I’ve been travelling the world now for over 10 years, and if there’s one thing of value that I have discovered, it’s that it doesn’t have to cost you a fortune!
I remember many years ago before I started this new way of travelling, I was planning a European trip with my wife. Airfares, accommodation, transport, places we wanted to see, places we HAD to see and daily expenses such as food and purchases.
When I had reached $30,000, my brain snapped, and I said, “That’s ridiculous!”
Fast forward a few years and now no wife and very little money but I have travelled to over 20 countries. I will admit that if I was a millionaire and money was no object, I wouldn’t make my trips the way I do now. I would pick the best accommodation, fly first class and do rich-guy stuff at resorts like island hopping on a yacht, deep sea fishing on a luxury cruiser and always holiday in the best resorts.
But sadly, that’s not going to happen unless a rich relative dies, and seeing I don’t have any rich relatives, well…you work it out.
Getting down and dirty with the natives really gives you a different perspective on people. Also, travelling on the cheap doesn’t mean you miss out on seeing the things that represent the country you’re in.
For example, Paris – Eiffel Tower, New York – Times Square, Sydney – Opera House, Rome – Colosseum, Egypt – The Pyramids. If you can’t afford a luxury air-conditioned bus or a tour guide, then you can walk, hitchhike or cycle to these places once you are in the city and that country.
One of your biggest costs when travelling is your food and accommodation. When you don’t have the cash, you opt for the street food and the hostels.
Believe me, you meet some of the most amazing people on the streets and in backpacker accommodation and some become lifelong friends.
Okay, having established my poor credentials and my penchant for the best experience for the least cost, let me list a few places that you can visit on a shoestring budget. Some of these will surprise you, others you will have never heard of, or if you have, then you would never consider visiting there.
If you think most of these places are in SE Asia, you’re just about right. Your $ really goes far in that region, but Eastern Europe is also an area where you can get real value for money.
Let’s hit the road!
Before you die, you have to see Pandas outside of a zoo. Chengdu is the place to go and to make the trip worthwhile, there are many things to do in this city. The Panda Research Centre is about 10kms from the centre of the city, and if you get there after 8 am, you will see the pandas being fed.
There are not only giant pandas to be seen at this facility but also some other endangered species so that you can make a day of it. You are guaranteed warm, fuzzy feelings after seeing the pandas.
3-star accommodation is both cheap and comfortable in Chengdu and remember, you are in Sichuan Province, so the word ‘spicy’ was invented here when you check out the food.
Street-side stalls are okay and for about $2 you can get a 500ml bottle of beer and a meal. At almost no cost you can do the following: Walk the length of Jinli Street, climb Qingcheng Mountain, visit the Sichuan Museum and stroll through the People’s Park and the Wenshu Yuan Monastery. You can get away with spending about $8 a day.
Costs: Lazybones Hostel, Mixed Beds $4 a night. Food per day, $5 includes a beer. Panda Park, $10. Metro Subway fares, $1.20
There’s a lot happening in this city, and it’s been ever-changing since the times of the Khmer Rouge. It’s not over-endowed with tall skyscrapers, and the streets are very active, day and night.
Be ever watchful for the thousands of scooters buzzing around as you explore the markets and saunter along the promenade of Tonlé Sap. You’ll wonder how some of the villas from the French Colonial days survived and be happy that they are something beautiful and different to see.
Phnom Penh used to be called the ‘Paris of the East’, and you will find a lot of boutique style cafes as well as the National Museum alongside each other.
Costs: Taxi 1 Km – $0.60. Beer – $0.60. Cheap Meal – $3.00. 3-Star Accommodation – $17.00/night.
From one side of the world to the other, cheap and exciting in North Africa means the city of Tunis. Life here is pretty easy going, and if you like a bit of history, then it’s a short hike to the forgotten but famous city of Carthage.
There is also the Bardo Museum that has some great relics from Roman times of murals to ponder over. You can wander through Medina’s souks as a way to explore the capital and if wearing a tunic sits well with you, allow one of the tailors to drag you into his fitting room.
You can also take a short train ride to the bohemian village of Sidi Bou Said for a moment of peace and calm.
Costs: Taxi 1 Km – $0.35. Beer – $1.40. Cheap Meal – $3.00. 3-Star Accommodation – $40.00/night.
My last trip here was in July, and I was greeted by temperatures ranging from 33°C – 40°C, which forced me to opt for air-conditioned accommodation. There are a number of baths you can go to if you need to cool down and don’t be surprised to see old guys gaming on a floating chessboard.
You can stroll down the famous Falk Miksa utca that has many museums and antique shops where you might find a few Communist heirlooms. For a bit of excitement and nightlife head to ‘District VIII’ where there are cafes, bars and restaurants that serve up some traditional Magyar cuisine.
My best memory was sitting in a restaurant on the banks of the Danube at night. Truly marvellous atmosphere.
Costs: Taxi 1 Km – $0.40. Beer – $1.40. Cheap Meal – $4.90. 3-Star Accommodation – $17.00/night
This was one of the cheapest of the eastern European countries I visited. The most popular places like Split and Dubrovnik cater for tourists and where that happens, it means higher prices.
Pula was amazing with the azure Adriatic to swim in, either with or without a bathing costume, and the food and accommodation were a lot less than the popular spots. How many people know that Pula was a Roman stronghold, and it has a colosseum almost identical to the one in Rome? You get history and beautiful beaches.
I stayed in an AirBNB apartment that cost only $25 a night. With a supermarket nearby, I also cooked a lot of my own meals and spent almost every day on the beaches.
Costs: Taxi 1 Km – $0.80. Beer – $1.25. Cheap Meal – $3.80 Accommodation Apt – $25.00/night
I was in Porto from August right through to the following May. I wouldn’t recommend spending winter there as it’s quite miserable. But those Porto beaches in summer are absolutely fantastic. I can’t say the same for the water temperature of the Atlantic!
Porto is full of history and coffee shops. Their famous ‘Francesinha’ meal is layers of meat covered in melted cheese and topped with tomato sauce. You need a cold Portuguese beer to wash that down.
The Metro is the cheapest and the best way to get around and as a tourist, you can buy a day ticket for €4. Of course, Porto means port wine and both the prices and the flavours will please pockets and palates.
Costs: Taxi 1 Km – $0.70. Beer – $1.40. Cheap Meal – $6.50. Accommodation 3-star – $21.00/night
Most people visiting Poland head to Warsaw, naturally, and then might want to check out Krakow for its infamous history during the 2nd World War. But this little gem of a place, Wroclaw, is much better than Warsaw.
The history of the city is well presented with museums, statues and buildings all mixed in with free WiFi wherever you go. The local tram transport system was cheap, even the taxis were okay.
From Wroclaw you can take the Polskibus to anywhere in Europe. Modern architecture is mixed in tastefully with the history, and the Wroclaw town square is one of the best in Europe.
Costs: Taxi 1 Km – $1. Beer – $1.20. Cheap Meal – $2.90. Accommodation 3-star – $18/night
The slogan of this city is, ‘Let the good times roll!’ which indicates a party city. It’s a bit like Rio’s Carnivale when the city has its Mardi Gras in February, but the parties are still raging a month later.
You soak in the Creole architecture and eat some hearty gumbo and jambalaya dishes which might give you the energy for the crazy nightlife. If you love world class jazz in clubs and busking on street corners, New Orleans is going to be heaven for you.
Taxi 1 Km – $0.80. Beer – $2.80. Cheap Meal – $11.20. Accommodation 3-Star – $56.00/night
I spent a month in this place and even hiring a scooter on a weekly basis and not going a day without a beer, I was struggling to spend 1000 baht a day. I couch surfed at a house in Hang Dong, only a few km out of the central city, but also spent a week at a luxury resort. They had NO guests and were open to negotiation. I had a room, well a house actually, next to the pool and 5-star service for $20 a day.
Temples, Kings Gardens, Safari Park and some of the wildest bars in Thailand. The Night Bazaar is somewhere to go almost every evening to eat and do some people watching. They have a stage there where some of the local talent will wow you. Apart from Bangkok, most of Thailand is a cheap holiday.
Costs: Taxi 1Km – $0.30. Beer – $0.40. Cheap Meal – $2.50. Accommodation 3-Star – $20/night
There are not too many places in the Philippines where it’s going to cost you a lot of pesos a day to live. When I had money, I budgeted 5000 PHP a day on my visits to that country which included accommodation, but you can get away with a lot less.
Dinagat Island is not well known at all and maybe over the next 10 years it will increase in popularity as visitors start to realise the amazing water colour (turquoise) and beautiful beaches that surround the island.
Natural caves, lake water and salt water standoffs and very little modernization make this a real getaway. The generosity of the people that live in the small towns will make your life easy.
Snorkelling, swimming, relaxing is Dinagat. There are 7000 islands in the Philippines, and while not all are habitable, the choice of isolation, beach sand colour and resort costs is up to you. Cheap and beautiful.
Costs: Taxi – None. Use tricycles. Beer – $0.60. Cheap Meal – $3.50. Accommodation 3-Star – $12/night
The centre of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with bits of old colonial Spain on every street corner and the beautiful, baroque San Francisco Monastery. With the Pacific Ocean at its side, beaches are a popular place to spend your time.
Walking down the cobbled streets, you can fill up your belly with cheap Peruvian food and then drink cocktails at the bars for a fraction of US prices. The best time to travel there is February a month during which you get lots of sunshine without the local Lima humid mist.
This city is a Latin American jewel.
Costs: Taxi 1 Km – $1.40. Beer – $1.40. Cheap Meal – $3.50. Accommodation 3-Star – $17/night