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Matthew Kepnes runs the budget travel website, Nomadic Matt, and is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, How to Travel the World on $50 a Day. His book features tips and advice on how to travel the world on a budget and was called “the bible for budget travelers” by BBC Travel. Here on TPG, he shares his favorite budget destinations around the world.
No destination is ever too expensive to visit—there are always ways to save money on your trip. I believe that if we travel as we live—visiting local markets, using public transportation, going to happy hours, and hanging out in local neighborhoods—we can travel well for less, especially when you are using miles to get you there.
But (and I know this is heresy to say) miles will get you only so far. There’s a limit to the amount of miles and points one can earn in a year (though I’m sure Brian is trying to push that limit!) and it’s too easy to burn them faster than you earn them. A few first class flights and a family trip to the W Maldives and, suddenly, you’re a half million points poorer.
I’m a lazy travel hacker. I do fly a lot, go on mileage runs, and manufacture spending, but you won’t see me on the Flyer Talk forums or driving across state lines to get a Target REDCard. Instead, I like to spread my points around and use them sparingly. One the best ways to do that is to only use your points for flights; fly to budget countries where your dollar goes a lot further, and you won’t need your points for hotels or resorts.
For instance, here are six countries that are easy to fly to on points and cheap to travel around:
Fiji is a relatively inexpensive destination to visit, and one of the cheapest islands in the South Pacific. While there are many $1,000-a-night resorts here, you can still manage to enjoy pristine beaches, world-class diving, and tasty seafood without having to mortgage your home. Guesthouses average $50 a night, local food is only a few dollars, and many cheap and inexpensive guest houses on the Yasawa Islands include meals. Local ferries are never that expensive, with the Suva to Nadi ferry costing the equivalent of $20. In short, it’s easy to visit Fiji on a budget.
While the days of China being a super-cheap destination are long gone, the country is still a good value destination. Guesthouses cost less than $20 a day, local food at street stalls are $2-5 per meal, and local transportation in cities runs less than dollar. While cities like Shanghai, Hong Kong, or Beijing tend to be on the expensive side, a wide array of Airbnb options and cheap street food means you can always find a way to save—and once you get out of the big cities, costs come down tremendously.
To me, South Korea is one of the greatest (relatively) undiscovered travel destinations in the world—its prices rival that of Southeast Asia, it’s high tech, the food is wonderful, the countryside beautiful, and the nightlife out of this world. With the South Korean currency, the won, getting 1,100 per $1 USD, it’s hard to bust your budget here. My friends and I went out for a huge meal of Korean BBQ complete with drinks, and we each spent only $8. Served by great airlines like Asiana, I think people should take a closer look at the country.
While it’s always been an inexpensive country for most travelers, the fact that the exchange rate is now 63 rupees to the dollar has made India an incredible deal. Unless you book five-star resorts and eat only Western meals, you’ll find it hard to spend much money here. You can get by on closer around $50 a day by staying at local guest houses, taking second class trains, and eating delicious Indian food. India is sensory overload—it’s often chaotic, crowded and polluted, but it’s also filled with wonderful, friendly people and incredible landscapes. There’s the world, and then there’s India.
The first time I visited Portugal, I fell in love with this European country’s beautiful beaches, wine country, stunning cliffs, excellent food, jovial locals, and fascinating, historic cities—all at bargain prices. As a bonus, Airbnb has become very popular in the country, allowing you to find lots of bargain accommodation. For some reason, Portugal seems to just miss the crowds and press afforded to its European neighbors, and it’s a shame, because it’s deserving of both—but hey, everyone else’s loss is your gain.
While an unlikely candidate, Australia can be incredibly cheap, thanks to a 25% drop in the Australian dollar that has tempered price increases and made Australia the most affordable it has been in years. While restaurants are still relatively expensive in Australia, Airbnb has become more popular, groceries remain affordable, and parks have public BBQs for you to grill up some kangaroo. Down Under is popular with backpackers and travelers on working holiday visas, so there’s a large budget travel infrastructure throughout the country that makes exploring the land down under easy for any spend-conscious traveler.
I believe most destinations in the world can be explored on a budget without sacrificing too much comfort (for instance, I traveled Iceland on $50 a day). But your mission is a lot easier when your destination is already cheap, and though I’ve been to over seventy-five countries since I started traveling, these countries remain my top choices for budget travel.