The Cost of Backpacking in Mexico, Pt. 1

When I first began budgeting out the cost of backpacking in Mexico for 2 months, I fully intended on being as frugal as possible. After all, I quit my job and my savings are limited. It’s also a lengthy trip, and any money saved is more to put towards the next adventure, right?

Are Hostels Really the Way to Go?

Now while we tend to carry only backpacks, and search out affordable destinations and transportation, we don’t really enjoy the 10-bunk-beds-to-a-room situation that most budget-minded travelers gravitate towards. I’m not against staying at hostels in a pinch, and I don’t mind sharing spaces like bathrooms, but since I can get really worn out from an excess of social activity or visual and auditory stimulation, having some private space to retreat to is often a necessity for my mental health.

After a little bit of research, I discovered that the cost of a private room in a hostel costs as much or more than some Airbnbs in Mexico – at least in the cities we are visiting. Since my partner needs access to a refrigerator to store his insulin, and we know we’ll be cooking for ourselves at least part of the time, full access to a kitchen is important to us and will save us money in the long run. With Airbnbs only costing ~$10-$15 more a night, we decided it was worth the extra privacy, quiet work space, etc.

NOTE: If you are traveling solo, staying in a hostel would definitely be more cost effective. Also, if you are really outgoing, or trying to make friends on the road, hostels are likely a better fit for you.

10 bed dormitory room in a hostel
This dormitory-style hostel in Oaxaca costs $34/night for 2 people per Hostelworld whereas the Airbnb we booked is $48/night

How to Responsibly Book the Perfect Airbnb for You

When booking with Airbnb, take advantage of their filters to really narrow down your options! I didn’t even look at places that cost more than $50 a night and made sure to select the amenities we definitely need for a lengthy stay.

It also helps to check out the map before booking and research the neighborhoods of the city you’re visiting. While Airbnb won’t show you the exact location, you can get a good idea of what part of town you’ll be in, and if it’s safe and walkable. One of the biggest ways to save on the cost of backpacking in Mexico is to walk as much as possible. Even if buses, Ubers, and taxis are relatively inexpensive, they still add up.

I also avoid booking with hosts that are obviously rental companies and instead book with locals who only have 1-2 listings. There is an increasing problem of rapid gentrification of certain neighborhoods, especially in Mexico City. Properties are bought up by real estate companies or foreigners to become Airbnbs, thus displacing the local population and driving up neighborhood costs.

Read more about how this problem might affect Oaxaca, as well, here.

Cost of Airbnbs

Oaxaca for 10 nights: $486.00

Puerto Vallarta for 10 nights: $388.00

Guanajuato for 13 nights: $667.00

Querétaro for 11 nights: $320.00

Mexico City for 11 nights: $510.00

TOTAL: $2,371.00 (an average of $42 per night)

Flights vs. Buses

Flights, like everything else right now, were a bit more expensive than we were anticipating. I use the app Hopper which notifies you when tickets are expected to either rise or fall in price based on historical data.

I take the recommendations with a grain of salt, since we are in unprecedented times with airlines recovering from COVID-19, the rising price of gas, and the increase in demand for revenge travel. After watching and adjusting our trip dates over the course of a few weeks, we finally decided to go ahead and buy in late August vs. risking the price going up more as the holidays got closer.

hopper app trip watching
The current cost of our tickets. I love how Hopper watches so you don’t have to!

In addition to our international flight, we also bought two domestic flights from Oaxaca to Puerto Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta to Guanajuato. While taking the bus would have been cheaper, it would have taken 22 and 13 hours, respectively, and for this trip we decided we’d rather pay a little more for the convenience of a 1-3 hour flight.

Cost of Flights

Baltimore to Mexico City: $984.00 for 2 tickets with Delta Airlines

Oaxaca to Puerto Vallarta: $224.00 for 2 tickets with Aeromexico

Puerto Vallarta to Leon: $148.00 for 2 tickets with Volaris

TOTAL: $1,356.00

Travel Insurance

We’ve had travel insurance on every trip we’ve taken, and while we’ve *knock on wood* never had to use it, the cost is worth the assurance that any accidents or trip cancellations will be covered. A lot of travel enthusiasts recommend World Nomads. They have very comprehensive coverage, which you will pay a bit more for. We have also used Trawick International and SafetyWing which have more affordable options.

We tend to shop around for what seems like the best deal at the time, and take into consideration any special coverage we might need depending on our destination. For example, Costa Rica required you to have insurance that covered COVID-related illness, and when we went to Koh Tao, Thailand, we wanted to be covered for certain activities like scuba diving.

safety wing travel insurance breakdown of benefits
SafetyWing Nomad Insurance has medical and travel related coverage

Cost of Travel Insurance

$168.00 for 2 people for 2 months through SafetyWing.

Phone Service

Telcel is considered the best cell service provider in Mexico and you can buy their SIM card in advance from Amazon and get it activated the day before your trip. That way, you can change out your SIM card on the plane so that when you land you have instant access to search for bus tickets, taxis, or maps.

While the airports in Mexico have WiFi, it hasn’t worked very well for us in the past. We also have 2G service through AT&T when in Mexico, but as you might expect, that doesn’t work very well either. Purchasing in advance does cost more than getting it in Mexico (about $15 more from what I’ve read), so if you’re not worried about having service right away, you can always just wait and buy it there.

telcel SIM card
Telcel 4GB SIM card

Cost of SIM Card

$45.00 for 4GB card – includes unlimited calls and texts between the USA, Canada, and Mexico, unlimited social network access, and a local phone number.

NOTE: This is only valid for 30 days whether you use all the data or not, but can be reloaded.

Current Cost of Backpacking in Mexico

While it seems like the current total of $3,940 is high (and it is), it helps to keep in mind that rent and food costs in the United States would require us to be spending at least this much if we stayed at home. The rent at our last apartment was $1,280/month and that didn’t include any utilities.

As mentioned, there were a few opportunities to make this trip more budget friendly. Primarily, taking a bus instead of domestic flights, and staying in dormitory rooms in hostels over Airbnbs. We decided to balance our budget with the goals we are hoping to accomplish during this trip, such as establishing income we can maintain remotely, in order to give ourselves the best chance of success.

In part 2, to be published in February, I’ll be going over additional costs we incur throughout the trip from daily transportation to food to activities.

Leave a comment below if there was anything about this financial breakdown that surprised you, or if you have any questions!

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