You ask me how to travel cheap in Central America? How did I manage to go from Mexico through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama in two months and spent only 1000 dollars including accommodation, transportation, food and social life (parties, trips, presents)? Well, you are lucky because I am going to tell you. Of course you can use these tips anywhere – Europe, Asia, Africa – but because I have received many questions about CENTRAL AMERICA, I am going to tell you how I managed to visit 7 countries, make life-long memories and strong friendships in 60 days for only 1000 dollars.
I am not saying that 1000 dollars is a little money! It is a lot for me, and I know I could have spent less, but there were too many beers haha. I could have slept on a beach every night, but I have enjoyed diversity – some days I stayed in hostels, sometimes I slept outside, and sometimes I used Couchsurfing.
I hitchhiked a lot. Sometimes with friends but mostly on my own. Honestly, this doesn’t save you a lot of money in Central America because the public transportation is very cheap there. I hitchhiked for other reasons. First, it is much faster. Bus stops every 5 minutes but car is going directly to the final destination. The driver usually stops only for a toilet which is another advantage – if you have to go, you can just ask and make a break instead of bothering 40 people, making them wait for you until you empty your bladder while everybody is starring at you.
Second, it is much more comfortable. You don´t have to share a tiny seat with other two people even though the seat is hardly big enough for one. In car you have a better air, you can stretch your legs and feel comfortable.
Third, you get to know the locals better. When somebody gives you a ride, you should talk to them, be interested, be a good company. The reason why drivers pick up somebody is usually because they don’t want to be alone and so they enjoy when there is someone to talk to. You get to know other people, opinions and minds.
Fourth, your backpacks are with you. Maybe you don´t know it but luggage is usually put on a roof of a chicken bus. Sometimes, it can fall down from the the roof or simply get stolen at a bus stop. When you are in a car or even on a truck, you still have your eyes on the bag.
If you want to travel cheap, you should start cooking. I looked for hostels with a kitchen and I prepared my own food. Maybe it takes a little bit more time, but you can save a lot of money, you know what you eat and you can meet a bunch of funny people while cooking in the kitchen. Because food is an amazing intermediator between people, you can easily start a conversation about a recipe with the person cooking right next to you.
Before long-term travelling I used to hate cooking, I though it just requires so much time and its boring and also a bit dissapoting, because it takes so much time and in ten minutes everything is gone and you need to wash thousands of plates. With a long-term traveling it has changed. After a long day I enjoy relaxing through cooking. Plus, you can learn to cook with different ingredients and experiment with it!
Sharing – giving
Even though it sounds a little bit contradictory, how can I travel cheap when I give something away? No, because in most of the cases when you share something, you receive something back in return. And not always you have to give and share something tangible. What people appreciate the most, is your interest, empathy and energy. I received always so many things – invitation to food, clothes, medicaments, whatever. Sometime I gave something away and I recieved something even more useful. Things I did not ask for and I did not actually need. When I traveled I felt broke, and honestly, I have been very lucky with all people. Because karma works, I am trying to give it back.
Be a volunteer
There is a lot of volunteering you can do. I enjoy being among people, so I decided to be a volunteer in a hostel. I did volunteering in Costa Rica and Panama. I just texted hostels through Facebook. However, you can be in a pet station, bio-farm, you can help to build up a house or teach a language. For those, who feel shy and insecure to come to the place and directly ask for a volunteering, you can sign up on Work-Away and try to find a work there. The difference is that you have to pay for the registration on the website.
Furthermore, it is always better see the place , before you start to work. It is an amazing way to travel cheap – usually you don´t pay for the accomodation, food and sometimes you get a little pocket money. It is perfect for long – term travelers.
Do what you are good at
Are you skilled in yoga? Do you know how to play a guitar? Do you know how to give a proper massage? Are u an excellent dancer? Are u not good at anything of this? Keep calm, I am the one who is not excellent in any of these skills. I am musical anti-talent and nada at anythin connected to rhythm. (I mean, Of course I can dance but it looks like I am getting electric shocks)
My friend from Argentina has been traveling for three years and he has been jungeling and playing on a bucket. Seriously, he has joined a musician group and been played as a drummer with a bucket. Many backpackers are earning also money from crafts. Do whatever you want, do it with love and passion!
Don´t buy unnecessary stuff
What if I told you I spent LESS money during these two months than when I stayed in Mexico for two months where I studied at the university and had a stable accomodation? I don´t lie, it is a fact. Now, I know why. When I am in the mode of being settled, I buy a lot of things like clothes, cosmetics, mainly things I don´t necessarily need. When I traveled, I was very conscious about how I spend the money. I wasn´t even buying a lot of souvenirs. For my friends, I bought bracelets on a street and postcards.
How to travel cheap in Central America? Couchsurfing! Couchsurfing is one of the best things for travelers. Of course, Couchsurfing’s goal is not only free accommodation. It is about the connection with locals. So, even though the Couchsurfing has this enormous advantage to get to know the real local life, at the same time, yes, it saves money, because you don´t have to pay for a hostel. However, to meet locals, don’t feel alone in new country and see their real life and habits, is something really amazing.
Don’t do e v e r y t h i n g or do it by yourself
In many cases, my friends wanted to do scuba diving, drive an ATV or do some tour. Tours might be nice, but most of the trips you can do by yourself. Now, in the 21st century, you can get all the information about any touristic place, inform yourself, so you can easily survive without any guide. Most of the roads are visible and in today´s world and maps.me it’s hard to get lost. However, everything is possible- inform yourself properly before you undergo any trip!
The same goes about food. My friends were eating in restaurants and I had to say no. Either I only ordered a beverage or something very simple or I ate on the street. On some occasions I ate in restaurants, but only on very special occasions. However, to travel cheap does not mean you are starving, you just need to be smart!
Travel with people who have similar budget
Nothing can ruin your budget more than travelling with people willing to spend a lot of money. Even though you are trying to cut your spendings, the ways how people travel and accept money are VERY different. If you are a backpacker and a student (like me), you will hardly suffice to 30+ people who already worked for several years, and most likely still work.
Don´t be a tourist nor a traveler, be a local
This applies particularly in Central America. (Because if I lived like a local in Australia, I would bankrupt in one afternoon hahah.) Central America has, compared to other parts of the world, reasonable prices. If you stay with locals, eat where locals eat, go to grocery shops where locals are shopping, party in the places with locals I am sure, you will spend muuuuuch less. Beside that, you will have better memories.
As I told you, Central America has a lot of activites where you can spend money. Sometime you think you have to pay something in oder to have a good memory. Depends on each preference, I would say I have even more stories than other travelers. Traveling cheap is not less quality travel than spend a thousands of dolars! Good stories and good memories are not about money, are about how open you are!
NEGOTIATE NEGOTIATE NEGOTIATE
The golden rule of cheap traveling. Negotiate about EVERYTHING. But before, inform yourself what is the real price. Ask locals. Ask other travelers. I negotiated public transportation, food, activities, accomodation, even in pharmacy I obtained discount. Even though you travel with a public transportation and they have a tickets – tell your price. When people see you are not a local, even though you speak spanish, they will always try to charge you more. If you are staying more nights in the same ho(s)tel, ask for a better rate. In Latin and Central America goods hardly have any price tags. Make your research and observe prices!
What are your tips to travel cheap? Has anybody of you been to Central America? I hope that these tips on how to travel cheap in Central America were useful! Let me know!