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  • Total days on the road: 586
  • Currently in: USA
  • Miles Driven: 36821
  • Countries Visited: 17
  • Days Camping: 389
  • Days Indoors: 202

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Mexico Budget Recap

Written by Jared on January 22, 2012

This article is part of our Budget and Money Report series.

Our per diem expenses cover food, lodging, gas and other supplies and travel costs for three people. We travel in a 1997 Toyota 4Runner, tent camp in paid facilities roughly 70% of our nights and eat less than 10% of our meals in restaurants. This budget does not reflect personal spending money, which is mostly used to buy souvenirs and booze. We don't track this money, but we do know we have not come close to spending our budgeted amount of $10 per person per day.

Welcome to part two of our exceptionally exciting series of articles describing in excruciating detail the monies we have spent during our trip to Argentina. This article covers our 70 days and 4500 miles through Mexico. Why should you care? If you're our typical reader, you probably don't want to know how much money we spent doing laundry. Pray forgive me this dry interlude and stay tuned for our next travel updates from Belize.

If you happen to be one of the few planning to repeat our travels or at least do a bit of road tripping in Mexico, it's my hope you'll find this information most useful to your planning. We keep these details for your benefit more than ours, and we are able to do so because there are three of us. As the third wheel I'm delegated the less-glamorous tasks of keeping the books and cooking most nights. Since you can't enjoy my cooking, may you at least marvel at my mastery of spreadsheets.

For those of you who want to delve a bit deeper, you can download my spreadsheet here. Expense are recorded by hand in a notebook, usually once or twice a day, then entered into the spreadsheet so Excel can work its magic. If you need explanation, feel free to leave a comment.

Budget Recap

Number of Days in Mexico:  70
Average Exchange Rate (Pesos per USD$): M$13.55
Budgeted Per Diem:  $73.71
Actual Per Diem:  $72.26
One-Time Expenses Budgeted:  $445.00
One-Time Expenses Spent:  $389.60
Total Spent:  $5,601.62
Total Budgeted:  $5,700.10
Mexico Balance:  +$98.48
Total Trip Balance:  -$56.36

Overall we made it out of Mexico having spent $100 less than expected - not really that significant considering that's less than $2 a day. And since we've been trying to make up for the $150 extra we spent in the U.S.

Our per diem of $73.71 proved to be pretty much spot on for the three of us. That money mostly includes food, lodging, group supplies and gas. We don't track personal expenses that carefully. We have $10 per person, per day budgeted for the length of this trip. It's safe to say we haven't spent nearly that so far. We pay for things like visas and special excursions out of personal money - for example the cooking class we took in Oaxaca came out of our personal accounts.

The only one-time expenses we had in Mexico were the vehicle import fee of $55 and the Baja ferry, which cost $335 but was budgeted at $400.

Per Diem Breakdown

Lodging:  $1,209.92 23.33%
Groceries:  $1,155.25 22.27%
Eating Out:  $936.76 18.06%
Gas:  $743.86 14.34%
Coffee/Booze:  $336.58 6.49%
Transportation:  $335.33 6.47%
Tolls/Parking:  $176.47 3.40%
Park Fees:  $161.98 3.12%
Phone/Internet: $133.44 2.57%
Firewood, Charcoal & Fuel:  $59.18 1.14%
Border Crossing:  $55.75 1.07%
Entertainment:  $54.98 1.06%
Supplies:  $42.94 0.83%
Laundry:  $37.64 0.73%
Gifts:  $30.62 0.58%
Vehicle Maintenance:  $0 0%

Food & Lodging

  Budget Actual Difference
Percent Time Camping:  50% 73% +23%
Average Camping Cost:  $15.00 $17.10 +$2.10
Average Hotel Cost:  $25.00 $31.21 +$6.21
Daily Food Expenses:  $25.00 $29.70 +$4.70

We managed to spend 51 of our 70 nights camping, which definitely saved us from going over budget. While low-end hotels in Mexico aren't exactly expensive, not having facilities to cook means eating a lot of meals out. Eating out was once again a huge part of our expenses. We ate 34 meals out, about four meals per week, and more than half of those were breakfast or lunch.

Twelve nights were spent in hotels, and seven at a timeshare resort in Cabo San Lucas. The timeshare was paid for before we left on the trip, so that isn't factored into the above numbers. Thanks again Dad!

Grocery shopping in Mexico turned out to be very easy, especially in large towns. There are big supermarkets (even Walmarts) in major cities, and stocking up on three days worth of food for three people usually cost us less than $60. Charcoal and white gas (fuel for our stoves) was plentiful and easy to come by. Big Comex stores that sell paint will usually also have white gas, and big gas stations and most supermarkets will have charcoal, especially if there is an Oxxo store.


  Budget Actual Difference
Average MPG: 13 17.8 +4.8
Average Gas Price $USD/Gallon: $3.25 $2.98 -$0.27
Miles Driven: 4000 4454 +454
Total Spent on Gas: $1000 $743.86 +$256.14

As with the USA, the extra miles we drove were more than offset by the better-than-expected fuel efficiency of our 4Runner. The roads in Mexico were not quite as good as in the U.S., but that was expected. Several big mountain passes and a mess of speed bumps dropped the MPG a bit, but it's still well above our worst-case estimation.

Gas prices were another surprise. In Mexico gas is federally controlled. There is only one type of gas station (Pemex) and prices are fixed by the government. There are two types of unleaded gas, magna and premium. We filled up on premium, the higher octane which was slightly more expensive than regular.

Lessons Learned

  • Perhaps our biggest surprise was the huge variety of prices for camping. In the U.S. you almost always pay by the site, in Mexico it can be per person, per tent, per site, per vehicle or whatever the guy that comes around to collect at night says it is. Prices varied from free to almost $40 a night. Typically, beach sites were cheapest but with the fewest amenities (no water/showers) and big RV sites, especially those run by expats, the most expensive.
  • Watch out for imported food in grocery stores. A lot of American classics can be twice as expensive - kettle-cooked potato chips, BBQ sauce and baked beans for example.
  • If you want to save money and can't camp, find a hotel or hostel with a kitchen. It costs as much to eat dinner out as it does to spend the night in a cheap hotel.
  • The cheapest eats are always in the places that look the sketchiest, but that's also some of the best food. Markets with eateries and street vendors sell good cheap food, much less expensive than a sit-down restaurant. If the menu lists prices in US dollars, run away.
  • Mexican toll roads are expensive. By law there has to be a free alternative, so you never have to pay tolls if you don't want to. But if you need to get somewhere fast, the toll road is your only option. Free roads go through small towns, and that means tons of speed bumps and much much slower going. We spent $150 on tolls, but I can safely say that saved us at least two days of traveling, frayed nerves and unnecessary car repairs down the road.
  • Internet cafes are usually cheap, less than $1 per hour. We also spent a bit of money on prepaid plans for our phone and 3G modem - both of which came in handy quite often.


pa koos
#4 pa koos 2012-03-03 07:53
you go kids. lots to see.
#3 Jawzun 2012-02-29 22:48
You have such great info here, I can get lost for days on your blog. Really awesome work!!
#2 James 2012-01-27 01:24
Amazing breakdown! You wouldnt happen to want to share your Excel spreadsheet with us would you?
#1 Holly 2012-01-23 00:25
I totally love the line item for coffee/booze! Another well-written article.

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