands. This bike was not registered in my own name. In hindsight, I am surprised that it actually worked out so well. But, I was nervous for each border crossing, and in the end I couldn't get the bike registered in the Netherlands due to paperwork issues! Here you can read about how I bought my Basanti in India. 

By buying my first Royal Enfield in India, where it is produced, I paid less than 50% of the price that you normally would pay outside of India.

Shipping

When traveling on your own bike, you may have to ship it to your starting point. Lots of people have asked me how much the shipping of my motorbike to Buenos Aires by airplane has cost me. Well, that all depends on where you are shipping to and from, whether you ship your bike by boat or plane, how large your motorcycle is, and the current market prices. Expect to pay somewhere between 1500 & 2000 US dollars. Shipping by cargo boat is often a little cheaper, but it can take up to 8 weeks for your motorcycle to arrive in the country of destination! In some countries, the port fees for receiving the cargo are so incredibly high that it is in fact cheaper to use air freight. So always ask a quotation for airfreight too! 

More detailed information about shipping your bike is available at Horizons Unlimited. They also have a page where you can see what others have paid for the shipping of their motorbike.

By the way, I have filmed the crating of Basanti in full detail when I shipped her from Malaysia to Oman. And I also showed the procedures for picking Dhanno up from the airport in Argentina

Carnet de Passage or TIP

When you enter a country, you either need a visa or you can enter visa-free. Either way, your passport is stamped when you enter, so when leaving the country, immigration services can see how long you have been in the country.

Your motorcycle also needs a ‘visa' to enter other countries. The papers required for your motorcycle basically provide a guarantee that you are not permanently importing a vehicle, but that you are just passing through. In most countries, this means that you need a ‘TIP': a Temporary Import Permit. It's usually a pretty straightforward procedure in which the customs officer at the border needs some information about the motorcycle and then they will prepare the papers for you. On the TIP it is stated how many days your motorcycle can stay in the country and generally you don't have to pay anything for it! 

Things are very different when you need a Carnet de Passage! Several countries in Asia and Africa require a Carnet de Passage for your motorcycle and this costs serious money. The cost of the Carnet itself depends on the Automobile Association where you buy it from but it's mostly the deposit that is expensive. You get your deposit back when you return to the country where the carnet is issued and you need to have an exit stamp for each of the countries that are registered in your carnet. Read more about a Carnet de Passage here

A great place to start your research for overlanding with your motorbike is Wiki Overland. Don't forget to always check if that information is still valid with the embassy in your country and the official government websites. 

Motorcycle insurance 

Check with your motorcycle insurance company whether they provide coverage abroad, generally they don't. Even if they do, many countries will still demand that you buy a local 3rd party liability insurance. Usually, you have to buy it directly at the border, or if that is not possible, the customs officer will point you to the nearest office where you can buy it. Always do this! On my trips through Asia and South America, the cost of these insurances was never high. Expect to pay around 10-20 dollars in total for such insurance which lasts for your entire stay in that country. 

Spare parts and maintenance

When traveling on your own bike, do some research on dealerships of your motorcycle's brand in the countries you are going to. If the brand is not very common, then you'll either have to bring the necessary spare parts with you or budget the (high) costs of importing spare parts in case of a breakdown! 

Besides the cost side, it's also a good idea to think carefully about which spare parts to bring when your trip is limited in time. You don't want to get stuck somewhere for weeks waiting for a spare part! 

Besides spare parts, if you are planning a 10.000 kilometers motorcycle journey or more, you will have to do some motorcycle maintenance. Not only an oil change, but also think about new tires, your chain and sprockets, the brake pads, and so on. It's almost impossible to know exactly how much this will cost you as the costs depend on many factors. How much of the maintenance can you do yourself? Which engine oil does your bike need? Is your motorcycle a high-maintenance bike or do you only have to do a little work every 20.000 kilometers? Are you staying on tarmac or are you taking the roughest paths, putting more strain on your motorcycle? 

You can take the costs of your motorcycle maintenance that you are used to paying in your own country and extrapolate that to where you will be riding. It will be less in cheap countries, and perhaps up to double in countries which are a lot more expensive than your own. 

Gear

Now that I am riding with the proper gear, I cannot emphasize enough how comfortable it is to wear the right gear when riding. I was freezing in the mountains of Tajikistan as I was only wearing a low budget thin jacket and summer gloves. Of course, you can save money on your gear, but if you can, spend a bit more because it will make your trip so much more enjoyable! 

So, try to bring the right clothing with you for the climate you are riding in, but know that it will never be truly perfect as during your long journey the climate can change from freezing cold to steaming hot. 

To summarize:

  • Make a decision on whether you are traveling on your own bike, a rental bike or buy a motorcycle locally based on cost and the nature of your trip;
  • Check whether you need a Carnet the Passage in order to travel the route you want to travel, and how much it cost to get it organized;
  • Buy, if necessary, spare parts to take with you on your trip; 
  • Buy the right motorcycle clothing for your adventure but don't go overboard.

Gasoline

Where other travelers pay for busses and trains to go from one place to another, you as a motorcycle traveler will need gasoline to ride from point A to point B. 

Budgeting for gasoline is simple once you know roughly how many kilometers or miles you plan to travel (and add another 20% to it - I promise you, you will make detours), how much your bike is using per kilometer and what the price of gasoline is at your destination. For information go to Globalpetrolprices.com. On this website, you will find the current petrol prices for 150 countries. 

Not in every country the fuel is of excellent quality. In Uzbekistan the octane levels in petrol are often very low, which brings the efficiency of your bike down. I was riding from petrol station to petrol station to find decent fuel or to fill up my tank again. Some countries are also known for the low quality of fuel in the sense that it is not filtered well, making your filter clutter quickly. Try to read beforehand about the fuel quality at your destination and take precautions if necessary. 

Accommodation

As a non-planner, I don't think too much about finding accommodation when I am traveling. I just pick the most affordable guesthouse in the area and go for it. Read my detailed blog about how I find the right accommodation here.

Other motorcyclists are avid (wild)campers. By doing so they save money, but they have the disadvantage of the extra weight on their bike because of the tent, sleeping mat, cooking equipment, and food they have to bring with them. And with me publishing videos three times a week, I do need a reliable internet connection and a lot of power sockets to charge my cameras and batteries. So far, camping hasn't been an option for me, but I know that many motorcycle travelers do. 

When looking into (wild)camping, don't forget to check out the iOverlander (app or website) for suggestions from other travelers. Keep in mind that wild camping is not allowed in every country!  For motorcycle camping in the US and Canada, you can check this article by KOA campgrounds. 

When you don't want to camp, you can stay somewhere in between a cheap hostel where you share a room with others and a luxurious 5-star hotel with a swimming pool and spa. The level of luxury you choose depends on your needs, budget, and region you are traveling in. A luxurious hotel in Bangladesh is of course a lot cheaper than one in Amsterdam. 

The best way to find out what the prices are for accommodation is by checking websites like Booking.com, Hostelworld, and Airbnb. Don't forget to select the correct dates before you start your search. Prices can change drastically depending on which season you are traveling in. You can also use a reliable guide book for references. 

To summarize

  • Just go to Booking.com, Airbnb, or Hostelworld when you are planning to stay in hostels or hotels for an indication of prices in the areas you want to travel in. Don't forget to put the dates in so you see the real prices for that time period; 
  • If you are planning to camp, inform yourself about the prices for campgrounds and budget the gear you need for camping;
  • If you are planning to do some wild camping, inform yourself about the possibilities as it is not allowed in every country. 

Food 

Once you have decided on whether to bring your own bike or not, have looked into your accommodation options, it is time to think about food and drinks. 

I try to eat local food as much as possible. It is part of the local experience I am looking for.  

When staying in a hostel or hotel, breakfast is usually included. For lunch and dinner, it is up to you if you want to buy and prepare food by yourself or go out for lunch and or dinner. In Asia, it is often not worthwhile to prepare your own food as restaurant prices are very low compared to for instance Europe. Eating out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in Germany can cost you 40 euros per day per person while doing the same thing in Malaysia, you probably spend less than 10 euros per day per person. 

For average prices per country, it is best to check out a travel guide or do a search online. Many backpackers and overlanders publish blogs about the cost of traveling (including food) in a specific region. You can also decide to prepare food one day, and go out for lunch or dinner the other day. It is all up to you. 

Besides food, you also need to hydrate yourself. Traveling through Asia means that having a camel bag filled with fresh water is a necessary thing to do and have. Buying water all the time can add up to your budget. Consider bringing a water filter system with you that works well within the region you travel. 

To summarize: 

  • Find out the average cost of food by reading a travel guide or search online;
  • Don't forget to add some extra for water, drinks, and treats ;-)

Travel & Health insurance

Every traveler has his or her opinion about whether you should have a separate travel and/or health insurance or not. It is up to you, but I do have some thoughts about it that I would like to share with you. 

Your decision should always be based on the chances that you may get sick during your travels and if you can afford to pay for medical care yourself or not. Going to a physician because of food poisoning in South East Asia will be a lot cheaper than going to one in the United States, but the chances of getting food poisoning in the US are probably smaller. 

Personally, I have an extra health insurance that covers all costs in the United States since the costs there are much higher than in Europe. My own health insurance has coverage abroad but only for as much as a procedure would cost in The Netherlands. 

Also, think about what it will cost you if you get into a motorcycle accident and need to be repatriated home. Will your current (travel/medical) insurance cover the cost? Are you able to pay that for yourself (and go through all the stress of getting it organized) or do you prefer to give it to an insurance company? 

If you are traveling for a longer period, be sure to check if it will have you covered for the whole period. Some travel and health insurances have a restriction on the number of days that you are insured for when abroad.  

Telephone & Simcard

Another topic on which every traveler has its own opinion is the necessity of buying a local sim card. I always need a local sim card as I cannot risk the chance of not being able to upload my videos or to read my emails. Wifi-connections in guesthouses are limited in many countries, so having a local sim card with data is necessary for me. I have also met motorcyclists who travel very happily without a local sim card, while using local wifi-options in case they want to go online. 

If you want to make use of a local sim card, make sure your phone is unlocked and usable abroad. Some countries may use a different frequency for their mobile phones, so check if your own phone is compatible with their network. 

Local sim cards can often be bought at airports, but those are more expensive than when you go to a local telephone shop. I often choose a telecom provider that has the best coverage in more remote regions. A local phone dealer can tell you exactly which provider is the best for what you need. You can buy a local sim card for as little as 5 - 10 dollars in Asia and South America. 

There are also some worldwide sim card packages on the market, but I have never tried them, simply because they are more expensive and generally don't have the same coverage as the local providers. 

By the way, for navigation, you don't need a sim card as you can download your maps on your phone or Garmin beforehand by using a wifi network. Be sure to update them regularly though, especially when you are on the road a bit longer. 

To summarize: 

  • A local sim card is not always necessary when there are good wifi-connections in hotels but very helpful if you need to search for something online while on the road;
  • If you would like to use a local sim card, buy one locally, and ask for the one with the best coverage and data package.

Also add to your budget…. 

Don't forget to budget your flight or other means of transport to your destination! Maybe Asia is inexpensive to travel through, but your flight can be expensive if not booked in time. Depending on your nationality and destination country, you might have to pay for visas. Always check in advance whether you can enter a country visa-free or that you have to arrange a visa to get in.

Would you like to do some activities besides riding your motorcycle? Don't forget to include them in your budget. A visit to a museum will not break your wallet, but if you are planning to spend a few days on a beach or you would like to do some tours or excursions, it is wise to look into it beforehand and make a budget for that too. 

Have you checked whether you need vaccinations? Get the proper vaccines before you go to your destination. Also consider getting a rabies shot because stray dogs often go after motorcyclists! 

What equipment are you going to take with you for documenting your journey? Do you want to buy a new camera or laptop? If you are curious about what I bring with me, you can find it here

When you don't have an income while traveling, you should add your regular monthly costs at home to your travel budget. You don't want to come home and be late paying your monthly bills. 

And always top off your budget with an extra amount of money for unexpected costs. It may be a spare part for your motorcycle, a great opportunity to participate in a tour, or a traffic fine. Be sure you have some slack and flexibility as you cannot plan everything ahead. 

To summarize: 

  • Budget your travel cost for getting to your destination and back home;
  • Budget activities like tours, excursions or a couple of days on the beach;
  • Check if you need new equipment for documenting your journey;
  • Get vaccinations if needed;
  • Add your monthly costs to your budget if you don't have an income when traveling;
  • Top off your budget with extra money in case of emergency or opportunity.

Budgeting your next motorcycle adventure

This is it! My checklist for budgeting your next motorcycle adventure. Do you think I forgot something? Please let me know, as I am not the best (budget) planner in the world! 

And if you don't like to budget in such detail, no problem! I don't plan my budget in such detail either. On the other hand, because I have traveled for so many years already, first with a backpack and more recently on a bike, I do have an intuitive sense of how expensive traveling is in a certain region.

In the end, I do believe that a motorcycle trip can be as expensive or as cheap as you would like it to be. This article on ADVRider has examples of how much other riders have spent on their ADV adventures, from extreme minimalist riders to pure luxury ones.  

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Thanks for that ! Very helpful !

JessSweden  | 

Thanks, JessSweden

Noraly  | 
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