Long-term international travel is not nearly as expensive as people tend to think. If I wanted to, I could travel the world for about $12,000 a year.
I'm using the Money Diaries series to highlight cities and countries that I visit with detailed information about my spending in each place, starting with 10 days in Cozumel and Cancun!
Note: I won't be including flight costs because these costs will vary drastically, depending on where in the world you're located.
My overall spend was roughly ~$1,000 broken down in the following categories:
Excursions and Entertainment: ~$10
Transportation (Cozumel -> Cancun): ~$35
Cozumel vs. Cancun: These two cities had drastically different costs. Cozumel was much less touristy (particularly after 5pm when the cruise ships departed), and because of that, I found more authentic, cheaper, local food that I adored. Also, I stayed in a resort in Cancun vs. a rented house in Cozumel. Overall, if I divide the cost of travel by city (including accommodations), Cancun was about $140/day and Cozumel was about $70/day. I loved both cities but because I was better able to engage with the locals, practice my Spanish and had a SIGNIFICANTLY better food experience in Cozumel, it was my favorite by far. The pictures below show some of the differences between the areas downtowns (or hotel zones).
Cozumel: AirBnB @ ~$420 after taxes and fees (included airport pickup, beach towels, scuba/snorkeling gear, and a brief tour) (8 days, 7 nights) It was a well-kept, spacious (3 beds, 2 bedrooms) house, with wifi, cable/Apple TV, and standard amenities like air conditioning, western shower, full kitchen, etc.
The location was perfect! It was downtown and one block from the ocean, and three blocks from the Main Plaza, where there were live performances and gatherings. It was about 5 minutes from the airport, and 3 minutes from the beach. Within one block, I had access to a cafe, bakery, convenience store, seafood restaurant, and steakhouse. It was also a 2-minute walk from the main road that had dozens of restaurants, bars, and tons of shopping and supermarkets.
Cancun: Beachscape Kin Ha Villas and Suites @ ~$250 (3 days, 2 nights)
The resort was absolutely stunning, and located in the Zona Hotelera area. I had a spacious suite with a full kitchen, dining area, living room, double / partitioned bathroom (one through the bedroom and one for the guests to enter off of the living room), large bed, vanity counter, and a spacious balcony. It also had a stunning pool, several restaurants, direct beach access with chairs/towels available, and it was located in a very walkable, populous area. I explored on foot about 2 miles in each direction and there were hundreds of restaurants and shopping centers, including a mall and a supermarket.
Excursions / Entertainment
I didn't spend much on entertainment, because the things I wanted to do were free or low-cost. I walked about 5 miles a day exploring different directions, I rode bicycles, I hiked, swam, read, and practiced my amateur photography. The museums that I visited (Museo de la Isla de Cozumel and Discover Mexico) were all free. I also enjoyed the mural and statue displays around the island; world-famous artists flew in and painted a series of murals that are everywhere. My only cost was the $8 fee to the Bucano's Beach Club (which was hardly a fee because they gave me a ticket that allowed to eat $8 worth of food/drinks).
Food / Dining
This is another reason why my entertainment expenses are low: dining is one of my favorite activities! I love trying new cuisine, enjoying the ambience of different areas, learning about different preparation methods and ingredients. The food in Cozumel was AMAZING and extremely cost-effective. I averaged ~$6 per meal at local restaurants, with a few fine dining experiences (like a four-course meal at a Brazilian steakhouse) and my undying love for mango margaritas driving up the total cost. I categorized the food spending intentionally: if you don't drink alcohol or coffee, then you'll spend at least $100 less than I did. Note: Although I had a full kitchen in the house and at the resort, I did not cook any meals or even make coffee at home. This budget represents every single meal consumed the entire trip, all of which were at restaurants and cafes.
I flew from Cozumel to Cancun via Mayair for about $35. It was a 15-minute flight on a propeller plane that completely spoiled me for all future experience with domestic flights. I checked in at 11:02am for an 11:30am flight; my experience with security was about 30 seconds, and I relaxed comfortably at the gate sipping a latte before boarding. When I arrived in Cancun, there was no baggage claim -- they just brought us our bags. It was heavenly.
That's it! It was a beautiful trip, and the mid/late December weather was a gorgeous, sunny mid-80's. Furthermore, I felt 100% safe. I cannot wait to visit Cozumel again (and Tulum and Mexico City, etc.) and take advantage of the diving.
Would you solo travel to Mexico?
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