This minimalist travel guide is based on my experience of visiting Mexico for three weeks in July 2013.
All figures are based on this particular travel market and time. My entire trip was paid for with cash. No credit cards, reward miles/points. If you use credit cards with rewards, you can travel for less.
The cost of my trip included 20 days of travel, four flights, accommodations at five locations, interstate travel via bus on five round trips, food, and other expenses.
If you’re interested in extended travel, solo travel, adventure, and interacting with a lot of locals versus a resort experience, I believe these tips can be applied to plan a similar trip.
Breakdown of my costs.
$659- Flights. Round trips between Washington, DC and Mexico City and Mexico City and Villahermosa. I purchased my economy ticket about three months before my trip in July. I took a backpack and purse so no baggage fees.
Tip: Book your flights at least 90 days in advance and play around with the route if possible to get the best fare. For domestic flights, around 30 days is still the general rule, but CheapAir did a study and found the best time to book domestic flights for the cheapest fare is six to seven weeks in advance for a Tuesday or Wednesday.
$407- Accommodations. I rented two Airbnb rooms, one in Palenque and Mexico City, totaling 14 days. I also stayed in a hotel and private hostel room for one night and with a friend for three nights.
Tip: Hostels are inexpensive and good for last-minute accommodations when you can’t plan ahead. To pick a good Airbnb host, use the reviews wisely.
$200- Food. I budgeted about $15 dollars a day, but mostly did not spend more than $10/day for all meals, except when I went to the grocery store in Mexico City.
Tip: Follow the locals to eat well and inexpensively. Eat in places that are at least moderately busy. I also saved money by buying breakfast foods like fruit and pastries for several days and by stretching my meals. They give you a lot of food in Mexico for what you pay, so it’s easy to break it into two meals.
$72- Ground travel throughout Mexico. This includes bus tickets, metro, and taxi rides.
Tip: Pay attention to how the locals get around town because it will be cheaper than a standard cab ride. For inter-country travel, the bus system in Mexico is awesome. It has lots of routes at reasonable prices and you get to see the beautiful scenery.
$1338- The total for three weeks of awesome adventures in Mexico.
What about spending money?
I didn’t include this in the total because depending on what you plan to do this will vary. I spent about $350 on museums, gifts, and randoms.
If I wasn’t so interested in silver jewelry and gifts, I would’ve spent a lot less. The museums accounted for a good portion too, because they charge non-citizens more.
Still, if you add in my spending money, I still spent less than two grand for a complete three-week vacation.
What to Pack
Whether you’re going on a weekend getaway or a month-long excursion, these packing tips will apply.
No baggage fees. Most airlines allow you one carry-on and personal bag at no extra fee. I traveled with a backpack and large purse. I recommend a backpack because it leaves your hands-free and allows you to move more freely. Use what you have.
Tip: Find ways to downsize while on your trip. I gave away my big purse and bought something smaller. If you don’t want to bring certain clothes and other items back with you, give them away or donate. This is especially helpful if you’re bringing back souvenirs.
The basics of what to pack do not change regardless the length of the trip. For a longer trip, you may pack a couple extra items and wear clothing multiple times. On a shorter trip, focus on packing the bare essentials.
Tip: Roll your clothing and use packing envelopes or ziplock bags to protect your items and save space.
On the plane, I wore a cardigan, t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. Normally I wouldn’t suggest wearing sneakers because of the times when you have to remove your shoes, but I wanted more space in my backpack.
Tip: Wear your bulkiest items on the plane to save space in your luggage.
Additionally, I packed:
another pair of jeans
4 pairs of shorts (2 denim, 1 cargo, 1 dressy culottes)
4 tank tops
2 weeks worth of underwear
2 pairs of socks
2 pairs of sandals
Personal items like my handmade deodorant and moisturizer, toothbrush/paste, sanitary items.
Tip: Pack enough underwear so you won’t need to wash clothes until later in your trip. I washed clothes one time, when I got to Mexico City. You can also wash smaller items in the sink and hang to dry if necessary.
What I bought:
lotion with SPF
Pepto Bismol tablets (Montezuma’s revenge)
smaller purse (I gave the big one I brought with me to my friend)
Tip: Take only the essential personal items (stuff you may need immediately before you’ve had a chance to survey your surroundings). Shop in the local stores (if available) and avoid hotel gifts shops and other stores geared towards tourists.
Technology. I packed my cell, a digital camera, and an e-reader. I should've never bought the refurbished camera because it didn't work half the time and my cell ended up being my camera. I also used free wi-fi and Skype to upload pics to Facebook, call my mom, and research activities to do while in Mexico. I used the e-reader to entertain myself at night, but the charger broke halfway through my trip.
Tip: All you need is a smart phone.
Additionally, here are some useful links.
You should have lots of ideas for planning your next trip inexpensively and efficiently. Also, read about the life lessons I learned traveling in Mexico.