How I Lived for 3 Months on $450

In the summer of 1997 I had a plan to travel to Guatemala and teach English.  Between the time I booked my flight and my departure date I did an extremely poor job of managing my money and only had $450 left.  It probably would have been smarter to change the flight date but I just decided that somehow I would get by on what I had.

After arriving in Guatemala I had to take a 10 minute,$5 taxi ride and 4 hour,$4 bus ride to get to my destination.  Since my return flight wasn’t for 3 months I knew I needed to find some cheap accomodations.  I had a page with a map and a list of several cheap hotels that I had photocopied out of a travel book.  That night I couldn’t find any of them though and ended up having to get a $20 motel room. That might seem cheap but it was expensive considering how little money I had.

Luckily the next day I realized that my tired mind hadn’t been reading the map correctly and once I read the map correctly I was easily able to find my cheap accommodations.  My new hotel was only $4 a night and was pretty nice for the price. My room was small and just had a bed and a chair but it was very clean.  The bathroom was down the hall but also very clean.  It did take a little while to figure out the electric shower though.

Now that I had my accommodations taken care of I set out looking for work and a more permanent place to live.  A talk with the bartender at the nearby where all the foreigners hung out gave me leads on both.

I got an apartment the next day at a place that was set up for long term visitors to Guatemala.  I had my own bedroom and there was a communal kitchen, living room and bathrooms.  The rent came out to about $90 a month and included drinking water and utilities.  This turned out to be a great place to live and I got to meet people from several different countries.  At the time I moved in there were 2 other Americans, 1 Swedish girl, and 1 Israeli girl living there.  People of a few more nationalities moved in and out during the time I lived there.

I also managed to land a job teaching English.  The job was basically just for the experience.  My pay was about $1.50 an hour and I worked at most 10 hours in a week. The money didn’t add up to much but every little bit helped.  I really enjoyed teaching my class but learned that individual tutoring is not my thing.

Once I had the apartment my other major expense was food.  This wasn’t much of a problem because food was very cheap there.  At the time they didn’t have any American fast food restaurants and that kept me from going out to eat too often.  I did occasionally eat at a local Guatemalan restaurant or their fast food restaurant Pollo Campero. Most of my food was prepared at home though since my budget was so tight.  There was one supermarket close by and a larger supermarket and a couple of open-air markets within reasonable walking distance.  The combination of preparing my own food and walking every where led to my losing 10 pounds a month without trying.

My final month there my mother was kind enough to loan me $200 (I paid her back)so I could travel around the country.  It would have been a shame to have been in the country that long and only seen one area.  I got to travel to a beach town on the Pacific and a beach town on the Caribbean the same week.  I also got to see Chichicastenango, Panajachel, and some other towns.

The travel on the “chicken buses” was quite an experience itself.  The chicken buses are old school buses which have been converted to hold even more seats and they are jam packed with people.    On one trip an indigenous woman next to me was carrying a turkey and the bus was so packed that the bird was squished up against my arm.  I guess that one should have been called a turkey bus.  Often I was the only non-hispanic on the bus.  If my Guatemalan girlfriend wouldn’t have traveled with me I’m not sure if I would have braved the chicken buses.

My time in Guatemala was one of the best experiences in my life and it was also the cheapest I have ever lived.