Where: Mazatlan, Mexico
Chosen By: Holly Johnson, founder of Club Thrifty, a website with tips on travel savings whose motto is “Stop spending. Start living”
Why: 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 aren’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 you’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: Michaela Guzy, founder of Oh The People You Meet, a global collaborative of who create content for travelers, foodies and philanthropists seeking authentic local connections
Why: In South Africa, the exchange rate is in our favor, but so is the fact that it’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 — 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. For more information on travel in South Africa, watch “Michaela’s Map: First Timers’ Guide to Southern Africa.”
Where: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Chosen By: Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon, founder of Jet Set Sarah, where travel and shopping meet
Why: 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 aren’t euro-based. Puerto Rico fits the bill, and I’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 city’s two-square-mile radius you won’t need a car rental to access great restaurants, sightseeing and shopping. U.S. citizens can save themselves the cost of a passport since it’s not required to visit, and since the U.S. dollar is the legal tender, there’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: Annie Fitzsimmons, digital editor at Virtuoso and editor-at-large at National Geographic
Why: Europe is on everyone’s list of value-added trips this year and for good reason — 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 — 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 you’ll see signs for “kuchen” (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. It’s one of those places I almost want to keep to myself, but it’s so special that I can’t.
Chosen By: Meagen Collins, co-founder ofFood 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: 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, it’s the perfect time to visit the beautiful island of Crete. Crete is a foodie dream come true. A place where farm-to-table isn’t a new fad, it’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. For more, see Fun Food Travel’s “Crete Food.”
Chosen By: Lucie Josma, @missjetsetter, a full-time photographer, content creator and social media manager specializing in travel and tourism.
Why: 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 it’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 there’s something to fit everyone’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.
Seaside in Belize. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)
Chosen By: Shereen Rayle, founder of ShereenTravelsCheap.com, which shows you how to go farther and do more for less without sacrificing comfort or fun
Why: Modern conveniences and history collide in Belize. It’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 Belize’s excellent local wines. Some affordable resorts to check out are George Hardie’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: Marybeth Bond, National Geographic writer, author, adventurer and founder of The Gutsy Traveler
Why: 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 everyone’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. Don’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 “pho” 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.
Costa Rica landscape. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)
Where: Costa Rica
Chosen By: 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: 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. There’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 won’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 — even at some of the best surf beaches — can be as little as $6 per person. And a “plato tipico” (local dish) can be enjoyed anywhere for as little as $2-3.
Chosen By: 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: 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 €5 each. Nowhere else in the world can its “California Highway 1 meets Tuscany” landscapes be enjoyed on such a budget, especially now that the dollar is strong against the euro.
Chosen By: 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: Although Ecuador is not quite as inexpensive as Peru to the south, it’s an easy and affordable destination to travel to, especially if you stay a bit off the beaten path. It’s a short cheap flight from Florida with budget airlines like jetBlue andTAME, and accommodation is pretty cheap. Shop at your local market and you can get a week’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, there’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.