Welcome to Away Game, a Refinery29 series where we tag along as real women embark on trips around the world and track their travel expenses down to the last cent. Here, we offer a detailed, intimate account of when, where, and how our peers spend their vacation days and disposable income: all the meals, adventures, indulgences, setbacks, and surprises.
This week’s travel diary: A couple meets up with friends for beaches, tacos, and cenote-exploring in Tulum.
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Occupation: Marketing Associate
Travel Companion: Fiancé
Significant Other’s Salary: $62,000
Hometown: Austin, TX
Trip Location: Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Trip Length: 5 days
Annual # Of Vacation Days: 10 (these roll over and if I work over a weekend, I get extra days. I currently have 18 saved up)
Companion’s # of Vacation Days: 10
I used just over 10k Southwest points to pay for my flight there, and paid normally for the return flight. $207.16 total for mine; $369 roundtrip for his. $46 per person for the private roundtrip shuttle from Cancun airport to Airbnb in Tulum (split total cost with other 3 people in our group).
Airbnb: $144 per person, in between town and hotel zone
$40 for a gel mani
$44 for bikini wax
$20 for tip for lash extensions (cost of lashes were a V-Day gift)
$26 for new bikini
$0 Dog sitter, thanks to fiancé’s dad
4:45 a.m. – We Uber to the airport for our 6:55 a.m. flight from ATX to Cancun. AF (fiancé) uses the Uber credit he gets from his credit card.
6:00 a.m. – I get a pre-flight pork belly taco from The Peached Tortilla, cause why not pregame my upcoming tacos with a taco. $4.33
6:20 a.m. – We board flight and I get a window seat. I sleep the whole flight; we arrive in Cancun at 10:30 a.m. and breeze through customs after waiting a bit in line.
11:10 a.m. – The waiting game begins. We’re supposed to take a shuttle to Tulum around 2:00 p.m. with my best friend and her boyfriend who are coming in from Boston. AF and I split a quesadilla and I watch a movie while he reads. $9.08
1:30 p.m. – We find out our friends’ flight was delayed an hour and a half, but the other member of our trip (my friend’s friend) is on time. After some confusion trying to locate him, due to us thinking we were looking at the same Starbucks, we get some pesos from the ATM in our terminal and head to his terminal on the free shuttle – don’t let the taxi drivers convince you to drive between terminals! It’s free (frugal rant)!
2:45 p.m. – After waiting for the shuttle and taking the short drive, we find J and he’s so nice! We had never met before. We get some overpriced airport food while we wait for the last of our group to arrive. Beers are real cheap here, even at the airport, so J and I have one with our tacos, burrito, and quesadilla, respectively. $29.04
4:30 p.m. – AS and G finally get to Cancun and we find our shuttle, yay! The shuttle manager said it would take 90min – 2 hours but our driver drives slightly recklessly, speeding the whole time, and I’m pretty sure we get there in just over an hour.
5:45 p.m. – We check into our Airbnb, and settle in just a bit.
6:00 p.m. – The Airbnb host kindly calls us a taxi to get to the grocery store Chedraui, and then town ($27.39 split 5 ways). Side note: by the end of our trip, we realize we got quite overcharged for this taxi… AF and I pick up some snacks, bottled water, and other essentials (wine) ($45.82) $59.21
6:30 p.m. – We head back to our Airbnb in the same taxi, quickly get ready, and jump back in the taxi (at least he waited for us) to head into el pueblo (the town) for dinner. Coincidentally, my older brother and his girlfriend are on their last day of vacation in Tulum so they are meeting us for dinner!
7:15 p.m. – Before the restaurant, we stop to get some more pesos and are faced with a huge line for the ATM (not unusual here); I definitely recommend getting and budgeting pesos before arriving in Tulum.
7:40 p.m. – Eventually, we get our money and walk over to dinner at Kay Nah. We all love how the restaurants in Tulum utilize outdoor space for a cozy, jungle vibe. AF and I order drinks – mojito and a gin and tonic with hibiscus –plus a tuna tostada appetizer and a lamb entree to split. We all catch up with my brother and enjoy our first real meal in Tulum. AF gets a second drink and we pass on dessert. $48.57
10:30 p.m. – We’re sleepy from our long day but still head to a bar down the street for some Coronas (Thanks, bro!). After this one beer, we’re ready to head home.
11:25 p.m. – We try to use our broken Spanish to get a better taxi deal but no luck. We split into two taxis and head home. Straight to sleep! $5.27
Daily Total: $1155.50
9:00 a.m. – We wake up around 9 and walk out front to collect the bikes that AS scheduled to be delivered to our place. AS pays the deposit and the cost for the bikes, so we pay her back. $38.01
10:00 a.m. – After getting ready (aka dowsing ourselves in sunscreen and bug spray), we bike into town and find Matcha Mama! It’s as cute in person as it is on Instagram. I get a “matcha colada” smoothie and AF gets an açai bowl. $17.63
11:25 a.m. – As healthy as that was, we’re still hungry and walk over to a taco place that multiple people in town and online recommended, Taquería Honorio. AF and I both try a carne asada and a pork taco….and then order one more of each. They are so fresh and delicious. AS & G even get some extra to go. $5.70
12:30 p.m. – Feeling full and happy, we’re ready to plop on the beach. We bike back to the apartment, get ourselves beach-ready, and get a taxi to Playa Paraíso, AS pays.
1:00 p.m. – If you don’t touch the cabanas, you don’t pay for the beach! The water is beautifully clear for the most part, though there does seem to be tons of seaweed. We walk a bit to get past some piles of seaweed, then put our towels down to enjoy the sun and sand.
5:45 p.m. – After swimming, snacking, and laying out, we’re ready to head back before our dinner reservation at 7:00 p.m. We hop in a quick taxi back to our place, J pays.
6:00 p.m. – We all shower and put on nice outfits, as we leisurely get ready. We call a taxi and head to the “hotel zone” for dinner at Cenzontle, AF pays for taxi. $15.83
7 p.m. – Again, the restaurant is outdoors and feels amazingly tropical. I get a watermelon and gin cocktail and AF gets a fancy margarita. We order an avocado salad appetizer to share, with sea bass, and duck as entrees. Everybody enjoys their meals and the owner’s dog that has been roaming around the whole time. $46.72
8:30 p.m. – We skip dessert at the restaurant but can’t resist a gelato spot up the street, and split a two-scooper ($4.75). AS has been dying to eat at Hartwood but couldn’t get a res, so we entertain her and get just a drink there instead. I go for a pineapple habanero marg ($13.19), and AF orders a Modelo ($3.40), around $2.00 for a tip. $23.34
9:45 p.m. – We taxi back and AF pays again ($15.84). We decided before the trip that instead of dividing up each taxi ride, we’d take turns paying for them but AF is always generous. $15.84
10:00 p.m. – Sleepy from the sun, so we head to bed.
Daily Total: $163.07
7:00 a.m. – I wake up and see a bit of the sunrise through the windows in front of our bed. I feel super relaxed and so glad to be on our first engaged vacation. Fall back asleep for a bit.
9:00 a.m. – It’s cenote day! We thought it’d be nice to break up our beach days and also be a good use of our bikes to visit cenotes this day. We try to get a fairly early start but J gets a flat tire on the ride to town and we want to wait for him before starting our long ride to the first cenote.
10 a.m. – AS, AF, G, and I get breakfast at Burrito Amor. I have a simple but amazing bean, cheese, and egg burrito with a fresh watermelon and mint juice, AF gets an al pastor burrito. We all split guac. $14.78
10:45 a.m. – To kill time, we head down 307 (main road in town) and browse in a couple of shops. A paleta place on my list is super close so we head there for delicious Mexican popsicles. I get mango y chamor, AF gets kiwi ($3.90). Our paletas are quickly melting in the heat, but I’m glad we stopped for them. $3.90
11:30 a.m. – Still waiting for J, we cross 307 to another place on my list known for their crazy cheap tacos, Antojitos La Chiapaneca. AF and I are pretty full but can’t pass on these tacos. We order one carne asada and one al pastor ($1.05!), AS covers the tip since she orders more. $1.05
11:50 a.m. – J is able to meet us there and get some breakfast. None of us can get over how good the salsa is at these local taco places.
12:15 p.m. – We’re ready for our 6-mile bike trek to Cenote Zacil-Ha. We thought it’d be a good idea to go to the furthest one on our list first, but man it’s hot!
12:45 p.m. – Eventually, we make it and the cold, fresh water could not feel better ($9.50 for ticket and locker). It also doesn’t hurt that it’s absolutely beautiful. We swim around, take some pictures, then it’s off to Gran Cenote. $9.50
2:15 p.m. – It’s touristy but for good reason, this one is even more beautiful. Plus, I now have a fun fact ready to go for any awkward ice breakers: I swam in a bat cave in Tulum ( $19 for 2).
4 p.m. – Afterward, we head to the Calavera cenote but it has just closed. G is bummed but I’m kinda glad I didn’t have to be peer pressured into a 12-foot jump into the water.
4:15 p.m. – We bike back to town for a late lunch/pre-dinner dinner. We grab ceviche from El Camello Jr’s and a few more tacos from Chiapaneca to take back to our place. $19.80
5 p.m. – AF and I are having a little date night tonight since this was a belated anniversary trip for us. The place I picked seems a little overpriced but gorgeous, hence the cheap taco pregame. We eat quickly, get ready, and hop in a cab for dinner at ARCA back in the hotel zone, G pays. The rest of the group eats at Casa Banana down the street.
6:30 p.m. – AF and I order homemade sourdough, sweet potato empanadas, and a fish dish to share, plus a hibiscus cocktail for me and a Modelo for him. The service isn’t the best – all of our dishes were out before we even got our drinks – but the food is fantastic. It reminds us of a kind of Mexican version of a restaurant back in Austin we love (Emmer & Rye for any Austinites!). We were worried about having enough pesos but when we realized they take cards (rare in Tulum), we order more drinks and dessert! A lemongrass G&T for me, and an old fashioned for AF, with a coconut, mango dessert. He wants to treat me for date night and graciously pays himself, instead of us splitting. $116.98
8:00 p.m. – My sweet tooth isn’t fully satisfied and we return to the gelato place for a small scoop, my treat of course after such a nice dinner. $3.69
8:15 p.m. – I take out some more pesos at an ATM I see since there’s no line. We all regroup at I Scream bar next to Origami Gelato. AS & G get drinks, the rest of us hang out.
9:45 p.m. – Hail a taxi to head back to the apt. $15.84
10:00 p.m. – We’re finally awake enough tonight to play the Monopoly in Spanish that was in the Airbnb when we checked in. We play on our rooftop but don’t finish the game (who does?) before deciding to head to bed around midnight.
Daily Total: $223.53
9:30 a.m. – Last day 🙁 No bikes today, so AF and I decide to walk to town for breakfast while the others sleep in.
10:00 a.m. – We stop so I can buy a few small souvenirs and this time we’re semi-successful at using some Spanish to get a deal; we get a whopping 30 peso ($1.58) discount. $19.53
10:30 a.m. – We continue on to breakfast at Ki’bok for amazing iced chai lattes, plus huevos rancheros and mole enchiladas. $15.84
11:30 a.m. – Our friends are ready to head to the beach so we taxi back in an effort to get back quickly ($3.96). We get dropped off at the wrong condo and don’t know how to explain in Spanish how to get to the right one, even though we know it’s close. We find our way back and get there right as the taxi to the beach is arriving. Luckily, the driver and our friends wait for us while we rush to get ready. We’re out in 5 minutes. This time, we’re headed to the supposedly nicer southern beaches, ($13.12) J pays . $17.08
12:00 p.m. – We pull up to an overpriced priced beach club and walk straight past the cabanas to get to the open sand. Remember people: don’t touch the cabanas! We’re not totally sure we’re allowed to lay out right next to the beach club but no one stops us. We spend a few hours there and are ready for – guess what – more tacos.
5:00 p.m. – We walk on the beach until we hit Mateo’s. AF and I order fish tacos, a watermelon juice, and a Coke. We all split guac here, too. This is just the pre-dinner dinner I needed. $23.76
6:00 p.m. – We walk a bit to get a cheaper taxi and need to take two to all fit ($4.22 for AF and me). We take our time getting ready and enjoy the sunset before heading out for a late dinner at Kitchen Table. $4.22
8:00 p.m. – G spills a beer in the taxi and I feel bad so I tip the driver extra when paying for the ride ($15.83). We’ve been budgeting our money but at this point, we’ve got pesos to burn. AF isn’t feeling too hot and orders a (homemade!) ginger ale, and I order a jalapeño marg while we wait for our table. Luckily, the ginger ale settles his stomach and we’re able to split an arugula and smoked fruit salad, steak, and pork ribs with beans and plantain. We skip dessert but I order a final hibiscus cocktail, and do have a bite of J’s dessert. He feels he owes me after I cracked his langoustines for him (I’m a lobster cracking expert). This dinner is our last meal here ($89.22) and happens to be the best yet $105.05
10:30 p.m. – We know our taxi should be about $4 from the restaurant but the drivers aren’t budging. J, AF, and I hop in one to go back to our place. J pays the $5.27. We go to bed since we’ve gotta be up early tomorrow. $5.27
Daily Total: $190.75
7:00 a.m. – We get to see the sunrise as we pack up our stuff to leave. Our return shuttle is a little late since they couldn’t find the place at first. After a small panic that they weren’t coming, we’re all good to go. This driver actually uses his turn signal and drives at a normal pace, so we make it to the Cancun airport in about 90 minutes (prepaid but we tip $10.55). $10.55
9:15 a.m. – Security is almost weirdly quick to go through and we indulge in good ole’ Panda Express. $16.89
10:00 a.m. – I still have some pesos left and decide to hit up duty-free. We get a mini sombrero for our corgi back home, some Mexican chocolate for our dads that both love chocolate, and a pack of hot sauces cause why not. $50
10:45 a.m. – We lose track of time a bit and end up being a little late for our boarding group, but make it on the plane just fine.
1:25 p.m. – It’s uncharacteristically cold when we land in Austin. Back to reality. We Uber from the airport back to our apartment, drive to pick up our dog, and take it easy the rest of the day $20.68.
Daily Total: $98.12
How did you prepare for this trip?
AS likes to plan out every second of a trip, I prefer to plan a few things and go with the flow. However, she did the bulk of the work to find a good Airbnb and reliable shuttle service, so I agreed to research things to do and places to eat. I did a lot of Googling and read tips from blogs, Instagram, TripAdvisor, and Yelp. Then, I compiled a document of restaurants and activities for the group to refer to, and made reservations where needed.
When did you book your flight? Do you think you got a good deal?
Almost exactly 3 months prior. Absolutely! Especially since the end of February is supposed to be the best weather (it was pretty great).
What was your favorite part of the trip?
The cenotes are a truly unique experience. I would highly recommend visiting at least one!
Is there anything about your trip you would do differently in retrospect?
Prep some more Spanish beforehand.
Is there anything you wish you’d had time to do?
We skipped the Tulum ruins for the sake of time, but it would’ve been cool to see. Also, more cenotes in less of a rush.
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