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Belize Too Expensive for Vagabond Family

LIVINGSTON, Guatemala- I just withdrew 2000 quetzales out of an ATM in Livingstone, Guatemala. I will remain in this country until this money is gone, then make way for El Salvador. It would be a fool’s move to pay $50 for me and my wife to take a one hour boat ride just to turn [...]

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LIVINGSTON, Guatemala- I just withdrew 2000 quetzales out of an ATM in Livingstone, Guatemala. I will remain in this country until this money is gone, then make way for El Salvador. It would be a fool’s move to pay $50 for me and my wife to take a one hour boat ride just to turn around a month later, repay this amount to return to where we are now. t would similarly be foolish to travel only a couple hundred kilometers away, do a little circuit, and pay $75 in taxes. It would also be a silly endeavor to travel to a different country and have to pay three to four times as much for accommodation and food, when the region I am in right now is very similar.

After a few days of sitting on the doorway to Belize, I have determined that the expenses associated with traveling there are too prohibitive to undergo. For the third time in four years, I have snubbed Belize in preference for its much cheaper neighbors. To do otherwise at this juncture could be considered irresponsible.

The kicker: A 25 USD exit tax. Times this amount by three, for me, Chaya, and baby Petra, and I am looking at paying out $75 for another nothing.

The kicker: The one hour boat ride to Belize from Livingstone costs 25 USD per person. Times two, I am looking at $50, include the return trip, the total will be $100.

The kicker: Thirty US dollars seems to be considered cheap for a hotel room.

To travel to Belize from Guatemala my family will be looking at having to pay 175 USD off the top, and this is before we consider paying triple the prices we are paying in Guatemala for accommodation and food. All of this just to travel in more or less the same jungle we are standing in now.

At least I tell myself that the region is similar, though I know that it is probably not so. The person who says that life is similar on either side of a border has obviously not crossed many in their time. Borders, even the arbitrarily drawn or recently created ones, are often big dividing walls between people and places that are surprisingly contrasting. It is often amazing how quickly culture and places can change in the span of a handful of kilometers and a single border:

Montenegro is vastly different than Croatia, Albania a different land than Montenegro; Ecuador and Peru have similar cultures, but once you cross the border you know that you are in another place; southern Yunnan province of China and Laos touch each other flush but are decades apart, and walking across the border from the Dominican Republic to Haiti is like stepping onto a different continent. Even on childhood trips to Canada — which was only a little over an hour from where I grew up — it was always overtly obvious that I was someplace new.

Borders are sometimes created along pre-existing cultural and geographic lines and sometimes they are drawn more or less arbitrarily and create new cultural lines in the process. Iraqi Kurdistan is vastly different than the Kurdish regions of Turkey, the Mongolians in Inner and Outer Mongolia. People often overlap borders, but there is something about a national frontier that is often solid: one group is on one side, another on the other. Crossing a border will almost always provide a new experience, crossing a border with often provide a traveler with a view of a new face — if not the face of a new people, than the face of a new land.

I like to cross borders — even going to a country for a week is give a clearer impression, a feel, of what is there. I would not mind crossing all of the borders this planet has to offer just to see what is on the other side, but these ends will have to remain for another day: I will probably not break the plane of Belize, again.

I would love to go to Belize — it seems to be an odd sort of country — but right now, when my young family is living off of a single, very slight income, it would not be a good move. The cost for boat transport and exit fees alone could pay for nearly an entire month of living in El Salvador.

When we set out for the Dominican Republic at the beginning of February, it was with the knowledge that — if we tighten our belts — we have just enough money to last for one year of traveling. I have one year left to make enough money off of this website — I do not want to shrink this buffer any further by making a jaunt into an expensive country when there are other far cheaper, good traveling paths before me.

If I want to travel, I need to think about money. All the time, I need to keep track of how much money I have, how much I am making, and how much I am spending. Right now, traveling with a family has been like ladling water with a sieve, far too much of my travel funds are slipping through the holes, and not enough is making it to my mouth.

I am aware that this entry may provoke a wave of angry comments from Belizeophiles who feel they must stick up for their dreamland against all criticism. These people will call me cheap, and tell me that I am missing out, and that Belize doesn‘t want me and my cheap ass, dirty family anyway. They will tell me that when they visited Belize three years ago for one week they thought it was paradise, and that anyone too cheap to tread on their fantasy land is not worthy of its romantic splendor.

And they will probably be correct, I will miss out.

But I have the resources to travel perpetually around the world if I travel carefully. I do not have to go home, and I am only able to do this because I recognize that paying $75 in exit taxes, $100 for two hours of boat transport, and $30 for hotel rooms needs to be avoided at all costs. I can travel because I know how to save money. I can travel because I am disciplined. I am cheap. I work hard to make the money I have, and I want to get the most out of it.

I would much rather travel mindful of my economic parameters than work 90% of the year at a job while dreaming about traveling. If I worked 350 days a year, you better believe that I would give zero thought to money during my vacation — I would go to Belize, enjoy the country fully, and not flinch while slapping down $75 in exit fees and $100 in boat transport. There are different ways of traveling — life is an endless round of give and take — if I want to live within my means, and continue living how I do, I need to make sacrifices: there are some countries that I must prepare to go to. If I was on vacation, you better Belize that I would be on that boat tomorrow morning.

For now, unless I get a wonderful offer for work in the country, Belize is out — snubbed for the third time.


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Filed under: Belize, Budget Travel, Central America

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3722 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

12 comments… add one

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  • Michael March 31, 2010, 8:09 am

    Agreed.. A life is a collection of choices..small ones and big ones…they happen every day, many times a day. some are memorable , most are not. When you look back at the choices you have made , not going to Belize won’t be as memorable as staying travelling. Count on it 🙂

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com March 31, 2010, 9:30 am

      Thank you Michael,

      It is my impression that you may be correct! Like Chaya said a couple days ago: we are going to go SOMEWHERE, so why pay a lot of money for it when we don’t have to?

      Thanks for the comment!

      Walk Slow,


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  • craig | travelvice.com March 31, 2010, 12:23 pm

    Only gonna get more expensive to go there — offset only by the opportunity to be making a higher income when you eventually visit.

    The culture shift from Belize to the rest of Central America is dramatic.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com March 31, 2010, 1:42 pm

      Don’t I know it! Very right on, it is only going to get more expensive. Going to look for a job there doing archaeology or when I finally get the divemaster’s certification as a SCUBA instructor.

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  • Matt S March 31, 2010, 8:35 pm

    As usual, you think rationally about the situation, and more come up with the correct course of action for your situation and needs.

    Belize is a unique country for the region – it is still massively subsidised by the UK, and a very anglophone country in a region chock full of Spanish influence. That arbitary dividing line hides a radical shift in culture, if nor geography.

    But it also hides the massive costs. Crossing any border usually costs money these days (even if it is only ripoff transport from a captive market). Belize is also more expensive due to its tax haven status.

    I’m coming off as a Belizeophile, when I’m really not. It suffers many of the problems of the surrounding area, as well as a few of its own. But its always a shame to miss out on any oppurtunity, so I understand your anguish, as I’ve made many similar decisions (Russia has always eluded me as of yet, mainly because I dislike jumping through bureaucracy for money!)

    In the end, you have to do whats best for your family, and right now its keeping down costs, so you can travel for longer. Petra is a lucky child, not many kids have parents that are willing to travel with their kids, and its probably going to do her a world of good.

    In short, well done for making a hard decision in the interests of your family. I’m sure it will be the first of many. And of course, good luck with your travels!

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 1, 2010, 6:09 pm

      Thanks Matt,

      Belize seems to be a really interesting country to travel in, though I think that I am going to have to come up with a different strategy to go there. It is often not too enjoyable traveling conventionally in an expensive country — it is sometimes a little too much work haha. I really hope to someday go to Belize on a bicycle with a tent, or on a motorcycle, or when we finally get a sailboat — then expenses can be kept a little lower through having my own transport and shelter. Or maybe I will try to find work there doing something. Though it is my impression that I will need some other strategy for traveling there — or make a lot more money haha.

      Thanks for the background on Belize, it really made me realize how little I know about the country.



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  • Bob L March 31, 2010, 10:41 pm

    You would be an AWESOME ! ! ! ! ! !

    I will tell you a few stories about SCUBA when I see you again. I think, you would to GREAT at it. You would be surprised how lucrative it can be, if you are not a sedentary kind of person.

    Just for the heck of it, I know of a place in the FL keys that will not pay you, but lets you keep your tips, and will give you a room to stay in. Let me know if you are interested, I will give you the number. I bet they would do something for a family.

    On another note, of recent discussion sort of here, but rather a stretch, lately I have been getting into conversations with people that don’t have a lot of money that want to know where to invest it. They talk about the stock market etc. I tell them to invest in themselves. Whatever, however. Invest in your education. Invest in your experiences. Learn to do things, anything. Learn facts. Learn theories. Learn philosophy. Learn car repair. Learn farming. ANYTHING. Preferably learn things that will help you earn money in the future, but anything you know will help you. There is a quote that is attributed to Heinlein? about how a man (or woman) should be able to

    No matter what happens to the economy, no matter what happens to you, the best thing you can do for yourself is to invest in your future ability to live. Whether it is growing your own food, or fixing your car, getting a management job or traveling. Anything you do will help your future.

    And lets face it, you have 24 hours in a day. Even if you sleep 10 hours a day, you have 14 hours to fill with something. It should be fun, but it should be interesting. As Andy says, keep the fraction constant. No matter how little you make, put some aside for the future/emergencies etc. But too many people want to save for retirement, but don’t want to work on maintaining or improving their ability to make a living. [Just to be open and honest here, I do NOT take my own advice here]. BUT, any experience can be a learning one. But learning how do do things is not enough. The more important things to learn, which used to be taught by example is how to behave. How to act in all situations. How to handle weirdos. How to to handle conflicts between co-workers. How to handle boring jobs. How to handle bosses that are asses. How to not let shitty, temporary situations make you miserable. These kinds of things would be good for all of us to learn. We have all met people who are in perpetually good moods no matter what happens. I envy these people.

    Thanks for the venue to vent.

    Bob L

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 1, 2010, 6:33 pm

      The SCUBA work would be another perfect trade to add to my collection of jobs that I can do while traveling. So I could have a choice of doing archaeology, teaching English, farm work, or SCUBA instructing. Or I could just work on Vagabonjourney.com all the time and keep hoping to make more money from it haha.

      Though I think that I would really enjoy being a SCUBA instructor. I like diving, though find it a little expensive to do very often, and it is a traveling profession.

      I may go to Ceiba soon and take all the courses up to divemaster. It would be a rather large expense, but it would be an investment in my self.



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  • Bob L March 31, 2010, 11:33 pm

    I wrote: “There is a quote that is attributed to Heinlein? about how a man (or woman) should be able to….”

    Close enough, but I lost it.. basically, he said that everyone should be able to do almost everything, from skinning a cat to fixing a computer. The gist of it was to learn everything.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 1, 2010, 6:41 pm

      Bob, your suggestion of investing in yourself is among the wisest pieces of advice that anyone could impart to another person. I read this comment and could help but think that you are really on to something.
      I have never put it into these words before, but this is exactly what travel should be: an investment in yourself. This is what makes traveling worth the expense, because the personal returns that you take from it should far outweigh the cost. Right on, the best investment that anyone can make is one in themselves: learn something, figure something out, have an experience that you will not forget, make mistakes, learn from your own actions, try something new, practice a new skill: work on yourself, because that is the only thing that you really have.

      Thanks for sharing this wisdom,


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      • Bob L April 5, 2010, 10:22 am

        Yeah, I am great for giving advice, not so good at taking it, my own or others.

        This is not something I came up with, of course, but I kinda plugged a few different ideas together into one post.

        Bob L

      • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 5, 2010, 2:38 pm

        Even so, the messenger is worthy of thanks.

        We appreciate it,