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Could an all-inclusive cost the same as rent? He tried it.

3 weeks ago 40

All Ben Keenan wanted was a bowl of cereal for breakfast.

Normally, that would entail a stroll from his bed to the kitchen. But it wasn’t so simple in his temporary Mexico residence: For a month, he had to walk outside in the 95-degree heat, find a host to get seated and place an order with a waiter. It sounds like a major first-world problem, but Keenan said he missed a sense of “autonomy.”

At the time, Keenan was trying out a new lifestyle — living out of an all-inclusive luxury resort on the Yucatán Peninsula for 27 days. However, this wasn’t exactly a gluttonous getaway. The 31-year-old Seattle resident spent most of May at the Ocean Riviera Paradise Hotel to conduct a (sponsored) experiment he floated on social media.

This year, Keenan made a TikTok that asked the viral question: Could living in a tropical resort outside the United States be cheaper than living at home? In the video, which has been viewed by more than 7 million people, the full-time public relations consultant breaks down his expenses — approximately $4,100 monthly between rent, utilities, food and other spending categories.

Expedia contacted him with an offer to cover the cost of accommodations abroad, so Keenan had nothing to lose. He decided to fly to Mexico to put his theory to the test.

“We discovered Ben while scrolling on TikTok, and we couldn’t help but take him up on his challenge,” an Expedia spokesperson said.

To Keenan, it wasn’t just about the sheer dollar amount saved. Living at an all-inclusive also didn’t come with the baggage of day-to-day responsibilities. Therefore, he could just, in his words, “exist.” Fast forward a few months later, and his simulation became a daily vlog-style documentary on social media.

A video that started as a ‘joke’

In February, Keenan was sipping beers with friends at a brewery while discussing the city’s high cost of living.

While Keenan was paying $2,300 per month for a downtown apartment — not too far off from the current U.S. median rent of $2,128 — two of his companions had been renting for much less than that.

“My friends had lived in an apartment for six or seven years and somehow hadn’t seen a single rent increase,” he said. However, that was finally set to change. While on the hunt for a new home, Keenan’s friends were shocked at how expensive things had become.

The group then threw out a wild idea: Would it be cheaper to live in a hotel?

“We took it one step further and said, ‘What about an all-inclusive resort where food was included, alcohol was bottomless, and there’s a pool and a beach?’” he recalled.

The Pacific Northwest’s dreary winter weather drew Keenan to research lodging options in Mexico, mostly as a “joke.” However, what piqued his curiosity the most was having a higher quality of life.

“Having somebody clean my room, cook for me, and just have everything taken care of at a resort was really the enticing part,” he said. “I live within my means at home, but there are certain luxuries I wish I had.”

From a thought experiment to a real-life one

Keenan wasn’t planning on making his thought experiment a reality. All-inclusive resorts are far from his preferred type of travel style.

“I typically stay at boutique hotels that are centrally located in a city where I can walk around,” he noted. It was only after Expedia offered to cover the cost of a month-long all-inclusive stay did he consider it.

In late April, the Seattleite packed his bags, made a social media announcement and set off for a 27-day solo excursion. Soon after, his daily check-in videos acquired a cultlike following.

In each documentary-style clip, Keenan takes us along for a voyeuristic day-in-the-life. As viewers, we quickly learn the resort food is excellent, the drinks are strong, and Keenan’s fair complexion does not do well in the sun.

There are detailed, and sometimes humorous, accounts of how he combats boredom (by creating his own events calendar), explores outside the resort (by taking a day trip to the city of Playa del Carmen) and alters his morning ritual (by simply wandering to a cafe with iced coffee instead of hot).

Keenan also follows a normal Monday-to-Friday routine for the sake of the experiment. That includes working remotely during the week, eating comparable foods to what he would have at home and (attempting to) keep up with his regular gym habits.

A sense of community has no price tag

As a self-proclaimed extrovert, Keenan said he isn’t afraid to talk to strangers and strike up conversations when he’s alone.

However, at the resort, he found it challenging to have any meaningful exchanges beyond the basic pleasantries. That’s because almost all the other visitors were traveling in pairs or groups. “Plus, when other travelers find out I’m here for a month by myself, they’re utterly confused,” he noted.

Keenan felt isolated at times, missing the vibrant community he had in Seattle.

“I think the value of having a community is something you just can't put a price tag on,” he said. “If I were to move somewhere, I'd have to be in a place that allows me to build one and I can’t here.”

Instead, he bonded with the resort’s employees by getting to know them on a personal level. These are the people Keenan regularly saw, and at this point, they knew him as “that guy” who’s staying for a month. “I honestly would come back to this resort just to see the staff again and reconnect,” he said.

On the flip side, Keenan had a hard time getting used to the sometimes-obsequious level of service. He even had a personal butler, ready to be at his beck and call. He was “getting multiple knocks on my door a day,” he says, pausing to let workers refill his mini fridge or complete turndown service. He was surprised at how tiring and, frankly, annoying it became.

“Obviously, I’m not being kept here, but I’m a very independent person and I didn’t expect to feel as though you lose a bit of control,” he said.

While the luxury resort that Keenan selected was $4,900 for the 27-day stay, significantly more than the $4,100 that he spends on an average month in Seattle, there are so many variables to consider.

Keenan said he selected a high-end Mexican resort with numerous amenities and one that was oceanfront. There were many more affordable hotels that he could’ve picked from. And then there are the luxuries that don’t have a certain “value.”

“There are things that I call ‘bonuses’; offerings like entertainment, pools, housekeeping, and room service aren’t available to me at home,” he adds. “Those line items are highly subjective from person to person.” So while he “spent” (remember Expedia covered the cost) $800 more than what he would have at home, there were intangibles to consider.

Overall, Keenan has no regrets about resort life for a month, but he concedes that this type of arrangement — especially by himself — isn’t exactly a dream scenario. “Everyone I’ve talked to at home has said, ‘If I lived this life, I wouldn’t get bored and I would be happy’ but I don’t think this lifestyle is for most people.”

To do this again, Keenan said he would need to be closer to a big city and in a place where he could find other like-minded travelers. Long-term travel is a viable option as an alternative lifestyle, but it’s about the right conditions. “It’s a different style of life, living solo in a place where there are no other solo people around,” he said.

Keenan would consider paying for a similar arrangement with his own money. But next time, he would pick a destination that’s not so hot. “I’ve never sweated so much in my life,” he said.

Tips for longer-term stays

Travelers who are looking to save on longer-term stays of several weeks or more — all-inclusive or not — have a few options.

Consider accommodations with an extended-stay hotel brand from major U.S. chains like Hyatt House (Hyatt), Residence Inn (Marriott) or Homewood Suites (Hilton). These hotels offer the niceties of apartment-style living, typically with kitchens or kitchenettes, separate living and sleeping spaces, and complimentary daily breakfast. By booking directly with the hotel, you can also earn valuable loyalty points (which can add up on lengthy stays).

Reach out directly to the hotel’s sales manager for trips that are a month, says Stella Shon, a consumer travel expert for Upgraded Points. “At some hotels, it’s possible to negotiate a rate if a stay is a few consecutive weeks or more,” she says.

Airbnb and Vrbo remain reliable options, too, with many owners offering deep discounts for customers who book long-term. Vrbo says travelers can save an average of 10 percent when booking private vacation rentals by using the “monthly discount” or “weekly discount” search filters.

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