How to Live Frugally, so You Can Follow Your Big Dreams

People sometimes wonder if they should live more frugally. Is it really worth giving up daily pleasures just to save money for some far away dream?

It really depends on what your goals are. For cyclists Sarah and Scott, there was no doubt about why they should live frugally. By choosing to live on less money, they could afford to follow their big dreams and travel the world on bikes!

In this interview, you will learn how Sarah and Scott prepared for their big world trip. You will also learn about their favorite camping gear, the best parts of their cycling adventure, their future plans – and how they overcome “cycle tourer” blues.

Cyclists Sarah and Scott

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

We are Sarah Webb and Scott Daniel-Gutierrez – two Aussies in their early 30s from Brisbane. Before leaving Australia (in June, 2014), I worked as a newspaper journalist and Scott worked as a truck driver. We were both keen to see the world and have a real adventure so we quit our jobs, packed up our apartment and pedalled from Scotland to China where we worked as English teachers for a year. We then cycled through South East Asia and are now huffing and puffing our way from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Ushuaia, Argentina – a feat that could take another couple of years.

Before leaving our cosy apartments, we’d camped just a handful of times and were bloody hopeless cyclists. We’ve since climbed mountains, cycled through swollen streams, drunk tea with Berbers in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains, made it through a brutal Iranian summer, traversed Tajikistan’s Pamir Mountains, and cycled through the rustic Tibetan villages of Western Sichuan, China.

We’ve also cycled through altitude sickness, Giardia, endless cases of food poisoning and a few blizzards. Did we do it all with a smile on our faces? NO! We whinged, complained, moaned, and had more tantrums than we’re willing to admit. But we also had a hell of a blast. Adventure hasn’t come easy for us and despite both being fairly outgoing people (I’m more of an extrovert than Scott), this trip has not just thrust us a light year out of our comfort zones, but also tested us in ways we never even fathomed.

Our coping mechanism is honestly just to laugh at ourselves and try not to take it too seriously while hoping like hell that one day we become lean mean cycling machines who actually like mountain climbs and laugh in the face of headwinds.

Right now we are in Whitehorse, the largest city in the Yukon of Canada, where we’ve taken a small break from the bike to catch up with visiting family and just lounge around drinking coffee and reading (two of my favourite things) and sampling some local beers while playing with our friend’s cat (two of Scott’s favourite things).

Cyclists Sarah and Scott

How and why did you get into cycling?

While living in Townsville, Australia, we’d decided to give triathlons a crack (there wasn’t much else to do) and despite embarrassing ourselves thoroughly (I lost to a bunch of octogenarians), we fell in love with biking but more importantly we became addicted to throwing ourselves out of our comfort zones. At the same time, met an amazing cycling couple who had done some small bike tours and their influence helped plant the seed. During a slow work day, I began to contemplate pedalling Europe, but figured if we were going to go that far, why not do the world. We’d long wanted to take time off for a big global trip but that wasn’t enough – I wanted to go one better.

Some quick researching revealed a plethora of people who had done just that and so for the next couple of years we saved, researched and slowly began buying all the equipment we needed. Physically buying the gear turned it from a dream into reality – something we’d struggled to do for many years – and then buying the flight to Europe (I was so keen to lock in a date I booked it about 11 months out) really cemented it. I’ve met so many people who dream of travel or adventure but find the biggest hurdle to be actually getting out the door – the best advice we can now give is to lock in that date, make a commitment to your friends and family, and then worry about research and finances.

Saving enough for a bike trip is easy as it’s a pretty economical way of travelling (as long as you camp, cook your own meals and avoid big ticket tourist sites). Buying gear can also be economical if you’re willing to shop the sales, buy second hand and just make do. We put way too much of an onus on gear before leaving and spent way more than we needed. Remember you can buy stuff on the way and there honestly are people out there who are going round the globe on a bike worth under $200.

As to getting in shape for an adventure like this (something many people worry about it) it’s honestly the least of your problems as you will get fit on the road. We were pretty out of shape when we pedalled out of Inverness and yes, the first month was tough, but we quickly built up leg muscle and most importantly, resilience. The great thing about bike touring is you can start off cycling literally 20km a day if you want and just gradually build up – or not – because it honestly doesn’t matter.

Cyclists Sarah and Scott

Why is cycling important for you?

People cycle or cycle tour for a million different reasons – but while we love our bikes and the act of cycling, to be completely honest the real reason we chose to bike the world was for the sheer adventure of it and the fact we’d get to see the small in-between places while not having to rely on other people to get us there. We’re not super athletic people and for us it’s not all about the bike, but rather what bike touring affords travellers.

As a traveller, having a fully loaded bike that’s roughly the weight of a small killer whale is a talking point, it opens up doors and invites hospitality. We’ve been welcomed into so many homes we’ve lost track (maybe people feel sorry for us) and we’ve met so many people and seen so many amazing things that your average traveller on a bus (or even hitchhiking) would never see. We also take a lot of pride in getting ourselves from A to B (unless there’s rain and a headwind and then we feel like soggy masochists).

Travelling this way has truly changed us over the past three years as well. We’ve become more resilient, more relaxed about schedules and deadlines and more trusting of people. There’s something bloody liberating about knowing you’ve cycled halfway around the globe and to be honest, it makes us feel as though anything is possible. The outdoors might not be for everyone but for us it’s helped us appreciate not just the sheer beauty of the world (and also how so many people try to screw that up) but also the simplicity and peace it affords. There’s nothing like the serenity of the back country while camping at night and when you’re 500km away from WiFi and there’s nothing like the simple pleasures of a hot meal and a good book under the stars. Everything feels a little simpler and less stressful.

Cyclists Sarah and Scott

What have been the best parts of your cycling adventures?

This is a tough one. But probably the best parts are the toughest parts (although not at the time). Pedalling through Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains, traversing the impossible plateaus of the Pamirs and witnessing the amazing intricacies of Tibetan culture at 4500 metres above sea level will stay with us forever. In Alaska, we tackled the Dalton Highway, which starts at the Arctic Ocean, and we’ve rarely been so gobsmacked by sheer beauty. We pedalled past muskox herd and a young grizzly, watched the midnight sun glow over the tundra and discovered a world so far away from anything we’ve ever known. Generally speaking though, the best parts of our cycling adventure have included great views, epic landscapes and awesome people (which we’ve found almost everywhere).

What have been the most difficult parts?

There was a moment towards the end of the Dalton Highway, in Alaska, where I honestly thought I wasn’t going to make it. I was tired – bone weary tired – saddle sores had opened are were weeping onto my shorts, my lips were blistered from wind burn and my body felt close to collapse. We’d traversed the equivalent of Everest by bike on that road and I just wanted to pack it in, hail a truck down and sleep for a week. Never, had I felt so close to hitting the wall – in fact I’d already hit and was climbing up the damn thing. It’s those times on a bike tour that really test you – to keep going feels like the biggest hurdle of your life. Sometimes they come when the going is just really, really tough, and sometimes they strike when you’ve been going for so long that travel starts to lose its magic and home starts to hold the appeal.

Since pedalling out of Scotland three years ago, we’ve hit the “cycle tourer” blues a few times and each time it’s taken a good two weeks or more to pull ourselves out. A trip of this magnitude (in terms of time) isn’t easy and staying enthusiastic and passionate about it at all times is simply not possible. Learning to not beat ourselves up about it (and then learning how to manage it – rest, relaxation and just a break from the grind) have kept us going. So basically, the psychological aspects of a tour are the toughest challenges and all the other things you imagine would hamper you (dangers, money and planning) really don’t. The world’s mostly made up of good people, wild animals are usually more scared of you and money can usually be made along the way if you have a bit of initiative.

Cyclists Sarah and Scott

How do you eat and sleep on the road?

We mostly sleep in our Nemo Dagger 3P tent, which is free-standing and can be pitched anywhere in any condition (check out our full gear list here) and we mostly eat our own cooked food. We carry a MSR Whisperlite International stove and usually cook porridge in the morning and some kind of pasta or rice dish at night. We eat sandwiches or wraps during the day and eat fruit, nuts and chocolate for snacks. Our bikes are Surly Long Haul Truckers and our panniers are MSX-Creative.

Travelling by bike, (especially when there’s big distances between supermarkets) can really limit what you buy. You need light-weight, high calorie meals that are inexpensive (hence pasta, chocolate, oats and wraps). Depending on the country, we also use Warmshowers – an excellent network of cyclists who host other cyclists – or stay in cheap hostels (South East Asia is a great, budget-friendly place to bike).

We love to treat ourselves to a nice meal every so often but we’ve found it’s a bit tougher in Canada and the United States where restaurant prices are a little high and then you have to tip on top of it (a very strange concept for Australians). We generally find that local markets are a great and inexpensive place to buy fresh groceries and otherwise big supermarket chains for cheap staples. What you eat also depends on the country you’re in (in terms of eating cheaply). In China we ate a lot of noodles, in the UK a lot of rice, bakes beans and pasta and in France a hell of a lot of bread. In Morocco, it was all about the couscous and in the States, it’s all about the peanut butter and pasta.

Cyclists Sarah and Scott

What are your best recommendations, tips, and advice for new cyclists?

Don’t get too caught up in recommendations, tips and advice! Overthinking your trip can be as dangerous as under thinking it. Also, if you get too caught up in how everyone else is doing it you’ll make yourself miserable. Cycle touring is tough enough without worrying that you’re doing it wrong (or not fast, tough or brave enough) so the best thing you can do is go your own pace in your own style. That said there are excellent biker resources out there that can guide you in the right direction of gear and top bike routes to give you an idea of what you need and some good places to go, such as the Facebook group Bike Touring & Bike Packing and the excellent websites Cycling About and Travelling Two.

Aside from that, our advice for new cyclists would be to not get too caught up in the expensive and brand-driven gear (there are some solid exceptions, such as your tent, panniers and bike) and to not worry too much about the fitness or “what could go wrong” aspects of it. If you’re not up for a big adventure, pedal a nice river route in Europe, if you want a tropical trip that includes plenty of hostels, cheap street food and nice roads – cycle Thailand. And if you want to get away from it all and put yourself to the test cycle Central Asia, Alaska, the Yukon or Patagonia.

Cyclists Sarah and Scott

How do you prepare for your cycling adventures?

Before setting off on our world trip, we definitely overthought it! We read everything we could (there are some great bike touring reads out there such as British adventurer Alastair Humphries “Moods of Future Joys” and Scottish endurance cyclist Mark Beaumont’s “The Man Who Cycled The World” as well as a plethora of blogs from just about every corner of the globe.

Aside from reading all these, we cycled a few times a week (usually commuting to work and back and then going for longer rides on the weekend) in a bid to not just get fit, but familiar with our bike and gear. We undertook a couple of weekend touring trips (the first was a disaster) and spent an unhealthy amount of time pouring over maps to figure out the best routes to see and do the most. Over the past couple of years, we’ve become a hell of a lot more relaxed about all of that. We still enjoy reading blogs from other cyclists (especially if it’s somewhere on our list of places to go) to get a general idea of what we’ll face, but we’ve found talking to locals about their area yields some of the best route advice.

Aside from that, these are the practical preparations you need to knock out before pedalling off into the horizon: Does your stove have fuel? Have you tested it to make sure it works? Do you have enough food (not just to cover the distance to the next supermarket but in case something goes wrong)? Can you put up your tent and are your devices charged? Do you have enough books on your e-reader (if you don’t have one – get one!) and is there water you can filter or boil along the way? How do you plan on navigating? Do you have a GPS or hard copy maps? Do you have a good first aid kit and do you need vaccinations for where you’re going? These are things you need to figure and sort out before setting off for the first time. Later down the track all you need to worry about is food, water and fuel (usually).

We’ve also discovered that the roads less-travelled are infinitely better for cyclists and mountains (as tough as they are) always yield the best views.

Cyclists Sarah and Scott

How do you finance your cycling tours?

We saved up for two years before leaving home and during those two years, we lived frugally by avoiding nights out, restaurant meals, new clothes and trips away. We weren’t super popular with our friends during that time but we did save a fair bit. We tried to travel as frugally as possible as well but by time we reached China we’d nearly emptied the coffers. As a result, we taught English for a year in Chengdu (a lot of Asian countries pay great salaries for native English teachers). We may have to work again down the road but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Aside from that, I’ve freelanced some travel articles and we do have a button on our website that asks readers who enjoy our blog if they’d like to “buy us a cup of coffee”. Thanks Nanna! The American company Nemo sponsored us a tent (halfway through our trip) and the German company MSX-Mainstream sponsored us some awesome new panniers. An English company called Torm also swung us some merino jerseys and American company Clickstand swung us two stands for our bikes. Getting sponsorship is pretty tough, however, and essentially we’ve out-layed everything for our trip and kept ourselves going.

We keep going by travelling cheaply and at the moment we have a rather pitiful budget of about $15USD per day for both of us. Depending on where you are that’s doable – in Alaska it was near impossible! Food is expensive, even when you’re just buying pasta, so chances are we’ll be living off scraps by time we get to South America.

Cyclists Sarah and Scott

How do you balance normal life with cycling?

What normal life? Just kidding! We try to take rest days every week and every month, we’ll usually take up to five days off to just chill and get our energy levels back. We read lots of books and base our lives around the next Game of Thrones episode (not really, but it’s tempting) and sometimes (while in cities) we like to do normal people things such as go out for coffee or even see a movie.

We’ve been away from home for over three years now and despite all that we’ve missed a lot and miss our families a lot. My older sister had a baby while I was away and my brother got married. Our friends are having kids and making huge life decisions and generally everything back home is moving on without us. It makes what we’re doing pretty tough at times but clearly we think the sacrifice is worth it. For us, travel has been the greatest teacher, the greatest self-esteem boost and the most eye-opening experience of our lives. It’s hard to imagine normal life after this… even if we crave it every now and then.

What has been your best cycling-related purchase below $100, what other favorite gear do you have?

Our basic Amazon Kindle e-book reader! No really! We love reading and there was no way we were lugging a pannier full of books around the world (the Kindle was about $80). Also, our MSR coffee filters that fit snuggly into our cups – they were $5 and we use them every day. Also baby wipes!

Other favorite gear we have is our Nemo Dagger 3P tent! It’s our sanctuary and it’s withstood torrential rain, snow, heat and everything in between – we love it! I also love my Shimano SPD sandals (Scott says they make me look like a massive dork but I’m Ok with that) and my Mountain Designs fleece (it’s like being hugged). Scott loves his Shimano Goretex hiking boots, his Swiss Army Knife multitool, and his Go-Pro Hero 3 Black, which he especially likes whipping out when I’m mid-tantrum. We also love our MSX-Mainstream panniers because they are ridiculously tough, fit a crazy amount of gear, and are 100 per cent waterproof.

Cyclists Sarah and Scott

What will the future bring?

More cycling! Over the coming six months, we’ll make our way down to Mexico and then pedal Central America and South America before hopefully finishing at the end of the world (sometime in the vague future). After that, we might just go home. This trip has helped us realize we’d like to become teachers so we’ll probably head back to university to get accredited and then head back overseas to teach in whatever countries will take us. We’d also like to one day cycle the length of Africa and – well – everywhere in between. I’d love to experience an Arctic winter at one point and Scott’s keen to live on a small tropical island at some point too – so who knows!

Follow Sarah and Scott on their website and Instagram

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