Dwindling Fortunes Update: July 2013
The cost of living in Mexico
As we begin our third month of long-term travel, I thought it was time to share some monetary details concerning how much this whole wanderlust extravaganza is costing us.
When we first began scouring the internet for tips and tricks on long term travel, we came across quite a few travel blogs displaying a lot of helpful information. One of the features we found useful was the expense tracking post. This would posit all the expenses incurred by the bloggers during a certain period of time or in a certain place. Hence, we would get an idea on how much accommodation or food would cost in a foreign land, giving us the chance to prepare our budgets accordingly.
We’ll hopefully be updating our cost of living on a monthly basis. This will function not only as another personal incentive to keep a tight grip on our budget, but also as a helpful guide for the 5 people and 1 dog (hey Sparky, good boy!) who follow this website if they ever decide to decamp to Latin America.
For the purpose of tracking our expenses we purchased a brilliant app called Trail Wallet, available for all gadgets starting with “i”. To us, it might be greatest travel tool to see the light of day since the invention of the compass. OK, maybe that’s a tad hyperbolic: but just think how Lewis and Clark would have loved to quickly allocate all their trading costs as they braved the new territories on their famous expedition! Surely their plans were derailed many times due to inconsistent reports on their expenses…
Lewis: So, how many bottles of whiskey did you offer the Tetan-Sioux tribe?
Clark: Er… I don’t know. Three? No, maybe two. Five?
Lewis: How can you not know, Clark? How many times must we go through this? You’re supposed to be helping! That’s why I brought you!
Clark: I’m pretty sure it was three. I’m 99% certain. I think. No, I remember now: definitely two.
Lewis: That’s great, Clark. Just… great. How do we know how many bottles to give the Partisan tribe now? Anything less than what we gave the Tetan-Sioux and we’re in trouble – again.
Clark: Wait, it’s coming to me… almost… A-ha! I’m seeing four bottles. Not quite sure if they were all whiskey, but I distinctly recall four bottles. Wait, was that today or yesterday?
Lewis: I’ve made a huge mistake.
Anyway, the Trail Wallet is the bee’s knees. How does it work, you ask? Well, one thing we love about it is its simplicity: we input our daily budget, fill in our own currency (EUR) and also choose the currency of the country we’re in (currently, MXN). We then enter our purchases in MXN, and the app will let us know how much we are spending in EUR and how we are faring in regards to our daily budget. We can also assign categories to our lavish expenditures. Here’s how it looked on the last day of July:
Our daily budget is 50 EUR total. We averaged 37.9 EUR for the month of July, which means we spent 76% of our allocated budget. All this info is displayed on the Today screen, ensuring we can keep track of the general picture.
As for us, we departed The Cheeselands on 30/05/2013, embarking on a North-American adventure which eventually led us to Mexico. Since the month of June was spent visiting friends, meeting people and driving through wide open spaces, we’ve come to see it as a holiday before the, er… holidays. Even during our first few days in Mexico, we were fortunate to be visiting friends in Cholula, making accommodation quite affordable, as in free (thank you again, Tamara and Enrique!). Basically, we decided June didn’t count.
So, we’ll be focusing only on July, our first month with feet solely stomping Mexican ground. We are now on our own, making it easier to assess how we’re doing and what can be done to improve our precarious financial situation. Unless specified otherwise, all numbers refer to our total costs as a couple.
Below is the general chart for the month of July.
Each lovely color represents a category. We’ve added the following:
As can be immediately perceived, most of our money was spent on Accommodation, Food, and Transport.
Oy vey… What can I say? We’re too old for makeshift hostels and too fussy for shared toilets. Below is the daily rate of the places we’ve stayed in. They’re either double rooms or studios, all with private bathroom.
400 MXN (23.6 EUR) – El Cascabel Encantado (hostel, Cholula)
460 MXN (27 EUR) – Azul Cielo (hostel, Oaxaca)
300 MXN (17.7 EUR) – La Puesta del Sol (room, San José del Pacífico)
250 MXN (14.7 EUR) – Tower Bridge Backpackers (hostel, Puerto Escondido)
323 MXN (19 EUR) – Casa Puente (studio, Puerto Escondido)
Average = 346,6 MXN (20.4 EUR)
It’s definitely possible to spend a lot less – for instance, if we stayed in dorms or chose cheaper hostels. However, we found the extra pesos we spent were worth the financial dent. As a case study, I’ll compare the experiences we had at our most expensive (Azul Cielo in Oaxaca) and our cheapest (Tower Bridge in Puerto Escondido) stays.
Azul Cielo was located close to the Zócalo in Oaxaca, but far enough for it to be remarkably quiet. Our room was spacious and clean, while the bathroom was small but more than adequate. The atmosphere was relaxed and the guests diverse – couples, friends, solo travelers, mostly young but some not-so-young. It also had breakfast included. Quite a few guests left for the day to explore Oaxaca and its surroundings, returning tired in the evening. Some lounged about in the garden reading and chatting, making it fairly effortless to start conversations. All in all, a great place to rest from the day’s many travels and cure mezcal hangovers.
Tower Bridge Backpackers won a “Best Atmosphere” award back in 2011, which should have given us a clue… OK, first of all the hostel is dirt cheap. The rooms were a bit shabby and old but endurable, the bathroom didn’t have a door but whatever, there is no breakfast option but they have a pool and a bar instead, plus a ping pong and snooker tables. We were roughing it a bit, but nowhere near some shady places we’ve stayed in throughout the years. The only thing was… well… the atmosphere. Basically, it’s an amazing place if you don’t care much for comfort or sleep. Most of the crowd was very young and very eager to drink themselves silly every single night. Whenever we miraculously managed to fall asleep before 1 am, we would be woken up by some slurry youngster shouting or singing his/her heart out. Yes, earplugs would have solved it, but that’s not the point. It’s a party place, loud and exuberant, great for meeting people and do all the things young lovers do. We would have probably loved it if we were single and 19 again. Right now, we’ll pay the extra 4 EUR per day to rent a quiet studio with our own pool and far away from any blinking light that is not a star.
Summing up, we think accommodation will be our main concern going forward. We’re staying most of August in one place, which should bring the costs down, but we need to figure out how to better find places with a good price/quality ratio. All I know is 636 EUR per month is a tad much. There are some other options out there, like volunteering or house sitting, but we haven’t had the time or patience to fully investigate. Let’s see how the wind blows…
We don’t eat much. No, that’s not true – we eat a lot, but mostly fruit and vegetables. Mexico has so far been a foodie heaven: we skip the meat, but everything else is fresh, inexpensive and delicious, particularly street food and whatever is available in markets. I have the feeling it’s not as cheap as in Southeast Asia though, but I don’t have the data to back it up, so I won’t worry about it. We also have the occasional treat, like mountains of chocolate in Oaxaca or brunch at El Cafecito in Puerto Escondido, which although a bit expensive is completely worthwhile. Again, we’ll be staying put in August, and therefore using the local market more often, so I’m curious to see how we’ll fare in the food department.
We’ve done quite a bit of movin’ and shakin’ since we’ve arrived in Mexico. Luckily, the public transport system is vast and reasonably priced. Options abound, ranging from first class buses to shared taxis. For great distances, we usually pick the ADO buses. They’re big, comfortable, fast and so far reliable. The first class ones have toilets and televisions, which is how I came to watch “Transformers” and “Zookeeper” in Spanish (hey, it’s not like I was expecting Wong Kar-wai). The monetary difference between first and second class is negligible, so we’ve enjoyed a couple of smooth rides in first class. To get an idea, the ADO bus 5 hour drive from Puebla to Oaxaca cost 768 MXN (47 EUR) total.
Another transport option is what they call “suburbans”, meaning large vans with varying degrees of comfort. We chose to take a Líneas Unidas van for the 3 hour drive between Oaxaca and San José del Pacífico, which ended up costing 170 MXN (10 EUR) total. It’s a bit more crowded and with none of the perks of the ADO buses, but we felt they were good for any travels shorter than 5 hours. Hence, we also took a “suburban” from San José del Pacífico to Puerto Escondido, totaling 240 MXN (15 EUR) for a 4 hour drive.
Most of the taxi expenses were incurred while in Mexico City, since we had to take care of some bureaucratic matters where the metro dared not tread. In Puerto Escondido, whenever not walking the beach we take “colectivos”, or shared taxis, which are 5 MXN per person. Rounding up the transport expenses are occasional trips to see archeological sites (like Teotihuacán and Monte Albán) or traditional markets (such as Tlacolula).
Since we’re staying in Puerto Escondido for most of August, this particular category should go down soon enough.
The remaining categories are responsible for 12% of our total costs, and are the most susceptible to precipitous change. If we don’t visit any archeological sites, the Culture category will be probably left alone. However, our definition of culture is somewhat broad. For instance, we noted the magic mushrooms in San José del Pacífico as Culture. Seriously, it was a cultural thing.
Entertainment means alcohol, at least so far. We’re not big drinkers (not by a long shot), but will sacrifice some pesos for mezcal or pulque.
Health means sunblock, toothpaste and such. It’s a great sign if this stays low.
Lifestyle is a fancy word for nicotine addiction. I thought of putting it down as Cancer, but couldn’t come up with a corresponding color. This is also subjective to change, since we usually take a few breaks throughout the year.
Miscellaneous can be anything, which is why the Trail Wallet is so handy, since we can assign notes to our expenses. Hence, I know the 100 MXN (6 EUR) I put under Miscellaneous on the 19th of July actually refers to my shiny new sunglasses. Oh, by the way: we’re not making any money out of praising the Trail Wallet. We just think it’s really helpful to us, so kudos where kudos are due.
In conclusion, Mexico can be ridiculously cheap if willing to sacrifice a few creature comforts. The bulk of our expenses fell under the accommodation category, but we are so far not willing to downgrade, preferring instead to try and come up with better solutions. We’re also discovering there are advantages to staying put for a while, financial as well as cultural/social: while saving money, we can become more immersed in a place’s way of life, and hopefully learn more about its people. Due to all these circumstances, we have made Caye Caulker’s motto our own: Go Slow.