Need a getaway but strapped for cash? No problem. Here are 2018’s top 10 places to travel on a budget (and they’re simply stunning):
1 – Island of Ometepe, Nicaragua
Get your heart racing in Ometepe, Nicaragua, an island in the middle of Lago de Nicaragua formed by two volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas. Ometepe offers a host of rousing activities, including hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, swimming in thermal springs, and surfing on the Pacific coast. Nicaragua is also the only place on Earth where you can hike up an active volcano and go "volcano boarding" down its slopes.
If you prefer less daring ventures, explore the old city of Granada, complete with cobblestone streets and well-preserved Spanish colonial architecture.
Travel budget: Spend the night in dorm beds for $6-8, or budget rooms for $13. Nutritious rice, meat, and vegetable meals will cost as little as $3.
2 – La Paz, Bolivia
The special thing about La Paz is that it's the highest altitude capital in the world – and they’re very proud of that fact! It will take a while to acclimate to how thin the air is up there, but once you’re good, you can jump right into mountain biking down steep dirt roads down the mountain cliffs. You can find your thrills in the city too – a tour agency called Urban Rush Bolivia lets you rappel down office buildings dressed like Spiderman!
If you prefer a calmer vacation, join walking tours discussing the political history and street culture of Bolivia. For avid shoppers, visit the witches' market, which sells a variety of mystical items from Bolivian good luck charms to preserved llama fetuses.
Travel budget: Hostels are in the $8-13 range for a dorm bed. Cooking at the hostel is generally encouraged for budget backpackers, but if you'd still like to eat out, mid-level restaurant prices go for anywhere between $3-13.
3 – Poland
Poland enjoys a close historical relationship with the Netherlands and Belgium, which is made apparent in the beauty and architecture of Old Town in Gdansk. Post-WWII Gdansk buildings mimic the charm of Amsterdam, with their playhouse-like designs and tasteful, vibrant colours.
For the more outdoorsy types, go bison-spotting at the Białowieża National Park, the only remaining place where European bison live in the wild. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage site because it preserves the last surviving portion of Białowieża Forest, a primeval forest that used to stretch across the European Plains.
Travel budget: Expect to spend $44 a day in Poland, assuming you stay in a hostel. With regard to food, you’ll get the most bang for your buck if you eat at the cafeteria-style milk bars or bar mleczny. For $9 you’ll get a filling meal consisting of soups, pierogis, meat and beer.
4 – Slovenia
Although travel in Slovenia comes at far lower prices compared to its neighboring countries, it doesn’t sacrifice authenticity. Slovenia is big on culture. For an all-out experience, purchase the Ljubljana Card to give you access to the capital city's cultural establishments. Plus, if you visit on the first Sunday of every month, on Slovenian Culture Day, or the Merry Day of Culture (see what we mean about big?), museums and galleries offer free admission.
A key landmark in the city is Ljubljana Castle, an 11th century medieval fortress sitting atop Castle Hill. Here, you can explore the extensive castle grounds, including the dungeons, Chapel of St. George, and surrounding forest.
Travel budget: Budget rooms at hostels go for $47-63, while beds in shared dormitories go for half that price. To save on food, eat at Serbian or Turkish ethnic restaurants, or grab Italian pizzas for around $8.
5 – Morocco
The medinas of Marrakech and Fez are a haven for shoppers. Take care while traversing the labyrinthine alleyways of the medinas! Handmade crafts, bags, clothing, and jewellery sold at souks here are of gorgeous quality and worth their high asking price, but if you're on a budget, haggling is accepted.
Since you're here, don't miss a chance to venture into the Sahara Desert. All-inclusive tours can be arranged from Marrakech, so all you have to do is show up to mount your camel at sunset, ride out into the desert at night, and wait for dawn to break over the dunes.
Travel budget: Good Moroccan hostels go for $10-15 a night, and offer free breakfast. Meals elsewhere go for around $7, and often come with free bread or salad. Don't drink! Morocco is a Muslim country—alcohol is hard to come by and is thus expensive.
6 – Namibia
Lonely Planet calls Namibia "Africa for beginners". It's easier to navigate Namibia by renting your own car and self-driving the desert roads rather than signing up for commercial tours.
The must-see destination in Namibia is easily Etosha National Park. Etosha offers wildlife drives, where you can get close to the water holes and see lions, elephants, giraffes, wildebeests, zebras and other animals up close. The park is also home to the endangered black rhinoceros and black-faced impala. Time your arrival at dawn if you plan to see the animals on your own, or take a guided night drive to watch the larger predators hunt after dark.
Travel budget: You’ll probably spend $60 a day. This will include accommodation at campsites and food, though most of the expenses will go to fuel. Rental cars are the best way to get around Namibia. Enjoy driving around the empty desert roads and enormous sand dunes to get from destination to destination.
7 - Fiji
Fiji is a South Pacific archipelago of almost 900 islands, many of them volcanic in nature. Naturally, the main activity is island hopping. Fiji is famous for its clear, warm waters and vibrant corals. Surfing, snorkeling, and diving are favourite activities in the Mamanucas and the Yasawa Islands. Dive spots go as deep as 40 metres at places like the Rainbow Reef and Astrolabe Reef.
For your time on land, make sure to visit the capital city Suva, located on the island of Viti Levu. Drop by temples, mosques, and the Fiji Museum, which showcases Fiji's history all the way back to colonial and pre-colonial times.
Travel budget: Fiji might seem like a luxury tourist destination, but in reality, backpacking is just as thriving an industry. Many hostels and attractions are geared to be friendly towards backpackers on a budget, going for $10-20 a night. Lodging typically already includes three meals per day, but if you’d like to eat outside, expect to pay anywhere between $3-6.
8 – Luzon, Philippines
It's impossible to see all 7,107 Philippine islands in one go, so if you must stick to only one island, start with the largest - Luzon.
Northern Luzon boasts impressive mountain ranges, which are home to indigenous Filipino mountain tribes. The attractions here meld culture with adventure. Enjoy the view from the Banaue Rice Terraces built into the side of the mountains, an agricultural wonder and UNESCO World Heritage site. Make time as well for caving and trekking in Sagada to explore the traditional hanging coffins of indigenous tribes.
On the southern part of the island, you can hike the active Mount Mayon in Bicol, which is famous for its perfectly symmetrical cone and moody temperament. If diving deep is more your style, snorkel with whale sharks - the largest fish in the world! - at Donsol in Sorsogon.
Travel budget: Budget hostels and pension houses can go as low as $5-10 a night. As for meals, you’d be surprised how much food you can buy for $5!
9 – Laos
Laos is focused on eco-tourism and community-based tourism, so it’s not as commercialised as neighbouring countries. Explore the quaint city of Luang Prabang, situated at a relaxing riverside location at the confluence of the Nam Khan River and Mekong River. Luang Prabang was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its exquisitely-preserved traditional wooden Lao houses and French colonial architecture.
On the other side of the spectrum, try the Gibbon Experience at Nam Kan National Park! The Gibbon Experience encourages you to spend the night in the jungle, sleeping in the world’s highest tree huts. You can get around via the 15-km zipline and wake to the sounds of gibbon song in the morning. This part of the trip may be a bit pricey, but the unforgettable experience provides income that benefits the forest and local communities.
Travel budget: Accommodations can go for as little as $3-10 per night for budget non-air conditioned rooms, while air-conditioned rooms go for $10-14. Rice meals cost around $2, though they can go up to $5-7 in more commercialised locations.
10 – Hunan, China
Hunan’s main attraction is the glass bridge in the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, one of the highest and longest glass-bottomed bridges in the world. It's a heart-pounding enough experience to walk across it, but for the bravest of the brave, you can also zipline and bungee jump off the bridge into the sandstone canyon below.
Also in Hunan is Fenghuang (Phoenix) Ancient Town. Fenghuang has preserved its original pre-modernisation period appearance, dating all the way back to the Qing Dynasty. Feast your eyes on traditional stone roads and multi-storey wooden houses by the riverside. And speaking of the river, you can also relax on a boat and cruise along the beautiful Tuojiang River.
Travel budget: Shared hostel rooms in Hunan cost around $6 a night. Hunan's cuisine, called Xiang cuisine, is heavy on sour flavours and pickled vegetables; with careful budgeting, you can expect to spend at least $13 for quality Xiang food. ■