Saturday, August 12, 2017

Lindau, Germany: Musings from the Road

”Musings from the Road” is any post where the content is not constrained by chronology. This gives me more freedom to write about whatever comes to my mind, though the content will almost always be influenced by the tour in some way.

On Public Places to Stay

There is no hiding where this one is going: I believe that everybody has the right to a place to sleep. The kicker? Sleep should be free.

This does not mean a “fancy” free place to sleep – I am not saying, obviously, that hotels should be free or that anyone can walk into your house and use the spare bedroom. Just somewhere. The logical counterargument is that one needs property to sleep and property isn't free, so how can a place to sleep be free?

I don't know. Whether the way we distribute property makes sense is another argument entirely (I got here first! It's mine and I'm not native American!), but since I don't want to go there (I suspect the status quo is impossible to change; it is imperfect, but so widely subscribed to...), let me simply muse.

This trip is only possible because I stealth camp. I never leave trash behind and I never destroy property – I live by “leave no trace.” And if someone were to find me and ask me to leave, I would. I simply cannot afford to travel the world staying in hotels every night. Countless people, mostly hosts on Warmshowers but sometimes complete strangers, have taken me in and given me a shower and a bed, or just permission to camp in their yard or garage or shed from time to time. I am privileged to experience this; it's not something I ask for or expect every night nor would it be reasonable to ask for or expect every night.

But stealth camping is, 99% of the time, illegal. There are fortuitous places (some public property in the rural States; Scotland) where it is legal. We've made it really hard for people to sleep without paying. I have found the occasional shed or roof when the weather calls for it, though I often wonder if I was found, whether measures would be put in to prevent others from sleeping there again (most poignantly, I recall a shed behind an empty fire station I slept in when there was a thunderstorm coming in. After an hour, I heard people outside, opened the door, introduced myself, and asked permission to stay. The answer was yes, but I often wonder if the shed has since been locked).

Obviously I plan to host other cycle tourists when this tour is over. But would I let a homeless person sleep in my yard for a night? Aren't cycle tourists, on some level, just mobile homeless people? What if someone homeless asked me, “Hey, I've got a job interview tomorrow. I could really use a shower and a good night's sleep. Can you help me out?”

One of my hosts once unknowingly hosted someone abusing the system – an ex-con pretending he was on a bicycle tour in order to get free food and places to sleep. When the host figured this out, they were at first embarrassed. But when they told me this story, they laughed about it. “Who cares?” they said. “Guy got a shower, meal, and a good night's rest. Hope it helped him find a job.” I was grateful they were humble enough it didn't keep them from hosting again – too often one bad egg spoils the lot.

It's hard to get really far into this without getting political, so though it may seem unfinished, I'll leave it here as food for thought. It's a conversation better had with readily available statistics, too (eg, how many people “abuse the system?”). But I think about it often: how can we continue to provide affordable travel like bicycle touring? Or, is travel destined to be an activity only for the bourgeoisie? And at the most basic level – should we have to pay someone every time we close our eyes, a need as basic as water?

Comme tu veux

It was with great sadness that I left France and the French-speaking part of Switzerland. But there are many things about French (the language and the culture) that I liked very much. My favorite is the phrase “comme tu veux,” which translates to “as you like.” This was said to me by almost every host I had and then some. I like it because it sidesteps the dance of what's alright and what's not, putting the responsibility for the decision squarely in the hands of the guest. Here are the options for dinner – choose as you like. You can stay later: as you like. There is no pretext of “actually I really want you to pick A even though I offered B.” It's refreshing and simple and has forced me to be more decisive in the best way.

“Ca marche?” (pronounced “sah marsh”) also needs a shout-out. Translating to “That walks?” it's the English equivalent of “Ok?” or “does that work?” But like... with style. Ca marche? Ca marche.


A dilemma often faced when traveling is whether to choose what's reliable and familiar or whether to explore the unknown. I reference often in my blog looking for and finding McDonald's restaurants. How American! But actually, I don't like the food here very much, and I'm acutely aware how unhealthy it is for you. It's just... McDonald's almost always has free internet (I found one once that did not).

On tour, as in life, you have certain basic needs: food, water, a bathroom and a place to sleep. Sometimes, a roof (even not as a place to sleep – just to warm up, perhaps). I don't think internet is technically a “need” (I've been seriously considering living without it when I get back to the States) but it sure is nice to have: Hi mom, I'm alive! And it can lead to the other needs – for instance, you can use internet to find a Warmshowers host.

And when you're in a strange country it's nice to know where to get these things.

I've long been considering making a video about why shopping at non-local stores (and paying via credit card) is bad for the economy (I probably would have made it already except my travel laptop doesn't have the processing power, and I don't have the time). I guess when traveling though, especially in places where I don't speak the language, it's nice not to have to “seek out” the local grocery store, internet cafe, whatever. I want what's reliable. I want what's convenient – because so many other aspects of bicycle travel are, often, inconvenient. I get to sample the local cuisine at other times.

But I'm still acutely aware that I could be traveling differently.


I actually wrote this musing when on the ferry from Wales to Ireland, but then my computer crashed and I lost it. So, let's try again.

I'm a numbers guy – I love to know how much things cost. I also think other people are curious: how affordable is bicycle travel? Maybe you donated and are wondering how far your donation went, maybe you want to know where I got “all that money” (a question often asked when I say I'm “traveling the world” and might be gone “at least a year” which should naturally cost tens of thousands of dollars, right!?), maybe you're planning your own tour and want a baseline. So, while I budgeted $20/day, here's where I actually stand for April, May, and June:
- Number of days on tour: Call it 90 (three months)
- Total amount spent: $2,823, $31/day
- Amount spent on “daily” expenses (mostly food, but anything under $50): $965, $10/day
- Amount spent on “big” expenses (health insurance, plane tickets, bike parts): $1858, $21/day

These numbers are probably plus or minus 10% because I had to combine information from two accounts (my debit card and credit card) and various statement periods (credit cards, bless them, don't always start or end on the first or last of the month). If I come back in a year and the numbers are different, don't be surprised.

So I'm doing really good – better then I expected, actually. I know, I know: $31/day! Over budget! Except... not really.

I (hopefully) won't have to buy a plane ticket again until I get to the Pacific Ocean. I'm not currently paying for health insurance (thanks EU!) and when I do buy it again, it will cost about half as much as I was paying in the States. So the “big” expenses are heavily front-loaded and will get more absorbed the longer I'm on tour. Consider what the next 90 days might look like:
- Continue to spend $10/day on “daily” expenses: $900
- Spend only $500 on “big” expenses
- Cost per day over those 90 days: $15
- New cost per day over the whole trip (($2823+$900+$400)/180 days): $22

Frankly, I expect to beat even that, since I aim to spend nearly nothing when WWOOFing in Ukraine for 30 days (I'll get room and board in exchange for work).

Again, I'm sure these numbers are not 100% accurate, but that's more or less where I stand. So no: I'm not super rich (by some standards... I fully acknowledge $3k goes very, very far in some countries) and I'm not living glamorously ($10/day + health insurance and a plane ticket?). I did live pretty bare bones to save up “all that money” (no car for three years, small apartment, lots of oatmeal and rice), but the point is, you don't have to spend thousands to see the world if you're willing to live in a tent. Also, if you want me to do a post on how easy it is to live without a car and the ridiculous amount of money you'd save, let me know... I'm pretty sure I could write that in my sleep.

You can also see how even one or two hotel rooms would wreak havoc – staying one night in a $100 hotel is 5 days of living expenses!

And if you donated – we know now that every postcard gets me another day of living expenses (food). Thank you!

1 comment:

  1. Your thoughts on a place to sleep as being essential were very thought provoking. Congrats on being more decisive. I wonder if that is a characteristic of the French - their willingness to let you decide without any hidden agenda. Congrats on the finances - I am so impressed! Love you, Mom