Since I started traveling, I am constantly asked how I can afford to travel, and besides using my tips for daily savings, the answer is honestly because I travel where it is cheap. Although I would love to someday go to London or Japan, I currently find better use of my finances to take on more wallet friendly locations. Thus, here are some of my favorite destinations for under $50 per day.
Thailand, the “land of smiles” provides one of the highest quality trips for the least amount of money. Guesthouses average $10 per night and you can grab a fresh plate of noodles or meat with rice for about $1-2 at any of the street food stalls. Cost of activities, range from $2-$25 depending on distance and level of adventure. I love to get a massage ($7 per hour), followed by a cold beer at the rivers edge or go boating around the islands ($10 per day). There is just something magical about travel in Thailand, and for the price and quality of vacation, it wins my favorite budget destination.
Oh the Philippines, I have never seen such epic beauty. If you can get past some nasty toilets and bumpy bus rides, the Philippines will not disappoint you or your wallet. Accommodation ranges from $10-$20 per dorm or $20-30 for a double room. The food is a bit tricky, their is $2 meals that are delicious but made in the morning for the day, or you can get fresh meals for about $6. Rum is literally as cheap as water, about $2 for a large bottle of either. Activities are out of the world, treks through ancient rice terraces in Banaue ($40 for 2 people) , boating off of El Nido ($33 per person) , and sailing around Borocay ($30 for 3 hrs) were some of our entire round the world highlights, however they do take a bit of budgeting or sharing of costs.
India, oh India, what it lacks in sanitation it makes up for in savings. The magic of India is in everything; it’s the people, the architecture, the food, the smells (good and bad), its a sensory dream for those willing to brave it, and for as little as $25 per day. The amazing train system even offers over night sleeper cars for about $18 per trip, making India very accessible for travelers. Vegetarian meals can also save you a lot (and decrease chances of food poisoning), with meals for $1-2. I plan for an extra $5-10 per day so I can really experience everything. With camel rides, temples, and roof top bars, India will embrace you if you embrace it.
Nicaragua is a budget travelers dream, with double rooms averaging $20 per night and dorms $8-10. Food will cost around $3-5 per meal, or hit up the local markets to cook for about $5 per day. Nicaragua also offers awesome activities like extreme volcano boarding, zip lining, and boating for a fraction of its pricey neighbor Costa Rica. You can also sign up for cheap Spanish lessons or work at hostels along the way to cut costs and get to know the people.
Indonesia might be one of the best values out there. The local food is insane and just a $1-2 a meal. We did not eat in an actual restaurant for the whole month with no stomach issues, just clean, spicy, savory, cheap goodness. Indo would also win the award for best bang for your buck in accommodation. We consistently secured new, clean, air-conditioned double occupancy bungalows with breakfast for $15 a night. Motorbikes were $4 a day. Activities and ferries were also fairly priced at about $10-20 each. Did I mention I LOVE Indonesia. Balanced Backpacker hint, alcohol was just banned in most places outside Bali so be prepared in Java or Sumatra for a more conservative islamic environment where drinks are scare and pants are a must.
Technically part of the United States, Puerto Rico is a great place to experience a fusion of African, Spanish, Caribbean, and American culture at a surprisingly reasonable price. If you are willing to ditch all inclusive resorts and head to the quaint area of Old Town San Juan, you will find budget accommodations ranging from $11 for dorms to $30 for private rooms. Street food trucks are prevalent on the weekends, and even midweek local establishment feature food from $2 fried treats to $7 meals. Entrance into the historical sites, such as the fort Castillo De Christobal cost $5 and are all walking distance or you can city hop using the free trolley.
Cambodia takes the cake when it comes to cheap yet amazing destinations. In Sihanoukville, I had a private bungalow, a beachside massage, a seafood bbq for dinner and countless beers and still barely spent $25 in a day. Although places like the Ankor Wat temples or scuba diving can run you $20-30 per activity, even with those factored in, you would be hard pressed to spend $50 per day here. Check out my favorite beach hostel in Cambodia for some inspiration.
Right off the tourist trail, Laughlin, Nevada is a mini Vegas located along the Colorado River. Weekdays, you can get a nice room, with a private riverside beach, and usually a free buffet dinner for $25 per night, my favorite being Harrah’s Resort and Casino. Although gambling and boating are the activities of choice here, you can always enjoy the pool or river for free as well. A quick 1.5 hrs from Las Vegas, Laughlin makes a great stop off often overlooked by tourists. Inside tip- sign up for the casino cards, they are free, don’t involve fees, and usually get you free casino credit for games or discounts on food and rooms.
History, endless fields of rice patties, and exotic markets bring thousands of tourists to Vietnam each year, however it is the food, strong coffee, and cheap cold beer that really added some extra points for Vietnam. Although I had friends travel on $15 per day, for me it was more like $25-$30 due to renting motor bikes, taking river cruises, and visiting museums. I even got a manicure and pedicure for $5 in Saigon. If you are looking for something unique and affordable, Vietnam will win you over.
California? Yes you read this right. A great and an inexpensive way to experience California is to do a camping trip up the coast. Amtrak, part of the United States railway system, runs a line called the Pacific Surfliner, from San Diego in the South to up to Santa Barbara in the north, stopping off at various beach cities along the way. Campsite fees, depending on the season, range from $20-$35 for up to 8 people, and can be booked in advance at reserveamerica.com. The camping fee also includes your entrance into the State Beaches so activities are then free. Meals will run you $10-$15 per day.
Laos is place you go to lose yourself or find yourself depending on how you look at it. With its misty mountains, neon green rice fields, and slower pace of life, Lao offers visitors a refuge from the modern world. It is common to still see grandchildren swimming, grandmothers washing clothes, mothers gathering water, and fathers herding buffalos for a drink all in the same river bend. Most activities are free or have a minimal charge such as riving tubing, visiting temples, or hiking. When all is said and done, $25 would be a more than comfortable daily budget in Laos.
Although much pricier than other Southeast Asian destinations, Malaysia is still doable for less than $50 per day. Although accommodation is more expensive in Penang and Kuala Lumpur, you can still find a room for $20 -$25 or dorm for $10-15. Being that Malaysia is a Muslim country, drinking is taboo as well as expensive so keep that in mind when planning. I would definitely recommend heading to the gulf and checking out the Perhentian Islands. With turtles as big as cars and daily whale shark sitings, this is the divers paradise, or anyone looking for some amazing snorkeling as well. For more budget accommodations head to Perhentian Kecil (the small island).
With new great surf hostels and airbnb’s popping up like wild fire, Mexico is becoming even more affordable then ever. Oh and did I mention, the current plummet of the peso, sorry to celebrate Mexicans but now is the time to tip back some tequila! Although most of my travel has been in and around Baja, other travel friends have reported staggering similar deals. You can get yourself a great meal for easily under $5, a bottle of must have tequila for $6 and a clean safe place to rest for under $25 per bed.
What about you? What destinations could you add this list of budget friendly destinations?