When I traveled before the world of smartphones, I would either a) not use a phone, or b) use an old Nokia with a country-specific SIM card. Now, I am reveling in the glories that are smartphones: The access! The simulated feeling of safety and knowledge! Google!
If you want to travel but perhaps have some trepidation about maneuvering public transportation in foreign countries, finding decent places to stay, or don’t have a lot of extra cash to blow, this article is for you. I specifically focus budget travel in Mexico, complete with a review on all the modern-day amenities that come with using a smartphones—connections to Uber, AirBnB, and even 4G data if you want it.
International Cell Service
I am a Verizon customer, and for my short-term trip to Mexico, I utilized Verizon’s International Plan. For US customers traveling to Mexico or Canada, this plan is great. For $2/day (in addition to your normal rate), you have access to the same amount of texts, minutes, and data in your destination country as you do at home. However, if you’re headed to Europe or Asia, the cost jumps up to $10/day, so depending on your needs, you may be better off using your cell phone just as a camera or as a connection to wifi. For example, when I was in Morocco, I did just that. I kept my cell phone on Airplane Mode and used it just for photos and as a timepiece. When I was in my hotel or a cafe, I turned on the wifi and used it to check email or browse the internet. If you must have a cell phone, there are always solutions.
I know AT&T has a pay-per-use and Passport Plan, and T-Mobile offers international travel rates as well. Check with your cell phone service provider to see what they offer and what works best with your plans.
Uber and other such ride-sharing companies exist almost everywhere (except where I reside for some reason). While I was waiting in the Mexico City Airport, I began talking with the people around me, and each person raved about how wonderful Uber was in the city, how easy, how inexpensive! I decided to go with a normal taxi first and download Uber later.
The taxi ride from the airport to my centrally located AirBnb was 200 pesos, which isn’t much considering the 19:1 exchange rate at the time. However, if I had taken Uber instead, I would’ve paid less than 100 pesos—half the price I paid using a taxi. Take a look at the price breakdown below. All in all, I only used a taxi twice (the second time was because I had no cell service in the TAPO bus station). All other times I used Uber, the Metro, or walked.
Besides the monetary savings with the use of Uber, I appreciated the added aspects of safety and convenience. Years ago, when I was living and traveling in Mexico, I felt safe the majority of the time, but I did have a few instances where taxi drivers attempted to impose their will onto mine. I want to stress that in my two years of traveling alone, I took hundreds of taxis and this only happened a few times—it is not the norm. That being said, with Uber, both the driver’s information and mine is stored in the system. There’s a record of where I was, when I got picked up, and where I was going. If that doesn’t give you peace of mind, I don’t know what will.
And, as mentioned, the convenience is great. While metered taxis will charge by distance and time, there are some taxis with which you have to agree upon a price. If you know where you’re going and how much it typically costs, you should be fine, but if you don’t, you’ll end up paying more than you should. Uber puts this concern at rest as the cost of the trip is already determined. You can take it or leave it.
Yes, yes, we all know about AirBnb. Love it or hate it, it sure makes budget travel easier. I love it because I don’t want to stay in shared hostel rooms anymore. I did that in my twenties, and as I get older I realize that there’s nothing I love more than some goddam privacy. Plus, I like having a plethora of options when it comes to location, price, and style.
L-R: Studio in Condesa, Rooftop terrace in Escandon
In Mexico City, I stayed in two different colonias (neighborhoods), and a different AirBnb in each one. One in Colonia Condesa, and one in Colonia Escandon (my old stomping grounds. Each one was in a great location—walkable, close to food, bars, and parks, and also close to the Metro. The AirBnb in Colonia Condesa was a terraced building, offering several types of rooms, all with a kitchen, balcony, and private bathroom. The small, rooftop studio in Colonia Escandon didn’t have a kitchen, but did have a small fridge, hotplate, and a roof terrace to hang out on. Both were about $27 dollars a night
AirBnb, Uber, and International Data Plans are just a few of the obvious conveniences that come with smartphone travel. There are thousands of apps designed to make travel easier. Control is in your hands—use it and go.