My fiancee Gaby and I recently took an 11 day vacation to Panama.
In addition to checking out the world’s coolest canal, hiking through the rainforest, touring coffee plantations, and seeing some of the most picturesque uninhabited islands, we decided to studiously track how much money we spent.
Every time we bought something we logged what we purchased, how much we spent, and whether we paid with cash or credit card. After we got home I dumped the info into a spreadsheet, tagged every purchase by date, location, and category, and then graphed out various combinations.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the trip…
Spend Per Day
The entire trip (flights included) cost $2,150 per person. Flights to and from Panama City were $480. Including these flights we each spent $180 per day, on average.
The peak spend days were often flights or other transportation days – on 1/23 we spent $150 each for overland and boat transportation to see the beautiful San Blas Islands.
Overall Spend Breakdown
No surprise, the biggest spending was on flights, food, and lodging, which combined to make up 77% of the total trip cost.
In addition to the $480 SFO to Panama City flight, we also booked two one-way flights within Panama to save time getting around. One of these cost $67 and the other was $105.
We stayed in private rooms in hostels, keeping the nightly lodging bill relatively low – $48 per person per night.
Food, however, was the one area we didn’t try to control.
Almost half our food budget went to dinner, where we would indulge in whatever local delicacy we were in the mood for. We often got a round of drinks with dinner, which helped increase the average dinner bill to $24 per person.
Even though the average cost of lunch ($9) was cheaper than breakfast ($10), we spent a lot more on lunches because we often had to get a second lunch in the late afternoon.
Credit Card Usage
To save cash, we tried to put all purchases on our credit card. Panama City was the most modern location we went and also the most credit card friendly, where we were able to charge 65% of all dollars spent. Boquete, an inland rainforest town, was less accepting of credit cards and only let us charge 1/3 of all purchases. Bocas del Toro, a laid back archipelago, was the worst, and only let us charge one $17 breakfast out of the almost $1,100 we spent there.
Money Spent vs. Steps Taken
This was the first trip I took after getting a Fitbit, and I was curious to see how physical activity correlated with money spend. Turns out the two are inversely correlated, which was not what I was expecting, though it makes sense.
Often our most expensive days were also our laziest – plane rides, shuttles, and seated tours. Conversely, our most active days were when we walked around public parks or museums and ate from local restaurants, all low-cost activities.
If you want to check out the list of purchases, you can view the full dataset on Google Docs.