There's something to be said for traveling to cheap countries, where an entire meal at a local restaurant costs the same as a movie ticket back home — or where you can sleep at a nice hotel for what would only get you a hostel bed in other places. Due to different levels of development and currency values around the world, some places will simply get you much better value than others.
For cheap prices in Europe, very few places beat Bulgaria, an unassuming Eastern country that remains very much off the beaten track. In summer, tourists from neighboring countries arrive in Bulgaria to enjoy the Black Sea for incredibly low prices — but the rest of the year, the country is quiet. That means no big crowds, no noise, and no crazy high prices for accommodation, food, and entry to attractions. Bulgaria’s most interesting destinations will not cost you a penny. Sofia, the country’s capital, is an old city where you can see the Turk and Byzantine influence — but the real charm of the country cannot be truly discovered until you step into the countryside. Here, little ancient villages sit next to imposing castles atop mountains. In Bulgaria, you can get an all-day ski lift ticket for a tenth of what you would pay anywhere else in Europe, and the hiking trails will take you up mountains as high as the Alps for free. If you are a winter person, consider Bansko or Razlog, two great ski resort areas, where you can enjoy the snow on a small budget.
Cambodia is best known for being home to Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. Even this world-renowned destination is incredibly affordable to visit: you can just hop on a tuk-tuk to reach your destination, buy a temple ticket at the entrance of the first temple, and explore until your heart’s content for just pennies — when you’re ready to move on, your tuk-tuk driver will take you to the next temple and wait for you. Hiring a tuk-tuk for the entire day will cost you the equivalent of a 15-minute taxi ride in NYC. For the price of a Starbucks coffee, you can have a meal at a nice restaurant in Cambodia and a modern, comfortable room at a nice hotel will likely be cheaper than a shared hostel room in Europe. Do not try to save money by drinking tap water, though — this is a no-no in Cambodia. For even bigger savings, arrive outside of the cool dry season, which runs from November to February. This is high tourist season and the months when prices go up and the crowds get bigger. At any other time, you will find incredible deals everywhere you look.
Of all the Scandinavian countries, Denmark is the cheapest — though still quite expensive when compared to other areas of Europe. To truly save money on this trip, you will have to skip the busy summer season, and probably also spring, as the pleasantly warm weather means lots of tourists and higher prices. Flights and accommodation prices, however, are as much as 40 percent cheaper between September and November, right after the summer crowds have gone home but before the windy cold weather has not arrived yet. Denmark also offers a great way to save money on food: bakeries. Forget paying for expensive meals at your hotel or a touristy restaurant and instead walk into a neighborhood bakery away from the central area. In addition, many of Denmark’s most famous attractions are either free or very cheap to visit. Watch the changing of the guard ceremony at Amalienborg castle, visit Hans Christian Andersen’s grave at Assistens Cemetery, or walk the gardens of Rosenberg Castle.
Morocco is one of those countries that can cost you a lot of money or be incredibly cheap, depending on the choices you make. Inter-city first-class train rides in Morocco will cost you about the same as you would pay for a metro ride in the West. Even better, you don’t need to pay for a guide at any of the major attractions — such as the royal Saadien’s Tombs or the 12th-century Menara Gardens — as they’re either easy to discover on your own, or an English-speaking guide is included in the price of the ticket. For cheap eating, nothing beats the local specialties, such as kaab el ghzal, a crescent-shaped cookie stuffed with almond paste (great as a quick snack), the slow-cooked Moroccan stew tagine, or couscous served in many different forms. Sitting down at a restaurant in Morocco often means a higher price, but eating street food or ordering something from a local tea or coffee house will give you a taste of the real Morocco and save you money at the same time. If you avoid peak season (November to March), you will also find lower-priced accommodations.
Nepal is incredibly cheap. Even better, you can still enjoy plenty of trekking and even climbing for pennies. Unless you’re planning a full guided trek up Mount Everest — which is definitely not a cheap venture — Even massive trekking trips, such as an 11-day hike in Langtang Valley, will only set you back a few hundred dollars, a quarter of what a trek to Everest Base Camp would cost. If you’re not heading here for climbing, winter (which lasts from mid-December to mid-February) can be a pleasant time to visit, as temperatures often stay around 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the city. Trekking can be tricky in winter because of unexpected winter storms and snow. March to May and September to November are the best months to visit — you will get some of the best weather and prices that are still stunningly low. Local affordable guided treks do exist but double-check that they offer safe trips.
Bolivia is often passed on for more famous neighbors Peru and Brazil, but this country at the heart of the Andean mountain range has an impressive collection of sights to discover. Bolivia is a multiethnic country with 36 official indigenous languages and an ecosystem that varies from the desert llanos to the polar mountains in the western Andes. Many of Bolivia’s most famous sights are free to visit — including Lake Titicaca on the border of Bolivia and Peru (the largest lake in South America); a number of Pre-Columbian archaeological sites; salt lake Laguna Verde at the foot of a volcano; and Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. Food, transportation, and accommodation in Bolivia cost a fraction of the prices you’ll find in other South American countries — and prices are even cheaper during the months of April and May, before the high season starts.
With good bus, tram, and train connections, it is easy to travel around Portugal without spending much. While Lisbon can be slightly more expensive, eating and entertainment everywhere else in the country is very budget-friendly — even popular famous beach destinations such as Camilo Beach in the Algarve can be visited on a shoestring if you plan your trip well and don’t need to sleep right on the beach. Most of Portugal’s must-see attractions are in Lisbon and Sintra, where you’ll find things like the medieval defensive Belem Tower; the Gothic Jerónimos Monastery; and the public square Praça do Comércio, surrounded by shops and cafés. These are either free to enter or cost little. In general, a visit to Portugal is more about enjoying the local food, walking along the coastline, and discovering the sights, which will keep your costs low and allow you to see more of the country on a tight budget.
Kenya and Tanzania are known around the world as the big photo safari destinations. The Serengeti and Maasai Mara reserves have the world’s largest population of elephants, lions, and giraffes in the world. Safari camps in these countries aren’t cheap but Uganda, on the other hand, is a safe and stable country with plenty of big animals to spot, plus one very special extra — this is the ultimate destination for gorilla trekking and the last place in the world where you can see large populations of mountain gorillas living free. Gorilla trekking permits are not cheap or easy to obtain but a trip here is still very affordable for the wildlife-viewing experience of a lifetime. To get even better prices, visit between March and May or during the months of October and November. These are the wettest months, so the treks are harder and more slippery, but the trekking packages and permits are much cheaper as well.
The Caribbean is one of those destinations where using travel packages and all-inclusive stays can sometimes turn out to be cheaper than budgeting on your own — and this is also true for the Dominican Republic. If you’re heading to Punta Cana, Puerto Plata, or other major beach destinations, restaurants and accommodations are going to be your major expenses, as prices are hiked up considerably during high season, which runs from mid-December to mid-April. Many of the things to see and do in the Dominican Republic are free. This includes walking around to see the colonial architecture and visiting quirky museums like the free Museum of Chocolate in Santo Domingo. Punta Cana’s Playa Blanca (White Beach) is a great place to visit for snorkeling — just bring your own mask to keep it free.
For those interested in ancient civilizations, there are plenty of countries around the world that are more than just affordable. You could head to India to discover the opulence of the Taj Mahal, go to Jordan to see ancient tombs and temples, or fly to Peru to hike through the ruins of the lost city of Machu Picchu. But Egypt with its pyramids, Valley of the Kings, Great Sphinx of Giza, and 13th-century BC Abu Simbel Temples takes a prominent spot at the top of the list. Even a tight budget will go a long way in Egypt, where for the price of a movie ticket, you can enter the ancient Abu Simbel Temples, get a full guided tour from the city of Luxor to the Valley of the Kings, or spend several hours tasting amazing local hot drinks and sweets at one of Cairo’s many teahouses. While you can find budget accommodations everywhere in Egypt, you can keep your trip even cheaper by hopping on a three-night cruise from Aswan to Luxor. For the same price as a couple of movie tickets, you get a place to sleep, some of the best views over temples and monuments on the coast, and often a chance to snorkel or swim in the Nile along the way.