Vietnam has that perfect combination of being fantastically cheap as well as having lots of fascinating sights. If you’re a backpacker on a shoestring budget, you can certainly survive on very little here. For example, a dorm bed might cost you as little as $7 a night. If you have just a bit more money to spend then Vietnam also gives you great value, as you can easily find wonderful modern hotel rooms for under $30 a night.
Dig into the delicious Vietnamese pho noodle dishes (about $2 for a meal) or drink the bia hoi (locally brewed beer at $0.50 or less a glass), and you can manage to spend very little indeed. Activities and tours, such as those to Ha Long Bay or the Mekong Delta, are all reasonably priced, especially if booked locally.
In my view, the beaches in Vietnam aren’t quite as nice as those in neighbouring countries (with Phu Quoc excepted), and tourist sites like Ha Long Bay can get somewhat overcrowded (look into the less-visited Bai Tu Long Bay nearby). But Vietnam is also one of the region’s most dynamic countries where you can truly feel like you’re in a different world.
Huh, Thailand? Isn’t Thailand supposed to be an expensive resort destination these days? That may be true to some extent if you only go to the beaches in the south, but not if you turn your focus to the inland regions in the north.
Take an overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (cost: $12) and you will quickly realize just how affordable Thailand can be. For example, here you can still find backpacker dorm beds starting at $4 and basic private rooms starting at about $8. Need something more midrange? Chiang Mai is one of the best places to find great independent hotels for very little money. Food throughout Thailand is delicious and inexpensive, especially if you eat local—hit up local restaurant and you can get a fantastic stir fry for about 100 Baht ($2.50). Stick to local transportation (like the ubiquitous tuk-tuks) and you might struggle to spend more than about $25–$30 a day as a backpacker.
Thanks to convenient transportation, lots of activities, and low cost, Thailand is also an easy travel destination… but watch your budget when going to the popular island or beaches (such as the now overrated Koh Phi Phi), as prices can easily double here.
Stick only to places like Djeema El Fna square in Marrakech—Morocco’s most touristy location—and you might think the country is really not so cheap. Order a simple shish kebab with some salad at one of the street stalls here and you might be charged a highly unreasonable $12. But… turn a few corners and you can find that same meal at an authentic Moroccan eatery for just $2.50.
If you are easily seduced by smooth sales pitches, know that the salesmen in Morocco work from finely crafted scripts. But keep a stiff upper lip at the markets and you’ll find that it’s easy to travel in this country for under $30/day, especially if staying in backpacker hostels or budget guesthouses. On a midrange budget of around $50/day you can stay in some of the famous riads—courtyard mini-palaces offering wonderful relief from the sun and buzzing city streets.
If you are European or travelling in Europe, Morocco is easily reached by budget airline from the continent, or via a short ferry from Spain. As the most stable and secure country in the region, Morocco will give you a great taste of northern Africa.
Okay, first a little confession: I haven’t yet been to Albania! But for my next big trip I have my eyes firmly on the Balkans, and the buzz on the European backpacker trail is all about Albania. Since this list previously neglected to mention Europe at all, I’ve chosen Albania to represent here for now.
Yes, you can travel cheaply in Europe. You only need to look towards the east and south-east of Europe, including the Baltics, Central Europe and the Balkans. Some have even taken to calling the Balkans the ‘Southeast Asia of Europe’, which is a weird way to put it but it kind of makes sense. While Croatia is the most touristy in the region and getting more expensive, you can travel very cheaply in Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Macedonia, with the cheapest country in the region easily being Albania.
Right on the Adriatic coast just above Greece, Albania offers beautiful white sand beaches, while inland you’ll find huge mountain ranges as well as the buzzing capital of Tirana. The country doesn’t have as many direct flight connections as some others, so it can be easier or cheaper to fly to nearby Corfu in Greece or start a trip in Dubrovnik in Croatia.
When I first visited Indonesia, I predictably came to Bali. It wasn’t love at first sight. Bali’s south is roughly split between Kuta, a cynical playground for vomiting spring-breakers from Australia, and Seminyak, a beachside town attracting high-spenders with luxury hotels and rose-petalled infinity pools. Neither is really my scene.
But then I discovered the other Indonesia. Go even just a little inland on popular Bali and you’ll find that prices drop and places begin to feel a bit more authentic. Even Ubud (made famous by Eat Pray Love, or at least so I’m told…) manages to be just pleasantly touristy with all its Hindu temples and wonderful arts and crafts, while the rural north and west coasts of Bali are nearly a mirror image of the over-commercialised south. For Bali budget travel tips, check out this post on travelling on Bali for less than $25 a day.
More treasures can be found away from Bali: in Java, Lombok and Sumatra, or in the quiet backwaters of Flores or Sulawesi which are still blessed with local prices. Go a little off the typical tourist trail and you can unlock some awesome adventures. For instance I loved exploring Flores, where I went on a road trip on a scooter and once slept in a convent. Everywhere I was enthusiastically greeted and high-fived by friendly villagers.
Want a slightly less adventurous Indonesia trip? Then the Gili islands off Lombok near Bali are a perfect place to just party or relax. While the islands are slowly going more upmarket, you can still easily stay on a budget here.
Nepal is renowned as one of the best places in the world for safe and affordable mountain trekking. Following the earthquake in 2015, Nepal has been slowly recovering and is open for business once again.
Home to eight of the world’s 10 highest peaks, Nepal is a great choice for those looking for an active trip amongst epic landscapes, though equally you can choose to just chill out in Kathmandu. Despite their remoteness, many routes through the Himalayas have tea houses and lodges along the way where you can eat, sleep, and recover. On a backpacker budget, you can easily survive on about $25 a day in Nepal.
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