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November 27, 2017

Travel Report: Puerto Vallarta

Our accommodations. Photo courtesy of Sheraton.
For our big trip this year, we decided to go to Puerto Vallarta. Actually, that location was decided for us, but I'll get to that later. We stayed at a great resort and had a wonderful time, without breaking the bank. Read on to learn more.

Where did we go?
As I mentioned above, we didn't actually pick Puerto Vallarta as our vacation destination; my friend picked it as the location of his bachelor party. I really wanted to attend the event, but I thought it would be pretty uncool to have a fun Mexican vacation while my family was back at home, so I decided to bring them along.

No, I didn't bring my family to the bachelor party. I just ducked out for a couple days in the middle of our trip to go off with the boys. Meanwhile, Chrissy and Frugal Babe got to relax at the resort.

One big benefit of going to Puerto Vallarta (for us) is the availability of direct flights from Los Angeles. That makes it cheaper and easier to get to than most other locations in Mexico. When we went to Cancun on our "babymoon," we had to stop in Mexico City and almost missed our connection because it took forever to get through customs.

How long did we stay?
The length of our trip was also determined by outside forces. We chose our departure date based on the cheapest flight and our return date was selected to coincide with a different friend's wedding. You see, we flew in and out of LA, and that's where the wedding was, so by returning right before the wedding, we avoided driving home then back down to LA again.

Anyway, we ended up staying in Mexico for 11 nights. In retrospect, that might have been a little too long because we started to get a little homesick and stir crazy. That gets accelerated because the resorts do the same thing every week, so if you stay more than a week you start repeating activities/events. We probably could have switched to a different hotel to reduce this issue. We did that on our honeymoon in Jamaica and it was fun.

All that being said, I'm still a fan of long vacations when you fly. Like we said in our post about traveling to Europe, the longer you stay, the cheaper your flight is for each day of the trip.

Where did we stay?
We stayed at the Sheraton Buganvilias Resort. We picked it because it was pretty much the cheapest legit all-inclusive resort in the area. The thing that sealed the deal was the "Kids Club."
The Kids Club at our resort. Photo courtesy of Sheraton.
Why all-inclusive?
Some people don't like all-inclusive resorts (I'm not really sure why), but they are great for me. The biggest advantage is I am forced to pay for everything up front. It may be a little more expensive than other options, but the huge upside is I don't have to worry about how much I am spending once I'm on the trip, which makes it much more enjoyable. One more drink? Heck yeah! Another dessert? Of course! Etc., etc.
I know myself, and I will nickel and dime myself out of a good time if I don't do something to prevent it.

How was the resort?
It was great! Here are some of the highlights:
  • Two huge pools with wonderful one foot deep areas where Frugal Babe could frolic safely. Each pool also had a SWIM-UP BAR (my favorite thing ever).
  • As much delicious food as you can handle, anywhere on the property. Whether it's in the restaurants, around the pool, or in your room, you can always get a good variety of food. The quality was very good too, even at the buffet.
  • Free flowing booze, with fun cocktails I had never had before.
  • Our room was right above the lobby bar, so we could relax there while Frugal Babe napped and still keep an eye on her through the baby monitor.
A couple negatives:
  • The desserts in the buffet weren't the best. They looked amazing, but the flavor was lacking.
  • The sand on the beach was a little coarse. Frugal babe didn't like walking on it.
How did we book, and did we "travel hack?"
We booked on Expedia. The prices were very similar on most of the travel sites, but I chose Expedia because they are an Ebates partner, so I wanted to book through them to get some cash back. Unfortunately, I somehow messed that up because Ebates has no record of that transaction, so I missed out on 2% cash back or something.

We didn't really do any "travel hacking" on this trip. Everything was so cheap, it didn't seem like it was worth using points. One quasi hack we took advantage of was Sheraton's housekeeping policy where you can earn Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points if you forgo fresh sheets and get a quicker cleaning. I believe they offer 1,000 points per day, so we did that most days and earned some bonus points.

How much did we spend?
The total cost of for the resort and airfare was $2,217.80. That was for three people (although the baby was basically free) to stay 11 nights. That works out to roughly $200 per day, which is pretty fantastic for food, lodging and transportation. We spent a few bucks on other random stuff like taxis and swim toys, but it didn't amount to much at all. As usual, the all-inclusive option prevented us from spending much of anything once we arrived.

Our theoretical annual travel budget is $4,000, and this came in well under that, which means we can do a trip like this and much more every year. The remaining $1,800 in the travel budget could pay for a whole lot of camping, which sounds like a good time to me.

Money Saving Tip
Instead of taking taxis, take the bus. You'll get a lot more local flavor, but you can save a bundle. We were naive and took a taxi from the airport to our hotel and it cost $20. Once we figured out what we were doing, we realized the bus system was pretty simple. Each bus's destinations are written on its windshield, route information can be found online, and the fares are cheap. It cost us roughly $1 to get back to the airport at the end of our trip.

Where did you vacation this year? Did you stay under budget? Let us know in the comments.

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