When I travel, I typically try to do and see as much as I can on a budget. This past week, I was lucky enough to take a vacation in Cartagena, Colombia with a one-day stopover in Panama City, Panama. While about 90% of this trip adhered to my adventures-with-frugality principle, the last 10% was dedicated to pleasure without reservations. Specifically, I made sure to take care to watch what I was spending on all days, except the last full day of my trip.
In the first 90% of my trip, I did the following:
Travel to Cartagena
I flew from Boston to Cartagena, Colombia in Delta’s Basic Economy class, which meant that I had to make some sacrifices in my own convenience to save money (more on that here).
I got lucky with my choice of location; the cost of living is way cheaper in Cartagena. Taxis to the city center cost $7, a fancy meal at a nice restaurant costs under $30, and a bottle of water (and many other beverages) cost under $1.
I opted to stay in a private room in a hostel that was located just outside of the main tourist area near downtown Cartagena. The place was safe, clean, and my expectations were reasonable. Also, this place included breakfast, which made the mornings much more pleasant (and cheaper)!
Tourism in Cartagena
I love to see new things, so I can content myself with free activities like walking around the city and visiting public places like malls, markets, and beaches. As far as paid activities go, I’ve also really come to enjoy hopping on and off the City SightSeeing bus which operates in several locations internationally (more on that here).
While traveling and saving money allowed me to see what I wanted while staying comfortably within my budget, it can become tiring to default to the less convenient or less comfortable option when making decisions. For me, saving money in Cartagena meant sleeping on a rather firm bed, eating similarly basic foods every day, and cold showers. By the end of my stay, I was quite exhausted due to many factors including not sleeping well, the Colombian heat, not drinking caffeine (but that’s another story to be discussed in a future post), and just from running around most days. I am quite familiar with this sort of fatigue and have come to anticipate it on my travels. Therefore, now, when I travel on my own, I always try to make my last day my most relaxing.
My stopover in Panama (aka the last 10% of my trip) became my “luxury” experience. Luckily for me, the cost of living in Panama City is also cheaper than in the Boston (but way more expensive than in Cartagena). To make my last day and evening special, I went out of my way to find a nice hotel for myself, which was in the modern part of the city and included a pool, a gym, as well as breakfast. I am still a cheap person at heart and admit that I didn’t even pay for the hotel room out-of-pocket (between $100 and $200, can’t remember the cost), instead I was able to use credit card points that I had saved to cover my entire one-night stay.
When I entered the hotel lobby I felt overjoyed. While Cartagena’s lobby was basic and offered a direct view to some of the city’s homeless inhabitants, the lobby in Panama sat across from a little shopping plaza, was air conditioned, and had nice furniture including white leather sofas and glass tables. When I checked in, I learned that I was assigned a room on the 24th floor, which meant that I had an expansive view of the city. That evening, I ordered room service for the first time in my entire life. Surprisingly, it was not even that expensive, this may be because unlike in the US, there was not an exorbitant tax added on to the sticker price.
My evening in Panama was the most relaxing of my entire trip and I feel as if I had made up for all of my sleep deprivation in the soft mattress overlooking the city. So often, travel and vacation can bring us unintended stress and discomfort. When I travel, moving forward, I always want to make sure that my last night is the best night. Sometimes we suffer from the last-day-of-vacation blues when we allow thoughts of work and routine to penetrate our vacation mentality. However, if we make the last day of vacation, a new experience for ourselves, then we can perhaps shift our mindsets away from being sad that things are ending, to being joyful that good things are still beginning.
At the end of the day, vacations should be relaxing. If we get home exhausted and feeling like we need a “staycation,” we can inadvertently cause ourselves to feel more negatively about our whole vacation experience. While I am a strong advocate of budget travel, I also think it is important to allow ourselves to just relax, enjoy, and not have to make a sacrifice with every decision we make. Whether on vacation or in life, Dear Reader, I hope you will take a full day every once in a while to just relax and make yourself happy.