Budget range - 4 month cycle trip through Europe
October 15, 2014 7:09 AM   Subscribe

One thing that my wife and I would like to do soon is a longer bike trip. We have ideas about taking four months [may through august] to cycle across [mostly] western Europe. Can we afford to do this?

One potential routing that we like now is to start in copenhagen; go west to amsterdam and then belgium; spend a week or so visiting family in eastern france; then head to the danube cycle path and follow it east to budapest.
From there, back west to... Croatia? Italy? Somewhere beachy to soothe our newly-acquired aches.

We would spend as many nights as possible with either couchsurfing or warm showers [a biking specific thing] hosts, and might even bring a tent if that is helpful. A daily or semi-daily shower is mandatory, though, so our tenting decisions will be depending on if we can figure out a way to wash in hot water...

I have been to europe exactly once, and it was to norway. I am therefore quite nervous about how much this trip could cost us.

Bike touring persons of metafilter, I ask you:

-how likely will it be to find couchsurfing/etc hosts? 80%? 50%?
-how much should we budget for sleeping accommodations otherwise?
-what is a reasonable daily food budget for two vegetarians travelling... maybe only 50km per day on average and very willing to eat most meals from the grocery store?
-in germany, I know you can theoretically camp anywhere for one night, but how does that work in practice? Are there things like pools available for showering?

-what is a reasonable 4 month budget for this trip for two people [excluding airfare]?
posted by Acari to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have known people have success with warm showers, but it takes a lot of effort and planning to string together hosts. A lot of the time with bike touring you don't know exactly where you're going to wind up each night until maybe a day or two before; you might be tired or ill and make worse time than you expect. So if showers are mandatory, that means you should be prepared to spend a fair number of nights in hotels, which means increasing your budget. I haven't toured in that are so I can't offer specifics. I will say that when I am touring, the daily shower becomes a lot less necessary somehow. You get used to being sweaty and dirty. You can get clean but it doesn't last very long. And you can jump in rivers or lakes as you go to freshen up. Think about how mandatory this actually is for you.

Try bikeforums.net and especially crazyguyonabike.com for more info, especially specific to where your tour is going be.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:41 AM on October 15, 2014

East Europe is Cheap.

I once was in Constanta, Romania, at the Danube delta at the black sea. I it not uncommon to follow the Danube to it's end. Romania is definitely underrated.

Regarding the landscape: I once cycled in France in the Provence. The landscape is amazing.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 8:14 AM on October 15, 2014

Ah, sorry, Constanta was on my way to the Delta. It is not the Delta itself:

The last part you have to do by ship. If I remember right I was in Tulcea. The last mile you can cycle again.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 8:19 AM on October 15, 2014

I can comment on couchsurfing, but not as a bike tourer. I found Western Europe to be a very easy place to get a place to stay for the night. Big tourist-hotspot cities with tiny apartments (Rome, Paris, etc) can be difficult, but since you'll be traveling by land, you'll pass through a lot of smaller cities with far more couch surf hosts than visitors and I wouldn't expect you'd have a problem. I traveled through France for 6 weeks and never paid for a place to stay and mostly relied on last-minute requests. Eastern europe (the places I visited were Turkey, Serbia, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria) didn't have anywhere near as many hosts and it was tougher to find a couchsurf host with enough references to satisfy me. On the other hand, hotel/hostel rooms were cheaper and I talked to other (more adventurous) travelers that said it was pretty common in that part of the world to have random homes they cycled by offer them meals/places to stay.

My experience was as a late-twenties solo female. Finding a couchsurf-type place tends to be easiest for solo women/groups of women followed by hetero couples. However, couchsurf hosts tend to really like bike tourers - all bike tourers I met along the way said it had been pretty easy to find a host - even solo men that otherwise might have a harder time. Travelers with a great "story" (ex. around the world by bicycle!, 20 countries in 3 months!, etc) have an easier time finding a host, so it's worth it to think about how you're going to describe yourself to the people you reach out to.

If I had to ballpark the percentage of nights you should be able to find a host, I'd say around 90% for Western Europe, more like 50% for the parts of Eastern Europe I was in. Also keep in mind that it can be pretty draining to be the charming guest in someone else's home every night and even if you could do a 100% couchsurf trip, you might not WANT TO. Budget for a few hotel room nights regardless.

Best of luck!
posted by horizons at 8:39 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Are you familiar with Crazy Guy on a Bike? You can read biker journals by country, check out maps, get a better idea of the gear, weather, and lodging. Many of the journals also provide a budget breakdown by country per day.

A great way to find out answers to your question and find answers to questions you haven't yet asked.
posted by mochapickle at 9:32 AM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

In The Netherlands there is a couchsurfing-type club for bicycle travelers:

posted by humboldt32 at 9:35 AM on October 15, 2014

+1 to checking out Crazy Guy on a Bike journals for the places you're considering. Many of the journalers note prices and amenities for campgrounds, hostels, etc.
posted by brianogilvie at 10:34 AM on October 15, 2014

In the Netherlands, you don't need a hotel to have a hot shower, campgrounds usually have them, too. So yes, having a tent would make it easier to keep your budget down and still have those showers.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:38 AM on October 15, 2014

Norway, Scandinavia in general, is particularly expensive. Denmark will be your most expensive destination (about 1.5 as much as prices in for example France, the Netherlands or Germany). Most of Western Europe is cheaper than Denmark. Beware of Switzerland though, it's expensive there. Friends of mine went on a bike trip there last year and paid ~15 CHF for two cheeseburgers and two ice cream at McDonald's (that's ~$16, more than twice the average US price). They also mentioned that a take-out rotisserie chicken was 22 CHF (~$23) from an hole-in-the-wall place, not any fancy eatery. I know you guys don't eat meat, but just to give you an idea. The same stuff is cheaper in France, the Netherlands or Germany. Plan accordingly.

Now there are a lot of cheap supermarkets across Europe like Lidl or Aldi, where you can stock up on some basics. You'll find great fresh fruit and veg at farmer's markets in the summer.
I would estimate a budget of around $20/15 Euro per person/day in countries like the Netherlands, Germany and France. Belgium and Italy are slightly more expensive, you'll need about 1.5 times that for Denmark and about 0.8 -1 times that for Hungary and Croatia (stay away from the touristy places for cheaper prices). This is if you buy at the supermarkets and prepare your food yourself.

Just to give you an idea, concentrating on the three countries FR, NED, GER, average supermarket prices for average quality products: (keep in mind 1 liter ~34 fl. oz)

bottled water, 1 liter: ~ 1 Euro (some brands are as cheap as .20 cents though some of Europe has a bottle/can deposit system, so they charge you some extra money that you get back when you return the bottle/can)
milk, 1 liter: ~ 1 Euro (organic milk a bit more expensive)
6 eggs (organic) ~ 2 Euro
white bread ~ 2.20 Euro
whole flour, sourdough bread ~ 3 - 5 Euro (the darker, more grains, nuts etc. the more expensive)
butter, slightly more than 1/2 pound ~ 1.20 Euro
plain yoghurt, slightly more than 1 pound ~ .80 cents / organic plain yoghurt ~ 1.50 Euro
cheese (oh, the variety you'll encounter!). The cheapest stuff will cost you like 2.50 Euro per pound, but try some better stuff too! Some cheese shops in France and the Netherlands will sell you a bag with small pieces (the small cut-offs they can't sell otherwise, but that are absolutely fresh and great) for cheaper.
peanut butter (stock up on pindakaas in the Netherlands! It's more expensive everywhere else), 1.3 pound jar runs ~ 2 Euro

See??? You totally can afford your trip! Please don't forget a good travel insurance that can get you home, just in case. Have a great adventure!
posted by travelwithcats at 2:39 PM on October 15, 2014

Oh, I just realized that I cut off one paragraph re: campgrounds.

It's not just the Netherlands that have hot showers on site. I've been to campgrounds in most countries in Western Europe and hot showers are the norm. Campgrounds throughout Europe use a star-rating system, according to their amenities, much like hotels. It ranges from one to four stars. Most one-star campgrounds will have hot showers, but some might not. Above one star though, all campgrounds have hot water and private shower stalls.
posted by travelwithcats at 3:49 PM on October 15, 2014

Response by poster: Cheese!

This is good, and it sounds like a lot of my assumptions are in line with the experiences offered here, especially ease of finding places to stay vs general cost of living in each country.

I am aware of crazy guy on a bike and bikeforums, and will be reading a bunch there soon, but I know what a time suck it can be for me. I was hoping to jog the memory of somebody who recently read a trip report with average daily budget for a similar trip. [I know it's on there somewhere, but I also know from experience that I won't find it until a week after we get back home!]

We set a low average daily mileage so that we can [for example] finish our riding in 2 hours if the terrain is flat-ish and then have all day to find/cook food and wander around town, read, or whatever. Also it makes it really easy to bank a few rest days for when we find a place we love!

The ~20 euros per day per person budget mentioned puts us around 6.5k CAD for 4 months, which sounds really high, but doable. Especially if we take the advice to keep travelling east where it's cheaper, and don't spend too long in the netherlands or belgium.

Hot showers at a campground sounds amazing! That is not the camping standard to which I have become accustomed...
posted by Acari at 3:53 PM on October 15, 2014

I think you misread on two accounts:

My estimate was US-$ 20 or 15 Euro day/person. Which is roughly 22 CAD. Sorry, initially I didn't realize you're from Canada. So it would be about 5.3k CAD for four month for the two of you for food. Which translates to 662 CAD per month/person. You can do it cheaper, I'm sure. But since you will be on the road and won't have a pantry, it will cost more than eating at home. But just compare the prices for everyday items to get a better idea how much food will cost you. I'm curious what your numbers will be when you come back! Please post an update then.

Second, it's Denmark that is the most expensive country you mentioned, not the Netherlands. (Belgium being in the middle of the two when it comes to food prices, closer to the prices in the Netherlands though.)
posted by travelwithcats at 4:09 PM on October 15, 2014

You might find some resources here:

He has bicycle toured around europe a lot and often discusses cost.

Just a few...


posted by sarah_pdx at 7:20 PM on October 15, 2014

in germany, I know you can theoretically camp anywhere for one night, but how does that work in practice? Are there things like pools available for showering?

It's the other way around - in Germany you can really only legally camp at campgrounds (most of which have showers and toilets). Wild camping is illegal, although you might find a nice farmer who lets you camp on his property.

Buying a ticket to a swimming pool just to take a shower is possible, but probably way too expensive for your budget, although if you stray near an autobahn rest-stop (which occasionally have access paths behind them parallel to the autobahn), you can often take a shower for €3-4.
posted by cmonkey at 7:44 PM on October 15, 2014

Response by poster: Wow. I'm wrong about everything today!
[yes, I did misread those two things and I did misremember the wild camping thing]
At least my estimate was wrong in the correct way [ie:"you were wrong, it will be cheaper than you thought" is the nicer option to hear]

Those look like helpful links, too, sarah_pdx.
posted by Acari at 8:23 PM on October 15, 2014

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