When we travel we often choose destinations where the cost of living is relatively cheap, even if it means taking a more expensive long-haul flight to get there. We love Europe and enjoy nothing better than hopping on a cheap flight to spend a few days strolling the cobbled streets of ancient historical cities. Yet these short trips usually end up costing us the same as if we’d gone to some far-flung destination and stayed for a couple of weeks. Where’s the logic in that?
Once we’ve decided on a location, we start looking at the best flight options with sites such as JustFly, to see whether we can save some pennies by not flying direct, or choosing a local airline instead of a highly acclaimed international company. It might be slightly less comfortable but it still gets you to the same place, and you never know, you might be pleasantly surprised.
With the flight sorted, it’s time for the fun part – checking out the excursions and hotels and putting together the ultimate holiday itinerary that doesn’t break the bank. Whether it’s Leh Ladakh tours in northern India, or island hopping in southern Thailand, there are affordable trips to be had in many parts of the world if you know where to look.
We’ve come up with a list of our top six favourite budget destinations that are really quite easy to enjoy relatively cheaply. And perhaps the best part? Eating out in these countries is often less expensive than self-catering, because who really wants to be cooking on holiday!
We’ve been visiting Morocco for 10 years now, mainly because it’s such a stunning country geographically and culturally, but also because we can enjoy a luxury trip for far less than it would cost us in Europe, or many other places in the world. It really opened our eyes to the possibilities of not having to give up the home comforts and a little opulence on our travels, plus it’s no further to fly than parts of Europe, so we can easily pop over for a weekend.
We recommend staying in Marrakech for a taste of old medina life, and to sleep in a riad, the iconic guest houses that from the outside seem uninspiring, yet once through the door you’re in a whole new world of 1001 nights. It’s a city of secrets, full of the sort of enchantment you thought was only for fairy tales. There are crumbling palaces to visit, ancient museums to explore, and souks where you can try and perfect your haggling skills (the trick is to walk away and hope the vendors come running after you to agree to your price!). Then there’s the food. If you’ve never tried a tagine before, this is the place to do it, either in one of the many restaurants around the city, or even better at your riad. Home cooking is always far superior to restaurants! For the ultimate affordable meal, eat out with the locals at the night market in the Djemaa el Fna.
Read more: Best Affordable Luxury Riads in Marrakech
Thailand is perhaps the most obvious choice when it comes to budget destinations, mainly because it’s where most backpackers seem to head on their first overseas trips, to sample the cheap street food and sleep in cute beach huts on impossibly idyllic tropical islands. Yet it’s a great destination for those who want a bit of affordable luxury too, and even the 5* city hotels in Bangkok seem relatively inexpensive compared to what we’re used to in Europe.
Travel around Thailand is super cheap too, with trains covering most of the major routes between Bangkok and the north, as well as down towards some of the islands. Book in advance for 1st class tickets, they’re a fraction of what you’d expect to pay in many other parts of the world, and sometimes you have a whole sleeper carriage to yourself. There are buses too, although we don’t recommend them for long journeys. We suggest starting with a couple of days in Bangkok, before heading up to Chiang Mai for temples and hill tribes, and finally finishing up on one of the many islands dotted around in the south. Our favourites include the laid back secret haven of Koh Yao Yai, and Koh Lanta for its wide range of activities and reasonably priced beach resorts.
We found Indonesia to be even more affordable than Thailand, especially the transport and accommodation. Yet it’s such a vast country, spread out over countless islands, that it’s best to chose a couple of areas and stick to them rather than trying to take it all in at once. There are the rainforests of Borneo to explore, turquoise seas to snorkel in, Buddhist temples to climb and a whole lot of delicious food to try. You really could spend weeks here for the same price as a few days in Rome!
Everyone usually makes a bee-line for Bali, which certainly is a beautiful island, but it has become super popular (partly thanks to Instagram!) which means accommodation isn’t as cheap as it once was. Instead, we recommend spending some time on Java, basing yourself in the cultural city of Yogyakarta and visiting the magnificent 9th Borobudur Temple for one of the best sunrises you’ll ever have the pleasure of seeing. From here you can also take a day trip to see the famous Mount Merapi, the most active volcano in Indonesia which last erupted in 2018.
Peru is one of those destinations that offers something for everyone, from those on a shoestring budget to honeymooners wanting the luxury trip of a lifetime. It’s not easy or particularly cheap to get there, but once you set foot on the ground you really can spend as much, or as little, as you like. The best thing to do if you’re watching the pennies is head straight to Cusco, one of the most charming cities in the country, with an incredible vibe and dozens of gorgeous guest houses and hotels that are packed with charm right in the heart of the famous historic district.
There’s plenty to do in Cusco, with everything from glittering cathedrals and churches festooned in gold, to buzzing plazas and even a chocolate museum. There are enough cafes and restaurants to keep you busy for months, but one of our favourite cheap and hearty eats is Jacks Cafe, and with enormous portions of delicious food you really don’t need to eat for the rest of the day! Cusco is a great base for exploring the Sacred Valley and of course is the jumping off point for Machu Picchu too.
Read More: Best things to do in Cusco
India is one of the most popular destinations for long-term travel, gap year trips before university, and everything in between? Why? It’s a super affordable destination, and the diversity of sights and landscapes is probably greater than anywhere else in the world. For dramatic scenery and a laid back vibe, head to Kashmir in the far north of the country where you’ll discover friendly locals, alpine lakes and picturesque valleys surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Choose a Kashmir tour package that includes a local guide so you can make the most of your visit and really get to know this beautiful part of the country.
Trains are really cheap for tourists in India, so consider travelling around the country to see some of the famous sights – both architectural and natural. Head to Agra and explore the iconic Taj Mahal with its splendid 17th century white marble mausoleum. Or make your way across to the deserts of Rajasthan and visit the glowing Amer Fort overlooking Maota Lake. Wildlife enthusiasts should spend time in Ranthambore or Bandhavgarh National Parks for tiger safaris, before finishing up on the stunning palm-tree lined beaches of Goa.
Guatemala was our very first long-haul trip, and fresh out of university, it needed to be cheap. This Central American country hasn’t quite been thrust into the limelight like some of its neighbours, which means prices haven’t yet skyrocketed to take advantage of the demand. Travel can be quite basic, with long hours spent on rickety chicken buses, but out here in this part of the world, it’s just all part of the adventure. We spent 3 weeks moving around the country, sleeping in traditional guest houses, and eating out all the time because it really wasn’t expensive.
There are so many adventures to be had in Guatemala, from admiring the magnificent Mayan ruins at Tikal and Yaxha in the northern rainforested El Peten region, and cruising down the serene Rio Dulce to hang out with the Garifuna locals in Caribbean Livingston, to bartering for rugs that you really don’t need in the colourful markets of Chichicastenango, and discovering incredible architecture in the historical city of Antigua.
Where are your favourite long-haul budget destinations? Share your tips with us in the comments.