When I started traveling, Central America was never really on my radar. When I dreamed of trips, I dreamed big: Europe, Asia, Australia…Central America just seemed too close to home.
When our income changed, I thought our days of travel were over for a while until we started exploring Central America. One of our all-time favorite trips was to Antigua, Guatemala and we just booked another trip to Panama this January.
We discovered Central America is a great budget travel destination. It’s relatively quick to get there from about anywhere in the US and is full of beautiful places and amazing people. When you’re there, it will hardly feel like you’re vacationing on a budget.
Here’s three quick tips on planning a trip to Central America without breaking the bank.
Don’t be afraid of budget airlines
My husband used to be a travel agent, so when I first approached him with the idea of flying a budget airline, he was against it as he had always advised his clients to avoid them at all costs. When it came down to a budget airline making the difference between being able to take a trip or not, he finally agreed, declaring “it can’t be THAT bad, right?”
We ended up having a great experience. We’d read everything carefully and knew exactly what we were getting into. We packed light, brought an empty water bottle to fill in the airport, and braced ourselves for slightly smaller seats. All in all, these were small things that made the savings absolutely worth it.
Be sure to read carefully when booking with a budget airline. You do often have to purchase all bags, including your carry on – and it’s often cheaper to check a bag than take a carry on. We have seen people panicking at the check-in counter every time we’ve flown budget airlines because they hadn’t read the luggage policy carefully. Talk about a rough way to start a vacation. If you’re unsure about an airline’s policies, call their customer service and chat with them a bit before booking a ticket.
Eat where the locals are eating
One of our family’s biggest travel rules is to not eat anything or go anywhere we can go when we’re at home (unless it’s absolutely necessary). This is especially true when traveling internationally! You have the opportunity to embrace and learn about a beautiful new culture, and it’s hard to do so if you eat at familiar fast food restaurants and hang out in Starbucks all day.
Eat where the locals are eating, and ask them what’s good. Having an open mind can lead to some great culinary experiences you’d never have otherwise. Bonus: local food is often much cheaper. You might be surprised how much amazing food you can get for very little money if you have an open mind.
Skip the hotels
All-inclusive resorts can be tempting, but skipping resorts and hotels in general can be a quick way to save quite a bit of money on your trip.
We have had outstanding experiences with AirBNBs while traveling internationally. Not only are the often significantly cheaper than hotels, but you get the chance to truly live among the culture and experience the country from a different perspective than you’d get otherwise. Plus, you (in many cases) get the chance to support a local by renting their place.
Be sure to read the reviews carefully and research the neighborhood where the rental is located. You’ll want to be sure it’s a safe area and that others have had positive experiences before booking it yourself.
Hostels can also be a great way to save money in Central America. Whether you’re booking a single bed in a dorm style room or a private room, hostels are often significantly cheaper and give you unique opportunities to get to know other budget travelers.
If you’ve been dreaming of a great vacation but are on a tight budget, Central America should definitely be on your radar. The natural beauty, amazing food, and incredible people are all great reasons you should start packing your bags, and the affordability of Central American travel sure doesn’t hurt.