Fast Fred Travels - Mexico Budget Travel Tips

Fast Fred Travels - Budget Travel Tips for Mexico
Tips for Planning Your International Trip and Staying on Budget

I am Fast Fred Ruddock a wandering guide enjoying endless summers

How to Plan an Exceptional Trip to Mexico and Stay on Budget

This article explains how to plan an exceptional visit to Mexico and maintain a budget. And will also include the step by step process to plan the logistics of your trip and determine your budget. I am using my recent trip to provide more substance in this effort to help you plan your trip. I will also share an overview of my trip and the expenses I encountered along the way. I have audited my expenses after completing my visit through Mexico but while still abroad in Guatemala. During my trip I flew into Mexico City before working my way city by city towards the Guatemala border. Side note my plans often evolve due to expenses or discovering something else I want to experience. I generally travel for months at a time so keeping on budget is critical However I can be very flexible with regards to timing. I will explain more about my trip at then end or you can skip to the next column now. Now that I have shared the backstory let's get back to the subject at hand.

The Process of Planning an International Trip

  1. Determine your budget.
  2. Decide when you want to travel.
  3. Choose and research your destination country or countries.
  4. Research travel restrictions and visas requirements.
  5. Book your accommodations.
  6. Book your flights.
  7. Consider travel insurance.
  8. Plan your itinerary.
  9. Check your documents.
  10. Create a packing list.
  11. Plan how you will access and manage your money while abroad.
  12. Manage communications abroad

Determine your budget. How much can you afford to spend?

Depending upon your means and desires your budget could vary drastically from mine and each other. How much can you afford to spend on your trip or adventure? Well I am a river guide who's yearly earnings are close to the federal poverty level. Thus I am often frugal in my travels making careful choices.

I spent $2373 during my forty days in Mexico. In the adjacent of following column you can see a break down of my expenses in spreadsheets. Lodging cost me a total of $862. Miscellaneous expenses as well as food, drink, and entertainment cost another $876. Transportation costs were $529. More of this will be covered in the budget details later.

Decide when you want to travel. During holidays or off peak season?

Prices are higher during the holidays but many Americans are lucky to have vacation leave and it is often restrictive. Thus holiday travel is popular. Those traveling with lots of luggage or oversized equipment such as kayaks may face restrictions during the peak seasons. If your activities are weather related then know when the wet or dry seasons are.

I try to avoid flying during the peak holiday season to avoid higher fares and the crowded airports and planes. My travel season is also determined by my work season the North American rafting season. Thus I can usually travel between late September and early May.

Choose and research your destination country or countries.

What do you want to do or see? I often determine this during my previous trip abroad. However often it is what I want to do or experience is what determines my destination choices. For example my first visit to Ecuador was motivated by the desire to paddle some challenging whitewater in a pleasant climate during the middle of December. This trip my desire to learn more about the food, culture, and history of Mexico guided my planning.

Research travel restrictions and visas requirements.

Does your country of interest require particular visas for entry before hand? Are there currently additional travel restrictions or entry requirements due to pandemics or world events? You need to answer these questions to assure you are willing and able to meet the requirements for entry and travel within your country of interest.

What are the additional cultural expectations and customs? While having the proper paperwork and visa arranged is important it is also important to understand the local customs of the people. You do not want to offend the locals when you visit.

Book your accommodations.

When booking your accommodations keep in mind where the sites and attractions of interest to you are located. I also recommend in most cases just booking your first three nights. Booking just your initial stay allows you the ability to shop around for the best lodging and deals available in the areas of interest to you. You may also want to do some research about the safest and least safest parts of the city you will be visiting. It is also a good idea to further research with locals upon your arrival. I primarily use Google Maps and Booking.com for my initial research to find my first room in a new location. However I have another video about how to book your best lodging. I prefer to book a room nearby the places of interest to me. I prefer to walk and don't mind saving taxi fare and time as well.

Book your flights.

How much flexibility do you have in timing your flights. Often midweek fares are lowest. Most airlines offer a monthly view of fares at a glance. This can be very useful for planning purposes. Make careful notes of what types of documents are required to board the plane and to clear customs. I find dealing directly with airlines is better than dealing with third parties. If problems arise you will extra difficulties dealing with flight aggregators in addition to the airline especially when things go wrong. I learned this the hard way in early 2020 as borders were closing while I was in Peru. I have also found I can often beat the prices of aggregators by buying my tickets online directly from the airline.

Consider travel insurance.

This could be as simple as buying trip insurance during your flight booking. Or as extensive as purchasing a plan from World Nomads or a similar service. Most of the places I visit in Latin America have accessible healthcare at prices less than those people with insurance can obtain in the US. That said everyone's situation is different and you should make an informed decision based on your level of needs.

If the country you are visiting has expensive healthcare or requires payment up-front before care be prepared. Often insurance only reimburses you and does not pay for procedures up-front. Do some research and determine the situation before traveling.

Plan your itinerary. Do you want a tight or loose itinerary?

Download the local maps of places you plan to visit to your preferred mapping apps. I find both Google Maps and MapMe to be useful. If you do this in advance of your trip then you will be happy you did with the smoother logistics you will experience!

Be careful not to over plan by trying to do something everyday. While this may work for a short extended weekend trip it might be problematic for longer trips beyond one week in duration. I like to travel slow. So most of the time I have a list of things I want to do but I plan a lot of slack days to do nothing to just rest or relax.

I prefer to keep my itinerary loosely planned and flexible. I generally make a list of places I want to visit along with details of what days and hours each is open. Sometimes locals will suggest other items of interest that I would like to experience. After really long flights or bus rides I like to take an easy day. I additionally will take some downtime while adjusting to higher altitudes.

Check your documents. Don't get denied board or entry to a country!

Make sure your passport will not expire soon. Generally speaking your passport must have six more months beyond your planned date of return. Also make sure you have the required number of blank pages for stamps. Make sure you have your yellow International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis; this is especially important if proof of yellow fever vaccination is required. Bringing your COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card would also be wise as sometimes rules can change after your enter a country. White traveling across Peru dung 2021-22 rules frequently changed. At times it was impossible to travel from one region to another without proof vaccination.

It is also a good idea to make photo copies of your identification just in case you lose your passport. Photocopies of your passport ID page should be kept in a location other than the actual passport, for extra security, in case something happens to the original document. This is also recommended by the US Department of State. Having a photocopy of your passport will make replacement much easier.

I highly recommend making a couple of color photocopies of your passport ID page and laminating them. This photocopied document will be sufficient for all purposes short of flying and clearing customs. I never provide my actual passport to hotels or any vendors of services. I use the copy instead. I have found laminated copies are more readily accepted. Your actual passport should be stored in a secure location within your room. You should not routinely carry your passport about town. Most of my friends that have lost passports were victims of pick pocketing. They additionally had no good reason for carrying their passport at the time of the theft.

Create a packing list. What will you need to have?.

Traveling light with just carry on luggage has many advantages. Creating a list will help you prevent overpacking and also reduce the chances you will forget something important. Do not pack things you might need. Only pack what you truly need. You only need enough clothes to last until your next laundry day. I pack really light and wash clothes daily or three to four days for example; learn more about my packing strategy in this video.

Plan how you will access and manage your money while abroad.

Be sure to contact your bank or credit union to make sure your debit and credit cards will work in the countries you visit. I like to do this a couple weeks before I travel. Also have a backup plan in case you lose your cards. It is a good idea to carry enough cash to buy a return ticket and live on for a few days. A travel belt or hidden pocket are both good ideas for keeping you emergency cash safe. Large bills are easier to conceal. I also plan to make another video about how to get money if you lose you debit and credit card so subscribe so you won't miss it.

Managing your communications and safety abroad

Make sure your phone is unlocked before traveling. If your phone is not unlocked contact your service provider for assistance to unlock it. It is also easy to obtain an unlocked phone on Amazon and other sites. You need an unlocked phone to use a local SIM chip. Some US providers will give you very limited data for $5 or $10 per day. However for the same money you'd pay for one day you can get one month of service with much faster internet and much more data when using a local SIM.

In addition to your usual emergency contacts add your country's local consulates and embassy phone numbers in the countries you are planning to visit. It may also be wise to mark these location on your mapping apps. Consider subscribing to the US State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to be better informed of travel advisories in your countries of interest.

Download useful travel apps specific to the country you are visiting. Uber is useful but there could be local flavors. Large cities often have their own bike share apps in places like Mexico City and Lima for example.

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Supporting Documents and Expense Spreadsheets

Your budget will vary based upon your values and financial means. I created video room reviews of each of my rooms. This should help you understand what I get for the money I spend. I live a rather Spartan existence at times so your lodging costs may likely be higher if you are looking for creature comforts. I have a video about how to book your best accommodations with tips to avoid pitfalls and disappointments. With this small talk about intent out of the way let's get on to the business at hand.

I flew into Mexico City from the United States. Upon arrival I withdrew some pesos from one of the ATMs available at the airport. Then I arranged a taxi to my hostal. My original plan was to visit the following cities: Mexico City, San Juan Teotihuacán, Veracruz, Puebla, Oaxaca, and San Cristóbal de Las Casas. However Oaxaca is extremely popular especially during Day of the Dead festivals. Thus since I did not prebook lodging I was priced out by a huge margin and skipped this stop. Pro tip book early if you want to visit during Day of the Dead.

My route through Mexico was largely determined by the places and events I wanted to experience. I spent two weeks in Mexico City to see the museums including the National Museum of Anthropology and Templo Mayor where some conquistadors were sacrificed. I went to Teotihucacan to see the large pyramids and the Avenue of the Dead. Veracruz made my list to visit the place where Cortez burned his own fleet. Peubla made my list both for the food and history including Cinco de Mayo. I visited San Cristobal to experience the culture and people of the Chiapas. I was at San Cristóbal de Las Casas on the Day of the Dead and visited other nearby towns during the big day. An unexpected hurricane delayed me almost a week in San Cristobal. My total cost for lodging during the forty days I spent in Mexico was $862 or about $21.50/day. See my lodging spreadsheet for details.

Another large driver of costs was transportation. I generally stay close to the attractions and parts of town I want to see. I really like to walk and this also safes money and time spent on taxis or buses. My preferred mode of transportation is taking a bus between towns and cities. This is frugal but equally importantly this is a great way to see the country and people that you would miss taking flights. I prefer traveling by bus during the day so I can see the countryside. However I had one over night bus from Puebla to San Cristobal. While I dislike overnight bus trips they do allow you to save one night's lodging. The bus was rather uncomfortable and I did not really sleep. I took a shuttle from Mexico to Guatemala but in hindsight a combination of colectivos and chicken buses would have been faster and cheaper. A couple of videos about my experience of crossing the border and how to cross the border with the options available. My total cost for transportation beginning in Mexico City and visiting places of interest along my way to Guatemala was $529. See my transportation spreadsheet for details.

Once again I found the cost of visiting cultural and historical attractions to be less than expected. Many cool places and things are free. Others can be visited for free on certain days of the week. I saw several small Museums in el centro of Mexico City for free using this tactic and timing. I have inadvertently left out several of the smaller museums and churches that charged small fees from the break down in my attractions spreadsheet. I listed the cost for a short tour with a certified guide at Templo Mayor that last about 30 minutes and omitted another that was of little value but was actually more expensive. Always check up front for official identification. Be on the lookout for fake guides. Having the right guide can add value to your visits of cultural and historical sites. I often like to visit significant sites once with a guide and again alone so I can take my time and explore more widely and slowly. Total documented costs for admission to sites was $106. However I am sure there were several more entrance fees included in the following miscellaneous expenses list.

Miscellaneous expenses include food and beverages, toilettes, replacement items, and poorly tracked expenses. Mexican food is likely my favorite food. So I was really looking forward to this trip to Mexico. I did some research and I visited some of the notable Mexican restaurants. This did not help me safe money but it did add value to my experience. Additionally only two of my stays during this trip across Mexico came with kitchen privileges. One was in Puebla but I was only there a couple of days and I wanted to experience the local food scene. The other was in San Cristobal at a nice hostel. Additionally I do enjoy craft beer so I spent money to sample craft beer offerings across the country. I enjoyed the relative ease of access to Dos Equis Amber and Negra Modelo as well. I fly only with carry-on so I cannot carry large containers of liquids. Thus I purchase mouthwash, shampoo and other items after I arrive somewhere. Occasionally things break or need to be replaced along the way. One example of this was my multi-port USB charger. Other costs reported here include short tours and admissions to small museums or churches. And of course there is the expense of using public bathrooms. You almost always have to pay to use the bathroom. My total for this misc category was $876.

While this works out to more than I would have liked to have spent with a grand total of $2373 for the forty day adventure. I really enjoyed my visit and learned a lot. Apparently North America costs more than South America. Guatemala is cheaper that Mexico for the most part in my experience. You can view my stash of videos to learn more about this trip and Mexico if you are interested. I do plan to revisit Mexico in the future to see some more places of interest I skipped this time. What are your thoughts on this trip and the budget. Leave comments at my related livestream video or to this video on YouTube.

If you found this information useful donations are appreciated

TIP JAR via PayPal or Venmo my last four digits are 5926