There are several aspects of our money management that I will feature in the next few installments. This one will be about the costs of travel in Mexico as a full-timer in the van.
The costs of living on the road can vary greatly depending on your style. We have determined that living in Mexico allows our monthly income (Mikes retirement) to stretch much further. Our costs include groceries, restaurants, dog food, gas, RV parks and misc purchases. As I develop this post I will reference the costs using the US Dollar (usd) as a pricing reference. But remember that things here are priced in Mexican Pesos and right now the Peso=Dollar rate is about 1=14 which is pretty good for American travelers.
Groceries can vary widely depending on the size of town we stop in. A small town that has to truck in their products from far away will have much higher prices than a large city. But we cannot always wait for a large city to shop in, so we often pay the higher price at a small tienda- calculating that as our contribution to the local economy. Many of our meals are prepared in the van. It is difficult to tell you the pricing of items, as the shelves seldom have tags nor do the products. You just trust the cashier to know the price or hope that the upc scanner is working.
Restaurant food can also vary. On the mainland of Mexico it was rare to pay more than $15usd for a meal for two people. But we have discovered that Baja is more like American pricing. If we sit down and order, we can figure it will cost us between $20usd and $40usd, depending on the location. There are still the cheap taco stands- but even those tend to be two bucks per taco (in Sonora they are about a buck a taco)! In Santa Rosalia we ate 7 tacos (shrimp, fish and goat assorted) with 2 drinks for about $12usd. In San Ignacio we had a shrimp cocktail, French fries, enchilada dinner, margarita and two soda for $34usd. In Guerrero Negro we ate croissant sandwiches (steak and chicken) and had café’mocha for about $20usd. As you can see, the prices vary widely. However, we have budgeted money for restaurant meals, and we love trying the local places. So restaurant stops are still in the plan!
Dog food is an interesting thing here. There is always dry dog food at the grocery stores here in Baja. We did not always find it on mainland Mexico in grocery stores. Here, it may be a 20lb bag of Purina brands or it may be a clear plastic baggie of unknown brands, which has been subdivided from a larger bag. Fortunately our dogs are not picky so we buy whatever is available. We also purchase them raw meat scraps and bones every few days. I usually add meat, or yogurt or leftovers to their meals to supplement the dry food. They look healthy, they act healthy and they poop healthy so I guess this diet works for them. Plus they pick up and eat delicious beach detritus such as dried stingrays and dehydrated triggerfish!
Gas distribution in Mexico is managed by a government branch and sold under the brand name Pemex. (Pay-mex is seriously how it is pronounced) This means that the Mexican government sets the prices and the local vendor just follows that guideline. There are two qualities of gas and we alternate between the regular and the premium. The gas is sold by the liter, and in translation between pesos per liter the price of gas here is equal to about $3.90usd per gallon. We get about 15mpg in the van, so our driving days are certainly our more expensive days. Most full-timers would tell you the same thing. Sitting still is certainly cheaper than racking up the miles and buying the gas. But it is a reality of living in a motor vehicle; you need gas. One of the factors in our decision to head to the USA sooner is the high gas prices here and the low gas prices in the USA. (If only it were warmer there!)
The cost of RV parks in Baja has been interesting. Every RV Park charges a different rate for parking and the rates vary widely. We always ask for the tent/dry camp/no hookups price. That is generally $10usd. However, some parks charge the same price for any RV-, which can vary between $15usd and $25usd. In La Paz we found an RV park that charged $30usd for one night. And in smaller towns we have paid as little as $5usd. When we boondock or beach camp we generally pay nothing. The beaches are considered public domain in Mexico. Landowners may have fences or walls to control the access, but they cannot stop the use of the beach. We have found that if we drive a little further through a town or down a dirt side road, we usually find an open access area that has no homes around. As I write this, we are about 2 miles down the road from an RV park. They wanted $15usd for dry camping, ½ mile from the beach with flush toilets and hot showers. We found a beachfront spot with the surf outside the door for FREE. The more nights we spend for FREE, the further our money goes.
Miscellaneous purchases are easy to total up. One of those is water. We fill the tank in the van (it holds 20 gallons) and our spare water jug (5 gallons) every 4 to 6 days from a water store. We NEVER put local water in our personal use systems, so that means buying water from a purification station. These are located in nearly every town, but often hard to find. Sometimes we just buy a bunch of 5 gallon water cooler style bottles to dump in the tank. Since we have never used up all of our water, a typical fill is about 10 gallons which costs us less than $4usd regardless of how we get it done. A related purchase is ice. We are currently using a Canyon Cooler brand ice chest. It is super-insulated and keeps ice for about 3 days if we are careful to keep it out of the sun. But the ice takes up space in the cooler and costs $1.50usd each time we purchase. So we are really considering a 12volt refrigerator unit (such as an Engel or National Luna) If you have feedback on those, we welcome your suggestions.
Another purchase that we enjoy is laundry service. Once a week we drop off a bag of laundry at a lavamatica or lavanderia to have it washed, dried and folded. We pick it up later at a cost of about $4usd.
Our favorite miscellaneous purchase is local food items. The warm flour tortillas in a tienda are always delicious. A roadside home with a hand-lettered sign selling burritos is sure to be a winner. And of course, you must stop and buy anything that is being sold out of the back of a VW Van! The small town of San Bartolo is known for it locally grown fruits that are then jellied and baked into mini-empanadas (imagine thumb sized fruit pie triangles). Fish tacos at an open stand in a fishing village will be the freshest and least-fishy tasting fish taco ever enjoyed. And near the cash register at every grocery store is usually an array of home baked breads, cakes, or empanadas that local women sell through the store. These items are never more than $10pesos, and we find that it is yet another way for us to contribute to the local economy.