I’m rubbish with money. Really rubbish. For years I was stupidly in debt, a situation that wasn’t helped by firmly sticking my head in the sand when it came to dealing with any financial matters – for example, I never used to even look at bank statements. When I phoned my bank and the machine insisted on reading out my balance before letting me speak to someone, I used to hold the phone away from my ear because I knew the numbers would be too depressing. I had no control over my spending, to the extent that one month I’d spent my entire salary three weeks before pay day and ended up living off scraps from the back of the cupboard. Over the years I finally managed to haul myself out of debt and save enough for this trip, but if I’m honest with myself it wasn’t really because I managed to get a firm grip on my spending, but because I worked my arse off to earn more money which was what basically made all the difference.
So when it came to planning my trip, the think that worried me most was not getting mugged, or getting ill, or dying in a bus crash caused by crazy central american bus drivers (turns out that was what I probably should have been worried about). I certainly didn’t anticipate needing to worry about getting caught up in the outbreak of a pandemic in my first country or in a potential coup in my second (more on that in a future post). No, my major worry was staying within my budget of $50 per day for the year.
Now that the first country is out of the way, how did I do? Well, the good news is that I managed to stay within budget – by all of 96 cents. Considering my normal spending habits, that’s definitely something I’m pleased about. In fact, it could have been a fair bit lower. Firstly, transport costs really bumped the total up. I knew Mexico was big, but didn’t really appreciate quite how huge it is. In particular, my decision to go massively out of the way to head right to the north of the country to visit the Copper Canyon (and then all the way back nearly to where I came from) added a huge amount to my transport costs. Also, the swine flu outbreak necessitated an unplanned internal flight to avoid Mexico City. Together, these two things made up nearly $8 out of that $49. Furthermore, I also overspent a fair bit in my first few days in Mexico City & Queretaro while I acclimatised to my new spending regime and got a feel for what was cheap and what was expensive – for example the hostels I thought were cheap in my first two stops ended up being around double what I ended up paying everywhere else. I also spent a lot more on food and drink in the three weeks I was travelling with friends from home than I did when I was just hanging out with other backpackers. I also found it interesting to note that the mere act of recording my spending has helped me spend less as I have a much better feel for where all the money is going and what’s expensive and what’s not.
The bad news is that, even though I knew Mexico would be one of the more expensive countries I visit (as it’s one of the richer ones), it certainly won’t be as expensive as the 5 or so weeks in total I plan to spend in the USA, Australia & New Zealand. Easter Island will be very expensive too. So the average of all the other countries needs to work out a fair bit cheaper than $50 to account for them. Hopefully I can make that up over the rest of my time in Latin America (luckily that seems to be the case in Guatemala so far).
But ultimately I’m not going to let it worry me too much – as well as my budget I have other savings that can act as a cushion if I do overspend, and I’m not going to let money worries spoil the enjoyment of this trip of a lifetime. Plus I need to remind myself anyway that the point is not to do this as cheaply as possible, but to the budget of $50 a day, and so far I’m safely within that.
Right, preamble out of the way, the geek in me will now delight in spelling out exactly where the money went and a few other numbers as well.
Average daily spend:
Total – $49
Transport – $11
Accommodation – $11
Food & Drink – $24
Museums, courses & excursions – $2
Other (e.g. laundry, internet, postage) – $1
Most expensive transport:
Bus from Zacatecas to Chihuahua: $49
Copper Canyon train: $28
Flight to Puebla: $115
Most & least expensive accommodation:
Oaxaca hotel: $23 per person
Creel hostel: $7 (including two two-course meals – best bargain of the holiday)
Most expensive touristy thing:
Bus tour to Divisadero: $15 (but boy was it worth it)
Some other numbers:
Buses caught 40
Taxis taken 22
Boat trips 2
Car rides 7
Bike rides 1
Beds slept in 19
Canyons seen 2
Thermal baths swam in 3
Laundry done 6
Postcards sent 2
Phone calls made 5
Cash withdrawals 11
Islands visited 1
Museums visited 14
Pyramids climbed 6
Runs along the beach 2
Flu pandemics survived 1
Injuries & ailments: 4 (scraping my arm tripping over a pavement on day one, gashing my back on a jagged rock after overbalancing while crouching down to take a photo of an old VW Beetle, a bout of the trots brought on by a dodgy taco – thank god for Cipro – and a big allergic reaction to Mexican soap, also on day one, which was particularly troublesome considering the official advice for avoiding swine flu involved washing your hands regularly).
Items lost 2 (shower gel & one padlock)
People I’ve shared a beer with:
Aussies 0 (remarkably)
So there we have it. Not a bad start financially, but must try harder. That’s it for my first country, Mexico. Thanks to everyone who has visited, subscribed and commented, it makes the effort all worthwhile and it’s nice to know people are interested enough in what I have to say to keep reading. Next stop: Guatemala (although I’m now behind enough that I’m already in Honduras before I’ve even posted anything about Guatemala. Whoops)
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