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.
This country took our budget, grabbed it by the throat, and chucked it into a dirty Panama City gutter. Then kicked it in the ribs a couple times for good measure. We tried our best, for the most part, to keep things reasonable. Unfortunately, a combination of poor pre-trip budgeting and unforeseen events left us more than $600 over budget after our short stay of 19 days in Panama. Youch.
Panama's not a cheap country by Central American standards, but it's better than Costa Rica. We did great in that country, so it stands to reason that we could have saved money in Panama as well. However, we ended up doing quite the opposite.
|Number of Days in Panama:||19|
|Budgeted Per Diem:||$70.54|
|Actual Per Diem:||$94.02|
|Per Diem Spent:||$1,786.31|
|Per Diem Budgeted:||$1,340.26|
|One-Time Expenses Spent:||$2,109.60|
|One-Time Expenses Budgeted:||$1,945.00|
Panama uses the US dollar, although they often call it the Balboa. The currency is identical, although they do have some funky $1 and $0.50 coins that aren't minted in the US. ATMs are everywhere and typically charged us a $3 withdraw fee.
Our one-time expenses covered the cost to get our car into a container and shipped to Cartagena, plus the cost of three one-way plane tickets for us. The tickets were $150 more than expected which accounts for the overage. The cost to ship our car was more or less exactly what we expected, $1,050 for a shared container.
However, we failed to account for pricey Panama City hotels and the extra costs of eating out while we were without our vehicle for a couple days in the city. We also had to replace some gear after our stoves and a few cooking utensils were stolen in Costa Rica, costing us over $150.
|Entertainment & Tours:||$75.00||4.47%|
|Tolls & Parking:||$10.00||0.63%|
|Phone & Internet:||$10.00||0.63%|
Lodging, sitting at the top of our expenses list, pretty much tells the story of our time in Panama. Too many $45/night hotel rooms and not enough cheap camping. Fortunately, groceries were much less expensive in Panama than Costa Rica, which was a welcome change.
The supplies category includes a new stove, replacement utensils, a couple knives, and ten small bottles of propane to replace our gear stolen in Costa Rica. Border fees include the immigration costs to enter Panama, along with roughly $10 in copies we made in preparation to ship our car to Colombia.
The $75 we spent on entertainment constituted the only tourist activity we did in Panama - taking the Panama Canal Railway from Colon to Panama City after loading our car at the port. Well worth the price of admission.
Food & Lodging
|Percent Time Camping:||50%||31.58%||-19.42%|
|Average Camping Cost:||$15.00||$15.33||+$0.33|
|Average Hotel Cost:||$25.00||$44.60||+$19.60|
|Daily Food Expenses:||$25.00||$22.84||-$2.16|
Of the 19 days we spent in Panama, six were spent camping, five in a hotel, and eight in a rental house. As you can see, we grossly underestimated the cost of a hotel for three people in Panama. We usually overspend on hotel costs, but make up for it by camping more than expected. That didn't work out for us in Panama.
We stayed eight nights in a rental house on the beach at a cost of roughly $38 per night. We spent the week catching up on work, updating our website, and starting a few new projects. It worked out well for our budget because we didn't go anywhere, and only spent money on groceries, about $100 for the week. It may have cost us $300 to stay a week in the house, but it ended up saving us a chunk of change.
|Average Gas Price $USD/Gallon:||$4.50||$4.40||-$0.10|
|Total Spent on Gas:||$242.31||$278.25||+$35.91|
The gas price of $4.40 is for premium gas, the cost of regular is roughly $0.45 cheaper per gallon. The numbers here don't tell the complete story. We did spend more than expected and drove 500 miles more than planned, but our gas mileage was excellent and we entered the country with an empty tank and left with a full tank. Both of these things make our over budget amount negligible.
One note on our mileage - gas is full service and attendants tend to stop at a nice even number to make change easier to deal with. This artificially inflates our gas mileage numbers, making them look better than they actually are.