5 ways to Travel Mexico Cheap
How important is it to you to travel Mexico Cheap? When traveling through Mexico for extended periods of time for most people it is important to save money and travel on a budget. It is important to know that traveling through a country such as Mexico can be accomplished on the cheap! All you need to have is a little bit of discipline, a little bit of knowledge, and possibly a little bit of an adventurous spirit. If you are anything like me, you are probably more interested in experiencing extended travel options, authentic Mexican culture, food, and people. So let’s throw out the ideas of 5 star lodging, and celebrity chefs and get down to business. Below are my 5 favorite ways to travel Mexico cheap.
1. Overland Travel
From my own experience it seems that overland travel is becoming increasingly more popular and accepted as a long term travel option. Overland Travel is simply the act of traveling through a country or countries via your vehicle of choice typically involving camping to some extent. This can be accomplished with a bicycle (at the most extreme) all the way through to motorcycles, automobiles, trucks, RV’s or my personal favorite a 1984 Volkswagen Vanagon decked out to the hilt. There is no right or wrong way of doing this, it really just boils down to personal preference, and required comfort level. But one thing that all overland travelers have in common is they are saving money and traveling on the cheap!
One of the main benefits of overland travel in Mexico is your decreased expenses. However what I think is most important and often overlooked is your ability to travel to multiple destinations in a matter of days if you so choose. Mexico has so many beautiful places to see, and it is a shame in my opinion to be stuck to one location during your trip.
So by now you may be wondering how can camping be accomplished throughout mexico without having to pay. Well this is easier than you may think, but this does fall into a little bit of the adventurous category. The first thing you need to come to grips with is we are only talking about sleep here. If your idea of travel is sitting in a hotel room watching movies this option is not for you. However if you are more excited to get out and see new sights, your days should be occupied with exploring new towns, relaxing by the beach, learning spanish, trying the local cuisine and so on. So once you get past the fact that sleep is just a necessity to keep your body moving it becomes easier to imagine a camping situation as an acceptable alternative.
I personally have found (urban camping) to be very useful in a bind. For this you will need a vehicle, if you are tent camping it is not quite as easy. All that I mean by urban camping is sleeping in your vehicle in an urban area. This can be accomplished on a quiet neighborhood street, Walmart parking lot (certainly not my favorite, but it can get you through the night), or if you’re lucky an alley way 100 feet from the ocean. The benefit of urban camping is that the worst thing that could happen is you could be asked to leave, in which case you would find another spot and repeat process.
However the better alternative I believe is always finding a spot to camp out a little outside of a city. I have noticed in Mexican beach cities for instance there is often a main beach that the city is located in front of. All you have to remember is that the beach stretches through the entire country so you can almost guarantee there is a much quieter beach right around the corner. Most times all you have to do is look for a little dirt road near the beach and follow it. You will be amazed at where these little dirt roads will lead you. More times than not they will lead to a beautiful beach just outside of the city that is yours for the taking. I have yet to ever have any issues with Mexican authorities regarding tent camping or overnight parking on these beaches . I have also personally met many other travelers tent camping all through Mexico using this same technique. However, for the record I cannot speak for the law, only from my own personal experience.
Take some time to think about this as a travel option. If you think you have what it takes to pull this off, it is not hard to turn a weeks vacation budget into a month or more!
2. Carry your own water or beverage
Carrying your own water or beverage through Mexico is great for your pocketbook and one of our favorite ways to travel Mexico cheap. If you are looking to save money while traveling through Mexico this is a must cause buying a single drink at a mimimun $1 usd for every meal will add up quickly. My personal weapon of choice is the sealable “Bubba” beverage container. I believe by far the best feature of the “Bubba” is the fact that it is insulated. I would not recommend buying any beverage container that is not insulated if traveling in Mexico. The reason I say this is because it will keep your water (or beer) cold, and your coffee hot for hours on end. You will find this to be crucial especially in the hot climate.
Another thing that I think some people don’t realize about most places in Mexico from my experience is that businesses are just happy to have you as a customer. Since I have been in this country I have brought my own beverage to every restaurant I have been too without anyone batting an eye at me. I have only been greeted with big smiles, and amazing hospitality!
Finally the last reason that I recommend bringing your own container is if you intend on walking around with an alcoholic beverage. In some cities it is acceptable, however in some cities it is not. At least with your own container your beverage is not on display, and you are much less likely to have any trouble with local officials.
3. Support your local street vendor
I have found the local street vendors throughout Mexico to have some of the best food money can buy! However, when I say the best food money can buy, I am not talking about a lot of it. That is the reason that this falls under one of my top 5 ways to save money while traveling Mexico.
In Mexico street vendors can be found everywhere from the side of the freeway, to city sidewalks. They are usually owner operated, and with great pride for their cooking. Most of the time they will specialize in one or two things that they make well so I encourage you to look around before making a decision.
My personal rule of thumb is to never spend more than 50 pesos on a meal from a street vendor. Many times I will spend less than that depending on my appetite. The price range I look for if buying tacos is between 10-15 pesos each, for Quesadillas it is between 15-25 pesos, and for a nice torta sandwich I usually settle for 30-45 pesos. This works out almost every time for me. If I don’t see the price range I am looking for, I simply move on to the next one. If you make this common practice you will find that you only spend on average $2-$4 USD per meal out. If that doesn’t buy you more travel time I don’t know what does!
4. Mind your fruits and vegetables
Mexico is a Mecca for locally grown agriculture, and produce. What this means for you is an abundance of inexpensive fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and much more. I have yet to travel through a city that did not offer fresh produce by way of road side stands, farmers markets, and small bodega style sidewalk stores. Most of the produce that you will purchase at these stands is grown in close proximity to the vendor. As you travel through Mexico you will notice differences in the type of produce that is readily available. This has a lot to do with the region that particular fruits and vegetables are grown in. This is not only a great way to travel Mexico cheap, it is also a great way to stay healthy and full of energy. If you don’t think that you need energy, just wait till your climbing a thousand stairs in a city like Guanajuato . Trust me, you will need all the energy you can get!
5. Avoid Gringo pricing
In Mexico you will find that many things available for purchase can easily be negotiated. This does not pertain as much to the grocery store or market as much as it does to non priced street vendors, traveling sunglass salesmen, or souvenir stands. It is by no fault of anyones but your own if you get hit with gringo pricing. If you know how to avoid it, you will have a much easier time stretching your travel budget.
Here are the things that I have found to avoid. First thing to know is that many of the street vendors such as taco stands, chilled coconut water vendors and so on do not post a price for a reason. The reason is simple, if you don’t ask they won’t tell. What I mean by this is imagine you go to a taco stand, you order 3 tacos with no price posted. How much are you going to pay for those tacos? You don’t know do you. Well once you have consumed them you can’t exactly not pay for them. So what you have essentially done is given that vendor the right to charge you the “gringo price.” Make sense? Good. So here is how you avoid it. Make sure you always ask how much (or just say “Cuanto”?) that is the spanish word for how much. Then they are forced to reveal the price before you purchase. If you don’t like the price you can move on down the street. That is my experience with the food street vendors.
However when it comes to souvenirs, sunglasses, or any other kind of small booth or traveling salesman with commodities there is almost always room for negotiation without exception. When you are approached by someone on the street for example to buy some sunglasses there is really two prices. There is the price that he or she wants, and there is the price they are willing to take. The best way to handle this situation is to just give them an offer of what you are willing to pay. Usually you can get away with an offer of 25%-50% less than the original price. Just remember always be willing to walk away, after all they approached you not the other way around. Usually they will haggle on the price until you say no thank you, that is mucho dinero. Usually this is when they will accept your offer. You have to literally decline the item to get them to come back with the price you want. Again these are just my experiences, but I hope they help. Happy travels!
Great article! Thanks for sharing your experience and tips