5 Most Affordable Destinations I've Traveled (+ Recommend)
"What are the most affordable places to travel?"
"How can we travel like you and not break the bank? Lol"
"How do you travel so much? Doesn't it get expensive?"
These are word-for-word questions I've received from friends and readers over the past month.
You may want to travel, but can't swing the 5-star resort in the Maldives (yet).
Or you may want to be conscious of your spending so you can travel for a longer period of time.
Or you may work online like I do, and want to find cool places to base yourself but also be able to afford the cost of living.
No matter your reasons for coming across this blog post, here are some of the cheapest places I've traveled that I also recommend.
Here are the 5 most affordable destinations I've been to yet:
I'm sure you're not surprised to see Thailand as number one on this list.
Despite being a huge tourism destination and "hub" for backpackers getting to and from Southeast Asia, it is still extremely affordable.
With plenty of diversity in terms of areas/things to do - beaches and islands to the south, bustling Bangkok, and the chill regions up north in Chiang Mai and Pai - you could easily spend months exploring Thailand.
And it wouldn't cost you much to do it.
On my trip last year, I erred more toward the "comfortable" budget side as I was doing an extended trip through multiple countries, but also was working online while traveling so my standards had to be at least a little higher.
I've also moved into the mid-twenties mark of my life, and I just can't hang like I used to. Still, traveling Thailand was crazy cheap.
I stayed at The Moment Hostel, which was $10/night in Ao Nang (near Krabi and the islands on the western side) and a small boutique hotel in Bangkok for $30/night near Khao San Road. (After a terrible hostel experience in Singapore, I decided to go for a hotel in Bangkok. Remember when I said I can't "hang" like I used to? Haha).
Food in Thailand, especially street food - which is amazing - was very affordable.
Think 25 cents to a dollar for noodles on the side of the road.
The popular ham and cheese "toastie" from 7 Eleven, often mentioned in backpacker blogs, is about 25 cents.
There are plenty of ways to negotiate and bargain at certain markets and shops, too.
2. Mexico City
I just visited Mexico City and was surprised to see my wallet didn't leave much thinner. Not only was Mexico City extremely affordable, the quality of the food, lodging, activities, and more blew away my expectations.
You know what, though? I didn't have high or low expectations for Mexico City, because I went in not knowing much about it.
Mexico City definitely seems to take a backseat to the beach destinations of Cabo, Cancun, or Tulum, and the media is often focused on portraying the drug trafficking/etc. up in the north.
So when my friend and I decided to spend about a week in CDMX, I had a feeling it would be pretty affordable, but was blown away by how much I loved it.
Our Airbnb was a 2-bedroom/2-bathroom apartment right in the historic center for only $36 USD/night.
We'd wake up, walk one block down to this amazing artisenal bakery, and get eggs benedict for $5.
We'd get tacos al pastor and two drinks for only $5 each. Yes, for four drinks + four tacos at a hip restaurant in the Rome Norte neighborhood, our bill was only $10.
We negotiated a private boat ride in Xochimilco from 700 pesos to 350 or $16. (Maybe that is still a high tourist price, I don't know, but the guy we negotiated with still seemed happy).
Bali is certainly not the cheapest place to travel in Southeast Asia especially with the rising tourism, but it is definitely low compared to western standards.
Plus, Bali is absolutely incredible. Beautiful scenery all around - think lush rice fields, stretches of beach with a perfect sunset, cliffside ocean views, and so much more.
The people are friendly. The culture and religion are some of the most unique that I've personally traveled to. The local food is delicious. And you'll find plenty of international cuisine, too (which costs more).
People say Bali is to Australia as Cancun is to the US: a nearby tropical destination filled with unique culture and good vibes.
Yessss. My friend Mollie and I visited Istanbul, Turkey's capital, during a break from our work trips when we were based in Italy.
In terms of (very far east) Europe, Istanbul was very affordable.
We stayed in a dorm room hostel for $12 each per night in the Taksim neighborhood. It was nestled between a number of restaurants, bars, shops, and its location made it easy to get around to the other neighborhoods.
Food was cheap too. We'd spend about $5 for a meal out. We also found fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice on the street for only $0.25. And when we saw someone selling pomegranate juice at the Topkapi Palace for at least 2x as much, we congratulated ourselves for finding a great deal. :)
Crystal clear water and medieval architecture always come to mind when I think of Croatia.
And I've gotten to go twice!
While this country nestled in the Balkans in Eastern Europe is no longer a secret, I found it to still be very affordable on my trips there a few years back.
It was the first place I ate "true" fish (yes, with the head and bones still intact), swam near a waterfall (the massive and beautiful Krka Waterfalls are a must), and saw Game of Thrones filming in Europe (they were filming in Split).
Think $5 USD for a fish for dinner with a side of fries, and a glass of wine for about $2 USD.
However, to be honest, I haven't been to Croatia since September 2013. I've heard from a couple of my traveler friends who have visited within the past year that it is getting more expensive as it has experienced an increase in tourism.
Since I'm not entirely sure if Croatia is still "super affordable," I'm adding a bonus destination to this list....
Hungary! I was in Budapest (Hungary's capital) a while back when I was working as a tour guide in Europe.
While my time in Budapest was short, it was a packed day starting with a massive walking tour led by one of my fellow guides, a lunch visit to the market, climbing up to Buda Castle with sweeping views of the bridge and parliament building, an evening at the Szechenyi Baths (read about the baths HERE), and a night out at the ruins bars.
So while it was just a quick day before we hopped on our bus to Vienna, it was incredible.
Budapest is very high on my list of places to return. I highly recommend a visit to Budapest (as well as more of the city) as it is very affordable and still underrated, though it is definitely picking up speed. Go now!
One point that should be mentioned is that in certain countries it is normal to negotiate pricing at places like markets or certain tourist attractions - for example, shopping at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul or when I knocked the price down for our boat ride in Xochilmico, Mexico.
If you can negotiate well in situations where it's normal to negotiate, then that can stretch your budget even further.
Most of these destinations are popular or up-and-coming in the travel industry, so you may find your typical hotel to be more expensive than you'd expect.
New to Airbnb and want to try it? You can get $40 off your first Airbnb stay right here.
Flights are often the most expensive part of a trip, especially if you're crossing continents.
Travel longer to "save" on flights
Okay, your flights may be around the same price whether you travel for a shorter or longer period of time.
Though if you travel longer, you'll get to do and see more in one trip versus a quick whirlwind adventure.
Get free or super cheap flights
I've done "travel hacking" or "award stacking" over the past few years, which has allowed me to get flights for $5.
Yes, seriously - I flew from California to Bali for $5 using travel points.
Total, I spent less than $300 USD to take 10 (!) flights from North America to multiple countries in Southeast Asia, New Zealand, Australia, and back. Without travel hacking, I would've easily spent thousands of dollars more.
Best Regions for Affordable Travel
Want to plan a multi-country trip but aren't sure which parts of the world will stretch your budget furthest?
Central and South America
Obviously there are more regions and ways to find affordable travel, but those above are most popular for backpackers and those new to travel.
Traveling doesn't have to break the bank.
You may be surprised by how much you can do and how far you (and your money!) can go if you choose certain destinations and plan your trip wisely.