Browsing Posts in Destination reports

Puerto Escondido

There are cheaper places to sit on a beach in the Americas than Mexico, but it can still be a great value one country down from the USA. Many travelers visit one of the big resort areas and presume that’s how much things cost throughout the country. Those are oddities though, bubble places full of foreign tourists who fly in for vacation, spend freely, and then fly back out.

I just spent five great days in Puerto Escondido. This is a town discovered by, and still very much filled with, surfers. That makes it different from Tulum, a place that was once full of backpackers but is now full of moneyed tourists trying to act like backpackers while spending big bucks for a designer yoga retreat with no electricity.

This has happened in other spots too to some extent, from Sayulita to Loreto to Zihuatanejo—all destinations the budget travelers latched onto first. Mexico has a lot of sandy coastline though and even if the government would like to turn every pretty bay into a mass market tourism destination, it’s not going to happen. There are just too many places even if the numbers doubled.

So don’t worry, if you ask around and do some research, you can still find a nice beach spot in Mexico where you can chill for a week on a reasonable amount of money. Here in Puerto Escondido, prices are geared to surfers, backpackers, and average Mexicans. As in double hotel rooms right across from the beach advertised for 400 pesos ($30) and hostel beds for 80 ($6.25). All over town there are 2-for-1 cocktails (“happy hour all day long”) and two beers for $2.30. Food at the beach restaurants is reasonable and if you head into the center, everything is just as cheap as it would be in any other town in Mexico. You can get a meal of the day or a plate of tacos for $3 and a kilo of fruit for a buck.

Carazilillo Beach

Apart from the seriously overpriced rates at the airport if you fly in from somewhere, taxis are far cheaper than in places like Cancun and Ixtapa. We went from Carrizalillo Beach where we’re staying to La Punta at the far end on the other side of town and it was about $3.25. All the other rides have been $2. We bought tickets in an express passenger van up the long and winding road to Oaxaca City and they were about $16 each for seven hours.

I’m here on vacation with my family, so we’re in a rental apartment that’s $100 a night with all the fees, a few minutes walk to Carrizalillo Beach pictured above. There are only three of us, but the place can sleep six and there’s a huge TV with cable, a swimming pool, hammocks, and a full kitchen. Like a lot of places here it’s not air-conditioned though, so it’s deathly hot in the afternoon. Don’t underestimate the heat at a Mexican beach at the end of July. Or how fast you’ll get sunburned.

Carazilillo Puerto Escondido

We’ve tried to stay in the shade much of the time on the beach by renting chairs and umbrellas from one of the restaurants. The thing is, you don’t really have to rent them as long as you order something to eat and drink from the accompanying restaurant. They say 100 pesos each (about $7.80) but they’re pretty low-key about it and you can hang out there the entire day. If you want to gorge on seafood you can spend a lot, but you don’t have to: beers are two bucks and a plate of fish tacos about $5. With a gorgeous view of the water and surfers or learning surfers. But of course you can just plop on a sarong or towel for nothing. Bring a cooler if you want.

I’ve been buying a good cup of coffee in the morning for $1.60 and really good gelato from Italian immigrants for $2 or so a pop. Overall the prices here are pretty similar to what you find in central Mexico where I live, which means they’re a great value.

I’m off to Oaxaca City after this and between the mole, mezcal, and Monte Alban it might be a while before my next post, but I’ll be back with a report on that place then.

cost of living in Hungary

Hungary is not super cheap in every way, but the destination is a good value for people who want to live a good life for less in Europe. Anyone moving to Budapest from a similarly sized city in Europe, North America, or Australia can easily cut their expenses in half. And the rest of the country costs less.

Estimates of how many expatriates live here range from 30,000 to 50,000 and there are enough in Budapest to support a business newspaper in English. So you won’t be all alone if you choose to move here.

Gary Lukatch was earning around $60,000 gross in New Mexico working in the financial industry, after having lived in a lot of other states before that. “When I moved to Budapest and began teaching English, my monthly net earnings after one year were around $600 per month, increasing to around $1,500 per month after, say, five years,” he says. “In short, I took a huge pay cut, but was 1000% happier.”

After teaching English in Budapest for eight years, he is retired, living a much better life than he could elsewhere on what he has to spend. “The cost of monthly house payments or rental, plus car costs alone, would be more than my monthly income, which is around $2,100 net,” he explains. “Here in Budapest, my monthly flat rental, plus utilities, averages around $400, right in the middle of town.” He says public transportation is excellent, so he doesn’t need a car. “I eat out several times a week and I still have enough money to travel wherever and whenever I want; I have now been to 53 countries, with at least five more trips scheduled this year.”

Australians Karen and Neil D. came to Budapest because her husband got a job offer in his industry and they thought it would be a great adventure. They had already lived in Poland and the Czech Republic though, so they and the four kids didn’t have to make a huge adjustment going to Hungary. “Hungary has been the cheapest of the three,” Karen says. They’ve watched the city get easier and easier as the years have gone by, partly through them adjusting but also because the level of English fluency locally has gotten steadily better.

Hungary joined the EU in 2004, but the country still uses the forint, which is a volatile currency. Prices quoted here are based on 220 to the dollar, but I’ve seen it as low as 198 and as high as 250. So check the current rate before cursing my name when you read this because prices have changed.

Eger

Eger, Hungary

The countryside of Hungary is very cheap, but few expats live in the rural areas unless they’re in the wine industry. Most choose to live in Budapest, around Lake Balaton, or in one of the smaller cities like Eger or Pecs.

Hungary got hit hard in the European economic crisis like many other nations on the continent, but has recovered faster. The official unemployment rate was 8% in mid-2014, which looks downright glorious compared to Italy, Spain, Greece, or Portugal. In many ways, this feels like a nation on the rise and the young are displaying something not seen much in the past couple hundred years of Hungary’s history: optimism.

Housing Costs in Hungary

housing costs BudapestThe residents of Hungary give their rent costs in hundreds, not thousands, and you won’t find many single people or couples paying more than $500 a month, even in the capital. When you get into smaller towns, you can get a large house for that. When I was last in Budapest, I asked several locals I talked to what they were paying per month for an apartment and the answers came in between $150 and $300. In the southern wine region I visited on my first trip a few years earlier, there were houses with a nice garden going for the same. I met an expat from New Zealand working for a winery by Lake Balaton. He was paying $210 a month for his two-bedroom apartment with a lake-view balcony.

The site Numbeo.com uses New York City for a price basis and compares costs of living around the world to that, using 100 as the NYC average. For rent prices, Hungary comes up a 10 and Budapest is 12. This will vary greatly by location, of course, but on average you can expect to pay 1/8 to 1/10 of what you would in your current situation if you’re living in New York.

Gary pays a shade under $300 for his apartment in District 5, one of the most desirable and central areas of the city. (If you’ve come to Hungary as a tourist, you’ve been there to see the sites.)

If you decide to buy something eventually, which you can do freely as a foreigner, “a typical apartment in Budapest will cost between 90,000 and 130,000 euros for 100 square meters.” Karen says. It’s a buyers market right now for a very bad reason: a lot of Hungarians took out loans to buy property in the pre-EU days and did it in Swiss Francs because that was a stable currency. Now they owe far more than what the property is worth because of the Swiss Franc’s rise. “So there’s a mass selling of properties because of exchange rate changes,” Karen says. Combined with the high unemployment so prevalent in much of Europe now, there are far more sellers than buyers.

Health Care Costs

In this country the medical care is good, the dental care is great. With the rise of cross-border medical treatment happening in many places in the world, Hungary has jumped on the trend with both feet. Many Europeans come here to have dental work done or to receive good medical care at a discount. I was actually having some dental problems while in this part of the world two years ago and started asking around for prices to get a new crown. I ended up not getting it done because of timing, but prices I was quoted ranged from $250 to $350 all-in. (In the United States, this can easily top $1,000.)

Getting a cleaning and check-up at the dentist is around $30, getting a set of x-rays about that much again.

The one time Gary had to have serious medical work done, the total bill was about 1/10 the price of what it would have been in the USA.

Budapest market

Food & Drink

you can normally have a very fine cloth-napkin dinner with wine for $15. If you eat at more humble places, a soup will be a dollar or two and main dishes range from $3 to $7.

When you shop in the market, prices are at the low end for Europe. You can get rolls for 10-25 cents each or a huge baguette for a dollar or less. Get 100 grams (around 1/5 of a pound) of good cheese for a dollar, 100 grams of good local sausage for $2, and a jar of pickled veggies for another dollar or so.

For a buck or less, you can generally buy 100 grams of any of these things in the market: raisins, peanuts, sunflower seeds, banana chips, or dried apricots. Or you can get a kilo of seasonal fruit or peppers, cabbage, potatoes, radishes, or carrots. I saw a big bunch of white asparagus for about a dollar when I was there. How much do you pay for that in your local Whole Foods?

“We probably spend $80-$100 a week on groceries, not including wine,” says Karen. “In Australia we could spend $300 or $400 a week easily.”

Hungarian wineHungarian wine should be known around the world, but the Soviet occupation days seriously hurt its reputation and the recovery will be a long one. So for now it’s one of the best quality-to-price values in the world. In many countries, expats complain about the difficulty of getting decent wine for a decent price, so if that’s a big priority, put Hungary on your list. (Along with Argentina and tropical duty-free Panama). You can find a decent table wine bottle in a store for $2, something quite good for $4 to $8. If you spend over $10 you might end up with something from a “winemaker of the year” who has adorned Hungarian magazine covers.

This once being part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, you can get a killer coffee and pastry here just as you can in Vienna—but for literally 1/4 the price. After you do a double-take at your low bill in a wine bar, finish with a coffee and dessert for another nice surprise.

Transportation Costs

Getting around Hungary is relatively cheap by bus or train when you want to get out of town. Figure on $10-$12 for a trip of two hours, or $30 to go as far as you can possibly go within Hungary. Seniors and young children travel free. The longest ride on the suburban railway out of Budapest (30 kms) is just $2.50.

Hungary travel by train

Budapest has a metro and while it’s no real bargain on a ride-by-ride basis (around $1.55), a monthly pass that also works for the trams and buses is a good value at less than $50. If you’re of retirement age, you might squeak by for free.

Apart from the ride from the airport, taxis in Hungary are a bargain. In general you can get around the center of Budapest in a cab for $3 to $7. It’s around $2 to start and $1.25 for each kilometer, so it’s hard to spend $10 anywhere unless it’s a long haul. Like much of Europe, this country is set up well for those on a bicycle and some expatriates use a bike as their main means of transport. In Budapest there are lots of dedicated bike lanes and in the countryside there’s not nearly such an abundance of cars as you see in the capital.

Frequent promotions on the train system and Eurolines bus make international travel from here a bargain. If you plan ahead you can get to Vietnna for less than $20 or to beach locations of Greece, Bulgaria, or Croatia for around $60.

Other Costs

If you pay your own utilities they can vary greatly by the season. His utilities vary widely, from $30 to $200 a month. “My place is not the best insulated in town, so I pay more in the winter for heat. In the summer, it’s very low.” Internet is $15 to $30 depending on speed and if you want a great connection, you can usually get it in the cities. The lowest-priced speed is generally 5 mbps, which is fine for a lot of people.

The land of Liszt and Bartok has an abundance of cultural performances going on at all times, from high-brow opera in the capital to an annual festival of wine songs in the south each year. Performances that aren’t free are very cheap by European standards. “The theater is amazing here,” says Karen. “The cost of going to a ballet or opera can nearly bankrupt you in Australia. Here it’s for everyone. Tickets usually start at $5. If you buy really great seats on a weekend for a popular show it might cost you all of $25.”

Budapest coffee pastry

Visas in Hungary

Hungary is part of the Schengen Agreement covering much of the European Union, which means you can’t just stick around here on a tourist visa. You get three months upon entering the zone, but after that you have to leave the whole Schengen area for three months before returning. No problem if you’re only coming for the summer. Terrible if you want to settle down for longer.

To get residency without being tied to a specific employer, you generally have to show you’re doing work a local can’t do, like teaching English, or you have to show that you’re self-supported by income from abroad. You can see a sample of costs and documents needed at this site, which also warns you that requirements may change at any time: http://washington.kormany.hu/entry-for-long-stay

A work visa is good for a year and renewable. Expect to endure a lot of bureaucracy and if you don’t have a college diploma, it’s going to be even tougher. You will have to apply in your own country and will then have 30 days after entering Hungary to get the local paperwork sorted out.

Most people who want to stick around either get a work permit connected to a specific job and company, or a residence permit that’s not tied to one employer. “Americans can only get residency for two years,” says Gary, “then they have to renew.” He’s now looking into permanent residency though, which you can apply for after being in the country for three years. This costs money for a lawyer and requires a lot of additional paperwork. Most of the items need to be translated into Hungarian as well, plus you have to show proof of health insurance or buy into the Hungarian health care plan..

Do you have Hungarian blood? If so, you could be on the fast track to residency. If you have ancestral roots in the country, you can get real citizenship without giving up your original one, making you one of those enviable people with two passports. You have to speak Hungarian, but you can take intensive language courses while you’re living there and collecting paperwork. This is a back door into the EU, which would give you the ability to live elsewhere too.

Hungarian

I wouldn’t count on it…

Downsides

The political winds are blowing strongly to the right as I put this book together, with overt racism, anti-Semitism, and discrimination against minorities all rearing their ugly heads on a regular basis.

Hungarian is an especially tough language to crack, but you’ll often need at least some basics when you get outside the capital.

This is an excerpt from the upcoming book A Better Life for Half the Price, about cutting your expenses in half by moving abroad. Sign up here for updates and release notes.

Taiwan travel story

(c) Rich J. Matheson

With that title you probably know…it’s time for a new collection of the best travel stories on the web. The July issue of Perceptive Travel is out now and we go wandering in pursuit of some strange angles.

Luke Armstrong is back with another tale from his adopted home of Guatemala, following a naturalist with exploration in his blood who is looking for a rare butterfly first discovered by his great-grandfather.

Guatemala travel story

Steven Crook, author of several books on Taiwan, takes us deep into Blood Rites in a Taiwanese Temple.

Carolyn Heller returns this month, fresh off her award from the Travel Media Association of Canada for a previous story on northern Ontario. This time she looks at isolation of a different kind while encountering a North Korea soldier on the border with China. See One Step Across.

William Caverlee checks out a few soul-searching travel books from Frances Mayes, Donna Leon, and Esther Woolfson. Graham Reid covers new world music albums from around the globe, including a great collection of Indian classical music and the return of Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars.

STM laptop bag for travelWe give away something cool each month to a Perceptive Travel subscriber/follower who is paying attention and last month two readers scored. They each got gift certificates to go shopping at the Samsonite USA website for a new suitcase or a daypack. Speaking of something to take on your next trip, this time one lucky reader will get this nice $140 value Drifter Pack from STM Bags. I’ve been using one of these myself lately and it has become my go-to daypack when I need to travel with my laptop and have loads of pockets for other gadgets.

If you’re already on our newsletter list, then just watch your inbox and check the bulk folder if the address is not in your approved list. If not and you want to get in on this month’s, just go follow Perceptive Travel on Facebook and watch for the announcements that will run a few times in July.

 

Ecuador prices

As I write this I’m in Quito for the fourth time. Every time I’m amazed by how cheap some things are, partly because the prices have barely budged since I first started taking notes in 2009.

dollar bag of applesThey use the U.S. dollar here, so there are no mental calculations to do and no currency fluctuations. When the government made that rash decision at the beginning of the 00s, it was done to tame inflation. Mission accomplished on that front.

Sure, some things go up. As I’ve mentioned before, alcohol. But that’s from massive taxes, not inflation. Fuel will go up eventually when subsidies get rolled back, starting in 2016. Meanwhile, you can get a taxi ride for $2-$6.

I’m posting same random photos I took this week while walking around the historic center of Quito. I arrived around lunchtime and was starving, so I popped into the first meal of the day place I came across. I got a bowl of soup with rice, veggies, and beef. Next was a big plate with chicken, rice, potatoes, and a salad. A glass of juice and a banana came with it. The bill was $2.35.

Later I stopped in a place that had a microbrew on draft—a real novelty in most of Latin America still—and met a couple from Florida who owned an apartment nearby. They don’t live here all year, but they come down regularly. “We bought it on a lark really. It was around $30,000, so we figured there wasn’t much downside to that deal. We put about $20K into it over four years getting it ready. Now it’s quite nice.” They’re walking distance to where I was, which was about two blocks from the Plaza Grande.

Ecuador prices

Quito is a city where you still see apartments (or even whole houses) for sale for less than $50K and decent places to rent for less than $300. Oddly enough, Cuenca costs more than the capital these days for the non-exclusive places because the average income is higher—not just because of the 5,000 or so gringos, but because a lot of wealthy Ecuadorans have moved back from abroad and settled there for a more mellow life.

Get beyond these two cities and (not so desirable) Guayaquil, however, and living expenses are almost sure to be even less. Riobamba, Vilcabamba, Cotacachi, or some chilled-out town in the Andes you find and decide to unpack for a while. There will be a lot more details in my book, A Better Life for Half the Price. Those who sign up for a more comprehensive, ongoing course structure will be hearing a lot about Ecuador. Get on the list for updates here.

yucatan Mexico

There may be a chance, because of how the travel industry conference circuit plays out, that I’ll be in Cancun three times this year. This turn of events is certainly not something I planned, wished for, or ever imagined. So for my TBEX blogger brethren who will soon be wondering how they ended up in a hotel zone that attracts four million tourists a year, here’s my advice: Go west young man/woman.

Tack on some time, because there are a lot of really cool places to see and interesting things to do in the rest of the Yucatan Peninsula, beyond the vacation factories. Here’s a story I’ve been meaning to write for years: The Other Side of the Yucatan.

This one’s a little more personal, with a little more reflection than what I usually write. That’s because the Yucatan has been deeply entwined in my life for the past 11 years. It was the first place we took my daughter after she got her first passport at three and we returned there again and again after buying a little beach house on the Gulf Coast near Merida. Each time we did a little more exploring, plus I’ve been back a few times on my own for writing trips. I could post a hundred photos from there, but I mostly just put up some Mayan ruins, a fun video of a horse-drawn train, and some memories of when my teenager was a cuddly little girl.

Borneo man

In this month’s issue of Perceptive Travel though, that’s just the start. My buddy Bruce Northam is back with a fun story about hanging with a real man in Borneo, the kind of man who does the things we used to do before we got so soft. He catches fish with his bare hands and cooks them up in bamboo tubes. He can whip up a shelter in the jungle in no time flat with a tarp and a machete. See Rent a Real Man in Borneo.

James Dorsey has met up with plenty of wild men himself in the stories of Perceptive Travel and this time he ends up on a baboon hunt with the Hadzabe tribesmen in Tanzania. There’s smoking, spearing, and passing around primate meat. See Last of the Bushmen in Tanzania.

As always, we check out some new travel books so you’ll know what’s worth reading and we review some new world music albums so you’ll know what’s worth downloading. (Oh, okay, what’s worth at least checking out on Spotify.)

We’re always helping our loyal readers gear up for their travels. Last month someone scored some nice $100 polarized sunglasses from Bolle. This month we’re giving away two, yes two gift certificates to buy whatever Samsonite luggage, messenger bag, or travel accessories you need. If you’re on our newsletter list, watch your inbox. That’s the best bet because as you’ve probably noticed, even if you follow Perceptive Travel on Facebook, you’re probably not seeing the feed. That social network has become a “pay to play” platform where fan pages don’t show up unless they’re paying. Sign up here to be sure you can enter.