Categories
Budgeting & Finance Planning & Logistics

Cycle Touring & Bikepacking Insurance: What You Need To Know (& Recommended Insurers)

Travel insurance is a genius idea for a business. You buy it hoping you will never use it. When you do need to use it, something in the small print usually means you can’t. Then you find out it would be cheaper to pay the costs yourself anyway. Brilliant!

Anyway. What I want to talk about in this article is insurance for cycle touring and bikepacking, both short-term and long-term. I get lots of questions on the topic, and so this article will attempt to answer all of them in one big dose of financial-services-related advice.

I will also make some specific recommendations for the best insurers for cycle touring and bikepacking. There’s a bias towards UK based companies, as this is where most of my readers start out from, but many of them will insure residents of any country, so keep reading.

The Two Different Things People Mean When They Talk About Cycle Touring & Bikepacking Insurance

Cyclists going cycle touring or bikepacking tend to think about policies that’ll insure their bicycles while they’re on the road.

Travellers going cycle touring or bikepacking tend to think about policies that’ll cover travel and medical expenses while they’re riding a bike.

These are two totally different insurance products.

One is a special type of bicycle insurance. The other is a special type of travel insurance.

There are few bicycle insurance policies that’ll insure a rider for overseas medical expenses, and there are few travel insurance policies that’ll insure an expensive bicycle being damaged or stolen.

But in general, if you want to be covered for accidents and emergencies and your expensive bike covered for damage or theft at the same time, you’ll likely end up taking out two separate policies.

And for riders looking for this kind of insurance cover for long-term, multi-year worldwide bike trips, the unfortunate truth is that such policies are extremely hard to find.

Hard, but not impossible. Read on…

Bicycle Insurance Covering Overseas Travel

If you’re looking to get your bicycle itself insured against theft or damage abroad, what you will quickly find is that some such policies do exist — but that:

  • they are limited to trips of a couple of months at most,
  • they depend upon you using the same kind of security precautions as you would at home (namely locking the bike with a certified lock to an immovable object), and
  • they’re expensive.

Given that, if you are looking for bicycle insurance for overseas tours of up to two or three months in duration, there are a couple of such options available to UK residents.

1. ETA offer an annual cycle insurance* policy that covers bikes and accessories for up to 90 days abroad, up to a value of £5,000, including a new-for-old replacement policy and emergency cycle hire, leaving you free to arrange your personal travel insurance separately. In Europe, personal accident cover is also included (but not liability). A quick quote for a touring bike worth £1,500 came to ~£137 for the year. Read the full details on their website*.

2. Cycling UK offers the Cyclecover specialist travel insurance policy for overseas bike trips of up to 100 days, covering loss, theft and damage of bicycles, luggage and accessories for up to £3000, in addition to medical cover. Unlike ETA, depreciation and wear and tear is factored into any claims when it comes to replacing a bike. I fetched a quote of ~£191 for a 3‑month Europe trip. You can get your own quote on the Cyclecover travel insurance page. (Cycling UK members get a 10% discount on online quotes and access to long-term policies not available online.)

Travel Insurance Covering Cycle Touring & Bikepacking

If you’re looking to travel for longer than a couple of months, you’re willing to rely on your wits to keep your expensive bike safe, or your bike is worthless and not worth insuring anyway, you’ll be looking primarily at travel insurance policies that cover cycle touring (aka: bikepacking).

At which point you must understand that (in insurance-policy-style bullet points):

  • most so-called ‘annual’ travel insurance policies actually only cover individual trips of up to 90 days within that year,
  • most long-term travel insurance policies (aka: ‘backpacker’ policies) do not cover cycle touring and bikepacking — only cycling that is ‘incidental’ to the trip,
  • most long-term travel insurance policies that do cover cycle touring and bikepacking still exclude intercontinental trips, and
  • even the best and most comprehensive of these are unlikely to cover the loss, theft or damage of an expensive touring bike or bikepacking rig.

Cycle touring and bikepacking is considered by many insurers to be a ‘hazardous activity’ or ‘extreme sport’, involving increased risk and thus either incurring an additional premium or being excluded from the list of activities covered. Expensive touring bicycles and bikepacking bikes are also considered to be extremely steal-able things. Which they are.

Yes. This sucks. But at least it narrows the field when it comes to choosing from the few travel insurance policies that explicitly do cover cycle touring and bikepacking.

Recommended Cycle Touring & Bikepacking Insurance Providers

The following insurance providers I’ve either used myself or been recommended by veteran cyclists on all manner of global bicycle journeys. Each cover cycle touring (whose definition includes bikepacking) as an activity or will do so on request, but won’t insure the bicycle itself unless I’ve mentioned otherwise.

For each provider, at the time of writing I retrieved the lowest possible quote for a UK resident going on a 3‑month trip in Europe and a 12-month trip around the world, then listed them in ascending order of price. You should of course request your own quotes before making a decision.

1. Insure And Go have grown into one of the UK’s biggest ‘basic’ travel insurance providers, and all of their policies (including backpacker policies) explicitly cover cycle touring, though it’s worth mentioning that personal accident and personal liability are excluded. Which, in simple English, means that there’s no financial compensation for getting hurt or hurting someone else while on your bike. Cover is basic, but aspects (including valuables cover) can be upgraded. 3 months in Europe was £63, and 12 months worldwide was £342. Visit insureandgo.com.

2. Adventures Insurance specialise in — you’ve guessed it — bespoke insurance for more adventurous pursuits, and cycle touring can be specified as an activity. They’ll allow for individual items of equipment up to £600 in value to be covered. 3 months in Europe was £163, and 12 months worldwide (requiring a phone call for the quote) was a very reasonable £479. Visit adventuresinsurance.co.uk*.

3. WorldNomads’ flexible, backpacker-oriented policy offers many advantages. It’s available to residents of 130+ countries, it can be taken out when you’re already abroad, it can be extended online indefinitely, and it covers casual work and a vast range of activities. You’ll need to add Level 2 activities cover for independent cycle touring, for which personal liability cover is excluded. ‘Intercontinental’ touring is also not covered, but it does make WorldNomads a good choice for a tour of any length that’ll be taking place on a single continent. 3 months in Europe was £133, and 12 months worldwide was £714. Visit worldnomads.com*.

4. Campbell Irvine are often recommended for professional expeditions. They specialise in adventure travel, covering a vast range of activities, with the ability to extend a long-term single trip policy over the phone. It covers volunteering but not employment. While ‘cycling’ is covered, the policy wording is not explicit about cycle touring; however a quick phone call confirmed that it is indeed covered in a leisure capacity. 3 months in Europe was £213, and 12 months worldwide £747. Visit campbellirvinedirect.com*.

5. SafetyWing, based in the US but available worldwide, specialises in travel and medical insurance for full-time travellers. You can buy and renew your policy while already travelling, and – unusually – you can visit your home country without your trip being considered ‘finished’. All forms of cycle touring and bikepacking are covered in a non-professional or non-competitive capacity. Due to US sanctions, they can’t insure you in Iran, Cuba or North Korea. I was quoted a reasonable USD$119 for 3 months in Europe and USD$881 for 12 months worldwide. Visit safetywing.com*.

6. The BMC (British Mountaineering Council), who I used for some of my first trips, offer cycle touring cover for up to 12 months at a time. You’ll need the ‘Trek’ policy for cycle touring to be covered as an activity, and while you get plenty of mountain activities and BMC membership benefits thrown in, the cover isn’t cheap. 3 months in Europe came back at £228, and 12 months worldwide came to £2,372. Visit thebmc.com.

Don’t Forget These Key Things About Buying Cycle Touring Insurance

Remember that these companies are operating in a highly competitive and lucrative field, and that negotiation over what’s covered and for how much is perfectly possible over the phone. That’s my top tip to make sure you get what you need at a decent price.

It’s also worth mentioning that, in the event of a medical emergency abroad, the claims agent’s job is to minimise the cost to the insurer. If you’re not incapacitated, the best strategy to achieve this is often to deliver your immediately to your home country in economy class on a scheduled airline, at which point your insurance cover is terminated as you’ve ‘gone home’ and it’s up to the local health service to look after you.

This is something to take into consideration when deciding to buy travel insurance. If medical care is cheaper than the insurance premium – as it may be in vast areas of the world – it’s no wonder that some riders choose to travel long-term without insurance and simply accept that in travel, as in life, bad things happen sometimes. Then they pack an emergency credit card in case they suddenly need to fly home.

Finally, whether or not you insure your trip, it’s common sense to ensure your safety in the first place by cultivating a healthy attitude to travel, which will have a much greater effect on whether or not you still have your body and belongings intact at the end of your trip.

And that, I think, is a topic for a future article.

Categories
Budgeting & Finance Equipment Inspiration

How Far Can You Go On A Scrapyard Touring Bike? (Short Answer: A Very Long Way)

A few years ago I was invited to be a guest on the 2nd episode of The Cycle Show, which aired on July 15th 2014 at 8pm BST on ITV4.

(ITV billed me as ‘comedian Tom Allen’, which is actually another Tom Allen entirely. I’d just like to take this opportunity to confirm that I possess absolutely no sense of humour whatsoever.)

Anyway. One of the other guests on the show was James Cracknell, former Olympian rower turned cyclist and endurance-athlete-adventurer extraordinaire.

When my segment came up, I talked about the beauty and freedom of bicycle travel; about how it’s one of the most accessible and fulfilling ways in which to explore the world.

Then James (quite rightly) asked me how it could be truly ‘free’, given that bicycle touring still costs money. Doesn’t the cost of gear and the travel expenses put it out of many people’s reach?

Excellent question, James. Allow me to elaborate…

Getting Geared Up For The Price Of A Round Of Drinks

The previous year I’d done something that had been on my to-do list as a writer and adventurous traveller for a long time. I put together an experiment to see just how cheaply I could assemble all the gear I’d need for a long, low-budget bicycle journey, to try and debunk the myth of expensive gear being a non-negotiable part of cycle touring.

It proved the point better than I could possibly have hoped: the total bill for the bike, luggage, tools, spares, accessories, camping gear and cooking gear was £25.14 – or, as I put it at the time, the price of a round of drinks.

I wrote a detailed article about the experiment, and then made an actual bicycle journey in the same spirit, using that same equipment that I’d sourced from scrapyards and friends’ sheds and recycling networks and all the rest of it.

That journey went beyond simply proving that the bike and kit was up to the task, and inadvertently ended up proving that not only do you not need money to get geared up for a cycling journey, but that you can actually travel entirely without money as well.

Seriously – I’d have been happy if I’d pulled off the ride for less than £100. But the total bill for my trip from Land’s End to Edinburgh – including train travel to and from the start and finish – came to £0.25.

Yeah… that’s not a typo. My three-week adventure cost me twenty-five pence. That’s what I remember a packet of crisps costing when I was at school.

In another post I’ve explored exactly how this worked. But in this one I want to talk about the trip itself, which was designed to put this next-to-nothing haul of equipment to the test.

How Did The Free Bike Actually Fare?

I boarded the train for Penzance wheeling a hybrid bike which I found discarded at a household recycling centre. It was missing a front wheel, pedals and grips, it had no luggage-carrying features, and it was utterly filthy, but these were quickly remedied with a scout about for free parts and a few hours’ tinkering.

Then I set off. I pedalled hard. And if you’re hoping for tales of mechanical misdemeanour, either for entertainment or to bolster your brewing argument that nobody could possibly, seriously, actually go touring on a junkyard bike and enjoy it, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed to hear that the bicycle ran reliably well for the 700-odd miles, needing little more than a bit of chain lube after the rain.

But then there is no reason why it shouldn’t have done. The moving parts were all basic, rugged and reliable ones, made by Shimano before they joined the arms race of perpetual upgrades and diversified product lines, back when a derailleur was just a derailleur. It’s a perfectly good bike. Just because someone had decided it was trash doesn’t change that.

Few would choose integrated shifter-brake levers for a long tour, but these particular ones (no longer made, of course) were described by the professional bicycle renovators at Life Cycle UK (whose mechanics see thousands of second-hand bikes passing through their workshop) as among the most reliable ever made by Shimano.

The 7‑speed cassette with a triple chainring provided standard gearing for a hybrid, and while yes, some smaller gears would have been nicer, it was ultimately my legs that got me up the one-in-five Cornish gradients and over the Lakeland and Midlothian passes, not the tooth-counts of my sprockets. (You’re going to sweat sometimes, regardless of what drivetrain you’re running. And it’s all good training.)

It was extremely tempting to make a concession for the purposes of comfort by swapping the existing saddle for my Brooks. I am glad I didn’t: not only would it have been ‘cheating’, but the original saddle turned out to be surprisingly comfortable, even after 80-mile days — which just goes to show that even the most basic assumptions about what gear is ‘best’ for touring can be wrong (I’m guilty of banging on about Brooks saddles as much as the next person).

One relatively common ‘serious’ breakage on a loaded touring bike is the broken spoke, always on the rear wheel, always on the drive side. I recently finished reading Julian Sayarer’s book about his round-the-world record attempt, in which he was, on one particular day, riding across the eastern States with eight broken spokes clattering around in his rear wheel.

I suffered just the one; the first in all my years of adventuring. Bang… halfway up the hill between Kendal and Windermere. I rode the rest of the way to Edinburgh with a slightly wonky rear wheel. Big deal.

Punctures… yep, I had a few. More specifically, I had two ‘normal’ punctures (pretty much inevitable) and two complete innertube blowouts (very unusual).

These blowouts, it transpired, were the fault of the front wheel I’d found and fitted; an old steel-rimmed specimen. Apparently such old rims don’t get on well with modern high-pressure tyres. On both occasions the edge of the tyre fell off the rim altogether, causing the innertube to bulge out — and go bang. The second time, the explosion was sufficiently powerful to physically buckle the wheel.

The remedy? New innertubes. Given that I had no money, these were kindly donated by Rockin Bikes in Yelverton, by Tom at Biketreks in Ambleside, and by a passing cyclist near Dartmoor whose name I never learned. (Thanks, guys!)

In the longer term, I clearly needed to find another free front wheel that wouldn’t send my innertubes to oblivion every few days, and, so after the journey ended I visited the Bristol Bike Project, who donated a wobbly but fixable second-hand front wheel that was a little better suited to the bike. They also let me use their truing stand to straighten it out. I took the opportunity to replace the rear wheel’s broken spoke at the same time.

Oh, and some of the bolts worked themselves loose. I tightened them. Same as I’ve done on every other tour.

And the brake pads eventually wore down. I replaced them. Like everyone else did, on every tour, ever.

Look: the bottom line is that the maintenance and repair demands of my scrapyard bike were no different to those of bikes I’ve ridden in the past costing over a hundred times as much. Price-tags have no relationship to reliability, ease of maintenance, comfort, or indeed anything, save perhaps for shininess and wow-factor in front of people whose opinions shouldn’t matter.

Of course you could convince yourself that there’s a real, perceptible difference to be felt when you’re riding the thing, and that you’ll absolutely, definitely notice this difference every second of your ride. But I’d wager you’d mostly just be believing the story you’ve previously convinced yourself is true.

This is, of course, a great thing to know if you have been delaying your pedal-powered adventures in the belief that only an expensive bike with cutting-edge components is sufficiently comfortable and reliable for a long bicycle journey. I’m very pleased to be able to report, with evidence, that not only is the opposite true, but that by riding a cheap, old, reliable, comfortable bike that fits you and is appropriately shaped and specced for riding all day every day, you also won’t have to worry about your expensive bike getting nicked either.

The Truth About Cheap Camping Gear

I’ve used some pretty high-end camping gear in my time, too. I once believed it necessary to match the ‘serious’ nature of my undertaking with equally ‘serious’ equipment.

This time, I took with me a tent, sleeping bag and roll-mat that had cost me a combined total of £6.

Tesco, as you’ll probably agree, aren’t particularly well known for their ultralight 2‑man tents. It wasn’t just that there was nothing wrong with the tent, it was also actually nicer to sleep in than many of the other tents I’ve used. It was bigger. Simpler. A single wall design made it ultra-easy to put up. It was well-ventilated, with a mesh door and a mesh panel in the roof. And it was waterproof, with nylon walls, taped seams and a floor of the same coarse-woven nylon that tarpaulins are made from (no expensive ‘footprint’ required). Yes, it rained, so I did get to put it to the test, and no, I didn’t get wet.

This dark blue free-standing monstrosity — bought and put on a shelf at the back of someone’s garage, never used, eventually discarded in a clear-out and bought by me from the local tip for £3 — is absolutely all you’d need for a pleasant summer of camping on a bike tour. I’d probably give it a miss in heavy rain or high winds, given the choice, but then you’re not really obliged to wild-camp unless you’ve committed to doing so. Rare is the evening there isn’t an alternative, as I was reminded on this trip.

And as for the sleeping bag and roll-mat? When the temperature is in the mid-teens and the weather fair, how complicated do you need a slice of foam and a bag of fluff to be? Needless to say, given how knackered you’ll be after a day of cycle touring, the only two things you’re likely to care about are being warm and being horizontal. At least, these were the only things I cared about as I slept behind hedges on my way up the country.

I didn’t do much cooking. Cold food has as many calories as hot food. When I did want to heat something up, though, I used the trusty DIY stove made from a Russian gin & tonic can that I’d been given in Armenia. The resulting instant coffee was just as mediocre-tasting yet strangely satisfying as it would have been if I’d used a swanky Jetboil or Whisperlite stove to make it.

Though I was treated to a spell of fantastic summer sun at the beginning of this trip, the weather wasn’t always on my side. The second-hand TK Maxx waterproof jacket proved as rain-proof as a sieve, and the trousers I’d got from Freecycle (complete with full-length broken zip) weren’t any better.

But it turns out that a black plastic bin bag — with the addition of three head- and arm-sized holes — makes for a stunningly effective overcoat. Totally waterproof, lightweight, well-ventilated; and when it wears out you can get a new one for free by simply asking someone for a bin bag.

(Mildly entertaining side story: I filmed my friend Armen making the stove and posted the video online. It’s been watched 3.5 million times and become a minor viral sensation. Seems good ideas are worth sharing!)

No Money? No Problem.

What’s the point of me relating all of this to you? Well, I spend an inordinate amount of time telling tales of bicycle adventures, encouraging people to try this liberating lifestyle out for themselves, and helping out those in the planning stages of trips great and small. It’s basically why I exist. In doing so, I come across many people who seem convinced that this kind of journey is beyond them, and one of the main excuses is a lack of available cash.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I think it seems ironic that — for all the arguments in favour of a free-market economy and a consumer-driven society — there are so many people who think they can’t afford to go and ride a bicycle somewhere and have fun doing so. You might not be one of them, but the phenomena is very real.

It’s ironic, but it is also easily explained. Every sport, hobby and leisure pursuit you’d care to mention is courted by commercialism. We’re surrounded, daily, by runners running in expensive running gear, cyclists cycling in expensive cycling gear, hikers hiking in expensive hiking gear. This has nothing to do with available cash, and everything to do with us seeing a new and unfamiliar activity and assuming that there must be a mountain of expensive gear involved. The assumption that we can’t afford to do it follows logically.

Yes, it is nice to ride an expensive touring bicycle. I rode one down the West Coast of America two years ago: a Kona Sutra with my trusty Brooks mounted atop its seatpost.

It was nice.

But I can promise you that I had no more or less fun on that bike than I did riding the length of England on the bike I rescued from the tip.

Why? Because the enjoyment of bicycle travel has nothing to do with the bike, and everything to do with the spirit in which you engage with it.

This reminded me of something else James Cracknell said. His chat with Matt on The Cycle Show ranged widely, but eventually touched on the original appeal of riding a bicycle in the first place.

“For most people,” he said (and I paraphrase here from memory), “riding a bicycle is their first taste of real freedom.”

This, I think, encapsulates perfectly the beauty of travelling by bicycle. The stabilisers are off, the reins are cut; the world is yours! You are unbound, unrestricted by time and space; free to go where you want, do so at your own speed, experience of life on the road entirely on your own terms.

You don’t have to ‘be a cyclist’, or model your trip on anyone else’s experience.

You don’t have to spend money on equipment, or even spend money on the trip itself.

Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise – or that there’s a ‘blueprint’ or some kind of standard formula for wandering the world on a bicycle – is a liar and a fraud. And that’s probably the single best piece of advice I have for you about bicycle travel.

Categories
Budgeting & Finance Technology

Stop Bleeding Away Your Travel Money Via Overseas Card Transaction Fees (UK Only)

As a UK resident who travels abroad a lot for a living, I’m always on the look-out for ways to optimise foreign transactions using my UK/GBP bank accounts — especially after the day in 2016 when Brexit wiped out 15% of my overseas travel budget overnight.

In the realm of things I can control, I look for ways to minimise the fees associated with debit and credit card transactions for three types of transaction: cash withdrawals from overseas ATMs, point-of-sale card purchases abroad, and online purchases in foreign currencies or with foreign merchants.

Most banks will penalise (i.e. profit from) such actions through complex matrices of charges, often combining multiple fees for a single operation, not to mention poor exchange rates on top. Such charges quickly add up, and if you’re not wise to them, you might find anything from 2% to 5% or more of your hard-earned is leaking away.

Fee-free UK current accounts for overseas cash withdrawals and debit card transactions abroad have been hard to come by recently. Metro Bank was formerly this world traveller’s bank of choice in this regard (Nationwide before that), but they recently scaled down their global fee-free offer to Europe alone, making it far less attractive for the world traveller, though their fees are still very competitive.

Thankfully, a new contender has arrived in the form of Starling Bank, a mobile-only ‘challenger’ bank offering its personal current account customers zero-fee withdrawals and purchases in any currency anywhere in the world.

Especially for independent travellers in remote regions who rely heavily on cash, this is as good as it gets.

Yes, I was a bit slow on the uptake — it’s been several months since the offer was launched (what can I say — I was out in the mountains!)

But I’m also not one to recommend something I haven’t tried. So I opened an account with Starling with the intention of using the account to finance my current travels in South East Asia and reporting back on my experience.

The sign-up process involved installing the Android app (iOS also available), filling in my usual basic personal details, receiving an SMS confirmation code, and ta-da: my account was open. It couldn’t have been simpler. The MasterCard debit card arrived in the post a couple of days later, I transferred over a hundred quid from my regular current account for starters, and then, after a few test purchases, the rest of my funds for this trip. I’ve been using it on the road ever since.

So what’s the difference from a regular account and card? Well, the user-oriented, mobile-only concept is interesting and plays out in a couple of different ways. The first is in how your account usage is communicated to you. The app behaves more like a personal finance assistant than an account ledger, including details of the retailer, location, date and time, as well as the amount and the equivalent in GBP if applicable, and even a guess at the category of expense — much more accessible than a cryptic line on a bank statement. This information is also presented as quick and easy visuals of spending over time. The ‘real-time’ notification claim holds true: usually there’s a buzz in my pocket even before the cashier has handed me the receipt or the purchase confirmation page has finished loading.

The second break from the norm is that there’s no branch to visit or website to log into — it’s just an app. Online bank accounts are nothing new, of course (see Triodos, Egg, etc), and behind the scenes there’s a fully fledged FSA-certified banking operation with the UK government underwriting your deposits, as well as MasterCard protecting you from card fraud. I still have an account number and sort code if I need it, and can thereby use the account in a more traditional way if I wish. In other words, the underlying mechanics are the same, but fine-tuned for a much more user-friendly means of interaction.

There are a few novel features I haven’t tried, including the ability to ‘ringfence’ certain amounts of money without having to open a new account. This could be useful to the traveller for, say, monthly budgeting, reserving emergency funds, or protecting a particular sum for a planned purchase in the future, such as a long-haul flight ticket.

Some will dislike the perceived risk of having your bank account in your pocket, just as some refuse to make contactless payments or put their card details into a secure website. I can’t say I share these concerns: with the app only accessible via its own PIN code or a fingerprint scan, and the ability to instantly disable my card in case of loss or theft, my feeling on balance is that this gives me more control over account security than the traditional arrangement (i.e. having to find a WiFi hotspot to look up my bank’s international emergency hotline before calling them breathlessly over Skype to cancel my card).

Having said all that, I did choose to come first to one of the most notorious countries in the world for local ATM withdrawal fees (Thailand), being slapped for about £5 per transaction, which of course neither Starling nor any other UK bank have any control. But at least the lack of fees at my own bank’s end took the sting out of it — and paying for most of my accommodation in Thai Baht (via the Agoda app, in case you’re interested) further proved the point.

So Starling is my new go-to travel account. It isn’t a magic bullet: I still carry a Visa debit card for regions where MasterCard coverage is incomplete (again, Thailand is one such place), and I still stash USD and EUR cash about my person and luggage as backup. But I can see no reason not to move all my routine travel spending over to Starling.

Incidentally — and some smart reader may have the answer to this — I’m wondering what technical hurdle prevents payments from being linked directly to information about the purchase. Why couldn’t a grocery store transaction also include the list of items I bought, for example, or a flight ticket purchase include the itinerary? I currently use an app called Toshl for this, entering the details manually, but if fintech could bridge that gap, it would put a very clever real-time financial advisor in my pocket.

These offers rarely last long — a couple of years at most, in my experience — so if it piques your interest, I’d suggest making the most of it while you can. Qualifying UK residents can sign up for a free account here.

The links above contain a unique referral code which enables you to skip the waiting time for an account. I don’t get anything for it except an extra illuminated heart on my profile page — aw, how cute!

(Disclaimer: I am not a qualified financial advisor. This is an independent report about my personal experience with Starling Bank, with whom I have no affiliation, and is published for information purposes only.)

Categories
Budgeting & Finance News

Get Funding For Your Next Big Cycle Tour With The Next Challenge Expedition Grant

Set up by my good friend Tim Moss, The Next Challenge Expedition Grant has just opened for applications. Up to £1,300 of funding is available for a big adventure, whether by bicycle or otherwise. The deadline for applications is Wednesday 26th August 2015. I caught up with Tim to ask about the grant and why he set it up.

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1. What is your main reason for setting up the grant?

Six years ago I started a website to encourage and help other people have adventures. I’ve written lots of articles and responded to lots of emails but sometimes what people really need is a wad of cash.

I’ve never made much money from my website but last year it turned a small profit and, since I’m about to start a normal job, I decided to give away the cash I made in advertising revenue in 2014. That’s how the grant was born.

2. What exactly is on offer, and how do you think it’ll benefit the recipient?

The tangible benefits are as follows:

  1. Cash – £1,300 made up of donations from me, six other adventurers and 100 members of the public.
  2. Kit – from sponsors like Primus, Berghaus, Exped, Ortlieb and BAM.
  3. Advice – from me, if you want it.

Obviously being given money and a shiny Goretex jacket should help anyone with their expedition plans. But when I was awarded my first expedition grant, it wasn’t just about the money (which only covered a third of the cost), it was a huge confidence boost to have experienced expeditioners tell me that they liked my idea, thought it was possible and wanted me to do it.

3. Can you try and describe the ideal kind of application you’d receive?

I’m keen to get slightly novel projects – rather than just cycling from A to B or doing something many people have done before – but prefer simple ideas to anything too contrived.

I’d like the grant to make a real difference to someone and their expedition, which is to say that it’s aimed at someone who would struggle to complete their adventure without our support and who has not done much of this sort of stuff before.

Unlike most grants and sponsorship applications, you do not need prior experience to apply. As long as your idea’s realistic, being new to the adventure world will probably be an advantage rather than a hindrance.

4. Some would argue that adventures are whimsical and self-indulgent – why put cash into this as opposed to something more ‘worthy’?

Adventures can indeed be whimsical and self-indulgent and that’s one of the reasons I no longer dedicate all of my time to them. However, I decided to offer this money for a grant rather than to something ‘more worthy’ for two main reasons:

  1. Adventures changed my life. I would not be the person I am today without having the privilege of going on some fantastic expeditions. By finding someone new to the adventure world who needs a helping hand, I hope we can have a real impact.
  2. I have an adventure website so can have a far greater effect in this industry. If I gave £200 to a worthy charity, it would be put to good use but it would be no better than anyone else’s £200. But by offering a £200 grant on my blog, I’ve received £1,100 in matched funding from other adventurers and members of the public, reached thousands of people, and received hundreds of applications already.

5. Going forward, what do you hope that the grant will achieve in the grand scheme of things?

Everything I do with my website is aimed at encouraging people to have adventures and helping them to do so. If we give two, three or four people a few hundred quid and some bamboo t‑shirts then that’s two, three or four people we’ve helped.

But I’d also hope that of the several hundred applications that aren’t successful in getting money, some will be motivated to do their adventures anyway. Plus, yet more people will hear about the grant and read about all the great ideas, and perhaps some of those will be inspired to head off into the sunset too.

The grant will be annual and I hope its impact will go far beyond the small number of winners.

Thanks Tim! Visit thenextchallenge.org/grant to find out more. I’d encourage you to spread the word about the grant by sharing this article on social media – the more potential applicants it can reach, the better.

Categories
Adventure Lifestyle Budgeting & Finance Interviews

How To Travel Full Time While Working On The Road (Includes Q&A With A Veteran Of 9 Years)

Today’s article includes a Q&A with Nora Dunn, a Canadian who sold everything (including a busy financial planning practice) in 2006 to embrace her dreams of long-term immersive travel. She runs TheProfessionalHobo.com, a blog dedicated to the art of making travel financially self-sustaining, and has written several books on various aspects of the lifestyle – in short, she’s a real expert on combining work and travel.

Her expertise is particularly relevant right now. I no longer rent a property. I possess only one bicycle (yeah, I know!). And everything I need to live fits into either a 75-litre backpack or a pair of bicycle panniers, depending on what’s more appropriate at the time.

Not only that, but my working life travels with me too. The work is either location-independent or tied to the act of travelling itself – recent ongoing examples include shooting a feature-length documentary, editing video, writing blogs and books, setting up websites, even launching a new touring bike and co-ordinating a Kickstarter campaign.

I’ve designed my work so it doesn’t matter whether I’m in in Argentina, Australia or Austria. Today I’m in Angel (Islington), next will be Armenia – and after that, America. (All alliteration accidental!)

I really believe combining work and travel has never been a more achievable aim for a great many people. But it does require a fair bit of groundwork and a knowledge of what’s possible and realistic. This post aims to introduce some of these ideas.

So, without further ado, over to Nora, who’s much more of an authority on the subject than I am…

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Firstly, thank you, Nora, for agreeing to do a Q&A for the blog. Why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself and your experience combining work with full-time travel?

Thanks, Tom! It all started in 2006, when I sold everything I owned (including a busy financial planning practice) to embrace my dreams of long-term immersive travel. Annual 1–2 week vacations weren’t cutting it for me any more; I realized that in order to do the things I wanted to do in life and around the world, I couldn’t afford to wait another 30 years for a conventional retirement, at which point I might be unwilling or unable to travel like I really wanted. I had to do it now.

As for the process of combining work with full-time travel, that was an evolution. Initially I had no idea how I’d make ends meet; I had a loose plan to take a course with Outward Bound in Costa Rica to become a qualified outdoor education instructor. It never happened though, since my travels took me in another direction (and then another, and then another…).

But shortly after hitting the road, I realized that my lifelong penchant for the written word plus my laptop and an internet connection could equal a living as a freelance writer. The sale of my business provided a (small) 2‑year stream of income that I used to float my expenses and travel lifestyle while I built my new career as a writer on the topics of travel, personal finance, and lifestyle design.

Developing my niche happened naturally (although not without lots of hard work); I wrote about finance for travel publications, I wrote about travel for finance publications, and I wove lifestyle design throughout. Once I realized my own website could be more useful than just as a glorified travel journal, I combined these three topics on my site to teach people how to travel full-time in a financially sustainable way.

Yours seems an increasingly common ambition – to remodel a jobs and career to incorporate travel. But for a lot of aspiring bicycle adventurers, the journey comes first, with work often seen as something that needs to be put on hold – hence, we save up, do the big trip, and reluctantly return to work at that end. How would you suggest we reframe the two things to exist together? What are some of the options for combining them?

Where there’s a will, there’s a way! But sometimes, that way involves a little compromise.

One of the compromises an aspiring bicycle adventurer might concede to in order to incorporate their careers into a full-time/long-term travel lifestyle would be to travel more slowly. Instead of conquering a continent/country/whatever in a specific period of time and riding hard each day, consider setting shorter goals so you’re not on the road constantly, and take some more time off along the way so you can allow time to work.

Slow travel has an added benefit of being more culturally immersive and rewarding, as well as ultimately cheaper (for example you can get access to cheaper – even free – medium/long-term accommodation options).

Many of us who are planning long bicycle journeys spend months or years saving up money, reorganising our lives, and preparing to leave. In terms of creating opportunities to make a living while travelling, how would you suggest we approach things during this preparation time?

If you are planning on making travel a lifestyle (with income opportunities) instead of a fixed-duration trip (as in a vacation), the entire scope of your preparation and reorganization changes.

First off, you’ll need to decide what to do with your stuff, such as selling or storing it. There are also logistical things to address such as cancelling services and organizing your affairs and finances to travel long-term/full-time.

Then of course, you’ll need to develop a strategy for earning money while you’re on the road. Despite the fact that I figured my income stream out along the way, I wouldn’t recommend following my footsteps; I always advise people to have a strategy in place, and if they’re starting a new business or career I advise them to have that foundation established before they start travelling.

As for saving money, that doesn’t change; you need to save money! However the amount you need to save might be less if you have an income stream. Here’s some food for thought with regards to what you should save up for long-term travel: How Much Money do you Need to Travel Long-Term?.

(I also discuss all these matters in detail in Working on the Road: The Unconventional Guide to Full-Time Freedom*).

Long-term bicycle travel attracts people at all stages of life, from school-leavers and graduates to those in later life who are looking for a change. How might our former work experience (or lack thereof) affect how feasible working on the road would be? In other words, do you think age and experience matters?

Age and experience matter, but not in a make-it-or-break-it kind of way; instead age and experience (or lack thereof) simply provide different opportunities.

Young travellers (under the age of 30) can take advantage of working holiday visas to stay 1–2 years in each of a variety of countries with the ability to get a job doing whatever they’re qualified for. This is a great way to develop work experience and still enjoy a travel lifestyle.

On the other hand, I started travelling full-time after 30, and I was grateful for my time and experience in the traditional work-force in Canada. I was able to put money away for (my eventual) retirement and get some general financial footing (as well as life experience) that helped me in my travels.

As for getting work on the road as an “older” traveller, that’s not difficult either. In Working on the Road, I interviewed a woman “of a certain age” (she’ll admit to six or so decades) who teaches English abroad, as well as a couple in their 40s who has no troubles getting jobs along the way as they travel full-time. They are just two random examples of a myriad of income-earning possibilities for people of any age.

Cycling often involves long periods of overland travel in remote areas where mobile working would be impractical and undesirable. How might income generation work in this case in the long term? Is it feasible, for example, to run an internet-based ‘microbusiness’ in spite of such protracted downtime? Or would another approach be more appropriate?

If you’ve got a long ride to make that will involve being offline and out-of-touch for a while, there are a few solutions you could develop:

  • Create a business that doesn’t require you to be constantly online (not always easy to do as a location independent entrepreneur but certainly not impossible)
  • Develop the business to a point where you can hire somebody to take care of things while you’re offline
  • Instead of internet-based jobs or businesses, focus on getting jobs “on the ground” between long bicycle trips

The beauty of lifestyle design is that it’s yours to design. It’s up to you to decide what kinds of bicycle trips you want to do the most, and where you want to do them, and then find the right work opportunities to complement that lifestyle. There’s always a bit of compromise here and there, but ultimately you get to call the shots.

Conversely, after weeks or months of pedalling, a lot of us feel the need to decompress and digest, which often involves staying in one place for a while. Might we use this time to find temporary work? Do you think it matters precisely where this happens to be? 

I can imagine you’d want some downtime after a long bicycle journey! I certainly do after a long stint of active travel.

Indeed, these rest stops are a good opportunity to find temporary work, for example with a working holiday visa in hand, or some transferrable skills and good networking abilities, or with online telecommuting or entrepreneurial work.

Location dictates working opportunities to an extent; for example in Asia working holiday visas aren’t generally available, but you can get a job teaching English. In most developing countries you are less likely to find a decent-paying temporary job, but the cost of living is cheap if you have an online business and are earning money in a stronger currency.

As bicycle travellers with a large degree of self-sufficiency, we can often stretch our budgets out to enviable proportions – 5 to 10 dollars a day is totally realistic. But setting up to live and work somewhere must carry overheads. How might we handle this and ensure we can actually save our earnings to further our travels?

Actually, setting up to live and work somewhere doesn’t have to be expensive – at all. For example, when you’re planning your “decompression” stops, these can be opportunities to get free accommodation.

For the first six years of my full-time travels, I travelled from one free accommodation opportunity to another, utilizing techniques like volunteering, house-sitting, living on boats, hospitality exchanges, and more. Free accommodation gigs can last from a few days to a few months, and they exist around the world.

Added benefit: you don’t need to earn as much money when your accommodation is covered! For more information, you’ll want to check out my first book: How to Get Free Accommodation Around the World.

Finally, many of us are concerned about how we might return to a more settled existence once our wanderlust is (at least temporarily!) satiated. How might the skills and experience gained while working on the road translate to a more conventional style of living?

I don’t know anybody who has had an easy time reintegrating to a conventional style of living after an extended period of travel, but it’s certainly possible (and sometimes even enjoyable).

If your work on the road is of a location independent nature, not much will change for you in terms of incorporating your career into a conventional lifestyle. For job-searching employees, although you might think you’re hurting your resume with time spent abroad, most employers I’ve spoken with view world travel and work-abroad experience very kindly when it comes to hiring. Travel experience demonstrates flexibility and adaptability, courage to face new situations, problem-solving skills, ability to cope with stressful situations, and willingness to get along and communicate with different kinds of people.

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Thanks Nora! Do check out her new guide and resource, Working On The Road: The Unconventional Guide To Full-Time Freedom*. Despite already being well on the way towards this kind of lifestyle, I bought the guide as soon as it was released, and found that it massively enhanced my understanding of what’s possible and how to achieve it.