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On a Shoestring — México

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Traveling in México is not as inexpensive as it once was. Indeed, budget travelers, arriving from other places in Latin America, especially Central America, expecting the same low prices, often experience sticker shock. Still, budget travel is still possible in México.

Staying only in modest hotels and eating exlusively in inexpensive restaurants, budget travelers can get by on USD$30-60 a day. Getting by on less is still feasible, but it takes real effort, staying only in hostels, shopping in markets and eating in often, only eating out at food stalls, street vendors, and the most inexpensive restaurants.

Traveling during the off-season when most hotels, airlines, and many tourism dependent businesses offer steep discounts is the easiest way to cut costs. The high season varies depending on location, but generally speaking, peak travel times are the Summer months of July and August, a couple of weeks before and after Christmas, and Easter. (See When to go for information on the best time to travel.)

Use local buses to get around instead of more expensive taxis. Taxis are not that expensive in México; nevertheless, using them regularly can be costly.

Rental cars start at around Mex$500 a day and go up from there. If possible, share the cost with other travelers.

For long distance travel in México, if you have the time, take a bus instead of flying. This is a great way to save money and to get a feel for the landscape and people.

Drinking a lot at bars and clubs can be expensive. If you really feel like having a night on the town and getting a buzz but don't want to spend a lot of money, buy your alcohol of choice at a supermarket or package store, partake of it before going out, and then have only one or two drinks at the bar or club.

Wash laundry in bathroom sink, don't pay to have it done. Be advised that some hotels, especially those with shared bathrooms, explicitly prohibit this.

There are several ID cards available to students, anyone under 26 of age, and teachers, which entitles them to discounts on air, bus, and rail fares and at museums, theaters, and other attractions.

The International Student ID Card (ISIC) is the most widely accepted student ID around the world. Cardholders must be in school full-time and at least 12 years old. For US cardholders, the card provides emergency medical coverage while they're abroad. The International Youth Travel Card (IYTC) is available to anyone 26 and the International Teacher Identity Card (ITIC) is available to any full-time teaching professional. Each of these cards costs USD$22 and is available from travel agencies catering to students. For more information, including a list of local offices where the cards can be purchased and and contact numbers, see the ISIC website at www.isic.org.

The International Student Exchange Card (ISE) (USD$25) offers similar discounts and benefits and is available to students, teachers, and anyone between the age of 12-26. For more information, including a list of local offices where the cards can be purchased and and contact numbers, see the ISE website at www.isecard.com.

In lieu of an ISIC or ISIE card, a school or university photo ID is sometimes sufficient — but don't count on it.

Several travel agencies specialize in discount flights, specials, tours, rail passes, accommodations, vacation packages, and tours for students and young adults. They're also a good place to buy travel insurance and international student ID cards. Don't automatically assume their prices are the lowest available; always compare their quotes against the prices available from the discount travel search and airline websites.

www.statravel.com With over 450 branches, STA Travel is the largest student travel agency in the world. In the US call 1-800-781-4040 toll-free, in the UK call 0871 230 0040. Check website for local contact information.
www.travelcuts.com Travel Cuts has offices in Canada and the US, along with student and youth travel affiliates and partners worldwide. In Canada call 1-866-246-9762 toll-free, in the US call 1-800-592-2887 toll-free. Check website for local contact information.
www.usit.ie USIT has offices across the Republic of Ireland, an office in Belfast (Call Center number 01 602 1906), and an office in Sydney, Australia (1 800 092 499). Check website for local contact information.
www.studentuniverse.com Student Universe is a discount travel website that searches dozens of major airlines for student, teacher, and young adult discounts. To receive discount fares, passengers will need to verify their status as a student/teacher or their age (18-25).

There are great deals on excellent Méxican food to be found from street vendors and food stalls. Don't be afraid of sampling it, just be discerning. Keep in mind Méxicans are extremely conscious of health and sanitation. Follow the wisdom of Méxican crowds, choose the busiest establishments, they're the ones with the safest and tastiest food.

For those staying in hostels and renting apartments with kitchen and dining area, eating in is another excellent to save money given the low cost of raw food at outdoor markets and supermarkets.

The cost of eating out two, three, times a day adds up quickly and prices at cafés and restaurants vary widely. To help locate budget eateries fast, all cafés and restaurants where a meal can be had for less than Mex$50 are listed and organized by neighborhood.

Many museums and other cultural sights are free on Sundays. When fee information for a sight is available it is listed.

In México hotels charge a base rate for one adult in a room. For each additional person only a few more pesos is charged. By traveling or joining up with other reliable travelers, the cost per person will be much less than for a solo traveler.

Some hotels offer reduced weekly or monthly rates for long-term stays. Even if long-term rates are not posted, inquire about a reduced rate for stays of a week or more. Also consider renting an apartment or a house. Most rental terms are for a month or more, although some places will rent for as little as a week.

And hostels are a great way to get a bed for the night for under Mex$100.

Homestays, living with a Méxican family, are great way for Spanish students to save money and improve their language skill quickly. Prices vary, but they usually cost around Mex$150-200 for a private room and 1-2 meals a day. Most Spanish language schools will help their students find a homestay.

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