The bucket list grows ever longer, and yet the travel budget isn’t stretching to meet your aspirations. How can you see the world at a reasonable cost? Think outside the box, including destinations you may never even have heard of. Be willing to channel your inner backpacker, even if you prefer a real bed at night. Embrace local street food and get to know the locals. Complete with a few surprises, here is our list of best cheap places to travel in the United States and abroad:
Grand Canyon National Park
Camping at the Grand Canyon is as affordable as it gets when your view is this good. With 277 river miles and up to 18 miles wide and a mile deep, the Grand Canyon isn’t just grand, it’s sublime. Gather up your camping gear and make your way to northern Arizona to see for yourself. The busiest areas are Grand Canyon Village and Bright Angel Trail on the South Rim. To get a break from the crowds, visit the North Rim, where you can do some great hiking and backcountry camping. With all that money you saved on fancy accommodations, consider splurging on a helicopter tour.
You wouldn’t immediately think of a far-flung, mystical destination like Machu Picchu to rank as a cheap place to travel – but think again. It’s all in how you do it. Do you mind staying in a backpacker hostel? Are you willing to fly off season for a cheap flight? To actually visit Machu Picchu, you must do so on a tour, so do your research and read the fine print. There are plenty of ways to make this an affordable destination that fits within your travel budget.
Set a firm daily budget, be flexible and you can enjoy all the culture, cuisine and history of cosmopolitan Buenos Aires, without even viewing it as a budget traveler destination. How to cut costs? Skip the expensive tango lessons and ask your backpacker hostel if they give instruction – most do! Or, head to the Sunday San Telmo market for free lessons in the evening. Are you a student, teacher or senior? Ask about discounted admission to museums and attractions. You can even join the boisterous crowd at a futbol match by choosing a standing-room only ticket in the lower level. Take any number of free city walking tours, and if you want to try that fabulous Argentinean steak, opt for lunch, not dinner, for the best prices.
Backpacking Southeast Asia is likely to be the least expensive way to experience this region of the world. However, even if you budget is small and won’t allow for extravagant luxury, you can hit it somewhere in between. Just pick and choose your sightseeing and experiences wisely, putting a priority on those “must-do” and “must-see” choices. Then, save money elsewhere. Cambodia is a great starting point, with its affordability, beauty and hospitable culture. It’s likely you’ll spend less than $50 per day during your visit there. Thailand remains one of the best bargain destinations in the world, particularly if you’re backpacking. If you mainly visit the islands and out of the local backpacker hostel in favor of more expensive accommodations, you’ll still likely only pay out about $50 per day. Rent a motorbike and take a roadtrip along the Mae Hong Son Loop. Eat on the cheap in Nakhon Si Thammarat. In Laos, nab a cheap waterside bungalow in Nong Khiaw and soak up the local lifestyle. If you’re in Southeast Asia, consider the affordable destination of the Province of Laguna. Visit the hot springs, the City of Seven Lakes, Pandin Lake, Yambo Lake and more. From Siem Reap to Chiang Mai, Southeast Asia ranks as one of the top cheap places to travel.
Your travel budget will stretch further in the affordable destinations of Central America. Visit El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala for the best travel deals. Plus, Central America serves up many a hidden gem, gorgeous beaches and affordable tourist attractions. There are ancient ruins, surfing, jungles, wildlife and delicious food for days. It’s a fantastic place to learn Spanish and you can explore the countryside on an inexpensive camioneta (“chicken bus”). Most budget hotels run about $15 a night.
South Korea is yet another affordable destination that may not immediately spring to mind. The prices here are similar to Southeast Asia. The countryside is stunning, the nightlife legendary and the food delicious. The public transportation is affordable and you can easily enjoy a Korean BBQ meal, with drinks, for $8 a person!
Steep yourself in rich cultural history, great food, regional diversity and so much more in affordable India. Stay away from Western food and five-star hotels and you can spend about $30 instead on inexpensive guest houses. For beaches, skip Goa and head to the temple town of Gokarna. Explore the Thar Desert from a base in the Golden City of Jaisalmer. And feast on the puris and kebabs of Mumbai’s ubiquitous food stalls.
Far Eastern Europe
Want Europe at a better price? Consider Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania or Moldova. This off-the-beaten-path view of Europe will reward you with incredibly authentic culture, less overrun by tourism. All the charm and beauty of the rest of the continent is here, but without the crowds. Don’t the secluded beaches of Bulgaria, the lovely old towns like Plovdiv and Varna and hiking or biking in the mountains.
Want to go paragliding, sky diving, kayaking or paddleboarding in a gorgeous location, but have a strict budget? Consider the Balkan Peninsula, including Croatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina and Montenegro. Take a boat tour to Perast, Porto Montenegro and Our Lady of the Rocks. The outdoor activities here are much cheaper as compared to other European countries.
Want a safari experience but can’t fathom the budget for it? You really can see the Big Five in South Africa without breaking the bank. Look for the white rhino in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi. Instead of Kruger National Park, head to Drakensberg. And finish up in Cape Town, where you’ll find plenty of affordable accommodations and places to eat (and drink fabulous South African wine).
In Africa’s smallest country, you can lounge on gorgeous beaches, go birding in the Baobolong Wetland Reserve and commune with primates at the Chimp Rehabilitation Centre in the River Gambia National Park.
Consider Uruguay over Brazil and Argentina, where you’ll find white sand beaches, abundant wildlife and the beautiful capital of Montevideo.
Now’s the time to take advantage of a more placid relationship between Cuba and the United States. Take a free salsa lesson, visit in the July of the carnival of Santiago or to swimming at Varadero Beach.
Prague, Czech Republic
An affordable European capital city can be hard to find – especially one as beautiful as Prague. You’ll love the chance to explore on foot, then tuck into a local pub for beer and a hearty meal.
If you can eschew five-star style, consider Bolivia. If you don’t mind losing some of the more traditional modern comforts and roughing it (a little), you can enjoy incredible multi-day tours of places as incredible as the Salar de Uyuni salt flats for a great price.
For a street food smorgasbord, head to Shanghai, where you eat well – and inexpensively – at the numerous food stalls throughout the city. Try soup dumplings, scallion pancakes, rice parcels and more, all for a fraction of the price – and must tastier – than anything stateside.
Experience both Europe and Asia in Istanbul, where you can see the major sites – sure – but save your lira and see the city from a Bosphorus ferry or lose yourself in the labyrinthian alleys of the Grand Bazaar. The street food scene is on point, as well.
OK, so this capital city is not likely to spring top of mind when we’re thinking of an affordable destination. However, there is quite a bit to do here that free – including museums featuring blue whale skeletons, works of art by Monet and Dali, the Rosetta Stone and the Lindow Man.
San Antonio, Texas
For Tex-Mex, authentic Mexican food, farmers’ markets, microbreweries – even Six Flags – San Antonio can be an affordable destination. Many of the historic sites, including the San Fernando Cathedral, are free and offer awesome nightly light shows.
For a hefty dose of culture and history, head to Puebla, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This Mexico’s fourth largest city, but you’re rarely see other tourists, making it feel authentic and keeping the prices manageable. The historic center and the countless churches are a boon for architecture lovers.
Untouched as it is by mass tourism, Armenia is a hidden gem for travelers seeking rich cultural experiences. Here in the Caucasus Mountains, you’ll have access to delicious restaurants, lively cities like the capital of Yerevan, street markets, museums, ancient monasteries and wineries – all set against a stunning landscape. Shop the local markets for dolma, cheeses with lavash bread and barbequed meat.
Another European affordable destination you may have overlooked, Transylvania sits at the base of the Carpathian Mountains and offers budget travelers a dream vacation. Visit beautifully preserved, enjoy the renowned warm hospitable of the Roma people, sample local dishes, go skiing in Sinaia and more – all at reasonable prices.
Prices are trending lower in Miami, particularly in February, so consider a post-holiday vacation to South Florida. Enjoy Wynwood Walls, the landscaped grounds of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens and, of course, hit South Beach, if not for swimming, then for a leisurely beach stroll.
If you have some travel flexibility, consider visiting Cancun in April, July, November or December. The flights are cheaper than they have been in the past. April is one of the driest months, offering picture-perfect weather. July is beautiful, but admittedly hot. Consider November if you want to explore the Mayan ruins – the weather is warm enough for the beach, but the humidity is lower.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico in June is a good bet if you’re looking to save money in the Caribbean. The rainy season hasn’t hit yet and you’re there in advance of hurricane season. Explore El Yunque National Forest and the charming cobblestoned streets of Old San Juan to experience the island’s authenticity.
There is a lot you can do in our nation’s fair capital for free, including some of the world’s best museums. Most of the museums and monuments are complimentary, plus you can sign up for a free walking tour, which will help you get your bearings. On some evenings, you’ll find free performances at The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, as well as free outdoor movies in some areas around the city. The cheapest eats will be in farmers’ markets and cafes in Georgetown or DuPont Circle. It
Even if you’re not a backpacker, you can save like one in Sri Lanka. Forego the expensive activities, maybe splurging on just one UNESCO World Heritage Site admission, and get around via train to make the most of your travel budget.
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Once you’re there, Nepal is very budget-friendly. You can eat, sleep and travel locally, enjoying one of the most immersive and authentic experiences in one of the world’s most rugged and mind-blowing locales. If you’re trekking, food and accommodation at lower levels can be as cheap as $10 a day and up to $20 a day on more popular routes like the Annapurna Circuit.
Avoid the big cities, flashy hotels and award-winning dining and head into off-the-beaten-bath China to save big bucks. Within the provinces of Sichuan, Dali and Guangxi, you can stay on the cheap, indulge in great street food and get around by bicycle.
Try out Central Asia at this country suited to all budgets. The food here is super cheap and you can get around on a dime – the public transport prices are fixed, and low. Try a local home stay n a rural area, or purchase a prepackaged multi-day trek, like in the Tian Shan Mountains, which should include most accommodation and meals.