The Cost of Backpacking in Mexico, Pt. 2

We’re back in the U.S. after 8 weeks away, so it’s finally time to share the total cost of backpacking in Mexico!

Click here for pt. 1, which discusses costs incurred before the beginning of the trip such as airfare, accommodations, travel insurance, and SIM cards.

Backpacking in Mexico: Budget Goals

When we began planning this trip, our financial goal was to not exceed $125/day for two people.

How did we come up with this figure you might ask?

Well, $50/day is widely considered the minimum daily budget you need as a backpacker and that includes EVERYTHING, from airfare to bottled water.

Given the current state of inflation, as well as the current dollar to peso conversion, we knew we would realistically need a bit more than that, so we allotted ourselves $62.50/day per person.

Because our trip was 56 days, our initial total budget was $7,000.00.

As you’ll see in pt. 1, the cost of airfare, accommodations, travel insurance, and SIM cards was $3,940.00 leaving us with $3,060.00 for the remainder of the trip and an adjusted daily budget of approximately $54.65 ($27.32 per person).

All amounts listed from this point forward will be in pesos unless otherwise indicated.

FYI: For the purposes of this post, $1 USD = $19 MXN.

Cost of Food

Without a doubt, most of our remaining budget (about 67%) went towards this category which included restaurants, drinks, groceries, and any miscellaneous items we needed like toilet paper or toothpaste. While some days we spent way over our daily budget because of our restaurant choice, or a large grocery trip, these are a few ways we made sure not to overspend in the long run.

Eat street food or market food for at least one meal a day. You can get a filling torta or pambazo (sandwiches) for as little as $20 on the street and most market meals are under $100 per person.

Cook some meals at home. While your initial grocery trip to stock up on basics may seem expensive, it will definitely save you money in the long run. We found having a few items at our accommodation made it possible for us to only eat 2 main meals a day instead of 3. Click here for a guide on how to shop smart in Mexico.

Look for Menu of the Day specials. Menú del día or breakfast paquetes are usually very filling, balanced meals which include drinks for about the same price as most market meals, but in a restaurant setting.

Make coffee at home. If you like coffee as much as us, booking an Airbnb with a coffee maker could save you anywhere from $70 – $180/day. We paid approximately $100 for a bag of coffee from the grocery store, which would last us a week.

Limit alcohol. During our trip, we only had cocktails at a restaurant twice and splurged on 2-3 bottles of wine (which we also needed for cooking) around Christmas and New Year’s Eve. The rest of the time, we opted for the very affordable option of beer. Beer at restaurants is often cheaper than soda.

Take a Grayl bottle or LifeStraw to filter your drinking water. In Mexico, you don’t want to drink the tap water, and even though bottled water is relatively inexpensive, it still adds up if you’re buying multiple bottles a day. Also, it’s not exactly the most environmentally friendly option. We particularly liked having our Grayl bottle for teeth brushing.

OaxacaPuerto VallartaGuanajuatoQuerétaroMexico CityTOTAL
Food Cost$7,525.00$7,389.00$8,875.00$6,919.00$6,363.00$37,071.00

As you can see from the above chart, we got better at budgeting our meals as time went on, with the exception of Guanajuato. The higher spending was because we stayed there the longest (13 days) and bought the most alcohol over the holidays. We also purchased copious amounts of cheese and baguettes from this little shop I mentioned in my Guanajuato post.

Cost of Transportation

Transportation accounted for about 10% of our spending and included Uber, taxi, bus and metro. Most of these expenses were incurred traveling between cities and getting to our accommodation. If you want to reduce the cost of backpacking in Mexico, you’ll want to do what we did – walk everywhere you possibly can.

We found Uber to be very affordable in Central Mexico and 15-30 minute rides usually cost between $80 – $130. We typically only opted for an Uber if we had all our bags with us, or it would take us 45 minutes or more to walk.

Public transportation is extremely inexpensive in Mexico (only $5 for Mexico City metro), but be aware that it’s usually very crowded with locals and you’ll want to research your route in advance or it can be confusing. If you don’t feel comfortable standing on long bus or metro rides, you should probably opt for a different method.

While you can easily fly when traveling between cities, it’s financially preferable to travel via buses, unless you’re on a time crunch or it leaves you arriving to a new place at an inopportune time. If possible, choose an overnight bus as it will save you money on accommodation. The bus system in Mexico runs very efficiently and they are actually pretty comfortable (the bumpy roads detract from this a bit though).

OaxacaPuerto VallartaGuanajuatoQuerétaroMexico CityTOTAL

Most of the higher numbers in the chart above were due to bus ticket costs in between cities. For example, we took an overnight bus to Oaxaca from Mexico City which cost approximately $1,400.00. To save in this category, I recommend staying in each city as long as possible and staying somewhere centrally located so you can walk more.

Cost of Experiences

You’ll definitely want to take advantage of the museums of Mexico City, the Ethnobotanical Garden of Oaxaca, and a street food tour on your trip…so make sure to leave room in your budget for experiences! These activities really enriched our time by introducing us to locals and other travelers, helping us navigate each city, and making us more aware and appreciative of the local history and culture.

There are numerous free opportunities as well, such as this walking street art tour. Most cities offer free guided walking tours, which is a fantastic way to familiarize yourself with a new location and get tips and recommendations from people who know best.

About 15% of our budget went towards experiences which included a cooking class, mezcal tasting, food tour, and multiple archaeological sites and museum visits, to name a few.

OaxacaPuerto VallartaGuanajuato QuerétaroMexico CityTOTAL

The lower figures listed for Puerto Vallarta, Guanajuato, and Querétaro do not indicate that we didn’t have any experiences there – rather, we chose free walking tours or museums.

To keep your spending in line in this category, the most important thing is to do your research and choose activities that will mean the most to you. You don’t have to participate in the same top 5 tours that everyone else chooses. Narrow down your interests and prioritize what you want to do most.

Cost of Souvenirs

Since we travel light, we didn’t have much room for souvenirs (sadly we couldn’t bring home any woven rugs from Oaxaca), but we couldn’t leave without a few small things to remember our trip, as well as gifts for family. This accounted for about 7% of our spending.

OaxacaPuerto VallartaGuanajuatoQuerétaroMexico CityTOTAL

My only tips for this category are to consider your available space and avoid impulse purchases (unless it’s something you REALLY love). There are so many talented artisans across Mexico, and it can be difficult to limit your spending.

Note: The remaining 1% of our total costs, which was $487, went towards refilling our Telcel SIM card, as it expired after 30 days whether you used up all the data or not.

Total Cost of Trip

OaxacaPuerto VallartaGuanajuatoQuerétaroMexico CityTOTAL TRIP
Total Expenses Per City$14,708.00$8,285.00$11,777.00$8,254.00$12,008.00$55,032.00

Our original budget for pt. 2 of the trip was $58,140.00 MXN / $3,060.00 USD.

Our final total was $55,032.00 MXN / $2,896.00 USD.

Our average daily spend for the four categories above was $51.71 USD.

In retrospect, there are definitely ways we could have done this trip on a lower budget and still had a wonderful experience. Ours was more of a mid-range approach, as it was important to us to have a quiet work space and our own kitchen.

I think $50/day would be a very doable budget for most travelers who are comfortable eating primarily street and market food and don’t change cities every couple days.

The great thing about Mexico is you can really tailor your experience depending on what you’re looking for, and which category of spending you choose to prioritize. While we could have spent less on food and had more left over for experiences, I don’t think we would have had the energy to participate in activities every day.

How Did We Afford It?

So at this point you might be wondering how this trip was possible with neither of us actively working during our trip…

A few years ago, Kelton and I started a Charles Schwab joint checking account as a travel fund that we both automatically contributed to every paycheck. We love Charles Schwab because the account has no foreign transaction fees and unlimited ATM fee refunds. This makes traveling so much easier for us since we never have to worry about choosing an ATM with extravagant fees.

We had already saved up enough in this joint fund to cover the cost of the trip, which is why I was able to quit my job and Kelton was able to take an unpaid leave of absence. Not having to clock in for work definitely allowed us to enjoy our trip to the fullest, but since we were both extensively writing for our blogs the whole time, we also got a taste of what remote work in another country might feel like.

If traveling at least a few times a year is important to you, I highly recommend setting up this type of account. It keeps us debt free, since we never feel the need to use credit cards to pay for travel related purchases, and allows us to book with more spontaneity when the price is right rather than waiting for our next paycheck.

I hope this cost breakdown of backpacking in Mexico is helpful for planning your trip!

If you have any questions for me, please feel free to comment below.

1 thought on “The Cost of Backpacking in Mexico, Pt. 2”

  1. This is awesome! Really helpful by breaking it down by the actual $ amount and what you did spend or didn’t spend.

    Creates a more valuable perspective to use when saving for/planning a trip to Mexico than like you said “backpack on $50/day.”

    Great post!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s