Exotic Travel on $53 a Day

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Success stories are regular features of The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter service, where we share profiles of people who have become financially independent. One of the most remarkable stories we've come across is that of Akaisha and Billy Kaderli, who retired two decades ago at the age of 38 and began traveling the world. They wrote the popular book The Adventurer's Guide to Early Retirement as well as the Guide to Chapala Living. Here, they discuss how you can enjoy exotic travel on less than you think. 

Years ago, we never would have guessed that by age 57, we'd be journeying for more than 100 days through the Mexican Pacific Coast, on into the volcanic heart of Guatemala, enjoying the beach and laid-back island life of Belize, and partaking in the Mayan style of living in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. What's more, we found a way to do it that was amazingly affordable.

See it all -- for less
During this three-and-a-half month odyssey, we bodysurfed and soaked up the sun along Bo Derek-style secluded beaches, shopped in indigenous markets, explored mountain-high coffee plantations, and visited a macadamia farm, learning of the nut's marvelous curative properties. We found the exact spot where Mayans claim the world began and spoke with them about their end-of-the-world prophecy for 2012.

We found amazing natural wonders, historical sites, and stunning scenery. And we did it on less than $53 per day. Lodging, meals, transportation, and country exit fees -- it covered everything we spent money on throughout this time.

Nor did we suffer for it. Many hotels we stayed in had pools, views, and beach access. Others were centrally located in the hearts of cities within easy walking distance to the main plaza and points of interest. Hotel WiFi for our netbook was available, and cyber cafes were plentiful.

Keeping our daily expense log, we demonstrated that having exotic travel experiences and meeting unforgettably intriguing characters doesn't have to cost any more than staying at home. How did we do it? We focused on four main expense categories and fine-tuned our skills to get the most for our money.

We don't travel to exotic places to stay in the hotel. It's a place to sleep and to store our gear while we are exploring the town and all the sights. By choosing hotels close to what you want to do in a particular city, you'll cut transportation costs greatly.

So we look for value in a hotel -- a clean room, a firm bed, and a decent bathroom. We prefer views when they're available, but it's a respectable room we look for, not a perfect one.

We've found that online reservations don't work in our favor. Credit card and currency exchange fees can clobber your account, and online prices are often as much as double what we pay by simply walking in the door. We are willing to stay longer if we can get a discount. We also find out if something else comes with the price of the room, like breakfast, free purified water, or airport transportation. These charges add to the bottom line of one's travel expenses and to have them included in the room adds value.

There are many options for getting from place to place. We don't drive, because local transport goes everywhere we want. We've taken first-class buses, water taxis, pedicabs, private drivers, and even bicycles. Sometimes it's cheaper to fly rather than to bus long distances if you factor in food and lodging along the way.

We seek out hotel rooms with refrigerators or even full kitchens. Preparing simple meals is a lot cheaper than paying restaurant prices whenever we're hungry. Even keeping beverages in the refrigerator or making coffee allows for a relaxing time on the veranda instead of having to go out. Many hotels have rooftop access with spectacular views, and it's a casual way to meet other travelers who gravitate there for the sunset happy hour.

Restaurants that cater to locals are a lot cheaper than trendy tourist restaurants. Lunch is our largest meal of the day, with its corresponding smaller price tag. In the evenings, tasty light meals from street vendors meet our needs. And when we have long travel days ahead of us, we pack sandwiches or protein-based snacks so we are not at the mercy of higher prices or the unknown while on the road.

Entertainment can make or break your budget. But lots of fun things cost next to nothing.

For instance, we often found art galleries and museums that were free or very inexpensive. On Sundays, some cities would close off architecturally exceptional streets to vehicular traffic, creating a walking street that allowed pedestrians to meander, enjoying art exhibits, food displays, bicycle races, and music.

Renting bicycles for $2 an hour, we biked along the packed sand paths of Belize. We hiked up Volcan Pacaya in Guatemala with a guide and transport for a total of $24 for both of us, and our visits to Mayan or Garifuna villages throughout our trip cost no more than modest bus fare or water transport. When we got tired of walking, taking local buses as their routes loop through towns is a cheap way to take an informal tour, and you'll find things you never would have known about.

If a tight budget is holding you back from seeing exotic places, don't let it. There's a big world awaiting your discoveries, and it does not have to cost you any more than staying at home. Go for it!

Fool contributors Billy and Akaisha Kaderli write regularly for the Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter. They retired in 1991 from the brokerage and the restaurant businesses to a life of international travel. Visit their website at The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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  • Report this Comment On May 11, 2010, at 11:44 PM, lucangone wrote:

    With all due respect, I found this article quite depressing. What if you wanted to play casino blackjack, for example? That might tip your budget over $50 for a start. Escort girls? Massages? All these aren't free either!

    I suppose we'll have to get used to articles like this one. As we become the World's 'poor', we will increasingly write things like..."first-class public transport..." where once we wouldn't have been seen dead on a bus.

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