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Holy Crap! I’m in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico!
I have a confession. I am such a newbie international traveler that this journey to Puerto Vallarta is actually my first real trip to a country where English is not the native language. It’s also only the second time I’ve ever used a passport and the first time I’ve flown internationally on a plane (not by boat). I am so silly nervous about things like language issues, currency, and safety and security, despite the fact that this area of Mexico is quite safe and “touristy.”
It was also my first time in an airport where things aren’t in English. I took Spanish in high school and in college, yet embarrassingly I can’t speak it. I have been impressing my guy with random usages of nouns like “aeropuerto” and “estampilla.” But shhhh, as far as he knows, I am a fluent guide! Ha!
I can’t even begin to describe the sheer moment of glee when I walked through customs to stamp my passport. Due to the fact that I was thrown off, twice, by the fact that most other countries list day, THEN year, subtle changes make me smile. We’re literally not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
It’s weird, I feel like a total fish out of water, but I find that I totally need more of that in my life. I wonder, if I get so jittery from flying to a highly rated tourist resort in Mexico, how am I going to fare in other countries? Am I really that naive? Unfortunately, yes. As a child, the people in my life didn’t travel much. In fact, I only rode on a plane twice as a kiddo, so putting my big girl panties on and starting to make these travel choices is empowering and terrifying.
I don’t know why, but I never really considered travel as a real possibility for me when I’d browse through the travel magazines at the doctor’s office. I thought travel, especially international, was out of my reach, or maybe I never saw it as a priority. And actually, for many years, that was the truth. I had neither the time or money to even consider going on a vacation. Luckily now though, I have the ability to travel and the knowledge to make it work on a tight budget – especially since for years, I didn’t just have a tight budget, I had an impossible one.
Now that I have reached a point in my life that travel is actually an option, I have to say, the feeling is surreal. I haven’t traveled anywhere tropical in my life before this year, but then I was super lucky to visit Panama City Beach, Bermuda and now, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. These beauties are the places that have the beaches that typically are seen in magazines or the desktop background on your work PC. I remember the feelings of busting out endless homework in undergrad during school breaks, and usually, powering up the PC in a lifeless library cubicle and seeing a gorgeous palm tree and blue waters adorning my screen. To be honest, they were more torture than inspirational. It may have taken me 8 years, but here we are!
What We Spent
This trip will cost me around $400 when all is said and done, because my guy and I split costs, traveled during the week, and in the off-season for Puerto Vallarta. We used up my airline points, so I paid $176 total for our flights, since foreign transaction fees and TSA fees cannot be paid with points. Our resort was really affordable for all that you get, and since it’s all inclusive, we will be lounging quite a bit at our hotel – enjoying the food and drink that’s included. Pet boarding can usually eat up a large part of a travel budget, but we are so fortunate that our two little snorties are staying with grandma. And even though we had to take a $23 Uber to the airport for a 6:45am flight, this trip is still super cheap.
I use my credit cards for everything and pay them off every month. I am now lucky that I can do that since my expenses are relatively low (save for my soul-sucking rent), so I racked up enough points for several trips. I seriously, seriously, love points. Though I’m not as experienced with travel hacking like some folks are, it’s something I’d love to explore. I’ve heard of people getting trips to Hawaii for $10…I’d like me some of that!
Last November, I started putting away $10 a week towards a vacation in a secondary savings account with a good interest rate with automatic deposits from my main bank. Nearly 52 weeks later, I had the vacation paid for. It wasn’t hard; just put it on automatic each week and forget about it, you won’t miss it. If times are tight, even $5 a week with a little extra deposit with a little bonus birthday or tax return money should get you to your goal in 52 weeks.
Planning Can Be Complicated
During this trip, I have a lot to think about, and a lot to plan. Months ago, I wrote that we were doing some soul searching as to where we want to go and what we want to do in our lives. While we finally have some direction, we are no clearer on anything solid, just yet. Hopefully, this trip will include a few piña coladas, but also a lot of reading, planning and, scheming. *Cue evil laugh.* Ideas are great, plans are better.
The last few months had been hard, personally and professionally. I’m looking forward to finding clarity, so let’s hope I’m not too distracted by the screen saver worthy views and figure out what 2016 will be like, personally, financially, and of course – geographically.
I also want to give a big shout-out to Holly of Club Thrifty who is my travel hacking spirit guide and helped me snag 50k points to use towards this trip, so girl, cheers to you! She’s a mom who travels with her family and still stays on budget, so I knew she’d be the one to ask about how to get into the points-hacking travel experience.
I also just saw that Tiffany of the Budgetnista and Tonya of Fab Finance both took really frugal, amazing trips to tropical destinations as well. Tiffany used Groupon and Tonya cut costs strategically as well by divvying up costs… so give them a follow for inspiration.
They practice what they preach and find creative ways like I do to live financially authentic lives (meaning, their lifestyle is funded in cash, not hiding behind credit cards which is simply a mirage) and on well planned budget. They’re awesome!
Over the summer I found some great ways to save on trips, and made a private goal that I wanted 3 stamps on my passport this year – and luckily, relatively frugally, I’m going to achieve just that! This year, I’ll be able to knock off Mexico, the UK, and Ireland off my list. I’ve found that going off-season, during the week, and by reaching out to local destinations for deals, really really helps!
Yes, planning international travel on a budget can still be overwhelming to me – I really have no idea what I’m doing and am only now just dipping my toes in the water. But it is safe to say it’s pretty addicting! Luckily for me, there are lots of bloggers who know how to travel for cheap and I’m learning as I go from them.
Though the personal path ahead is somewhat unclear, I will say, if I can find more ways to keep trips under $500, I will be happy as a clam! I don’t know if I’ll be this lucky next time, but hopefully some more money saving travel hacks will be in the works to help you do the same!