Return to International Travel in 2021
We had an amazing time exploring Mexico for two months earlier this year, in Februrary & March of 2021! This was our first international trip since Europe in 2019, since we had to cancel our Latin America trip in 2020 due to COVID! With there still being a lot of restrictions on international travel, we decided to start dipping our toes back in with Mexico, since they’ve remained open pretty much throughout the pandemic. We had hoped to also resume some of our previously planned travels in Central and South America following this stint in Mexico, but we planned to wait and see how much that part of the world had opened up after March (more on these plans to come!).
When planning this trip, we wanted to keep our itinerary relatively flexible, since we were burned pretty badly in 2020 having a lot of the Latin America trip already booked in advance, then subsequently having to cancel all of it due to COVID. So this trip, we had a rough outline of where we wanted to go and our timeline over a 2 month period, but we only booked our accommodations, transportation, and activities 1-2 weeks in advance as we moved along in the trip. We had some hesitancy on past international trips about planning things so last minute, so in the past we would book it all, or mostly all, in advance. However, it was actually really easy and low-stress planning it as we went this trip, so we now feel a bit more comfortable doing this in the future. We did have the benefit of there being less travelers and lower overall costs due to tourism still being suppressed this trip, though. In the future we know that there will be certain locations where we’ll need more advanced reservations and planning!
We planned to spend about a month on the east coast of Mexico, then about a month on the west coast. We wanted to stick to mostly the touristy, coastal areas this trip. Although we want to visit Mexico City and some of the other more central cities, we were unsure if it would be safe to travel in the bigger cities (considering both COVID cases and crime secondary to economic effects of COVID) so we planned to leave those for a different trip. There were also some other areas we considered, like Puerto Escondido, but in the end we skipped them due to less feasible flight options. We had hoped to be able to use our Southwest Airlines points and Companion Pass to fly to/from Mexico and around different locations in Mexico. But we ended up not actually finding as many feasible routes on Southwest as we thought. So we actually were only able to use Southwest for our first flight, from Baltimore to Cancun. Besides that we used buses/taxis between nearby locations in the same region; took a Mexican airline to cross the country from east to west coast; and used our American Airlines points to fly back home.
Here was our final itinerary, after several changes:
- Train from Roanoke, VA to Baltimore, MD
- Flight from Baltimore to Cancun
- Cancun (6 days at Airbnb apartment in Cancun city)
- Playa del Carmen (7 days at timeshare resort)
- Riviera Maya (7 days at timeshare resort)
- Playa del Carmen (7 days at Airbnb condo in downtown PDC)
- Ferry to Cozumel
- Cozumel (7 days at Airbnb villa)
- Flight to Puerto Vallarta
- Puerto Vallarta (2 weeks at timeshare resort)
- Boca de Tomatlan (4 days at Airbnb apartment)
- Puerto Vallarta (7 days at Airbnb apartment in Zona Romantica)
- Flight from Puerto Vallarta back home to Roanoke, VA
While we normally travel on a budget (using airline points, hotel points, utilizing public transport, minimizing eating out, and staying in Airbnb’s), this trip turned out a lot different than our normal international trips. The first reason was we had a co-worker offer to let us use her timeshare week she was going to be unable to use due to COVID in Playa Del Carmen, which happened to fall on the same week that we planned to be in that area. We took advantage of her generous offer and paid her the cost she would have gotten back by “selling” her week online, which was about 75% of her maintenance fees. While it was still a lot more than we would normally spend for a week in Mexico at an Airbnb, it was a great deal for the 5-star luxury stay for a week. Because of this opportunity, we invited both of our moms to join us for the week at this location, which was a 2-bedroom suite, allowing plenty of room for all of us. We were happy to be able to upgrade our stay and offer our moms a (mostly) free luxury vacation!
After this week, we planned to resume our normal style of travel for the remainder of our two month trip, and our moms would be returning back home. However, something else happened that again changed our itinerary. A family member let us know that she also had several timeshare weeks she would not be able to use this year due to COVID, and offered to let us use guest passes to access the weeks. So, we ended up booking an additional timeshare week right down the road in Riviera Maya, and our moms extended their stay an additional week! After this, we used two additional timeshare weeks on our own, and then three weeks of Airbnbs. With the timeshare weeks, we still had to pay fees, which resulted in higher costs than our normal accommodations would have been, but at much higher quality locations. In the end we figured it was worth it to “splurge” a bit and get to stay at these nice locations at a discount!
We had a great time traveling around Mexico. As always, we did a mix of sight-seeing and tourist activities, relaxing, enjoying local foods and drinks, exercising, and working online for our online business Travel Therapy Mentor. We usually try to go to the gym at least twice per week when traveling, depending on our ability to find gyms in the area. We didn’t do as much walking this trip as we have in the past, because things were relatively close and there wasn’t as much sight seeing to do as in, say, Europe. Our online work varies, but usually takes up about 10-30 hours per week. At the beginning of the trip, we were busy finalizing our Travel Therapy Course and launching that, so we did a lot more work the first couple weeks, then it was smooth sailing from there. Since Mexico is relatively low cost, we did eat out quite a bit more. But we still did a mix of eating out and cooking, since we had kitchen access at all of our accommodations.
Here are some of the activities we did in each location:
- Cancun: We stayed more in the city of Cancun, not the touristy area. So we took in more of the local culture and food; walked to the nearby beach; went to the gym; and focused on online work our first week. We did take one day trip on the ferry to Isla Mujeres, which was awesome!
- Playa Del Carmen & Riviera Maya (Resort Weeks): We spent a lot of time during these two weeks relaxing at the resorts with our moms, enjoying the beaches, pools, food, and drinks. We did rent a car and take a day trip to Tulum to see the Mayan Ruins and sight see in the town of Tulum. We also took a day trip to the smaller town of Puerto Morelos, which we absolutely loved. We want to go back and spend more time there in the future! It was more laid back and more our style for somewhere to stay longer term! Overall we had a great time spending these two weeks with our moms, and they did too! It was a very memorable trip for all of us.
- Playa Del Carmen (city): We spent a week in the city center exploring more of the local culture on our own, including eating so many tacos, guacamole, ceviche, and marquesitas! One of my friends from college and her husband happened to be visiting PDC at the same time, so we got to hang out with them for a few days, which was amazing after not seeing them for several years! We also went on a guided tour which included visiting the famous Chichen Itza (Mayan pyramids and ruins), a cenote, a tequila tasting, local lunch buffet, and the historic town of Valladolid. It was definitely a touristy excursion, but nevertheless we were excited to finally see Chichen Itza, and the cenote was really beautiful as well.
- Cozumel: This was one of our favorite stops on the trip. The island was amazing, especially the gorgeous turquoise-clear water! We did a lot of activities while in Cozumel to take advantage of being in the beautiful Caribbean Sea. We took an introductory scuba diving lesson and got to practice diving in relatively shallow ocean water. Jared loved it and did really well, while I had some anxiety about the breathing underwater and didn’t do so hot. I’m glad we tried it, but I’m not totally sure yet whether I’ll try it again! We went snorkeling on a different day with the same company, which was much more my speed! We saw such beautiful sea creatures, including a variety of fish, sea turtles, and the coral reef. The water there is really perfect for underwater adventures! On another day, we rented a car and drove around the perimeter of the island. We stopped at a couple beaches, and we went to the Punta Sur Eco-Park, which was breathtaking! We saw the most beautiful white sand, turquoise water beach we’ve ever seen there! We also visited the lighthouse and did a boat outing on the lagoon, where we saw several crocodiles.
- Puerto Vallarta (resort area): We made our way to the west coast of the country and spent a few weeks in Puerto Vallarta. We had also planned to visit Cabo while on the west coast, but in the end we realized the flight options were a bit cumbersome (you had to fly back to Mexico City, then to Cabo), and we were really content with spending additional time in the PV area, so we decided to skip it! During our first two weeks, we mostly chilled at the resort, enjoying the pool, the beach, and the beautiful west coast sunsets! We also walked over to the central area a couple times and enjoyed the boardwalk (“Malecon”) area. We got to meet up with some fellow travelers for the first time in person (before they headed off on their own adventure to Thailand)! We also unfortunately got food poisoning on this part of the trip. Ironically, it was from a burger at the resort, not one of the many food stands and more sketchy places we ate! This left us holed up in the room for about 48hrs. It wasn’t our first rodeo with food illness while traveling, but still it’s never fun!
- Boca de Tomatlan: This is a very small fishing village south of Puerto Vallarta. Many people make only a short stop here to get on a boat to go to the remote beaches further south. However, we wanted to check out a more rural area for a few days. We loved our time there, including our funky Airbnb homestay, the laid back nearby beaches, and the super small village feel. We did underestimate exactly how rural it was though. We failed to bring enough cash (pesos) with us, and didn’t realize they wouldn’t even have an ATM in the town! We spent the better part of one day there making a trek to an ATM via the bus and walking (because it was so rural we could not even get a taxi or Uber)! We did two day trips out of Boca. The first was a hike through the jungle along the coast, which took us to several secluded beaches, and ended at beautiful Las Animas beach. We then took a boat taxi back to Boca. The next day, we took a boat taxi both ways to the remote village of Yelapa. Here we took a short hike to a waterfall, made a friend from the UK, and enjoyed relaxing on the beautiful beach, sipping margaritas and enjoying delicious local food!
- Puerto Vallarta (Zona Romantica): We spent our last week in Mexico staying at an Airbnb in a local neighborhood in the “Romantic Zone” (historic downtown area) of Puerto Vallarta. While we enjoyed our time at the nice resorts, it was great to finish up our two month trip with more of a local feel. We took in the last bit of the beaches, great weather, local food (many stops at the taco and churro stands), and incredible west coast sunsets. Puerto Vallarta ended up being one of our favorite places in Mexico, and it’s definitely somewhere we could see ourselves returning to for a longer stay in the future.
As many of you know, Jared tracks all of his expenses each year, including everything he spends on our international trips. I am not as disciplined with my finances and do not track them like he does. But, for the most part, our major expenses like accommodations and transportation are exactly the same (we split everything 50/50). I do tend to spend a bit more on souvenirs, clothes, food, drinks, etc. So in the end, my expenses tend to be a bit higher, which is fine with me. Jared and I choose to keep our finances separate since we have different spending habits, which works well for the both of us and aligns well with our values.
Since Jared tracks his spending down to the dollar, he can give you a good picture of what his half of the expenses were for a two month trip in Mexico. Here’s a breakdown of his half of the expenses for this trip:
- Accommodations: $1,705
- Food and drink: $744
- Transportation: $362
- Activities: $396
- Total: $3,207
- Total per day: $52/day ($3,207/61 days)
In addition to these out of pocket expenses, we also used airline points/miles for our flights between the US and Mexico. Our flight from Baltimore to Cancun was only 5,538 Southwest miles total (using the Southwest Companion Pass for my ticket). Our flight back from Puerto Vallarta to Roanoke was 24,500 American Airlines miles (each).
While these expenses already seem very low, we actually splurged and spent a lot more on this trip than we ever have on our prior international trips! When we went to Europe and Asia for 5 months in 2018, Jared’s expenses only averaged $37/day, and when we traveled around Europe for 4 months in 2019, his expenses averaged only $46/day!
As we mentioned, the opportunity to stay at nicer timeshare resorts at a discount was too good to pass up on this trip, driving our costs up a bit. We (Jared) have also become more lenient on spending in recent years due to much improved financial security. We don’t have to be nearly as budget conscious as we used to be, particularly with Jared being well past his financial independence number and me being essentially at “Coast-FI,” while still having a solid income from part time work and our online business.
We had a great time during our two month trip in Mexico. It was a great trip to “dip our toes back in” for international travel following COVID. Things felt surprisingly normal during our travels, aside from the use of masks indoors and some minor COVID restrictions. We look forward to going back to Mexico in the future to explore more areas and spend longer in some of the places we loved, such as Puerto Morelos and Puerto Vallarta.
After leaving Mexico, we planned to return home to Virginia for a bit, then consider resuming travel plans in Central and South America. We were very close to booking a flight to Costa Rica to kick off our next trip in June. However, with so much uncertainty still in these other countries, and with a Travel PT opportunity arising that we couldn’t pass up in Hawaii, we decided to delay our Latin America plans yet again.
Stay tuned to hear more about my travel therapy assignment and our time in Hawaii, and for future international travel plans!
Til then, let us know if you have any questions, comments, or feedback about our time in Mexico. Have you been to Mexico before? What suggestions do you have for us for future Mexico/Latin America travels?