Monday, May 13, 2019

How to pay for a Hike Across Canada

One of the most frequently asked questions we get is, how can you afford the costs of this trip?

Well certainly, being able to cover our daily costs and pay for our way is important to us and so this is a great question!

Whether you are hiking Ontario’s Bruce Trail, Vermont’s Long Traverse, the Camino de Santiago, the AT, PCT, CDT, or planning to trek across Canada along The Great Trail ....the same principles apply. You cannot be successful without food, water, shelter and the financial resources to make it all happen.

One of the main questions asked of me when I announced that I was giving up my career to walk across Canada for 3 years was how do you afford that?  As it turns out, it takes a lot of sacrifice and a heck of a lot of hard work but it is entirely possible!  

Now don’t get me wrong, I am privileged to be able to go on long distance hikes.  I do know that.  I know that many people do not have the funds, the time, or physical capability to thru hike even though it might be a dream of theirs.  So I fully acknowledge that while I am able to make certain changes to my lifestyle to get out there that not everyone is able to.  I acknowledge how privileged I am to be Canadian and a North American resident who is free, safe, and secure all at the same time.  I also acknowledge that I am fortunate to be able to hike and paddle across such a large landscape in relative safety. I know that not everyone has this options available to them.  Indeed one of my goals in trekking Canada is to get more organizations involved – as the Scouts, Guides, and Reserves do – to get youth physically active and outdoors so that they have the chance to be in nature.  

Some of these things might sound extreme (four years ago I would have thought so too!), but mostly saving is about getting in the habit of living in a minimalist way.  Once you have the knack for it, you’ll be amazed at how much disposable income you actually have to go hiking.  

(1) Save Save Save 

First and foremost, I would say if you want to hike then it is up to you to pay for it.  In other words you need to save, save, save...and save some more.  For me this has meant 3 years of saving, 3 years of eating only once or twice a day, this means 3 years of no extras, no movie nights, no dinners out, no new clothes, etc, etc, etc....

To save more over the years I changed phone plans, turned off the internet (used the public library), and ran my place on smart sensors to reduce all of my bills.  My house ran cooler in the winter and warmer in the summer – all to save.  In addition, all subscription services like Netflix were cancelled.  At the bank I changed my accounts to reduce monthly costs and increase savings rates.  If I could have, it would have ditched my car (to save on maintenance, repairs, insurance, and gas) and relied on my bike – but biking 90 km a day would have been too impractical.   

Beyond all of this I set aside a small portion of each pay cheque directly into a hiking savings account.  Yet even with all of this effort, the bulk of the costs for this hike have come from the sale of my house this year.   

Ironically getting out of the habit of spending then in turn saves more money down the line – stops impulse purchasing and gets you thinking about what you really need – both on the trail and off.  It gets you in the habit of saving and sacrificing rather than spending.

Ultimately, I was surprised how much money I was able to save each month once I got smart about my spending. 

(2) Sacrifice 

I once watched a documentary featuring Warren Buffett, who said that if you ask people what they want, they will invariably have large lists of expectations, but if you flip the question and ask people what they are willing to Sacrifice for, then their ideas and plans become much more serious and refined.

In other words, if you aren’t willing to sacrifice then this part of the planning and preparations is tough.

With that said, I have spent the last three years not only saving every extra cent but also selling off a lot of my possessions on Ebay, Kijiji, and online market places – everything from those sales went to buying my gear, paying for my plane ticket, and towards savings.  In addition to which the bulk of my funding for this hike comes from the sale of my house – from which I have paid down my Mastercard, cleared my student loans, and I therefore start the trail owing nothing.  After that, what is left is the basis of my funding to hike across Canada for three years.

In the end between my savings, going minimalist, selling my possessions and my home I have 10 / day to eat with to cover 24,000 km over the course of 3 years of hiking.

While I am impressed with this achievement of being prepared and ready to be able to cover many of the costs of this hike on my own I recognize that there is not a lot of a financial buffer available for necessities, replacement gear, and emergencies. 

(3) Holidays and Gifts 

For three years when Christmas, Easter, and Birthdays rolled around my suggestions to friends and family who asked what I wanted reflected not my whims or occasional interests, but my hiking trip.  A sleeping bag this year, a tent next year, water system and stove the next year and pretty soon you are getting close to what you need. I have been very fortunate to have such a supportive family throughout the years who have helped me build towards this adventure!

(4) Use Time to Find Sales 

After months and months of researching the best equipment, the lightest tents, most durable backpacks, and making your clothing choices it is exciting to just get out there and purchase what you need.  However, all of this equipment, like clothes, phones, and electronics moves up in down in cost according to the time of year, the fashions of the moment, and reviews.  Planning three years away from beginning my hike gave me the time to watch these items and find them on end of season sales, on discount racks, and online from other’s who purchased them and then sold them off.   

I picked up my ultra light down Winter sleeping bag, a 800 dollar item, for 350 at an end of season sale.  Similarly, I purchased up my MSR Mutha Hubba, a 700 tent with its fly for 200 on Kijiji online, having used for about 2 hours by the original buyer.   

In other words, you have the time to be smart with your purchases, so use it!

(5) Be Smart 

Following off the last point about using your time to find sales, you should also be smart about your purchases.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my Icebreaker shirts, love my North Face Rain Gear and unreasonably love my Patagonia down jacket.  All of these pieces of equipment I have relied upon to hike the Bruce Trail, the Camino De Santiago, the Via Podiensis, the East Coast Trail, and the Camino Portuguese.  But.....they often cost a lot more than their cheaper counterparts.  The merino wool shirts at Costco for example are decent and you are going to kill this stuff on the trail anyways, so why not get a 20-30 dollar merino wool shirt than a 100-200 dollar Icebreaker?  Similarly – while I am not a fan of Walmart – it also often has a range of cheaper Merino Wool and sports gear for 5-15 dollars, which compared to my beloved Icebreaker shirts are a steal!  There comes a time when function and cost outweigh fashion and style.....

Here please note there are a few exceptions – I would not personally skimp on my backpack, shelter, sleep system, or water purification system.  These are the cornerstones of life on the trail – they need to stand up to the rigours and expectations of a long distance hike and are worth their weight in gold.  Some companies do cost more, but their products are worth the investment and ultimately pay off in their durability and reliability!

Other ways I have saved in buying my gear are being smart while shopping on Amazon and Ebay.  I am sure you have seen how last year’s design, or colours are cheaper than this year’s design?  Similarly if you watch Amazon, often some colours are 20 dollars per shirt, while others are 200.  In both of these cases the choice is obvious.  No one is a fashion sensation on the trail, and it is all going to degrade out there anyways – so why spend more money than is necessary?  My purple merino wool shirt will get me just as far as someone else’s black one. 

(6) Less is More 

Every hiker will tell you that there are the essentials – shelter, backpack, sleep system, water purification, stove, and clothes.   However no matter how experienced you are or how many miles or kilometers you have treks there is always the temptation to add ‘just one more item’.

However, in this case, remember adding more things to your pack not only hurts down the trail, but it costs now.  So think seriously about every purchase.... 

(7) Grants and Awards 

There are two final areas where you can find help and support.  But I would warn you – these both require huge amounts of work to successfully achieve – and rightly so – if someone else is going to invest in you they need to be assured that you are serious.

In terms of applying for grants and awards I had an advantage as I was a professional scientist with a doctorate and publications as well as being in organizations that sponsor personal and professional development.  In addition, we have travelled extensively throughout the past 20 years published several blogs on Ontario’s Bruce Trail, the Camino de Santiago (Camino Frances), GR65 / Via Podiensis across France, Newfoundland’s East Coast Trail, and the Camino Portuguese – as well as having had a number of Sean’s photographs published in magazines, and win awards.  In short, and to be honest, if you want to be able to apply for grants and awards you have to be able to demonstrate that you are committed, and what type of product you will produce from the trail.  Our combined backgrounds allow us to demonstrate to companies that we have the ability to professionally present materials, have gotten articles published, have regularly written blogs while trekking across a number of countries, and can produce award winning images to go with all of this material.

In an age of social media production we are very lucky for the talents we have. 

There are a number of places where you can look for and apply for grants and awards,  many of which often go unknown and un-applied for year after year. In fact, when I began searching, inquiring and applying I was stunned to discover how many grants, bursaries, funding sources are available if you spend the time looking for them and spend a lot more time (it is like a second or third job) applying for them.   Many businesses and organizations want to help youth out in exploring the world.  As such, there are a lot of places that are definitely worth checking out. 

(8) Sponsorship 

The next area which we have found help for our trek is Sponsorship.  Here Bird Studies Canada, Clif Bar Canada, Briden Solutions, and a number of other organizations have been of huge help to us in preparing for the coming year.

Much like regional and professional grants and awards direct sponsorship from companies, local businesses, and organization takes a great deal of research, patience, and time to seriously undertake (there is a coming entry on applying for sponsorship).  One of the biggest misconceptions about this type of funding or product in kind sponsorship is that it is “free stuff”.  It isn’t – you work hard for this, you have to be professional to get this, and you need to accept that your actions, your words, your successes, and your failures all reflect on those organizations who are generous to back you.  

As with Grants and Awards – finding, preparing, drafting, proof reading, and applying for these this is like having a second job.  From my experience, applying for grants, awards, and sponsorships took the better part of 8 months, working at home from 6pm until about 1am daily. 

To date, our results were generally positive garnering us a great primary collaborator and several great sponsors!  With that said, I would never plan a trip anticipating receiving enough sponsorship or grants to cover the costs for an entire trek outright.  Nor it is fair to businesses that one expects them to foot the bill or donate all the supplies for a hike as there are undoubtedly others applying for aid as well.

Much like grant applications, organizations providing sponsorship also want to know you have something invested in these types of projects –  in our case they ability to show them previous projects, scholarly papers, award winning photographs and a detailed budget which includes the documents detailing the donation of extra possessions, and the sale of your house to eliminate debt then you are taken more seriously. 

(9) Plan and Know 

Final piece of advice I can give (at the moment) for preparing for a huge thru hike or long distance trek is to really research and figure out how much everything should cost, how long it will take, and what obstacles you might encounter (expected, unexpected, etc). Track your costs, and note how much you budget will impact upon how your hike goes – less funds = less days in town, resupply boxes = lower costs in towns, less funds = different gear and equipment choices.

Once you have done this, and then draft a budget – how much money you have, how much everything will cost, how long will it take to hike, how much in savings do you have, how much extra for emergencies is reasonable or necessary?  Personally I went into this counting on Zero support – and so everything received via sponsorship or grants is an extra and a huge benefit.  I also however decided early on to ‘expect the unexpected and prepare for crisis’ so that I could absorb problems as they arose.

Ultimately when preparing for any outing or trek, I follow my father’s advice “figure out how much it will cost, add some extra in for good measure, and then double it.”

I hope these notes will prove helpful to others as they plan their hikes, and prepare their applications for sponsorships, grants, and organizational support. 

See you on the trail.....

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