Jackie Laulainen is a travel blogger and podcaster at TheBudgetMindedTraveler. She began traveling internationally in 2003 and has followed her passion for inspiring and equipping others to travel the world as well — on a budget.
Picture yourself right here. (Photo: Jackie Laulainen)
Think you don’t have enough money to take an extended trip somewhere warm this winter? Think again. Follow these three steps, and I swear all you’ll need is $1,500 for two people for six weeks south of the border.
My husband and I did it, and I’m here to show you how you can do it, too.
Baja California Sur is one of Mexico’s safest regions to travel and live (which is probably why there are so many expats there). Contrary to what you may know about prices on the Baja peninsula or in its expensive main attraction, Cabo San Lucas, this Mexican gem has the potential to be a budget destination.
The beauty of the budget formula I’m about to show you is that Baja is not the only destination where you can make this happen. You can do this just about anyplace in the world.
Step 1. The first and most important element of this formula is a program called Workaway. In exchange for about 20 hours of volunteer work per week, you are awarded a free place to stay and usually at least one meal, if not three, per day. The majority of Workaway hosts are families or couples with guest quarters in their homes who are looking for help with a variety of duties, from cooking, gardening, childcare, or housework to language practice, painting, computer work, photography, repairs, construction, and much, much more.
Our Workaway accommodations in Mexico. Yes, that’s a wood-fired hot tub. (Photo: Jackie Laulainen)
No catch. You can search hosts and opportunities worldwide at Workaway.info. Stay for one week, six weeks, or even six months if it works out. Each host sets its own parameters.
Our host in Mexico was an expat who needed help with random projects around the property as well as “tech stuff,” as he called it, online. What a perfect fit for my husband and me! Nate took care of the manual labor tasks while I managed some projects on the website, Facebook page, and other online accounts, as needed. The exchange was minimal: Our host did not provide any meals, nor did he require very much of our time. It was certainly not an average Workaway experience, but it worked out beautifully for us (another day to do nothing but lay on the beach? I’ll take it).
We had a private room with plenty of space, a shared bathroom, limited WiFi, and views of the ocean throughout. Without a set schedule, we were free to lounge, explore, cook, and play cards as we saw fit (we played a lot of cards). We shopped at local grocery stores and cooked most of our own meals while still allowing ourselves to go out to eat at times. When in Mexico, indulge in Mexican food! In the end, we spent around $300 total on food and drinks, for both groceries and eating out.
You won’t break the bank with taco-truck tacos. (Photo: Jackie Laulainen)
Step 2. The second element to such a budget trip is knowing how to find a good deal on flights. The high season in Baja ends with spring break, which means it’s desperate for tourism by April. While you could normally expect to pay around $650 for a flight to Mexico or Central America from a major U.S. airport, we were able to find flights from our small town in Montana for $400 each from March 31 through mid-May.
It helps that we went in the off-season, so consider seasons and holidays (in your destination country as well) when you are planning your trip. When we search for flights, we use a number of flight search engines across multiple days of the weeks and months to determine the trends and best times to buy. If nothing else, at least buy your ticket on a Tuesday or Wednesday, because those are the cheapest days of the week to purchase airline tickets. For more help with plane tickets, check out our 8 Secrets to Finding the Best Deals on Flights.
Related: Festivals, Food, and Freebies!
Step 3. The rest of your budget depends on your priorities. If your purpose for travel is simply to escape and try a new routine for a while, then take it slow and save your money by not overindulging. If the point is to explore a new region and maximize your time there by experiencing everything it has to offer, you may need to budget extra for specific activities on your list.
Snorkeling is among the many amazing activities you can do for free. (Photo: Jackie Laulainen)
Related: How to Volunteer and Work Abroad
When we were in Baja, our purpose was to remove ourselves from our routine and find a change of pace and change of scenery. For that, it was a complete success. Had we aimed to experience everything that Cabo San Lucas has to offer, we could easily have spent hundreds of dollars very quickly. Instead, we watched the whales from our front porch, enjoyed bonfires on the beach, watched the stars at night, checked out every cheap taco truck we could find, and even attended a few local baseball games and festivals. It was simple but relaxing, and above all, we could afford it without feeling guilty or worried about our rent and a couple of bills back home.
Even after we snorkeled with sea lions, kayaked in crystal green waters, drank tequila sunrises at THE Hotel California, saw the famous arch of Cabo by boat, and picked up some homemade Mexican specialties to take home, we still spent less than $400 on the entertainment portion of our budget, which brought our trip total to less than $1,500.
What’s stopping you now? (Photo: Jackie Laulainen)
Jackie Laulainen is also the author of The Aspiring Traveler’s Handbook, a preparation guide to international travel, that is available both on her website and for Kindle on Amazon. When she’s not traveling the world, she can be found enjoying her wild and beautiful backyard in Bozeman, Montana.