International travel can be expensive. Airfare, hotel accommodations, and food all add up quickly. The last thing you want is to come back from a dream vacation only to be faced with a nightmare credit card bill.
We did the homework for you and selected a set of affordable travel destinations that are open to international visitors and won’t break the bank.
Costa Rica is an unbelievably beautiful country filled with tropical forests, jagged mountains, and sandy beaches. There are few countries where you can visit so many different ecosystems in a single day.
It isn’t only the biodiversity that makes Costa Rica a fantastic place to visit — it’s also one of the most eco-friendly countries on the planet.
Costa Rica has plenty to offer the budget-minded international traveler, including:
- Affordable hotels (several can be found for $50 a night or less).
- Diverse animal and plant life (there are over 850 species of birds alone!).
- Dramatic mountains and volcanoes, including Arenal Volcano — one of the most active globally, and Cerro Chirripó — the tallest mountain in Costa Rica.
- Beautiful beaches along its Caribbean and Pacific coasts (surfing, water sports, and scuba diving are top rated here).
- Tortuguero National park (home to endangered sea turtles, monkeys, crocodiles, sloths, and more).
- Tons of hiking trails that lead you through dense rainforests and up into gloriously green mountains.
If you’re a nature lover looking to experience several distinct geographic areas in one trip, put Costa Rica at the top of your list! It won’t disappoint.
One of the cheapest countries to visit while in South America is Peru. It also offers some of the continent’s most fascinating history, scenery, and activities.
For starters, there’s Machu Picchu (or ‘Huayna Picchu‘) — one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Entrance costs can be steep (around $45 for foreign visitors), but it’s worth the splurge to explore some of South America’s most extensive ancient ruins.
But visiting Machu Picchu isn’t the only thing to do in Peru. It also has its share of the Andes, Amazon rainforest, and Pacific coastline, offering ample outdoor activities for hikers and nature enthusiasts. The country is also home to Lake Titicaca in the south and the desert in the west.
The Nazca Lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs located in the Nazca Desert (a high arid plateau that occupies parts of southern Peru and western Bolivia). They were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
Peru’s capital, Lima, is located on the north coast of Peru near the Pacific Ocean. The city has some very modern neighborhoods with an array of restaurants and bars. It is known as one of the best places to try ceviche (a seafood dish). Oh, and don’t forget to grab a Pisco Sour — one of the region’s most popular cocktails.
* Note: Peru is currently experiencing violent protests against rising food and fuel prices due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. It’s strongly advised to review the security situation there prior to booking travel.
India is another popular, budget-friendly destination for international travelers. It’s also not as expensive as other Asian countries like China and Japan.
What attracts people to India, you ask? There are so many things to do here! You can:
- Experience India’s rich culture — one of the oldest globally — at one of its many colorful festivals.
- Explore ancient architecture, including the famed Taj Mahal.
- Enjoy unique accommodations by staying in a houseboat or treehouse hotel.
- Take in the view from Nilgiri Mountain Railway’s historic steam engine train known as “the toy train”.
- Jump on a camel and take it slow as you meander through Rajasthan’s sand dunes.
- Stroll or cycle around the colorful streets of Old Delhi and attend one of the city’s famous Friday night bazaars.
The options are endless!
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Located in South America, just a few hours away from Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires is one of the continent’s most affordable destinations. The city features a mix of European-style architecture with modern skyscrapers, providing a visually captivating skyline. It’s also very walkable and easy to navigate, thanks to it being laid out in a simple grid pattern similar to New York City.
Buenos Aires offers plenty of activities for the budget-conscious traveler. There’s a huge emphasis on art, music, and culture for starters. The city offers several theaters, opera houses, concert halls, cinemas, libraries, and museums. Oh, and soccer is pretty big here too.
The food in Buenos Aires is also amazing. The country is most famous for its steaks, which you can sample at its many parrilla restaurants. Some other fun activities include:
- Its famous, historic streetcars.
- Tango-dancing or wine-tasting tours.
- Calle Florida — a huge shopping area with plenty of clothing stores selling name brands like Zara, Levi’s, and Adidas.
Cape Town, South Africa
Perhaps best known for its Table Mountain (a flat-topped mountain with majestic cliffs), Cape Town is surrounded by rocky shores and white sand beaches — and it’s a destination for surfers because of its mammoth waves.
The Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront is a popular entertainment district with many restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops. It’s the perfect place to walk around at night, have dinner on the waterfront, or take in live music. The Oranjezicht City Market also attracts many visitors because it offers plenty of great food options.
The city is also known for its vibrant arts and culture scene, including the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, which takes place at various locations throughout town during March each year.
A quick note for solo travelers: Cape Town is known for being a bit dangerous for those venturing out alone at night. Make sure you understand where you’re staying and take the time to research the area before leaving.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dubai is one of the world’s most famous tourist destinations, known for its luxurious hotels, glitzy malls, and spectacular attractions. It’s slightly more expensive than other destinations on this list, but it’s more affordable than major cities like Los Angeles, London, or Las Vegas.
Plus, there’s no shortage of unique tourist attractions to explore in Dubai. Start by exploring modern attractions like Ski Dubai, one of the world’s largest indoor ski resorts); Atlantis, The Palm (a posh resort that mimics Atlantis in the Bahamas); and Wild Wadi Water Park, a massive waterpark that will please the whole family.
Head outdoors to Jumeirah Beach Park or Mushrif Reserve if you’re into nature. These places are great for beach activities, but you can also go hiking in the Reserve.
Culturally speaking, Dubai offers a glimpse into modern Arab life. Thanks to its skyscrapers and picturesque beaches, it has a distinct blend of old and new. But if you want to dive into some of its original splendor, you can explore Dubai’s old town in Bur Dubai, where you’ll find its Grand Mosque, or Deira, where you can marvel at the Gold & Spice Souks — the largest traditional markets in Dubai.
And if you’re feeling extra fancy, enjoy a five-star meal at one of Dubai’s many world-famous restaurants (costs will vary depending on the restaurant and amount of people dining, so it’s not necessarily the budget traveler’s first choice). To save money, go during lunchtime (usually 11:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.) when prices are lower.
Sri Lanka is a beautiful country to visit, thanks to its unique blend of cultures and natural landscapes. It’s also located on a tropical island in the Indian Ocean, making it a top destination for beachgoers.
However, the country has so much more to offer than just white sandy beaches and warm weather:
- Watch elephants bathe at Adams Peak or interact with leopards and Sri Lankan sloth bears near Wilpattu National Park.
- Take one of many cultural tours to learn about Sri Lankan history, traditional dances, and music.
- Hike through the tea plantations in Nuwara Eliya or Kandy; you can also sample locally-grown teas (they’re tasty!).
- Check out the Buddhist relics at Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.
- See some of the best beaches in the world — such as Unawatuna, Mirissa, or Hikkaduwa.
- Explore the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya and learn about Sri Lanka’s culture at an authentic village homestay.
* Note: Sri Lanka is currently experiencing an economic crisis in the wake of COVID-19 and increased fuel prices due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. This has led to widespread unrest and the government declaring a state of emergency. It’s strongly advised to review the security situation there prior to booking travel.
Southeast Asia has long been known as one of the cheapest global travel destinations in the world. Because of this, many backpackers and solo travelers venture to countries like Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia each year in search of an affordable international vacation.
The region has incredible scenery (volcanic mountains, rainforests, beaches), wildlife (orangutans, elephants, monkeys, tigers), culture (temples, ancient ruins), food (Pad Thai, curries, seafood), and nightlife (bars, nightclubs).
Thanks to its excellent transportation system, it doesn’t take much effort or money to travel around this region either. Here are some of the places you can see while traveling in Southeast Asia:
- Cruise around Halong Bay, Vietnam, on a boat tour.
- View the incredible karst caves in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Vietnam.
- Experience the enormous Buddhist temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
- Visit the resort town of Siem Reap or the capital city of Phnom Penh in Cambodia.
- Visit Bangkok — the capital city of Thailand — and take in its many attractions, hotels, and restaurants.
- Swing by Ayutthaya — a historical town north of Bangkok, with plenty of canals and old ruins to look at.
- Visit Petronas Twin Towers, a pair of glass-and-steel-clad skyscrapers with Islamic motifs, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
- Dip your toes in some of the whitest sandy beaches on the island of Koh Samui, Thailand (just a couple hours’ ferry ride from Surat Thani).
Riviera Maya is a stretch of Caribbean coastline on Mexico’s northeastern Yucatan Peninsula — and it’s worth visiting if you’re looking for a cheap travel destination outside of the U.S.
Some highlights to see include:
- Tulum — a quiet village with spectacular beaches, Mayan ruins, and tree canopy trails.
- Gran Cenote — a giant sinkhole where you can swim. (Great for divers!)
- Xcaret Park — an ecological theme park located in Xcaret, which is filled with attractions like zip-lines (perfect for bird watchers), museums (like the underwater museum), and dolphin shows.
- Chichen Itza — a major archaeological site that has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to its many structures built by the Maya people.
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
If you’ve never been to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, prepare yourself for a vacation filled with sun, sea, and sand. It’s a popular destination for U.S. tourists thanks to its proximity to the States — and it’s a great option if you want to enjoy the local culture while still having access to typical amenities like hotels, spas, casinos, golf courses, bars, restaurants, and beaches.
Some parts of Cabo San Lucas are all inclusive and can be incredibly expensive. Still, budget travelers can trim down expenses by visiting in the off-season, looking for cheaper accommodations ahead of time, eating at local restaurants instead of tourist traps, and walking or taking the bus as much as possible.
Some key places to visit include:
- Cabo San Lucas Bay — where you can enjoy various water sports or go fishing.
- El Arco — a natural rock formation that forms a “big arch” and has been declared a national monument.
- Cabo Pulmo National Park — a protected park where you can snorkel, scuba dive, go kayaking, and learn about the local sea life.
5 tips to getting the cheapest travel on a budget
There are tons of ways to see the world on a tight budget. Here are some of my favorite tips for traveling cheap:
1. Be flexible with your travel dates
Look up when the “off-season” or “shoulder season” is for your travel destination and try to visit during those times. Not only will you save money on flight prices, but you’ll also snag good deals on hotels and rental cars and avoid large crowds of tourists. It’s a win-win in my book.
You can also save more money by visiting during the week versus the weekend.
2. Travel light
Bringing tons of luggage with you only weighs you down (literally) and makes it harder to avoid baggage fees. If you can, try fitting everything into a carry-on to avoid extra fees and minimize the time you have to spend waiting around the airport at baggage claim.
Trust me, there’s no greater feeling than getting to skip baggage claim each time you fly and never dealing with lost luggage because it’s all right there in the overhead bin with you.
3. Cook meals when you can
If you’re like me, part of experiencing a new country is eating as much local food as possible. But you’ll save a ton of money if you make an effort to cook in for one or two of your meals each day and eat out for the other.
Plus, you can get creative preparing some local cuisines from the grocery store! I had a blast in Iceland this summer making Icelandic hotdogs in my Airbnb and trying all the different skyr and snacks I picked up from the grocery store. It was much cheaper than trying those items at cafes.
4. Look for deals before you go
The last thing you want to do is land in your budget destination, then spend half your time hunkered down in your hotel room trying to research the cheapest places to eat, how much the train will cost, etc.
The key to traveling on a budget is to do all this research ahead of time to “think like a local” while you’re there. (Say goodbye to falling for tourist traps that cost way more money than your budget allows!) Researching ahead of time will also allow you to find the best travel deals and flight deals before you even jet off.
5. Try travel hacking!
If you’re serious about saving money, travel hacking is an excellent way to travel for cheap (or even free!). Consider a travel rewards credit card for regular purchases like groceries and shopping. Then, use the points you rack up to book free flights and hotels.
There are tons of cheap places worldwide that are perfect for budget travel or solo travel. Seeking a quaint beach town? Want a country with affordable and drool-worthy local cuisine? Plan on backpacking around? The perfect destination is out there, and with this list, I hope you’re on your way to finding it.
Which of these inexpensive destinations will you hit up first? I have my eye on Southeast Asia. Oh, and if you need help planning your next trip, check out our guide on how to plan a great post-COVID vacation.