Financial Breakdown of My Mexico-Belize-Guatemala Trip

A popular topic of conversation for travelers is money. From how you work it to travel (if you are on a longer trip or travel frequently) to daily budgets, it pretty much all gets covered. Luckily for me, instead of feeling like this is an intrusive topic, it is one that really interests me. How do other people find funds to travel? How long with their saving hold out? What do they plan on spending per day and what do they actually spend?

For this last trip, I gathered up all my recipes and compiled them to have a better idea of my travel budget (which could help with future planning). I post them here not only for posterity and for my own reference's sake, but also because the finances of travel are a big part of it all, so it is just another piece of the puzzle.

CountryLength of stayMoney spentDollars per day
Mexico (Yucatan/Quinta roo)8 days$243$31
Belize5 days$217$44
Guatemala2 days$130$65
Mexico (Chiapas)8 days$247$31
Total23 days$837$36

Flights
Portland, OR -> Cancun, Mexico$159
Tuxtla-Gutierez, Mexico -> Seattle, WA$355
Total$514

Overall, this trip cost $1384 (on ground expenses, flights, and getting home from the airport). Not bad for 24 days of adventure. Some interesting observations:
  • in general, the longer time spent in a country, the lower cost per day. I attribute this to transportation costs, mostly, but also getting to know where to eat cheap and learning the ins and outs of cheap travel in that place.
  • Flight costs are more than 1/3 total trip cost, in this case. Again, a longer trip will help offset that and allow for a lower cost per day.
  • Compared with what a person might spend on average during their normal life back home (rent, food, concerts, etc.), these numbers can definitely start to look more doable
  • I know I could bring down the per day costs by staying in sketchier places, eating fewer ice creams, not bringing home one of each bill as a souvenir, etc., but those small additions to the enjoyment of it all totally seem to be worth it when looking at the distribution of it all
  • Next trip, it would be interesting to break down costs even further, maybe into lodging, food, transportation, and entertainment (ruins, circuses, museums, etc.)

Monday March 29 2010File under: travel, Mexico

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Tikal vs. Palenque

Tikal   Palenque   Comparison  

Eleven or so years ago, I visited Tikal, the "Heart of the Mayan World", during my first trip abroad ever. Recently, while passing through northern Guatemala, I thought I'd stop in and have an other look.

Tikal is dang impressive. The temples are big, the jungle is vast, and your chances of seeing a monkey flying through the canopy above are high (we saw both spider monkeys and howler monkeys, which make the most incredible, well, howls).

I had a great group of people to tromp around with which made it that much more fun. They let me act as tour guide, of sorts, and even humored me in letting me get a geocache*.

Yeah, walking around in the jungle with amazing ruins all around isn't a bad way to spend a day, even if I have "been there, done that" before. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if I find myself back this way again before I die. Some things are just worth seeing again.

Friday March 26 2010File under: travel, Guatemala

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The Ups and Downs of Disorganization

DISCLAIMER: Another wordy post, I know*, but no attempts at art or style in this one; just a regular, run-of-the-mill travel anecdote.

Sometimes bureaucratic/logistical disorganization can work for you. Sometimes it works against you. Today, while navigating my way back to the good old U.S. of A., I experienced both to a blog-worthy degree.

It all started at the airport in Tuxtla-Guetierez airport at an hour when I would rather be asleep in bed. Small airports have a certain degree of advanrage over their megalith cousins: short lines for both tickets and security. At ticketing, I checked in simply by showing my passport, as always do. I've since done away with even printing my itinerary because it hardly matters anymore. Anyway, with a smile and nod, I was handed my boarding pass and pointed on my way, no exchanged words needed. Only after I had cleared security did I realize that I was only given one boarding pass instead of 3 as I might have expected (being as there were three legs to my flight). A minor detail, I thought, that I could easily work out at the Mexico city airport.

As soon as I stepped off the plane, I realized it wasn't going to be so minor. For one, I didn't know what airline I was transferring. A silly fact, I know, but an important one, it turns out. I knew I started on Mexicana and knew I was continuing on one of the biggies (Delta, American, or Contential) through somewhere in Texas (Houston or Dallas). That array creates an astounding number of permeations, which, when coupled with the two vastly separated terminals of Benito Juarez International Airport sent me on quite a goose chase. Finally, after an hour of roaming around, asking contridicting, but very smiley, information people, I got my boarding passes. Relieved, I asked the counter agent about paying my exit tax*. She vaguely mentions a bank location "somewhere downstairs" and hustles me away. So begins another goose chase.

I can't find a bank and am getting kind of getting tired of looking. Again, many helpful but ultimately uninformed information booth operators point me varoius directions with nothing doing, so I decide that when I need to pay something, I will be more explicitly told. In my experience, this usually happens when you go through pre-security or another ticket checker somewhere in the pipeline, so I proceeded. The ticket/passport checkers for my security checkpoint seemed to be on a gossip break, so I wasn't approached as I headed on my way. Cautious not to let my optimism about saving $25 run wild, I was wary that surely there would be a double check on this down the way. Afterall, didn't I have to let someone know I was leaving the country?

Next onto security*: upside, no lines; downside, over-anxious security personnel. First, they determined my fork to be questionable lethal so set it aside with a rapid Spanish explanation as to why. My broken attempt at conveying that I had already been on a flight that very same day with the very same fork failed to dissuade him. He must be in cahoots with that damn Jamaican that stole Loafy last year. Then they decided my juggling clubs were weapons with which I planned to raise an army against the flight attendents if I didn't get my choice of soda. This I would not stand for. I first attempted to explain the situation in Spanish: "Estos son clavas para hacer malabarismo. Queries una demonstracion? Los tuve en el vuelto esta manana y entrada el pias del avion CON estos. Cual is el problema?" That didn't work, either because I didn't convey myself properly or it wasn't a valid arguement. Next I requested an agent who spoke english so I could more properly explain/vent. He arrives, and, after tossing the club into the air and knocking it experimentally against his palm, he says the same thing in broken english that the woman before said in spanish: no pueden pasar.

I've never actually jumped up and down in frusteration before. Okay, maybe I have, but usually it is in a place where the gesture can be understood to be ironic or funny. Here, not so much. I did, however, manage to convey that I wanted to speak to the manager about this issue. By now, a group was developing. Yeehaw, another showdown.

The manager arrives and I can tell right away by his demeanor that he is on my side. He tosses the club in the air, spins it in his fingers, and jokingly asks something about the circus. Saved. With a nod and smile, he sends me on my way. The others gathered around all smile an apologetic smile and wish me a good trip. As I'm repacking my bag (juggling clubs, computer, pocketables, etc.) I see my fork unattended and grab it. I'm not letting go of Loafy II that easily. As I walk off to find my gate, I smile that knowing that standing up for myself has proven valueable again. Could this become a habit?

Checking in at that gate, the agent asks for my tourist card (the card which I was supposed to get stamped for $25 when I visited immigration to let them know I was leaving the country). I handed her the wad of papers that they handed me down on the Guatemalan border, try to look as innocent as possible. She flipped through it more than she had with other the passengers, but then gave a quick nod. I must not have seen or something because she then glanced up with a look that said you're-still-here? but politely said, "That's all." Now for sure I knew I had dodged the exit fee.

Sometimes disogranization can work for you and sometimes it can work against you. When it works for you, you smile at your triumph. When it works against, you're inclined to deride the lack of logic or effort or discipline that has caused it al. But in either case, looking back you end up with a story and there is definitely value in that.
Wednesday March 24 2010File under: travel, Mexico

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Panchan

DISCLAIMER: through a combination of randomly reading a novel about writing, wanting to keep blog posts fresh and new, and being rained in for the better part of a day, I found myself writing this. A word of caution to those who didn't like my last foray into prose (Four Nights): you might as well skip this one. Otherwise, if you're up for a little boredom-induced, unedited experimentation, read on.

He could feel the slats on his back through the thin foam of the bed, and thought to himself how it goes perfectly with it all: the partition walls that don't go all the way to the ceiling, allowing him to hear his neighbor turn the pages of her book; the tin roof that magnifies the huge drops of rain that fall after collecting on the massive leaved trees above. As he lay there, instead of seeing these inconveniences as a drawback, an appreciation of the magic that surround him creeps in.

Although his eyes are open, it is the sounds that mesmerize him most. Between that tap tap tap of the rain on the roof, sounds of the jungle permeate—birds, insects of all kinds, and even what sounds like a monkey mix into a soundtrack that reinforces the remoteness of this traveler-hippie community. From down the muddy path outside his door came simple guitar covers of songs that at other times might seem cliche, but something in the singer's voice make him look past that and really see the spirit of the songs. Songs by John Lennon, Simon and Garfunkle, and ones that he even didn't know what language they were being sung in but could feel the spirit creep down the narrow path, all the same.

Occasionally, groups of fellow travelers walk past his window on the way to their own cabanas, their low voices usually in Spanish of which he only caught a word or two. He is glad the brief chunks of conversation didn't make it understandingly to his brain. This way, he can create his own meanings. Maybe it is two strangers who just met, each while reading alone in the tarp-covered restaurant, finding one thing in common, enough to thinly veil the real reason they don't want to say goodnight. Maybe the group's discussion mimmicked the dicussion in his head, marveling at the wonder of all of place, right here, right now.

Closing his eyes, shutting out the tin ceiling and lone bare light bulb hanging from it, he imagines a camera looking directly down from above. The scene starts to zoom out, just like google earth when switching locations or in that movie from science class Powers of 10. As the camera passes through the roof, puddles along a muddy path come in view, quickly followed by more randomly placed cabanas. Streams with simple bridges crossing them mix with meandering trails to create seeming ant paths through the dark lush green. As the camera recedes, one or two larger roofs appear, those of the few restaurants and "real" hotels. But then, other than the one road, no new evidence of man's existence enters the picture. The little village community grows smaller in the middle of the image and jungle fills in all around. The zoom of the camera is fast now and the nearby ruins enter the picture from one side at the same time the lights of Palenque enter from the other, but at this distance, no details can be made out. Other clusters of lights enter the picture and shrink as the surrounding towns fly by. Then, all of the sudden, dark black of the oceans comes into view, the Gulf of Mexico from the top and the Pacific from the lower left. The zooming of the image pauses as he stops to think about how although he is in Mexico, it isn't the North American Mexico of Cabo or Puerta Vallarta. He is in Mayan Mexico, distinctly Central American Mexico.

As the paused satelitte image rests in his mind, he sees his little spot and feels a sense of freedom. This place is any place, and he is here. No one, without considerable effort, could track him down and there is comfort in that. Not that he is running or wants to keep his location a secret, only that right now, the control is all his.

The serene nighttime image of Central America from above is shaken from his head by an obnxoius bang bang bang on the neighbor's door, causing his connected walls to shake as well. Excited boys either vying for attention or trying to one-up each other loudly joke, laugh, and beatbox, ruining the magic. At the same time, he notices the live cover songs from the stage down the path have been replaced by AC/DC turned up too loud.

So goes the world of travel, the reality and hardships are never far off, ready to let one taste the magic but only in small doses. Attempting to file the feeling of magic away so that it won't be forgotten, he turns on his side, pulls a pillow over his head, and tries not to wish harmful things for those ruinors of his moment.

Monday March 22 2010File under: travel, Mexico

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Mexico Take Two

For those of you following along at home*, you know that after a brief stint in Belize and Guatemala, I'm back in Mexico—San Cristobal de las Casas to be exact. It is a gorgeous town with lots to do, although I find the majority of my activities involve ice cream, crosswords, and chatting with my dad, with whom I met up a few days ago.

Besides loafing, we've just meandered* around. There is some great architecture to see as well as a church or two. The food, as always, is amazing. Our hotel has a wonderful courtyard with a great bougainvillea. Also, just out of town, there is a great walk up the river, with sketchy suspension bridge included!

Besides loafing/meandering about town, we did a great trip up the Canyon del Sumidero. We saw birds, spider monkeys, and even crocodiles. Besides the fact that it was an organized trip and they shuffled us around like cards and stuffed us in wherever we fit, it was worth it.

Yep, Mexico continues to live up to its reputation for easy, relatively cheap, interesting traveling. So as the end of this adventure draws near, it is comforting to think that I know I will be back someday.
Friday March 19 2010File under: travel, Mexico

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Bold Backpacker Balks at Border Bullies

BETHEL GUATEMALA — A backpacker frustrated with corruption at the border and being taken advantage of decided to make a stand today at the remote border crossing from Guatemala into Mexico. The fee at issue was very minor, only $5us, but it was principle, reports Wren Schultz, that made him refuse to pay.
   Many countries charge an exit fee upon leaving their borders. Some charge this fee only when leaving via airplane and some at all border crossings. When flying in and out of a country, the exit fee is often included in the price of the ticket.
   Just two days previous, Schultz, a self-styled traveler "in the know", paid $18.25us to cross from Belize into Guatemala. "In Belize, the price was clearly marked and they even gave me a receipt," Schultz reports. "The guys in Guatemala just whispered among themselves and made vague threats."
   Schultz reports that the rest of his busload of mostly backpackers unquestioningly paid the fee. "The border people

Across the border, after the attempted bullying and a 30 minute boat ride
claimed that their system was down, and that is why they couldn't scan our passports or even let us talk directly to the border agent," continued Schultz. When he asked for a receipt, or to see an official form proclaiming the fee, a series of first unofficials, then officials came out to hem and haw about why neither of these things existed, and what would happen if he didn't cough up the money.
   A similar $3us fee was requested at the entry point 2 days earlier, which Schultz paid, claiming he was caught off guard. But after thinking about it and hearing about other travelers' experiences, he was ready.

   In the end, he got his passport stamped along with everyone else. "I think I might have also seen the border agent give me a knowing you-caught-us-good-for-you smile," Schultz said, obviously pleased with himself. The threats of accumulating a ridiculous fee for when he next returns to Guatemala will likely be shown false if he ever decides to return.
   Schultz does admit that the border agents were just trying to make a buck and were actually very friendly about the whole thing.

Wednesday March 17 2010File under: travel, Guatemala

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Un-Belize-able

Belize is a country that I've never known much about, except maybe the requisite traveler knowledge of where it is and what they speak here*. I'm afraid I will leave the country knowing only marginally more.

I've chosen to spend my few days in Belize out in the Northern Cayes* instead of exploring inland where jungles, caves, rivers, etc. are found. There is just something about sandy beaches, slow Caribbean life, and ocean breezes. So in lieu of adventuring with jaguars, monkeys, and who-knows-what reptiles, I walk around, read, eat, swim, and chat up my fellow travelers. Oh, and I take some pictures too: requisite self-timer beach shot, almost spoiled turned artsy shot, beach palm, good advice that I take as often as possible, and more friendly advice.

Perhaps I will return to Belize some day to expand my knowledge beyond the Cayes. Or perhaps I will return someday to each johnny cakes, drink fresh pineapple juice, and wonder at the beauty of the Caribbean sea. They both sound pretty dang nice.

(Alternate post titles considered: Jeez Belize and You Better Belize It)
Friday March 12 2010File under: travel, Belize

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Feelin the Vibe

Conveying the vibe of a place—how it feels to be there—is something that is hard to do via any medium: words, pictures, even video.

Sure I could tell you that here in San Pedro, Belize there are more golf carts on the roads than cars, an equal mix of English and Spanish on storefronts, and coconut palm lined paths right on the beach. I could further go on to describe how friendly the people are, and even offer an anecdote of being helped (without ulterior motive) by 3 people within my first 15 minutes of being here*. But you still wouldn't get the full vibe of this place.

Feeling a place's vibe is a lot of what traveling is about for me. Sure I like to see the sights, eat the food, and meet the people, but all those things can be overshadowed (both in a good way and a bad) by the vibe of a place. As for the here and now, I've done found myself a place with a wonderful vibe. Now I'm going to head out and enjoy it.
Wednesday March 10 2010File under: travel, Belize

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Travel Quote for Monday - Length vs. Width


LIFE IS SHORT, MAKE IT WIDE

Staying at a hostel in Valladolid, Mexico, I met an older traveller about whom there was a lot I admired (and aspired). His business card fancies him as an "entrepreneur, adventurer, traveler, troubador, eccentric" and from the few days we hung out, it all seemed true enough (and then some; I'm looking forward to reading the book he wrote*). At the top of his business card was this phrase: "life is short, make it wide". He also had a very well written song that said the same. I thought it was as good a quote as any to add to my Monday traveling quotes series, to be reminded, whenever I have occasion to review past posts, to do just that—make it wide.
Monday March 8 2010File under: travel, quote

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Comunicacion

Q:What do you call someone who can speak 3 languages?A:Trilingual
Q:What do you call someone who can speak 2 languages? A:Bilingual
Q:What do you call someone who can speak only one language? A:American


Yesterday, I was complimented on my Spanish. Granted it was only after I complimented him on his English. Still, it felt good. Practicing my Spanish was one of the main reasons I chose to come to Mexico this travel season.

While I was in Japan last year, I remember really admiring my American friends' ability to communicate with the locals in Japanese. As Americans*, we don't have the multi-lingual head start that many Europeans or others have. This ability to communicate with more than just my countrymen led me to the decision to really focus on keeping up my Spanish.

Since being here, I've had two really rewarding conversations, ones where I know that I've conveyed myself well, proving to myself that, in a pinch, I can get my point across. In one instance, I saw a guy with jugglers on this shirt. I asked him about it and we ended up talking circus talk for the remainder of the bus ride. In the other case, I conducted "small talk" with a barber who cut my hair.* *

In a few short days (maybe tomorrow even), I will cross the border into Belize and be back in an English speaking country. This last week, while I've proved to myself I retained more Spanish than I thought, but I didn't get as much practice in as I wanted. Luckily, Guatemala and returning to Mexico are on the agenda.
Sunday March 7 2010File under: travel

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