An old quote says "if traveling were free, you'd never see me again." And for so many of us, the expression couldn't be more true. As incredible as exploring the world can be, the truth is, traveling can also be pretty damn expensive.
But the upside? It doesn't always have to be. While gorgeous-but-pricey destinations like Bora Bora and Paris will typically top the bucket lists of many jet-setters, these high-end places can set you back a few paychecks. The good news is, with a little research, you can find a world of budget-friendly havens teeming with vibrant culture, extraordinary views, exotic cuisine, and so much more. To find out more about affordable vacation spots around the globe, we talked with Jessica Bisesto, senior editor at travel deals site TravelPirates, to share her picks for budget destinations on the rise in 2018. Get ready to pack your bags!
Why go? Known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, this tiny tropical island nation is known for its lush rainforest, sandy beaches, and vibrant local culture. There are also many ancient ruins to explore, some of them dating back more than 2,000 years. For travelers on a budget, Bisesto recommends Sri Lanka over busier and pricier neighbors like India and Thailand.
Accommodations: Bisesto says travelers can find three-star hotels for as little as $12 per night, but there are plenty of hostels, guesthouses, and Airbnbs available for even less. "Three meals per day will set budget travelers back less than $9, and public transportation is available from rock bottom prices."
Why go? This small Baltic nation in Europe is rich with culture. The landscape is diverse and gorgeous, characterized by clear blue lakes, old-growth forests, and a stunning rocky coastline. Visitors will also find a huge array of historic castles, palaces, and fortresses to explore.
Accommodations: For a three-star hotel, expect to pay only around $40 per night. The delicious local cuisine is also super affordable, with hearty meals costing around $10. "Budget travelers should consider the free walking tours and take advantage of museums that frequently offer free admission days throughout the year."
Why go? A huge hub for adventure seekers, this Himalayan country offers some of the best mountain trekking and breathtaking views on the planet. Home to the world's tallest mountain range (including Mount Everest), Bisesto says Nepal is perfect for travelers seeking both solitude and Mother Nature.
Accommodations: "Guesthouses are a great way to get in touch with local culture, and hotels are available starting from $10 per night. Meals mostly consist of fresh vegetables, curried spices, lentils, and meats such as chicken and fish, making Nepal a great destination for vegetarian and carnivorous travelers. With plenty of stunning mountain views and beautiful temples, this small country packs a big punch and makes for a great alternative to more traveled and more expensive Asian destinations."
Why go? Peru is one of South America's most popular getaway destinations, and for good reason. Although most noted for Machu Picchu, a 15th-century Incan citadel atop the Andes Mountains, this beautiful country is filled with canyons, rivers, beaches, and other natural wonders.
Accommodations: "Hostels and Airbnbs are readily available as well as hotels of all ratings with three-star accommodations starting from just $20 per night. Food is cheap and delicious, costing travelers less than $10 per day for three square meals."
Why go? Located on Southeastern Europe's Balkan Peninsula, Albania shares a border with Greece and is only a short ferry ride from Italy. "Castles, Adriatic coastline, and the Albanian Alps can be found in this under-the-radar country fit for budget travelers."
Accommodations: Travelers will only need to shell out about $17 per night for a three-star hotel. The food is incredibly diverse, with traces of Greek, Turkish, and Italian influence, and typically superinexpensive. "Public transportation is cheap and readily available and plenty of hiking trails, national parks, and fortresses await travelers looking to get outside the city and explore Mother Nature on the cheap."
Why go? From rain forests to ruins, this mountainous country is awash with both natural and historical allure. "Cheaper and less traveled than neighboring Costa Rica, Guatemala offers many of the same Central American perks from a fraction of the price. Known for Mayan ruins, volcanoes, and stunning architecture, Guatemala also has inexpensive and delicious food that will only set you back a few dollars a day."
Accommodations: For a three-star experience, you'll need to drop about $13 per night, but guesthouses and Airbnbs can be found for even less. The delicious local cuisine typically sets travelers back a few mere dollars a day.
Why go? With dense rainforests and pristine beaches that rival the best in the world, Malaysia is an incredible retreat in Southeast Asia. Bisesto recommends beginning in Kuala Lumpur (touted as having some of the best street fare in the world), as there are cheap flight options from many different US starting points. "Once you've had your fill of Kuala Lumpur, take a train to the Cameron Highlands or up the coast to Penang to dive deeper into Malaysian culture without increasing your spending."
Accommodations: Only $15 a day will grant wanderlusters a three-star hotel experience, but even splurging for a five-star resort can be done for a fraction of the cost of many tropical destinations. The country is a dream for foodies on a budget, as diners can feast on delectable local selections for only $10 per day.
Why go? For nature-lovers, welcome to the motherland! Long and narrow, Chile has a diverse landscape brimming with hiking trails, mountains, stunning beaches, deserts, and more. Santiago, its capital city, is a buzzing metropolis at the base of the snow-capped Andes Mountains and offers exceptional mountain vistas and historical landmarks to explore.
Accommodations: While Bisesto admits cheap flights to Chile can be hard to come by, once you've arrived, the living is easy. "Hotels start at about $20 per night and a nice dinner with local wine can cost as little as $10."
Why go? Morocco is a getaway of dazzling diversity, from impressive mountain ranges to the sprawling desert and medieval cities to buzzing beach towns. Bisesto recommends visitors take in the sites through free walking tours, "a fantastic way to explore the architectural and cultural sites of the country."
Accommodations: "Morocco offers luxurious accommodations from as little as $12 per night with meals fit for a king for just a few dollars. Visitors can explore the Sahara Desert, the Atlas Mountains, beach towns, and more for very affordable prices."
Why go? A lush paradise in the Atlantic, this collection of islands is a wonderland of craters, caves, hot springs, dense vegetation, and rocky coastlines. Formerly one of Europe's best-kept secrets, Azores's popularity is on the rise, but the authenticity and affordability hasn't been compromised. Go for the diving, whale and dolphin watching, hiking, water sports, and striking scenery.
Accommodations: "These islands offer beautiful hiking trails and romantic resorts starting at just $63 per night. Food and wine is inexpensive, costing budget travelers as little as $8."