Mexico: The Details

If you’ve been following along thus far, you know we had a great time exploring the Yucatan Peninsula a few weeks ago.  True to form, I couldn’t just have fun…I had to get home and analyze the entire trip.  But let’s be honest, this is part of the fun for me anyway.


Day 1:  Fly from Boston to Cancun, via Atlanta (taking advantage of the Southwest Companion Pass, of course!).  Pick up the rental car near the airport, and drive down to Tulum to check into the AirBnB.  We had dinner in town, but saved the exploring for the next day.

Day 2:  Head south for Muyil and the Sian Ka’an.

Day 3:  Wake up early, and drive to Akumal for some snorkeling with the turtles.  After lunch, head on over to the Akumal Monkey Sanctuary.

Day 4:  Hit the Tulum ruins before the crowds for some exploring and swimming.  Head back to pack up the AirBnB, and drive north for Valladolid.  Along the way there, we stopped for a late lunch and some biking around the jungle ruins at Coba.

Day 5:  Early mornings were a common theme on this trip – get to Chichen Itza before the crowds, and take a dip in Cenote Ik Kil.


The Great Ball Court at Chichen Itza

Day 6:  Pack up the AirBnB in Valladolid, and drive north up to Ek Balam and Cenote X’Canche.  Stop by the Mayapan agave distillery on our way back south to Cancun.  Check into the Westin.

Day 7:  We were going to use this day to see some of downtown Cancun, and explore the local side of the city.  Unfortunately, the kiddo was out of commission by now, and this was mostly a rest day.  Managed to get out of the hotel by dinner.

Day 8:  Hop on the ferry to Isla Mujeres early, and spend the day there.  Before getting back to the hotel, we stopped at Mercado 28 for a little souvenir shopping.

Day 9:  Pack up, and head to the airport for our flight home!

Packing List

Ok, so:  this list is only the stuff I packed/used.  It doesn’t include the bags packed by my girlfriend and son, their clothes, and their own things to do on the plane or other random items.

  • Clothing
    • 1 raincoat
    • 4 pairs of shorts
    • 2 pair swim trunks
    • socks/boxers (light wool socks for hiking, and lighter socks)
    • 3 T shirts (2 regular, 1 moisture wicking)
    • 2 tank tops
    • 1 collared button down shirt
    • 1 polo
    • hiking boots
    • Vibram five fingers
    • flip flops
    • sunglasses
    • belt
    • hat (baseball cap, for sun protection)
  • Electronics
    • 1 cell phone + USB cord
    • 1 universal plug adapter (I use one with built in USB charging ports)
    • Kindle + USB (the Kindle was preloaded with books, guides, and PDFs of documents and confirmations)
  • Miscellaneous
    • snacks and gum
    • (biodegradable) sunscreen
    • 2 small combination locks + small gauge steel cord
    • toiletries
    • bug spray
    • ENO hammock + straps
    • googles and snorkel
    • guidebook (happened to be Lonely Planet’s Yucatan Peninsula)
    • mini Spanish dictionaries
  • Bags
    • Kelty Rewing 50L Pack (with 3 litre bladder)
    • REI 18L Flash Pack (my day pack)
    • REI Roadtripper 40L Duffel (folds down to a frisbee size, perfect for what we needed)
    • Eagle Creek Packing Cubes (1 full, 1 half, 1 quarter, and 1 long tube shaped)
    • carry-on sized suitcase

The usual packing scene before a trip…

The clothing was a bit more than I packed in Peru, but this was a different kind of trip.  I thought I’d do the polo and button down shirt for the hotel.  You know, to really play up the whole “resort” thing.  I could have left the Vibrams and the hammock home.  I didn’t use either one at all.  Pacing the hammock, I tought to myself, “Gee, this’ll be great to have while hanging out at the cenotes.”  It would have been a great idea too, if we had been traveling a bit more slowly.  As it was, we didn’t have a lot of down time.  So other than those, I used everything I packed!  That’s kind of my rule, no sense in packing things you don’t use.  If I cut out a bit of weight

Suitcase?  I’m not usually a suitcase person.  However, for this trip, we had a rental car and then a hotel room for the last few days.  The suitcase came in really handy, and was easy to leave in the trunk.  On the way there, we packed some clothes, the snorkels, and a few other odds and ends.  The sunscreen went into the suitcase too, since they were too large to bring through security.


Honestly, this might be one of my favorite parts of traveling:  getting home and crunching the numbers.  The other two get home and pass right out, I pull out the laptop and the calculator.

(Still need to find a good way to run tables in WordPress…)

So here’s how it went down:

  • Accommodations:  $300  Split up between three cities, 5 nights in AirBnBs in Tulum and Valladolid, and then 3 nights at the Westin Resort in Cancun.  I used SPG points fro some of the Westin stay.
  • Food:  $415  This comes out to a bit under $18 per person per day.  The more expensive dinners in Cancun were complemented nicely by a few extremely cheap meals.  I also packed a bunch of granola bars to bring with us, to save some time on those early mornings for the ruins.  We only ended up eating out for breakfast once or twice, as a result.
  • Sights and Activities:  $314  The ruins were extremely cheap throughout the peninsula.  The bulk of this cost was the Sian Ka’an boat tour and the Akumal Monkey Sanctuary.
  • Souvenirs:  $210  I did a little better than Peru, but still had to bring a bunch of stuff home for family and friends!  Most expensive item?  That six years aged tequila at $50 for the bottle.  Cheaper than the states!
  • Transport:  $443  I did book the flights with Southwest Rapid Rewards points, but the taxes/fees still make up about half this cost.  The rest is various parking charges, the rental car, the ferry to Isla Mujeres, and $45 for Early Bird Check In on the way home.
  • Other:  $123  Snorkels, goggles, and travel insurance.  I don’t always get travel insurance, but the little voice in the back of my head says it’s a good idea for the kiddo, just to be safe.  I didn’t have any foreign transaction or ATM fees while I was gone.
  • TOTAL: $1,805

Before we left, I jokingly remarked to a friend that we’d be able to do this whole trip for under two grand, including flights.

“For three people?”


“No way dude, you’re out of your mind.  You’re going to pay at least a thousand for international flights alone.  You can’t pay for hotels, food, and stuff to do for 3 people for a week on only a thousand.  I mean, if you were backpacking or staying in hostels, sure, but not with the little guy.”

Of course, I took it as a challenge.  By now I have a trick up my sleeve though – a solid portfolio of points and miles at my disposal.

One major advantage we had for this trip was the Companion Pass from Southwest.  I earned this earlier in the year with the help of the Southwest Premier and Plus cards from Chase.  All in, the three roundtrip flights cost me about $238 (just taxes and fees).  Without the Rapid Rewards and Companion Pass, the flights would have run me about $1,371.

That’s right, I saved over a thousand dollars with just some strategic credit card inquiries.  But wait, it gets better…

I was able to use Starwood (SPG) points and Barclay Arrival Miles for some of the costs too.  I redeemed 22,500 Arrival Miles for $225 towards the rental car.  After those, the car was under $15 for a 6 day rental.  For the Westin, I opted to use the Cash & Points option.  The total came to 10,500 Starwood points for 3 nights, resulting in a savings of $216.  Those SPG points cut my hotel bill in half.

Oh, I almost forgot!  We also used the girlfriend’s Discover Miles card to pay for one of the AirBnBs.  After charging the room to the Discover card, we redeemed 10,374 Discover miles to save $103.74.

So I spent $1,805 on the whole trip.  I got a value of $1,874 out of the points, miles, and that Companion Pass I used.

I cut the total cost in half.

Take a look at the charts below.  On the left, my total out of pocket spending.  Add in the value associated with the points and miles, and you have the chart on the right.  I mean, look at it!  Southwest Rapid Rewards and the Companion Pass represent over 30% of the potential trip cost!

Budget Points vs Cost.png

Everything after “USD (Cash)” on the right hand graph is points and miles.

That’s what this all about for me.  Do I spend a little too much time on spreadsheets?  Yes.  Do I have a few more credit cards than your average person?  Yes.  But look at what I get out of it!  Wanderlust and frugality don’t always go hand in hand.  Fortunately, they don’t have to.  I’ve introduced them both to a mutual friend – travel hacking.

We had a fantastic time in Mexico!  Between the ruins and the cenotes, we had plenty of time exploring.  Couple that with the delicious food, new animals in Akumal, and the great weather we had, I don’t think I could have asked for a better adventure.

I also lucked out with some great travel companions, and I’m so excited that my son had a good time.  Although I don’t think he caught the travel bug quite yet, I’m looking forward to including him in future travel plans, and even letting him choose where to go.

We have a few small trips this autumn (just got back from DC, and heading to Chicago this weekend!).  But nothing major until this spring or early summer, when we’ll be heading out west to visit some family.

I’ll try to keep the posts coming!  We’ll get back to a bit more of the financial side of the hippie, and I’ll sprinkle in some travel posts as we move along.

Thanks for reading!


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