Inexpensive international destinations exist for travelers who are committed to researching costs and willing to expand their horizons.
We’ve heard it so many times: “I’d love to travel like you have, but I just can’t afford it.” We acknowledge that travel such as we’ve done has a privileged aspect. But it’s also true that travel can be affordable to those who look for inexpensive international destinations and are savvy about saving on transport and accommodations.
One aspect of offsetting expensive travel costs is figuring out what you can save on transportation. Flight pricing has a way of disappearing just when you’re ready to pull the trigger. Looking for the cheapest flight deals is easier with a service, such as JustFly, that is committed to the latest in technology and efficiency in ticketing.
When we began what would become almost four years of full time travel, we didn’t completely focus on all the ways we could save. Our first priority was reducing the high cost of accommodations. As we booked more international house sitting gigs, we established several rules of thumb. The main rule was that a lengthier stay in one location was required to offset the costs of getting there.
After we’d been nomadic for a while, several destinations rose to the top in terms of delivering the perfect combination of inexpensive cost of living and quality of life. We present them here for your consideration. Include them in your plans as alternatives to more popular, over-touristed and overpriced destinations.
We never actually planned to go to Malaysia. Instead, we were looking for proximity to Australia for purposes of a visa run and couldn’t make anything work for New Zealand. Malaysia popped up as the next viable alternative and before we knew it, we were going to Kuantan, on its less touristed east coast.
This serendipitous experience turned out to be an excellent move. We spent three weeks at a luxury resort on the South China Sea, in an atmosphere where we were the only Americans at a fraction of the cost we would have paid in a more expensive location. The cost of our visit to Kuantan was so attractively low, we opted to return and stay in Johor Bahru, across the International Bridge from Singapore, and saved a boatload of cash again.
Many first time visitors to Malaysia opt for Kuala Lumpur or Penang on the West Coast. These are great options, too. But don’t omit the possibility of other locations in Malaysia either. Check out our Malaysia archives for details.
We spent a couple of weeks in Croatia and were shocked at the difference in prices from Western Europe, even during the height of the August tourist season. Outstanding food and wine was available at super affordable prices, and we paid for comfortable 3 and 4 star accommodations well under our $75USD per night threshold.
Most visitors stop in Dubrovnik and Split, but we also recommend the Istria region (next to Slovenia in the north). The romantic Istrian communities of Motovun and Rovinj will charm you.
The Adriatic seaside lifestyle is welcoming in the Dalmatian Islands, and Dalmatian cities are vibrant examples of living history. For more, see our Croatia archives.
Others in the digital nomad community had raved about Bulgaria as the perfect meld of Balkan authenticity and modern digital lifestyle, and they weren’t wrong. When we visited Bulgaria’s capital city of Sofia, we were shocked by 5-star luxury at the equivalent of about $65USD per night.
Sofia is a cosmopolitan city with an interesting juxtaposition of Soviet era and classically Baroque architecture, some of which is admittedly crumbling. We found this gritty element endearing.
Likewise, there is just enough Slav to the European style sophistication to make the culture and the cuisine very interesting indeed. See our Top Ten List of Things to Do in Sofia for First Timers.
Colombia was another place in which we would have easily decided to live long term on the basis of a first impression. Our introduction to Colombia occurred in the Caribbean coastal city of Cartagena, and we were absolutely charmed.
Staying in the gentrifying barrio of Getsemaní, we quickly became enamored of the meld of Caribbean, Spanish and African influences present in this vibrant, yet affordable city. Adventurous foodies will find many memorable experiences ranging from street vendors to white tablecloth dining at a fraction of its comparable cost in the United States or Western Europe.
Our accommodations were well under $50 per night in a privately owned guesthouse. You could easily book a luxurious hotel room in this neighborhood for $20 or $30 more. Check out our First Timer’s Guide to Cartagena for an in-depth look. We think Colombia a fine alternative for Americans who want something different than a vacation in Mexico.
Long a mecca for long-term travelers, Thailand offers the perfect opportunity for first time or returning visitors to Southeast Asia to discover the culture with a perfect blend of exoticism and familiarity. Most visitors will begin in Bangkok and then fly off to other parts of the country to round out their stay. Internal flights within Thailand are remarkably inexpensive, so you can be very mobile and see multiple locations during your visit.
If you have the time, we’d recommend you consider adding Chiang Mai in the north. Try staying outside the chaos of Chiang Mai’s inner ring for a quieter experience in a neighborhood filled with locals. We recommend the lost city of Wiang Kum Kam.
Budget time for the islands in the south of Thailand as well. Many visitors opt for Phuket, which we think is over-touristed. Instead, we’d recommend the area around Krabi, where you can combine a beach vacation with visits to stunning national parks and religious monuments. Or consider Hua Hin on the Gulf of Thailand, popular with royalty and commoners alike for beach vacations.
During our several month stay, we were fortunate to visit the Isaan region in eastern Thailand, an area, which fewer international visitors reach. As such, we felt we had a more “authentic” glimpse of the heart of Thailand.
Prices throughout Thailand were shockingly affordable. Westerners used to hotel prices in the USA and Europe will be amazed to find luxurious accommodations at a fraction of the price. Food is extremely inexpensive as well; we loved Thai street food and often ate dinner for less than $3USD.
In conclusion, if you have wanderlust but are concerned about affordability, inexpensive international destinations do exist in every corner of the globe. Train yourself to look for alternatives to more popular, over-touristed countries, and within these recommendations here, discover less frequently visited communities and regions for affordability and authenticity.
Tips for Trip Success
Book Your Flight
Find an inexpensive flight by using CheapOAir, a favorite of ours because it regularly returns less expensive flight options from a variety of airlines.
Book Your Hotel or Special Accommodation
We are big fans of Booking.com. We like their review system and photos. If we want to see more reviews and additional booking options, we go to TripAdvisor.
You Need Travel Insurance!
Good travel insurance means having total peace of mind. Travel insurance protects you when your medical insurance often will not and better than what you get from your credit card. It will provide comprehensive coverage should you need medical treatment or return to the United States, compensation for trip interruption, baggage loss, and other situations.
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