First Month On The Road: Activities & Costs

May 15, 2013 | By | 6 Replies More
chicken bus

Chicken buses in Guatemala

It’s been a month since I left Vegas. I kissed the comfort of security good-bye for a life of adventure.

So, how am I doing? What’s it like living on the road? What’s a typical day like? What have I done? How much money did I spend?

I’ll share the details in this post.

So far, I’m still adjusting to this new lifestyle. The theme of this month is about transition. It’s quite a change, but managing well. Overall, I’m lovin’ it.

I listen to my body and wake up whenever I want. I do what feels right. I’m experiencing what it’s like to live now. Feelin’ free. Being present is all that matters. I just enjoy the moment.

There are challenges to this lifestyle. Life on the road isn’t easy moving from place to place. After all, I’m living out of a 50 liter backpack. This is all I brought. Traveling light allows me to move fast. I do regret buying a 15″ Macbook now. I’ll downsize my computer next time I upgrade. Another issue is loneliness, but this hasn’t happened yet because I’m busy volunteering and taking classes. Then there is not knowing when the next paycheck is coming in. I’ve become comfortable with the fact that I’m living off of what I budgeted for the next year. I’m not gonna lie, it was a bit nerve-racking at first.

In order to have a little stability, I decided to set up base camp wherever I go for a few days to get a flow down. Unless I’m in transit from one city to another, I like to hangout for a bit to get to know the area, people, and most importantly learn more about the culture.

Everyday is different. I don’t like routine. I don’t plan too much. I don’t make any commitments unless I feel like it. I do whatever I want for the day. I like the state of just being. I’m living. I’m breathing. I’m alive.

I’m open to see what comes my way. I meet other travelers and ask them where they’ve been and what they’ve done to get ideas on where to go next. If it sounds interesting, I’ll explore it. I also share my experiences with other travelers to help them plan their journey.

Forget the guidebooks, I just talk to people, ask questions, exchange information.

Being open and in the moment has allowed me to do so much with less effort.

Here’s an overview of what I did in Guatemala this past month. I listed a few activities and prices in Quetzales (Q) and in U.S. Dollars (USD) below so you can get an idea of costs.

Antigua calle

Anitgua, Guatemala

The first week I arrived in Guatemala, I gave myself time to slow down. I wandered around Antigua to get a feel for the town and took Spanish classes.

Mixing cement

Building houses with Habitat for Humanity

A good friend of mine met up with me in country since we signed up to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. We spent a week building homes in the community in Zacapa which is about 2.5 hours east of Guatemala City. It was my first volunteer vacation experience which I enjoyed. I’ll be writing a detailed review in a future post.

Activity: Habitat for Humanity Global Village Trip
Duration: 9 days
Cost: $1460 (airfare and vaccinations not included) I fundraised most of the program fee.

Volcan Pacaya

Volcan Pacaya

After our project with Habitat was finished, a few of us from our volunteer group hiked to Pacaya which is an active volcano. Our tour guide took us to a spot where we saw small sprinkles of lava every ten to fifteen minutes. The last time it erupted was in 2010.

Activity: Hike to Pacaya Volcano
Duration: 6 hours
How to get here: Set up a tour in Antigua
Cost: 160Q/$22 USD

Lake Atitlán Guatemala

Lake Atitlán

Some of the volunteers I met in Zacapa recommended that I go to Lake Atitlán. I also received a Facebook message from a friend in Atlanta who introduced me to her friend who happened to be in Guatemala also. Ironically, she was at the lake too.

Lake Atitlán is a special place. There’s an amazing energy here. It’s rainy season now, but it’s still sunny during the day. There are so many Mayan villages to explore around the area. I’m sticking around for a bit to work on my blog, volunteer, and figure out where to go next.

San Marcos La Laguna

San Marcos, La Laguna

My friend’s friend was staying in the town of San Marcos so I planted myself on this side of the lake. It’s nice and quite here compared to party central in San Pedro.

Many make the trek here to explore spirituality and self-discovery. Funny how I end up here at the beginning of my round-the-world journey. I’m happy that I just came here by chance because I’ve been able to attend my first guided meditation, sound healing session, cacao ceremony, and hang out in a sweat lodge.

There are a lot of hippie expats from all over the world that live here looking for a simpler life, maybe they ran away from something back home, or are exploring their higher consciousness. There’s a separation between the gringo locals and the local locals in San Marcos. The local locals speak Kaqchikel which is an indigenous Mayan language.

Word on the street is that there have been several break-ins lately. I heard a story of a computer getting stolen right in front of the victim and the hard drive showed up at the doorstep of their hostel the next morning. Cameras getting jacked and the SD cards returned. Nice thieves, huh?

There’s speculation that a ring of tuk tuk drivers and cops are in on the robberies. Apparently, they don’t steal when they drive. It’s bad for business. The locals are aware who’s doing it, but nothing is being done. While theft is prevalent, it doesn’t seem to be violent. Robberies tend to happen in waves. Unless, you’re dying it’s pointless to call the cops. Typical corruption in a developing country.

Safety is all relative. Bad things can happen anywhere. This area is like the wild west out here. People do as they please. The interesting thing is that the community regulates itself. I heard public lynchings organized by the people have happened for serious criminal offenses. Crazy, huh?

Don’t let these stories stop you from exploring this beautiful place. Just be aware at all times.

Kayak on Lake Atitlán

Kayaking on Lake Atitlán

I went kayaking with another solo traveler I met randomly in a restaurant. We became friends during our time here. We paddled a far distance across the lake from San Pedro all the way to San Marcos, had lunch, and went back. The whole trip took 5 hours and was quite a workout! My guns are getting pretty big.

Escuela San Marcos

Teaching English in San Marcos

My friend’s friend invited me to help her teach English at a local school. We both haven’t done this before so it was quite an experience. Some kids were eager to learn, others were disengaged or too shy to participate. It was still a positive experience never the less. These kids are intelligent and have a lot of potential.

Santiago market

Santiago Atitlán market

A few Sundays ago, I went to the Santiago market which is a huge outdoor swap meet. Street vendors sell anything you can think of from shoes, clothes, fake stuff, souvenirs, electronics, toiletries, street food, vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, whatever, it was very crowded and something to experience. I didn’t see too many gringos when I went.

Visiting Santiago was like stepping back into time. The village was old. Many locals wore traditional clothing. It was beautiful. My friend tried to take a pic of these women making tortillas and they got upset. Be mindful of taking photos of the locals. Ask permission first.

One thing that caught my eye at the market was that I saw vendors selling used shoes. Some can’t afford to buy new things. An idea popped up in my head, what if there is a program that brings gently used items from the U.S. to Guatemala to be resold here?

Santiago Atitlán
When to go: Market days are on Fridays and Sundays
How to get here: Lancha (boat) from San Pedro or Panajachel
Cost: Lancha from Panajachel 30Q/$4US This is what we paid, but we found out later others paid 25Q. The ride is about 25 minutes.

Santiago La Laguna Catholic Church

Santiago La Laguna Catholic Church

One local kid I met in San Marcos took me on a three hour hike through trails leading through Tzununa, Jaibalito, and Santa Cruz. He wasn’t an official tour guide, but others recommended him. There are travel warnings not to hike on paths between villages because there have been reported robberies and assaults. Not sure if it mattered that I was with a local or not, but we didn’t encounter any issues. Just two barking guard dogs that would have bitten our heads off if we got too close. The hike was good workout climbing up and down hills and scrambling rocks.

Tzununa river

Tzununa locals wash their clothes in the river.


My tour guide told me that Jaibalito was one of the poorest towns on the lake.

Hiking to Santa Cruz

Hiking to Santa Cruz

Hiking to Tzununa, Jaibalito, and Santa Cruz
Duration: 3 hours
Cost: 100Q/$13

It’s been a busy month. The next several weeks will be active as well since I’m consulting with a non-profit on their online marketing strategy. This is a volunteer opportunity I stumbled on just by asking around.

As I continue my journey I think my volunteer efforts will shift to teach the working poor how to use the internet to grow their business.

Here’s a breakdown of costs for my first month of travel.

Accommodations $243.87
In order to keep my costs low, I used Airbnb and hostels. While I volunteered with Habitat my 3 – 5 star hotel stays for one week was included in the program fee.

Transportation $713.43

  • Changing flights, baggage fees
  • Rental car, gas, parking
  • Local transportation (Taxi pickup from airport to Antigua 45 minutes $30, Antigua to San Marcos, Lake Atitlán 2.5 hours $9.33)

Prior to setting off on this trip, I was going to fly for free, but I changed my flight to stop in Chicago and visit family first. I rented a car to get around which drove up my costs. No pun intended.

Food $372.90

  • Eating at restaurants
  • Street food

My grocery bill at home wasn’t this high. I’ve been eating out everyday. The hostel I’m staying at doesn’t have a kitchen because they have a restaurant. I’ll be moving to a place that has a proper kitchen where I can cook food and lower my costs. Would you like to feed my mango addiction?

Entertainment $96.80

  • Going out 361Q/ $48.13
  • Pacaya Volcano Tour 160Q/ $21.33
  • Kayaking 55Q/ $7.33 for 5 hours
  • Park entrance 15Q/ $2
  • Movie rental 10Q/ $1.33

Bar and club hopping can really drive up costs so I’m not going out as much. I still have fun though. My spending in the entertainment part of my budget has been okay so far.

Personal Development $59.67

  • Spanish classes $5 per hour
  • Meditation 50Q/$6.33 per class
  • Sauna 25Q/$3.33
  • Sound Healing 25Q/$3.33
  • Cacao Ceremony 100Q/$13.33

I was surprised about how affordable the classes in Antigua and San Marcos are.

Volunteer Projects $387

  • Habitat for Humanity (Fundraised $1013)

This is the first volunteer experience I paid for. It included transportation, hotel, meals, cultural activities, and donation to the organization.

Travel insurance for six months $291
I purchased World Nomads’ travel insurance for six months. I noticed that it was cheaper to buy six months than pay for nine months or even one year. The nice thing I like about World Nomads is the type of coverage it offers for adventure activities and I can renew it as I travel.

Laundry $7.60
I hand wash my socks and underwear using my 13 liter Sea to Summit dry sack as a portable washing bag. It works great! For bigger items like shirts, pants, and blue jeans, I just bring them to a lavanderia.

Misc $194.65

  • 1 TB hard drive $90
  • Stamps in Guatemala for 20 post cards $23
  • Post cards $13
  • Sim card $8
  • Skype number & credit $28

I decided to leave my original back up hard drive at home, so I bought a new 1 TB hard drive in Chicago. Sending post cards from Guatemala back to the U.S. and Europe is kinda pricey. Sim cards are cheap here. I bought a Skype number that rings my computer so family and friends can reach me if needed.

What’s the whooping total for being on the road my first month?


This is a bit high for me because I changed my flights and had to rent a car. Not a big deal though. My costs are averaging $79 a day. I’d like to stay within a budget of $25 – $30 a day.

Category: Planning

Comments (6)

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  1. Melanie says:

    Hey Mig!

    Thanks for all your updates, I really enjoy getting them. Also, amazing that you’ll be traveling the world for the next year! What an incredible adventure! If you find yourself in the SF/Northern CA area, please email me. I would love to chat about your travels.

    Safe travels to you,

  2. Stevie says:

    Hi Mig! It is going to be so interesting to read about your adventures this year. Enjoy! ~Stevie

  3. Amy says:

    Wow, busy month! I’m itching to hear more about your volunteering plans; I really like the idea of teaching locals how to set up websites and use the internet, it sounds great. In a few months’ time Andrew and I hope to start doing some volunteering too, although we’re a bit daunted over the prospect of finding an ethical placement. Interesting story about the ‘honest’ thieves too!
    Amy recently posted…Australian Animal PicturesMy Profile

    • Mig says:

      Gracias! I’m looking for simple things to teach that could transform someone’s life. There are so many templates and free solutions to set up websites and email accounts that these people can use if we just show it to them. You raise an valid concern about finding the right volunteer projects that are legit. Throughout my trip, I will be reviewing and sharing my experiences.

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