Lets face it, there is a dark side about thru hike planning that no one wants to talk about, trip financing. In the immortal words of Ted DiBaise a.k.a. 'The Million Dollar Man' "Money isn't everything. It's the only thing." Since electing to take what I had saved for the Trail and move in with my girlfriend finances are now about 8247% more complex then they would have been had I just taken a gap year from life between a real job and college.
While there's no reason to look back on that choice and shake my head, but it certainly has me scratching it contemplating how I am going to pay for my place AND a walk along the AT. The good news here is my job pays alright and has a good sabbatical policy, so I'll be able to take the time off and be able to return to work once I'm done.
The second bit of good news is that I already have about one thousand bucks saved up, however it always feels like two steps forward and one step back with saving as I feel like I'm always dipping into this money when unexpected expenses arise (a.k.a. - Shit I need new derby skates or Damn, the puppy has a vet appointment), despite that the account is slowly growing.
First lets Break it Down
When planning finances for a trip like this when you also have bills to pay means there needs to be two pools of money : Trail Money and Home Money.
I'll tackle the home money first as I think it's pretty simple: You have to save up enough for the length of you trip to cover all your bills and I'll tell you right now it turns out that is a pretty impressive amount when you assume it's going to be a four month stint in the woods. Fortunately my plan is to save up vacation time as my works policy is to force you to take vacation and personal time during a sabbatical, which works for me as it will mean I'll be getting paid for a bit while I'm on trail....so basically I can count every vacation hour saved as money saved which is great.
Obviously since everyone's situation is different if you are looking to this post for advice on managing bills while on the trail you wont find them here.
Now lets talk Trail Money
According to the AMC's FAQ about thru hiking they claim it costs about three grand to thru-hike. But of course on whiteblaze ( an AT hiking forum) answers range from two thousand to five, but the most commonly referred to piece of money related wisdom is count on two dollars a mile. What I also have decided to do is keep the money for the Trail in a separate account than regular savings/checking , this makes it just a bit harder to spend and get at.
This is how I will be planning to fund my trip meaning I will need around four thousand, five hundred bucks, in addition to the money I will need to keep my household up and functioning. The reason I've selected this is because despite what some bloggers and writers would have you believe (me included) this is basically an over glorified vacation. While on the trail I would like to treat it as such, so having money for the occasional local beer or motel room is important to me.
Also one of the reasons I am looking at that particular amount as my savings goal for Trail Money is I have a while to save it up. As much as I would like to be a Class of 2017'er I think that 2018 is simply more feasible for me for a few reasons, this gives me more time to save more money.
Start Date Talk
"What?!" You say "2018, not 2017! What is this madness, you have all the gear, you could probably get all the money saved up what's stopping you? I have to wait another full hiking season before I can read your trail musings. What the shit man?!"
Calm down my beloved reader (all one of you) there are some great reasons behind this decision and the first one is the subject of this very post. Money, while as I suggested above I could have the requisite amount of money in time for a 2017 Thru, it would greatly hamper me doing the things I like to do. Basically the extra year of saving will allow my quality of life to not change due to my hike planning, whereas if I was trying for 2017 I would have to cut lots of corners to make the ends meet to be able to hike.
The second reason, is school...yes, yes, yes I know I just graduated, but I was accepted into a fast paced Masters Program at Bay Path University. I have already completed my first 2 classes and have 10 left with the next round of two classes beginning at the end of August and two starting every other month following that. Planning for a 2018 thru will allow me to finish my degree path before I push off from Springer as opposed to stopping-out while I hike.
The third and final reason is that come the 2017 hiking season I will not really be that established at my job and I will still not have that much in the way of vacation time, whereas if I save up through 2017 that's vacation time is money made on the trail. In all honesty it breaks my heart to push this back again, but I truly believe it's for the best and will leave me more certain I'll be able to actually start this time, let alone finish.
Update - 8/25/2016: I realized I failed to mention in my savings plan that a 2018 start date will allow me to cover two tax seasons before I start the Trail, this will aide my savings immensely as that money will just go directly into the Hike Fund.