8 Exotic Destinations You Can Afford


(Photo: Stuck in Customs)

This is a guest post by Tim Leffel, a travel destinations expert who has dispatched articles from five continents over a period close to two decades.

Think world travel needs to be expensive? Think again…

Enter Tim Leffel

Like an annoying house guest who keeps packing but doesn’t leave, this recession keeps dragging on. That downsized international vacation can still be exotic though—if you pick the right destination. Or if you really want to alter your finances for the better, move to one of these places as an expat.

The dollar is in healthier shape than it has been many times in the past in relation to the euro and pound sterling, but a trip to one of Western Europe’s capitals still feels like a shopping trip to Tiffany’s. Australia is not much better, and a trip to Japan could drain your whole life savings in a week.

Here’s a better idea: go someplace where your travel dollars are still worth a bundle.

Below are some of the best deals on the planet right now, destinations that are relatively easy for travelers and also easy on the wallet.

1. Egypt

Photo: Jungle_Boy

Despite having some of the world’s best-known monuments, Egypt struggles to fill its abundant hotels. With less-than-wealthy locals far outnumbering the tourists, it’s easy to find a bargain meal or a guide or taxi driver. (They’ll find you whether you need them or not.) Admission prices for the ancient pyramids and temples are reasonable, generally ranging from $3 to $14.

Sample deals: a first-class train ticket from Cairo to Luxor for $17; a Nile-view deluxe double room in Luxor for $60 with breakfast; a private room by the sea in Dahab for under $20; entrance to the Nubia Museum in Aswan for $4; a falafel sandwich at a Cairo street stall for 40 cents. There’s no great independent travel site for the whole country but Egypt’s official tourism site is better than most.

2. Indonesia

Photo: Erik K Veland

This Southeast Asian nation is one of the most diverse and attractive destinations in the world, with a long string of volcanic islands and a range of topography and culture. It could also be the best value on the planet, with cheap hotels going for $5 a night, often right beside great snorkeling spots. Bali is the most developed island, but even there you can find plenty of deals. On Java, Sumatra, and Sulawesi, however, it’s easy to branch out like an intrepid explorer or get pampered on the cheap in the most popular spots.

Sample deals: a double room with pool and breakfast in Yogyakarta, Java for under $20; a five-day small ship cruise between Lombok and Flores islands via Komodo for $200 per person including meals; a first-class train seat from Jakarta to Yogyakarta for $25; an hour-long massage for $8-$15; a day’s motorbike rental on Bali for $10. Indo.com has a good listing of mid-range hotels in Bali and some other areas while the official Indonesia tourism site has travel info and enticing photos of the diverse islands.

3. Mexico

Photo: Tim Leffel

In mid-2008, the peso was at 10 to the dollar. Now it’s close to 13. That’s a discount of more than 25 percent in a country that was already a deal. Plus Swine Flu followed by drug gang violence on the U.S. border has meant that travelers have tremendous bargaining power on hotels and tours. To find the best values, visit the historic colonial cities or beach areas where Americans don’t outnumber the locals. (As in places where there’s no Señor Frog’s in sight.)

Sample deals: a three-course lunch at a market stand for $4; nice hotels in centuries-old colonial buildings for under $75 double with breakfast and Wi-Fi; a round of Negra Modelos for five at nearly any bar, including gratis snacks, for $10; and some of the nicest deluxe buses in the hemisphere for $6 to $8 per hour of travel. It’s a big, diverse country, but here’s an extensive set of links and the best books on one page: Mexico travel resources from Travelers-tool-kit.com.

4. Honduras

Photo: Tim Leffel

Few people knew anything about this country until it was all over the news last year when the president got forced out of office. You can find fabulous deals on scuba diving packages on Roatan Island. This Caribbean island sits next to the second-longest coral reef in the world, and every hotel seems to offer attractive package plans no matter the season. On the mainland you’ve got tropical national parks, the rugged Moskito Coast, and Copán, one of the key Mayan sites in the Americas and a great little colonial town.

Sample deals: $35 white-water rafting trips; weeklong learn-to-dive packages with room, breakfast, and transfers for under $600; a cold coconut with a straw for 40 cents; and admission to the Copán archeological park for $10. For more info, see the Honduras Tips site or Roatan Online, or see more travel prices in Honduras here.

5. Guatemala

Photo: Tim Leffel

This is only a shade farther to fly than Mexico, but it is a truly exotic destination. The descendants of the Mayans still dress in traditional clothing in the villages surrounding stunning Lake Atitlán. The Spanish colonial buildings in the city of Antigua are older than anything left standing in our historic city districts. The sprawling archeological park of Tikal is the granddaddy of Mayan ruins, and still surrounded by jungle.

Sample deals: taxis in Antigua for $4; great hotels with a view on Lake Atitlán for $60 a night; a week of private Spanish lessons including homestay starting at $180; a zipline canopy tour near Tikal for $30; three pounds of bananas or avocados for a dollar. La Ruta Maya Online is the best resource for hotels, tours, and Spanish language schools.

6. Peru

Photo: Tim Leffel

Machu Picchu alone is worth the journey, but it’s just the start in this value-packed country. Inca ruins are scattered all around the Sacred Valley, and Cuzco is one of the most attractive cities in South America. There is also hiking in the Andes, admiring colonial architecture on the streets of Arequipa, trips through the Amazon, boating across the highest lake in the world, and flying over the strange Nazca lines.

Sample deals: Bus from Arequipa to Colca Canyon – $6; a big traditional lunch and a beer for $7; simple restaurant meal in the countryside $6 for two; entrance to the Inca Museum in Cuzco for $1.50; cheap single room or hostel bed $4-$10; airport taxi in Cusco $4. Andean Travel Web is an exhaustive resource site for trekking info, hotels that are a good value, and general travel info.

7. Thailand

Photo: ccdoh1

As with Honduras and Mexico, visitor numbers plunged when Bangkok was all over the news recently, so there are plenty of deals on airfare, tours, and hotels. This is a popular destination for travelers of all budget levels. Thailand continues to be one of the best bargains in the world in terms of hotel prices, and with a well-developed infrastructure, it’s easy to get around and see what you want to see, be it historic ruins, Buddhist temples, or tropical beaches.

Sample deals: a standard double at a true 5-star hotel in Bangkok for $250 or less per night—or a cheap place to flop down and sleep for 1/20th of that price; admission to the main ruins in Sukothai for under $2; a first-class round-trip sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai for about $40; a Skytrain ticket across Bangkok for about $1.30. The hands-down best travel resource for Thailand is Travelfish.org. They also put out some great iPhone/iPad apps on specific regions and islands.

8. Czech Republic

Photo: Tim Leffel

In much of Europe, prices in the big cities are often double what you find in the countryside. This is especially true in Eastern European countries like the Czech Republic, where vacationers on quick weekend breaks have driven up hotel and restaurant prices in Prague. In the smaller towns and cities, however, the country is one of Europe’s remaining great values. Castles on hill crests, some of the world’s best beer for a dollar or so in a pub, and winding cobblestone streets without crowds—Ye Olde Europe without the new Europe prices.

Sample deals: a room at the best hotel in town across Moravia for under $100 with breakfast; fully equipped hybrid bike rental for $25 a day; sommelier guided 12-bottle tasting at the Wine Salon of the Czech Republic in Valtice for $19; a train ticket from Prague to anywhere in the country for $12 or less. The official Czech Tourism site is excellent while MyCzechRepublic has good general info on different regions plus a message board. See more Czech prices outside Prague here.

To dive in deeper on any of these cheap destinations and see the current situation on the ground, check the message boards at LonelyPlanet.com and BootsnAll.com.


If you’ve ever fantasized about taking time off to globe-trot, I would highly recommend Rolf Pott’s Vagabonding. It is one of only two books I took with me when I traveled the world for 18 months. Outside Magazine founding editor Tim Cahill calls Vagabonding “the most sensible book of travel related advice ever written.”

I recently partnered with Rolf to release the exclusive audiobook for Vagabonding. For more on this incredible book, click here.

Travel writer and website publisher Tim Leffel is author of “The World’s Cheapest Destinations” and runs the Cheapest Destinations blog.

[This post is an updated version of an earlier article that appeared in the Boston Globe travel section.]

Posted on: November 4, 2010.

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241 comments on “8 Exotic Destinations You Can Afford

  1. What kind of Bioelectrical Impedance device do you recommend? A handheld unit or scale? I read somewhere it’s good to use both because the electrical current doesn’t traverse your entire body (e.g. A bioelectrical impedence scale doesn’t reach your upper body…). I’m not sure if this is true or not ….


  2. A fun way to dip your toes into the water is taking in Puerto Rico.

    Easy (cheap) flight, English speaking. I would recommend staying in Ponce on the South side of the Island but historic rooms in San Juan can be had for cheap. They are tiny rooms but my wife and I had no problem with that. The roof top breakfast was included.

    The island can be crossed in 2 hours of travel by car. So in a week you can really get a feel of the place while never being away from the main city.

    I don’t know about the surf there but we hiked the island interior and shared food with the locals.

    Like I said. It’s a great way to get your feet wet.


  3. The post is just so incredible and amazing. It gives me a knowledge that these countries are awesome to visit not only that it is affordable too. You even gave us the cost of expenses which is very helpful. I am planning to travel abroad to have a relaxing moments and this post is exactly what i am looking for. There are incredible things about traveling that is just so great especially when it is your first time to travel on that place. Taking off to fresh and exotic destinations to experience the great sights, sounds, views and tastes of an completely diverse culture can really be an enlightening experience. Traveling can be quite interesting as spending time in a different setting can open up a world of original terms and experiences for you. The countries you have mentioned above are the countries that has a beautiful culture to acknowledge to. Thanks for sharing this to us Tim. I really appreciate the informations. :)


  4. So many places to think of, so many places to plan to go to, so many places to spend your next vacation.

    Hmmmm… If I have the chance, I think I’d go to Egypt. Why Egypt?
    Well… Egypt is the real deal, Its history speaks for itself. In my opinion this is where it all began. When step foot on Egypt, you’ll definitely feel that you are indeed human and even if you weren’t there when it all happened, you will surely feel that you are a part of its history. What do you think?

    But of course, the most important thing before we go these exotic places. I think you should first try to at lease visit the different spots in your own country. You shouldn’t be a “foreigner” in your own country. Try to live the sights and sounds of your country. After that, when you finally get the chance to go to other countries, you’ll surely feel that your are indeed in a different place.


  5. So many places to go to, so many places to plan where your next vacation will be.

    I think Egypt would be a nice place to go to. Why Egypt?
    Egypt is the real deal, this is where it all started, its history, its sights and sounds. We are all a part of Egypt’s history one way or another.

    But come to think of it, before I plan on going to Egypt. I should try to visit the different exotic spots in my own country first. Because if I don’t have to chance to do that, I would feel like I’m a foreigner in my own country. How about you? have you done that lately? If you haven’t, well, now’s the time.


  6. traveling the thing I would like to do before I die..
    Traveling may be expensive but I thing is for sure the experience and the fun will truly be cherished that you can no longer think about the money you’ve spent.. Never ever forget one thing before traveling: CAMERA!!!!


  7. I was all eyes to go to Hong Kong, since everyone I know are going having their vacation trip there, however this blog helped me think that there other places in Asia that I should visit aside from going with the usual trend.


  8. Great post! Made me wanted to pack my bags and go!

    Been to Bangkok once and I say I really enjoyed my trip there. I stayed in a posh hotel near Sukhumvit for about $33 a night because I shared with three friends and they provided us with an extra bed.

    I love eating Thai food street and it’s so cheap you could get authentic Thai meals at 30-45 baht. I too loved the iced tea at 15 baht!

    We went to Pratunam Mall too which was heaven for us girls – got a bag at 120 baht! cheap!

    After all the shopping and tours, I got myself a foot massage for 100 baht! Heaven! :)

    I wanna go back there!

    By the way, you should try the bungy jump at Pattaya! :D


  9. Hi Tim! I just want to add another on your list. I think Philippines should be there. Have you tried visiting the Philippines? We’ve got great tourist attractions which is why I cannot understand why our tourism is not flourishing. Why don’t you give it a try? :)


  10. I will be going to Bali in August, although getting a bit crowded its still got alot of charm and plenty of areas away from the crowds, give lombok a thought also its alot slower paced than Bali and has some awesome beaches and cheap hotels.


  11. hey tim, i just wanna ask where this Spanish lessons including home stay is in Guatemala. i’m really interested in exploring Guatemala and at the same time learning Spanish, too. i’m planning on going there mid-June this year. your feedback’s badly needed. thanks! great choices!


  12. Hey Tim, I love your suggestions! Here is a personal invitation to visit Belize! Come enjoy swimming with the sharks and rays at Stingray Alley off San Pedro. Kick your shoes off when you boat into laid-back Caye Caulker. And Belizeans are awesome……so much hospitality! Remember when you plan your next vacation visit Belize! looking forward to see you Tim!


  13. I have another good one to add… My friends and I were in Santorini, Greece last summer (Greek Islands) and even though they are on the Euro everything was still extremely cheap. This is a tourist destination that in much of the past has been a little pricey but with the current trouble Greek’s in makes for some amazing bargains on places to rent. Also – food, drink, etc are also nicely priced compared to the rest of Europe.


  14. My parents have been to thailand and malaysia.

    My older sister has also been to malaysia when she went to Australia and she says it’s totally amazing. Their totally clean and has great spots that you should visit. It was a shock to my sister when it seems that it is just ordinary for people there that they wear a lot of gold.

    Thailand on the other hand, my mom says they have great beaches.

    Great list here Tim! I would also recommend my country the Philippines! Though you’ve heard a lot of my country, just don’t go to the south (in mindanao).


  15. Hi guys,

    and help, help, help :D. I need to fly to Brasil, Rio de Janeiro at the end of August and I could use any tip or advice as to how I can get lower rates. My leaving point is Brussels.

    All the best to everyone and thanx in advance!



  16. This is a good list of places to consider traveling/backpacking to that are affordable; however, aside from possibly select areas of Indonesia, the rest of the list are places firmly cemented on the tourist map & not really what I would consider as ‘exotic.’ A destination that I recommend where you’re going to really feel like you’re traveling as opposed to being just another tourist or typical backpacker, is Bangladesh.


  17. Hi Tim,

    Excellent post, and 8 destinations that tells us parecesn me wonderful places to travel and visit. From them I have been luckily in Thailandia, we did a tour, Bangkok (city with a lot of pollution), Chiang Mai is quieter and less polluting, giraffe women visited the necks is impressive with

    Tim, I’m from Spain, I would like to ask if you know the ¡¡¡San Fermin festivities !!!!!! ??

    a pleasure



  18. Italy and Spain are now quite cheap as well. And if you’re after a Mediterranean setting, I think Malta is your best bet for budget and luxury. I stayed there last summer and the locals were telling me that b&b and hotel prices were half of what they have normally been in the past.


  19. Great conversation.
    By chance, can we have an updated top eight list, as things change (economy and civil unrest) and so on.

    Much appreciated.
    By the way, I am jealous of your travels, as well as many other posters on this blog….. if only.
    Cheers :)


  20. Tim, Tim, Tim, Tim, Tim, Tim, pág. 474 , viajar gratis por todo el mundo, uno de mis sueños, dónde tengo que ir a veros para comprobar lo fácil que es??????
    Ayudante de Tim , gracias, gracias,gracias,gracias,gracias, tank you, merci beacoup, grazie mille, gràcies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  21. I am turning twenty one in may I am a female and love exotic places exspeshlly if they have exotic animals of any kind. I think I want to go to Egypt but we do not have a lot of money to spend it would only be my mom and I going. Does anyone have any advice on how to find the perfect twenty one birthday trip of a life time if so can you tell me and if you know how much can you tell me that to?

    Thank you
    Sascha Shamkin


  22. Study spanish in Guatemala in a city call Quetzaltenango or Xela (shiela) as a short name I was there for three months I was paying $100.00 per week included a room in a family home and two meals! and $10.00 extra for laundry! Many americans and europeans come to this place for learn spanish! and there is much to see!! I loved it, be back in june for another period of time!!


  23. Help! My 17 year old daughter and I (60yo f) want to travel to a non-western country over her 10 day February school vacation. This sadly does not leave enough time for Asia/Indonesia. We had planned on Morocco but after reading lots of posts on other sites, it seems a bad idea, mostly due to the extreme harassment. We live in Massachusetts and are city savvy. My goal is to give her a good exotic travel experience where she can learn about another culture and see first-hand some of the income/lifestyle disparities in other parts of the world.


  24. Costa Rica is something of another world, a paradise on earth. I stayed there for 3 months and I changed my mind about everything that matters. Actually I live in france now but I hope that being a professional photograper someday will allow me to live there, I really need to be in a closer contact with the nature.


  25. Of course Indonesia is affordable. In addittion you can also visit the world heritage status there. For further information, chek this linkhttp://indonesiagetaway.blogspot.be/2010/11/indonesian-tourism-world-heritage.html


  26. Great info. Will defiantly help people like me who is always travelling around the world. And this blog has all necessary info with budget so, this is really going to work .. :)



  27. I see you mentioned Egypt in your blog, Egypt is part of Africa Tim, in your book 4hr workweek, you recommended not to go any country in Africa. I think you so wrong by saying that. lots of great place to discover in the motherland, by the way I love the book


  28. This article is very useful, especially about exact money information. When I have a extra time, I want to go Egypt. Thank you for your information.


  29. I’d love to go to the Czeh republic and want to visit Hungary. :) I’m planning to go Europe in this summer or next year. I wil visit those 2 countries :)

    Thanks for valuable information :)


  30. Thanks for your information. It’s a good information for me because i would like to go to Egypt in this summer, so i am going to find important information.

    I’m Thai and I recommend you guy to go there. It’s very beautiful place.


  31. I have to agree with Mexico. Whenever we are looking for an affordable getaway from here in the US we grab a cruise to Mexico. The food, water, and tropical excursions are wonderful. – Steve


  32. I’m the author of this post. Can you please change the blog link in my bio to the correct URL? It moved to its own domain in 2013. It’s linked to my name here. Thanks1


    • Am looking for a family getaway for next year – hubby is 50. Children will be 11, 9 and 7, Want it to be WOW, once in a lifetime for everybody…. what would you recommend? Don’t know where on earth to start!!
      Thank you