Back in January, I took vacation for 9 nights to the beautiful, culturally rich Caribbean island country of Curaçao. Typically, a trip like this would cost at least $2,000 in hotel and airfare alone.
My trip cost me about $800 for everything. That included airfare, airbnb stay, car rental, trip insurance, car insurance, local SIM card, all food/meals, diving, and snorkeling.
I made this happen through a combination of points, some careful budget planning, and a little luck. In this post, I share the breakdown of what I did to find these deals, including the breakdown of all the costs.
From 7-Nights to 9-Nights
First of all, I should mention that my original booking was for 7 nights in Curaçao. A snow storm hit New York just before I was scheduled to leave the island on the 8th day. Jetblue flights were delayed for over 48 hours so I got lucky and had 2 extra nights in Curaçao covered by my travel insurance.
Yes, I bought travel insurance! As a SCUBA diver, I always purchase insurance through Worldnomad (TripMate). For 7-days in Curaçao, the plan cost me $103.33. This covered me for my adventure activities. I was also covered through my Chase credit card.
In the end, it was Chase that paid out for my 2 extra days—up to $500 was covered! I will write more on this whole process another time!
Points For Airfare + Car Rental In Curaçao
I have Ultimate Reward Points through Chase*. I earn UR points through normal spending and travel hacking the sign up bonuses on their credit cards (read how to do this responsibly here). Chase's UR points system allows points to transfer to different airline partners. Jetblue is one of those partners.
I started my search about 1 month out. After searching for places to travel to in the Caribbean, I landed on Curaçao because it had low cost, non-stop flights available for the dates I wanted. Having this kind of flexibility—on where I wanted to go—allowed me to follow the deals.
Recently, Jetblue began a non-stop flight deal with Curaçao. Round trip flights were about $255 in January. I was able to use very few points (only 18,200) plus $64.33 in fees to cover the flights.
I heard from more than one traveler in Curacao that renting a car there is very costly. The cost can skyrocket especially if you wait until after you arrive.
I booked in advance with Budget. It would have cost me $316.92 for 7 days. This price didn't include a mandatory local insurance for the car which was an additional $71.75. Ouch! This was the most expensive item for my entire trip! I opted to cover it with 25,329 points. This felt justified for me since I used very few points for the flights.
Saving On Accommodation In Curaçao
The Caribbean is known for its resort stays. For the work- and child-weary traveler, resort stays can seem like the perfect worry-free break from life. Resorts often come with a set price and all inclusive everything which can be nice, too.
I tried staying on a resort in the Dominican Republic once. But the experience did not impress me. I didn't like the isolation of the resort (it cost extra to go anywhere or do anything else) and the food and drinks were mediocre if not terrible. After that first (and last) experience, I know I am fit for a bit more adventure (which has luxuries of its own)!
The first stop in my search was couchsurfing.com. I usually go to new countries to get to know the local culture and people—so why not stay with a local?
Couchsurfing is totally free. And don't let the name fool you—I've stayed on a king bed before! I choose the person and space based on references left by former guests.
The couchsurfing options were slim pickings in Curaçao so I started looking at paid accommodation. First, I checked out the standard cost of hotel and resort stays as a baseline. Then I looked at hostels and Airbnb options.
As a solo traveler, hostels offer a great way to meet other travelers and always have a buddy to do something with. Airbnb stays with kitchen access can make a huge difference in how much money I spend on eating out, too (more on this below)!
For Curaçao, I found an amazingly low-cost entire home to myself. I paid about $18 per night for $131.47 total.
The bed was cozy, there was air conditioner, and no additional hidden fees. Curaçao has a high cost for electricity which means Airbnb stays there often have additional costs for using electric (cash on arrival). But not at this place!
This place was great. It was a separate little cottage on the property of 2 locals, Michel and Muni. I got insider tips and Muni even took me out one night!
The Cost Of Eating Out In Curaçao
Food is really not the place where I try to save money. I am a big foodie and I love to experience local culture through its food when I travel.
However, I only ate out for dinner while I was in Curaçao. I had lunch out only a couple of times. How did I do this? I went to the grocery store on the first day of my trip.
I bought some breakfast food and snack food at the store. This included local/culturally-specific foods found in Curaçao. For instance, since Curacao is a Dutch colony, I splurged on stroopwafel and hagelslag, two common Dutch treats.
At night was when I would unwind and finally sit down for a meal. These meals included a full plate of food and sometimes one alcoholic beverage. The bill would be between $15 and $35 depending on the place.
Altogether, including groceries, I spent $225 for 7 days. I didn't count the last 2 days in that total because I had a little fun on my $500 budget! So those last 2 days wouldn't be totally accurate to include. ;)
I will be writing more about the food in Curaçao in a future post.
Splurging On Activities
When I travel, I am all about saving on the logistics but splurging on the activities once there.
I paid about $10 to hike Mt Christoffel and another $6 to get into the Shete Boka National Park.
I went on 2 dive trips with Go West Diving in Westpunt, Curaçao. With full SCUBA gear rental, these cost me a total of $142. I also went on a snorkel boat trip to the infamous Blue Cave for $22.
Otherwise, I went snorkeling every day for free! I had my fins and mask with me. I went to multiple beaches, put on my gear, and went out into the water for hours for no cost.
I purchased a local SIM card with 1GB of data through Digicel for $30. This helped me organize everything and use social media to post updates for this blog.
And that's all, folks!