Saturday, February 24, 2018

Finances and Other Statistics

If you like narratives, this post will be boring. If you like numbers, it will be interesting. I like numbers.

I finally got around to doing finances for the trip. Spoiler alert: it was more expensive than I thought it was.

While it’s hard to remember exactly what was bought before the trip for the purposes of the trip (as opposed to for use before/after, like moving expenses), with my best guesses about each line item on my statements, the tour cost $9,324. At 239 days away from home, that’s $39/day (note the cost includes things bought before the 239 days started, like when I was testing my bike).

I was hoping for more around $20/day. BUT, this total includes health insurance -- an extra $1,189 for three months in the US, and $124 per month for a month in Eastern Europe and a month in Africa.

This also includes spending a lot more on my bike than I realized -- it cost all of $100 to put together since all I did was buy a “new” frame and put the parts from my old touring bike on it. The total cost of repairs and parts throughout the tour, including two wheels, two chains, a seat, and at least 6 tires (thanks, Schwalbe…) came out to $919. To be fair: a nice, new touring bike with racks, panniers, etc. would have been at least $1400. But it’s still more than I would’ve liked.

Other ways to break down the $9,324 total:
- $1,189 on US health insurance (mentioned above).
- $919 on bicycle maintenance (mentioned above).
- $1,191 on groceries, $5/day.
- $914 on non-grocered food (ex eating out, prepared food bought at gas stations).
- $739 on flights, buses, and trains.
- $1,436 on gear and visas.
- $1,537 withdrawn from ATMs and spent as cash. The most cash (instead of credit) spent was my month in Africa: $487, almost a third of all cash spent over the nine month tour.

So... had I gone without health insurance and never eaten out, the trip would have cost about $6973, or $29/day. Additionally, subtracting the cost of bicycle maintenance puts us at $6054, or $25/day -- much closer to my original idea of $20/day.

Do I regret having health insurance? Maybe. I never needed it. The shots for the malaria I contracted in Africa cost $7. My bicycle got bit by a dog, but I never did. Maybe I’d rather have that $1437. But maybe I’d have gotten appendicitis in the middle of rural Pennsylvania and needed a $7,000 airlift to the ER for a $25,000 hospital stay. US healthcare is ridiculous.

I did sell postcards, though, and made $1684 doing so. In theory that means I wrote 168 postcards, though some people chose to donate more or less. My biggest donation was $314 for 12 postcards, or $26 each; the average donation was $20 each for 79 actual postcards. I asked for $12 each. I think people mostly appreciated that I was trying to do something to recoup the costs… and yea, if I thought someone’s idea was really cool, I might look for something like a handwritten postcard in order to donate to them (just look at Kickstarter rewards nowadays -- $5 for an auto-generated thank-you email? *ahem*).

Anyways, $9,324 spent and $1,684 recouped is a net cost of $7640, or $31/day for a 239-day trip.

On my 2012 tour across the US, the net cost was $1460, about $20/day for a 74-day trip. I did not have to pay for health insurance (I was still on my mom’s after college graduation) nor for any flights or visas. All the “gear” I got was wholesale since I worked for a bike shop, and I started with a “new” bike.

In 2016, the last full year I lived in one place, I spent $20,709. For a given 239-day period, that would have been about $13,597, 45% more than the $9,324 I spent on my 239-day tour. Note both of these figures ($9,324 for tour and $13,597 for a chunk of 2016) include everything I paid for: rent (if applicable -- not when touring!), food, plane tickets, cell service, eating out, bicycle maintenance, etc.

So yea… bicycle touring can be significantly cheaper than staying in one place. “How can you afford it,” they asked. To be fair, having $9,000 to spend isn’t easy. I saved for a while. Mostly by not owning a car.

I probably fall somewhere in the middle of touring expenses. There are tourists who eat rice and beans with the minimalist gear -- I’ve heard claims as low as $5/day -- and there are what we call “credit card” tourists who stay in hotels every night, topping $300/day.

But if you know me, you know I like to look at data. Especially data about myself. Because I know how accurate it is, and I know how much I had to stretch myself -- which in this case, was not at all. I lived comfortably on tour (noting that I am comfortable in a tent in the woods on the side of the road). $5/day seems like a stretch. I want those boulangeries.

Some other fun stuff:
- Excluding Ukraine, I took about 22 days off (where I stayed somewhere for 3 days or more with the intent of getting to know a place) and about 27 rest days (where I stayed somewhere just one or two days with the intent of doing absolutely nothing except sleeping and eating, or fixing my bike and planning ahead if necessary).
- If I spent 30 days on the farm in Ukraine, that means I spent 160 days pedaling, only 67% of the time I was gone.
- At 9700 miles, I pedaled an average of 60 miles a day on the days that I pedaled, and 40 miles a day overall.
- I stopped counting somewhere in Germany, but up until then (127 days) I had been hosted by friends (people I knew before starting the trip) at least 24 nights (18%, about once every 5 days), Warmshowers hosts (people I cold contacted via at least 22 nights (17%, about once every 5 days), and complete strangers (people I had never met before) at least 13 nights (10%, about once every 10 days).

In other news, I found that post I thought I’d lost, which means there’s probably only one post left after this. I’m headed to Madison next week to find a job, and then… who knows, I might stop trying to have a normal life again, fly to Istanbul, and keep biking. So maybe more than one post. Maybe a mental breakdown about adjusting to real life. Maybe the desire for reminiscing about encounters with strangers becoming tearful goodbyes to become real again.

Let’s wait and see.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Secret Ending of Walter Mitty

I’ve often raved about a movie I once called my favorite, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (SPOILER ALERT). But now that I’m back I’ve taken a closer look at it, and I’m not so sure it’s my favorite anymore. I never liked the “man gets the woman just for finishing his quest” narrative, though Secret Life does it more gently than most American films. But what really gets me is the impression that he goes back to his normal life. I’m sure his secret life has changed him in subtle ways, but the movie ends with him updating his resume and holding hands with Cheryl. Maybe that’s what the movie is really trying to say: “adventure and human connection are more important than capitalism --” and that narrative I agree with -- but Walter doesn’t manage to build a life for himself through his adventure. He gets back, writes “fought a shark” on his resume, asks out Cheryl, sees a picture of his old life, and then the credits roll.

But what happens then!?

We hope Walter is different. We hope his old type of job -- of staying in one place and not really connecting with people -- won’t satisfy him. We hope he’s learned that a woman you “win” by going on a quest is one who is a little shallow. We hope he’s not admiring that photo of his old life, but accepting that it’s part of the past, and knowing that he’s different now.

Here’s what I think could happen. I think Walter starts to stand up for himself and what he wants. I think he stops settling. And I think that has far-reaching impacts in all his relationships and his career prospects. I think he fights with people he once got along with. I think he makes a few mistakes and enters back into his old habits sometimes, but catches himself and confronts the people who put him there.

And I think those confrontations are some of the ugliest and most painful of his life. Because he is still trying to figure out who he is, and being vulnerable around judgemental, self-centered people when you are trying to figure out who you are can be absolutely devastating.

I think this new Walter is much more likeable than the old one. The next movie doesn’t start with Walter getting endorsements from his favorite photographer, from his sister, from his mom. The bad guy isn’t someone who threatens to fire him. We like Walter because he knows he’s fallible. We like Walter because he struggles. And the bad guy is himself. The bad guy is complacency, and anger, and his inability to summon compassion for the people who have hurt him. The bad guy is the voice that tells him to chase after the people who treat him like the old Walter. Because being treated that way is comfortable. It’s safe. And it’s unhealthy.

Walter has figured out who he is. Now he needs to figure out how that person operates in the larger context of society. He needs to figure out who his friends are, who his lover(s?) are. We don’t know what happens after Walter leaves that magazine on the stand. But I like to think he’s leaving his old life behind. I like to think he’s headed towards something better.