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Embarking on your first solo trip can turn you into a bucket of nerves. For years, I wanted to travel but I let my fatphobia and scheduling conflicts with travel buddies hold me back. When I finally took the plunge, I sorta found a loophole in the system. My most helpful tip for beginner solo travelers: venture to a country where you have connections. For me, that was Puerto Rico, an island I’ve been daydreaming about for years.
I’ve been lucky enough to make friends from all corners of the world. Naturally, when I decided to take the leap into traveling solo abroad, choosing a destination with a friendly face seemed like the easier way to narrow down all the choices I had.
Puerto Rico is technically an American territory, which makes it easier for Americans to visit. No visas are required and Americans can skip customs at the airport. In addition, there’s no language barrier in touristy areas because English is widely-spoken. Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, had been perfectly curated over the years to appease tourists visiting the island on cruise ships. And the fact that the island had stellar beaches made this destination even more appealing for American travelers.
Not only is Puerto Rico an easy international destination for Americans to travel to, it’s also home to some of my closest friends. Several of my college friends called on the island home and always explained that there was spectacular sights all over the island. But they encourage me not the biggest mistake when visiting Puerto Rico — staying only in San Juan. With this in mind, I decided that not only was I going to be venturing solo for the first time, I’d also be embarking on my first solo road trip. Road-tripping around the island meant I would experience an authentic Puerto Rico that the locals loved.
With all these big aspirations in mind, I was worried that this solo road trip was going to blow my Puerto Rico travel budget. Yet, with a little planning, I was able to enjoy a semi-luxurious, yet budget-friendly, solo trip.
In this short guide, I’ll debunk the myth that island travel is only for luxury travelers and doesn’t fit into a backpacker’s budget. This Puerto Rico budget travel guide will detail dollar for dollar want I spent so you can have realistic expectations of what you’ll be spending on the road and prevent unseen travel expenses. Solo travel in Puerto Rico can be done on a shoestring budget, here’s how:
Is Puerto Rico expensive?
If you are from the United States, Puerto Rico is comparable to visiting large U.S. cities. What really chipped away from my Puerto Rico travel budget was my transportation costs and accommodation costs. Both of these categories tend to be my most expensive when I’m traveling solo, but due to some better planning, I could’ve alleviate these costs.
On average, tourists should budget around $70 USD a day for an authentic Puerto Rico experience. This average factors in transportation costs, accommodations, attractions and a moderate food budget. The largest part of your daily budget will be allocated for transportation costs and accommodations, but that doesn’t mean you cannot experience the grandeur and splendor of the island with Puerto Rico budget travel.
In recent years, Puerto Rico has grown a reputation for being a stellar beach escape. Americans folk to the island for spring break getaways and to soak up the top-tier Caribbean surf and sun. With the rise in popularity, airlines are often boasting cheap fares to this tropical paradise.
Flight prices are going to range differently based on where you live. As a Midwest resident, my flights are often a little more expensive since I’m not located near major hubs such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or Atlanta.
I scouted out my $252 RT (roundtrip) fare from Minneapolis to San Juan, Puerto Rico, via Kiwi.com. Kiwi is one of my favorite sites to use to find cheap airfare. They have a great interactive tool that allows you to perfectly curate your ideal flight itinerary for even the frugalist of budget travelers.
I flew with Spirit Airlines, which isn’t the devil that everyone paints it out to be! I had one layover in Miami on my way to and from Puerto Rico, but otherwise, my flight was smooth and definitely worth the couple hundred I saved flying with a budget airline.
Since publishing this article, flight prices for Puerto Rico have continued to plummet. In recent efforts to increase Puerto Rico tourism to rehabilitate the island after Hurricane Irma and Maria, flight carriers have slashed prices to the island. Budget travelers can now find flights as slow as $68 USD to Puerto Rico from major U.S. cities including New York and Miami. Furthermore, because of flight prices erratic nature and so many variables impacting flight prices from city to city, flight prices are not included in the grand total of this budget breakdown.
How to save money on flights to Puerto Rico
The biggest way to save money on flights is to be backpack or carry-on only traveler. When I visited Puerto Rico is was easy to pack 2-week’s worth of clothing into a small backpack. With the hot weather, my bikinis, shorts and tank tops, hardly took up any room inside my backpack. In fact, my pack was so light, I was able to stuff a hammock inside my pack. A bulky souvenir to remind my beach bumming days on the island.
Backpacking around the island is ideal for Puerto Rico budget travel. Buying additional carry-ons can quickly rack up. On average, most airlines charge at least $30 USD for each additional piece of luggage one-way. That means if you opt for anything large for a personal item or a backpack, that you’d be paying at least $60 USD extra on your ticket, factoring the price of luggage there and back.
An additional quick note: try not to splurge while at the airport either. Food prices at airports are often astronomical. The same goes for buying food in-flight. Spirit, does not offer free snacks and drinks in the air like other airlines, so make sure to pack a bottle of water and snacks for your flight.
TOTAL FLIGHT COSTS = $252 USD
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Lodging costs for solo travelers in Puerto Rico
On my Puerto Rico travel budget, I figured that I wouldn’t be able to afford any luxurious places. Since I was road-tripping, I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to score discounted rates for spending numerous nights at the same accommodation.
But what you can do for your Puerto Rico travel budget is to look at homestays or Airbnb rentals throughout the island. This is also a great option for supporting local tourism.
Most of the Airbnb rentals I booked were between $30-40 USD a night, which is ideal on a solo traveler budget. Though most of my accommodations weren’t overly luxurious, they were more than just a place to lay my head.
Many of these places had local ties to the community so I was able to learn what living in Puerto Rico was like or venture to some of the hot spots for locals. When staying with locals, they gave me the best recommendations for secret waterfalls or unparalleled experiences such as exploring Puerto Rico’s hidden gem bio bays.
Hostels are also growing more popular as a Puerto Rico budget travel option with the rise of tourism to this hidden gem. San Juan has the most hostels, but I was able to also stay in hostels nearby Rincon and when island hopping to Vieques.
TOTAL COST FOR LODGING = $492.30 or $32.83 USD per day
While I was in Puerto Rico, I used a number of different types of transportation to get me around the island. I mostly relied on my rental car that took me around the perimeter of the islands to see the remote and hidden gems of the island. Finally, you’ll have to tack on a few dollars for parking at the beach and the cost of a ferry ride to Vieques.
Rental Car – $310 USD for one week
This was the first time I rented a car abroad and I was surprised at how easy it was. I had heard rumors of how hard it was to abide by new driving rules in another country. In addition to having to decode road signs in another language. I also had been misled to think that driving in Puerto Rico was going to be difficult. Although Puerto Rican drivers were a little speedier than what I’m used to, I didn’t find the road conditions to difficult to navigate.
I rented my rental car through Holiday Cars. This is a great website that sorts through all the rental car agencies in the area and finds you the best deal. I ended up with an Alamo Car Rental through this website. I was able to pick up my rental car from the airport and easily navigate my way around the island.
My overall rental car price includes an additional $25 USD per day because I was under 25. Due to this additional fee, my rental cost an average of $43.75 USD per day. Without the under-age fee, my rental would have cost $19.29 USD per day.
I’ve including my under-25 surcharge in my overall Puerto Rico budget because many solo travelers are visiting the island during Spring Break. College students should remember this daily surcharge because it can easily break the bank and ruin your Puerto Rico budget, which is reflected in my overall transportation costs. Without the surcharge, my entire car rental for the week would only cost just over $135 USD, saving me more than $175 USD.
How to save on car rentals in Puerto Rico?
Unfortunately, Puerto Rico doesn’t have a public transportation that connects the entire mainland. Renting a car is necessary if you want to explore outside of San Juan on a budget.
Although, Ubers are available to transport tourists to well-known spots such as El Yunque National Rainforest, about an hour-and-a-half outside San Juan, they are expensive. Taking an Uber to El Yunque costs around $75+ one-way. Furthermore, you need to arrange in advance a ride back. Tourists have been known to get stranded at El Yunque because they didn’t arrange an Uber back in advance and no one in the area would make the return trip. Other travelers have been successful hitchhiking back or grabbing a ride with other tourists, but it’s not a guarantee.
To whittle away that expensive line-item and stick to Puerto Rico budget travel, some hostels organize group outings where you can split the cost of a daily car rental to experience some of the must-see spots outside of San Juan’s city limits.
To also save on my rental car prices, I opted to use my own car insurance and not buy additional coverage through Alamo. I would recommend being covered somehow by rental insurance, whether that’s through your credit card or your own car insurance. The roads in Puerto Rico are often windy, bumpy and riddled with potholes. You’ll also have to keep an eye out for iguanas.
Finally, renting rental cars for longer periods often saves you money. For instance, a car rental for 5 days is often more than one week, but week-long rentals receive an additional discount. When you are in San Juan, you do not need a car rental to easily explore, so you won’t need a car rental for the entire duration of your trip, just when exploring the rest of the mainland outside of the capital city.
Ubers and Taxis- $72
In San Juan, Ubers are not allowed to pick up visitors from the airport. When you land, you are forced to purchase an airport taxi. There’s usually a minimum rate that the taxis charge. Some visitors have the taxi drop them off at a nearly business, then order an Uber once they are outside the airport’s perimeter. My hostel was so close to the airport that I opted to spend $20 to get there and not fuss with changing cabs.
While I stayed in the city limits of San Juan, I utilized Ubers to get me back to my accommodation across town. San Juan is a sprawling city, so although you could walk, taking a cab or an Uber saves you on travel time.
Uber rides is San Juan ranged from $5 to $7. I went to many of these places with a group of friends, which drastically cut down on costs. If you’re a female solo traveler in Puerto Rico, don’t be shy to make friends and split travel costs with them. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Similarly, in Vieques, I had hire taxis to take me to and from a hidden gem beach because it was across the island. Vieques taxis can be expensive, so ideally, try to find an accommodation within walking distance of where you’d like to visit. Even the island is small, not everything is within walking distance. I spent on average around $17 USD for each of my taxi trips in Vieques.
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TOTAL TRANSPORTATION COSTS = $382
When it comes to planning out a vacation, I indulge in a little bit of spontaneous travel while some of my itinerary is planned ahead of time. I tend to avoid tourist traps and instead embrace what sites the locals recommend. Most times these hidden gems are often free or a small fraction of the price compared to highly-publicized tourist activities. Not fully booking your vacation with tours, not only lowers your overall attraction costs, but I also leaves rooms for more authentic experiences recommended by locals.
A breakdown for all the attractions I saw:
$5 for Castillo de Cristobal
$75 for snorkeling and biobay tour in La Parguera
$3 El Yunque admission. You don’t have to pay this if you don’t visit the Visitor’s Center.
$25 Cueva Ventana
$10 Cueva del Indio admission
$25 Camuy Caves
TOTAL ATTRATIONS COSTS = $173 USD
When it comes to eating abroad, I fully support localvore. In other words, supporting local businesses that make the cultural dishes of the country, which are not major chain brands. Sometimes these are considered Ma & Pa shops.
But eating out for every meal while on vacation can quickly add up. I generally try to eat out only for lunch or dinner. I look for accommodations that either provide breakfast or I have a kitchen in order to make something myself.
In Puerto Rico, I was pretty religious to this rule. I generally would have oatmeal or yogurt for breakfast while staying at Airbnbs. Not only did this save me a lot of money, but also made sure that I avoided traveler’s belly while on the road.
While I stayed at my hostel in San Juan I indulged in mangos, peanut butter toast and good Caribbean coffee every morning — definitely would recommend!
Overall, the price of food in Puerto Rico is roughly the same as in the United States. Lunch would cost around $10 and a nice sit-down meal at dinnertime cost anywhere between $15 to $25 USD.
To save some additional dough on food, you can purchase food from roadside kiosks. I saw these often when I was road tripping around the island, so they are not in short supply. These kiosks are also popular at the beaches where vendors line up their makeshift, wooden, stalls to serve food to beach bums throughout the day. Not only are these kiosks cheap, but I also purchased chicken kabobs for $2 USD. That’s a steal!
For most of my evening meals, I indulged in Puerto Rico’s unique cultural cuisine. I definitely ate my fair share of mofongo. I would definitely encourage travelers to eat as much mofongo and rice and beans as they can because they are not only iconic Puerto Rican foods, they’re some of the best foods I’ve had in the Caribbean.
TOTAL FOOD COSTS = $280 USD
GRAND TOTAL for Puerto Rico travel budget
Overall, I spent $1,549.50 for 14 days of road-tripping through Puerto Rico. Over a two week period, I spent roughly $92.67 USD per day, not including airfare.
To me, that doesn’t seem like an astronomical amount of money, especially for what I considered a fairly lavish, yet budget-friendly vacation.
Nearly one-third of my Puerto Rico travel budget was spent on lodging. Similarly, one-fourth of my budget was spent on transportation costs. On average, that’s comparable to other vacations I’ve taken abroad where I have also road tripped.
At a bare minimum, allocate at least $50 USD per day for Puerto Rico budget travel. I recommend budgeting for $70 USD per day so you are able to experience some of Puerto Rico’s best hidden gems include El Yunque, the world’s brightest bio bay, hidden waterfalls and beautiful, remote island beaches.
What would I’ve done differently?
Although food wasn’t my most expensive category, I would’ve eaten out less, especially for dinner. Lunch is always a cheaper option and I would’ve scaled back on expensive dinners and spent more time exploring and watching the sunset.
A great idea came to me my last few days in San Juan where I packed a little picnic with ingredients I bought at the grocery store. I took a few Puerto Rican beers, meat and cheese to the beach and watched the sunset solo. That was maybe one of my favorite memories and it hardly cost me a thing. Plus, that meant I had lunch and snacks for the beach the following day — score!
Transportation costs made the biggest dent in my budget and I could’ve saved with better planning. Taxis quickly added up in Vieques and to the airport to pick up my rental car. If I had gotten accommodation closer to the beach, I could’ve alleviated some of those costs in Vieques. Furthermore, there are other rental options outside of the airport, but I was limited who I could rent from because I was under 25.
Finally, I also would’ve opted to stay in more hostels and even try Couchsurfing. I racked up quite the bill with my lodging expenses and could’ve been more mindful of that. Most of the destinations I were exploring were rather close to each other, so in hindsight, I could’ve scored some extra savings by booking multiple nights at the same accommodation. This would’ve increased my gas costs slightly, but is doable on a 2-week Puerto Rico road trip itinerary.
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