Affording Travel: 12 Day Caribbean Vacation for $1,342

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Something that I’ve heard a lot over the years is “How do you afford to travel [as a student or a nonprofit employee]?” I mean, first off, I prioritize travel and experiences. I don’t buy a lot of stuff (aside from books) and I follow a budget year round. Budget ninja, 365 days a year. Because I want to encourage more people to travel, I recorded everything I spent on my trip to Colombia so you could see my breakdown of a 12 day vacation that included both mountains and beaches. I’ll get to that in a moment.

The most important thing about budget travel is choosing your location. You know what’s expensive? Western Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, etc. You know where’s not expensive? Almost everywhere else. Get out of your comfort zone. There’s a whole world out there where you don’t have to spend $60/night for a hostel dorm bed, let alone $250/night for a hotel room, and you can actually get a single room with all its privacy for $30. Also, try to avoid traveling places that require a car rental, they’re expensive.

Another thing that makes a difference is choosing your timing. All of my trips are timed between leases so I’m not paying rent wherever I am back home. If you can do that, especially for longer trips – well, that’s whatever you pay for rent and utilities during that period (urban living in D.C. and Boston is not cheap) that is now freed up for travel. You would have spent your rent check on housing anyway – now it’s just going further for you in another location.  12 days of February (so, divided by 28 days) rent in Boston for me is about $366 that I spent on this trip instead.

Another note about timing: the longer your trip, the cheaper it is. This seems counter intuitive, but often the most expensive part of your trip is your airfare, so maximize that as much as you can.

Something that also helps is getting a good travel credit card. I got mine right before my trip to California/Mexico and my move to Boston so I could get full advantage of the sign on bonus. Because I put everything on this credit card (from groceries to utilities) and pay the balance off every month, it’s basically free money. I took $99 off the cost of this trip with credit card rewards without deliberately saving my reward miles for this trip.

For this particular trip, I had the additional consideration of sunk cost. Because I had to cancel a Delta flight last August, I had $367.20 in use-or-loose-by-June Delta credit. I still included the total cost of the ticket in my calculations below, but this is notable because 1.) There were cheaper flights not on Delta but I was constrained by using Delta 2.) Emotionally this money didn’t really count in this calculation, if that makes sense.

I was also not in super budget mode – this was my vacation. In super budget mode, I would have probably made my own lunches, not had quite so many cocktails, not eaten twice at that fancy bar with shrimp wontons, and not splurged on a solo room in Santa Marta (Santa Marta expenses could have been halved, but then I was also sick for some of that and not keen on sharing a bathroom).

The total? $1,342.04 for a 12 days in the Caribbean, or $974.84 after considering the Delta credit, or $608.84 after considering the Delta credit and money I wasn’t spending on rent.

Item USD COP
Roundtrip Airfare $450.76
Lyft to DCA (including tip, minus $5 promo code) $16.35
cab to hotel $5.04 15,000
bus to Santa Marta $16.13 48,000
Lost City Trek (4 days of hiking, transportation to/from trailhead, guide, translator, food, snacks, beds) $241.36 718,300
advanced hostel deposits $22.72
airport food $6.24
hostel cartagena dorm $15.37 45,750
water $2.02 6,000
pharmacy $14.33 42,650
coffee shop snacks $3.02 9,000
drinks + appetizer $25.54 76,000
cab from the side of the damn road $3.36 10,000
snacks + toiletries $15.07 44,860
road snacks $1.34 4,000
dinner + wine + tip $17.47 52,000
hostel santa Marta solo $34.92 103,920
tips for trek (guide and translator) $33.60 100,000
drinks on trail $10.08 30,000
hostel Santa Marta (two sick days in a private room, including water, laundry, crackers) $78.64 234,020
Beach towel, bread, bananas, water $10.08 30,000
getting to minca $9.74 29,000
coffee (to drink + beans) $23.52 70,000
one night, four meals, a snack, two drinks, horseback riding $68.18 202,910
getting from Minca to Cartagena $27.22 81,000
coke (the drink, guys) $1.34 4,000
night in Cartagena $15.71 46,750
drinks + food $27.75 82,574
getting to the island $20.16 60,000
two nights on the island $38.99 116,025
late lunch/dinner $11.76 35,000
breakfast $5.04 15,000
lunch + water + coke $13.78 41,000
coke + water $3.36 10,000
dinner + cocktails $22.18 66,000
breakfast + water $6.72 20,000
getting back to Cartagena $18.48 55,000
dinner $4.37 13,000
drinks $6.72 20,000
gum + water $2.76 8,200
souvenirs $21.51 64,000
night in Cartagena $15.71 46,750
hostel to airport $5.04 15,000
airport food ctg $5.71 17,000
airport food atl $23.50
Lyft home (including tip) $18.40
travel rewards from credit card -$99.05
Total $1,342.04

Tracked in google sheets on my phone using google’s currency converter between COP and USD. This code is =GoogleFinance(“CURRENCY:COPUSD”)). Currency conversion is current as of 3/4/17.

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