This post is different from our others. Since we’ve received so much value from others who have shared the nitty gritty details about their travel expenses, we thought we would return the favor to the travel universe. So, if you’re just following us to keep tabs on where we are and what we’re up to, you can probably skip this one. If you’re travelling, or planning to be, and looking for another perspective on the cost of travelling in Ecuador, Colombia, and Panama, then read on.
We would love to hear from you in the comments–questions and your experiences are welcome, but please no judgment on our choices! We’ve explained our travel approach and challenges so you can decide if our situation has any relevance to you.
Budget and travel style
We are retired and semi-retired, aged 61 and 56. We are travelling and living somewhat frugally in order to stretch our savings further and allow us to experience as much of the world as we can, while we still can. Our travel budget target is about $5,000 CDN a month. It’s not a lot, but it doesn’t require us to couchsurf or sleep in hostel dorms (two perfectly good options, just not for us).
We are travelling slowly, which allows us to get a better feel for a community, reduces our transit costs (fewer flights and bus rides) and, potentially, reduces our accommodation costs through weekly and monthly discounts. However, since this first phase of our nomadic life involves exploring several countries, we do have periods of quicker, farther travel, which impact costs. When the distances aren’t that great, we take advantage of the inexpensive buses, but we have opted for flights instead of overnight or very long bus rides.
We try to book accommodations with kitchens so we can cook for ourselves most of the time (which increases our accommodation costs), but we also want to enjoy the local food scene and connect with others at social establishments.
Here’s where we spent the first 4 months (118 days):
- Ecuador: 3 months
- Quito: 1 month
- Cuenca: 2 weeks
- Guayaquil: 4 days
- Galapagos: 8 days (see note below on Galapagos)
- San Alejo: 2 weeks
- Atacames: 2 weeks
- Medellin, Colombia: 1 week
- Panama: 3 weeks (to the end of the 4-month period)
- Panama City: 9 days
- Pedasi: 2 weeks
Show me the numbers
Though we were primarily spending in US dollars, our banks and record systems are Canadian. To make reporting easier for us, all numbers below are in Canadian dollars. Multiply by 70-75% to calculate USD.
- Per month: $3,222 CDN
- Per day: $109 CDN
Notes on the numbers
Activities – This includes walking tours, entry fees, etc.
Air Travel & Visas – We incurred the majority of costs (85%) during our fast-travel period where we covered longer distances quickly (Esmeraldas, Ecuador to Quito, Ecuador to Medellin, Colombia to Panama City, Panama). Our initial flight costs to get to Quito at the beginning of our trip were very low.
Unrecorded Cash – Though we tried really hard to track all of our cash spending by entering them into our tracking app against withdrawn cash, we managed to spend $659 without recording where. Since this is only 5% of costs it won’t alter the numbers too significantly. We’ll try to do better next round.
Clothing & Laundry – Ken really wanted a Panama hat in Ecuador, where they are made, so only $33 of this amount is laundry. Where possible, we tried to book accommodation with a free washing machine.
Multiple – The last month (25% of the period) was the most expensive one in the following categories:
- Accommodations (38%)
- Bus, Taxi, Uber (56%)
- Groceries (40%)
- Restaurants (40%)
Why the increased costs? Several reasons:
- We travelled quicker (shorter stays), going to Medellin, Colombia, for a week, and then into Panama City for 9 days before travelling up to Pedasí.
- With short stops in busy cities comes lots of things to do and see, more transportation to see them, and less time for cooking at home.
- Restaurants in the areas we stayed in in Panama City and Medellin were more international and expensive than the small, local restaurants we ate at in Ecuador.
- Our AirBnB accommodation in Panama City was cancelled on us 9 days before we arrived (the condo was sold), so we ended up doubling our accommodation cost for the time we were in that city after scrambling to find another place.
- The 2 weeks in Pedasí were challenging as there were only tiny, expensive grocery stores in town, and no sources of quality, inexpensive produce.
- Panama is just generally more expensive than Ecuador, at least in our experience so far.
Full disclosure: Expenses not included in the above
We chose (fairly, we think) to leave the following expenses out of the calculations above (reasons noted below). With these expenses included (annual items prorated to the four-month period), our actual travel costs (including the Galapagos splurge) were:
- Total: $21,919 CDN
- Per month: $5,480 CDN
- Per day: $186 CDN
Item: Galapagos cruise
Provider: Last Minute Galapagos
Not included because: This was a splurge, pure and simple, and a personal choice. We chose not to travel to the Galapagos on the budget program (land-based, hostel living with a day trip or two). We got a great last-minute deal for a first-class category cruise for 8 days. This includes flights between the Galapagos Islands and Guayaquil, and tips for the crew and our guide.
Item: Travel insurance
Cost: $1,420/6 months for two people ($237/month)
Provider: Manulife through Costco
Not included because: Personal choice, varies based on age, medical condition, and coverage required.
We purchased 6 months of emergency travel medical insurance, which we can call to renew (possibly when we’re more sure of our return date). One of us is too old for World Nomads and we wanted to have only one company to deal with should something go wrong. We included trip interruption insurance, which would allow us to go home for a family emergency and then return to our travels. This part didn’t cost very much, and we felt it had value since we both have moms in their 80s.
If we were staying in one location, we may not have made this choice, as most of the places we visited had perfectly good, inexpensive medical care. In fact, we used some services, but since we weren’t able to get receipts, we couldn’t claim the minimal charges.
Item: Equipment insurance
Cost: $141/year ($11.75/month)
Provider: Front Row Insurance
Not included because: If we were younger, this coverage could have been included in World Nomad travel insurance; if we still had a home, it would have been included in our home owner or tenant package; required because we are travelling with photography equipment (with a higher value than our travel insurance policy covers) and a laptop.
Item: Replacement cell phone
Not included because: If we’d been smarter, we wouldn’t a) have had our main smart phone stolen, or b) lost our back-up smart phone; personal choice whether to replace it and how much to spend. We could have picked up a “burner” phone for $30 or so, but opted for one good smart phone.
That’s it. Please do leave a comment with your thoughts, and suggestions that might help others along their journey.