Motorcycle touring on a budget will always be a challenge.
But with the right mindset, the experience can be enhanced by the immersive nature that comes with being hands-on and involved.
Sure, the convenience of booking into a hotel every night makes things so much easier.
But like all things in life, the most satisfaction often comes from those experiences by which we have to work that little bit harder.
Cheaper Alternatives Shouldn’t Mean Cheaper Experiences
If you’re sat there right now planning a budget motorcycle touring adventure that you know will make you unhappy, then you’re doing it wrong.
Motorcycle touring on a budget does not mean doing everything as cheap as possible. Nor does it mean missing out or ‘going without.’
It means getting the most out of the money that you have to spend.
I guarantee that it’ll take some prioritisation, and you might have to forego certain extravagances in order to fulfil the trip.
But believe me, that’s okay!
Motorcycle Touring On A Budget: The Main Culprits
If you ask around, almost everybody will have a different opinion on the aspects of touring which cost us the most.
But for me, the main offenders almost always include accommodation, feeding myself, and fuel. Usually in that order!
That is of course, assuming you already have a bike.
If you don’t yet have a bike, you can find out more information in this post: Adventure Bikes: Are There Cheaper Alternatives?
And don’t forget, that in some places, you don’t even need a bike.
In many countries across the world, motorcycle rental can be an economical way of travel because competition drives down prices.
Not only does rental save you from having to buy a bike, but it means you save money on its maintenance, the annual insurance premiums, service costs and deflation.
It’s worth bearing in mind that in many cases, you don’t always need to go out and spend a fortune on a bike.
Location Affects Motorcycle Touring Budget
No matter where you go in the world, some places will always be more expensive than others. And this reflects in the price of everything from accommodation, to food bills and even petrol costs.
For example, if you go touring in Europe, you will undoubtedly want to visit the Swiss Alps. But Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in Europe; it will affect your motorcycle touring budget significantly.
So does that mean you shouldn’t bother visiting?
Of course not! But it doesn’t mean you have to stay in Swizerland or eat there.
More often than not, the hotels just over the border are significantly cheaper. Or if you wanted to stay near the passes to make the most of your riding, camping would certainly extend your motorcycle touring accommodation budget.
Taking a stove and your own food sources can also save quite a pretty penny on food costs.
The point I’m getting at is that oftentimes, you can make your tour (and your money) go twice as far if you can avoid the most expensive places.
If those expensive places are the places you want to visit, then you’ll either have to roll with the punches or consider some alternatives.
Related: The Cost Of Motorcycle Touring
Accommodation & Your Motorcycle Touring Budget
For me, accommodation is always the killer part of any motorcycle tour; I hate it when I come to the accommodation part of the planning process!
Whilst I’ve camped on numerous occasions, I must admit that I don’t particularly enjoy it. And as a writer and photographer, I carry a lot of electrical kit that unfortunately needs charging up in order for me to do my job.
I need somewhere to plug in my gear and I usually need access to the internet.
But if you can live without these luxuries, camping can be a huge saving on your motorcycle touring budget whilst offering a very liberating experience.
There’s something about waking up in the morning and actually being a part of the sunrise. You’re usually in an awesome location that hotels simply cannot rival.
And if you camped at the bottom of a popular mountain pass, it means you get to ride it when everybody else is still having their hotel breakfast!
So camping definitely does have its advantages; it can be an excellent and cheap experience that is certainly good for the soul.
But what other options do we have?
I’ve used hostels in the past because they can be an ideal compromise of having a roof over my head and keeping an eye on my motorcycle touring budget. They have power (so I can charge my electrical kit) and they usually have WiFi (so I can get on with work.)
Some hostels have an onsite restaurant where breakfast (and sometimes evening meals) can be served to you at a nominal cost. These bundle deals can extend your motorcycle touring budget quite a bit.
That being said, meals in hostels can also work out quite expensive so sometimes you’d be better off buying food from the supermarket and simply making your own in the shared kitchen.
There is another issue with hostels, however.
Typically, they are full of students or backpackers (or certainly younger people who are also on a tight budget.) And as you’d expect, they will probably come back at all hours of the morning after sampling the local nightlife; causing a scene, making a noise, and ruining your sleep!
Bonus tip: If you’re making your own food in the hostel, I find it pays to get up early. Making breakfast is a whole lot quicker and easier when you don’t have to share the kitchen with 26 other people!
Booking Hotels (Wayyyyyyy) In Advance
I almost exclusively use booking.com
And every time I stay in a hotel, I leave a review which adds to my ‘Genuis’ level.
I feel I should mention at this juncture that my ‘genius’ level isn’t referring to my intellect; it’s the booking.com equivalent of a reward system (akin to a superstore loyalty card) that rewards you for leaving reviews.
‘Genius’ travellers often gain access to deals (or discounts) which can sometimes be applied to already discounted rooms.
If you book early enough and take advantage of the Genius points, you can land yourself a pretty decent stay in a single room for a very reasonable price.
Not only will you be capitalising on your motorcycle touring budget, but you will also bag a bed for the night as well as your breakfast in the morning.
Bonus tip: Always check the prices for single rooms! Hotels generally only have a few single rooms, and because nobody wants them, you can find them at incredible rates.
Related: Motorcycle Touring Packing Tips
Motorcycle Touring On A Budget: Fuel
The good thing about fuel is that it pretty much remains a constant.
Once your route is planned and you know how many miles you will be covering, you can make a pretty accurate estimate of your fuel costs.
To be even more accurate, you can use websites such as Global Petrol Prices which will give you the cost per litre in the countries you are visiting.
Bonus tip: Add around 20% to the overall mileage to cover you for detours, getting lost, or extra little excursions along the way.
Save Fuel & Enhance Your Experience
We all know that the simplest way to save fuel is to slow down.
Of course, there are other methods which we’ll cover in a minute. But slowing down will immediately increase how far you can travel on a tank of fuel.
But more important than this is how much more you will see when the world goes past a little more slowly!
Don’t forget, touring is not a race. It’s about seeing the world, meeting new people, and enjoying the place you’re in.
Slowing down allows you more time to take in your surroundings. You’ll notice things that you would have otherwise missed if you’d hurtled past at 85mph.
Unless you need to be somewhere (like a ferry crossing), what’s the rush?
I watch my fuel when I drive my car. But motorcycles are different; they’re made for enjoyment, not watching the fuel gauge!
But if you can make some of these simple changes to your riding style, they can help your motorcycle touring budget go a lot further over the course of a trip.
- Take it easy with the throttle; roll on and off gently
- Avoid heavy acceleration (and braking) – aim for consistent speeds
- Anticipate by looking way ahead
- Upshift a little earlier rather than aiming for the red line
Plan Your Route
I’m not saying that every route has to be meticulously planned. But having a pretty good idea of where you’re going and the direction you’re headed will save you a fortune in wasted miles.
We all get lost from time to time. But you’ll save a lot of back-tracking by simply planning your route and having an idea of where you’re going.
Maintain Your Bike
I’m notorious for having a filthy bike; I hardly ever clean it.
However, it is mechanically sound.
I have a mechanic who I trust, and I don’t budget on the maintenance or upkeep of the bike.
Don’t leave for your tour without your mechanic having at least a cursory look over your bike.
Mechanical faults can cause breakdowns. But if your bike is running rough, it will use excessive fuel and ultimately eat into your motorcycle touring budget.
Speeding Fines Are Expensive!
We spoke earlier about watching our speed when touring due to the fact that it saves fuel.
But nothing eats into your motorcycle touring budget as much as getting a ticket for speeding.
I have a friend who was fined €4,000 for speeding in Swizerland. And that was an on-the-spot fine!
Getting just one fine like that could quite literally end your tour. But even smaller road-side penalties will eat into your fuel money.
A €100 on-the-spot fine won’t break the bank. But it will cost you a weeks worth of fuel.
Buy A Small Capacity Bike
A smaller capacity bike will always use less fuel than one of its bohemoth counterparts.
If you can forego the vastness of a large capacity adventure bike, a 250cc motorcycle will use around half the amount of fuel.
Not only are they more economical by the mile, but the fuel tank is also smaller; which means it costs you less to fill it up.
Motorcycle Touring On A Budget: Food
For me, sustenance is another chink in my motorcycle touring budget that requires a lot of self-discipline to avoid overspending.
And the reason I’m prone to overspending on food is that I list it as one of my priorities; I function better when I eat well.
Budget motorcycle touring doesn’t mean you have to eat shit. Nor does it mean starving yourself to save a bit of cash.
Feed your body (and your brain) with good, nutritious food. Not only will you feel better in yourself, but you’ll also be more alert, have more focus, and you’ll enjoy your experience all the more.
If you choose to dine in restaurants, this will obviously put a huge dent in your motorcycle touring budget. It will cost more than any other option.
However, if you do visit restaurants, try (where possible) to take advantage of ‘early-bird’ bookings, lunchtime deals or buffet-style restaurants; all of which keep the cost down.
And whilst you should definitely make the most of the enjoyment by ordering a dessert (or anything else you fancy!), try to get in some healthy options where possible.
There’s nothing wrong with a greasy burger – and sometimes that’s what moral calls for.
But choosing foods which are healthy, filling and nutritious is a great way of loading your system with goodness.
Bring Your Own
As you’d expect, bringing your own dried (camping/adventure) foods and cooking on a stove will extend your motorcycle touring budget in comparison to eating in restaurants.
But this exercise in frugality can actually turn out to be quite expensive if you’re not careful!
Many of the high-calorie, pre-packed adventure meals out there are (whilst nutritious) incredibly expensive. And not only this, there’s often an element of trial and error before you find the ones you like.
Dried packet foods are never delicious. They’re ‘tolerable’ at best. But at least they give you good, balanced, nutritious meals.
You could opt for things like packet mash, noodles or rice from the supermarket. But I personally find them really unsatisfying.
Yes, they’re light to carry and cheap to buy. But they don’t fill you up, they don’t taste particularly nice, and they offer you very little by way of nutritional value.
You can (occasionally) buy hotel packages which include your room, your breakfast, your dinner and a packed lunch.
Be sure to look for these deals when you book. It’s a good way of getting three square meals a day at a price which won’t affect your motorcycle touring budget.
Supermarkets are one of my favourite options!
And no, I don’t mean going in and buying a load of pre-packed sandwiches and fizzy drinks. Pre-packed (convenience) foods are expensive and are often full of stuff you don’t want (like excess salt, fat and sugar.)
But you can bag yourself a good, wholesome meal by purchasing ready-cooked meats (hot rotisserie chicken is my favourite), fresh bread, a fresh cake, and whatever else you can find in the ‘reduced’ baskets.
In Europe, I visit a supermarket once every day when I’m looking after my motorcycle touring budget. Not only do they provide great options for lunch, but oftentimes, they also provide my evening meal at a fraction of restaurant prices.
Outside of Europe, eating local foods (such as street foods) can be an excellent option.
Not only is it hot, nutritious and wholesome, but it’s also ridiculously cheap.
Check out the prices by reading about people’s travels and experiences in that country.
It could save you a fortune over visiting restaurants, but it could also save you the inconvenience of lugging around a tonne of dried foods and a stove!
Motorcycle Touring On A Budget: Conclusion
We all have different views on budgeting. We all have different sized bank accounts. And this means that your budget motorcycle tour might look different from mine.
As mentioned throughout this post, I value ‘indoor’ accommodation due to my need for power and the internet for work.
Plus I like a shower, a bed, and refuge from the elements!
That being said, I’m not fussy. I don’t care if it’s a single bed in a room with no windows. Nor do I mind sharing a dorm in a hostel every now and then.
I value nutrition, so food may make a bigger dent in my motorcycle touring budget than it might in yours. But as mentioned, I don’t function well without it so for me, it’s worth it.
At the start of this post, I mentioned that motorcycle touring on a budget doesn’t mean suffering. It means prioritising what you need to get the most out of your trip – because that’s what this is all about!
Motorcycle touring on a budget isn’t about seeing how much you can save. It’s about seeing how much can do (comfortably) with the money that you have.
With a little bit of planning, you can enjoy a trip that you will remember forever – no matter how much money is (or isn’t) in your bank account!
Top image via Pixabay