Dwindling Fortunes Update: October 2013

The cost of living in Mexico

Every time I start writing one of these financial posts I am struck with a hard-hitting question: “Wait, we’re still in Mexico?”

Actually, no, that’s not it. My mental question is more along the lines of “How long can we keep traveling through the Americas relying on savings alone?” Well, we’re going on nearly 6 months on the road and, apart from the fact we’ve turned into ridiculously slow travelers, we are relieved to announce that our money is holding up remarkably well.

One of the reasons is the incredible bargain Mexico is turning out to be. I’ll probably be praising this gigantic, fascinating country for years to come, but the truth is that we’re surprised at how much we’re enjoying our time in Mexico – and how much bang we’re getting for our measly bucks.

Another reason is that we’re becoming savvier travelers. One of the perks of traveling at the speed of Lonesome George is the chance to become more attuned to the possibilities offered by our surroundings. For instance, we’ve saved a lot of money by renting a room instead of staying at a hotel or hostel in San Cristóbal de las Casas. We’re taking advantage of all the amenities we need at a fraction of the normal cost.

The final reason is dumb luck. We’ve always been extremely lucky in our travels. Yes, we’ve nearly drowned in the Gulf of Thailand, got stranded off the coast of Sri Lanka when our boat’s engine decided to go kaput, and even failed to see the Northern Lights in Iceland, but those are minor quibbles on a truly fortuitous succession of travel stories.

We’ve been traveling together for a while now, having done our fair share of holiday escapades before turning to long-term travel back in June 2013. The main lucky bit is that between Asia and Africa, the cinematic landscapes of NYC and the shimmering lights of Tokyo, Italian islands and chaotic Islamic streets, we never got mugged, lost something important (my dignity doesn’t count), been kidnapped or got sick.

We’ve been bitten by every type of insect known to our civilization, from jungle mosquitoes to fleas to tse-tse flies, but apart from the occasional soothing cream we’ve managed to remain fit as a not-too-shabby fiddle. That is, until my own body decided to embark on a nerve-wrecking voyage towards total meltdown. Luckily, I was in Mexico when that happened.

Anyway, on with the data:

Mexican Pesos

For the purpose of tracking our expenses we purchased a brilliant app called Trail Wallet, available for all gadgets starting with “i”.

The procedure is simple: we input our daily budget, fill in our own currency (EUR) and also choose the currency of the country we’re in (currently, and apparently forever, 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 profligate lifestyle. Here’s how it looked on the last day of October:

trail wallet october

Our daily budget is 50 EUR total. We averaged 23.60 EUR for the month of October, which means we spent 47% of our allocated budget. Nonetheless – and this is a BIG nonetheless -, those numbers don’t accurately portray our current situation. “OK, are you guys still on mushrooms?”, I hear the dear reader ask. No, beloved reader, we’re on antibiotics.

On with the financial data then. Unless specified otherwise, all numbers refer to our total costs as a couple.

Below is the general chart for the month of October.

trail wallet october

Each lovely color represents a category. We’ve added the following:


Most of the money we spent in October went for Accommodation, Food, and… Health!


trail wallet october

What a difference cheap accommodation makes… Last month we found a room at Casa de la Vista in San Cristóbal, and have been spoiled silly. Paying 100 MXN (6 EUR) per day for a big room with private bathroom, a patio and a huge kitchen has put everything into a new perspective, and made it extremely difficult to go back to expensive hotel rates. We’ve already discussed this in our September update, so feel free to check it out.


trail wallet october

We spent a few pesos more on food than the previous month, mainly because we’re greedy and San Cristóbal has too many lovely places enticing our wallets to break free from budgeting oppression.

We’re still getting most of our food from local markets, but one of the drawbacks of going local is that we ended up going out for delicious cranberry pancakes at TierrAdentro, enjoying steaming hibiscus tea and alternative cinema at Kinoki or splurging on organic jam and honey at Porvenir. But we have no regrets…


trail wallet october

We’ve spent a staggering 351 EUR on health-related items, which included hospital stays, a gargantuan amount of medication, intravenous serum, ultrasounds, doctor’s bills and the usual toothpaste and such… Of this total amount, 300 EUR went solely to my decrepit body’s survival.

The bad news: it hurt.

The good news: we have travel insurance!

Previously, we had gone on holiday with our minds at ease, since my lovely job in Amsterdam came with many perks, including travel insurance. As luck would have it, we never needed it. However, as long-term travelers running on savings, we mimicked many fellow nomads and bought our travel insurance through World Nomads.

In all honesty, we bought it mostly with our road trip through the USA in mind, knowing a broken leg while traipsing along the Grand Canyon would probably wipe out our entire savings. Fortunately, our most excellent adventure in North-America went without a hitch, so we had no chance of testing the “repatriation of remains” clause.

The insurance is not particularly cheap, but the whole procedure can be done online, and we thought it would come in handy if we had to call an helicopter from the middle of the jungle. Of course, there is the tiny detail of us having no cell phones at the moment, so I’m guessing the best we could do would be to spend a few weeks training a monkey to run to the nearest village with a phone and then hope he wouldn’t call the wrong number. But I digress…

The annoying bit is the deductible amount we are required to pay for each claim arising from any one event, which in our case is 70 EUR. According to our contract, this applies for all claims except for Emergency Medical Transport, Evacuation & Repatriation expenses. This basically means it is better suited to life-threatening situations than to a mere case of the sniffles.

Since we ended up spending 300 EUR, we collected all the receipts and prescriptions, to ensure we would get some money back. Once everything was sorted, we contacted World Nomads via email, detailing our tale of misfortune and setting the wheels of bureaucracy in motion. A reply arrived shortly afterwards, asking for receipts and whatnot, which could be conveniently sent also via email. Off we went to a cyber cafe to scan our documents…

In the end, we were pleasantly surprised at how smoothly everything went. Following the analysis of our claim, we received 230 EUR back, which was 100% of our medical expenses – minus the 70 EUR deductible. World Nomads warns that claims can take at least one month to process, but in our case only two weeks elapsed between initiating contact and having the money arrive in our account. Lady Luck was finally making a comeback…

Other Categories

Trail Wallet October collage

The remaining categories were responsible for 4.24% of our total costs.

Culture was quite low in our priority list in October. Nonetheless, we did buy tickets for a conference featuring the wonderful Jane Goodall, to be held in mid-November in San Cristóbal. Looking forward to it!

Lifestyle is a fancy word for nicotine addiction. Not much of that going on in October, since I was too busy trying to live without the aid of IV drops.

Entertainment usually means alcohol. With all the health madness going on, we’ve had to abstain from the great booze Mexico has to offer, so this category was left empty.

Transport costs were virtually non-existent this month. We paid for a few “colectivos” to take us to the Panteon Municipal, where we could witness the Day of the Dead, and that’s pretty much it.

Miscellaneous can be anything, and this month it was mostly laundry and other mundane affairs.

Summing up: a bit of a mad month, so the math is slightly wonky… BUT, if we remove my 300 EUR descent into physical collapse from the equation, our total costs for October add up to 431,68 EUR, which is approximately 14 EUR per day.

Let me break this down for you, dear reader: barring unfortunate events and the money that went with it, we spent the month of October enjoying plenty of sunshine (and the occasional but glorious afternoon thunderstorm), stuffing our mouths with delicious food and living in a gorgeous, bewitching town in southern Mexico – all on 14 EUR per day. If that’s not a bargain, I don’t know what is…

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