When you combine all of the expenses that go into travel, like airfare, hotels, food, sightseeing and more, the idea of picking up and exploring different corners of the world can seem too expensive for the budget-conscious adventurer. The good news is that some of the the most exotic and unique international locations can sometimes be the most affordable.
Off the beaten tourist path, visitors can immerse themselves in new destinations without spending a fortune. Before planning your next global trek, read on to find out how these travelers saved money while vacationing around the world on mere dollars per day.
Visiting this Southeast Asian gem is so cost-effective that it must be experienced to be believed. “Cambodia is the land of $2 dorm beds, 50-cent beers and cheap food,” according to HostelBookers. Even after factoring in costs like admission to Angkor Wat, you’d be hard-pressed to spend more than $20 a day here, according to the travel site.
When traveler Wes Rogers took a tour of Cambodia, a $5-per-night rate afforded him guesthouse accommodations with amenities comparable to a high-end hotel. But it was dining where he saved the most money. “With food carts and noodle/curry houses abounding, eating great food cheap was the easiest part,” he said.
“I concluded it was cheaper to eat out in Asia than to cook at home — by far,” said Rogers. “For simplicity’s sake, I’d say I’d spend $1 per meal, sometimes $2 for dinner. At the end of the day, you’d have a couple bucks left for a few beers,” he said. “Not a bad life for $10 a day in some fantastic, exotic locations.”
Laos is another Southeast Asian locale where lodging can be found for under $10 and food and drink for only a dollar or two, according to HostelBookers. “Laos is where you get the most bang for your buck,” said Alex Gordon, a realtor from Oregon who traveled to Laos. “When you get to a new town, find out where other backpackers may stay — or where a local would recommend to a backpacker — and hoof it around the area,” he said. “You’re going to find some awesome guesthouses for dirt cheap and likely more friendly [than hotels].”
For food and beverage, eat and drink as the locals do, Gordon suggested. “Eat where you see the locals eating,” Gordon said. “These are poor countries, so you won’t find some Thai scarfing down pizza. Rice and chicken can be found cheap if you find the right spot.”
“Buying locally can stretch your budget,” said Keisha Blair, who traveled cheaply in premium-priced, tropical Jamaica during a sabbatical. “I found that when I purchased imported foods, my food bill was astronomical. Five dollars to $10 per day is doable.”
Blair recommended travelers cook their own food. The easiest way is to simply lodge where the food is. “Choose to stay in a location where you can shop at the local market for fresh fruits and vegetables to prepare at home,” she said. “Local fruits and vegetables that are in season are extremely cheap.” Blair also noted that selecting affordable transportation and rooming with family or friends are key to living the island life on a tight budget.
The Chinese countryside is a beautiful destination with many opportunities for savings, according to Thrillest, such as rooms for less than $20 a day, food for $2 to $5 per meal and local city transportation for less than a dollar.
Brett War managed to rent an apartment in Shenzhen for less than $5 per day and recommended staying away from developing cities like Shanghai or Hong Kong if your budget is limited. Instead, opt for places like Lijiang, Dali, Kunming, Guilin and Sichuan. Maximize your savings by rooming in hostels, not hotels, by booking cheaper flight plans through Chinese, not American, travel sites, and by avoiding vacations during Chinese holidays.
Unlike in the West, everything is negotiable in China, according to War. “When buying souvenirs, barter down to half the price,” he said. “In China, no price is fixed, and if they don’t accept your recommended price, walk away. They will usually stop you and accept your proposal.”
Fiji is a South Pacific country of more than 300 islands with a reputation for seeming expensive, according to Thrillest. The site recommends skipping the $1000-a-night resorts for dorm rooms, hostels or all-inclusive guesthouses that go for $25 a night instead.
Beaches are free, traveling the island is cheap and you can find beautiful, low-cost sites to enjoy, such as the Taveuni waterfalls or the Nadi open-air souvenir market.
Eastern Europe is just as charming as Paris and Prague without the high prices or hordes of tourists, according to Thrillest. The travel site recommends exploring Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova or the Balkans for their old-world charm at a great price.
“I traveled to Lviv and Kiev, Ukraine, back in the summer of 2012,” Stefanie O’Connell, author of The Broke and Beautiful Life, said. “Even though the cities are major centers, everything is incredibly affordable,” she said. “Beer and water are practically the same price!”
O’Connell said her biggest savings strategy was finding cheap housing through her network of family and friends. For travel arrangements, she said that going the local route whenever possible is best. “That means doing as much research as you can ahead of time so you have some context, but also being flexible to go with the flow as opportunities arise upon arrival.”
Costa Rica’s more affordable — but equally exciting — neighbor in Central America is Nicaragua. Dorm beds can be had for less than $10, street food is only a couple of bucks, and you can hike, enjoy the beach or learn to surf without going over budget, according to HostelBookers.While all that sounds like fun, Jeppe Rasmussen’s visit to Nicaragua was for a more pressing reason. In April, he began an online crowdfunding project called Pinolero GO! to help fund a community sports hub for children living in Pacayita. As for his travel expenses, he said, “Nicaragua is easy to do on $5 to $10 a day if you get to know locals and stay with them.”
Thailand offers sightseeing activities for $15, budget hotel rooms starting at $6, street food for about $5 a day and a cold beer for just $2, according to Thrillest. Many amazing sites in Thailand can be explored and experienced on a small budget.
Sebastian Pertosi took a non-mainstream approach — and relied on the kindness of strangers — to find some good eats in Thailand. “I found that visiting the street stalls and back-alley restaurants and following the crowds of locals was the best way,” he said. “Thai people are very friendly, so if the menu isn’t in English, there is normally a friendly local who will assist in letting you know what the food is — as well appreciate that you are there trying it out.”
Nestled between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and Asia and Australia, the Indonesian island of Bali is another exquisite, exotic locale that can be visited affordably. According to Clayton B. Cornell, a full-time traveler who chronicles his adventures on his blog, SpartanTraveler, visiting Bali is as easy as spending about $20 per day. He rented a room in a private guesthouse across the street from the beach for about $10 a night. “Cooking is generally not an option, and food is so cheap — you can get a meal for $1.50 to $3 — that it usually doesn’t make sense,” Cornell wrote.
Jane Cui, a travel blogger for Down Under Scuba, advised against flying when exploring Asia and Indonesia. She said to travel via sleeper buses, which have bunk beds for overnight traveling at just $10 to $20 per trip.
Westerners are rediscovering Vietnam as an important cultural and historic destination that shouldn’t be overlooked. From Halong Bay to Ho Chi Minh City, travelers are drawn to the country’s beaches, national parks, museums and authentic cuisine. When spending time in Vietnam, travel light and travel cheap.
“The key to saving money while traveling is traveling like a local,” said Rocky Horan of BookingGuru.org. “Instead of heading to resorts and destinations that cater to Westerners, do what the locals do. This includes taking a local bus service or state-subsidized bus versus a bus booked through a travel agent.”
“The public bus may take longer but will be half the price,” he said. “When you arrive at your destination, look for rooms to rent and locally managed hotels. Oftentimes in beach destinations, locals will rent out rooms in their houses for as little as $5 a night.”
You don’t have to put off a dream vacation because of a small budget if you plan your trip right. Check out cheap vacation destinations and alternatives for transportation, lodging and food that can save you a lot of money. By tapping the right resources and doing a little research, you can experience the journey of a lifetime without going into debt.