One mountainside divides us from a cloud forest preserve in Monteverde, Costa Rica. The ninety degree weather has finally abated, and we’re sitting in the cool shade of our hostel. A rural city center provides an oasis of Internet and food. It’s here that I look at my budget, login into Mint, and choke at the refreshed results. Traveling hasn’t been friendly to my bank accounts.
A few months ago, my partner and I decided we would take a summer trip to Costa Rica. I’m fortunate to have flight benefits, which made it $40 roundtrip (pays for airport, state, and federal taxes). With this shocking price tag and a propensity for travel, I couldn’t contain my excitement.
As we landed in Costa Rica, a couple thoughts coursed through my mind: one, I only have $150 in cash; two, we have no plans – enter panic here. We were funneled out of customs and immigration with ease – straight to a rental car that was supposed to cost $55 for five days. Instead, switching between Spanish and English, the attendant assured us that price was incorrect. The bill was nearly $200. This was to be the first of many monetary mix ups.
At the currency exchange, I converted my cash to colones. The exchange rate sat around 500 colones for a dollar, but I was given 430 at the counter (service fee). Upon leaving the hotel and venturing out into the Costa Rican landscape, I quickly learned that most people accepted US dollars as tender. The conversion and fee made no sense, as the places that didn’t accept dollars would usually take a credit card.
There’s only a day and a half of adventure left in Centroamerica. Tomorrow will bring hours of hiking, driving, eating, and fun with my partner. But it also means keeping a watchful eye to what I spend.
Frugaling is limited when you’re stateside. You can research currency rates and read travel guides, but the costs always seem to fluctuate. What you see isn’t always what you get.
If you’re like me (balling on a budget and eager to travel), it’s important to know that travel expenses deserve wiggle room. Humans are prone to budgetary error and spending. This is only compounded when traveling abroad. Talk to as many people as you can, but don’t forget to ask how much it cost them. Budgets vary and affordable adventures are relative.