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Our road to Mexico: the real cost of budget travel

During university I mastered the art of finding bargain travel tickets. At first it was the necessity of maintaining an ambitiously long distance relationship in the poverty of my student years, but gradually it became more of an obsession.

Even now my stubbornness to find the cheapest possible way to travel without hitch hiking rears its head whenever I’m planning a journey, however small. Such was the case as my latest trip crept ever closer. I began to shun the outdoors, spending my precious lunchtimes on Skyscanner and its various counterparts, watching the prices intently.

When we finally got the go ahead to book flights among the logistics of finalising volunteering plans, direct tickets to Mexico City were near £800. But with a short stop in Madrid and an overnight stay in Cancun, we managed to cut this down to £400.

It was in about the seventh hour of our second flight, with no on board entertainment and conversation, patience and all possible distractions exhausted that I began to question this decision. I took another listless stroll around the plane, willing feeling back into my calves, finding my boredom reflected back at me in every face.

‘How much would you pay for a TV screen right now?’ Elliott asked, turning to me with something like reproach as I returned to my seat. This particular journey had been my idea. We agreed at least £100.

Or perhaps it was during the hour driving along the hotel strip of Cancun in our multi-stop taxi, my stomach churning with nausea, that I began to have doubts. It took all of my concentration not to wretch as we watched the monstrous buildings pass us – awed, appalled.

Or it could have been as my alarm cut through the darkness and humidity of our hostel room the next morning, calling us prematurely from sleep and into another taxi, another airport, another plane.

Perhaps I would have handed over £400 there and then to erase the experience from my memory as we tried and failed to walk the short distance from the metro station to our Air Bnb, and with no road signs to guide us, stumbled defeated into a taxi.

There were of course a few redeeming elements of our journey, and perhaps it’s unfair to pick out only these lowest moments. I had a pretty fantastic glass of wine on one of the flights. We watched a great film about a robot. We were greeted at our hostel by free pasta and a room upgrade.

But it does make you reconsider the hassle of complicated, multi-stop journeys, all for the sake of saving a few hundred quid. If you think about it, there was the cost of our taxi in Cancun, to and from the hostel, around £20 each. There was our hostel bed, another £15, and also the inevitable expense of surviving hours of time in various airports, let’s say at least £15.

Sure, at a total of £450 we may have saved significantly on direct tickets – but one-stop flights, going for around £550, would have been an attractive compromise. We’d already agreed to pay another £100 for a TV.

The experience has definitely changed my attitude on how cheap a deal to risk when it comes to long haul journeys.

Because when it’s four am and you don’t know what time zone you’re in and you watch almost every minute of hour fourteen tick away, wanting to play seven computerised people at poker or be mildly offended by an episode of The Big Bang Theory but you just can’t and you’re fully aware that the tedium and irritability of the whole thing probably isn’t bringing out your best side, certainly not a good introduction to the almost stranger you’re about to spend the next six weeks with and mainly you just want to either cry or sleep, and in desperation settle for neither and instead end up pretending to be vegetarian to beg another sandwich from the flight crew, you think… there are just some things worth paying a bit more money for.


  1. I love cheap deals too, but like you often regret them a bit once I actually experience the result. I think it’s the chase that I love – the act of hunting down and procuring a really good promotion or discount. And once you’ve got it, you realise you should have gone with the in-flight TV and complimentary face towels

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