How I Afford to Thru-Hike

I have been asked the same question every day since announcing my thru-hike, and I suspect it won’t stop until long after I leave: “How can you afford to hike for six months?” Unfortunately, the answer isn’t all that exciting, but I will explain my entire thought process for those who are as money-conscious as I am. 

I Saved

For ten years I’ve dreamed of hiking this trail, and thus I’ve had a LONG time to save money to do this. In reality, it took me about one year to accomplish, but as prior posts will tell you I didn’t commit until recently.

I Invest

Many of you know I have a few investment properties. What many don’t know is that I’ve never taken a penny from those investments. I treat them as a separate business (as I should) and don’t consider any of the money they generate my own. I accumulate until I have enough to buy another building. Rinse and repeat until I die or explode. The reason I mention this here is that many wonder what I do with my properties when I’m gone. I currently live in a four-plex I own. The tenants pay the mortgage with their rent, so that payment is thankfully taken care of. My current unit is being rented out to a friend while I’m away in exchange for taking over my landlord duties and keeping everything in line. This removes housing and utilities from my equation when planning.

I’m Frugal

Many of my friends undoubtedly think I’m cheap or tight with my money. It’s not that I actually am; I just don’t find value in material things. Accumulating clutter and junk and spending money for the sake of spending money fuels a fire of rage deep within my soul. This in and of itself is a post many bloggers have a tackled well, but I’m going to point you to Mr. Money Mustache and let him face punch you with Mustachianism.

My point being I don’t spend a lot of money on junk. All of my bills added together living in the Sioux Falls area come in around $650/month.

How Expensive is the Trail?

Many figures are thrown around on the internet when planning a budget for the trail with the average landing around $1,000/month. The average time spent on the trail is between 5-6 months, putting it around $5,000-6,000 for the entire trip. Sadly, this is the rough equivalent for an average family to spend a week at Disney. This figure doesn’t include the average of $1,500-2,000 hikers spend on new gear. As with everything, those numbers can go higher or lower depending on the individual and their habits.

I spent a lot on new gear, but I was fortunate enough to already own some of the things as well as get much of the new AT gear as gifts for Christmas/birthdays. Remember, planning ahead gives you more time to spread the expenses out!

Expenses to Drop

There are plenty of things I pay for in civilization that will be irrelevant when hiking.

  • Rent: I’m not paying to have a home while away (though hostel/hotel stays will be an expense).
  • Car insurance: I’m obviously not driving my car, so there is no need to keep the same level of insurance on it when it’s parked in a garage for six months.
  • Health insurance: I do have health insurance via my travel insurance, but the premium is MUCH better than my current $120/month.
  • Utilities: Not using any utilities keeps this simple, and having someone live in my unit saves me from shutoff/startup fees when I leave and return.

Expenses on the Trail

Some expenses are inevitable and will follow me on the trail.

  • Cell phone: In civilization, I don’t have a data plan because it’s just not needed. I actually upgraded my service to include data on my iPhone, making it more expensive at $40/month. This includes unlimited talk/text and 3 GB of data.
  • Insurance: I have plenty of insurance in place that is going to stay while I’m gone like homeowners, disability, life, etc. Combined these hover around $50/month.
  • Health insurance: My traveler’s insurance through World Nomads actually has some decent health insurance riders included with it. It doesn’t meet the Fed standard but is still essentially equivalent to what I currently have with work plus neat features like Helicopter evacuations–necessary when a bear eats my leg. This comes in around $75/month.
  • Food: Food will be difficult to gauge. It really depends on how many zero days I do and how much I eat in town at restaurants. Another large factor is metabolism increase. “Hiker Hunger” hits everyone eventually, and it’s an insatiable desire to stuff one’s face and never be satisfied. I suppose that happens when you slam 5,000 calories and still lose weight!
  • Shelter: This expense is fully in my control. It depends completely on my desire to sleep in a warm bed when in town…which…I do.
  • Permits: Permits are needed in multiple places, but they are few, and many are free!
  • Shuttles: Generally hikers hitch into towns, but the big drives from Atlanta to Amicalola Falls require a shuttle, Uber, taxi, or something of that nature. My shuttle with Survivor Dave to get me from the northern part of Atlanta to Amicalola runs me $95. It’s about an hour drive, and Dave stops to help hikers get food, fuel, and other supplies they may need prior to heading out.

If you’d like to see the current expenses, check out my Financial Breakdown post. I’ll update it as the months unfold to show a true image of what my endeavor costs.

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