Travel doesn’t have to break the bank. With a strong dollar, exotic locales can offer a lot of bang for your buck and an off-the-beaten path experience.
Here is a compendium of the coolest budget destinations for 2016 from some of the best travel bloggers on the web. From a family of four traveling the world to a single American living in Paris, they offer a wide range of suggestions depending on your travel style. So, while getting to these budget destinations might cost a few bob, once you’re there these countries offer great value.
Due to the country’s ongoing economic difficulties, the cost of holidaying in Greece is lower than it used to be. While it’s still pretty pricey to stay on famous Greek islands like Santorini or Mykonos, pick a quieter Greek getaway like Paros or Skiathos and you can still while away the days in 28 degree heat, sipping ice-cold Mythos (between about £1.50 and £4 a pint depending on where you stay) for half the price. If you’re all about pool parties and super-cheap shots, then Ios is the island for you, famous for its all-night raves and young backpacker crowd. Not got time for a full-on island-hop? Settle for a day trip to the Sardonic Gulf island of Hydra, just one and a half hours by catamaran from Athens and the spot for some of the best souvlaki (kebabs) you’ll find anywhere else in the Aegean Sea – Pirofani restaurant has been dishing up this delicious drunk food for over 20 years and takes some beating when it comes to flavour and value for money. Not enough meat to satisfy your inner caveman? Sail across to Kefalonia (which you might recognise from the big screen adaption of the famous book, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin) for a slab of traditional pie, filled with oozing meats and gravy, wrapped in a blanket of filo pastry. Ferries run regularly between the islands, but if departing from Athens head to the port of Piraeus to check the boards for updated prices and schedules – most of the Aegean Islands take about four or five hours to reach by high-speed ferry, six to eight on a regular one.
With beds for £1 and lip-smacking food for less than that, Cambodia is so cheap you can feel guilty for paying so little. Where once travelers often feared to tread, Cambodia is now very much on the Southeast Asia travel scene, particularly among backpackers and, increasingly, holidaymakers looking for five-star luxury without the price tag. Check out the De La Paix hotel – their rich wood interiors, in-room iPod docks and free WiFi access for about £250 (double room) a night is about as far from a grimey hostel as it’s possible to get, and not painfully priced for the topnotch service they provide. It’s also ten minutes down the road from the world famous Angkor Wat Archaeological Park. You can’t leave Cambodia without visiting this iconic ancient site, preferrably at dawn to watch the sun rise behind Angkor Wat temple itself, a soothing and spectacular experience. Entry to this UNESCO world heritage site costs just £13 for a full day, although it’s worth paying the £26 for three days – there are just too many temples to squeeze into one day and once the midday sun hits you’ll want to take shade, or find some seriously strong air-conditioning.
A spending spree in Mumbai’s designer shops and a stay in an international hotel in Delhi is going to cost you as much as it would in Dubai, but away from these enclaves the cost of living is ridiculously low. Even if you travel first class on the trains (the Rajdhani or the Shatabdi Express are the most comfortable to travel on, being fully air-conditioned with meals included in the ticket price) and take taxis everywhere, you’ll be hard pressed to spend a lot of money here and it’s possible to live like a raj on just £15 (about 1,500 rupees) a day. India is the seventh largest country in the world, so unless you’re planning an incredible six month sojourn, it pays to plan which of the country’s 29 states you want to visit. Head to western India to Rajasthan for an assault of the senses in the state capital, the Pink City, Jaipur, or kick back on the white sands of Kerala in southern India. You can’t fly all that way without seeing what may well be the most famous tomb in the world, the Taj Mahal, in Agra, northern India – just don’t go on a Friday, it’s closed. And don’t worry about Delhi belly, you’ll find some of India’s best street food here in the capital, particularly in the narrow streets and bustling boulevards around Connaught Place in the center of town. Pick your stall wisely – make sure they look clean and if they’re busy it usually means the food is fresh, but it’s still a good idea to pack the Immodium, just in case.
Unspoiled and undeveloped, despite its rise in popularity in the last few years, Vietnam is still super cheap, as well as a beautiful country. You can easily get by on £5 a day, including a guest house, local food, transport and a bit of drinking – a pint of Vietnam’s most popular brew, Bia Hoi, costs as little as 50p. Hanoi, the former headquarters of French Indochina and then the administrative centre of communist North Vietnam, was declared the country’s official captial in 1976 after reunification of this deeply divided nation began. It retains much of it’s French flavour; you’ll find some great patisseries producing croissants that rival Paris’s finest right next door to an authentic _pho _noodle soup shack. Hanoi’s Old Quarter, around Hoan Kiem Lake, is the best place to soak up some of the city’s post-colonial charm – it’s also a rare oasis of calm in this otherwise chaotic city, where locals go every morning at sunrise to practice tai chi. Experience Vietnamese rural life and see for yourself the lush, green rice terraces in and around the former French moutnain resort of Da Lat in the central highlands. The city is somewhat overrun with tourists (it’s the main departure point for a lot of ‘Easy Rider’ motorcycle tours) but the flower farms, local tofu factories, cashew nut plantations, and of course the iconic rice terraces are worth stopping by to take a look, before speeding on along the coast southwards to Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon.
Budapest, the historic Hungarian capital on the Danube, is a definite must-see on anyone’s European tour. While it’s not quite as cheap as it was before the budget airlines got there, prices here will leave plenty of cash in your pocket. Indulge in luscious cakes, get refreshed on strong liquor and sweat it out in the famous thermal spas. Stop for a sweet treat at Gerbeaud’s for gourmet pastries too pretty to eat (almost), or visit a traditional kávéház (coffee house) for a calorific (who’s counting?!) slice of _kürtőskalács _or chocolate chimney cake. With meals for £2, train tickets for £1 and rooms for £10, Budapest is a beautiful bargain. And you can visit those beautiful bathhouses, such as Gellert, for £10, with massages starting at less than a tenner. If you’re after a quiet countryside retreat, check out Lake Balaton in Transdanubia, western Hungary. The biggest lake in central Europe, it’s a popular summer retreat for local families looking to escape the big smoke during the summer heat – it’s an easy one and a half hour train ride from Budapest and the biggest resorts are found in the cities of Siófok and Balatonfüred. Take a hike in the northern hills, swim in the lake or sail out on the cool waters, before enjoying some locally produced wines from the vineyards dotted across nearby Badacsony Hill.
‘With gossamer-fine sands, cloud-wrapped mountains, waterfalls, tea plantations and palm trees wafting in the breeze, Sri Lanka is the picture perfect paradise’… Ok, thanks tourist brochure. We’ll concentrate on feasting on fish curry, trekking in the jungle and staying in hotels on the beach for tuppence. Well, not quite two pence, but you can live like royalty for under £25 a day. Modern tourism began to boom on this idyllic south Indian Ocean island in the 1960s, but it’s somehow managed to stay on the sidelines of many a Southeast Asian itinerary, so it’s still possible to pick up a low-cost luxury bargain. Stay at the five-star Cinnamon Lodge, located in Habarana, the epicentre of a cultural triangle encompassing Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy. The swish suites here boast fantastic views over the tropical Habarana Lake – take it all in from your own private jacuzzi, while being served champagne by your on-call butler – or you can bag a single room, with all the same spa, swimming pool and dining facilities, from as little as £42 a night. If you can bear to drag yourself away from air-conditioned luxury, the temples, monasteries and stupa speckled throughout the surrounding countryside offer a window into Sri Lanka’s Buddhist culture – 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhist. If you don’t fancy days on end temple traipsing, stick to the highlights: the Sri Maha Bodhiya (Bodhi Tree Temple) in Anuradhapura and the Sri Dhalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth) in Kandy, arguably the most sacred places on the entire island. Be warned, foreigners tend to pay higher entrance fees, although some tuk-tuk drivers might offer to sneak you in for free!
Bulgaria’s Black Sea resorts have undergone a bit of a boom with British visitors in recent years, probably because they offer a total bargain compared with traditional summer sun destinations like the south of Spain. If you prefer city breaking to beaches, capital Sofia offers hearty food, warm company, ‘robust’ drink and a comfy bed, all yours for £20 a day. Just a 20-minute subway ride from the airport terminal (30-40 minutes if you’re travelling in by bus) you can satisfy your inner culture vulture in Sofia – the second oldest city in Europe is stuffed with museums and galleries, including the Musuem of Socialist Art and the National Literature Musuem. Soak up some summer sun and do a few laps down at Liulin Beach, with its three outdoor swimming pools, a sand area and a footie field – there’s even a canteen to grab a slice of pizza post-exercise. Despite becoming a burgeoning holiday destination, many places outside of Sofia remain relatively untouched by bargain-hungry holidaymakers and the further east you go, the cheaper it gets. Want sun, sea and to save a few pennies? Head for Nesebar, a UNESCO World Heritage site a few hours south of Varna and a great spot to start your budget tour of Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. Although much of Nesebar’s ancient city of Messembria has collapsed into the ocean, there are still plenty of old churches to admire and cobbled lanes to stroll along – buy locally produced lace to take back as a souvenir, just watch out for cheap tourist tat versions.
Flight prices to Ireland have tumbled over the past few years, meaning you can get to Dublin for less than you might think. Once in the Irish capital, stay at the central Generator Hostel and you could pay just £6 for your bed. Free things to do in the Irish capital include visiting the Chester Beatty Library, to check out its world-famous and dazzlingly expansive collection of rare books and manuscripts, and talking a walk with the deer herd in Phoenix Park – this is the largest enclosed recreational space in any European capital so there’s plenty to explore. Do some budget shopping at the weekend Blackrock Market, Dublin’s oldest, and sup on the central city’s (rumoured) cheapest pint, just £2.30 in the Pavilion Bar at the cricket pitch in Trinity College. If you’d rather get out into rural Ireland, head to Galway, where prices are lower than the capital across the board and a weekend break could cost you about 20% less. You could spend some of those savings on the city’s vibrant nightlife (thanks student population!) with a trawl through the city’s pubs – where Guinness is around 15% cheaper than in Dublin – and the live music sessions at trad music pub An Pucan are free.
There’s Belize. There’s Costa Rica. There’s even Guatemala. But for real bargain-basement Central American value, plump for Honduras. The country isn’t up there on the most-visited lists, but if you do decide to give it a go you’ll discover white sand beaches reminiscent of the Maldives, diving to rival the Red Sea, and mega cheap food and drink – all while spending less than £20 a day. For the Caribbean at a fraction of the cost, check out the swathes of pristine beaches along Honduras’s northern coast. One of the busiest centres along this idyllic stretch is Puerto Cortes, a bustling port famous for its trade in bananas with strong Spanish heritage, signs of which survive to this day – get out to Omoa, a picture-postcard seaside town with a colonial fortress to explore. If you’re really serious about sniffing out the prettiest post-colonial towns, look no further than the quaint Spanish houses, ornate cathedral and packed plazas in Comayagua’s historic town centre. A small city two hours drive northwest from Honduras’s capital, Tegucigalpa, Comayagua was once the country’s religious and political centre, but today its main draws are the colonial buildings and cute plaza cafés – bag a traditional Honduran baguette or bistek (steak) sandwich from café La Casa de Sandwich for about £1.50 and picnic in the nearby Parque Central.
Known as the Tibet of the Americas, Bolivia is a relatively remote bolthole, being one of only two landlocked countries in South America (the other is Paraguay). Wander along Calle Jaén, in Bolivia’s administrative capital, La Paz, for a slice of South American life under Spanish colonial control – the street is home to some of the city’s best preserved colonial buildings, whitewashed façades and ornate black grilled balconettes. It’s also where you’ll find a cluster of museums, including the former home of Pedro Domingo Murillo, who lead forces during the La Paz Revolution of 1809. See them all for the grand total of 40p and pick up your bumper bargain ticket from the Museo Costumbrista, which houses a ceramic depicting the hanging of the aforementioned revolutionary. As if that weren’t enough (there’s more to life than museums?!) Bolivia perhaps boasts the best value food and drink in all of South America. For example, a bottle of Paceña beer generally costs less than £1 and a bowl of chairo (potato soup) about the same. Pack plenty of layers for when the sun goes down; although Bolivia generally endures hot and humid tropical summers, La Paz is surrounded by the altipano mountains and so stays cool all year round. Looking to turn up the heat? Head to Oruro, a city in the heart of the altiplano famous for its Carnival, held each year in February or March to honour the Virgin of Candelaria. Three hours by bus from La Paz and you could be taking part in this UNESCO protected presentation of indigenous and religious Bolivian culture, with more than 48 folk dance performances and a traditional parade.
Other Temporary Opportunities
The currency in Malaysia has dropped by a third against the U.S. dollar the past few years, making Southeast Asia’s easiest country an even better value. If you’re a retiree, getting residency here is straightforward if you’re willing to invest in property.
The expat favorite of Thailand keeps seeing an inflow of residents and tourists despite frequent political blow-ups and a baffling visa policy that causes tens of thousands of people to do border runs every two months. The currency ranges between 30 and 35 to the dollar and right now it’s around 35, making rent, street food, and transportation a better deal than before. The government recently introduced a six-month multiple-entry visa, which will make things a little easier. You can still only stay 60 days at a time, but you know you’ll be able to get back in with no issues each time.