Traveling doesn’t have to be expensive. Whether you explore solo, with girlfriends, or family, budget travel destinations can be found. 

Flights tend to be the biggest expense of a trip. So, planning ahead is imperative. Keeping an eye on travel websites and apps will cut both airline and accommodation costs. Furthermore, check airlines’ low fare calendars and skyscanner. Indirect flights are usually cheaper. Determine how much you want to spend. Then, search within those parameters. And, the destination will play a big part in your budget.

Here are 10 budget-friendly travel destinations to visit on your next trip!

Estel's delicious budget-friendly restaurant
Estel’s Restaurant

Caye Caulker, Belize

The laid-back Central American country has hundreds of small islands off the coast where you can stay.

Two of the most popular are Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. The latter is less expensive and not as touristy. There are no cars on the island, so you can walk everywhere. Hotels are cheap. Although, check several comparison sites. Not every website offers the same price for the same room. Alternatively, search by price range. TripAdvisor lets you read about other travelers’ experiences. Renting an Airbnb is another option. For instance, one bedroom cabanas for as little as $50 a night are not uncommon. Many have kitchenettes, allowing you to cook meals and save on restaurant costs. 

The country’s great exchange rate helps lower costs of food, transportation and accommodations without compromising quality. Their currency is the Belizean Dollar. 1 USD is about the equivalent of 2 BZD. 

Enjoy the beautiful beaches. Or, book a $40 tour to explore the Belize Barrier Reef UNESCO World Heritage Site. Caye Caulker Marine Reserve snorkeling trip lets you swim with harmless rays and nurse sharks. I had a blast frolicking with these sea sweeties! In addition, other tours explore further into the Hol Chan Reserve. Check Groupon for budget travel discounts. They offer services in 15 countries.   

When traveling, take along an e-book or book pertaining to the area, whether it be a historic overview or a fictional story based in the region. Beforehand, contact your local library to see if you can check-out either for the duration of your trip.

Suggested reading:  Pataki Full: Seven Belizean Short Stories (Colville N. Young). And, In Times Like These (Zee Edgell).  Or, Understanding Belize: A Historical Guide (Alan Twigg).    

Montreal city can be budget-friendly
Montreal Skyline

Montreal, Canada

Perched on a 30-mile-long island at the convergence of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers, Montreal is my favorite Canadian city. It is the perfect blend of modernity and stunning historic architecture with a European feel. While, French is the native language, everyone speaks English. Forgo the expense of traveling to France, and visit its beautiful twin sister in Northeast Canada!

Montreal’s public transportation is stellar. With 68 metro stations and four different lines, it’s easy, fast, and inexpensive to get around.

Art installations decorate the walls of most terminals. In the 1960’s, then Mayor Jean Drapeau wanted to add culture to his borough. Therefore, he commissioned local artists to paint stations.

The city is also very walkable. Clearly great for budget travel. Every evening at dusk, 25 astonishing videos are projected on downtown’s walls, trees, streets and buildings. These depict great periods in Montreal’s history. Download the free, mobile Cité Mémoire app and guide yourself along the streets. The app also includes 100 points of interest, which comes in handy during the day. 

Street murals decorate the Saint-Laurent neighborhood. All you have to do is walk around to see the colorful masterpieces.

Montreal has honed their outdoor arts culture with an annual summer Mural Festival, showcasing over 80 installations. The “open-air museum” remains accessible year round. Again, a perfect free activity for those traveling on a budget.   

An alternative to eating at restaurants when in the city, is shopping at Jean Talon, or Atwater markets. For instance, each offer fresh produce, small bites and full meals you can eat there or take back to your hotel/Airbnb. Don’t forget to try the province’s signature dish, poutine. French fries are topped with cheese curds and brown gravy. There’s numerous iterations of the hearty meal including veggies, meat and fish. And, at less than $10, it’s affordable for budget travel. 

Suggested reading: The Favourite Game (Leonard Cohen). Also, The Tin Flute (Gabrielle Roy). Or, The History of Montreal: The Story of a Great North American City.

Seoul is often overlooked for budget-friendly travel
The Heart of Seoul, South Korea

Seoul, South Korea

Seoul is a fascinating, history-rich, vibrant “undiscovered” city. Often, it’s overlooked when planning budget-friendly travel in East Asia. The people are a joy and the culture is welcoming. It is home to Korean BBQ and Kimchi, a staple in the cuisine.

No visa is necessary for stays 90 days or less.

A valid passport is required. South Korea’s currency exchange is 1,100 won to $1 USD. Most everything costs a few thousand won, which means it’s extremely cheap to vacation in the fun, exciting city. The subway system is clean and efficient. Taxis aren’t pricy, and a good way to get around when taking in the nightlife. Also, Seoul is a no-tip culture, so this will save money.

Highly-rated hotels in the city run about $120 a night. Hostels are a budget option and customary for tourists of all ages.

I stayed in a hostel. However, request a private room and do your homework to find one with good ratings. Many of them include breakfast.

There is an abundance of shopping malls. However, many of them underground at the subway stations. It’s mesmerizing to stroll the labyrinth of stores. Even so, when staying on a budget, I suggest you find one special souvenir which best represents your trip. Many times the more unusual pieces are found at street markets or shops off the beaten path.

Suggested reading: Please Look After Mom (Kyung-Sook Shin). Or, The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture (Euny Hong). Also, The New Koreans (Micheal Breen).

Country Music budget-friendly travel
The Lights of Music City USA

Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States.

You don’t have to be a country western music fan to love this area. But, after spending a few days here, you’ll be tapping your foot to honkey tonk.

Clearly, Nashville’s history runs deep. The free Tennessee State Museum goes into detail about the state’s past. First settlers, the areas statehood in 1796, and the devastating Civil War are unfurled. Discover Nashville has a downloadable map with a walking tour through Nashville’s history and architecture. Shelby Pedestrian Bridge, with photo ops of the city skyline, is one of the landmarks.

The Nashville City Cemetery has $5 tours introducing guests to the “residents” from the 18th and 19th century wild west days.

Undoubtedly, Ryman Auditorium is a Music City icon. This is where Jonny Cash met June Carter. Likewise, Roy Rogers, Mae West and W.C. Fields graced the stage. A self-guided tour will cost $24.95.

I love the Country Music Hall of Fame! The over 800 stage costumes and 600 instruments give a thorough look at the genre’s evolution. There are AAA discounts off the $25.95 admission. Or, arrive at 4p.m. for the final hour they’re open and enter for $10.99.

Suggested reading: Murder and Mayhem in Nashville (Brian Allison). Or, A Note Yet Unsung (Tamera Alexander). Also, Fortune, Fiddles, and Fried Chicken: A Business History of Nashville (Bill Carey).

Guadalajara is budget-friendly and beautiful
Guadalajara’s Historic Architecture

Guadalajara, Mexico

Mexico is a diverse country offering everything from white sand beaches to bustling cities for budget travel.

I’ve traveled throughout the Baja peninsula, Mexico City, Morelia, and more. Each is special in its own way. Places such as Cancun and Cabo San Luca draw lots of visitors. But, I enjoy less touristy areas where locals live. 

The Cross Border Express (CBX) allows access to flights from the Tijuana Airport, where airfare to destinations in Mexico are considerably cheaper.

Check-in counters in San Diego will process your CBX ticket. You then walk across the enclosed 390-foot skybridge to your Mexican flight.      

Guadalajara is a gorgeous city and a major Mexican cultural center. It’s the birthplace of Mariachi music and delicious chile relleno en nogada. The 18th century architecture with inlaid tile is phenomenal. Guadalajara’s Cathedral spans back to 1541 with subsequent reconstructions through the years. Teatro Degollado’s stone pillars are reminiscent of Italian style. Moreover. the venue hosts regular theatrical and artistic performances. 

Shopping at Tlaquepaque and Tonala is a treat. Tiendas in beautiful, old haciendas line pedestrian streets. The colorful district showcases local artisans, galleries and amazing food! You’ll find tequila at every restaurant, because its namesake town where the high octane liquor is produced lies 30 minutes down the road. Salud!

Suggested reading: Like Water for Chocolate (Laura Esquivel). And, Pedro Páramo (Juan Rulfo). Or, The Gulf of Mexico: A Maritime History (John S. Sledge). 

Viewing boats at Panama Canal fun budget-friendly travel experience
Panama Canal

Panama City, Panama

Panama City is the heart of this Central American country with its nightlife, cuisine and culture.

Most flights arrive at Tocumen International Airport, twenty miles from downtown. An Uber ride will cost between $10 – $17USD, depending on the time of day. 

The exchange rate of 1 Panamanian Balboa (PAB) to $1 USD is easy to convert. Staying at an Airbnb is the less expensive option for budget-friendly travel. Superhost accommodations start at $28 a night. You can get around by bus for as little as 25 cents or subway for 35 cents. But, Uber is the most efficient mode of transportation.

The Panama Canal is a requisite.

To see mammoth ships pass through the locks is impressive.  A 20-minute, $5 Uber ride will get you to Miraflores Lock. The Visitor’s Center has a viewing platform and museum. Without a doubt, the $15 admission is money well spent. Early morning and afternoon are usually when the ships pass through.

Restaurants aren’t as cheap as expected. But, you can find a good deal at local food stalls. Should you want a nice meal with wine, the beautiful Spanish Colonial Casco Viejo district offers upscale dining. Order tapas instead of a large meal to cut down on cost in this budget-friendly destination. In addition, if visiting on a weekend, stop at the open market at Plaza de la Independencia. Download to sign up for a tour of the area and other nearby highlights.

Suggested reading: The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal (David McCullough). Or, Beneath a Panamanian Moon (John Harper). Also, The Tailor of Panama (John le Carré).

Athens & islands can be budget-friendly travel if done correctly

Athens & Greek Islands, Greece

Most people don’t think of Greece, or even Europe, as a budget-friendly destination. But, a place can be either expensive or affordable depending on how you travel. Firstly, plan your trip in the off season, late spring or early autumn. This will cut the airfare and hotel costs. Book accommodations with breakfast included and take a foldable, refillable water bottle

When flying into Athens, take the metro 45 minutes into the city. The subway is the easiest and cheapest way to get around. You’ll want to have cash to pay for rides, $5 gyros, and souvenirs. In 2002, Greece became part of the European Union and uses the euro. Exchange dollars inside a bank or ATM for the best rate. Inquire with your bank at home what fees they charge for the conversion.

Dazzle you senses with a tour of The Acropolis Museum ! The collection delves into the artistic achievement and reveals layers of preserved history you can view underneath glass floors. After familiarizing yourself with this marvel, walk across the street to the Acropolis.  Allow yourself between one to two hours to tour the monument. One caveat, watch your wallet and cell phone as pickpocketing is prevalent in Europe.

Greece is a large country due to its 168 islands. It’s possible to visit many while on a budget.

Mykonos and Santorini are the more touristy and expensive. However, numerous other atolls are equally beautiful for less money. Firstly, Poros is easily reachable by a one hour ferry ride from the Athens Pireus port. This lesser know island has sandy beaches and ancient architecture rivaling its sister islets. Secondly, further south, is Naxos. This budget-friendly travel gem in the Aegean Sea, is a four hour ferry ride from the Athens port of Rafina. Forty-one ancient traditional villages, a vineyard and winery, hiking trails, and pristine shoreline compliment Naxos’ beauty and charm. For instance, Hotels for $48 a night make this an affordable alternative to the other islands.   

Suggested reading: North of Ithaka (Eleni N. Gage). And, Dinner With Persephone (Patricia Storace). Or, The Greek Way (Edith Hamilton).

Pacaya Volcano budget-friendly travel activity
Arriving in Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

Flying into Guatemala City’s Aeropuerto Internacional La Aurora there is a spectacular view of two volcanic peaks poking through the clouds.

Clearly, a precursor of this country’s natural beauty. Upon landing, escape the big city and go to Antigua. The small town is at the base of Volcano Agua, 25 miles southwest. Uber or taxi will cost between $20 – $35 dollars depending if it’s day or night.

In Antigua you’ll find the warmth and feel of family so indicative of Latin countries. Instead of renting a hotel, budget travel homestays will immerse you in the culture. This gives a true sense of how locals live. A room with one double bed will cost about $11 a night. Without a doubt, my host “mother” was a trip highlight during my visit.

A guided hike of Pacaya Volcano is a must! At $15 per person, it is a budget-friendly travel outing. Lush trees and shrubs line an ash covered path. Guides ascended the 8,737 foot mountain along side you pointing out flora and telling stories of their land. They offer marshmallows to roast by the heat from crevices in the volcano.

Guatemalan coffee is the perfect elixir! A visit to La Azotea Coffee Plantation and museum shows the growing and processing technique. You can walk through the farm and museum on your own. Or, for 50Q (Guatemalan Quetzal) approximately $6.50 USD, you’ll get a guided tour and a cup of coffee.

Colorful woven textiles, handcrafted jewelry, and carved wooden pieces fill open air markets in Antiqua’s town’s center.

Women dressed in hand embroidered garments sell their wares along the cobblestone streets.

Indeed, these souvenirs make for wonderful mementos of your trip.

Suggested reading: The Long Night of White Chickens (Francisco Goldman). And, Silence on the Mountain (Daniel Wilkinson). Or, The Guatemala Reader: History, Culture, Politics (Greg Grandin).

Tango lessons are budget-friendly at $20 an hour
Tango Dancers in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires, Argentina

The tango is synonymous with Argentina. There are people practicing in the streets of Bueno Aires, and studios where you can learn the romantic dance. Alma del Tango in the heart of the city charges $20 for a one hour group lesson. This county also has delicious steak, Malbec wine, heart-stopping Iguazu Falls, and mammoth Perito Moreno glacier.

Buenos Aires is considered to be the most sophisticated South American city. It’s often compared with Madrid and Paris.

As the largest city in Argentina, it’s nearly impossible to experience everything the capital city has to offer. Getting around the sprawling metropolis is easiest on the inexpensive subway (the subte) and bus. The fare is about 6.50 Argentine Peso (ARS) equal to 11 cents. Purchase a transit card at any of the many kiosks you’ll find on the street. Taxis are affordable, as well. But, most drivers don’t speak English, so it’s best to have the address on your phone.

Rent an Airbnb in a good neighborhood such as Palermo. An upscale tower with air conditioning, pool and luggage check is as little as $44 a night. Budget-friendly travel can have affordable luxury. 

Like its European counterparts, each Sunday San Telmo Flea Market sets up over 250 stands with antiques, vintage apparel, food and live music.

It is an inexpensive way to spend a few hours and mingle with locals.

The city does have petty crime, especially pickpocketing. Importantly, don’t carry large amounts of cash. Furthermore, keep credit cards and money close to your body.

Splurge on a good meal, it’s not terribly expensive.

A steak, wine and sides will cost about $30 USD per person. The city has over 3,000 restaurants. It’s best to ask a hotel concierge or shop owner for their recommendation.

Should you want to see Iguazu Falls, the largest system of waterfalls on the planet, there are two options. First, a  2 1/2 hour domestic flight. Or, second, a 17 hour bus ride. Due to taxes on foreigners, air fare for non-residents is quite expensive. However, with time constraints, it may be the best option. Conversely, the budget-friendly bus is plush and comfortable with plenty of room to store your belongings. Purchase a cama — first class — ticket where they provide meals, snacks and movies. Over-night travel is available, as well.

Suggested reading: Heartbreak Tango (Manuel Puig). And, A Quiet Flame: A Bernie Gunther Novel (Phillip Kerr). Or, Buenos Aires: The Biography of a City (James Gardner).

Zip-line in Monteverde and see sloths

Monteverde, Jaco Beach & Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is home to a large contingent of expatriates. Many are baby boomers from the United States.

Verdant rainforests — home to colorful toucans and sloths — white sand beaches, and fabulous weather are the appeal. This, along with delicious food and friendly locals lures 1.9 million visitors annually. It’s a small country flanked by the Pacific ocean and Caribbean Sea. Nicaragua is to the north and Panama to the south.

Winter is the cheapest time for budget-friendly travel. January and February are the least expensive months. Because the dry season is just starting, you’ll still see waterfalls, without enduring days of rain.   

There are two airports in the Central American country — San Jose and Liberia.

Flights are usually 20% cheaper to San Jose. Although, the capital city doesn’t require a lot of time to explore. I stayed one day, ate muy bueno meals, and played blackjack at the casino using colons (CRC), the local currency.

Car rentals are surprisingly inexpensive, costing about 3,000 CRC ($5 USD) a day. Get something durable, because the roads aren’t in good condition. Monteverde, northwest of San Jose, is known for its cloud forest and fabulous birding. Absolutely, a fun activity is to zip-line through the tree canopy .  Most tours usually offer transportation from the hotel, guides, and entrance fees. Most importantly, research the different options. 

There are popular destinations on each coast. For example, Jaco Beach to the west. Or, Puerto Viejo to the east. The Pacific ocean beach town has experienced growing tourism. As a result, this translates into beach parties and nightclubs. A half hour drive away is the more sedate Carara National Park. However, Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean Sea offers amazing snorkeling and cheap accommodations. Here you can hike, bike and fish, and spend your vacation on beautiful, serene beaches.

Suggested reading: Lying in Your Arms (Leslie Kelly). And, Green Phoenix: Restoring the Tropical Forest of Guanacaste, Costa Rica (William Allen). Or, The Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide (Richard Garrigues).

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