Travel has many problems yet budgeting isn’t one

We’re asked on a not so regular basis how we manage to control and check our travel budget. It’s a fair enough question and one that I’m always more than happy to answer.

I’ll preface this post by saying that, a) I’m a project manager by profession which meant that, b) from the outset of deciding to travel I knew I’d have that whole budget thing hanging over me constantly if I didn’t plan on how I could monitor and control it. 

By controlling and monitoring the budget in a simple way I could then put it to the back of my mind and focus on the important things like lobster meals, snorkelling with sea turtles, mountain hiking in Peru, finding lost cities, driving through deserts, etc, etc…

Here’s how we’ve put our travel budget to the back of our mind:

1) How Much Dollar Do We Need?

We decided on our approximate daily budget range and decided on how long we wanted to travel for. We then simply multiplied x by y to give us the golden number of dollars we’d need to save up before heading to Nicaragua on March 12th 2015. Yes, the harder part was saving and, for us, this happened over many a moon.

2) Find A Tool To Rule Them All

The project manager in me thought, “there must be a simple application or online tool that someone else smarter than me has built to make my job easier by removing all the arduous admin work involved in keeping track of expenses and our budget.” Or something to that effect.

Thankfully, the answer was a resounding “Yes Matt, there is.” And there was much rejoicing. By me. Quietly. On my own. 

Cynthia by this point had delegated this entire budget monitoring project to me to ensure she could focus properly on googling “how long is too long to spend at a beach in the sun?” Followed closely by “Is there ever a ‘too long’ to spend at a beach?” She’s yet to find the answer.

Anyhow, THE tool. We use the incredibly easy to use Trail Wallet. It’s an app created by travelers for travelers and I cannot recommend this enough. 

3) Learn To Use And Set Up Trail Wallet

This step is pretty straightforward because, well, the app is just so perfectly easy to use.

  • First, watch the helpful video on the Voyager Apps website to get to know all the features of Trail Wallet.
  • Then, go to your newly installed app and add a new trip and give it a name!
  • Then, if you have your magic budget number already you can enter in a start and end date and then enter in your total trip budget. Don’t worry, you can edit all these at any time so if your trip goes on further then you can extend that end date. If you win the lottery and your budget increases, you can increase it!
  • You can then enter in currencies. We started with Nicaraguan Cordobas and then added new currencies as we moved onto different countries. We also used Canadian Dollars as this is our home currency. (p.s. When you’re connected to WiFi, you can update the exchange rates.)
  • Exit out of there to your home screen and then click on your trip. The next screen is where you’ll have all your information handy to you.

Once we completed all this, we were trained up and ready to start tracking expenses and therefore ready to begin monitoring and controlling our year-long travel budget! Waahooo!

4) Start Tracking Those Expenses

Yes, for this gem of an app to work and for you to end those sleepless nights wondering how much money you have to spend per day today and how much you have left in the piggy bank… You do need to enter in EVERY expense.

Just simply go to your trip homepage, click the plus sign, enter in the amount, ensure its the correct currency (hint: don’t mix up those Colombian Pesos for Chilean Pesos!) and, if you like, select a category (see below) of expense and add a note. 

That’s it. It’s quicker than writing it down on putting it in your notes. Plus, the app will subtract the amount from your trip and daily budget and it will tell you what your “adjusted budget” (see below) is now. 

So, so easy yet nice and effective.

5) Keep On Repeating Step 4 So You Can Monitor at your Leisure!

That’s right, we enter every expense so that now we can still see our daily budget as it was at the start of the trip yet now we can also see our adjusted daily budget (if you tap on your budget that appears on your trip home screen) to see how it’s increased over time because of all those days that have come under budget, again, waahoooo!

In settings you can add, edit and remove categories. We like categories because we can use the apps built in charts function to see precisely where our money has been going. We use big catch all categories like “accomodation” and “food/groceries/water”. We’re up to 12 categories now and it’s no surprise that accomodation and food is where most of that money has gone.

——————–

So, that’s how we do it. We found and downloaded an app and we use it on a daily basis. 

The project manager in me is content because I can monitor and control our budget very very easily. And Cynthia and I can always sleep without worrying about unanswered questions surrounding money when traveling. We’ve always got the answers in our Trail Wallet

— Matt

How to Get from Nicaragua to Monteverde, Costa Rica by Public Bus

We wrote another post on this, but it was filled with lessons learned and commentary from our personal journey. Since alot of people have been visiting that page for what I’m presuming are the actual directions, I figured that it was time to write something straightforward and quickly helpful. Something you can save to your phone if need be!

Here we go. 

First, Get Yourself To The Border

This is so easy you have no idea — unless of course you’ve done it before. From where ever you are, take a chicken bus to Rivas. Once you’re at the bus station in Rivas, guys will probably be shouting at you/shepparding you/asking you “where you go?” And they might even be psychic and ask if you’re going to the border. Reply yes.

Or tell them, “the border”. Specifically, the name of the place is Peñas Blancas.

You can also take a taxi directly to the border from Rivas. We’d just finished a boat ride from hell, so when a taxi driver offered to take us, we agreed. It’s obviously more expensive this way, but for us, it was worth it.

Go Through the Border

This is a straightfoward(ish) process as long as you follow the herd and go where people point you to. Like all things in Nicaragua, we found that people are amazing and will help make sure you get to where you need to be.

That said: when you arrive at the border, there will be guys trying to help you fill out your customs form. The guys are NOT official, they will expect a tip (propina), and you don’t need that form yet. You’ll be given one to fill out later, at no charge.

For help getting through the border, Along Dusty Roads has a great deal of information. However, they do suggest that it’s nearly impossile to get to Monteverde/Santa Elena from the border without a night stop over somewhere. This isn’t true. Keep reading to find out how we did it.

Welcome to Costa Rica! Now it’s time to go to Monteverde / Santa Elena from the border

Like you, we couldn’t really find ANY information on how to do this. We figured there had to be a way without going to San Jose first or spending the night somewhere. Just look at a map and you’ll what we meant! And by George, you can do it. Here’s how.

Step 1: Start your border crossing bright and early. 

Aim to be at the border for when it opens or you will be in a huge line, and you risk missing the last bus to Monteverde in the same day. Yes it sucks waking up at an ungodly hour, but it’s worth it!

Step 2: Buy a ticket from the public bus counter at the Costa Rican border to Cruce Sardinal. 

You’re going to have to trust me when I say that the bus ticket counter will be obvious once you pass through the Costa Rican border. If you use the toilet before you cross, look through the fence to your right and you’ll see the ticket counter.

Don’t use the Tica bus, use the public bus! It might be helpful to let the ticket agent know you want to go to Monteverde. The ticket cost us about $6 USD (you’ll pay in colonies) – the price is posted and listed on the ticket.

Step 3: Get off the bus at La Irma

This isn’t half as straightforward as it sounds because Cruce Sardinal isn’t a bus station. It’s in the middle of the road by a gas station. After being on the bus for about 1 hour 45 minutes, we suggest that you ask the driver where you need to get off to go to Monteverde. They likely won’t volunteer this information so keep asking.

 

where you get off the first bus

#TravelTip: pre-load Google maps on your phone before you do this journey, that way you can follow along using your GPS. The second bus will take you through Juntas, so you’ll need to change buses BEFORE Juntas. 
Step 4: Walk across the street to the bus stop, and get the next bus.

 

the actual bus times!
 
This is the second and final bus. It cost about $3USD. Get on this one, and you’ll go straight to Monteverde/Santa Elena. Remember when I said to start your border crossing early? Well, that’s because the last bus of the day comes sometime between 2:30-3:30pm.

So, there you go, public bus from the border to Monteverde is possible, is relatively inexpensive ($9USD per person), and took around 5 hours with waiting time. Plus, it ends up with a stunning bus ride from La Irma to Santa Elena/Monteverde.

  — Cyn

Rescued Monkey Update

When we were in Costa Rica, we went to the Jaguar Rescue Center. Maybe you remember…

I told you about the monkey who was 20 years old and for her whole entire life, she was caged and unloved? And how she finally made friends with a baby monkey who was rescued by the Jaguar Rescue Center as well? 

Well, I have an update on those little darlings! They’re doing well, and the older monkey has become the baby’s adoptive mom.

Cue happy tears!

Happy endings really are possible. 

image from Jaguar Rescue Center’s Facebook page
To get stories like these first hand, follow the Jaguar Rescue Center on Facebook.
— Cyn

Crossing The Great Panama – Costa Rica Divide

We woke up at the butt crack of dawn on May 5th to begin our journey from Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica to Bocas Del Toro, Panama.

Some people would have taken the $30 shuttle. That would’ve been super easy and we could have slept (in) a bit. But not us, my friend. 

We are not some people! We’re more exciting! Adventurous! We’re better than people who take shuttle buses!

Besides $30 per person was too expensive. (We took the cheaper option.)

Plus we’d been laying on beaches/in swimming holes for the better part of 3 weeks. Our brains basically shut down and turned into brain-jellyfish. We needed some kind of adventure to wake us up. 

So here we were at 6:00am waiting for the first bus to Sixaola.

You know, so we could beat the huge line of people waiting to border cross.

Hahaha! 

There were no people. Only us, a couple of annoying but nice people from Spain, and a chica from New Jersey.

Guess who was first in the 5 person line. That’s right! We were.

We’d heard that in order to cross the border, you have to walk across an old railway bridge. Well, that was totally 100% accurate.

  
Get a load of that thing!! It really brightened my really early morning.

You had to watch your step because some of the boards were loose. They just kind of swung around when you stepped on them, threatening to drop unaware crossers into Rio Sixaola.

 

Rio Sixaola
Rio Sixaola

There really wasn’t a huge point to this blog post, I just wanted to show you the bridge because I really liked like it/found it really amusing.

 

no makeup Sixaola bridge selfie
no makeup Sixaola bridge selfie
 
— Cyn 

Look a Sloth in the Eye at Jaguar Rescue Center, Costa Rica

What would you give to be able to look a sloth in the eye? How about if it was a baby?

You can do just that at the Jaguar Rescue Center in Puerto Viejo, Limón, Costa Rica. The Centre is a non-profit and an absolute delight for animal lovers!

Except it’s also kind of sad. 

I say it’s kinda sad because every single animal that’s there is there because something horrible has happened to it.

  

An iguana that fell and broke its spine. He can barely move his tail now and without use of his tail, he has no way to defend himself. 

A young crocodile that was supposed to be dinner but the method of execution was ineffective. It arrived at the Jaguar Rescue Center full of holes from a broom handle and missing an eye.

The beautiful wildcats that had been destined to be someone’s pets after poachers killed their mothers for fur, and tried to sell the baby. A double payday for poachers, a double heart break for the cats. 

 

The sloths — and yes, you can look them in the eye — arrived as babies after their mothers were electrocuted (on telephone wires). The baby monkeys were there for similar reasons. One baby sloth had melted to its dead mother and had to be surgically separated. 

  

But perhaps the saddest, you can decided, is the monkey who had been a pet for 20 years. Except she wasnt treated even half as well as we’d treat a dog. 

For 20 years she lived in a cage. For 20 years nobody hugged her, played with her, touched her. Her cage was opened once a day when her owners gave her a banana. Nobody loved her for 20 years. The average lifespan for her type of monkey is 25 years. 

For the next 5 years though, she’ll be loved. The staff and volunteers at the Jaguar Rescue Center will take good care of her. I know they will. They’d reintroduce her into the wild if they could — but she wouldn’t survive. She never even had the chance to feel a tree branch under her fingertips. 

She can’t really do monkey things but she’s befriended a tiny baby monkey. A huge step for a once lonely, neglected sweetheart. 

If you want to help, why not adopt a beautiful baby monkey or sloth? Adopt here!

  

Not all animals, no matter how cute or beautiful or playful or exotic, are meant to be pets. They are not ours! They’re not here for our entertainment or to make us feel good about ourselves.

The amount of respect that the Jaguar Rescue  Center’s staff and volunteers have for the animals is simply awe-inspiring. There is so much love for all of the animals, from the snakes to the birds, the tree frogs to the croc, the iguana to the owls, the ant-eater to the wild cats, and of course, the sloths and the monkeys.

It’s so obvious that the rescues are in good hands. I hope if you’re ever in Costa Rica, you get a chance to visit the Caribbean coast and take a trip to the Jaguar Rescue Center. The $18USD fee is well worth it, especially since it goes to the animals. Even Stephen Fry found time to film at the Jaguar Rescue Center the day after we were there!

Every animal there has a story that can break your heart. But thanks to the Rescue Center, and it’s volunteers and supporters, their stories can have much happier endings.

While I looked the beautiful sloth in the eye, I felt so happy. What a privilege to be so close to these animals! I never thought I’d see one in real life. Yet at the same time, my heart ached for the animals that have been harmed at the hands of humans. A mixed bag of emotions for sure.

   

Want to help? 

You can volunteer (beware, baby monkeys might crawl all over you!) or donate now to ensure the next injured animal can be rescued too. Or, you can adopt your favourite!

Also follow the Jaguar Rescue Center on Facebook for daily updates on their rescues. 

  — Cyn

Where we stayed near the Jaguar Rescue Centre, Playa Chiquita and Punta Uva: 

Casa Moabi – super nice hosts, clean, comfortable, hot shower, fantastic shared kitchen and plenty of howler monkeys to spot! Well, you’re surrounded by jungle here so you can’t help but spot the monkeys 🙂

Airbnb Cabin with the Hernandez family – rustic, basic yet comfortable, relaxing, well located and with a lovely family.