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.

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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

Tips For Entering Nicaragua With Proof of Onward Travel

Woowhoo! So you’ve decided you’re going to Nicaragua! You’ve got at least 6 months validity on your passport from your exit date. You have your leaving date in mind. You’re bag is packed…in your head. Your plans are coming together (if you even have plans).  And you just realized you need proof of exit. Oh shit. 

Here’s what we experienced getting into Nicaragua via air travel on March 12th 2015:

1) When we went to the checkin counter for Copa airlines in Miami, they asked us if we have a return ticket. We didn’t have one from Nicaragua because we’re not doing a round-trip. We did however book a flight home from Lima, Peru in January 2016. We can change our ticket for $115USD and we have every intention of doing that when we have a better idea of when and where we’ll be when we want to come home.

Tip 1: Get a return ticket that you can change. There might be a small fee to change so check the fine print. Factor that into your ticket cost.

2) When we told our airline about our return ticket from Peru, that wasn’t good enough. We had to show proof that we had that ticket, and thankfully Matt had the package with that proof from our travel agent. I also mentioned that we were travelling by land to Costa Rica, and that we’d be doing land travel all the way to Peru. 

Tip 2: Have all your documents with you and make them easily accessible. 

Tip 3: Let them know your plans of onward travel to your return destination. Don’t fumble when you’re talking because you’ll sound like a liar. You can also buy an onward bus ticket in advance just to be sure — we didn’t do that. 

3) When we got to immigration in Nicaragua, we had to buy a tourist card for $10USD. It’s cash only. We thought we would get 90 days here, as that’s what every single site (even the Canadian government travel website) said we’d be granted on arrival. Well…we only got 30 days! The immigration officer didn’t ask us if we had onward proof of onward travel, sufficients funds for our trip, or how long we planned to stay in Nicaragua. It was easy peasey getting into Nicaragua.

Tip 4: Have $10USD on you when you arrive or you’re going to run into issues getting your tourist card. 

Tip 5: Don’t fret about having proof of onward travel once you’re at immigration. Nobody asked us. They didn’t seem to care.

So there you go! We were freaking out about  our proof of onward travel before we left but it turned out it wasn’t a big deal. Basically, airlines won’t let you fly on a one way ticket so just buy an open jaw ticket that you can change. It might suck a bit having to eat the cost upfront, but at least you can travel with peace of mind knowing that your ticket home is paid for!

To sum up: your airline will probably require proof of exit before they let you in the plane but Nicaragua Immigration will not ask you for it.

– Cyn

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

Learning Spanish in the Nicaraguan “Riviera” [Video]

Two weeks into our three-week masters degree courses (erm?) that had focused on the art of speaking Spanish, we took a trip out of Granada to the beautiful Laguna de Apoyo, the Riviera of Nicaragua, we thought.

Upon arrival we knuckled down to some serious conversational exercises. This may be a little advanced for some  (remember, we’re a whole two weeks into learning Spanish when this video was taken) yet we’re hoping that this video can help to kick start a whole series on “Cyn and Matt teach Spanish”.

Or, maybe not.

You can head over here for a more informative look at Laguna de Apoyo.

9 Reasons Why You Should Go to La Laguna de Apoyo in Nicaragua

La Laguna de Apoyo La Laguna de Apoyo – image from summitpost.org 

You should definitely go to La Laguna de Apoyo! You’d be crazy not to if you’re in the area, in my completely unbiased opinion.

Here are our 9 reasons why we think you should go: 

  1. La Laguna de Apoyo is such an easy day trip from Granada, Nicaragua. You can take public transit or just hire a taxi to take you the whole way. In less than an hour (via bus), you’ll be swimming in an extinct volcano crater!
  2. And who doesn’t want to swim in an extinct volcano crater!? Pretty solid bragging rights, right there!
  3. The water at La Laguna de Apoyo is SO nice! For the intense heat of Granada, the water at La Laguna is the perfect warm-cool temperature — it’s not too cool. You know the temperature I mean? Like when someone calls a lake “refreshing” and they really mean “shockingly cold”? Yea. It’s not like that. It’s perfect!
  4. There are waves as well. I found that completely shocking in a good way — I found lots of surprises at La Laguna de Apoyo!
  5. For Matt and I, La Laguna de Apoyo and Monkey Hut reminded us of cottage country at home. It was amazing!
  6. You can buy a day pass at a rustic-resort type thing for $6. Or you can go to the public beach for free. We didn’t do that.
  7. We went to Monkey Hut, and had use of their kayaks (regrettably didn’t use them), lounge chairs, hammocks, floating docks, and bathrooms/change rooms. It was amazing there in the morning, but got SUPER busy in the afternoon. Get there early to secure your spot! Also bring food because the food there is expensive and isn’t anything special (at least the pizza that we had was). Anyway, we weren’t there for the food so it didn’t really matter. We were there to cool off!
  8. There’s something for everyone! You can SUP (stand up paddleboard), kayak, swim, sunbathe (my fave!), BBQ, drink, or just chill out in a hammock and soak up the sweet sweet Laguna vibe.
  9. As you’re swimming around, it’s hard not to notice how seriously beautiful it is. A massive volcano crater with brilliant blue water, surrounded by lush green trees. Yes please!

Get more info about La Laguna de Apoyo, including its history and places to stay.

La Laguna de Apoyo is an absolute must-do in Nicaragua in our books! 

– Cyn