No matter where you travel around the world, big cities and popular tourist attractions are likely to be expensive. But if you don’t mind skipping the lap of luxury, you can visit an exotic location for very little money. The most expensive part of a trip to India is getting there. After that, costs are stunningly low. On average, a traveler’s daily expenses are lower than anywhere else in the world. A beer will cost about $1.25, a budget hotel room $10 or less, a meal $2 and a cup of tea literally pennies. With incredible scenery, history and culture, plus a wide variety of attractions, India is our top recommendation for travel on the cheap.
All of Southeast Asia is inexpensive (aside from the airfare to get there), but laid-back Laos is the best of the bunch — especially in the beautiful countryside, where you’ll find lush forests, historic temples and tumbling waterfalls rushing down the Mekong River. You can travel comfortably here on $35 a day: A beer will cost around 85 cents, while lodging will set you back $3 for a room with a shared bathroom, or $8 for a typical hotel room. Laos is renowned for its silks, and you can purchase a handmade silk wall hanging for as little as $5.
In June 2009, Honduras experienced a coup d’etat in which the president was forced into exile. The political unrest scared tourists away, but things never got dangerous for travelers — in fact, the result was smaller crowds, plus already-cheap prices became lower. You can buy a beer for $1 or less, while 50 cents will get you a baleada — a Honduran specialty consisting of a tortilla wrapped around cheese and beans. Honduras also has some of the cheapest diving in the world: You can take a four-day diving certification course for about $250.
If you’re willing to live as the locals do, Indonesia can be wonderfully inexpensive. A beer will cost you around $1.65, but you can eat for pennies by subsisting on the Indonesian staple: rice, grown in the nation’s lovely terraced rice fields, which often are tourist attractions in their own right. If you choose to go more of a gourmet route, a seafood dinner with drinks might cost as much as $10. Indonesia is a vast nation of more than 17,000 islands, so if you want to see much of it, you’ll likely get to know the ferry system, through which you can ride from Java to Kalimantan for just $18.
Travel costs are a little higher here than in neighboring India — you’ll pay approximately $2.14 for a beer — but seldom by much. You can find budget accommodations for less than $5, and the same amount will feed you for a day. If you’re here for the famed trekking and mountaineering experiences, long jaunts cost a pittance. You can trek without porters or guides on $7, but even an organized expedition — certainly recommended for the higher elevations — will set you back as little as $25/day.
Europe is generally not a cheap place to visit, except for Eastern Europe — but in recent years even this region has become expensive. Fortunately for travelers, Poland is about the cheapest place you can go in Europe. A beer here will cost you as little as $1, a burger around $3 and a cup of coffee $3.50. Travel costs will likely rise here before long, and Poland is expected to adopt the euro within a few years, so now’s the time to go.
Two of the biggest draws in Morocco — the beaches and the markets — are free. Everything else is pretty cheap: An inexpensive hotel room will cost you around $25, while you can sip Morocco’s famed mint tea for 65 cents (a beer costs more, about $3.23). To travel between cities, take the trains, which are fast, frequent and cheap: The 300-mile journey from Tangier to Marrakech will set you back only around $20.
Most Americans should stay away from the border areas, where drug-related violence has been on the rise. But tourists who choose to avoid the country altogether are missing out on great deals and inexpensive travel opportunities. Visit the safer areas, 100 miles or so south of the U.S. border, and for the cheapest trip, steer clear of resort towns. You’ll find beer for $1.50 and admission to archaeological sites for about $3, in addition to easy (and generally cheap) airline travel from the U.S.
Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar as its currency, which simplifies things for American tourists. Fortunately, you’ll be spending fewer of those dollars here than at home. A beer will cost just over a dollar here, the same as a cup of coffee or a bottle of Coca-Cola, while a budget hotel room will cost around $30 or less. Worth noting is that you’ll be charged an airport exit tax when you fly out of Ecuador, but you can save $15 — $26 versus $41 — if you leave out of Guayaquil rather than Quito.
Prices in Bulgaria have risen since 2007, when the country joined the European Union, but it’s still an outstanding bargain compared with Europe as a whole. This is especially true if you steer clear of the capital, Sofia; besides, the soul of Bulgaria lies in its lovely small towns and villages. If the sands call, though, Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast is one of the cheapest places to enjoy a sunny beach resort. A beer will cost you about $1.30 here, and a bottle of decent wine can be had for as little as $3.50.
The U.S. dollar has fallen against most of the world’s currencies since 2009. One of the very few places it hasn’t is Argentina, where American travelers will get close to four pesos to the dollar. You can get a beer here for $1.30 or a burger for around $3, while a steak dinner with a bottle of wine might set you back as much as $10. For a quintessentially Argentine experience that won’t break the bank, visit one of the estancias — historic, working ranches — where you can see traditional gauchos (Argentine cowboys) and taste local cuisine.
With an average beer setting you back $5 or more, Iceland — home to stunning, rugged natural scenery, including geysers, glaciers and hundreds of waterfalls — might not seem like a bargain. But the island nation is on our list because its epic financial crunch makes a stay here so much cheaper than it was until recently, and because Icelandair, the country’s national carrier, frequently offers great airfare deals. The krona has fallen 12 percent against the dollar over the past year, and that’s on top of a 61 percent decline the previous year. We recommend rushing to see this historic land of volcanoes and Vikings while it’s so much less expensive to do so.
What could be better than seeing one of the wonders of the world for a wonderfully small amount of money? Egypt is one of the cheapest places to travel in Africa: Admission to its incredible historical sites and museums costs $2 or so, while you can eat a meal for $3.50. A beer here will cost about $3 (although this is a Muslim nation, non-Muslims are allowed to imbibe). Worth noting is that you’ll be expected to tip almost everyone who provides a service, but this will seldom set you back more than a dollar or two.
Although the dollar has lost value against most of the world’s currencies, it’s gained ground spectacularly in Venezuela, where you’ll get twice as much of the local currency — the bolivar fuerte, which replaced the old bolivar in 2008 — per dollar as you would have a year ago. The bad news is that the economy is unstable, so be sure to check the latest news before you go. At current rates, a beer will cost you about $1.60, a comfy hotel room $20 and a bus ride — the country’s main transportation — about $1.50 for each hour of your trip.
You can have a steal of a vacation in Sin City, with new hotels opening even as tourism continues its protracted slump. Stay off the Strip for the best prices, but check with individual hotels, even the usually expensive ones, to see if there’s a deal worth taking advantage of. A beer at a nonpremium location will cost as little as $3, and you can find a champagne brunch buffet for as little as $10. How much you spend gambling, of course, is completely up to you.