A family vacation in Mexico can be pricey, but there are many ways to save money and not blow your budget. Compared to other Caribbean destinations, Mexico is a good value. So if you’re looking for an affordable and tropical spring break trip, Mexico’s beautiful beaches, rich history, and an interesting culture should be on your radar. Here are seven ways to save money during a family vacation in Mexico.
A Mexico Family Vacation on a Budget
We didn’t have much money in the budget for a beach vacation this winter. If we were going to go, we were really going to have to watch our spending. Cancun proved to be a budget-friendly option.
As with all beach vacations, the two things that typically cost the most are airfares and hotels. Finding good airfares is always tricky and time-consuming, so I read TravelingMom Dia Adams’s story on how to find cheap airfares. It had some great tips. My strategy? Watch the fares for a few weeks, and when there’s a good one, POUNCE. No hemming and hawing. Because the fares can change dramatically within the course of 10 minutes (it’s happened to me, and I was MAD).
Here are seven ways my family saved money during our five-night stay in Cancun:
1. Rent a condo rather than getting adjoining hotel rooms
Our family of four got a 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom condo in Cancun. We had tons of space – a full-kitchen, a living and dining room, and a large balcony facing the ocean – for $380/night, including taxes and fees. That’s far less than we’d have paid for two small hotel rooms during peak season, and it would have been a fraction of the space. For us, space equals peace when it comes to family travel.
We rented from Vacatia.com. I like them because they are ALL about customer service, which is why I prefer them to VRBO or Airbnb. Their prices are competitive and most of their Mexican properties are within large resorts. That means you get free use of the resort’s amenities with your condo rental. Vacatia also checks in with you during your trip to make sure everything is meeting your expectations. If not, they will relocate you immediately.
2. Don’t eat breakfast out
For a family of four, it’s easy to drop $80 on breakfast each morning (even more if you go to one of those pricey breakfast buffets). Breakfast is the easiest meal to handle yourselves, so eat in! From home, we bring along packages of oatmeal, tea bags, pop tarts, a bag of mini bagels and one box of cereal that everyone likes. We buy milk and a few bananas at the resort. It literally saves us hundreds of dollars. We dined on our balcony facing the ocean each morning, wearing our PJs.
3. Assess whether an all-inclusive is worth it
You can’t beat the convenience of an all-inclusive. No researching and mapping your restaurant meals and activities. But they’re not always a great value, and the food can be “meh.” My husband doesn’t drink and we’re both trying to eat healthy these days. So an all-inclusive is a waste of money for us (not to mention, a likely weight gain). Plus, we mostly chill on beach vacations and don’t participate in many organized activities at all-inclusives, so that’s another unused service. On the other hand, if you have a family of noshers who like to eat throughout the day, or who enjoy lots of organized activities, or if you like to drink cocktails by the pool all day, it’s a good value and will save you a bundle.
4. Get foreign currency from an ATM
Check with your bank in advance, but often, you’ll get a better rate getting foreign currency from an ATM in Mexico. The rate is certainly better than airport currency exchanges, which often charge a hefty transaction fee. My bank (a credit union) didn’t even charge a fee for withdrawing from the ATM, and I got an 18:1 rate for Mexican Pesos, rather than a 12:1 the hotel was offering, or the 13:1 the bank across the street was offering.
Also – and this is important – make sure your credit card does not charge foreign transaction fees. Otherwise, you get charged a few bucks every time you use your credit card.
5. Make the most of free activities
Organized tours to Mayan ruins and adventure parks are great, but they are expensive. We chose just one (ziplining and seeing the cenotes, which I highly recommend!) and spent the rest of our five-day stay making the most of the free activities at our resort – pool, beach, bicycle rentals, organized beach volleyball games and ping pong. Many other resorts have things like free kayaks and tennis. We also pack a travel Yahtzee game, for late night family tournament. You often have the most quality family time doing inexpensive things! I wrote about “what kids remember” from vacations, and believe it or not, the Yahtzee is more memorable than the ziplining.
6. Try to eat out only once a day, but make it a big meal
Restaurants in Mexican resort towns areas are often overpriced. Even at a dive bar called Blue Gecko Cantina, tacos were $7 each. Worth it, because they were delicious (go there!). But it’s an example of how quickly costs can add up even at seemingly cheap restaurants. If you have a condo with a kitchen, you have more budget-friendly options. We bring from home a few Boboli pizza crusts and a can of pizza sauce (make sure it’s less than 3 ounces if you’re not checking a bag!). Then we make a quick run to the store for cheese, bread and maybe a few vegetables. You’ll eat less, eat healthier, and save money. Plus, it’s fun to shop at a foreign grocery store and try unique local brands and foods. Even if you’re just in a regular hotel room, a few snacks – like microwave popcorn or granola bars – can sometimes tide you over until your big meal out.
7. Don’t overpack
Come on, you can get your stuff into one roller bag! What do you really need besides a bathing suit, flip flops and a phone charger? Fewer, smaller bags means no airline baggage checking fees, and smaller bellhop and taxi tips.