My friends know that they can tell me their budget, preferred destinations and travel style, and I’ll find them the trip of a lifetime that’s right for them.
Being able to travel is definitely a privilege. For many though, cutting back on a few frivolous expenditures each week can fund an amazing trip. Also, knowing what travel tools to use is key to saving money without sacrificing luxury.
We love to travel as often and to as many places as possible. So we like to book trips for as cheap as possible without sacrificing too much comfort. After all, the less we spend, the more trips we can take. BUT we usually can only take one week off at a time (sometime a week and a half) so we will pay more for faster transportation, convenient flights and extra comfort on the road. We don’t stay in hostels, nor do we take long rides on the chicken bus—but those are great options for travelers who are on a tight budget and want to have an amazing adventure! We spend a little money for speed and comfort since we are vacation travelers rather than slow travelers at the moment. But we want to show you the experiences you can get by just saving a little bit each week.
The world is more accessible than some people think, and traveling through its great lands helps us to see that we are all one big tribe with the same hopes and fears.
The idea of world travel is exciting–it can be scary and costly too. BUT it doesn’t have to be.
We’ve been enjoying our travels through Central and South America over the last few years and have found the places we visit to be friendly, beautiful and unique.
We’ve also felt very safe everywhere we’ve been, from Bogotá to Managua. We say that while also cautioning that every place in the world has crime and tourist traps and scams to look out for.
We do to feel safer pre-booking transportation from the airport and have the hotel call taxis for us. This can be a bit more expensive, but it makes us feel comfortable as we’re getting to know a place.
We’ve used uber all over Colombia and Panama and wish it was available in even more places.
What we also love about Central America is that it’s close to the U.S. and affordable.
Here’s how you can do Nicaragua for about $1,000 – and we promise there are no chicken buses or hostels involved!!! Although, that can be a great way to travel too!
Flight from Washington, D.C.: $400
Hotels for 7 nights (per person based on double occupancy): $230.
You can easily find great rooms in San Juan del Sur (SJDS), Granada and Ometepe for $55 plus tax and fees, so let’s say $65 per night–which is exactly what we paid. So that’s $32.5 per person per night or $230 for a week.
Transport: $138. Note that this can be done for a lot less. We took prescheduled shuttles with private companies everywhere and we traveled to three different locations (SJDS, Ometepe Island and Granada).
We used Iskra Travel and Adelante Express for our transportation. Both were excellent.
From Managua airport (we bypassed Managua itself), we took a 2.5 hour private shuttle ride down to SJDS for $40 pp.
We took a shared shuttle from SJDS to the port at San Jorge ($15 pp) to catch the ferry to Ometepe ($3 pp round trip) and then had the finca arrange a four wheel drive taxi to take us the 1.25 hour trek across the (sometimes unpaved) island ($30 pp round trip).
Our shuttle from San Jorge to Granada was $25 pp and from Granada back to the airport was $25 pp. It could’ve been cheaper, but we liked the security of prescheduling and the shuttle companies didn’t offer shared shuttles for the times we needed.
——–Food and Drink—————–
San Juan del Sur
OK – that’s $768 so far, which only leaves $30 per day for food. That’s a tight budget but it’s totally realistic. A giant and delicious Nica breakfast was included everywhere we stayed: Gallo pinto, huevos rancheros, fresh papaya, watermelon and banana, fresh squeeze juice, and toast.
When you’re hungry again, you can pick up a $5 sandwich or afternoon snack, $1 beers and 2-for-one cocktails at happy hour (which sometimes runs from 2 pm to 7 pm) and your all set. $15 is plenty for a good dinner–or you can get a decent $10 dinner and have a few more cervezas 🙂
You can tour around by renting a bicycle for $1/hour or $6/day.
Adding $125 to your budget would be plenty to do some really fun activities like kayaking ($25), horseback riding ($25) and volcano viewing ($20), with an ample amount left over to tip your guides, drivers and housekeepers.
There you go! Think about everything you waste money on. Stash a $20 bill every week for the next year and you’ll have enough saved for your adventure to Nicaragua!
It was a wonderful trip and one of the absolute best for meeting great people from Nicaragua and from around the world.
We never wrote anything about our February trip to Panamá. So we are sitting here in our hotel in Bogotá talking about how accessible the world can be if you make travel a priority – and you really don’t have to break the bank.
We’ve heard the question many times: “How do you get to travel so much?”
Of course there are numerous factors that go into the answer: available vacation time, pet sitters and the lack of unforeseen life expenses.
But world travel doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive.
We’ve read a lot of articles suggesting that you cut back on expenses, like cable, or brow bag your lunch instead of buying an unhealthy $8 sandwich every day.
These are great ideas, and if those don’t work for you, We have another suggestion.
The next time you get a pay increase, open a separate savings account and have $1 an hour of your paycheck automatically deposited there–or stash $40 every week.
If you work full time, you will have $2080 dollars saved up a year later.
We’ve done many trips around the world for $2,000 or less per person. And it isn’t super budget travel either. We’ve done a bunch of trips for $2,000 to $2,500 for both of us, too!
Our days of staying in dorm-style hostels are over. But we do stay in comfortable, low-cost (sometimes low frill) places in great locations around the world.
Here’s how we did Panama:
We usually like to go somewhere warm in February because it’s cold at home and it’s the dry season in Central America and other locations. So, six months ahead of time, we picked a week we wanted to go and plugged three different destinations into our Hopper app for those dates: Panama City, Lima and Quito.
Then we waited. In the mean time, we watched Anthony Bourdain (Update: RIP, sigh, sigh, sigh), Samantha Brown and Jack Maxwell explore these areas. We searched Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet and Viator for suggested itineraries and neighborhoods to explore. This research is half the fun!!
In November, we got an alert from Hopper: “Your flight to Panama is $214. You should book now.”
What?! $214 direct to Panama from Washington, DC? We’re on it!
Through our internet and television research, we decided to stay in the El Cangrejo district for the first three nights.
An Orbitz promotional rate of $75/night including tax got us a nice room at the Riande Granada Urban hotel. Great pool, workout room and beer garden. We would stay here again!
The hotel was in walking distance to casinos and to Via Argentina–which had lots of restaurants and bars. The area felt much less touristy than other places in the city, and there was still plenty to do.
We hired an Uber driver to take us to the Miraflores locks to check out the canal. The driver waited for us for an hour and kept the meter running. It cost us $20 including an extra tip.
We also hired an Uber driver to take us out to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. We should have had him wait for us, because, although the view was beautiful, there wasn’t much to do. In hind sight, we would’ve had him take us to the nearby Soberania park and wait for us. This wound up being about $70 round trip.
After three nights, we relocated to the touristy Casco Viejo area for one night and stayed at Tantalo, a trendy and fun hotel with an amazing rooftop bar. $145/night. It was definitely cool to check out that area for a night!
After that we took an hour flight to Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean side for $200 per person.
We stayed in walking distance to Bocas Town in a little rustic cabin on the water–which was $100+ per night, depending on which cabin you rented.
We splurged and got the cabin on the end overlooking the water for $154/night including tax.
Bocas Town is very much a backpackers town. We had fun hanging out in town at a hostel bar, Selina, that had great happy hours, a pool table, friendly patrons from around the world and a relaxing view of the water.
There were lots of excursions we could have arranged from Bocas Town, but we just decided to relax.
There were some great little restaurants in town, and food prices were reasonable.
After four nights in Bocas, we flew back to Panama City and headed home.
It was an amazing trip!!
Factor in an additional $50/per person for taxi/uber to and from the airport and around town.
So there you have it. Here’s the per person breakdown:
International flight: $214
Domestic fight: $200
Sightseeing transport: $50
Airport and other transport: $50
Accommodations for 8 nights: $500
That’s a little over $1,000 per person for flights, accommodations and transportation. That leaves quite a bit per day to spend on food, drinks, excursions and whatever else.
Or you could budget some of that for the next adventure!