How I Only Spent $1400 on a Month of Backpacking (Including Airfare)

The biggest thing I hear when I tell people about some of the many backpacking trips that I take is that I must be rich to afford all of these crazy adventures.

Travel Does Not Have to be Expensive. It doesn’t matter how I say it or how I justify it, people still don’t believe me. If they do, they resort to many other excuses, whether it’s being too busy, too many commitments or the world is just too scary.

A few months ago I went on a backpacking adventure through a couple of Central American countries and the total for everything, including airfare was right around $1400.

Don’t believe me? Let me break it down for you:

Airfare and Major Bus Transportation – $560 (DEN – FLL – PTY, SJO – DEN)

Accommodations – $275

Food – $300 – $350

Random Shenanigans and beer – $215

                                                                                               

Grand Total   -   US$1400

 

Let’s break this trip down even further.

Transportation

So the airfare and major bus transportation is just that. I spent a little less than $500 on the round-trip airfare.

I took a few major buses. I started in Panama City and over a month I made my way as far north as León, Nicaragua. I then ended up busing back down to San Jose, Costa Rica to fly back.

The most expensive bus ride was I believe $25 from Almirante in Panama to San Jose in Costa Rica. In general, not bad at all.

 

Accommodations

When traveling, accommodation is where you can save big. During most of my trips I either couchsurf or stay in hostels.

I spent anywhere from $4 to $13 per night on my hostels during this trip.

One of the better deals was at Chilli Inn in Nicaragua. For $5 a day I had a bed to sleep in, pool to swim in and 2 drinks. If you stop by León Nicaragua, check them out.

The most I spent was in the surf town of San Juan Del Sur. At Casa De Olas for $13 I had a mountainside accommodation, bed, pancakes and bananas in the morning, an infinity pool and an incredible view overlooking San Juan Del Sur. It was a splurge as far as hostels go but entirely worth it. I highly recommend staying here.

Food Food tends to be what I spend the most on during my travels. It doesn’t have to be expensive though. In fact, usually the most authentic and local food comes at a cheaper price.

In Panama City, I would go to the fish market and spend $2.50 on fresh ceviche and a drink.

Nicaragua had tons of phenomenal local food. Every city or town I was in I could find rice, beans, fried plantains, chicken and a drink for about $4.

Including a night’s stay it’s very possible to spend $15 a day by staying at a hostel that offers breakfast and eating cheap and local.

Shenanigans

Finally, the fun stuff. It’s pretty incredible what you can do even on a tight budget.

In Panama I was able to check out the Panama Canal, go snorkeling and explore a deserted island. Not to mention, have a little travel romance in Bocas Del Toro.

In Nicaragua I knocked off surfing, volcano boarding and hike an active volcano to see some magma from my bucket list. I also came across a local bull-fight and enjoyed a night celebrating Nicaragua’s revolution day.

Additional fun stuff is always trying the local beers. Whether it was a Balboa in Panama or a Victoria or Tonya in Nicaragua, the local beers were pretty good. With happy hours all the time and specials going on I think the most I spent on a beer was $2.

Additional Notes

There are a couple of other things that I do to keep travel cheap.

The biggest thing is I spend a lot of time asking questions and looking for deals. I search several sites for airfare and bus fare. I talk to locals and find out where they go. I approach multiple tour companies to see prices and deals. I stop by different hostels in every city to get a feel for the atmosphere and to find out if they come with any perks.

The other major one is I walk. A lot. I don’t mind it. I save money and one of the best ways to become familiar with a city is by walking around. If you plan this make sure to pack efficiently and pack light. There is a lot in my bag but it’s actually not too heavy. After that month with it I’m even considering on taking less.

When I do decide to take a cab or a bus I find the cheapest method. Just a warning, it may not always be comfortable. Chicken buses are incredibly cramped but when you only pay sometimes a fraction of a dollar for city to city transport, it’s well worth it. If I ever need to take a cab I try to find other travelers headed in the same direction to split the fare.

 

So that’s it. My month long trip with airfare, accommodation, food and random fun for $1400! I acknowledge that my method of travel isn’t for everybody and that’s fine. I expect very few people will actually travel like this. It’s not for everyone, but maybe you can find some things to make your trip less costly.

Have you ever taken a backpacking trip like this? Would you ever consider it?

Comments

  1. says

    Great post! You are right about that this kind of travel is not for everybody though.
    There is a lot of money to be saved on transport. Over land, hitchhiking is a great experience with a lot of advantages. You get the chance to meet locals and exchange information, learn more languages and culture. For sleeping indeed hospitality websites or maybe volunteering ..?

    • says

      Thank you! I haven’t tried hitchhiking yet, although I want to. One of the things I want to do is hitchhike around the US. I know it’s a huge fear for people and I want to tackle it head on.

      So far though I think the closest to hitchhiking that I’ve been is walking on the road and flagging down collectivos in Mexico.

      Haven’t volunteered for a bed yet, but I need to. I know there are a lot of places and people looking for help in exchange for a bed!

  2. Bear Palomo says

    Cool article, man. I’m heading down to Panama and making my way to Cancun from October-April. I travel very similar to you, (in fact I thought $1400/mo was kind of on the high side, I’m shooting to average about $800/mo, inclusive of airfare) couchsurfing is awesome and I love to find the best deals in town.

    I’ve decided to take a hammock, tarp, mosquito net and sleeping pad on this trip in addition to the basics. It’s another 1-1.5kg, but I’m thinking the $40 investment will save me some $ and get me some nice nights outside as long as I sleep outside more than 8 nights in 7 months it should pay for itself? What do you think?

    I also usually take a larger internal frame backpack (70L?) but this trip am slimming down to a large daypack. Two changes of clothes (3X socks) and a little wet weather gear plus the usual kit like iPod, camera, headlamp and toiletries. I’ve heard good things about not having a big pack to lug around and am looking forward to it.

    Thanks again for the cool article and let me know if you have any other tidbits of info. I think I will def. be hitting up that $5 Chilli hotel in Leon, Nicaragua!

    • says

      Yeah, the airfare is a good chunk from the $1400 I spent. If I had been traveling for several months it would have dropped down to $800/mo for sure. I reached out to a few couchsurfers at the beginning of the trip with success, but when I became friends with people through hostels I ended up taking that route to join people for legs of the journey. Definitely plenty of surfers though!

      The hammock can help a lot since you’re traveling for that amount of time. I remember seeing a lot of hostels that offered tent space or hammock space for like $3. The hostel I’m volunteering now offers room for backpackers to hang up their hammocks. You would just have to be committed to using it. When you have $4 and $5 hostels everywhere it’s easy to pass up the hammock for a bed.

      For me, having a small bag is key. Just wash at night and wake up to dry clothes and it’ll save so much space and money. I use an REI brand 40L backpack right now which is bigger than my bag last year, but I’m taking a larger camera and tripod this year so it accounts for the extra space. (Still have space aside from that too, may go smaller later on_

      It sounds like you have everything figured out. The only other thing I would say is take a couple of locks, take soap that works as a natural mosquito repellant and take advantage of the hostels with free pancake and banana breakfasts!

      I’ll be traveling in between Mexico and Panama for the next year or so, keep in touch and maybe we’ll meet up at some point along the way!

  3. Asia Smith says

    This is such a great post thank you! Really helpful as I plan a backpacking trip to Central America this summer. I wanted to know, did you know Spanish when you went? I only know a little (and still learning) and I’m nervous about that! Thanks :)

    • says

      Spanish is my first language, but I’m pretty confident that I could have done without it. I mean, I know I was able to haggle and get better deals, but so many people could speak some English that it shouldn’t be a huge deal in the end.

      A TON of backpackers that I met didn’t know a lick of Spanish and managed just fine. Since you know some already you’ll be just fine. ;)

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