Cycle Touring In South Africa – How Much Does It Cost?

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Self-supported bicycle touring doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. I demonstrated this point last month when I cycled across western South Africa and Lesotho and spent only $705.13 USD.

This month (May, 2013), I completed my bicycle ride across South Africa, while at the same time cycling through the neighboring country of Swaziland, touring the infamous Kruger National Park, and flying out of Africa with my bike in tow and returning to eastern Europe.

In this article I will be sharing with you each of my travel expenses over the course of the last month. My hope is that by sharing this information with you, you will have a better understanding of how much it costs to travel by bike in a country like South Africa.

As always, if you have a question about anything in this article, don’t be afraid to leave a comment for me at the bottom of the page. I will respond to your questions and comments just as soon as I possibly can.

Guest Houses – $514.12 USD

My biggest expense this month was two separate week-long stays in two different South African guest houses. While I was in the tiny town of Malelane, I came down with a terrible case of food poisoning, so I stayed put for an entire week in a small guest house outside the city and nursed myself back to health. That one guest house cost me 300 Rand per night.

Then, a week before flying out of Africa and returning to Europe, I stayed at another guesthouse in Pretoria. This guesthouse was much more expensive (closer to 500 Rand) per night, but it had an unlimited Internet connection (something that is very rare in South Africa at the moment), a swimming pool and came with breakfast each morning.

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Hotel – $252.80 USD

In addition to the guest houses I stayed in this month, I also stayed in a number of hotels throughout South Africa. I think I stayed indoors more this month (rather than camping) because my bicycle touring exploits in Lesotho totally wore me out (more mentally than physically). After being on the road for more than a year and camping in my tent for more than five months of that time, I reached a point in my bicycle tour across South Africa where I wanted to be indoors more often than I wanted to be sleeping in my tent. The cold nights and frequent lack of privacy didn’t help much.

Food – $182.24 USD

Food was another major expensive during my bicycle tour across South Africa and Swaziland. After suffering for a week with a terrible case of food poisoning (I think I got it after drinking some bad water in Swaziland), I went out of my way to make sure I was drinking purified water and eating only the very best foods. This surely added to my food bill for the month, but when it comes to your health, I think spending a little extra money is almost always worth it.

Bicycle On Plane – $134.79 USD

In order to fly my bicycle from South Africa to Poland, I had to pay an extra 100 Euro fee with my airline (Lufthansa). This fee was in addition to the $900 USD round-trip ticket I had paid for months before arriving in southern Africa. That said, this was not a surprise expense for me. I knew that I would have to pay for the bicycle at the airport once I flew back to Europe. I was happy to do it though – especially after going through the much more drawn out procedure of mailing my bicycle to South Africa several months prior.

Clothing – $115.38 USD

After a total of three months of traveling by bike in South Africa, almost all of my clothes were dirty, stretched out, torn or worn thin. So on the last day of the month, after flying back to Europe, I went on a small shopping spree and purchased myself a new pair of jeans, two new pairs of shorts (both for cycling in and walking around town in), two new T-shirts, and a new cycling jersey. These new clothing items will either replace some of my existing clothes, or add to my current (and extremely limited) bicycle touring wardrobe.

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Safari – $91.32 USD

After cycling through Swaziland, and just before coming down with that awful case of food poisoning, I participated in a one-day guided safari drive inside Kruger National Park. I was prepared to spend three times as much money as I did on this safari, but was delighted to discover that it cost only 820 Rand for a one day tour inside the park (although I gave my tour guide an additional 100 Rand tip). It was an excellent day, so it was certainly worth the money. I saw elephants, lions, zebras, hippos, rhinos, warthogs, giraffe, buffalo, impala, and a whole lot more. Click here to see my photos from Kruger National Park.

Restaurant – $70.36 USD

Because I chose to travel without a stove on this particular bicycle tour (see my full packing list here), I was not able to cook my own food in South Africa. Instead, I ate either cold picnic style foods each day, or I went out to eat at local restaurants for a warm meal. In April I spent close to $90 USD on food at restaurants. But this month I ate out a little less, having spent only $70 USD on fast food or fine dining.

Sleeping Mats – $50.44 USD

Over the course of the last year, I have gone through five different sleeping mats. Three of those sleeping mats have been in just the past one month alone. Once my Exped Downmat7 sleeping pad died, I replaced it was a cheap inflatable sleeping mat I found in Beaufort West, South Africa. That sleeping mat only lasted about two weeks before it too became completely useless and I was forced to purchase the cheap blue foam mat you see in the photo below. This blue sleeping pad was large and uncomfortable, but it worked to get me through the last few nights of camping in South Africa. Once I returned to Poland, however, I purchased a new sleeping mat – the small orange one you see in the photo below. I haven’t tested out this new mat yet, but my fingers are severely crossed. I desperately want to find a quality sleeping mat for my travels by bike.

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Movie Rentals – $35.34 USD

I rented a few DVDs in Ficksburg, Ladysmith and Vryheid, South Africa, but when I was sick with food poisoning in Malelane, I must have watched close to 20 different movies. I was in bed for an entire week and on most days I would watch at least two or three separate films. If it hadn’t been for that small movie rental store in Malelane, I would have been both sick and bored out of my mind. The best movie I watched this month was “The Wrestler” – starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood.

Internet – $33.75 USD

Internet access in South Africa is extremely difficult to find. I paid 40 Rand to access the Internet for 2 hours at a small Internet Cafe in Ladysmith, South Africa, but I had the most success accessing the web with a small USB Internet stick that I purchased in Cape Town back in late March. With this small USB stick plugged into my laptop, I was able to connect to the World Wide Web from almost anywhere in South Africa, but the speed of the connection was usually so poor that it would take more than 20 minutes at times just for me to check my emails. When I ran out of web data in Malelane, South Africa, I purchased 2 extra GBs of data… and this set me back an additional 300 Rand.

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Bus – $29.78 USD

While my original plan was to cycle back to Johannesburg from Kruger National Park, I didn’t feel like I could do it after coming down with such a horrible case of food poisoning, so I decided to take the bus instead. It was a 6+ hour ride on the bus, but the ticket was cheap – only 300 Rand.

Gift – $27.79 USD

At the end of my tour in South Africa, I was invited to stay with Olivia and Greg again. This amazing couple hosted me at the beginning of my tour, and they were nice enough to host me at the end as well. They came and picked me up at my guesthouse in Pretoria, drove me back to their home in Johannesburg, fed me for several days, let me sleep in their home for three nights, and then drove me to the airport on my way out of the country. During all this, they would hardly let me pay for a thing. So when I left their home, I left a small gift on their bedside table – all of the South African money I still had in my possession. After all, as soon as I reached the airport and flew back to Europe, the money would be worthless to me. The amount of money I left them doesn’t come close to repaying them for what they did, but I’m including my small “thank you” here in my total travel expenses for the month.

Card Games – $24.72 USD

After months of being on the road and constantly interacting with people who speak little or no English, I had this idea one day that it would be great if I could find a card game or something similar that I could play with people that I meet on my travels. So I purchased two separate card games this month. The first one I bought was pretty lame, so I’ve since purchased another and the jury is still out on whether or not this second card game I bought is really any good. If it is, I’ll let you know!

Toiletries – $17.35 USD

I also spent a small amount of money on toiletries this month. I bought a new tube of toothpaste, some face wash, soap and a roll of toilet paper.

Skype – $10.00 USD

In order to keep in touch with my friends and family back home (and in order to conduct some business), I spent $10.00 USD this month on Skype credits that enable me to call International phone numbers at extremely affordable rates.

Bicycle On Bus – $9.93 USD

It’s kind of a long story, but after taking the bus from Malelane to Pretoria, South Africa, the bus company wanted to charge me 300 Rand extra for my bicycle. They told me this, not when I first bought my ticket and not when I was getting on the bus, but after I got off the bus in Pretoria. I was furious when I heard this… especially when the ticket itself cost 300 Rand. They basically wanted to charge me for another full ticket just for having my bicycle on the bus with me. I argued with the bus company manager about this, got the police called on me at one point (I told you it was a long story), and finally agreed to pay 100 Rand instead of the full 300 Rand they had originally asked me for. This seemed to satisfy them, but it made me extremely unhappy. In the end, it was only an extra $9.93 USD, but I just didn’t feel it was fair for the company to tell me they were going to charge me extra after delivering me to my destination and not before I bought the ticket. If I had known beforehand that I was going to have to pay extra for taking my bicycle with me on the bus, I would have simply purchased a ticket with another bus company.

Zoo – $6.55 USD

While in Pretoria, I spent a day at the zoo. The zoo was quite large and rather impressive. They had animals from all over Africa, as well as from South America and several other parts of the world. It was strange, however, to see animals that I had been seeing in the wild all over South Africa suddenly locked up in tiny cages. And while walking around the zoo, I was surprised to see just how many people there could not read the signs. Next to each animal cage was a small sign with the name of the animal and a brief 10-20 word description of that creature. But many of the people in Pretoria ignored the signs completely and/or were struggling to read them. For example, one woman looking at a leopard in its cage called it a tiger, even though the sign directly in front of her clearly had it labeled as a leopard. Even worse than that, I heard a grown man tell his daughter than a seal was a fish.

Stamps – $3.39 USD

I sent out 6 postcards from South Africa. These postcards went to some of my friends and family… and the cost for stamps only set me back a few dollars.

Super Glue – $2.98 USD

I purchased a small tube of super glue after the $16 sleeping mat I purchased in Beaufort West started to leak on me. I was able to find the hole where air was escaping from the mattress, but I was unable to properly patch the hole with either the tire patches I had on my bicycle or the super glue I purchased to use with the small fabric patch that was included with the air mattress.

Mailing Tape – $2.17 USD

Finally, I purchased two rolls of mailing tape in Johannesburg. I used the mailing tape to secure my bicycle box and the other cardboard box I used to fly my belongings back to eastern Europe.

Total: $1,615.20 USD

In the end, my second month of self-supported bicycle touring in South Africa set me back $1,615,20 USD. This is more than twice as much as I spent during my first month on the road in South Africa and it goes to show that travel expenses are not always consistent. I spent a lot more time in hotels and guesthouses this month. I conducted a one-day tour of Kruger National Park, I rode the bus from Malelane to Pretoria and I purchased a new set of clothes. All of these things contributed to my increased spending during the month of May.

If you take the $1,615.20 USD that I spent this month and divide it my 31 (the total number of days during the month of May), you will see that I spent an average of $52.10 USD per day. This is more than twice as much as I spent per day in April (only $23.50 per day).

If you take my two months of self-supported bicycle touring in South Africa and combine them, you come up with a total cost of $2,320.33 USD (although this does not include the $900 round-trip airline ticket or the $200+ cost of mailing my bicycle to South Africa in the first place). And if you divide this amount by 61 days, it works out to an average of $38.04 USD per day.

Factor in the airline tickets and the cost of mailing my bicycle from Poznan, Poland to Cape Town, South Africa and the total cost of the bike tour increases to $3,428.33 USD – an average cost per day of $56.02 USD.

1 Comment

  1. Mihai C
    June 4, 2013 at 12:22 am ·

    Very useful information. Thank you!

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