If traveling has been a dream but seems a little unaccessible or out of reach, Bia and myself are here to bring a confidence boost and reminder that anyone can make it happen. From booking the right flight to finding room and board, transportation, food and just being able to enjoy yourself a little while taking time away from the grind can seem intimidating. It can all be achieved through a little proper planning. All depending on what kind of adventure you’re looking to get into, I’m going to give you the low-down of what fifty dollars has provided for us so far in Mexico. With future travel ahead we’ve also been able to find places just as affordable in Central and South America so our budget should still be able to sustain. Now if you’re coming from the states, the American dollar goes a little further yet we’ve both met travelers from other places with a weaker dollar that have made it possible too.
Budgeting starts from the home base, where ever you are which means thinking twice on grabbing $10 drinks at a social outing or dining out every other day. A real issue I dealt with myself was living in the mindset that I was saving money because I was making all of the happy hours and specials throughout the week. Over the course of six months of saving (waiting tables in a restaurant and my girlfriend babysitting) we actually saved enough for traveling a year. Everything here will be priced in USD but that dollar is not the preferred here. The local currency can be withdrawn at any central bank at the current exchange so you’ll get your best rate there and it’s more secure (just make sure to give a heads up to your bank that you’re going to be traveling to access funds). Credit cards are excepted and we use when we can but even if a business posts they accept cards, ask before hand every time as at times internet becomes unavailable and local currency is the only way to pay. It’s happened to us multiple times.
On using cards we use Chase as one of our primaries. Using a debit card for pulling from a central bank branch you can get your most up to date currency exchange. For all other available purchase by card we use the Chase Sapphire Preferred. It’s is our primary credit card which gives us 2x points per dollar on all travel expenses and has a 0% international fee. We pay off monthly and while using the cards online portal the points go further. A suggestion would be to stockpile as a safety fund for emergency travel or
room and board but of course they’re yours to use. Also the sign up bonus is pretty spectacular with a 50k points after spending 4k in the first 3 months (as of 2019) which if used for travel can equate to $650.00 added. After the first year free, there is a $95.00 fee but the amount of points you build out-weighs the cost and is a definite handy tool. An FYI, we don’t work for chase but we researched for a while on how to handle money while traveling for safety and accessibility and wanted to share what works for us. If you do check out the card and apply use our reference Chase link and you’ll be forwarding some love towards us and we’ll be oh forever so grateful!
- Flights – if flying through Mexico and some Central America we’ve used Volaris which has been wonderful at a more than reasonable price. If you have a smartphone, download the Volaris app and sign up for the obnoxious yet helpful emails. You can access the site from a computer of course. We’ve personally found $32 USD one-way tickets from Tijuana to states throughout Mexico when the deals are around. Our flight from Miami to Mexico City cost us $85 USD a person one-way with one of the deals (luggage is usually extra if you must check).
- Transportation – Uber is available through many major cities and is quite affordable as long as you have service or wifi. You can travel across the city for a fraction of the price you would spend in the states. Even cheaper is the public transit through most cities and some towns. Busses and shuttles can be found in many towns with a metro in major cities. What we’ve experienced has been expenses lest than $0.25 USD per way and if fortunate to have a metro around you, transferring lines is free. There are also electric scooters at least in Mexico City in certain areas along with shared bike rentals which can also cut down on costs.
- Room and Board – We’ve used sites like Airbnb, Couchsurfing and Workaway as means to travel along with the use of points. Lastly we collect using rewards credit cards but primary in Mexico we’ve used Airbnb. It’s safe, reliable, reviews are helpful and it takes the need out of carrying kitchenware, towels, etc. We typically search for places under $15 a night and have found some amazing places, even last minute. The last place we stayed we paid $11 a night and it was wonderful. If you’re a first time Airbnb user click here and get started.
- Food – Street carts are everywhere and food is cheap. Tacos for 10 pesos or about $0.50 each, the mercados or farmers markets are even cheaper. As long as you’re not in the very touristy areas you can find some of the best valued culinary experiences. Upscale casual restaurants with a 3-course meal for 2 can cost around $25-$30 depending on where you’re at. Our plan of attack towards food was to buy local cuisine at markets and cook two of three daily meals. The third we’d find an interesting restaurant and enjoy
- Communication – If using Airbnb, most accommodate WIFI. Otherwise depending on your phone and provider you can buy a local sim-card depending on provider for around $10-$12 USD at any OXXO (convenience store found everywhere) or as I do run with T-Mobile which works well throughout and I pay about $2 USD a day (I get 5GB at 4G LTE per cycle before it slows down to 3G with the unlimited plan per month)
- Entertainment – Museums are found all throughout and share a rich history of pre-America’s past to present. Many can be accessed for about $3.50 a ticket and some accept card (to keep your pesos available and reduce the need to pull funds with a debit card; most central banks charge a $3.50 USD fee and will be displayed in the local currency so don’t be too alarmed but other ATM’s can charge up to $12 USD with fees so be aware). Adult beverages again can vary depending on the neighborhood and location to touristic places but a domestic beer will cost from $0.75 – $2 USD while a craft beer possibly $3-$4 USD. Asking the locals for the inside scoop will many times provide local fun at a reasonable price. I mean locals definitely aren’t looking to get gouged at the touristic prices to have fun.
- Other – There is always the case of a cough or an unexpected expense which we keep open as to effectively track our spending
Budgeting or self-discipline is the number one thing to being able to enjoy yourself in any sort of travel. We ran a weekly budget beginning on Wednesdays, the day we began our trip in a logbook each night of our expenditures through the day. Keeping receipts, writing a quick reminder on pesos spent or using my online bank records would give us a quick overview of what we spent. We ran a log of each of the above categories per day and for each would total give an idea of how to curb our habits. If one day we spent a little over, say while treating ourselves to a nice dinner, we would take it easy the next day. Running a weekly budget ($350 or $50 a day) makes it easy to keep in line. As long as your’e honest with yourself and true to your budget you can do just about anything. Both of us are jobless and homeless but with the sense of adventure and our savings we are taking this beyond Mexico which you can too. If $50 a day seems a little much, $40, $30 or even free if working through online sites like workaway can be a possibility. Being creative is key while having a plan will allow you to enjoy adventure through Mexico affordably. Last note, I understand myself that this may seem like all of the work may take away from the fun factor but in all honesty after building good budgeting habits and taking five minutes out of each night to keep a log it becomes painless and puts you in control. Best wishes to all of you travelers and if you haven’t yet: Save, Book your flight, visit Mexico and beyond. A treasure trove of rich history, culinary wonder and a culture as old as the America’s themselves are waiting your arrival.