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If you’re reading MMS, you know that you can adventure to just about any destination on the planet for practically free if you’ve got a stash of miles and points at hand. The welcome bonuses you can earn from the best travel credit cards eliminate the gap between you and those annoying Instagram travel influencer trust fund babies.
However, even if you’re both milesless and pointsless, there are still loads of countries you can visit on a shoestring budget. Many areas, while some are considered developing countries, have a thriving tourist infrastructure, which allows you to see some of the most beautiful corners of the world without losing sight of the beaten path. You can travel for under $50 per day, if you’re very strategic. No, you won’t find yourself in Monaco, Bermuda, or Grand Cayman — traveling on the cheap usually means you’ll find yourself in areas with rich culture instead of rich residents.
Let’s take a look at a handful of the cheapest destinations you can visit that’ll gape your jaws. There are many more, but these are popular with our readers.
When you think of Thailand, your brain might involuntarily flash to gorgeous islands, beachfront resorts, and crystal-clear turquoise lagoons. That’s the expensive part of Thailand. And while you can still find some relatively cheap options there (you can book the ridiculously stunning five-star Intercontinental Koh Samui for just $130 per night, after all), you’ll realize just how cheap Thailand can be by heading inland.
You don’t have to wander down the road less traveled to find a deal. There are plenty of tourist-friendly cities in Thailand, such as Chiang Mai. For example, you can consistently book a four-star Holiday Inn for a little over $30 in this area. And hostels cost below $10.
Live your day like a local. Rent a moped for $10 per day. Forego the fancy restaurants — you shouldn’t have trouble paying less than $10 per day for street food. Go on hikes, and visit temples. The beauty of Thailand is free, after all.
Seriously, Mexico is blast, no matter if you go to a top beach resort or if you’re exploring their many landmarks. If you consider food to be entertainment, you’ll be having the time of your life.
In my opinion, the best of Mexico lies far from its beaches. There is so much mystery in Mexico, from its ancient temples to its underground cenotes (they’re like natural swimming pools!). Even the timid vacationer will contract an Indiana Jones complex.
One great base camp is near Chichen Itza, one of the wonders of the world. You can visit a vast expanse of temples and ruins, and then walk to Cenote Ik Kil, one of the most breathtaking cenotes in the world. My lodging was under $40 per day, and the hotel exceeded every expectation. The in-house restaurant was pretty cheap, too.
Alternately, you can find hostels for under $15 per day.
You can take trains and buses to popular destinations, but I recommend renting a car. It’s cheap (under $10), as long as you don’t let the persistent rental agents convince you that it’s LAW to purchase their rental car insurance. Just waive their CDW and use the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to rent the car — you’ll be covered for damage and theft.
Prepare to spend $15-$20 on food per day — it’s possible to spend less, but you won’t be able to stop yourself from eating a lot.
If you’re on a budget, choose where you want to go in Indonesia, and stay there. I know, there’s too much to see. But hopping from one region to the next is generally not budget-traveler-esque. Indonesia is made of a bunch of islands that a non-amphibious rental car just can’t conquer. Intra-island flights can be cost-effective, but can add up quickly — for example, setting up your home base in Bali to explore Ubud and then deciding to travel to Java for a hike of Tumpak Sewu will cost you at least $70 in commute expenses (flights and cab).
Wherever you decide upon, an affordable roof is nearby. For example, you can find three-star hotels in Bali, Sumatra, and Java for under $10. And the food is cheap, too. If your hotel doesn’t offer free breakfast, plan on $15 per person, per day, for unbelievable street food.
India is the ultimate cheap destination. It’s also a haven of five-star hotels at a third of the price of your local Red Roof Inn.
In fact, if you’re strategic about your destination, five-star hotels exist for under $20 per night. Yes, you can find hostels and sub-par rooms for $3 per night, but they could also very well be worse than the hostels in the other countries on this list. “Splurging” on a $20 room at a high-class resort can make your visit otherworldly. And that doesn’t mean you’ll be quarantined from Indian culture. You can satiate yourself on $5 of street food per day, and $3 riding the public transit system. Culture shock never cost so little.
Note that a five star rating in India doesn’t quite match the five-star rating with which you’re probably familiar. For example, the five-star Four Points by Sheraton Visakhapatnam often costs $37 per night. It appears to be a solid hotel by all accounts, but it’s a far cry from any hotel labeled five-star in the U.S.
Surprised to see Greece on the list? It’s not quite as affordable as Thailand, but if you’re willing to stay away from Santorini and Mykonos, there are plenty of areas to taste champagne on a beer budget.
You can find 2-star hotels for around $30, or hostels for under $20. Even Athens has some extremely affordable options like this. You can keep food cost to around $15 per day if you head to the grocery store and prepare the bulk of your meals yourself.
You can certainly engage in wide-eyed wonder as you walk around Greece — well-known Greek hotspots like Zakynthos are extremely walkable. But transportation can be its own entertainment. You can rent motor scooters for $25 per day, generally. Or you could simply take a cheap round-trip ferry ride.
Since Greece is a popular destination, be sure to travel in the off-peak months (NOT summer). You’ll brush shoulders with fewer tourists, and prices for accommodation will be extra reasonable.
Here’s the low-down on Bolivia from someone who’s admittedly never been. It is the utmost bucket list location — namely, for its possession of Earth’s largest natural mirror, Salar de Uyuni. The giant salt desert turns into a Disney movie when a thin layer of rainwater covers the ground. This isn’t a daily occurrence, however, so you’ll have to research the seasons and dates that you’re most likely to view the phenomenon.
Expect to pay upwards of $20 per night at hostels around Uyuni (unfortunately, the tours themselves aren’t cheap).
However, there is plenty to do in Bolivia other than the salt flats. Don’t go for the sole purpose of walking on the mirror. Think of it as a bonus if it happens — like spotting the northern lights during a trip to Norway.
Take a hike through the Amazon. It’s way cheaper than a tour from Brazil, and there’ll be less tourists around. Travel on the famously precarious (and aptly named) Death Road, where a narrow path winds around a nauseatingly high cliff. And, most importantly, EAT. If you stick to the local dives — which again, are often the best — you can eat well for $6 per day. You can also ride city transport for just a couple bucks each day.
The overarching lesson here: Live like a local, and you’ll have a cheap vacation. If you can eat like them, commute like them, and sleep like them (Airbnb is a good option, as well), you’ll not only have a cost-effective trip, but you’ll return far more enriched and knowledgeable of the country than had you sequestered yourself in the penthouse suite of the Four Seasons.
You can further discount your trips with miles and points earned from the best travel credit cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred. You can use the points you earn to book free flights and hotels through the Chase Travel Portal. You can read our post on the best ways to use Chase points for more details.
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