Who would have guessed that at our age of 57 we’d be journeying for over 100 days through the Mexican Pacific coast, on into the volcanic heart of Guatemala, enjoying the beach and laidback island life of Belize, and partaking in the Mayan style of living in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula?
During this 3 ½ month odyssey, we body surfed and soaked up the sun along the robust Pacific coast of Mexico, visited world heritage colonial cities such as Antigua, Guatemala, shopped in indigenous markets, explored mountain high coffee plantations, and visited a macadamia farm learning of the nut’s marvelous curative properties. We found the exact spot where Mayans claim the world began and spoke with them about their end of the world prophesy for 2012.
Bo Derek-style secluded beaches, confectionary sunrises, fierce sunsets along the seashore and the mysterious ‘zona magica’ in Comala, Mexico are etched in our minds. Exotic bird calls surrounded our Jungle Cabana in Playa del Carmen on the Yucatan Peninsula. There was Rasta Rap in Belize and the Hokey Pokey water taxi. We strolled along black volcanic sand beaches, watched the savage ocean waves pound in Cuyutlan, Mexico, and squeezed ourselves up narrow winding stairwells to the bell tower of a five century old church in San Juan Del Obispo, Guatemala. With all the climate variations, we roasted, toasted and froze.
For the entire journey our spending averaged less than $53.00 USD per day. This included lodging, meals, transportation, and country exit fees – everything we spent money on throughout this period.
The hotels we stayed in had pools, views and beach access, or they were centrally located in the hearts of cities within easy walking distance to the main Plaza and points of interest. Hotel WiFi for our netbook was available and cyber cafes were plentiful.
We kept a daily expense log and what we demonstrated is that the price of travel doesn’t have to cost any more than staying at home. The difference is that we have added exotic experiences to our memory banks, met unforgettable intriguing characters and have personally grown by meeting the challenges that are inherent by being on the road.
How did we do it?
We focused on four main categories of expenditure and fine tuned our skills for getting the most out of little financial output.
Traveling as a lifestyle, we don’t carry a vacation attitude along with us. We look for value in a hotel – a clean room, firm bed and a decent bathroom. Preferring bright over dark, large over cramped, quiet over noisy, we always choose a view if one is available. It’s a respectable room we look for, not a perfect one.
After all, we don’t travel to exotic places to stay in the hotel! It’s a place to sleep and to store our gear while we are exploring the town and all the sights.
We don’t make reservations online using our credit cards for payment because that doesn’t normally work in our favor. It is common for a fee to be charged for its usage when outside the U.S., plus our account can be clobbered with the currency exchange. Online prices are much higher, sometimes double, than what we pay by walking in the door.
Bargaining for the best price, we are willing to stay longer if we can get a discount. It’s worthwhile to find out if something else comes with the price of the room, like breakfast, free purified water or transportation to or from the airport. It does not hurt to ask and you might be pleasantly surprised with their response. These charges add to the bottom line of one’s travel expenses and to have them included in the room adds value.
Compare all options for getting place to place. As a traveling style we don’t drive, but rather take local transport everywhere we go. It could be a first class bus or a Chicken Bus, water taxi, pedi-cab, private driver, or bicycle. Sometimes it is cheaper to fly rather than to bus long distances if you factor in food and lodging along the way. If we can use our air miles we do so. On this trip we took air-conditioned roomy buses in Mexico, the adventurous Chicken Buses in Guatemala, banged-up, crowded buses in Belize as well as relaxing water taxis to get to islands or across lakes.
Many of our hotel rooms have refrigerators in them and some have kitchenettes or access to a full kitchen. Eating breakfast in the room instead of going out each morning pays back significantly in savings on your daily food spending. Having a full kitchen allows us to cook lunch, dinner or a simple meal instead of paying restaurant prices each time we are hungry.
Even keeping beverages in the refrigerator or making coffee allows for a relaxing time on the veranda instead of having to go out. Many hotels have roof top access with spectacular views, and it’s a casual way to meet other travelers who gravitate there for the sunset happy hour.
Generally we eat where the locals eat instead of paying high priced tourist fare at trendy restaurants, saving that option for a change in pace. Lunch is our largest meal of the day with its corresponding smaller price tag, then we eat something lighter in the evenings including the tasty treats served by the street vendors.
When we have long travel days ahead of us, we pack sandwiches or protein-based snacks so we are not at the mercy of higher prices or the unknown while on the road.
What one chooses to do for entertainment while traveling can also make or break one’s budget.
We prefer to have our hotel room centrally located, close to the action, places of interest, or with a sea or mountain view. This allows us to walk most everywhere we want to go on a daily basis without the need for a taxi.
In Antigua, Guatemala, our hotel was only a few blocks from the Plaza where musicians, mimes and food vendors entertained every weekend. We were able to walk to the free international jazz concerts a couple of blocks away. A fantastic selection of well priced restaurants were all within a general area, with indigenous markets, grocery stores and shops all nearby.
In Belize and on Mexico’s Pacific coast our hotel rooms had ocean views. Whenever we wanted to swim or body surf, all we had to do was walk out the door.
In colonial cities all throughout Mexico and Central America there were art galleries and museums that were either free or that charged nominal fees. On Sundays, some cities would close off architecturally exceptional streets to vehicular traffic creating a walking street, allowing pedestrians to meander, enjoying art exhibits, food displays, bicycle races and music.
Renting bicycles for $2 USD an hour we biked along the packed sand paths of Belize. We hiked up Volcan Pacaya in Guatemala with a guide and transport for a total of $12 USD each, and our visits to Mayan or Garifuna villages all throughout our trip was the cost of bus fare or water transport.
Difficult weather patterns when on the road can put a glitch into the fun. It‘s then that we watch movies, read books, have conversations with the locals or swap tales with other travelers about their adventures.
Here’s an fun option chocked with value. If you’re tired from walking, seeing the sights in a town and wonder how the locals live, take a tour. A cheap one. Simply find a local bus that stops at the Plaza or a familiar landmark and hop on. The buses make a loop on their route and after riding to the end of their line simply stay on and ride it back. These tours are truly an adventure as you have no idea where you are going or what you will see. You could find other points of interest that you would never know about, the cost is very little, and you can do this rain or shine.
Entertainment expenses do not have to blast your budget if you get creative. And that’s part of the fun too.
Our chosen retirement lifestyle fits us perfectly. What about you? What’s holding you back? There’s a big world awaiting your discoveries and it does not have to cost you any more than staying at home.. Go for it!
About the authors: Billy and Akaisha Kaderli left their fast-track lives at the age of 38 and started traveling the world. After almost two decades of on-the-road-experience, they share how you, too, can enjoy exotic travel for less than you think. To learn more about world travel and how to become financially independent, visit their website, RetireEarlyLifestyle.com