Is it really possible to travel without money, by bicycle? You bet it is. Let me tell you how I was able to do it.
Are you ready to start a bicycle trip? Are you wondering how much money you need to save for your trip? Need to learn which accessories you need to carry for a long bicycle trip?
I traveled by bicycle from Spain to Norway (North Cape) and back to Finland. The trip lasted 5 months and I spent 400 euros, ONLY. How was that possible? How did I bike for 9 500 kilometers around Europe? Here are my from-experience tips and tricks to travel without money by bicycle.
Before the trip: How to prepare for a bike travel without money
First of all, you need to have a bicycle. (Obviously) In my case, I used my old mountain bike for the 5-month Euro trip. A simple bike 8 years-old, which caused me a few problems mainly because of the long distances.
You will need to determine the distances you will travel in advance. Here is where your planning will come in. Depending on how far you want to travel per day, you might need to train in advance to prepare for the trip and read this bikepacking guide. If you want to bike for 100-120 kilometers in a day, you will need to train for at least a couple of months. If you will not go as far as 70 kilometers daily, then you should be fine. If you feel that you are not fit for this kind of travel, then spend time to prepare in advance. Try to be physically and mentally prepared for the trip. Travel without money is possible, and through biking, you experience travel in a new way.
Here are some things you can do to train your body for a long travel by biking:
- Make sure that your body and health is in good shape. I was running every other day for at least an hour for 2 months.
- Cycling every week. For me, I bike for 3-4 hours weekly for 2 months.
- Maintain a balance diet. I am a fan of maintaining my weight (I don’t train in the gym) and keeping a balanced diet as often as possible, even if I am not preparing for a long bicycle trip. For breakfast, I usually have cereals with milk and a toast. For lunch I eat steamed chicken with vegetables. I then usually end my day with a light dinner.
Once you have your bicycle ready, you need to make sure that you check it out and see if it’s prepared for your trip. Pay special attention to the chain, your tires, shifting and brakes. Before you start your trip, you need to get the following accessories for the bike:
- Tubes – You will need 3 bicycle tubes. You will use 2 immediately, and have one for spare. The tubes shouldn’t take too much space in your luggage. A broken tube is the most common problem that you can encounter when traveling by bicycle.
- Multi Tools – You need to be ready in cases you need to repair your bicycle. You will need tools for changing your tires and brakes. You will also use tools for moving or adjusting your saddle. There can be places to repair your bicycle on your way, but make sure you check these in advance. Add this to the list of the things that you will check when you are planning your route. I didn’t plan my bicycle trip in Europe in too much detail because I know that in Europe, you can find shops for bicycle often.
- Brakes – This is optional. You should find one on your way but it wouldn’t hurt to have one in handy. This will only take little space in your luggage anyway.
- Oil for your chain and a degreaser, for removing grease and keeping your bicycle clean.
- Air-Pump – for repairing flat tires.
- A couple of water bottles and cages.
- Speedometer – This is good for calculating how many kilometers you have left during the day. It will also give you information on how many kilometers you already ridden and the average speed you do. It’s good if you compare with your GPS, to make sure that you are going in the right direction.
- For GPS, I used the mobile app, Navigator. It is an app with offline maps, useful in understanding GPS without internet connection. There is no need to buy a SIM card. It will also save you a lot of battery power while traveling.
- A lock for the bicycle.
- A kickstand.
Here are the things you need to bring with you that are important for your long bicycle trip.
- A small camping gas. I brought a small bottle, enough for the whole trip. I only had to use it for frying food or for reheating already prepared food.
- Clothes for cycling like helmet, cycling jersey and culotte (summer and winter). You can also bring a pair of sneakers, or something that you can use for walking around. Bring bicycle and winter gloves, a small scarf (it can get windy, depending on the place), pairs of cycling socks, a windbreaker and a raincoat.
- Clothes after biking like a pair of t-shirt, a pair of jeans, a pair of shorts, a pair of underwear, socks, jumper, jacket, cap, and flip-flops.
- You must bring a sleeping bag, a sleeping mat and a tent for sleeping. Make sure to bring strings to tie them with the bicycle. Have big plastic bags to cover the panniers, sleeping bag, the tent and backpack in rainy days.
- Bring toiletries – toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, soap ( choose the glycerine type, which you can use for your body and your clothes) a tiny towel, and a shaver.
- A small pot (metal-made, to use while cooking in fire) for cooking during the trip. You can also keep utensils inside the small pot.
- A Swiss-Knife is very important. This knife can be useful from slicing breads and applying spread, to a full helper when camping in the wild.
- Bring a flashlight. It wasn’t necessary for my trip since it was summer in the Northern part of Europe, and it never goes dark.
- A small bag where you can keep safe your personal belongings like your cellphone, wallet, passport, money and credit cards. I recommend protecting these valuables with small plastic bags just in case it’s raining.
All my luggage was inside the panniers on the back side of the bike. On top of it was another small backpack and the sleeping bag, tent and a sleeping mat. The total weight of my luggage was 20 kilos without food, and while wearing winter clothes.
You need to make sure that you tie everything properly. Balance the weight of your luggage against yours to make sure you will be biking safely. This will also be helpful in biking faster.
In total, it costed me 100 euros to prepare my bicycle – buying the needed accessories, the camping gas, and a locker. The most expensive I bought was the pannier. I bought most of the stuff in Decathlon, because they have cheap prices. 100 euros was out of my budget for this trip, but it was essential for me to think about safety first. For checking if the bicycle is still fit for this kind of travel, I didn’t spend any money. I did this by myself as I usually go biking. I also own a lot of the accessories needed for the trip.
During the trip
We (I did my bicycle trip with a close friend of mine) didn’t pay any cent for sleeping during the trip. How was that possible to travel without money?
We used Couchsurfing most of the time. 70% of the trip, we were sleeping at our host’s home, 25% we were camping in the wild. About 5% of the time, we had to ask help from people we met on the way to give us a space for sleeping, churches, little space in the garden.
One website you can use to get free sleeping place is Warmshowers for bikers. I didn’t use this site because it was easier to find a host by Couchsurfing.
It was amazing the way people treated us during the trip, especially our hosts. After a long day cycling, people usually cooked a big dinner for us following with a great breakfast the next day. They also make sure that we were resting well.
The most of our expenses during the trip were in Spain and France. Basic expenses like food and beers. In Norway and Finland, I only spent money for fixing my bicycle, which costed me only a few euros. I didn’t have to spend even a cent for food in these countries!
Here is my complete travel without money bicycle route: From Madrid to Santiago Compostela (Santiago’s Way) – our route crossing North Spain. Next we went to Southwest France, and from there we headed to Luxembourg. We biked through Belgium and the Netherlands. We crossed North Germany then go to Denmark. Next was Sweden and went straight to Norway, biking until North Cape. From there, we biked to Helsinki, passing though Lapland. We biked a total of 9500 km in 5 months.
We biked all the way, crossing country to country, except when we had to cross from Denmark to Sweden. We had to pay 4 euros for 10 minutes sailing.
We took another ferry in Norway to go to Lofoten Islands (Tickets cost 20 euros per person). We luckily avoided the payment. How? It was a night ferry, for 4 hours, we didn’t get the ticket before the departure. Once had to pay inside the ferry for the fare, but nobody asked for tickets. So yeah. Ferry for free! Amazing experience in the ferry getting our first midnight summer experience.
We hitchhiked with the bicycle a couple of times during our trip. The first one was to avoid the payment crossing the longest bridge in Europe. It is in Denmark, 20 kilometers long. You should go by train, its a tollroad which isn’t allowed to ride your bicycle and rain ticket was very expensive. So, we stopped close to the road, and we tried asking for a ride. It was an easy hitchhike. We were able to get a ride in less than 10 minutes. A car stopped and got his bike racks out and drove us until the end of the bridge. It was my first experience hitchhiking with a bicycle, and it was a great one!
The second one was in Norway, my pedal broke, and I couldn’t drive the bike anymore. So I had to hitchhike for a couple of days (getting free rides from cars, caravan, and trucks). It was so hard to get a ride in North Norway, for two people with two bicycles. We were finally able to finish that way through riding with different cars to get our destination. Finally, after two days hitchhiking in Norway, we were able to reach a bicycle shop.
Biking for 100 kilometers per day will take you 5-7 hours, depending on the way. Hilly routes take more time and effort. Make sure to always have water ready to drink, to keep you hydrated all the time. When biking around towns, you can always ask for water, for free, from locals. The only money I spent for drinking during this trip was when we decided to drink beers on the way,a few times. We always managed to get free water along the way.
There is always water available from nature – waterfalls, streams, rivers. Running water will always be safe (running water coming from the mountains). You can also get water by asking in bars and restaurants, from cemeteries, museums, or even in public toilets.
During the whole trip, there was only one instance that someone from a bar asked us money for water. They wanted to charge us 1 Euro for water in France. I declined to pay for that, when water is free everywhere else and since our goal was to travel without money. When you make these kinds of decisions, you give your mind space to be creative. How can I get free water in France, in the middle of nowhere? The answer: the cemetery. Cemeteries always has a fountain!
If you want to have a few beers during your trip, beers are affordable when you buy in the supermarket. You can keep in mind that this can be cheap. Just avoid buying in Northern Europe, where everything is expensive. You can get some beers and put it in the supermarket freezer, and you can drink cold beer after a few minutes. If they are already chilled, good for you. Enjoy your beers instantly!
Biking for several hours will easily make you hungry. You need to make sure that you are eating properly for if not, you will not have enough energy to sustain you during your long bike rides. We also did dumpster diving, but you can’t always find a place to get food for free. It was my first time to try doing this. We were able to find cereals and muesli with milk in the morning, and sandwich for the rest of the day. We also found and ate energetic bars to fill ourselves on days we need much more energy. We usually stop on the way, try to find a good, quiet place to enjoy our food and rest a little bit. We had to do this a lot but when we spend time with hosts, we were always lucky because they prepare good food for us. When we buy or cook our own food, we make sure to have time to share with the hosts if the schedule permits to spend great time.
There are a lot of blueberries in Finland and Norway. You just need to ask locals where to find these in the middle of the forest. It can be a hard job, picking blueberries, but these are so tasty! You can even sell a bucket for 25 euros, depending on how good they are. You can get extra money recycling cans and plastic bottles. There is a machine in the supermarket where you can put cans and plastic bottles inside and you will get some money back.
I was always cycling on the correct side of the road, most of the time on bicycle lanes if it’s possible. Try to wear illuminated clothes to make sure people can see you faster. This will also help avoiding any traffic accident. The Netherlands and Denmark were the best countries for cycling. You can find a bicycle lane everywhere. Spain was actually the worst, with only a few bicycle lanes.
Biking for a long trip, you will, for sure get flat tires. You will have to change your brakes, fix cable for shifting, spread oil on your chain and clean your bicycle. You will have to change your wheels. Apart from these repairs, I only needed to change my pedal, which got broken along the way. If you can fix by yourself, you can save time and money. When you need to fix a flat tire, take it easy. Try to find a good location to fix your flat tire, protecting from the traffic. At the end of the trip, I gave away my bicycle to one of my hosts.
Personal Hygiene and Washing Clothes
Get a host by couchsurfing will be one of your luxury times during the trip. Or at least, that was our experience. Spending time in our hosts’ houses, we always had a great time. When you are camping in the wild, you can wash your clothes or bathe in rivers and streams. You can even do these in malls and libraries. Check out toilets in petrol stations, sometimes there have free showers. Take advantage of everything places have to offer for free. Just make sure you leave these places as clean as when you found them.
Getting Wifi and Electricity
Internet nowadays is an essential part of daily lives. Luckily, it was quite easy for us to get wifi everyday in the bicycle trip. The easiest way was in the library, in malls or in Mcdonalds. These places were all free sources of wifi for us, without having the need to buy a coffee. Don’t even think about eating in restaurants in Europe, just to get wifi. This will not help you travel without money. Restaurants are quite expensive in Europe. Sometimes, you can find a hotspot in the city. Take advantage of any moment you have free connection. Connect to refresh your GPS apps, or contact friends and family. If you are couchsurfing, you have plenty of chances to get wifi, and you can charge your devices, too. It’s important to save battery power, if you are using your phone to take pictures and for GPS.
If you want have a good rest, you need to choose the right place for camping. One important thing to note is that some countries don’t allow pitching tents like Spain, France and Denmark. This doesn’t mean you can’t use a tent. You just need to be very careful where you put up your tent. The tent has been a big help for us, apart from couchsurfing, to keep our travel without money. Sweden, Norway and Finland allow camping everywhere. Just pick the right spot. Under a roof is a perfect place, to cover you from rain or wind. This might be tricky to find. If you can’t find any roof, try to pitch the tent in the flattest place you can find. This will be comfortable for your back. Avoid stones as these will be too uncomfortable, even when you are sleeping on a mat. In our experience, pitching the tent in a flat place can also help in days that are raining. The rain can make sleeping feel bad for you. Usually, after an hour of raining, it will be humid inside your sleeping bag, and you should be ready for the cold.
Another option is to choose to sleep close to a river. You can bathe and wash your clothes, and get water in the morning, before heading for your bike trip.
Make sure before going inside your tent, that there are no mosquitoes. If there are any mosquitoes that already made their way inside your tent, try to remove them, so you won’t experience an uncomfortable night. Also, pitch your tent in a quiet place, far away from the noise, to have a good rest. If you make a fire, make sure that you put it off before leaving.
After the trip
Things that I would like to know before starting my bicycle trip:
About the saddle, if you can wear it with gel, you are going to feel much more comfortable. I wasn’t bringing one. For the panniers, try to buy without zipper. The pannier can get broken if it uses zipper. You will have to make sure that your stuff are neatly placed to avoid it opening many times. It can even get broken if it’s too heavy.
After finishing the trip, I realized that cycling for 100 – 120 kilometers a day can be exhausting. There were times that we had to ride our bikes for 100-120 kilometers for straight 12 days. We ended up really exhausted, muscles aching and knees weak. I can recommend 70 kilometers per day as a good distance when cycling. This will help you not bike for too many hours in a day.
Traveling with someone by bicycle is important. It can help you split the tasks and will serve as your support in the most difficult moments. Its safer two people cycling, you can be watched easilier. If you have a bicycle problem as we had, for example your wheel burst which happened to us. You need to go to the next town to buy a wheel while your friend is waiting for you in the road. Sharing tasks as pitching and putting back the tent, making fire, repair the bicycle, watch out the bikes while you are gonna buy something to the supermarket or just visiting toilet.
Is Norway the most expensive country in the world? For me, it doesn’t have to be. Norway was the one of the easiest countries to travel without money, by bicycle.
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It’s not expensive for traveling. We didn’t have to spend any cent during the two months of cycling in Norway and Finland. Our hosts thru couchsurfing helped us a lot. Dumpster diving with the bicycle in these countries also work so well. Everyday, you can find a lot of food just by going behind the supermarket. Open the bins and you can enjoy good, clean food, you can even carry some food in your panniers. Food that they throw in these countries are still packaged properly, usually thrown away for these are expired or about to expire. You can easily sift through these food and find good food for you. After 5 months of eating this food (sometimes before expiry, on the exact date of expiry, or even a few days expired), cycling under the rain, sleeping outdoors with a simple sleeping bag, I NEVER got sick.
My best moments during the trip cycling in Norway, was in the middle of great landscapes and the nature. If I need to choose one best moment, it would be camping next to the river. It was such a surreal moment, when reindeers suddenly came, drinking water next to us. It was so amazing, enjoying the view from the tent. Norway is perfect for traveling by bicycle. There are good areas for resting, clean and accessible toilets, and places to pitch your tent. The best news? Everything was for free.
The worst moment, if I had to choose one, was the trip leaving Norway and cycling in Finland (Lapland). It was long distances of cycling, seeing only forests. There were days that it were rainy and cold the whole time. I barely slept well during those rainy nights, especially when there are many mosquitoes. Sometimes, when you stop to get some rest, and you have food and you can’t find a dry place to stay at, and there are mosquitoes everywhere, you can lose your patience. It was a hard 5-days, but it was an experience to learn more about the world, and about myself. I am still so happy to have had this amazing experience.
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If you do good for others, others will do good things for you. Many people will offer you their help. And you should welcome this. I strongly believe in this, and I know that it is the truth for I have seen it in so many areas of life. Here is a great story of Rob, an American guy who evangelizes about taking the leap of faith and trusting people to help you.
[Tweet “Help people when it’s your turn to give help. “]
Help people when it’s your turn to give help. There are a couple of times someone asked for my help to fix their bicycles, and even fix their garden (both happened in Denmark). I helped them and they offered me money for that help, which I politely declined. After so many people helping us on the way, I considered it unfair to accept money in exchange for a small help. I enjoyed every minute of it anyway.
Have you ever traveled by bike before or are you just starting to think about it? What was your takeaways during that trip? Feel free to share so we can all learn together.
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