July’s posts have been chock-a-block with on-the-ground money tips for travellers to England, Russia, Thailand and today, we hear from Jean* about being money smart in Nicaragua.
(pssst: Want to become a world traveller but don’t have the money? My business helps folks set and attain those kinds of savings goals!)
When my parents first told me they would be traveling to Nicaragua with my sister, my immediate reaction was, “Have fun with that.” But no more than a day later, my brother and I decided we would tag along for the trip.
For as long as I can remember, whenever I was asked if I would be interested to travel to the homeland, I would always say no and that it would never happen. “Not a chance in Hell!” I think I was afraid of what I would see and learn. Living in Canada, I have gotten quite used to my possessions and other things we may take for granted.
If you are going to be traveling to Nicaragua, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Do not advertise how well off you are by pulling your smartphone (or anything else of value, for that matter) out of your pocket. This is foolish because it is quite dangerous. You are likely to attract the attention of no-gooders anyway simply by being a tourist. You do not need to become a target.
2. Be prepared for the electricity and running water to cut out at the most inconvenient of times.
3. Dress lightly. Why you would even consider wearing long pants is just beyond me. They do provide great protection from the bugs though…
Now, as a super user of social media (Is saying “it consumes my life” too strong?), I usually rely heavily on Wi-Fi and for the most part (if at all), that isn’t an option in this country. So my one tip for those of you who are like me:
Turn off your mobile data. The cost of data in Nicaragua in roaming fees is astronomical. $25.60 per megabyte of data (if you are with Bell), to be exact. If you are looking to tweet or update your status on Facebook, set up the mobile texting service before your trip. The cost of sending a text is $0.75. A much better alternative. Facebook’s number is 32665 (FBOOK) and Twitter’s is 21212. You can set up these services straight from your phone or on the web. Leave all other events that would require data for cyber cafes. Cyber cafes are incredibly cheap and usually have 30min, 45min, or hourly rates for less than $2.50, maybe even $2.00. And you may want to keep phone calls short as they are $2.99/min. Don’t be a victim to the thought of “I’ll barely use the data, so I should be fine.” When they say apps run in the background, they mean it, and they consume a lot more data than you might think. Save yourself the headache and save yourself a lot of money.
Things are cheap in Nicaragua for the visitor. It was actually quite heartbreaking to see just what kind of life my family has. To bring things into perspective, I present to you some facts.
1. Beer can cost as little as $0.85, which, if you can stand to drink a beverage that will dehydrate you in the already blistering heat, I say go for it. My drink of choice during the whole trip was Coca-Cola, because water never did seem to come cold enough.
2. Food here is always fresh and local. Think about it! You are not paying to have someone bring in the food from another country. IT IS ALL THERE. And it is also cheap…for us. Twenty dollars really can get you so much. How much does the average Canadian family (say of four members) spend on groceries per week? Maybe around $150.00? Take that amount and think of it feeding your family for a whole month, if not more. Sounds great, right? Now think of how difficult that money is to come by, considering most homes are single income… Yeah…
And now for the kicker:
After speaking to one of our cousins’ wife, she was telling us how they had afforded to buy their home using the money earned by selling shoes that never quite made it to shelves, or were claimed. Think of how Winners sells brand name clothes for cheap because of defects in the stitching, missing buttons, etc. You know, the little things that don’t really matter. So a friend from the US would send down boxes of shoes, and she would sell them locally. When I asked, she told me that to buy the lot cost them 8,000 Cordobas, Nicaraguan currency. The materials to build the house cost another 8,000 Cordobas. This is in Esteli, one of the larger cities in Nicaragua. But let’s play a guessing game to see what that amount of money translates to in dollars.
For the total of 16,000 Cordobas, to buy yourself a lot and then build a home of approximately 800 square feet, what would be the equivalent cost in a consumer home electronic?
Would it be:
a. Nintendo Wii – $149.99
b. XBOX 360 250GB Kinect Bundle – $399.99
c. iPhone 4 32GB – $779.00
d. iMac 27-inch: 2.7GHz – $1,699.00
You might be shocked that I didn’t go any higher. Well, truth be told, I wouldn’t want to attract that much attention to my own home, depending on the location. But if you picked “c”, the iPhone 4 32GB model, you would be slightly over. The exchange rate that stuck with me the whole trip was 22.3:1. So for 8,000 Cordobas, that was around $360.00. So you could either own a vacation home in Nicaragua for the price of two XBOX 360’s for one of your LAN parties, or one iPhone 4, from which you might even be reading this very blog post. Kind of makes you think, hey?
Now, this entry is not meant to guilt you, but rather expose you to the reality of the kind of life you’ll be seeing if you take a trip down there. I have heard that one can spend nights in some cheap hostels for about $8.00, and transportation itself is very cheap and there are many options: mini-taxi, tricycle, motorized bike, motorcycle, mini-bus, you name it. Souvenirs are also very cheap, so you really won’t need to worry about how much you’re spending on gifts to bring back home to family and friends. Just don’t get too comfortable with how inexpensive most things are. Spend only for what you need, and if you feel you have some to spare, donate to the locals. You have no idea how much a little bit for us means a lot for them.
Jean, aka Jeryes, is a long time Yellowknifer with bucket loads of ambition but with absolutely no direction. Dreaming of one day becoming either a musician, a designer, a writer, or a teacher (to name a few), he spends most of his days in the online universe correcting people for their misuse of punctuation and spelling errors. He is also allergic to cats.
Photo Credit: Damon_Torgeson