The world is full of affordable destinations, and it doesn’t require much effort to find them. No matter what continent, there are always places you can visit on a budget — even countries we think of as expensive are quite budget-friendly if you know certain tips and tricks. No destination is really ever “too expensive.” After 10 years as a frugal budget traveler (expect an anniversary post next week) and, in light of the release of my new book, today I want to talk about my favorite budget travel destinations from the last 10 years. These destinations are my favorite countries and regions for getting the most value for your money, meeting friendly locals and travelers, eating well, and having fun.
Most of us imagine all Pacific Island destinations as expensive, especially Fiji (thanks, Fiji Water!) but in reality, that’s not the case. Fiji, unlike its expensive island neighbors, is actually relatively cheap. While there are many $1,000-a-night resorts, you can manage to enjoy pristine beaches, world-class diving, and tasty seafood while chatting with friendly localswithout having to mortgage your home. Since Fiji is a stopover on Fiji Airlines, many backpackers take advantage of that and so a small backpacker community has emerged. That means cheap guesthouses, transportation, and activities, especially in the popular Yasawa Islands. Fiji is one of the best budget destinations on the region and not to be missed.
Want to roam ancient ruins, trek through the jungle, surf, and eat delicious food with few tourists around? Visit the smaller countries in Central America — think El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. Here you will find most budget hotels for around $15 per night, meals for $3, most bus journeys for the same price, and beer for less than a dollar. And they are safe, too — as long as you aren’t roaming bad neighborhoods at night or trying to buy drugs off cartels, you’ll be fine.
While you could put all of Southeast Asia on the list, Cambodia is one of my favorite countries in the region — it’s affordable, beautiful, and the locals are incredibly hospitable. You can get a private, air-conditioned room for $20 USD, street food for $2, and transportation across the country for $20. If you are spending close to $50 a day, you are living large.
China has fascinated travelers ever since Marco Polo traversed the Silk Road. While the days of China being a super-cheap destination are long gone, the country remains a budget destination. Hostels cost less than $20 a day, food is $2-5 per meal, and local transportation in cities runs less than dollar. The coastal and big cities might not be extremely cheap but the interior is still a bargain.
To me, South Korea is one of the greatest “undiscovered” travel destinations in the world — its prices rival that of Southeast Asia, it’s high tech, the food is wonderful, the countryside is beautiful, and the nightlife is out of this world. With the South Korean currency at 1,100 won per $1 USD and most everything costing only a few thousand won, it’s hard to bust your budget here. My friend and I went out for Korean BBQ complete with drinks, and we each spent $8. You can pick up bottles of beer in 7-Eleven for less than a dollar. South Korea is a country not talked about enough.
While always a cheap country, the Indian rupee used to ride high at 39 rupees to the US dollar. Now, you get 63 rupees to the dollar — that’s nearly 50 percent more money to travel with. Unless you book five-star resorts and eat only Western meals, you’ll find it hard to spend $50 a day here. You can get by on closer to $30 by staying in cheap guest houses, taking second-class trains, and avoiding Western food.
Far Eastern Europe (Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova) is the cheapest part of the continent. I was living like a king for less than $40 per day, paying $8 a night for a room in Ukraine, $1.50 for a liter of beer in Bulgaria, and a few dollars for transportation. Eastern Europe has the charm and beauty of the West without the high prices or hordes of tourists. They are not the impoverished ex-Communist countries most people think them to be. It’s a sin most people don’t visit this region more.
Not all Euro countries are created equal, and Portugal is one of the bargain countries in the region — and one of my favorites. I fell in love with the country the first time I visited — how could I not, with beautiful beaches, wine country, stunning cliffs, delicious food, jovial locals, and historic cities all at bargain prices. Portugal for some reason seems to avoid the crowds and press other European countries get. It’s a shame, because it’s wonderful and deserves it, but everyone else’s loss is your gain.
While an unlikely candidate, Australia can be incredibly cheap thanks to a lot of work exchange opportunities, a well-worn budget backpacker trail, lots of Couchsurfing hosts, and cheap groceries. While Australia has gotten a lot more expensive since I was last there three years ago, the 20% drop in the Australian dollar has tempered that price increase and made Australia the most affordable it has been in years.
On every list ever about budget travel, Thailand is where it all began for me, so it holds a special place in my heart. With a tourist trail going back decades, Thailand is the heart of backpacking in Southeast Asia, and you can get by on between $25-30 a day thanks to cheap guesthouses, street stalls, local buses, and attractions.