Thursday, 1 January 2015

How Much 316 Days of Travel Cost us, and Why we Should all Travel Through Nebraska More.

With me, Naomi, Boris and Jim safely back in the country, life has returned to some kind of normality and routine for us, albeit not exactly the same kind we left behind twelve months ago. Despite having only finished working on the truck about a week before we put it on the boat bound for America, and having only done a half day of shakedown testing, most elements of the conversion worked out well. In fact life in Jim has been comfortable enough for us that we decided to continue living in him whilst back in London. It gives us the chance to continue to rent our house out, and save a little of the money that we overspent on the trip.

Despite this decision, there are plenty of things on Jim which broke on the trip, did not work out as we intended, or could be improved through modification. None of the issues require urgent attention, but attending to some of them gradually after we have moved back into the house, will help to keep me busy and poor over the next few years. I’ll update this blog whenever I do any work on the truck, but certainly the posts will be less frequent than they have been over the last couple of years.

When we were preparing for the trip around America and Mexico, I found a huge wealth of information on the internet to help in planning. For visa and border issues, there is almost nothing that can't be found with a search through the Horizons Unlimited HUBB forum. For information on converting a vehicle into a motorhome, almost everything worth knowing is hidden in the Self Build Motor Caravan Club (SBMCC) forum. For anything more specific to extended autonomous travel, I looked at the Yachting and Boating World forums, and for anything related to travel off tarmac I used the Expedition Portal forum. I am sure if you look hard enough on the internet, it is possible to find anything you want, but in the time I had dedicated to planning, I found very little regarding the costs associated with extended overland travel. 

On many of the blogs I read, I came across useful information, but rarely was it conglomerated onto a single page or post. Below is a summary of the main costs related to our trip; clearly the cost of relocating a vehicle, two people and a dog across the Atlantic comprised a huge proportion of our expenditure. The costs of living on the road was far lower than I expected, and in hindsight we would have got better value out of the relocation costs if we'd spent longer on the road. Unfortunately with the route we took, this was impossible due to the 12 month limit on keeping a temporarily imported vehicle in the US.

I apologize for the lack of exciting photos in this blog post.

Trip Summary
The duration was 316 days, from December 15th 2013 to October 28th 2014

The total distance driven was a little short of 17,000 miles, of which approximately 10,700 miles was in America, 6,000 miles was in Mexico, and 300 miles was in Canada.

The route driven was pretty much as shown below.

Cost Summary
The total spend during our trip was approximately £31,200, broken down approximately as shown below.
  • Flights - £5,870
  • Shipping - £6,540
  • Truck insurance - £2,110
  • Truck repairs - £2,740
  • Diesel - £4,860
  • Living costs - £9,080
Below are  further details on some of the larger costs.

If you book far enough in advance flights from London to major East Coast US airports are extremely cheap. Unfortunately shipping schedules are only arranged six weeks in advance of a sailing date, and so unless we wanted to guess when the truck would be sailing (and thus when we could fly), we couldn't book the flights far enough ahead to benefit from the early savings.

The only airlines on which we were able to fly transatlantic on the same flight as our dog were Virgin and British Airways, neither of which are renowned for bargain prices. Considering this, and the fact that on both the outbound and return journeys we booked our flights around three weeks before the departure date, the flights were fairly reasonable priced. Gatwick to Orlando cost both Naomi and me£654, and Washington DC to Heathrow cost us £764 each. We could probably have halved these costs if we had booked several months in advance, but this may have left us staying far longer in a motel in Georgia at the beginning of our trip, and potentially paying storage fees at Baltimore docks on the return journey.

Regardless of the costs of flying two humans, the cost of flying Boris was what made the flight component of our costs so high. The necessary size of a flight crate for a dog is clearly related to the size of the dog, and with a large dog, the cargo cost rises exponentially. The cost of flying a Yorkshire Terrier or Jack Russel would barely have registered on our bank account, but flying our Golden Retriever cost us an average of £1,517.11 each way, higher than the cost of Naomi and my return flights together! The return flight for Boris was considerably more expensive than the outbound flight due to the absurd costs incurred at Heathrow Airport.

Shipping overlanding vehicles around the world is generally done in one of two ways, either in a shipping container, or as roll-on roll-off (roro) cargo on a specialist vessel. It is impossible to fit a vehicle of Jim's size in a shipping container, and not wishing to use a flat rack and have Jim sat in the sea air on the top of a stack of containers for several weeks, I opted to send him to and from america via roro.

The cheapest way to organize shipping would undoubtedly be to book the cargo onto a vessel directly through a chosen shipping line. Unfortunately, not many of the shipping lines will let the forwarder book cargo onto a vessel themselves, and generally they require you to go through a shipping agent. Adding a middle man of course adds cost, but the world of shipping is a complicated business and even if I were able to do it myself, I would still prefer to have an agent assisting me, particularly with regard to the import and export paperwork. Any significant delay is likely to incur storage fees at either end, and it wouldn't take long for the cost of the agent to pay for itself. For this reason I booked the shipping in both directions with the help of an agent.

When I was shipping Jim from Europe to the US, I got quotes from several agents, many of which whose contacts I got by asking some shipping lines themselves which agents they could recommend. The quotes varied considerably between the different lines, but in some cases the quotes varied between agents quoting for the same cargo on the same vessel; I suppose different agents add different markups but it shows the value in getting multiple quotes. I wanted to ship from the the UK as any saving I might generate by sailing from a port in Europe was eradicated by the cost of driving Jim to Europe and returning on public transport. This left me with a limited number of lines sailing out of Southampton or Liverpool. I am sure that I would have been fine using any of the lines, but I found NMT, an agent with offices in Southampton and most east coast US ports, who offered me a good price sailing with K-Line. I ended up using the same agent and line on the way back, as again they were competitively priced, and were able to provide port clearing assistance at both ends.

The outbound journey from Southampton to Brunswick, cost me a total £3,071; this includes all port charges, all agents fees, and all surcharges. The return journey from Baltimore back to Southampton incurred slightly lower surcharges and port fees, and cost £2,624.

Many people do not insure their vehicles for shipping; given the high cost, and the minuscule number of incidences of total loss, I can understand their point of view but for me I didn't feel comfortable without it. The insurer that I used (Cleg Gifford) insure for total loss at 0.75% the value of the vehicle, and will include for scratches and other loading damage at 1.5%. Given the age and state of Jim, I could not justify the doubling of the premium, particularly in light if the amount of corrective work that I could do for the price difference if there was any damage. I spent £421 each way for the privilege of having shipping insurance.

The amount of money that we spent on diesel was significantly lower than I had anticipated, mostly because we covered less distance than I expected, but partly because fuel prices were lower than I thought they might be.

I kept track of the mileage and cost every time we filled up with diesel. This allowed me to get a good understanding of the cost of fuel, and the fuel economy of Jim over the course of the trip. Over the course of the 11 months, we filled Jim up with 7,580 liters of diesel. The average cost, using the Pesos to Dollar exchange rate we paid at the time, was $1.01 per liter. At the current GBP to Dollar exchange rate, this is 64p per liter, approximately half of the cost we would pay in the UK today. The lowest price that we paid for diesel was 59p per liter when we filled up in Austin, Texas, and the highest price was 71p per liter, incurred when we made the mistake of filling the tank in Key West, Florida.

Over the 16,602 miles that we traveled whilst I was tracking the fuel economy of the truck, we averaged 8.29 miles per US gallon. This equates to 9.96 miles per UK gallon, or 28.35 liters/100km. This is worse than I expected, and is probably below average for a 14 tonne truck limited to 55 mph. However much of this driving was through extremely mountainous terrain, and so the economy was worse than I see when driving around Europe. The best economy we returned was 9.86 miles per US gallon, when driving between Lincoln, Nebraska and eastern Michigan. This equates to 11.84 miles per UK gallon, or 23.85 liters/100km. Nebraska and Iowa barely have a hill between them, and the roads were so straight for much of our drive through these states that I could have left the cab and made some lunch without the truck leaving the road. The worst fuel economy that we achieved was 7.48 miles per US gallon, achieved when driving between Tulum and San Cristobal in southern Mexico. The road from Palenque to San Cristobal is extremely winding and mountainous and this probably accounts for the poor economy here.


  1. Thanks for all the information Nick, it was very helpful :)

  2. It was pretty interesting to pull all the information together just for my own curiosity. I had done very little financial planning before we left and didn't know whether we'd be travelling for 6 months or 6 years on our budget!

  3. Thanks Nick for all of this info and a good read over the last year or so. I am working on my own build at the moment and hope to travel when it's it ever? Hope our paths cross one day

    1. Hi Phil, looks like you're going to have a great truck when you're done. Where are you based and what are your travel plans?

    2. Hi Nick i left a reply at the mail address at the top.....hope you got it

  4. I just checked. Your parking spot is available in Mahncke Park.

    1. You should put up a commemorative plaque!

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