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.
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.
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. (UPDATE: Chilli Inn has closed, check out Sonati Hostel. The dorms start at $5 and portions of the money they make go towards local youth programs.)
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.
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.
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.
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?