A Profitable Vacation

hiking at red rock
I am back from my Vegas vacation and I had a great time. The picture is at Red Rock Canyon where I went hiking with some friends. The trip didn’t start off too well as I lost $200 playing poker the first day. The last couple of days I had a good comeback though. On Monday night I placed 4th in a no-limit hold’em tournament at the Sahara which paid $310. After deducting my entrance fee and dealer toke that left me with a profit of $250. I had won a little bit since losing the $200 so this left me at about a $100 up on gambling for the trip.

My best luck was on Tuesday when I was scheduled to leave. My flight was overbooked, I volunteered to be bumped and scored a $200 travel voucher. It would have been even more if I wasn’t already traveling on a reward ticket. This gave me several more hours in Vegas and I used it to play more poker. I ended up winning $90 playing $4-$8 Omaha H/L. My total of gambling winnings for the trip was $193. Combine that with the travel voucher and I made $393 during my vacation. My expenses(hotel,parking,taxi,bus,valet)were only $252 so it was a profitable vacation. It is too bad I can’t go on vacation all the time and make money.

Some Thoughts on Living Abroad

I'm thinking the special rate isn't a discount.
I'm thinking the special rate isn't a discount.

Based on my past experience living in Guatemala for three months I have long thought that living in a foreign country would be a good way to live cheaply. This would allow you to live on a small retirement income or perhaps allow you to take an extended amount of time off each year. After my recent trip through Central America I have some more thoughts on this subject.

It is true that you can live on less in Central America. My experience in Guatemala though was that you usually would also have a lower standard of living than in the U.S. While trying to find a private apartment in Guatemala the only ones that I considered acceptable cost almost as much as I would pay here in Kansas City.

Since I am able to have a comfortable lifestyle here in the U.S. for about a $1000 a month it is difficult to save much money by living elsewhere. I often see ads for books or guides on how you can live in a foreign country for as little as $1000 a month which wouldn’t be a savings for me. That would only be a good deal for me if I had a better standard of living there or at least a different but similar standard of living.

One of my problems was that the places I was looking at were targeted towards foreigners and were priced accordingly. Generally, any goods or services in a foreign country that are being marketed to gringos will come with a gringo price tag. If I would have spent some more time searching for an apartment I probably could have found a better deal on a place that wasn’t being marketed for foreigners. This just takes more time and some knowledge of the area you would be living in would be helpful.

I still think that someday I will be living in Central America at least part of the year. This won’t be because it is cheap but because I like it there. My recommendation to anyone who is thinking of living abroad is not to live somewhere just because it is cheap. If you can find a place that is cheap and it is an area you want to live in as well then you have found a good combination.

Central American Food

The wine selection at Rey supermarket in Panama.
The wine selection at Rey supermarket in Panama.

The typical Central American meal consists of a piece of meat (usually chicken), rice, beans, and some corn tortillas. In Guatemala they seem to like refried black beans while the other countries just had regular black beans. Although I like this meal fine – other than the corn tortillas – I don’t find it too interesting so I usually ate at fast food restaurants or when staying at a hostel cooked my own meals.

American fast food place are common in the larger cities in Central America. The cost is only slightly cheaper than in the United States. Given that the average income is only about $500 I’m not sure how they can afford to eat in these restaurants but they are usually very busy. I suppose I’m seeing the richer people at the fast food places. I’m also pretty sure that people in Central America spend a much larger percentage of their income on food than here in the United States.

There are also some Central American fast food chains that I tried. They were Pollo Campero, Biggest, and Pio Pio. Pollo Campero makes chicken that is just as greasy and salty as KFC. Their breakfast of eggs with salsa and a side of refried black beans with tortilla chips was pretty good too. They also serve pizza although I didn’t try that. They have locations throughout Central America.

Biggest is an El Salvador fast food chain. They have burgers and chicken. The burger I had wasn’t too great. The meat in burgers in Central America tastes different. The prices were about the same as a U.S fast food place. El Salvador uses the American dollar as their currency so it is easy to compare prices.

Pio Pio is a fast food chain in Panama. They serve chicken. Almost all restaurants in Central America serve chicken. Even McDonalds, Wendys, and Burger King have fried chicken on the menu in Central America. I only had chicken nuggets at Pio Pio and they were not the best. On the plus side my combo meal was only $2.40. Panama also uses the American dollar as their currency making it easy to compare prices.

The cities I visited in Central America had supermarkets that were about the same as you would find in the U.S. This isn’t too surprising since Wal-Mart owns many of them. People there do lots of their shopping at the street markets though so the supermarkets have smaller produce sections. The street markets are much more interesting than the supermarkets but I didn’t do any shopping at them during this trip. The street markets are usually cheaper than the supermarket even if you pay a special gringo price.

There are probably some regional foods that I didn’t find. If I visit again I will have to make it a point to visit more of the local restaurants.

Central America Trip Overview

central america 011 This post is a quick overview of the trip I took through Central America this month. I’ll have more posts that address specific issues over the next week or two. There will also be some PF type posts so you hopefully won’t get too bored with the travel posts.

I spent the first two weeks of my trip in Xela, Guatemala. After flying into Guatemala City I took a taxi straight to the bus station and then took a bus to Xela. I’ve always found it kind of funny that the ten minute taxi ride from the airport to the bus station costs about twice as much as the the 4 1/2 hour bus ride to Xela. The cost of a first-class bus ticket was about $8. The buses are about the same as Greyhound but more pleasant to ride on then Greyhound so I consider this a good deal.

Once in Xela I got myself a $4 a night hotel room. This hotel was $4 when I first stayed there in 1997 and it is still $4 now. It is nice to see that some things aren’t affected by inflation. A $4 room is very basic and you have a shared bathroom but at this hotel the rooms are clean and I couldn’t really expect much more for $4.

My next task was to find somewhere to stay long term. There are plenty of places available that will rent to you on a long term basis. My first option was Casa International but it was booked up so I had to find a different place to stay. I would have preferred to stay at CI since I had stayed there before and liked it and it was only $85 a month but you can’t reserve a room so you have to take your chances when you show up.

I ended up getting a room in the Don Diego Hostel for about $100 a month. This is a decent hostel and it is located fairly close to Parque Central so I was ok with the price. I could have saved some money by staying with a local family but I prefer to have more privacy than that. There were also nicer places that would have cost more as well as other similar places with similar prices. If I would have searched more I probably could have found a slightly better deal. I was more interested in getting settled than finding the absolute best deal though.

After my first two weeks I decided I wanted to travel more and took the Tica Bus from Guatemala City, Guatemala to Panama City, Panama. The trip took three days with one overnight stop in El Salvador. I’ll write a separate post about my bus experience.

The trip concluded with a one week stay in Panama City, Panama. I was going to take the Tica Bus back from Panama to Guatemala but I was able to change my airfare at a low cost in Panama so I decided to return home from there. I’ll also write more about Panama in a separate post.

I did enjoy my trip in general. It would have been better if I would have just planned on it being a shorter trip in the first place. One thing I did learn from this trip is my tolerance for being uncomfortable is less than it was 10 years ago. I will have to consider that when I plan my next trip.

I’m Back

I arrived back in KC last night. Now that I am home again I should get back to posting more frequently here. I haven’t been too inspired to write lately but I will at least write a little about my trip.

Now that my travels are over I just have to figure out a plan for what to do for the future.