Budgeting for a Dream Ride Around the World

The Mills crossing the Atacama Desert in Chile, October 2015.

Circumnavigating the globe by scooter certainly isn’t easy but it’s not impossible. Over the past several years a handful of intrepid riders have successfully completed the trip (or similarly lengthy voyages) on everything from classic Vespa 150s to 50cc Hondas. Yet those of us who dream of such an expedition often cite two major obstacles: time and money.

Many who plan to connect the continental dots commit a year to doing so. A year is a satisfyingly discrete span that’s easy to conceptualize and enough time for most to complete the odyssey. It’s also a year in which the traveler will likely have little, if any, income and many expenses. As Michael Mills, a particularly ambitious two-wheel traveler, put it, “Strangely enough the more free time you collect the less money available. One of the universal truths I guess.”

Mills and his wife Shannon recently completed the first of three years they have committed to riding around the globe on their Suzuki DR650 dual sport motorcycles. The couple’s website, S&M Boiler Works, features an abundance of useful information for anyone who shares the fantasy of a long-term international ride on any type of vehicle. This includes a detailed breakdown and analysis of what it cost them to do nothing but ride (so far, from Seattle, WA deep into South America) for 365 days.

The grand total: $39,026.04 for two people. The Mills’ spending is fairly frugal — they camped 39% of the time — but they claim they can lower their expenses further for years two and three.

What may surprise many are the expenses for items such as border crossings, insurance and shipping. (Have to get those bikes across the ocean somehow.) The cost breakdowns make it somewhat easy to estimate expenses if, for instance, you abhor camping and prefer hotels, Air BnB or couch surfing.

There are a few caveats for scooterists. At the end of their first year, the Mills had completed 18,566 miles. That’s almost half the distance of many round the world trips, depending on route. (The Mills are taking the long way.) Over that distance, most scooters will need more maintenance, tires, oil, filters, belts, and so on than the motorcycles. These costs can pile up pretty quickly, easily consuming any savings from increased fuel economy.

So how are the Mills doing it? They are pretty forthcoming about their finances on the website. Before the trip, both worked for nonprofits. They have no trust funds or major sponsors bankrolling their sabbatical. As strange as it seems in these times, they budgeted, then scrimped and saved to pool the funds for the trip before quitting their steady jobs and hitting the road. Their next jobs could easily be on the lecture circuit, talking about either the trip or personal finance. Combine them and they’re a shoo-in for a TED Talk and a book deal. At the moment, however, they’re in South America, continuing their way around the world.

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