PCT - Money Talks
Let’s talk about finances. I’ll try to breeze through this as painlessly as possible (before your eyes glaze over and you close this page). How exactly are we affording quitting our jobs and spending an entire year traveling? And more importantly, can you do the same? Spoiler Alert: YES YOU CAN.
I’m not going to give you any quick fixes, ways to make thousands of dollars without giving an effort, or secrets that aren’t already out there. What I am going to do is talk you through how we are making this year work for us financially. In order to do that, we had to determine what we anticipated it would cost to spend a year doing the two things we wanted: Thru-Hiking the PCT, and Traveling afterward for 5-6 months.
This post will focus solely on the PCT aspect of our trip. We’ll do another Money Talks blog for our Post Trail Travels.
COST OF THRU-HIKING THE PCT
We read countless blogs, posts, articles, & watched vlogs trying to estimate how much it typically costs one to thru-hike the PCT. The average amount seems to be $6,000 per person. Wait, that’s $1,000 / $1,200 a month?! That cannot be right. You’re living outside - not in a downtown apartment! Well, what this includes is Travel to the Trail, Gear, Resupply, Town Time, Insurance, & Contingency. Essentially, $6,000 (on average) should get you from your couch and back - all inclusive.
Being two people there are aspects of our Gear that we can split, and thus subsidize our total costs. We only need one tent, stove, pot, fuel, battery pack, and are planning on sharing most of our toiletries. That right there is a few hundred dollars in savings. At this point in time, we’ve spent about $3,000 total on our gear. We’ve received a few big-ticket items as gifts (thanks Mom & Dad for your support, and ensuring you can follow our dot on the map with the Garmin InReach Mini), and anticipate our total gear when it’s all said and done to be right around $4,500. This does not include Jess’s camera, but it does include luxury items not just for our hike (our Moment lenses, Jess’s Peak Design gear, etc.). I’m a firm believer in purchasing quality items upfront, to hopefully have less issues along the way. What good is that $50 jacket if it doesn’t keep you warm and you have to buy another one? With that being said, we have tried to search out sales and purchase used gear when we can.
Our Gear price point leaves us around $3,750 each for everything else. We’d like to each have $1,000 for Contingency, so lets drop our budget now to $2,750 each. At time of writing this, we have not purchased our flights yet to San Diego, but we should easily be able to do this for under $200 each (shooting more for $150 each). That puts the running tally at $2,550 each. Moving onto Insurance: We’re currently zeroing in on World Nomads, as they’re highly recommended in the backpacking world. Their plans are incredibly comprehensive and cover us across the globe with no copay and very few exclusions. After 30 seconds filling in a quick form on their site, we got a quote for $470 each for their most expensive plan for 6 months on trail. That’s only $78 a month - WAY less than half of what I pay for health insurance now! (We’ll purchase a separate plan with them for the second half of our year.)
This brings our budget down to $2,080 each for our two remaining categories. Town Time - everyone budget conscious says before they leave that they’re going to limit their hotel / hostel stays to save money, but I think most fall into the trap of a bed to sleep in. We’ll try to be cognizant of that and see how it goes - we’re there to look at the stars anyway right? We are planning on saving significant Town money since I don’t really drink, and we all know that even dollar beer adds up quick! Lastly, Resupply. This varies wildly - do we want to live off fifty-cent Ramen for 6 months? Or $12 hiker dinners? Who knows, but it will likely be a mixture of both. At this stage we’re going to each try and make our $2,080 last as long as possible through our Town Time & Resupply. My feeling now is that I’d much rather eat pasta in Italy than those diner pancakes. But realistically I’m sure my hiker hunger will convince me otherwise.
SAVING FOR THE PCT
Now that you know how much we’ve budgeted for the PCT, it’s time to talk about how we made this happen. How’d we get our hands on $6,000 each for this? Let's break this into Income & Expenses:
If you’ve read our PCT - WHY WE’RE HIKING post, you’ll know that we’ve had about a year and a half since we committed to making this happen. During that time, we’ve tried to work as hard as possible and make as much money as possible. I had a well paying job, and Jess’s photography business was really starting to take off. On top of her business, Jess kept up part-time nannying to add to her total. We decided to sell nearly all of our possessions, which brought us a considerable amount of income we weren’t anticipating.
We took a look at our monthly expenses, and trimmed everything that wasn’t a necessity for us. That involved calling my insurance company and negotiating a lower premium for my coverage, calling our internet provider and doing the same. We switched cell networks, and cancelled a subscription or two. But did we keep Netflix? Duh.
We then tried to save as much money as possible in three main ways:
First, food. We’ve never been ones to eat out too often, but we cut this back and truly tried to cook nearly all of our meals at home. Shout out to Trader Joe’s. Would we still go out for cheap pizza, our favorite cheap Chinese Food, and for special occasions? Of course.
Second, shopping. Neither of us are big shoppers to begin with (I went a year without buying clothes in 2013 and never looked back), and we were much more concerned with getting rid of things we owned rather than buying more. Did Jess drop a hefty penny on upgrading her camera? Yep. Did we invest way too much money on throwing the most epic Harry Potter themed Halloween Party this year? Yep. Did we still buy Christmas presents for our family? Yep - but not for each other. So finding compromises was key here.
Finally, traveling. This was the big one for us; our kryptonite. We knew if we were going to save a significant amount of money, we needed to radically adjust the amount of traveling we did in the next year and a half. As we both had very flexible jobs that allowed us to work from anywhere, in 2016 we’d traveled excessively - easily spending around 10k on travel. Once we committed to the PCT, we decided to only take two vacations in the next year: one of which was planned and paid for prior to our PCT commitment, and the other was a trip to VA with my parents (that’s two thanks to Mom & Dad today!). Severely cutting back on traveling proved to be a HUGE savings for us.
There you have it. Once we made up our mind on what we wanted to do, the first step was figuring out how much it cost. Then we did what we could to bring in some extra income, and cut our expenses where feasible. Granted, we were fortunate to have well-paying jobs and a solid income to build off of. But we prioritized saving money and made sacrifices in order to do so. Whatever your kryptonite is, that’s where you’ll likely find the most savings to be had. It wasn’t enjoyable spending the long winter months in the ugly, brown snow, cold of Philly. But I can’t wait to embark on this wild adventure and discover that it was worth it.
-Sarah (& Jess) // Uphill Adventure