Laura Begley BloomÂ Â Â ContributorÂ LIFESTYLE
Time to start packing your bags: 2017 is shaping up to be a banner year for budget travel. The dollar is enjoying historic highs â€” meaning your money goes much further in many destinations around the globe â€” and according to an American Express Global Business Travel report, airfares are expected to fall in 2017.
So where should you go on your next trip? I interviewed 14 travel experts who make it their business to keep track of the best bargains around. Here are their favorite picks for the most affordable destinations to visit this year.
Where: Mazatlan, Mexico
Chosen By:Â Holly Johnson, founder of Club Thrifty, a website with tips on travel savings whose motto is â€œStop spending. Start livingâ€
Why:Â The current exchange rate ($1 = 20.69 Mexican pesos) makes Mexico one of the most affordable destinations. For the frugal traveler who wants to enjoy more culture than they might in the Riviera Maya, my top pick is Mazatlan. As the shrimp capital of Mexico and a foodie paradise, Mazatlan is teeming with awesome eateries and fresh, interesting dishes. Hotels (including all-inclusive properties) are extremely inexpensive and authentic since most arenâ€™t part of the huge chains. El Cid Marina has awesome pools that are perfect for families, great food and huge rooms. (Rates are as low as $100 for a family of four.) You can also enjoy superb dining at a top-notch restaurant like Casa 46 for less than half what youâ€™d pay in the United States.
Side note: Sinaloa (the state where Mazatlan resides) grows the bulk of produce in Mexico, so Mazatlan produce is unbelievably cheap as a result. You see this reflected in top restaurants all the way down to street markets.
Where: South Africa
Chosen By:Â Michaela Guzy, founder of Oh The People You Meet, a global collaborative of contributors who create content for travelers, foodies and philanthropists seeking authentic local connections
Why:Â In South Africa, the exchange rate is in our favor, but so is the fact that itâ€™s a developed tourist destination with a solid infrastructure. In spending a month in Cape Town earlier this year and relying on Uber to get me to and from meetings, activities and lunches, I averaged under $20 in transportation per day â€” a major win. Hotels are cheaper, too: Take a standard room at Taj Hotels & Resorts in New York, and you are out about $786 a night, whereas in Cape Town, a room at a similar luxury property costs $266. Remember, South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere, so seasons are the opposite: Consider going in low season (our summer) when hotels and safari lodges are even less expensive. Airbnb and private villa rentals are also reliable and cheap options in the major cities. Travelers should also consider booking domestic airfare in advance for the greatest cost savings, since flights on South African Airways can sell out quickly.
The best value of all is the wine: Travelers can order a glass of one of the best locally produced varietals for less than the cost of a can of soda.
Where: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Chosen By:Â Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon, founder of Jet Set Sarah, where travel and shopping meet
Why:Â The best way to get a deal in the Caribbean is to travel during the low season (end of April through mid-December) to destinations that have direct and frequent fights from your gateway; plenty of hotel inventory; and economies that arenâ€™t euro-based. Puerto Rico fits the bill, and Iâ€™m a big fan of San Juan, which I think is seriously underrated as an easy and affordable getaway, especially for visitors from the East Coast of the U.S. Old San Juan oozes charm, and if you stay within the old cityâ€™s two-square-mile radius you wonâ€™t need a car rental to access great restaurants, sightseeing and shopping. U.S. citizens can save themselves the cost of a passport since itâ€™s not required to visit, and since the U.S. dollar is the legal tender, thereâ€™s no money lost on currency exchange. Hotel Casa Blanca and Villa Herencia are two of my favorite high-style/low-cost boutique hotels.
Chosen By:Â Annie Fitzsimmons, digital editor at Virtuoso and editor-at-large at National Geographic
Why:Â Europe is on everyoneâ€™s list of value-added trips this year and for good reason â€” the exchange rate is more favorable for American travelers than it has been in years. But the destinations I most dream about and long to return to are in South America, a destination that has long given travelers great value for money. In Chile, I love Santiago for its vibrant food and wine scene â€” think tucked-away wine bars, delicious tapas and hip hotels in a beautifully chaotic city. For a lesser-known and truly special corner of the world, I love the small lakeside town of Puerto Varas. It is part of the lakes district in Chile and the northern start of Patagonia. It is easy (and cheap!) to rent a car and explore this area. There is a surprising German heritage, so youâ€™ll see signs for â€œkuchenâ€ (cake). With Puerto Varas as a hub, you can explore great places within a two-hour drive from the city: going to the top of a volcano, exploring waterfalls, finding the best cakes and food. This area sees very few American visitors and everything is CHEAP. Itâ€™s one of those places I almost want to keep to myself, but itâ€™s so special that I canâ€™t.
Chosen By:Â Meagen Collins, co-founder of Food Fun Travel, traveling the world in search of the ultimate foodie vacation experiences and discovering food worth traveling for in 85+ countries and counting
Why:Â With the U.S. dollar strong against the euro right now and the economic crisis in Greece keeping prices lower than other parts of Europe, itâ€™s the perfect time to visit the beautiful island of Crete. Crete is a foodie dream come true. A place where farm-to-table isnâ€™t a new fad, itâ€™s a way of life. The people here often live to be well over 100 years old so they must be doing something right! With truly stunning natural beauty (like Balos beach) and locals that welcome tourists with open arms, you are bound to have the trip of a lifetime and save a few dollars at the same time.
Chosen By:Â Lucie Josma, @missjetsetter, a full-time photographer, content creator and social media manager specializing in travel and tourism.
Why:Â For many, Morocco is the ultimate dream trip, and yet cost tends to keep most from visiting. But what you might not know is that itâ€™s one of the most affordable African countries, particularly when comparing flight costs. Reaching Marrakech from cities such as Lisbon, Madrid and Paris may only set you back $40 to $100 roundtrip with many budget airlines. And this past Black Friday, flights from New York were a mere $400 roundtrip. Food is by far my main reason for visiting as often as I do, and typical meals can range from $2.50 to $15 for two, which includes appetizers, entree and unlimited mint tea. For vegetarians and vegans, the country is especially great, as veggies are cheaper than meat and fresh fruit smoothies are barely $1. Souvenir shopping can get a bit intense when you realize leather goods such as wallets, handbags and weekenders run from $5 to $60. (A shopaholics dream!) When it comes to accommodations thereâ€™s something to fit everyoneâ€™s budget, my favorite being Riad Yasmine (only $80-$160 per night). For those looking for Moroccan luxury while still on a budget, my go-to is Riad Kheirredine, which will have you living like a queen without breaking the bank and even provides a cell phone during your stay to ensure guest safety.
Chosen By:Â Shereen Rayle, founder of ShereenTravelsCheap.com, which shows you how to go farther and do more for less without sacrificing comfort or fun
Why:Â Modern conveniences and history collide in Belize. Itâ€™s a perfect place to take a budget romantic vacation. Many of the four-star hotels offer extras, like bicycle rentals, included in their low rates, as well as Belizeâ€™s excellent local wines. Some affordable resorts to check out are George Hardieâ€™s Las Vegas Hotel in Corozal (Northern Belize) and the oceanside Royal Caribbean Resort in San Pedro along Ambergris Caye. Both can be booked for under $100 per night. Meals are also crazy cheap, but delicious. Two can eat at an upscale restaurant for less than $30, and much less at an everyday venue.
Chosen By:Â Marybeth Bond, National Geographic writer, author, adventurer and founder of The Gutsy Traveler
Why:Â Affordable upscale accommodations, cheap and remarkably healthy food and beautiful sights make Vietnam a standout among budget-friendly South Asian destinations. Eat your way through historic Hanoi, kayak in the emerald waters of Halong Bay or relax in ancient Hoi An and the nearby beaches. There are clean, safe accommodations to fit everyoneâ€™s wallet. In Hanoi, my favorite is the Tirant Hotel, near the old town, where you can bag a room for less than $70 a night. Donâ€™t miss the Hanoi street food tour: For just $20 per person, a guide will lead you on foot or by scooter through backstreets, markets and footpaths. You will eat like the locals and learn the names and ingredients in the dishes so you can order them again. And be sure to take the time to sip a bowl of steaming â€œphoâ€ noodle soup in restaurants, push carts and food stalls, where a street meal and a beer can cost the same as a caramel macchiato at Starbucks.
Where: Costa Rica
Chosen By:Â Stephanie Parker, founder of Big World Small Pockets, created to showcase the highs and lows of happy, healthy budget travel. Its motto: Spend Less, Travel More!
Why:Â Costa Rica is the one of the most biodiverse places on the planet and to be able to see this on a shoestring is an incredible opportunity. Thereâ€™s a ton of national parks to explore, for instance, that only cost a few dollars to enter. Once there, you can then enjoy free self-guided walks that wonâ€™t cost you a cent, but will deliver some great encounters with amazing wildlife like tapirs, monkeys, sloths and macaws. Manuel Antonio and Corcovado National Parks are two of the best. Public transport is also super cheap in Costa Rica, with buses generally less than $10, even for an eight-hour ride. This makes traveling between destinations in this compact country very affordable and means you can see a lot in a short amount of time. In addition, budget accommodation in Costa Rica â€” even at some of the best surf beaches â€” can be as little as $6 per person. And a â€œplato tipicoâ€ (local dish) can be enjoyed anywhere for as little as $2-3.
Chosen By:Â Jackie Nourse, founder of TheBudgetMindedTraveler.com, which inspires and equips Americans to get into the world of travel in a realistic, affordable, and most of all rewarding way
Why:Â Portugal is a pocket of affordable travel in contrast to the rest of Western Europe, especially if you get off the highways and take the back roads (where you can also avoid tolls). A bottle of delicious port and a plate of the day with a glass of wine can be found for around â‚¬5 each. Nowhere else in the world can its â€œCalifornia Highway 1 meets Tuscanyâ€ landscapes be enjoyed on such a budget, especially now that the dollar is strong against the euro.
Chosen By:Â Nora Dunn, The Professional Hobo, a woman who sold everything she owned (including a busy financial planning practice) in 2006 to embrace her dreams of full-time travel
Why:Â Although Ecuador is not quite as inexpensive as Peru to the south, itâ€™s an easy and affordable destination to travel to, especially if you stay a bit off the beaten path. Itâ€™s a short cheap flight from Florida with budget airlines like jetBlue and TAME, and accommodation is pretty cheap. Shop at your local market and you can get a weekâ€™s worth of groceries for $10. And Ecuador has lots of variety; from surf beach towns like Montanita, to the volcanic Banos with famed hot springs at the gateway to the Amazon basin, to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Cuenca in the high Andes, thereâ€™s a lot to see. The bus systems are good and domestic flights cheap and plentiful. Find a free accommodation option like house-sitting or volunteering, and your trip can be even cheaper.
Chosen By:Â Nastasia Yakoub, founder of Dame Traveler, sharing her passion for travel with a sizable community of female travelers
Why:Â Barcelona is ranked right up there with cities like Paris and London as one of the most popular European cities, but it is by far the most affordable. This is thanks to low-cost tapas restaurants, endless free attractions and affordable things to do. Have a meal of tapas and wine at El Xampanyet for around â‚¬10-15. Soak up the rays on the beach at Barceloneta. Get lost in the La Boqueria Market. And take the tram up to Tibidabo (only â‚¬5) for sweeping panoramic views of the city; itâ€™s also where you can experience a vintage amusement park and a gorgeous cathedral.
Chosen By:Â Shannon Oâ€™Donnell, National Geographic Traveler of the Year and founder of ALittleAdrift.com
Why:Â Often bypassed in favor of nearby Costa Rica, Guatemala is unique unto itself in Central America. And because itâ€™s a bit more â€œoff the pathâ€ in the region, itâ€™s also easy on the budget and a nice place to splurge. The villas and hotels rimming Lake AtitlÃ¡n have all the beauty you could want for a small fraction of the price youâ€™d pay in Europe or elsewhere. From the lake, you can then delve into the countryâ€™s unique culture by visiting the indigenous markets and villages in the Guatemalan highlands. Lush Atitlan is a gorgeous, affordable place to stay in San Marcos La Laguna, the prettiest and most culturally interesting of Lake Atitlanâ€™s villages.
Where: Bonaire & CuraÃ§ao
Chosen By:Â Melinda Crow, founder of FirstRead.Me, whose motto is â€œGo more. Experience more. Enjoy it More.â€
Why:Â In the deep Southern Caribbean, Bonaire and CuraÃ§ao are always out there on the edge of everyoneâ€™s Caribbean consciousness. Both are known for scuba diving, but also for other water sports, hiking and amazing secluded beaches. Vacation villas that let you live like a local are plentiful and affordable on both islands, but chain hotels like the Renaissance CuraÃ§ao Resort & Casino are an option on CuraÃ§ao (great if youâ€™re using points). Bonaire gets its very first chain hotel at the end of 2016 when a Marriott Courtyard opens.
Where: Las Vegas
Chosen By:Â Shereen Rayle, ShereenTravelsCheap.com
Why:Â If you can avoid the slots, there are lots of free things to do in Vegas: The Flamingoâ€™s flamingo habitat, the fountains and conservatory at the Bellagio and the outdoor movies at the Container Park are just a few. You can also find many places for cheap eats if you are willing to get off The Strip to do so. Check out the nearby Crown and Anchor, which serves up delicious British favorites, and Ninja Teriyaki Sushi 2 Go for fresh-made amazing sushi rolls in a no-frills setting.
Chosen By:Â Michaela Guzy, Oh The People You Meet
Why:Â Sadly, the average income in Cambodia is about $950 per year. What does this mean for international travelers? Your international airfare might be expensive, but once you are in Cambodia, you can live well. Tuks tuks (a combo bike/taxi) and food cost just pennies. Even international hotel chains and luxury river boats down the Mekong are more affordable than other Asian destinations. Before visiting, I suggest doing your homework to support luxury companies like the Shinta Mani Resort, whose foundation plays a large role in its community, building water wells, schools and farms and providing the best healthcare in the country to its employees. Culturally conscious companies like Aqua Expeditions sustainably introduce their guests to the communities along the Mekong River, including the floating markets and the farmers in the rice fields; the company can even arrange a conversation with a local Buddhist monk to discuss the significance of his journey from childhood to monkhood. For advice on how to travel sustainably through the culturally rich Kingdom of Cambodia, see â€Michaelaâ€™s Map: How to Be a Responsible Traveler in Cambodia.â€
Chosen By:Â Nastasia Yakoub, Dame Traveler
Why:Â If youâ€™re looking into an exotic long-haul trip, Bali offers a ton of high quality experiences for a great value. You can easily stay in a private villa overlooking stunning rice paddies with a private pool for around $50 per night. (Airbnb is a great way to go.) However, if you want to splurge a bit but not go overboard, a stay at a high-end luxury resort will still cost you less than a stay at a luxury resort, for example, in Maui. Not to mention, spa and transportation costs are quite low relative to other exotic locales, as well as the amazing and healthy food options that end up being a fraction of the cost elsewhere in the world.
Chosen By:Â Holly Johnson, Club Thrifty
Why:Â The weakened euro has made any trip to Europe more affordable, but this is especially true in Greece. The struggling economy craves tourist dollars and makes it known with affordable pricing on everything from hotels to food. In Athens, you can book a three- or four-star hotel for well under $100, like 360 Degrees, a nice and modern hotel with a huge breakfast buffet included and an awesome location directly on Monastiraki Square. Throughout the countryside, prices may be even better. Best of all, you can sit down to an amazing Greek meal with drinks (Mythos or Ouzo?), appetizers (Saganaki, anyone?) and entrees of your choosing for less than half what youâ€™d pay in the States. Heck, you can pick up Souvlaki or a gyro for $1-$2. Souvenirs are insanely cheap, too.
Chosen By:Â Stephanie Parker, Big World Small Pockets
Why:Â This forgotten corner of Europe is a wonderfully off-the-beaten-track budget destination in an otherwise very touristy and expensive continent. With fantastic beaches along its coastline, including the fishing port of Saranda, Albania gives visitors the chance to enjoy the Mediterranean waters for a fraction of the usual price. Accommodation starts from as little as $5 per person and fishing trips or boat rides to the nearby islands are similarly well priced. Thereâ€™s also some fascinating historical sites across Albania that are either free to enter or cost only $2-$5. From the moutainous medieval town of GjirokastÃ«r to the Roman ruins at Butrint, this is a diverse and very different side of Europe, which is definitely worth visiting before the crowds do.
Where: San Luis PotosÃ, MÃ©xico
Chosen By:Â Jackie Nourse, TheBudgetMindedTraveler.com
Why:Â Picture a perfect class III white water rafting experience through a limestone canyon of turquoise waters, a visit to a living garden of eden, complete with art sculptures, hidden pools, butterflies and waterfalls, a hike to the largest known cave shaft in the world, which you can rappel into, and a series of waterfalls for cliff jumping. Top this all off with a plate of homemade tacos and a local beer for $2, and youâ€™ve got yourself a piece of adventure paradise on a budget. Still very much under the radar to anyone outside of Mexico, San Luis PotosÃ could be compared to Costa Rica in terms of adventure and Cambodia in terms of affordability. Since Election Day, the dollar has been especially strong in Mexico, offering an even better excuse to travel south of the border.
Where: Quebec City, Canada
Chosen By:Â Marybeth Bond, The Gutsy Traveler
Why:Â Take advantage of the weak Canadian dollar and travel north for a 25% discount on prices. Enjoy a slice of Old Europe without the jet lag or the cost of a transatlantic flight. Indulge in some of the best French food outside France â€” steak-frites, oysters and pastries at a bargain price. Stroll and shop in the narrow cobblestone streets of the picturesque Old Town and enjoy night parades and ice canoe races during the colorful Winter Festival in January and February.
Where: Buenos Aires
Chosen By:Â Annie Fitzsimmons
Why:Â One of the worldâ€™s most intoxicating cities, Buenos Aires has only grown in popularity, but itâ€™s still relatively cheap compared to European and Asian capital cities. There are many green parks, French-inspired architecture, late-night dancing, custom leather shops and fantastic food. Taxis are relatively cheap (around $5-8 a ride), but you should also walk for miles in all of the distinct neighborhoods, like Palermo (try Salon Canning, a super casual milonga, or dance hall, after midnight). Must-try cheap eat in Buenos Aires: anything dulce de leche. It is everywhere â€” inside crepes, drizzled over grilled bananas and in gelato.
Tip: Bring a ton of American cash and youâ€™ll get better deals in many places. For example, I bought my custom leather jacket at a shop called Uru Recoleta (close to the famous Recoleta Cemetery) and was able to buy it for much less than using my credit card because I brought American dollars. On Sundays, the place to be is the San Telmo market for browsing leather, antiques, watches, jewelry and more.
Chosen By:Â Lucie Josma, @missjetsetter
Why:Â While Haiti still remains under the radar as a travel destination, many people have been flocking to the vibrant country, and I can see why. The island provides all the stunning Caribbean characteristics without the high costs. Outside of holiday seasons and the later part of the summer, flights from New York range from $300 to $500, and even cheaper when flying from cities in Florida. The real gem is how cheap the hotels are, with many starting at $50 to $150 per night including airport transfers. Even the newest Marriott Port-au-Prince will only set you back $130 to under $200 a night for larger rooms. One of my favorites is Wahoo Bay Beach, which has epic mountain and ocean views from its stunning pool and rooms. You can take small boat tours around the area for a couple of dollars per person. Lobster, conch and crab can be caught right from the water and prepared for you without costing more than $10.
Where: Where Santa Catalina Island
Chosen By:Â Melinda Crow, FirstRead.Me
Why:Â Santa Catalina Island is one of my new favorite places. It is way more than a weekend SoCal jaunt. Hotels are quaint and average under the $200 per night mark. The Avalon Hotel is a charming choice. Itâ€™s right in the center of town, making it an easy walk to almost any activity. There is plenty to do, like kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, ziplining, hiking or just beach sitting. The Catalina Island Museum is a must-visit stop to get the full story of the islandâ€™s fascinating history, including its Hollywood connection. Food and shopping choices are extensive. And you donâ€™t need a rental car. Getting to the island is easy: Catalina Express Ferry whisks you to there from three different ports, Long Beach, Dana Point and San Pedro. I prefer Long Beach because flights there are often lower priced than neighboring LAX.
Chosen By:Â Meagen Collins, Food Fun Travel
Why:Â With 17,000 islands, you are bound to find the ideal paradise to suit your travel style and budget in Indonesia. There are stunning untouched beaches that offer world-class snorkelling and scuba diving in Raja Ampat, fascinating Unesco World Heritage Sites dating back to the 9th century in Yogyakarta and â€” everywhere you turn â€” the friendliest locals. In Raja Ampat, we found a homestay that included breakfast, lunch and dinner â€” plus it was right on the beach for around $29 USD per person per night.
Chosen By:Â Jackie Nourse, TheBudgetMindedTraveler.com
Why:Â The entire Balkans region is an excellent option for budget travel, and if you havenâ€™t been before, I recommend starting with Bulgaria. From wine country to snowy peaks to the Black Sea coast, itâ€™s an adventure playground that every budget can afford. In Bulgariaâ€™s wine country you can get a full winery tour with multiple tastings plus bread and cheese for about $5 (check out Villa Melnik winery), take a hike through Bulgariaâ€™s famous sandstone pyramids and then sleep in a beautiful authentic style hotel like Zlaten Rozhen with breakfast included for about $30.
Where: Cusco, Peru
Chosen By:Â Lucie Josma, @missjetsetter
Why:Â Most people who pass through Cusco are en route to the very popular Machu Picchu, but you should make sure to spend a few days, maybe even a few weeks in this colorful city. Not only is the city absolutely stunning and oozing with culture, most accommodations range from $20 to $100 a night. Peruvian textiles are extremely affordable and the vibrant colors are stunning. Eating out in Cusco can be extremely cheap, if you know where to eat. Restaurants are quite affordable compared to most American and European restaurants, but street food here is the real winner. Iâ€™m personally addicted to ceviche and canâ€™t find it cheaper than $15 for a small portion in the states, but in Cuscoâ€™s San Pedro Market you can find ceviche plus Peruvian fried rice for only $3. On my last trip, I had steak and ceviche nearly every day and never spent more than $15 for two including a drink and soup.
Chosen By:Â Meagen Collins, Food Fun Travel; and Shannon Oâ€™Donnell, ALittleAdrift.com
Why:Â Meagen Collins: This ancient European country is starting to grab the attention of travelers from all over the world. Georgia has so much to offer â€” beautiful scenery, unique culture and tradition everywhere you look, and the food will leave you drooling for more. Add to that the fact this country lays claim to being the birthplace of wine (winemaking here goes back 8,000 years) and you have the ultimate new travel destination. In Georgia, you can get a full meal plus copious amounts of wine for two people in a higher end restaurant, with live entertainment and still spend less than $30 â€” total. But get there fast: Word is getting around about this little gem and it wonâ€™t be tourist-free for long.
Shannon Oâ€™Donnell: This country flies under the radar for many tourists but has a favorable exchange rate, making it surprisingly budget friendly. The country a has gorgeously rich cultural heritage and is perhaps best known for its culture hospitality. That said, the food, wine, dance, and mountainscapes will wow you, too. Within days of arriving in Tbilisi, Georgia topped the list of places in the world where I felt most welcomed.
Chosen By:Â Stephanie Parker, Big World Small Pockets
Why:Â This country is one of Africaâ€™s best budget travel destinations, with some extremely affordable accommodation situated along white sand beaches and next to an azure ocean. (Check out Villa Sands or TerraÃ§o das Quitandas.) Thereâ€™s great scuba diving, too, and you can easily feel like a millionaire here for nothing! For more ideas, see Big World Small Pocketâ€™s â€œ17 Incredible Budget Travel Destinations Still On My List (That Should Be On Yours Too!).â€
Where: Dallas, Texas
Chosen By:Â Melinda Crow, FirstRead.Me
Why:Â Dallas is often overlooked, but packed with fun, food and great places to stay at prices far below the national average. (The city was voted the most affordable destination in the U.S. last year by Priceline and continues to remain a great value.) Downtown buzzes with excitement and culture, and the nearby Design District is exploding with eclectic shopping for home dÃ©cor. The high-rise Omni Dallas has rooms with stunning floor-to-ceiling views of the city starting at just under $200, putting you in the center of the action. With a rental car, you can fully explore everything the city has to offer. Look at fringe cities like Grapevine and Plano for the charm of small towns of yesteryear with main street shops and eateries. The Gaylord Texan Hotel in Grapevine is convenient to DFW airport and offers full-out luxury at rates around the $200 mark.