Friday, August 10, 2012

How we saved money in Guatemala

Going on vacation is typically a pricy endeavor! Our recent trip to Guatemala was no exception, but we worked hard to keep our expenses down. Here are five ways that we saved money without compromising the quality of our vacation.
1) We combined business and pleasure. While we really needed a vacation and wanted to go to Guatemala to check out The Property, we specifically scheduled our trip at a time when a conference was happening that I wanted to attend anyway. By doing that, part of our expenses, including my plane ticket and part of my transportation expenses within the country, were covered by my research funds at work. Clearly, nothing was covered for P-Daddy or for the days that were vacation days before the conference began, but during the conference, all my expenses were covered, including my shuttles and airfare. I could have opted to make two separate trips, but that would have meant a lot more time and money. By combining business and pleasure, I saved a little of both.

2) We stayed in mid-range hotels. Guatemala has lots of cheap hotels, including many for as little as $10 a night. We could have stayed in those places and saved even more, but that would have somewhat compromised quality, since we would have been worried about comfort, cleanliness, and security. Not to mention bedbugs. So instead of going backpacker cheap, we stayed in nice mid-range hotels that were about $40 a night. And for that, we got a view like this, with a quiet garden and a lovely room.

3) We ate local. Especially in Pana, where we spent most of our vacation days, there are a ton of restaurants that cater to tourists, at tourist prices. These include Italian restaurants, fondue restaurants, steak restaurants, and even a Mayan~Vietnamese fusion place. But we can get most of that food anywhere, so we instead spent much of our time at local comedores (okay, we did make sure we tried the fusion place!). One day, we had this fantastic local dish known as chicken pepian. With rice, tortillas, and a wonderful strawberry banana refresco, it was an excellent meal at a price that even a cheapskate like me can love!

4) We walked instead of rode. The easiest way to get around Pana is in a tuk-tuk. For Q5 (about 80 cents US), you can go pretty much anywhere in town that you might want to go. But walking from one end of town to the other only takes about 15-20 minutes, so we avoided the tuk-tuks and instead got a little exercise. That was better for our health as well as our wallets.

5) We used a Schwab debit card. Guatemala is not a good place to travel with travelers checks. In order to cash them, one must go to the bank, wait in numerous lines, and waste several hours of time just to get a little cash. But it's also not a good place to carry a lot of cash, so this process has to be done multiple times. Wasting that much time is just not for me - using an ATM machine is much quicker and easier. In the past, I've just used my Wells Fargo bank ATM card, but they don't refund the fees that the local bank charges, plus they charge me $5 every time I use a non-Wells Fargo ATM machine (and there are none in Guatemala, so I get charged for every withdrawal. But earlier this summer, I read this awesome post about the best travel checkcard ever. P-Daddy used to work for Schwab, so he already had an account, and I insisted suggested that getting an ATM card would be a great idea for this trip. We used it for all our withdrawals, with no trouble at all, no extra fees charged, and all our ATM fees reimbursed. Thanks Rich at for a great travel tip!
I'm linking up to Frugal Friday at Life as Mom for this post - head on over there to see even more ways to save money, whether you are headed for an expat life or not!

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