Tips for Shoestring Travel
Last updated: Jun 14, 2015
If you’re traveling on a shoestring budget, follow our wallet-friendly tips to save money on your next Costa Rica vacation.
- Travel during off-peak periods; the green season is Costa Rica’s low tourism period that coincides with North America’s summer. From May-November you can expect sunny mornings, afternoon rain showers, and lots of lush, green scenery. Take advantage of deep discounts from hotels and tour operators, generally in the neighborhood of 10-40% off their high-season (December-April) rates.
- Travel light – most airlines are charging for checked luggage these days (some even for carry-on bags), so remember to pack lightly and don't use oversized bags whenever possible. Keep in mind that you can get almost everything you purchase back home while in Costa Rica, but at slightly higher prices due to taxes.
- Try to book your flight during weekdays for cheaper fares; connecting flights are almost cheaper than nonstop routes. If you can pack extra light with just a carry-on, considering using a courier company – they’ll pay for your ticket while sending their goods in your luggage space. During peak travel seasons, airlines often overbook their flights and look for volunteers to “get bumped.” Volunteers receive a ticket on the next departing flight as well as a voucher for up to $500! When possible, book your tickets as early as possible; most airlines offer cheap tickets for travelers who purchase at least a month in advance.
- Accommodation costs are a prime concern when you travel. Costa Rica has myriad backpacker hostels throughout the country. In addition to a relaxed atmosphere, they offer cheap beds (from $4-$15), private and communal showers, kitchen facilities, clothes washing facilities, swimming pools, and access to low-cost tour operators. If you are staying in one particular destination for several days to a week, consider a vacation rental instead of a hostel or hotel. They are often more comfortable and may turn out to be more economical as well.
- Camping can be a fun and adventurous way to extend your travel budget in Costa Rica. Some hostels in Mal Pais/Santa Teresa, Montezuma, Playa Samara and Brasilito have popular beachfront campsites with access to either indoor or outdoor facilities. Most camping facilities run $4-$10 per night, and generally include cold-water showers, restrooms, and basic facilities like sinks and BBQ pits.
- You won’t have any trouble eating on the cheap in Costa Rica; some of the country’s best food is found in tiny food stands or roadside diners called sodas, where the plate of the day costs $2-$4 and includes chicken or fish, rice and a vegetable side. Another option is to prepare your own food while traveling; visit the local market (often an exciting experience in itself) and try whipping up some local dishes in your hostel’s kitchen.
- Avoid taxis and opt for public transportation – Costa Rica’s public bus system is cheap, reliable and extensive. All domestic bus rides cost less than $15, and most hover in the $3-$8 range each way. Keep in mind that traveling by bus takes longer than by car or plane, so budget your time wisely.
- Some attractions like museums and parks have discounts for seniors, children or students. Remember to take your ID and membership cards (i.e. AAA card) when you’re traveling within Costa Rica. You can expect to spend $35-45 a day, including lodging, transportation and meals. Some days, you may get away with less, but it’s always best to pad the budget in case of unexpected expenses.
- Find barter work or volunteer; with some networking and online research you might discover a position that gives you accommodations and food in exchange for a few hours of work each day. Begin with the hostel where you’re staying and ask around. Working ranches, sustainable farms, butterfly gardens, private reserves and even local hotels offer such opportunities.
- Above all, make friends with the locals! Costa Ricans, or Ticos, will know the best places to eat on a budget, the fastest ways to travel on a dime, and may even extend their hospitality by showing you around. You’ll be amazed by their warmth and friendliness and you'll make some new friends in the process.