My Bootstrapped Bicycle Touring Philosophy

How To Cycle The World On $10 A Day Or Less

Want to quench your thirst for adventure without breaking the bank? Look no further than bootstrapped bicycle touring! With just $10 a day, you can pedal your way through diverse landscapes, experience vibrant cultures, and create lifelong memories.

Embarking on a budget-friendly cycling journey around the world might sound daunting at first. However, it’s important to remember that adventure often lies beyond our comfort zones. By embracing simplicity and resourcefulness, you’ll discover countless hidden gems that money can’t buy.

bikepackers and bootleggers; a budget bicycle touring rig somewhere in the north east of india
bikepackers and bootleggers; a budget bicycle touring rig somewhere in the northeast of India

How Not To Cycle Around The World For Free

I once heard about an attempt to cycle across South America on no money – relying solely on the hospitality of locals – this is anathema to the budget bike travel philosophy. It is imperative that you are self-sufficient and add value as you move through the world.

While it is highly likely that you’ll be greeted with warm smiles and generous hospitality, winging the whole trip on handouts is not the purpose of this article. Accept invitations graciously and reciprocate where possible. Generally speaking, if you’re reading this and planning an RTW bike trip, you are privileged indeed.

cycling on a shoestring in Holland; the land of bike paths ad pancakes
cycling on a shoestring in Holland; the land of bike paths and pancakes

Bootstrapped Bike Travel For A Round-The-World Adventure

Imagine waking up in a quaint countryside village surrounded by picturesque fields and eager locals. As you hop onto your trusty two-wheeler each morning, every revolution of the pedals becomes an opportunity for discovery – from stunning coastlines to breathtaking mountain passes or bustling city streets teeming with life.

Meeting fellow adventurers along the way is inevitable when cycling the world on a shoestring budget. Shared stories around campfires or impromptu encounters during roadside picnics will open doors into worlds far different from our own. These connections may lead to unforgettable collaborations or newfound friendships across borders – reminding us of the unifying power of human connection.

secret bunkers are great places to make camp for the night
secret bunkers are great places to make camp for the night

How To Travel The World By Bike for $10 A Day And Enjoy It

Here are 10 bullet points on how to cycle the world on a shoestring budget. I draw inspiration from the budget bike travel philosophy I’ve established over the years and attempt to convey in my writings on ReallyBigBikeRide.com.

My multi-month bicycle tours were budgeted at $10 a day. This is the dollar amount spent largely on food and very occasional accommodation. I purchased all my bicycle touring kit out of savings when I first committed to bike travel to see the world. At the time, I was employed on a salary and collected the kit over the course of five years or so. That investment enabled my first multi-month bike tour around Europe – a charity bike ride to 20 Countries in 100 Days.

save water, shower in a natural waterfall
save water, shower in a natural waterfall

Bootstrapped Bicycle Touring Checklist:

Opt for Second-hand or Affordable Bikes

Choose a durable, cost-effective bike for long tours. I started by borrowing a bike before I road-tested a second-hand Dawes Galaxy. Eventually, once I was happy with the setup, I purchased a new bike based on my requirements. At this point, I had already covered many thousands of kilometres on multiple long-distance bike tours. It’s possible to travel the world on a cheap second-hand bike.

essential repairs on the Dawes Galaxy on the climb to Sapa in North Vietnam
essential repairs on the Dawes Galaxy on the climb to Sapa in North Vietnam

DIY Bike Repairs and Maintenance

Learn basic bike maintenance skills to avoid costly repairs. Perhaps the key determining factor in choosing a bicycle is the ability to mend it. I once asked my friend, Peter, about his London to China ride, and he suggested that had he known how to repair and maintain a motorcycle, he may have done that instead. I can repair almost every mechanical aspect of a bicycle when needed.

That said, I’m quite laissez-faire when it comes to maintenance. I once washed my London commuter fixed gear bike and discovered that the flex in the frame I thought was normal was in fact, a snapped frame. I recommend these videos as a starting point, and then figure out how to do stuff on our actual bike by getting your hands dirty.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

a discreet wild camp in the uk on my bootstrapped bicycle tour
a discreet wild camp in the UK on my bootstrapped bicycle tour

Wild Camping

Find free camping spots to save on accommodation costs. This is the single most important money-saving, budget-friendly thing you can do to travel the world for longer. The art of finding a wild camp is part skill and part preference. It is possible and easy in most places, and once you’re in the habit, it becomes second nature. I expand on the principles of wild camping in this article.

Prepare Your Own Meals

Purchase local ingredients and prepare your own food to reduce expenses. Since food is your fuel, cooking for yourself and maximising your thrift makes financial sense. However, I go a step further these days; I tend to carry only dry foods and ready-to-eat snacks – the whole cooking and cleaning thing is a bit annoying and unnecessary. I eat fresh fruits when I can and dry fruits on the road. Roadside meals are affordable and widely available in many parts of the world.  Sometimes, I take an extra portion if needed later that day.

breakfast with locals in Vietnam; they offered me a drink of xeo at 6 am
breakfast with locals in Vietnam; they offered me a drink of xeo at 6 am

Unless you’re on an extreme bike expedition, which some folks will be, it’s likely you’ll sustain yourself in the immediate surroundings. Foraged, gifted and found in the forest, grocery shops or friendly locals. Letting go of the idea of cooking is a wild liberation. Give it some thought, Doc!

Use Free Navigation Tools

Rely on free apps and maps for route planning and navigation. On my most recent long-distance bicycle trip, I navigated either with the Ocean to my right or the sun to the West. In some countries, though, you will inevitably require a map. Parts of Europe are rich with cycle paths and dedicated routes, so its prudent to have a vague notion of where you intend to arrive. I like Komoot and have used Strava. Maps.me is handy, as is the offline function of Google Maps. Free paper maps at tourist information centres are also useful, especially for quiet routes and immediate tips for the local area.

local paper maps are super useful for on the ground information
local paper maps are super useful for on the ground information

Travel Slowly

Reduce transportation costs by cycling more and taking fewer aeroplanes. I still love trains. They are a great way to get around and are far less polluting than planes. I’m a huge fan of sailing by ferry, too. The crossing from Aktau to Baku across the Caspian Sea was surreal and sublime. The bits in between are where the magic happens. There’s no hurry with a bicycle tour, so take your time, stretch out and wait. Enjoy the trip!

Avoid Tourist Traps

Stay clear of expensive tourist areas; seek out local, less-expensive options. And if you do choose to visit the major attractions, do it by bike! I visited Angkor Wat on my bike with a packed lunch. I met a fellow RTW cyclist and we shared a feast at Ta Prohm (also known as the Tomb Raider temple). A bicycle really is your Access All Areas pass to an immersed and enriching experience anywhere in the world. This is an attitude to foster in real life ahead of your bike trip – think about it, where else in your life can you enjoy the experience more by being self-sufficient?

wild camping can often feel like a game of chance
wild camping can often feel like a game of chance

Carry a Water Purifier

Save money on bottled water and ensure safe drinking water. This is as much an environmental consideration as it is a money-saving tactic. Single-use plastic sucks. I carried a Sawyer water filter. It was cheap, lightweight and easy to use. The pump is good for something like 50,000 litres, so you’re good for longer-range expeditions. A water filter also means you can use alternative sources with a degree of confidence, such as tap water and high-altitude rivers.

Earn Money on the Road

Consider remote or freelance work opportunities. This is something that I came to later in my long-distance solo bike travel career. The Hippie Trail by Bike was undertaken for the joy of the ride. I’d saved enough to enjoy the journey for its own sake without the thought of paid employment. Later, once I’d become more fully involved in the digital nomad lifestyle, did I return to the possibility of using my skills as a free lance.

when the restaurant looks like a pet shop
when the restaurant looks like a pet shop

Embrace Local Experiences

Engage in cultural exchanges or volunteering for accommodation or meals. If that’s your jam, there are many opportunities for Wwoofing and house-sitting worldwide. These interactions provide the potential to meader slowly and dive deeply into the culture and customs of places more intimately. Perfect for those seeking a longer-range, more permanent travel lifestyle.

These ten principles point the way to beginning a budget-conscious world cycle adventure based on my experiences and insights over the last ten years.

Beyond Bootstrapped Bicycle Touring

Bootstrapped bicycle touring requires flexibility and adaptability but rewards those who embrace spontaneity wholeheartedly. This isn’t just about making your travel money go further; it’s about challenging yourself physically and mentally while immersing yourself in all facets of this beautiful planet we call home.

I found so many gifts on the road. Cycling itself is a meditation. I wrote about it on TomsBikeTrip in 2017 (it’s become a very popular practice since then). I discovered a sense of deep inner peace and contentment. That’s free and available to us all. It helped that I attended a Vipassana meditation in India.

three bike travellers make a day out at the blue mosque in Istanbul
three bike travellers make a day out at the blue mosque in Istanbul

The tools and techniques for budget bike travel are helpful to get you from A to B. But beyond the low-cost long-distance bike trip, there is a mindset that supports an even greater fulfilment. Self-sufficiency and mental preparedness are life skills that transcend the pressures of consumer society. Awareness and acceptance of how things act are superpowers in these heady days of instant gratification and social media nonsense.

Embrace Your Inner Nomadic Monk

The road holds many lessons and bestows great gifts for those with the mind to receive them. Nature shares freely of it’s bounty and blesses us daily with the means of survival. Jump into your next adventure with an appetite for growth and you’ll benefit ten-fold. It’s all part of the process of self-discovery and begins with a simple plan to travel lightly in the world.

So why wait? Unleash your inner explorer today and embark on an extraordinary journey where pedal strokes replace dollar bills. Let your intuition and imagination be your guide.

May All Beings Be Happy and Travel Freely!

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