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RTW Trip Budgeting for Central America

Best Travel Budget App for iPhone or iTouch

iXpenseIt iPhone Application

One of the most important concerns regarding long-term travel is finances.  There are many questions that bombard our minds, make us nervous, and lead us to shy away from the idea of traveling for longer than a week.

Can I afford it?  How much will it cost?  How long can I travel on a set amount? What will my financial situation be when I get back? And so on.  The answers to these questions can be different for everyone.

Creating a Travel Budget

All of us have a different approach to how we handle our finances.  Some of us balance our bank accounts on a weekly basis and others only once a year during tax season.  Likewise, all of us have a different approach to travel.  Each of us has a different level of comfort and specific needs. We also have varying tastes and tolerances of foods, and different interests in activities.  How much we spend during our travels depends largely on where we go, what activities we do and our choices of food and lodging.  Six months is Nicaragua will cost about three times less than six months in Brazil.  A nature walk or visiting a museum is four times cheaper than river rafting. Of course street food is the cheapest, tastiest (depending on who you ask) and least healthy meal on the road.

To help you get and idea of how much you will need during your travels, we have created a table to illustrate how much we spent daily during our travels in Central America.  Keep in mind these are expenses for two people.  If you’re a single traveler divide each number by two for your daily budget.

Budget Example for a Couple

Country

Lodging

Food

Trans.

Adventure

Total Daily Avg.

Laundry

Personal

Guatemala

$15.62

$17.38

$6.18

$6.75

$53.22

$4.76

$6.52

El Salvador

$22.25

$18.11

$2.88

$6.50

$54.32

$2.00

$2.00

Nicaragua

$18.75

$20.54

$5.97

$18.10

$77.15

$5.06

$5.25

Costa Rica

$21.75

$28.57

$12.28

$22.82

$94.69

$6.95

$8.25

Panama

$25.75

$17.20

$12.76

$43.13

$103.47

$3.00

Central America Daily Avg.

$18.92

$19.61

$7.15

$14.46

$68.28

$4.82

$5.50

Lodging Budget

Lodging (along with food) is where you will spend or save most of your money.  Jason and I usually opt for a private room since for two people it works out almost the same.  You can pay $9 per dorm bed each ($18) or $20 for a private room.  There were a couple of instances where we splurged a bit and stayed at a nicer place and we also spent a few nights in dorms.

Food Budget

It’s beneficial to stay at hostels with kitchens so you can cook your own meal or eat street food which is usually very cheap and offers you a closer glimpse of the culture.  Our daily food budget is calculated using the following formula: total dollars spent on food divided by the number of days in a country.

Transportation Budget

Traveling on local buses is the cheapest way to go.  See our post Touring Central America on Chicken Buses.

Adventure / Activities Budget

This category includes any activities we do while we travel.  Jason and I love outdoor adventures and trying new things.   These are calculated using a formula similar as food.

Laundry Expenses

Don’t forget to budget for laundry because the dollars do add up, When you’re on the road getting clean clothes is like Christmas. Make sure you treat yourself to a clean load of laundry occasionally; everyone else will appreciate it too.  These figures are based on the average cost for doing 1 load of laundry.  Rates are usually by kilo.

Personal Expenses

This includes all personal items like shampoo, toothpaste, soap, toilette paper, pain killers etc.  The dollar amount show is the average purchase amount to replenish our personal items.

Travel Credit Cards / Debit Cards

As we’ve all learned, credit cards are not created equal.  Do your research on which ones have the best rates.  Here is a list of what is in our wallet and why.

  1. Debit Card: Charles Schwabb, they refund ATM fees
  2. Foreign Currency Credit Card: CapitalOne, there is no penalty for exchange rates
  3. US Dollar Credit Card: Citibank MasterCard, they provide points for both dollars spent and miles flown

Budgeting Tool / System

Make sure you have a system to keep track of your budget.  If you carry a computer, purchase budget financial software or use an MS Excel spreadsheet.  If not, have a notebook dedicated to your budget, graph paper notebooks work best for budgeting.  Our personal system is probably way too detailed for most backpackers.  We have a daily budget and record every single minuscule expense, even down to paying $ .25 for using the public bathrooms or buying a pack of gum.  We use the iXpenseIt application on our iTouch for financial tracking.  Make sure you use a system that works for you.

My general advice to you is to have a financial plan.  Then, make sure you stick to your plan.  And some words of wisdom, leave yourself a little wiggle room and most importantly always have an emergency reserve, you will need it and use it.

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Paige says:

We just began our lear long backpacking excursion and your site has been a great resource. i only hope our blog can someday be as resourceful! what are your blogging secrets???

Jason says:

Travel Blog Success and an incredible amount of time! http://2backpackers.com/4170/blogging/travel-blog-success Thanks for finding us and glad we could be of help.

TerriW says:

Thank you so much for your wonderful website, you have no idea how much it is helping me plan my own 6 month RTW trip.

I would like to know your opinion on bring a cellphone or something just with Wifi (like the itouch). My dream would have something that would allow me to:
-keep up a blog,
– email friends and family
-share photos
-call home (Skype?)
-maps at my disposal
-language converter
-check my bank account / pay bills

Let me know what you guys think 🙂

Thanks!

Jason says:

An iTouch was our greatest tech device while traveling. Bring it. It works great to check email, FB, Twitter etc, while in Hostels. Most Hostels will have WiFi. If you are traveling to Central or South America, you can use chips to use phones for local service. We brought an AT&T global phone that you can purchase on eBay. You just need to make sure it takes mobile chips. In each country, you can purchase a mobile chip for a few dollars that will allow you to make calls in that country. It’s sometimes useful for booking trips or hostels. You don’t need any plan from the US, you only need a phone that can take a mobile chip. Make sure you have the headset with mic for the iTouch Skype app.

Bryan says:

Interesting budget numbers. I’d be curious to see a more detailed breakdown of your expenses, if you have them.

Nikki says:

This such a helpful site. I found it randomly. I’ve been taking notes since I started surfing it hehe because I am going backpacking in Central America with my friend in July. I noticed that you guys skipped Honduras. I am trying to do the same. I am trying to get from Guatemala to Nicaragua. Thing is, I am traveling with a friend who won’t have a visa for El Salvador, and I’ve noticed that the buses drive through there to get to Managua.

What would you recommend we do? How easy is it to catch a chicken bus? I read on another blog how someone traveled from Guatemala City to Managua in 16 hours. Sounds good to me considering buses like Ticabus require an overnight stay somewhere.

Anyway I love your videos and I’ve added volcano boarding to my list of things to do because it looks crazy fun!

Aracely says:

Nikki, Thanks for the comment. I´m sure you will really enjoy Central America. We only skipped Hondura because at the time we were there the country was closing borders due to conflict. I haven´t been following the developments of those issues in a long time so I don´t know what is currently going on. Just wanted to clarify that we didn´t skip Honduras because we didn´t want to see it.

Where is your friend from? As American citizens you don´t need a visa for El Salvador. Just an FYI.

As for Chicken Busses, you can´t take one chicken bus all the way across any country. They usually require many connections to get to your destination. Here is an article and video we put together about chicken buses.
http://2backpackers.com/1361/central-america/touring-central-america-on-chicken-buses/

I can´t give you any advice on long busses because we did not take any in Central America. Not sure if any of this helps.

Best of luck to you on your journey and please let us know if you have any other questions. Also, be sure to keep us updated on your travels. We love to hear from those that are out there.

Aracely

Terence says:

Hey guys! A superb article. We linked this article to our website: http://travelpostcards.posterous.com/rtw-trip-where-to-start

Wow very thorough writeup! Great for any RTW’ers.

Melvin says:

Yes, it would interest me too if you could do it for less. I remember that we’ve spend around $15 – $20 per day & per person traveling through Indochina a couple of years ago. And we could have done it cheaper. We slept in double rooms & could have chosen dorms… 🙂
.-= Melvin´s last blog ..Bariloche, Argentina – Gorgeous Patagonia region =-.

Jason says:

Melvin, we could always go cheaper. Just like you described we stayed in double rooms since we are a couple. It was usually on a 1 or 2 USD more per person for a double, so it made sense for us. Looking at the chart above, you would divide the lodging in half for one person. Then subtract $2 to that number for dorm prices. Right there you get down to $8 USD for one person’s lodging in a dorm. Next, eat very cheap. The only problem you would have is adventures. Adventures really effect your costs. If you do 2 adventures a month it isn’t too bad. But, if you do 1 adventure a week like Aracely and I your adventure costs will put you well above $15 per day. SE Asia is still cheaper that Latin America from what we have heard. We haven’t been to SE Asia yet.

Sofia says:

Great! We’re really keen on visiting these places as well so it’s good to see what prices we’re expecting 😉

Nomadic Matt says:

interesting numbers. Do you think u could do it for less?
.-= Nomadic Matt´s last blog ..Hostel Etiquette =-.

Erin says:

Thanks for posting this info. It’ll be really helpful in planning our upcoming travels in South & Central America. I am also a very detailed budget keeper. On our last RTW trip I wrote down everything we spent in the back of my journal, but this time we have a laptop so it should be a bit easier. I do agree that it’s important to keep track of what you are spending.

Miguel Martinez says:

Hello! and greetings from Houston,TX great BLOG I found you guys,searching Cuzco,Peru my mother country,and good advises,let me share something about my own experiences on traveling,and save money It’s good to know or have friend in every country you go,that way you save extra money,and also buy some presents and goods to make some extra money,for example en Mexico city and 5 de mayo street cross street form the Zocalo are the cheapest hotels,10 dollars,en Lima Peru Hotel Sakura a japanese owned are good choice,of course they are not the 5 stars but we try to save some money to make some budgets adjustments right,good lock and my prays to you guys.
PS/in Houston if you go to those YMCA you can save a bit of money,if you guys stop bug me.

Aracely says:

Thanks for sharing Miguel. We’ve met a lot of travelers and made friends with a lot of great people who we plan to visit in the future. Staying with a local not only saves money but gives you an opportunity to experience the places we visit in a deeper level.

T-roy says:

Great layout and breakdown on your travel cost. I love the idea of you using the iTouch to track everything. I personally use a pen and paper but to be honest I miss things because I then have to transfer to Excel and I forget things because of this. If i could bust it out on a cell phone or PDA that would be awesome.

Do you guys then just export the info once a week to see it laid out?
.-= T-roy´s last blog ..Weekly Panoramic Photo: Plaza San Francisco, Quito, Ecuador =-.

Aracely says:

T-Roy the iExpensIt tool that we use actually has reporting and graph capabilities and yes, we can also download into excel which is great.

Rob says:

Great post guys. This is very useful for people traveling in Central America. I hope to see follow up posts further along in your adventure.

I always keep a good record of expenses when I travel. It’s not that hard as long as you remember to write it down right away!
.-= Rob´s last blog ..Closure Of Guantanamo Detention Facilities =-.

Jason says:

Hey Rob, hope all is well back in Hoboken and NYC. The hardest part is remembering to write it down. I can’t lie, we do forget some little stuff, only because we typically do it at night and have to remember everything we did that day.

Ayngelina says:

As I plan for my departure on March 31st I’ve been obsessed with the details and love that you posted your budget for Central America.

It also reminds me that I have to stop procrastinating and call CapitalOne for the credit card!
.-= Ayngelina´s last blog ..Parts of the pig that are delicious =-.

Aracely says:

Ayngelina, good luck with your planning. Another important advice I forgot to mention is that when traveling…staying in places longer makes your money stretch. Are you planning to start in Central America?

Ayngelina says:

I fly from Toronto into Cancun, I’ll spend a bit of time in Mexico and then head overland through Central then South America.

I have no concrete itinerary in terms of how many weeks I’ll spend in each country so that I don’t feel pressured to move on just because of a pre-determined schedule.
.-= Ayngelina´s last blog ..Parts of the pig that are delicious =-.

Jason says:

Another thing… we discovered the hard way that Skype and Hostelbookers both charge in Euros. So use the Capital One card for those expenses.

Dan says:

Hi guys, been following you since the begining but never wrote a comment (been sending you tweets though 🙂 ). Great advice on budget, it sure helps to know how others do it so I can someday plan my own trip. Keep it up, love reading your stuff and watching your vids.

Jason says:

Thanks for following Dan! We know this is the type of information other travelers are looking for. We searched for the same thing when planning our year long trip. This is the first of many posts concerning budgeting, planning and being flexible.

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