8 (Surprisingly) Cheap and Beautiful Travel Destinations

majestic colonialThere is so much information online today for researching travel destinations that it’s not too difficult for you to make excellent vacation choices on a budget. The places you can go — without breaking the bank — may surprise you.

But where do you start? First, how you search makes a big difference, and looking at the climate and atmosphere of a place is a good way to start your research. For example, YouTube has many videos made by travelers so you can get an idea of what it is like to visit many places.

Next, really do your research — there are some great travel deals out there. A good travel tip for those looking for bargains on airfare is setting an alert for the lowest fares using sites like Kayak and Air Watch Dog. You can also search for air fares using Google Flight, which offers a basic search function covering many airlines for fare comparisons. Tuesday afternoons have been pinpointed by some studies as the best day to buy cheap airline tickets because it is the day of the week when the most seats are available. Traveling on a Wednesday or Saturday can also be cheaper. Flexibility with days and times also can reduce fares. For example, early morning and late night flights are often better deals, and traveling on flights with stopovers or plane changes can reduce costs too, though they are less convenient. In addition, shopping for deals far in advance and looking for discounted hotel and flight packages can help also. Of course, traveling lightly is cheaper, because some airlines try to gouge passengers that carry extra or overweight bags.

Fun Fact: For international flights you could try flying as a courier for a package that requires a human attendant. These discounted, or even free flights, are generally available only for one person though. There are courier agencies to sign up with and you can try contact airlines directly. In addition, there are many volunteer programs that allow you to travel for little to no money.

Without further ado, here are some beautiful travel destinations that you may be able to check off your bucket list without breaking the bank!

Cheap and Beautiful Travel Destinations

1.) Mexico

One of the top destinations in the Mayan Riviera is Playa del Carmen, due to its very large white beaches and clear water on the Caribbean. A short bus ride from the Cancun International Airport is easy on the eyes, because the journey follows the coastline. Playa isn’t as crowded or expensive as Cancun, but it is also not too far away. Also, it is close to Cozumel which offers outstanding diving and snorkeling opportunities.

In addition, Zihuatanejo is a small town on the Pacific coast near Ixtapa. It is a little more sedate than the typical tourist center, but still close to Ixtapa if you want activities like shopping, dining and nightlife. In January, average temperatures are in the low to mid 80s, but winter in the U.S. and Canada is also when the snow birds are in Mexico, so prices are high. Of course, it is best to choose times to visit when the least people are there, so prices are low.

2.) Costa Rica

This small Central American country is a popular destination with people who like nature, because it is very rich in biodiversity. There are mountains, jungles, forests, streams, lakes, volcanoes, beaches and many wild species. Costa Rica is also consistently rated as one of the happiest nations in the world.

Once you are there, it is fairly affordable. AirBnB has a number of rental opportunities ranging from $50 – $100 per night.

One advantage of the strong tourist economy there is the large number of ratings for places to stay on sites like AirBnB and TripAdvisor. (Generally speaking, the more ratings there are, the more useful the ratings are.) If it is your first trip to there, it might help to look at travel packages like those on the website called Caravan. Their ten day package features a range of activities and sites to visit. If you want a shorter stay, you could arrange your own travel, but do some of activities they mention on your own. Sometimes Costco Travel and Sun Trips have packages there as well.

3.) Belize

This small, sub-tropical country is becoming more and more popular due to the abundance of nature, slow pace and affordability. Of course, it helps to know some Spanish, but many people there speak at least some English, so travelers need not worry. Belize is probably best enjoyed by people who like the outdoors, beaches and water. Diving, swimming, snorkeling and fishing are some of the most popular activities because the Caribbean waters are very warm during the summer season – up to 83 degrees!

There are also well over 300 kilometers of coastline to explore. The low season here is from May to October, with rains beginning in June, so look for deals during late spring to early fall. Prices during December, January and February might be very high, unless you plan far in advance and get lucky. This is no surprise, since daily highs during these months are about 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

4.) Canada

Vancouver is known to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world due to its location between water and mountains and temperate climate. You can drive a short distance and find excellent skiing and snowboarding in winter and hiking and camping in spring and summer. Vancouver also has many fine restaurants and hotels, in addition to a zoo, a suspension footbridge, aquarium and art museums. If you are inclined to drive in order to explore, you can go to Victoria, the undeveloped parts of British Columbia or Seattle.

January and February are the mild, wet times so there are less tourists and better deals. The best weather is in summer when temperatures range from the 60s to low 70s, but this is also when travel costs tend to be the highest. If you are traveling during the high season it probably is a good idea to book flights and accommodation three months in advance.

Banff is for nature lovers or for those who want to escape to a quiet place for relaxation. The town has less than 10,000 people and is close to the beautiful Banff National Park, which is the main attraction. This park draws hikers from around the world who want to take in spectacular mountain vistas forests and lakes. To get there you fly to Calgary and rent a car for a one and a half hour drive or take a shuttle.

Southeast Asia (in general)

8 (Surprisingly) Cheap and Beautiful Travel DestinationsThis whole region is experiencing an uptick in foreign travelers. While this trend can have a negative impact because it alters local culture, it can also help establish expectations on both sides for how to interact. Once you fly there and become situated there are many places to visit in Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and the Philippines. There are many climates and different rainy seasons in these countries, so it would probably a big help to make sure you carefully research when the monsoon periods are in each place you intend to visit.  Many of these areas actually have a fairly pleasant climate year-round. Cebu, an island province in the Philippines, is mostly sunny and dry throughout the year, with a “wet season” that takes place during the latter half of the year. Temperatures are, on the whole, enjoyable and, with exciting landmarks like the Cebu Taoist Temple and the Magellan Shrine, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get bored on this island. Plus, it’s easier than ever to go online and get a hotel in Cebu. Just pick the date and location and you’re sure to find something in your budget.

 

5.) Cambodia

This country still offers low-cost options for travel once you get there.  Large, air-conditioned buses are available as are share taxis and rentals – but don’t rent a car or motorcycle without insurance. Also, if you want to have time to view the scenery riding a bus or even a slow-moving train is better than driving. If you really want to see the land and interact with people, you could rent a mountain bike or take your own. A mountain bike is recommended due to rough roads. There are also water taxis and in country flights, though the country overall is fairly small. Hitchhiking is probably not that safe. Meals can be had for about $2.50, depending on where you go. This is also a country with significant poverty, corruption and some crime, so it is best to be very careful about choosing locations to visit. Phnom Penh is the capital, but there are also sleepy coastal villages like Kep where you can slow down and just look at the water.

6.) Vietnam

Vietnam borders Cambodia, so if you are in Phnom Pehn you can catch a bus to Saigon for about $10 – $20. Though it is also possible to travel the other direction and wind up in Thailand, if you prefer. If the choice is Vietnam you will find a country that is wealthier than Cambodia and more developed. Economic growth is readily observable and you will pay more when in Vietnam for just about everything. Like Cambodia, this is a country where you can find low-cost enjoyable food at local markets – usually a woman with fresh produce and spices who whips up something right in front of you. Of course, there are also higher end restaurants and fine dining. There are so many things to do in Vietnam, it really comes down to doing your research first before you can begin to decide. From an overnight stay on a junk in Halong Bay to taking cooking classes, there is a wide array of options.

Note: In January in February there is the national Tet holiday, which means local people are on the move and travel for foreigners may be very difficult, so it is probably best to avoid Vietnam during this time. There are many forms of transportation available including trains, but on them be very careful with baggage because there are thieves. The same is true for buses. In cities there are pedicab drivers and taxis for hire if you want to be driven somewhere.

7.) Thailand

Thailand is just a bus ride away from Cambodia. Flights in Bangkok can be expensive, but there is something called a Discovery Pass for flying within Southeast Asia which apparently can result in significant savings. There are also sometimes trains, but they can be very slow. Bus seems to be the preferred method, though if you want something more private there are also taxis, but that will cost more.

Thailand is the most developed country in Southeast Asia, so there are many of the amenities of modern living, such as restaurants, cineplexes, and shopping malls. If you don’t want these things, it would probably best to not spend much time in Bangkok and head out to Chiang Mai, which has a lower cost of living and more access to natural habitats. If AirBnB is a good indication, accommodation can be had for $15 to $60 per night.

There are many sites to visit in Chiang Mai including the Healing Family Foundation, which was established to teach disabled children to weave products that can be sold to support themselves. A trip to Chiang Mai would not be complete without getting at least one massage. They are usually so affordable you might as well get more, and they can last for several hours. Some of the activities are touristy like visiting the Old Moat and others are more about coming in contact with local culture like seeing an elephant camp. It helps to know your own tastes before you go so you don’t try to do everything in one trip and wind up having one superficial experience after another. Chiang Mai is a good place to slow down and have an authentic experience.

8). Laos

Laos is a very long country that can be entered from Cambodia, Thailand or Vietnam.  It is still relatively undeveloped so it can be very affordable once you are there, but be prepared for some hardship if you are used to a certain standard of comfort and cleanliness. It is known for being very relaxed. Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Vientiane, and Southern Laos are some of the top destinations. You will want to carefully research the seasons in order to avoid the rainy period, and places where there may be many mosquitoes.

Luang Prabang is the former capital city of Laos and has many Buddhist temples and markets to visit. The total population is only about 25,000 people. A meal of sticky rice and coconut can be purchased for about one US dollar. Vang Vieng has become a destination for backpackers, but it also has earned a reputation for some ugly behavior and substance abuse. Still, it has natural beauty and peaceful river and is affordable. Vientane is the current capital of Laos and has a population of well over 700,000. Like Luang Prabang there are many Buddhist temples here, including Buddha Park. In a city this size there are many restaurants, but visiting Makphet is a little different because it has a training program for street kids to help them get jobs and have sustainable incomes. It is also one of the top-rated restaurants there.

Just remember, think outside the box when you’re thinking of traveling, and be an avid researcher — the world will truly be your oyster.

Want to hear more?  Check out these posts about travel hacking for free trips:

Earn a 5 Night Vacation with Flights for FREE

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Comments

  1. Costa Rica sounds like just the right place! And I wouldn`t mind visiting a place that is considered such a happy nation either! Ay, how the travel bug itches!

  2. I remember late last year talking to my wife about moving to Vietnam. If we sold our house and moved there we would never have to work again and be instant millionaires that could hire help to do everything we ever wanted. All because of the incredible exchange rate and cheap goods.

    I’m still keen, but i’m not sure the wife is.

  3. These are some great ideas for places to go! We’ve been wanting to go to Costa Rica for sometime as I have a good friend from college who lives there. I also did not know about Google Flight, I’ll have to check that out.

  4. My friend has been living/working in Costa Rica for a couple years now and I definitely want to go there. My manager also recently spent a week there and everyone he went with said they want to go back. My wife’s favorite country to visit is Belize, so I imagine we will be going back there again in the future. Thanks for sharing all these great travel destinations!

  5. Costa Rica, The Dominican and several others may soon be run by Americans who retired there! Or at least it just seems that way right now.

    One thing to consider, regardless of how beautiful, culturally rich, or unique some of these exotic places may be is the political situation. Some areas are known as being dangerous for anyone, especially foreign tourists so being that “avid researcher” is a must.

  6. Great guest post. I’ve always wanted to go to the Canadian Rockies and every year we put it off for some other trip. Hopefully next year…..

  7. Mexico is definitely a great destination location on a budget. Probably more so for us since we live in Arizona and can drive across the Mexican border in a matter of hours. My wife and I did our honeymoon in Cabo and had a blast. Just don’t drink the tap water.

    • I was looking at vacations to Mexico recently and found that it was quite inexpensive, even with flights included. It is definitely something to think about!

  8. LOL. Well, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to come to Canada if they think that the temperature gets to only the high 60s/Low 70s! In Vancouver, the average temperature in the summer is about 27C, which is about 81F. It frequently goes past that.

    In other parts of Canada (if you were to visit the Okanagan of BC for instance), in the summer (July, August) it frequently gets above 86-94 degrees. Toronto gets pretty warm as do most of the major cities in our provinces. I think that number quoted was more for the northern parts of Canada, which aren’t very “inhabited’ let alone visited by tourists. I also wouldn’t call it a cheap place to visit (especially for Americans, who might have some sticker shock on our food, drink, and.. well everything else), but it is beautiful!

    • I have visited B.C. before and loved Vancouver! It’s such a culturally diverse and interesting city. I definitely want to go back one day!

    • Have to agree. Temperatures in Vancouver in the summer time are definitley much hotter than 60 to 70 degrees 80 + is more the normal.

      Vancouver and all the surrounding areas (Whistler, Sunshine Coast etc. etc.) are all very beautiful. But they do not belong on a list for budget travel. It’s inclusion makes it necessary to question all other entries in this list

  9. I’ve been to costa rica three times and loved it! I really want to go to Belize!

  10. This post is making me want to just drop everything and go somewhere. There are so many places that I want to go. I never thought about Belize, but I’m adding that to my to go list.

    • LeRainDrop says:

      I was thinking the same thing! I also have heard great things about travel to Nicaragua. I think a trip to somewhere in Central America is in order soon!

    • Me too, really. We are going on vacation with the kids in 61 days….but whose counting? We are just going to Florida, though, nowhere exotic!

  11. These are all great locations,, although the airfare may be a killer! I would use frequent flier miles to get to these locations. Time of year is an important factor too! You want to avoid the bad weather such as hurricanes, monsoons etc.

  12. I totally endorse Belize. We went to an island off the coast and it was just awesome. It was beautiful, largely undeveloped anc cheap. It is how I imagine Hawaii was 75 years ago. Can’t wait to get back.

  13. I’d rather see amazing ruins and monuments than sunny beaches myself. Greece, Rome and Stonehenge are all on my bucket list.

    • Stonehenge is on our list for 2014. The plan is to spend 5 days in London and visit Stonehenge on one of those days (it’s only a few hours away and they have bus trips) and then spend 2 days in Paris…..with all of our hotels paid for with travel rewards!

  14. Mexico has got some pretty great travel deals. Playa del Carmen was such a great vacation! I’d go back again!

  15. I’ve gotten to see Costa Rico twice on eye mission trips. Free accomodations if you don’t mind doing some work and staying with local families. The upside is that we got locals tours and points of view. Wonderful experiences!

  16. Loved Costa Rica and Thailand – the best part is the food in both places is so delicious and fairly cheap compared to U.S. prices. Laos and Belize are definitely on my goals list.

  17. Oh, the travel bug calls to me on a Monday morning!! Some great locations and tips. My list of places to go – grows longer, but that’s okay with me! Living in SoCal, we’ve been to Mexico multiple times, although it has become a bit scarier to travel there. Still very, very beautiful and affordable, but you probably don’t want to stray too far from your resort. We were in Cancun last Thanksgiving and had a great time, but were just more mindful when we stepped outside the resort. :)

  18. Thanks for the tip about couriers! I have a friend who does that on behalf of the embassy but always thought it was for diplomatic business only.

  19. Asia is close for us in NZ so cheap to get to AND cheap while there! Definitely looking forward to the low expenses in Cambodia/Vietnam/Thailand before we head on to Europe.

  20. I am absolutely shocked that Puerto Rico is not on this list. Not only is it as cheap as any of the things on your list, it’s also more convenient for US-based travelers who don’t have to jump through any visa/customs hoops

  21. I would also have to say Costa Rica is an awesome place to visit, and probably the cheapest. Everything is pretty cheap there, including hotels.

    I have a friend who moved there from America, and she loves it. She can eat an all organic diet for under $30.00 a week. All the produce is local, and dirt cheap. I am jealous of some of the strange fruits she gets to eat.

  22. I agree with South East Asia destinations, or Asia in general. They are less expensive, and yet a good place to go. My husband and I went to Macau two years ago. We spent less than our actual budget for the trip, but it was one of our memorable travels we did together.

  23. I want to go to all of these places! I can’t wait until W can take a long vacation so that we can start going on vacations again.

  24. These are all wonderful places. I would love to go to Thailand first. I am fascinated with their rich culture and history.

  25. Costa Rica and Canada are high up on my list of international destinations. My wife and I are will be taking a low-key, inexpensive trip this summer but will probably splurge next year hitting an international spot possibly Europe.

  26. I’ve always found that what makes a vacation spot cheap (beautiful or otherwise) is connections. Can’t get much cheaper than staying at a buddy’s place :)

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