I’ve hesitated to write this article because budgeting is based on so many variables and is highly personal (and therefore subjective).
But since I ultimately decided to share our experience of how much it costs to overland through Mexico, I’ll include the disclaimers and leave you to draw the conclusions that apply to you.
I’m driven by the fact I would’ve loved to have this article as a resource when I was planning our trip. Both times we’ve traveled to Mexico as a couple, I had so little idea how much it would cost. We had to guess how much to budget and how many pesos to order from the bank. If I can save you some stress, then it’ll have been worth it.
Quick Trip Stats for Context
Map note: blue is southbound and purple is northbound.
Number of days in Mexico: 43 (7 weeks, 1 day)
Total miles traveled in Mexico: 2,093
People in our group: 3 (my husband Eric, myself, and our two-year-old son Caspian)
Bottom Line: Cost of Overlanding Mexico
The TL;DR version is we spent $4,428 on our credit card and $39,580 MX ($2,122 USD), for a total of $6,550. That equates to $152 USD per day for the three of us, all costs included from insurance down to bus fares.
We ordered $46,620 MX before crossing the border (just over $2,500 USD) and returned with $7,040 MX. At the time we entered Mexico, the exchange rate at our bank was $0.0536 USD to $1 MX.
Before you get shell shock at our total, a couple of notes for context. First and most importantly, we worked Monday through Friday every week we were in Mexico. We own a business and need reliable Internet to keep the Jeep wheels turning at this phase in our lives.
And frankly, we do enjoy cities. We lived like locals by renting Airbnb apartments in the centers of San Luis Potosí and Puebla, and near the center of San Miguel de Allende. You’ll see below that our costs for Airbnb and one hotel splurge made up 28% of our total spending.
If you plan to wild/free camp in Mexico, you can quickly delete our Airbnb costs from the total above, to arrive at a figure closer to what you can expect.
Expense Breakdown by Category
Total spent: $1686 MX + $60 USD = $148 USD
FMT: $1674 MX ($86.43 USD)
Decal: $60 USD
Copies: $12 MX ($0.60 USD)
A few things here. This list does not include the $400 USD we had to pay at the border for our TIP (vehicle pass). I didn’t include it because we got that money back when we returned to the United States.
You can pay for your TIP with cash or credit card. We chose cash because we got cash back in our hands before leaving Mexico. We’ve heard stories about credit card refund delays or issues–like if you lose your card while in Mexico. We’ve also heard experienced travelers say they’ve never had a problem paying on credit, and the refunds are quick. Your choice–but we were happy with ours.
The $60 decal was a surprise. Despite months of research, we never heard anything about it. It goes with your TIP and you don’t get it back when you leave the country.
The FMT charge was for our two personal visas. While you can get them in advance online, we got them in person at the border. It was quick and easy.
➡️ Keep reading: 450 Miles South of the U.S. Border
Total spent: $7814 MX ($406 USD)
We paid $19-20 MX/liter, which equates to $3.86 USD/gal. With 2,093 driven in Mexico, that works out to about $0.19 USD/mile.
Among the many horror stories we read before going to Mexico, one from a reputable source had to do with being cheated at the pump. This book we read advised to always pay in cash, stand outside with the attendant, and especially make sure the pump is zeroed out before pumping.
When we first crossed, we took all this pump-side advice. But by the end of our seven weeks, we were paying with credit whenever we could. We found gas attendants to be friendly and trustworthy. And because fuel was a main expense, we wanted to save our pesos.
Eric did continue to stand outside with the attendant and check on the pump throughout our trip. Also a good time to ask about the best taco stands in the area.
Right after we crossed the border, Mexico experienced a gas shortage. In some states, lines were hours long and the pumps ran completely dry. Fortunately, we confronted just a couple of longer lines. But to play it safe, we never let our tank go below half. We also kept our Titan fuel tank full (it holds 12 gallons).
Total spent: $787 USD
We sprung for vehicle insurance. The kind you can get on a site like Baja Bound satisfies Mexico’s legal requirements, but it only covers the other guy. At the time of our trip, we were literally living out of our Jeep. Everything that mattered to us was in it.
Our friends at Bumfuzzle recommended DeAnne Amancio at a small family-run agency in San Diego, called Rowcliffe’s Insurance. We got as strong a policy as we could. It covered vandalism, not just theft. That way, if someone damaged something on our Jeep but didn’t steal it, we would still have coverage.
In retrospect, I’m not sure we would get this level of coverage again. But with this being our first international overlanding trip, it gave us some peace of mind.
Total spent: $1951 MX + $3.50 USD = $106 USD
Take Mexico’s toll roads whenever you can. They’re safer, faster, and–most importantly–they provide the least wear and tear on your vehicle. Mexico’s toll roads even have the Angeles Verdes (Green Angels), mechanics who provide free services to anyone stranded along a toll road.
You’ll be able to spot toll roads by the “D” suffix after the highway number. And this toll calculator estimates the tolls you can expect to pay along your route in Mexico.
Total spent: $1,904 MX ($100 USD)
This is an expense that may not apply to you. After realizing taxis were usually cheaper than gas, we decided to park the Jeep during our stays in San Luis Potosí and Puebla.
Parking at a covered garage in SLP was $5.30/day USD, and open parking at a gated hotel in Puebla was about $4.80/day USD. (The hotel was next to Eric’s cousin’s house, and she helped arrange our parking there.)
As far as parking in a guarded city lot for a couple of hours, we usually paid about $50 MX ($2.60 USD).
Total spent: $3,925 MX ($206 USD)
Taking taxis in Mexico was one of our favorite experiences. In almost every city we stayed in, we became friends with a specific taxi driver, got his cell phone number (or became friends on Facebook), and called him personally whenever we needed a ride. Usually, he could be at our location within half an hour, or would send a trusted friend.
We didn’t do much haggling. In fact, we typically paid the requested fare and tipped generously. You’ve never seen such hard-working people–some of them working seven days a week to provide for their families.
Here are a couple of sample fares:
- Puebla zócalo to outskirts of city = $50 MX ($2.60 USD)
- Puebla zócalo to airport (for my parents), 20 miles = $500 MX ($26 USD)
- San Miguel de Allende: Airbnb to Escondido Place hot springs, 9 miles = $450 MX roundtrip ($24 USD)
I’d encourage you to have an idea of a fair taxi rate for the area you’re in (the On the Road in Mexico Facebook group can likely help here). Just remember this is an important way to support the local economy, and real people.
Total spent: $77 MX ($4 USD)
All of our bus fares were in San Miguel de Allende, where our Airbnb was an easy bus ride from the town center. Each fare was $7 MX, or $0.37 USD. Our host showed us where the bus stop was and told us which bus numbers to use.
Caspian and I were both so happy whenever we took the bus, which we did one night after dark and multiple other times.
Total spent: $1,824 USD
Like I mentioned in our intro, our travel style is currently restricted by our work. While we’d love to go off-grid more than Friday through Sunday, how can we complain about location independence? Our online work has kept the wheels turning full-time for five and a half years, and we continue to hustle for a future where we can be off-grid constantly.
Our camping costs in Mexico were essentially zero. Our first night across the border was free, in the mountains outside Monterrey. During our epic trip through Sierra Gorda, we stayed at established campgrounds arranged by our Mexican friends from Overland Bound. I guess I was so distracted driving down switchbacks in the dark that I didn’t record what we paid. But–like I said–it was nominal.
Our Airbnb total was $1,604 USD. Ten nights in the center of San Luis Potosí ($237); a night in Juriquilla, just north of Querétaro ($38); two weeks less than a block away from Puebla’s historic zócalo, where we had an apartment large enough to accommodate my parents during their first trip to interior Mexico ($925); a week in San Miguel de Allende ($311), and a night in a house in Saltillo, outside Monterrey ($93).
And lest you think we didn’t take care of ourselves in Mexico, there was our unbelievable two-night hotel stay in Bernal at El Cantar del Viento ($220 USD, including laundry and a massage which I count below).
Entertainment and Activities
Total spent: $4,165 MX ($218 USD)
We didn’t do much touristy stuff. We preferred to do a lot of walking around–going to the mercado, grabbing a tamale from a vendor on the corner, and letting adventure find us.
We visited a couple of museums, Bucareli Mision, tunnels and forts in Puebla connected with Cinco de Mayo, and the Escondido Place hot springs. In Puebla, we took the Turibus twice and visited Africam twice (#toddlerlife). Our total spent includes admission for my parents at Africam and on the Turibus.
Food: Eating Out
Total spent: $31,527 MX ($1,648 USD)
We ate almost every meal out in Mexico and it was amazing. It works out to $38 USD/day, but that’s for more than just Eric, Caspian, and myself. We treated friends and family during our Sierra Gorda trip, and multiple times in Puebla where Eric has family.
Since I can’t drill down to an absolute number for just the three of us, I thought I’d give a couple of meal examples for food cost planning.
- $230 MX ($12 USD) for rest area lunch along toll road between cities. Torta (sandwich) for Eric, chilaquiles for me, pan dulce, bottled water, coffee, milk.
- $338 MX ($18) for unbelievable brunch buffet for two in San Luis Potosí.
- $203 MX ($11 USD) for burger, fries, and drinks times two in central San Luis Potosí.
- $35 MX ($1.80 USD) for coffee from cafe near Puebla’s zócalo.
- $370 MX ($19 USD) for our lunch at a charming cafe in San Miguel de Allende. Bagel with lox, soup of the day, specialty sandwich, loaded fries, bottled water, chai, milk.
➡️ Keep reading: What It’s Like to Live in the Center of San Luis Potosí
Yes, you can eat cheaper than we did in Mexico. Personally, we enjoyed eating good meals for less than we would pay in the states. Plus, it was nice to be able to stick the two-year-old in a high chair after chasing him all day.
Total spent: $4,751 MX ($248 USD)
Our grocery costs were mostly spent at the mercado on fruit, milk for Caspian, and a ton of pan dulce. We did make a couple of actual grocery store runs, like to HEB in San Luis Potosí and Walmart in Puebla, usually because we needed to restock on Pullups and baby wipes.
Here are some examples of grocery costs:
- $30 MX ($1.60 USD) on a bag of fresh fruit from the mercado in San Luis Potosí
- $18 MX ($0.90 USD) on half a gallon of milk from the store downstairs in SLP
- $119 MX ($6 USD) for a bottle of wine from the liquor store in Puebla
Eric’s cousin hosted an amazing reunion at her home in Puebla. We contributed $1,000 MX for groceries, which is reflected in the total above.
Total spent: $165 MX ($9 USD)
We drank filtered water in Mexico. Everyone does–even the locals. Our Airbnbs always provided a big tank of water. The few times we needed to replace the tank, it was $30 MX ($1.60 USD).
Total spent: $723 MX ($38 USD)
I went to Mexico prepared to hand-wash our clothes, with a bucket and bio-friendly laundry soap. However, owning a washing machine in Mexico is not common. And because of that, lavandarías are everywhere.
We did laundry roughly once a week. We each packed only one duffle bag. And with Caspian potty-training, it was usually his pants we ran out of first.
Most lavandaríes are not self-serve. You will not need to provide soap, but you will need to leave your clothes and (typically) come back the next day.
Expect the unexpected. Often, hours of operation are loose and sometimes people don’t answer the phone. In San Luis Potosí, it took two days to get our clothes back. That day in between, the people at the lavandaría were MIA (we visited twice during open hours–it was closed–and called multiple times).
Total spent: $437 MX ($23 USD)
We tipped generously during our time in Mexico, and yet it worked out to so little in our currency. We always kept $10 or $20 MX on us for bathroom attendants, sidewalk musicians, and security guards. (This number doesn’t include tips that were rolled into restaurant bills, taxis, etc.)
Total spent: $5,854 MX + $100 USD = $406 USD
What wasn’t included above? Here’s a quick run-down:
- Garmin inReach Explorer+: $100 USD for subscription during our time in Mexico (we took advantage of a deep discount for the first month).
- Baños: $40 MX ($2 USD). We always kept $5 or $10 on us, since you often have to pay for bathrooms at places like gas stations or along town streets.
- Personal care: $1,666 MX ($87 USD) includes a shave for Eric and multiple massages, since he was experiencing intense shoulder pain throughout our time in Mexico.
- Vehicle wash: $110 MX ($5.75 USD). An amazingly thorough *hand-wash* of our massive Jeep at our parking garage in San Luis Potosí. The equivalent of $5.75 USD, including a generous, well-deserved tip.
- Toddler things: $2,698 MX ($141 USD) for some small toys, adorable clothing, and babysitters in San Miguel de Allende.
- Souvenirs: $580 MX ($30 USD). Not big on souvenirs. I bought a sweater in Bernal (which shrunk the first time I washed it) and Eric got a leather belt holder thing in San Miguel de Allende.
- Gifts: $760 MX ($40 USD). As I mentioned in the Tips section above, generosity in Mexico was a huge focus for us. As of Dec. 2017, the Mexican minimum wage is $88.36 MX, or $4.61 USD. The average daily wage as of April 2019 was $373.70 MX ($19.48 USD). Do you see how far our money can go?
Looking Back on Our Costs in Mexico
I’ve literally put hours into this article: studying my notes and making sure the numbers I’ve shared are accurate. It can feel uncomfortable to be so vulnerable, but we promised five and a half years ago when we started traveling full-time that we would always be transparent. So–here it is–putting it all out there.
Feel free to drop a question or share your own experience. Mexico was our experiment: would we even like international overlanding? The answer was a resounding yes, and our days are now spent planning for the future. Stay tuned.
Until next time, keep it dirty and wheels side down.
~ Eric, Brittany, and #LittleNomad
◀️ Previous article: Dipping Into Hot Springs Near San Miguel de Allende