The following piece is not a lesson on how to travel on a budget and save money, and although it will be moving along that line, it’s merely an indication of different takes various travellers can have about their own concept of budget, which is often a rather wide range variable that’s generally based on individual economical background, thrills sought and other circumstances.
In case you were interested in real numbers, rather than general info, I’ve prepared a post that lists all the basic expenses in most Latin American countries between Tierra del Fuego and Yucatán, which you can find here. However, because “budget” is such a vague term, let’s also look at the numerous variables when it comes to the understanding of the concept of an individual value first.
There’s budget and there’s budget
So what does budget-something really mean? Like in many other cases, context is obviously a king here as well. For instance when you say “US Defence Budget”, you’re not going to imagine a bunch of old rifles, few rusty planes and stuff like that. However, when you hear the term ‘Budget’ within the concept of travelling, you know that it could sometimes mean taking a rusty boat or a Roger Moore’s James Bond days kinda bus.
In other words, “budget travel” basically means spending only the necessary amounts of money to achieve your objective. It’s like taking a Ryanair flight. It will do the job of getting you from A to B, but it will be with no-frills unless you decide to pay extra. We all know that ‘budget’ within a traveller’s concept subs the term ‘cheap’ when it comes to travelling. Let’s be honest, it does. Budget travel just sounds nicer than cheap travel, the same way like ‘restroom’ sounds nicer than ‘toilet’…
The obvious fact is that everyone’s travels will eventually sum up to some sort of a budget, right? But we all like different things for which we’re willing to pay extra money. We all have different preferences, perspectives, values, standards, goals as well as bank accounts. The question, therefore, is: What are the areas you would or wouldn’t mind compromising on? This is the bottom line that divides all the segments of travellers as well as the travel-related guides and blogs.
Different ways of handling the money
What also varies is how an individual manages to handle his or her money. We have some precise budget planners that stick to it whatever the circumstances; some rather messy people when it comes to handling their money; some people with a gift to be able to survive anywhere.
Furthermore, there are also some opportunists who’ll try to save few bucks at other people’s expense and there are also some who are just lucky or good at improvising. The latter group is btw my favourite, as I consider such people as being the freest 🙂 There are endless combinations of who we are and ways how we finance our trips, including the one people often mistake for the definition of the budget travelling, which is looking after every penny.
Your standards vs saving the money
Are you willing to drop your standards or the general enjoyment to save up few pennies? It’s entirely up to you, I’m not judging, after all, it’s your holiday. My take however is: why would I bother looking after every penny spent on stuff I enjoy, especially when I know that in the bigger picture, such savings aren’t significant at all?
I personally like to travel (and live as a matter a fact) as hassle-free and dickhead-free as possible. Eventful and lazy at the same time. Money obviously does play a major role when deciding upon a destination, activities and so on but once I’m on the trip, their role in my decision making gets way smaller. Do you wanna know why?
Back to the budget travel: where’s worth saving and where’s better to forget about it?
True, one could save 1-2 quid by taking the public transport to a bus terminal in Hanoi or in Cartagena but it would take ages just to find out how to get there, not to mention the heat, the overcrowding and your heavy backpack you wearing. Plus when you finally get to the terminal, you’ll be most probably sweating like a pig and if some things went sideways, you’ll be also annoyed, right from the top of your upcoming 12 hour travelling day. Not overspending yes but saving at all costs? Why would I do that to save 1 or 2 quid?
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried that kind of saving in the past. But after doing so several times, I gradually grew to prefer paying a small commission to my hostel that would arrange the pickup and get me to the spot. With air-con included. Without changing the inner-city buses with all the luggage on me. I’m not saying that this is the universally right thing to do but it works just fine for me. In my humble opinion, that extra Euro or two spent could be worth it many times over 😉
Another way to save small money is if you’re strict with scammers. Like when the taxi driver with whom you agreed on the sum before the journey in rather sufficient English suddenly doesn’t understand any English at all, right after he breaks the deal, asking you for the extra $3 upon your arrival to the destination. Or when the Cambodian border officer asks you to pay $40 instead of $35 for your visas.
In the first case, you can argue, let it affect your mood and maybe the taxi driver will let you go after paying the originally agreed price, which I doubt because he’s got more time for that $3 than you. In the Cambodian border offices case, you’ll just waste your time because such overcharging is part of the national bribing system. He paid a huge bribe in the past to get this post and the extra $5 is a way to get it back and earn some profit.
I mean that it’s your time and you can choose what vibes you’ll let affect it with. Being able to switch perspectives (if that is possible) also helps. Sometimes it’s just a street scam, sometimes it’s a scam received from the officials (AKA corruption) but overall it is human nature. If you mentally zoom out, you’ll notice that it happens to us even in our everyday lives.
For example, certain companies in certain countries sometimes state their prices without VAT so their prices look less expensive. Furthermore, it’s not uncommon that some information is disclosed in a small print form because it might hide extra charges within. Or they get your money by charging for “extras” like priority boarding, extra legroom, baggage fees, and so on. Some airlines are charging for seats for heaven’s sake 😀
I mean it’s everywhere. Even the super-expensive “upper class” Apple does it with all the stupid extra dongles, hubs and other accessories you have to buy due to the well-calculated design of the original product. It’s just human nature. Make more profit.
BTW, I got rather fascinated by how inventive some people can get to get your money. I even began collecting various street scams. In case you were interested you can find them all here. But for now, let’s get back on the subject of budget travel and why I believe that looking after every penny isn’t really worth it.
Back to the Budget Travel: How much?
I wonder how much could you save up if you really tried to save up whenever it’s possible. You can, for example, sleep in a shithole for €5 or you can add the extra €2 and the level goes up tremendously so you get a great night sleep. Or you can get the cheapest wine on the menu, but the next one up is twice as good and only a quid more expensive, while the hangover also reflects the quality of the wine.
Except for the sometimes massive 100% differences in prices in low vs high seasons, it’s just how you deal with the clever/cruel design of the add-ons. When you count all the extra bucks you have saved against the time you spend sweating on the inner-city buses, sleeping in horrible hard beds with bugs, nursing hangovers from the cheap booze, arguing with taxi drivers who broke the deal and so on – is it really worth it for you?
Speaking for myself, the experience taught me that some minor updates are often worth it, especially if it’s only for a fraction of the original price. But where is the line where you just say: “That’s enough” before you spend another extra €2 to improve things even further and how much does it all add up to? It depends on many factors.
Get your priorities straight and keep it simple
I’ve learned to get my priorities straight and keep things simple. Stick with my decision, well that’s unless some new facts/opportunities surface. Overall, if you check the expected daily costs for various destinations on some websites, my daily expenses could go as much as €10 or even €20 higher than the usual “budget travel” limits on some occasions, but most of the time I would squeeze in because life always provides me with opportunities of not spending money on something else.
Without monetizing the advantages the occasional updates of picking a better wine or a more comfy bed come with, in a combination of sparing myself some other possible expenses by just not going for everything that’s available, I’d say that overall I spend a wee bit more than the budget-stating websites have for most destinations. I’d be let’s say 10-20% over of what they say but in the majority of cases, that is all well worth it for me.
At the end of the day, on a six-week trip – I’d say that the difference between saving up and paying a little extra would add up to a number that could be smaller than the money you’d spend on a proper night out in London for instance.
We all have different limits to various things and how far is one willing to go to save a quid is one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still most likely drink more beers in Prague at £1,40 each than in London but it doesn’t mean that in London I’d stay dry if I felt like grabbing a pint. And I certainly wouldn’t drink excessively in Prague only because it’s cheap. You know what I mean, right?
A little thought for the very end
I’ve heard many First World long-term travellers, many of which keep talking about making the world a better place while abusing the fact that their economies allowed them to travel places complaining about prices in Chile, Argentina or Uruguay. Prices for the First World items, such as meals in restaurants or alcoholic beverages.
I admit, especially Chile and Uruguay surprised me badly regarding such expenses. However – not to sound too preachy – but I’ve checked the prices of the basic food items in supermarkets and they were equal or a tiny bit more expensive than in Europe. Then I googled the average salary of the locals. The staggering contrast between the prices and average earnings in the region sounded like a ticking time bomb to me and I wasn’t exactly wrong as it all later demonstrated itself in the news all over the world 😑
I know that some people just like to complain about things but to complain about the price of one’s mojito or the luxurious bus journey which is in fact a wee bit cheaper than its European equivalent is therefore rather – ehm – insensitive, if we take the bigger picture into consideration, especially if it’s coming from someone who wants to make the world a better place. I think. What’s your take on that?
Some practical info about travelling in Latin Americas
- Budget: in case you were interested, here‘s an article listing the country-by-country basic expenses for a traveller in Latin America
- Safety: Few safety tips on how to secure your valuables, what to watch out for and more could be found here
- Transport: Information, safety and some other practical advice regarding public transport in Latin America can be found here
- ATM withdrawal charges: Some practical info, including the list of free-of-charge ATMs in Latin America, can be found here
- Border fees: To find out how much will you have to pay to enter or exit certain countries in Latin America, please click here
- Pre-trip preparations: Few things you can do ahead of time before you’ll become frantically busy prior to your departure are listed here
- Packing list: What to take with you for an extended trip as well as some security tips could be found here
- Cheap Flights: few tips on how to score a cheap/er flight, better seat on a plane, where to get a nap at a particular airport and so on
Latin locations covered
Santiago de Chile ► Valparaíso ► Santiago de Chile ►Punta Arenas – Ushuaia – Punta Arenas ► Puerto Natales – Torres del Paine – Puerto Natales ► El Calafate (Perito Moreno Glacier, Arg) ► El Chaltén (Los Glaciares National Park) ► Chile Chico (Ch) – Puerto Rio Tranquillo (Marble Caves) ► Coyhaique – Puyuhuapi – (Carretera Austral) ► Puerto Chacabuco – Quellón/Castro ► Puerto Varas – San Carlos de Bariloche (Arg) ► Buenos Aires ► Colonia (Ur) ► Montevideo ► Punta del Diablo – Cabo Polonio ► Montevideo ► Salto ► Concordia (Arg) ► Puerto Iguazú (Iguazú Falls) ► Salta ► San Salvador de Jujuy ► Tilcara ► San Pedro de Atacama (Ch) ► Uyuni Salt Flats Tour (Bol) ► Uyuni ► Sucre – La Paz (Death Road Tour) ► Copacabana (Lake Titicaca) – Isla del Sol – Copacabana ► Cusco (Per) ► Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu) ► Cusco ► Lima ► Máncora – Montañita (Ecu) ► Puerto López ► Quito ► Ipiales (Col) – Pasto ► Tatacoa Desert ► Bogotá ► Medellín ► Villa de Lleyva ► Santa Marta – Cartagena – Rincón del Mar Necoclí ► Capurganá ► Puerto Obaldía (Pan) ► Panama City ► Las Lajas ► Cerro Punta ► David ► Bocas del Torro ► San José (Costa Rica) ► San Juan del Sur (Nic) – Ometepe ► Granada ► Managua – El Rama – Bluefields – Corn Islans ► Léon ► El Tunco (El Salvador) ► La Antigua Guatemala – Lake Atitlán ► Lanquín (Semuc Champey) – Flores (Tikal) ► Belize City ► Bacalar – Tulum – Playa del Carmen – Mérida – Valladolid – Cancún ✈️ .