The Economics of Epic Excursions

Photo: I stayed in a lot of hotels on the Roller Coaster Tour. :)

This article will surprise some people and others will think nothing of it. There’s more to it than simply statistics about how much money I’ve spent on my excursions so I hope you’ll read all 1,500+ words.

I got a lot of hate from the peanut gallery when it came to the financial pit Roller Coaster Tour would be. I think a lot of people who commented about that either over-estimated it or live below the poverty line. And, fair enough, if you’re living below the poverty line the tour might as well have cost a million dollars.

I loosely budgeted $200/day ($6,000/month) for this excursion. Again, to a lot of people that sounds like a ridiculous sum of money. But how much does just living and staying put cost? A lot of people I know have monthly outlays of easily $5k/month. Mine is usually a lot less than that because when you’re living minimally it’s not extraordinarily expensive. Last year life cost me ~$3k/month. If I wanted to I could cut that down considerably, but I take a very loose approach to budgeting. The easiest way to put it is that I do what I want, but what I want is almost never very expensive.

I could have cut down the costs of the coaster tour considerably (especially in lodging and food costs), but my philosophy with the tour was similar to normal life.

I did what was:

a) comfortable

b) less stressful

I knew the tour would take an incredible toll on my body so I didn’t want to focus on saving a few dollars here and there in exchange for stressing myself out even more.

There are too many good books to read, people to meet, and thoughts to think to waste time on $10/hour tasks.

What I’m getting at is clipping coupons and spending hours upon hours of time to save a few bucks is not my idea of living. I have absolutely no issues with spending more money to save time.

Before I get into the details of the coaster tour costs, for reference and comparison let’s quickly go over a couple of past excursions:

Australia Excursion Costs

When I traveled through Australia/New Zealand for 100 days in 2009 it cost me almost exactly $10,000 ($100/day). This included all flights (I upgraded the long haul to Premium Economy) and other expenses (tours/side trips/etc).

This actually isn’t extravagant considering Australia is not cheap and I covered a lot of ground.

Australia looked like this: Sydney > Melbourne > Great Ocean Road > Adelaide > Alice Springs > Cairns > Daintree Rainforest > Brisbane > Sydney. And then I darted through 18 cities around the north and south islands of New Zealand.

Slow travel = cheaper travel. This was very rushed travel, which means it was more expensive.

Build A Guitar In India Excursion Costs

I spent a little over 2 months in India in 2010. 3 weeks of that was at a guitar workshop in Goa learning how to hand build guitars using virtually no power tools.

Building the guitar itself cost 55,000 Rupees. That was about $1,200 at the time. Renting a room at a guesthouse next to the guitar workshop was $13/day and I rented the room for 21 days. There were far cheaper places to stay in India, but I wanted to stay next to the guitar workshop in a nice guesthouse. I spent about $300 on food during those 3 weeks. That’s actually pretty difficult to do in India, but I eat a lot and ate out for almost every meal. My flight to India cost almost nothing ($60.20 in taxes) because I used free frequent flyer miles.

All told, that 3 week excursion cost less than $2,000.

Roller Coaster Tour Costs

I tracked every single penny I spent during the roller coaster tour (a link to my spreadsheet is below), because I knew I wanted to write this article. I did not include the 5 nights in Portland for World Domination Summit (June 2-7), since that was a separate business excursion and unrelated to the coaster tour.

To keep it simple I split up expenses into 5 categories:

  • Parks
  • Hotels
  • Gas
  • Food
  • Miscellaneous

#1: Hotels

Before I went on hiatus, I spent 43 nights on tour. Since I didn’t couch surf and rarely stayed with friends (I don’t know many people out west) my biggest cost was hotels. I spent $1,589.49 staying in hotels for an average lodging cost of $36.96 per night. (This average takes into account the nights I stayed for free with friends.) I only stayed in Motel 6 twice. For the most part I stayed in decent hotels (and sometimes even extraordinary hotels) by using Priceline. I routinely got great hotels for very cheap. In Denver, for example, I stayed for 2 nights at the Courtyard by Marriott in Downtown Denver for $51/night + taxes. The Expedia price for those same dates was $239/night + taxes.

The photo you see at the top of this post is my $1,589.49 bag of toiletries. :) I don’t use regular soap (I use Dr Bronner’s) and I haven’t used shampoo in over 2 years, so I collected the toiletries from my hotels because I thought it would be funny. It’s funny to me anyway!

#2: Gasoline

The next biggest cost was, as is probably expected, gasoline. I drove 9,949 miles for a grand total of $1,491.27 ($34.68/day) in petrol costs.

#3: Food

Coming in at $1,207.14 ($28.07/day) was food. I did my best to eat well, but it’s quite difficult on the road. Especially when you’re in the middle of nowhere and your options are Taco Bell or McDonald’s. If I never eat Taco Bell again it will be too soon. BTW, if you’re gonna go crappy fast food burritos then Taco John’s > Taco Bell. But I’m sick of Taco John’s as well. Whole Foods, veg*n restaurants, and Thai restaurants were my go-to as often as possible. (The black bean quinoa salad at Whole Foods is outstanding even if it does come it at a hefty $8.99 per pound.) My food costs include taking people out for meals. When I stayed with somebody I usually bought them at least one meal and often more.

#4: Miscellaneous

Coming in at #4 was Miscellaneous at $565.08. This included parking (very few parks have free parking), highway tolls, and other expenses like oil changes that don’t fall under any of the other categories. I’m actually kind of surprised I spent this much on miscellaneous stuff, but when parking is $10-$20 per park it adds up pretty quickly.

#5: Coaster Parks

I have a feeling a lot of people who followed my journey thought the roller coaster parks were going to be a significant chunk of change, but the parks came in last at $358.10. I spent $165 on a Platinum Pass from Cedar Fair, which included access to all their parks + free parking. I also bought a $75 Six Flags pass that got me into all their parks, but did not include parking. Truthfully, I probably could have gotten into all of these parks for free. A few of the Cedar Fair parks gave me free tickets because I didn’t realize they were Cedar Fair when I contacted them. Most parks didn’t cost me a dime and some parks I either couldn’t get ahold of, or they simply wouldn’t give me a free ticket. This was rare, but it happened.

Total living expenses from May 21 – July 6? $5,271.03

Check the whole day-by-day break down spreadsheet right here.

Is An Epic Excursion Unfathomable To You?

I know I’m going to get a lot of e-mails about this with a lot of excuses.

  • “You spent $5k on this?! I could never do that.”
  • “Uhm, I can’t afford to do stuff like this.”
  • You can surely imagine all of the lame excuses so I won’t continue.

Listen, if you’re reading this you have so much opportunity around you it’s sick. Opportunity is everywhere. You can choose to get off your ass and embrace it or you can sit on your ass and complain. That choice will always be yours.

A few weeks ago Pearson and I were at Six Flags Fiesta Texas talking about this very thing. If your goal is to make enough money to do some fun stuff and you’re not currently making that happen then you’re probably not even trying. Turn off the TV, put down the greaseball burger, and get to work.

In the illustrious words of Trick Trick: “Let’s work. You don’t work you don’t eat. I don’t wanna hear it’s hard in these streets.

Quit Bitchin’ and Earn More Money

It all comes down to this. If all of these costs sound insane to you you probably have a scarcity mindset. Don’t worry, it happens to all of us. If you want to make epic excursions happen in your life it’s much more prudent to learn how to earn more money (<– study that link) than to save $3/day by clipping coupons.

That said, none of this has to be extraordinarily expensive.

Statistical break downs of epic excursions:

If you’ve done any epic excursions recently or in the past I’d love to see a breakdown of your own costs and I’ll add the link to this list. (Leave the link in the comments below.)

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  1. I think it sounds like a FABULOUS trip! And no, not incredibly expensive at all; sounds about right. Good for you! My suggestion: donate those toiletries to a local shelter- they are always in need there.
    Way to go Karol! : ) Heather

    • I agree with you Heather! :)

      And you sounding really great, Karol! I mean spending that amount of money in total sounds all worth it just base from your experiences in this unforgettable coaster trip. In fact I envy you for doing this kind of excursion. I’d love to do the same, maybe. But if I chicken out then I guess it would be just enough for me to get a chance riding one even just for once. ;)


  2. I love this Extraordinary breakdown here… One thing missing was a note if you were going to continue the tour or not. Or if you were still going to travel to the spots even if you weren’t going to ride.

    More importantly, how are you feeling?

    I hear you on that last part man… I have a big surf excursion planed and I know I want to have it budgeted nicely, but I would rather spend the time making more money before I go so my budget can be more freely spent as yours. I need to buy into amazing experiences, and for what it is worth, getting barreled on a pristine beach is priceless to me!

    Surfs up,

    p.s. I just realized, if I had to DELETE ALL BUT 1 blog from my reader… I would keep yours Karol. Every piece just hits so hard. Thank you.

  3. That doesn’t sound like all that much, especially considering hotel stays. Why someone would complain that you are spending your money this way is not comprehensible to me.

    I do have one suggestion; please reconsider using lame as a synonym for “bad” or “awful” or “cliched” or “boring,” it is after all a descriptor for a person with a physical disability and isn’t in itself a negative thing.

    • I think people will find anything to complain about. :)

      As for lame, I understand that is one definition, but it is not the only definition. From weak; inadequate; unsatisfactory; clumsy: a lame excuse.

  4. Hope you are recuperating well! I think people have this mindset that minimalist-location-independent-entrepreneur types must be broke. Selling everything to get out of debt and choosing to live a simpler lifestyle can be two different things. Every blogger out there listing their expenses comes from a different perspective and has a different standard of living. Personally I will choose Priceline over couch-surfing every day!
    P.S.–I collected a bunch of brand name soaps from resorts (especially Disney) & sold them on eBay. Never ceases to amaze me what people will buy. :)

    • “I think people have this mindset that minimalist-location-independent-entrepreneur types must be broke.” – Probably because the majority of those who blog about it are.

      BTW, I love CouchSurfing. It changed my life and I owe it a lot. I’m definitely not ragging on it and will use it in the future. The thing is, for something like this there was so much planning involved that I didn’t want to add yet another huge planning step by CouchSurfing. That’s 30 minutes/day that I just didn’t want to spend.

      That’s crazy that people would buy the soaps! :) I’ll most likely donate them.

  5. Glad to see you are back in action, Karol! And glad to know you’re not dead or suffering from serious brain injuries.

    Sorry to hear the tour didn’t work out as planned, but c’est la vie! It was still a cool experiment. Looking forward to see what you’re up to next.

  6. Wow, I’m thinking: That’s it?! $5k? I mean, truthfully that is 3 months salary right there but not too bad when you think about it as “awesomely rad adventure.” I’d definately buy less junk now to save for something like that (or actually you know increase my income -.-).

    What are you going to do with all that soap and shampoo??

    • That’s the spirit. :) But there is nothing wrong with saving. It’s smart to save *and* increase income. And, depending on where you’re at, it may very well be smart to save $3/day by using coupons or whatever else is at your disposal. I’m not knocking it in that respect. I’m knocking it for the people who complain about not being able to go after their dreams/desires.

      I’ll probably donate the soap/shampoo if Goodwill or whoever else local will accept it.

  7. Not too expensive considering it was an EPIC plan :) I’ve found that the people who email me to bitch about the money, and their lack of…how they can’t afford epic adventures…they often own really, really nice televisions. Which is cool, but, you know. definitely a choice :)

    • “…they often own really, really nice televisions.” astute observation Shannon :)

      Hopefully I’ll make it to Florida some time soon to hang out. I actually completely quit the tour and stopped driving. :)

      • But that sucks! :( I mean, good that you stopped and chose to make the healthy choice for you, but sucky that you aren’t coming. :::Shannon stomps foot and starts pouting::

        Keep me posted if you decide to head this way ;)

        • I still have tentative plans to make it to FL at some point, but I obviously won’t be there this week as previously planned. Everything is very up in the air right now. :)

  8. Hey Karol,

    I recently completed a two-year bicycle tour around South America, from Colombia to Argentia via Brazil. The following link is a stastistical breakdown of my mileage and expenses by country—hopefully this will help others planning to travel in this stunning continent.

    A few commented that I could have traveled more cheaply. I addressed their comments, but my philosphy is similar to yours: money is not money for money’s sake, it should allow you to do what you want. For example, to acheive my goal of learning Brazilian Portuguese I emulated Brazilians, which meant spending more in an already expensive country….

    But I learned Portuguese:)

    Take care,

  9. 5k for 6 weeks living it large seems like a deal, especially considering you were moving around each day. Did you keep up rent/mortgage at home while you were away?

    I spent four months in Asia before kids and marriage. Spent a ton, but at least half of it was on beer.

    • This was all my living expenses, not counting business expenses that obviously don’t count.

      Spending half your money on beer in Asia sounds tough. It’s so cheap there! :)

  10. The first thing I noticed was that HUGE bag of soap. Have you heard of The Global Soap Project? They take new and used hotel soaps, sterilize, melt them down and remold them into bars that are shipped to poverty stricken areas of Africa. Just a thought since you said you don’t use them. I love Dr. Bronners too. Peppermint is my favorite.

  11. Thanks for sharing how affordable an epic adventure like this can be! And I just caught up on your hiatus and the difficulties you encountered – I hope things are getting better, and sounds like you’re off to more great adventures!

    The money issue is one we take a bit of flack on too. Folks seem to assume that adopting a mobile lifestyle equates to wanting a frugal one. Which isn’t us. Yes, we’re saving greatly over our past fixed place homes and we’re conscious consumers, but we’re out here being frugal and totally minimalist. We’re here to have the life of our choosing.

    We just did a month riding around the USA on Amtrak in search of our Vintage Bus. That month cost us about $4-5k (for 2 people) between the train pass, a sleeper car for a segment, food, hotels, rental cars, etc. Arranging couchsurfing, etc. is time consuming and not always the easiest choice. Plus it can be stressful when you’re on the move and can really appreciate a re-charge of having your own space and not feeling like you have to be social. We too did Priceline and Hotwire to book hotels last minute when we arrived places. Totally worth the expense for us to keep our sanity.

    Our full time travels (now over 5 years) tend to cost us about $20-25k per year for two people including campgrounds/rent, airfare, food, cellular phones, insurance, fuel, etc. We think this is a bargain for the abundance of life it affords us.

    We’ve kept a monthly log of our expenses for a couple years at:

    Best wishes.. and bright adventures ahead!
    – Cherie

    • Thanks for sharing your link Cherie. $20-25k for 2 is amazing!

      And nice bus! Looks like lots of fun adventures in store. :)

    • Hey Nick, this blog generates a lot of traffic and income. The coaster blog generated a decent amount of traffic, but virtually no income.

  12. I love it Karol!

    People can do this stuff even if they have a salaried job. It seems as though most people just make money and have no idea why they are doing it. The consumer mentality moves us to buy “stuff” with our money even if what we truly want is go on amazing adventures.

    If we looked at earning money as a tool to take these extraordinary excursions, more people would realize just how easy it is.

    • “If we looked at earning money as a tool to take these extraordinary excursions, more people would realize just how easy it is.” Thanks for making that point Nick. Money is exactly that, a tool.

  13. I think you are so great, Karol. When I started writing down everything I earn and everything I spend, that alone helped me earn more money. But it was the clarity that it brought me that helped me focus on what I really want to spend money on. And I know I can take these amazing trips you have too if I wanted to. And that is SO freeing. Just knowing I am not limited and can make more money if I wanted. Right now I do not want to travel anywhere, because I love my little tiny farm and tiny house and looking out the window and seeing my kids playing in the garden. BUT that could easily feel like a trap if I didn’t feel this freedom.
    And I think the shampoo collecting is funny. We only use Dr. B’s too!
    Thanks for the large doses of inspiration you deliver to my inbox!

    • Thank you Yvonne.

      It feels good to know exactly what you want. Thank you for being a positive example for your kids and for others.

  14. love the economic breakdown- & had no idea priceline could be so cheap- I’d always been dubious before and never really tried it….

    doing bookkeeping, while not my favorite part of running a business, is always SO interesting once it’s finished.

    but you’re not going to make it to Maine! take care, feel better :)

    • Do you know how badly I’d been wanting to visit Maine? I never had any excuse to do it until the coaster tour. Although I guess I don’t need an excuse. My Parents are there right now and have been regaling me with the beauty of the state.

      As for Priceline: the trick is going to, searching the city you want, finding the most recent successful bid, and bidding that price. 80% of the time that bid got accepted. Sometimes I’d have to try again with a higher bid.

      • awesome…thanks re: priceline. will use.

        maine is only good for about 2 months a year, and they are now. you should be here!

  15. Karol,

    I am glad you are not making excuses, none are necessary for your trips. I find that people often put themselves into a box as a way of limiting their potential, it is refreshing to meet someone else who is “limitless”, but I guess that is why I enjoy your blog.

    I recommend “The Simple Dollar” written by Trent Hamm for anyone who needs to learn Personal Finance. As for making more money, that comes from finding out what you do well and leveraging it.

    Keep up the great work!

    • Thanks Jeffrey. In a way, we all put ourselves in boxes. It’s easy. It’s neat. “What do you do?” “Oh, I’m an X.” It makes life simple. But simple isn’t always fun. :)

  16. I think everybody should do whatever they want to do and I’m happy you got to do at least a partial coaster tour. We’ve been teased for driving old cars but guess what? We get to travel more than most. Choices.

  17. Cool choice of remarkable trips. Love the roller coaster tour!

    I’m a bassist and my dream trip would be to jam with some of my favourite bassists…Stanley Clarke, Victor Wooten, Billy Sheehan, Armand Sabal…you get the idea. Thinking now about how I could set this up. One possibility is “Bass Days” held in NYC where all the great bassists attend and hold clinics.

    BTW, Loved your book on the twelve rings of minimalism. Does owning 4 basses sound too excessive?

    • Thanks Mike! Glad you enjoyed the book. It’s all about you. If 4 basses or 400 basses sounds good to you that’s all that matters. :)

      Bass Days sounds fun! :) Not familiar with Armand Sabal, but the other guys are bad asses!

  18. Maybe I should do what you did. I love the idea of the Dijbass (cross between a Didgeridoo and a bass- check it out on YouTube). I should hop a plane to Arnhemland in Australia to learn how to make my own. Maybe then I can let go of my bass menagerie.

    BTW, subsequently to reading your book I did the following: (1) Sold, donated, gave away or threw out most of my stuff, (2) paired my wardrobe down to one week’s worth of clothes, (3) took up Tai Chi, (4) save one hour’s salary every day and put it into an account to fund ridiculously extraordinary adventures…will be moving to Paris at the end of the year! I’m stoked to the max! Meilleurs voeux, mon ami! (oh yeah, I learned to speak and write French, too)

    • Mike, that is awesome. So glad you enjoyed the book and took action. I hope it’s worth sharing with friends. (Easy via Kindle’s Lending feature.)

      And learning how to make a Dijbass sounds great!

  19. Hi Karol, thanks for laying it all out. I recently went into detail about t about how I have been able to afford 12 years of continuous travel. Most people make excuses about why they can’t do something, and money often ends up being a perfect excuse. If you aren’t happy with life then change something. If you want to achieve something epic then make a plan and then take action. Life is too short to not be happy. You can see the details (in this overly long post) here:

    Thanks again for laying everything out so transparently and honestly.

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