The FIFA World cup is half over and most people have come and gone spending thousands for their entire trip. Flights alone were more than $1400 USD for a round trip ticket from Chicago and hotel rates were up more than 200% for an entire two month window. Account for food, drinks, tourist activities and World Cup tickets and you are looking at a minimum of $3000 USD for a seven day package.
Despite all odds for being frugal, I decided very last minute I would take a trip to Brazil for the latter half of the round robin portion of the World Cup. I was confident that I could make a cheap vacation package work to my favor. Being busy at work, eight days and seven nights was all that I had time for but that was still enough to see two World Cup games (Korea vs. Belgium and Korea vs. Algeria) and tour the famous landmarks. I figured I would have enough time to see Rio De Janiero for three days, Sao Paulo for three days and Porto Alegre for two days; three cities and an action packed trip of a lifetime.
The first step was getting there. Flights are one of those costs that you simply, must account for if you travel anywhere more than a stone’s throw away, unless you have mileage (which was the case for me).
There are three common ways to accumulate miles including traveling for business (which is something not everyone gets to do), being a tactical credit card spender with an airline credit card (usually to the two of one or two points per dollar spend with 25,000 miles being a free flight in the US) of simply applying for a new credit card that has a bonus attached to it (bonuses range from 30,000 to 50,000 miles – enough for a round trip to Brazil).
Fortunately for me, I travel for business. After some digging on the United website I was able to find redemption deals from Chicago to Sao Paulo but also between Sao Paulo, Rio De Janeiro and Porto Alegre. If you want more information, www.flyertalk.com is a great resource to learn more about flight redemption strategies.
My next cost concern was accommodations. Depending on what type of person you are your flexibility in accommodations can vary greatly. Most families prefer a hotel with privacy however as a solo traveler I was content with a hostel.
Hostels are great in that you reduce the cost of your stay but at the cost of reduced privacy. But as a solo, traveler does privacy and exclusivity really matter all that much especially when you should be out exploring?
Even with the World Cup and its ridiculously inflated prices, hostels were actually costing only between $20-$60 USD on average depending on the location and quality of the hostel. Though you share one room with ten other people in a bunk bed style dormitory, the benefit is that you make friends quickly with other solo or independent travelers.
I managed to stay one free night with Marriott points the very first night in Sao Paulo but after that I stayed in hostels for the remaining six nights and spent no more than $290 USD for all seven nights of my stay.
Brazil’s Visa for US citizens is normally $140 USD for a tourist visa but Brazil offered free Visas for FIFA World Cup ticket holders. The problem for me is that I could not get my World Cup tickets until I got to the country since I wanted to scalp them at the stadium. So I purchased an online ticket at full retail price for $90 USD on FIFA’s website and then showed them my confirmation email at the Consulate to waive the Visa fee and then after I got my Visa I sold my ticket back on the FIFA website for a 10% loss (the normal sellback cost), at $81 USD. Essentially my Visa cost me $9 USD.
Food and beverage costs are what you make of it. Brazil’s average cost for meals is actually quite reasonable. I obviously wanted to eat as much Brazilian food as possible but being from the States where Brazilian food mostly came at premium steakhouses averaging $50 USD per meal for all-you-can-eat meat I was nervous. Surprisingly each meal averaged around $8-12 USD for quality Brazilian steakhouse meat. From street meat to buffet-by-the-weight style restaurants, on average I spent no more than $40 USD a day for Brazilian food and drinks.
*Note: Do not be surprised at dropping $10 USD a day for just bottled water, I would not risk saving this money for questionable tap water.
World Cup Tickets
World Cup Tickets are probably one of the most costly aspects of the trip depending on where you sit, what type of game you watch or what type of hospitality package you purchase. This can range from $90 USD a game to over $1000 USD a game. After doing research, scalping tickets at the stadium was my best bet for a cheap entrance. It also had the highest risk since there are no guarantees. World Cup after World Cup, multitudes of people have thousands of extra tickets, whether it’s a grandma that could not make a family outing or the local entrepreneur looking to resell tickets. Either way, there are plenty of tickets to go around – even more if you’re not picky on the game. Now how to find the resellers.
There is a grey line in this area. Public ticket reselling is illegal but reselling is legal if done privately, such as between friends and family. There’s a number of how many tickets that a single person can purchase (to the tune of seven or so tickets) on the FIFA website and give six to friends or family. People who buy seven tickets obviously want to get reimbursed for the other six from their friends and family. In this way, reselling is not illegal.
Fortunately for me I was able to receive a free ticket from a Professor who had tons of extra tickets from his University since some of his students did not show up that day. It was pure luck that I was right there to snatch up this deal when he offered it on the street. In another instance an old college friend of mine was able to sell me his mom’s unused ticket. It was great because I got to catch up with him while sitting right next to him. He sold me a $135 USD ticket at a reduced $90 USD, which is very fair.
Public transportation is the cheapest method of travel when in the city. I spent on average $1.35 USD for each bus or metro ride which included roundtrip rides from the airports and stadiums. Otherwise I walked everywhere which was not too difficult for me as I packed only one backpack and no extra luggage. I avoid all taxis unless someone offered to pay completely for it or unless there were several of us packed in one taxi in which we split the $15 USD cost of that fare. Not bad for a five mile ride. All in all I would guess my expenses for transportation was no more than $40.
Souvenirs and touristy sightseeing costs account for most miscellaneous costs. Rio De Janeiro requires a must see the Christ Redeemer Statue and the Sugar Loaf Mountain. Otherwise go to Copacabana beach to ‘sightsee’ the people. The only thing I actually visited was the Christ Redeemer statue for a little less than $22 which included transportation to and from Copacabana beach.
Not being the sentimental gift kind of person (and as you can see, a cheap person), I did not purchase too many items, just a few Brazilian memorabilia for less than $50 which included a nice official Nike Brazilian jersey, a bracelet, and a keychain.
An extravagant trip to Brazil does not require you to shell out $3000 or more per week to have a good time. Yes you may be sacrificing some extra time (walking versus taxi) and some comfort (hostel versus hotel) and even some safety (Metro vs limo) but you will definitely be saving a lot of money and you still have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And personally, I think this is the best to actually enjoy a visit to another country.
As you consider your trip to the next FIFA World Cup, Olympic games or any other world event, and you’re discouraged by the costs, just remember if you can consider it as reality, it can become reality with some risk taking and perseverance.
By Chris Yoon