From Milos, Greece to Dahab, Egypt this year’s list of the best budget travel destinations has something for every kind of traveler.
Whether you want to explore vibrant Rajasthan in India or relax in style on Lovina, the lesser-known side of Bali, Indonesia, this list has you covered.
This is the sixth iteration of my annual Forbes list and in the spirit of keeping things fresh I asked a group of travel experts and influencers to share two of their favorite destinations that offer a good deal – one with a nostalgic pull and one that they’ve just discovered.
The goal is to highlight some lesser-known places. They are not necessarily “cheap” but they are all locations where you can stretch your dollar. Some are destinations that offer a big return on the dollar in 2020 while others are offer cost-effective travel packages.
So whether you’re a backpacker in Cambodia, looking for a quality luxury safari experience in Kenya, island hopping in Greece or want to explore Orlando, Florida, this list has something for every price point.
Ciara Johnson is a blogger, writer and full-time traveler from Houston, TX. When she’s not on the road, she’s laughing with friends, watching documentaries and eating Chipotle. You can follow her travels on Instagram or at HeyCiara.com
If you think Santorini and Mykonos are impressive, then just wait until you see Milos. This spring, I spent four days exploring this Greek island and it turned out to be one of my favorite trips of all-time. Milos is home to over 75 unique beaches, many of which have rock formations that will make you feel like you’re on another planet. Island hopping was the name of the game and it helped that these beaches were free of charge.
I visited during shoulder season, before all of the crowds arrived and prices spiked. We paid about $40 for a rental car and less than $223 for an Airbnb between the four of us. We decided to go on a whim, but it was certainly the highlight of our time in Greece.
Going to Kenya felt like coming home. I got the chance to visit as part of a 80 day 18 country world tour with Airbnb Adventures and it sticks out as the most memorable experience by far! We went on an all-inclusive five-day safari tour which included guides, transportation, accommodation, meals, unlimited drinks (including alcoholic ones), cultural interactions and locally-hosted activities. On the surface, a safari experience can seem expensive but it can also be a great value for your money when you consider all that is included. Fortunately, there are a huge range of price options ranging from budget to luxury.
Not only did we visit the local Maasai Warriors, but we were also guided by them on a daily basis. I’m pretty sure they are the most interesting people in the world – I learned a wealth of information from their culture. The experience was so rich and full of depth that I can only plan to return in the future.
Alexandra Baackes is a New York native with a decade of travel blogging under her belt at Alex in Wanderland, where she recounts her journey globe chasing beautiful diving, moving design, and great dinner party stories. She recently launched Wander Women Retreats, which combine yoga, sustainability, community and adventure in some of the world’s most magical destinations. You can also follow her travels on Instagram.
Martha’s Vineyard, USA
For most, the idea of Martha’s Vineyard as an affordable travel destination will incite a chuckle – it’s reputation is as an East Coast enclave for the elite as well as vacationing presidents. But the island has room for those on all budgets. I fell in love with Martha’s Vineyard as our family’s annual summer vacation destination during childhood — and have picked up a few tips and tricks since becoming a bill-footing adult.
The Steamship Authority ferry from Woods Hole costs just $8.50 a pop for walk-on passengers. On the other end of the island there’s both a charming family campground and a summer camp-like hostel with bragging rights as first purpose built hostel in America. A robust bus system makes getting around easy as all buses are fitted with bike racks, for those who arrive on the island on two wheels. Much of the island’s top attractions – the windswept State Beach, the gingerbread cottages of Oak Bluffs, the cliffs of Aquinnah and the island’s countless art galleries – are free. And of course, traveling in the shoulder season, when the Vineyard is actually delightfully devoid of the insane summer crowds, is another way to cut costs.
I can’t stop talking about the bohemian beach town of Dahab — in fact, I became so enamored, I launched an annual women’s retreat there. This gem on the Sinai Peninsula is one of Egypt’s only destinations with a true independent traveler vibe enjoyed at rock-bottom prices. The area suffered economically following a devastating plane crash in 2015 while the country at large suffered a tourist drought following the Arab Spring. But travelers are coming back. Most will be drawn here initially by the incredible scuba diving opportunities of the Red Sea — the world-famous Blue Hole is a camel-ride away — but the enchanting desert landscape, warm Bedouin hospitality and international community here are what make it hard to leave.
It’s the kind of place you hope never changes, but it’s also one secret that’s just too good to keep — and with the United Kingdom reopening flights to Sinai’s gateway of Sharm El Sheikh last month for the first time in four years, it is easier to reach than ever.
Amirah Cook lives in Bali with her husband, where she writes romance novels and hosts retreats throughout the year. Follow her online here.
Koh Lanta, Thailand
Unlike some of the more popular Thai islands, Koh Lanta is less developed and boasts its own unique culture. As a romance writer, it is the perfect setting – it’s where I penned my first novel.
I’m certain I’m biased, but my sentimental reasons are backed up by the endless beautiful beaches around the island. Housing and food are super cheap – with five-star hotels available for a fraction of the price as those on neighboring islands. I’m sure this will change soon, so get there before everyone finds out about this hidden gem.
Lovina, Bali, Indonesia
Everyone is clamoring to get to Bali for the most drool-worthy Instagram pictures. Unfortunately, everyone is rushing to one half of the island – staying in overpriced Seminyak or indulging in Yoga Heaven in Ubud.
There is so much more to see on the so-called bucket list island. Located in the north, Lovina has a different vibe with less crowds and more of the peaceful bliss Bali is known for. Relax in a luxury villa for half the price or spend a day on a boat, watching dolphins. It’s everything you dream of Bali being, without the Instagram-infused chaos.
Jeff Jenkins is an award-winning content creator, speaker and founder of Chubby Diaries. Chubby Diaries is a digital space that provides a community to plus size travelers looking to build friendships, discover travel tips and redefine the world that has been trying to exclude them.
Orlando, Florida, USA
Home to the world’s most popular mouse, yearly sporting events, and of tons of amusement parks as well as attractions, Orlando has it all. Many have no idea that my hometown offers so much more than popular tourist attractions. From free winery tours and tastings at Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards, to playing for hours in Disney Springs’ Lego store or even grabbing an amazingly cheap meal at Tin & Taco Downtown – there are loads of ways you can have fun without breaking the bank.
This city has more hotel rooms than most American cities, so you can always find a deal on a room that will cost less than $100 per night.
If you want to get off-the-beaten-path, visit the historic town of Eatonville, Florida. It is the first self-governing all-black municipality in the United States and the home of the famous early-20th-century author Zora Neal Hurston.
Being one of China’s largest cities, I thought it would come at a hefty price but it was way more affordable than I thought it would be. You can visit all the major attractions including the Forbidden City and the Great Wall for under $30. Check out incredible street food markets like Wangfujing Snack Street where you can indulge in fermented mung bean juice, steamed rice cakes with sweet stuffing and some of my favorite meats on sticks. Plus… the majority of these snacks won’t cost you over $4.
Alle Pierce is an Emmy Award-Winning Journalist, an on-camera personality and a travel content creator based in Chicago, Illinois. She explores the globe with her travel agent mother and documents their hilarious and unfiltered adventures on her Instagram. When she’s not hopping on a plane, she’s cuddling her four felines, hosting her ShowCast “When Being Cliquish is Good” or trying to figure out how she can fit all her Rent the Runway clothes in her suitcase and have it be under 50 pounds…If you have the answer please send her a message on Instagram and be sure to check out her website.
Greater Palm Springs, California
The Coachella Valley lives up to its reputation as the hideout for Hollywood A-listers. Overflowing with history, glamour and natural beauty, I was lucky to call this oasis home for nearly five years. This part of Southern California is comprised of nine distinctly different cities, each one with its own culture and personality.
And while budget might not be the first word that comes to your mind when you think of Greater Palm Springs, take it from a local, there’s plenty to explore and you don’t have to spend a cent. Go for a hike on one of the more than 100 trails spread throughout the valley, catch a Sunday polo match or my favorite – take a self-guided architectural tour and marvel at the mid-century modern homes in Palm Springs.
Oh, and while it’s a bit of a drive, one and a half hours from Palm Springs, there’s no place in the world quite like crazy, colorful Salvation Mountain. It’s free to explore, but I like to make a donation to the man who lives on-site and maintains this rainbow mountain.
I’ve been lucky enough to travel with my mom to India twice and something keeps pulling us back to Rajasthan. The state is known as the land of maharajas, palaces, festivals and includes cities like Jaisalmer, Jaipur, Udaipur, and Jodhpur. There is simply nothing quite like the vibrant colors and sights you’ll find in this magical part of the country. Escape to the Thar desert and visit Jaisalmer Fort, India’s oldest inhabited fort, take a sunset boat ride on Lake Pichola in Udaipur or snap a photo at the colorful Patrika Gate in Jaipur.
And while you’re surrounded by opulent palaces and magnificent forts, you don’t need to bust your budget to take it all in. India as a whole can truly be a budget-friendly destination, with ways of mixing in a luxury 5-star palace hotel if you’re looking to “treat-yo-self” for a night or two. And while the weather might not be ideal, I’ve found traveling in shoulder season to India to be a way to cut costs and avoid crowds. Just make sure to pack a handheld fan.
Ricky Zhang is the founder of Prince of Travel, a website dedicated to helping travelers maximize their frequent flyer miles and credit card points to travel the world, just as Ricky has been doing for the past five years. He also shares his travel tips and documents his adventures on Instagram and YouTube.
I recently visited Cambodia, spending a few days in each of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and was pleasantly surprised by what I discovered. Having suffered unspeakable trauma under the Khmer Rouge barely 40 years ago, Cambodia is undergoing a resurgence at the moment, with its youthful and entrepreneurial populace seeking to march forward from their dark past and welcoming all visitors with open arms.
As is the norm in Southeast Asia, your dollar goes a very long way in Cambodia and you can easily book a tuk-tuk ride across town on the Grab app for $2 or have a delicious meal with a beer for less than $5.
Extra tip: Khmer cuisine is also progressing in leaps and bounds in recent years; Embassy Restaurant in Siem Reap, for example, offers world-class Khmer fine dining for very reasonable prices – only around $35/person!
Off-beat adventurer with a thirst for remote locations, Pashmina Binwani writes about her adventures on The Gone Goat to inspire others to take on experiences they never thought they could be part of. Read more of her stories on thegonegoat.com and follow her on Instagram.
Imagine a place that has their nomadic cultures intact and where it is known to be one of the oldest cities along the Silk Road, almost 3,000 years old: this is Osh, a gateway to Central Asia’s culture and cuisine. I spent one month in Kyrgyzstan experiencing different modes of transport from bicycle touring to hiking and taking their local taxis (marshutkas) while living with the locals in their yurts.
Osh is specifically the second-largest after Bishkek and it takes you through some of the most remote corners of the world including stunning mountain passes, bustling bazaars, access to the Lenin Peak Base Camp and walnut forests in Arslanbob.
It is almost impossible to break your bank here as you can live with a nomadic family in their opulent circular yurts, a legacy of Genghis Khan for as low as $15 a night. The city has many historic footnotes that make you wonder about what it was like for merchants, traders and commoners to wander these inhospitable places and carry along goods, ideas and a variety of languages.
It is almost impossible to describe the beauty of India but this place holds a special place in my heart as it was my first solo trip. I craved for mountains, solitude, the everyday fun and seeing India from a different side. One that was far from usual India trips my family had brought me to as a child – I didn’t want to be ferried in private taxis and taken to the fancy Taj Hotel.
Visiting Uttarakhand sealed my vision of a place blessed with high mountains surrounded by forests of pine, deodar, rhododendron trees and even the Chandrashila peak, also known as ‘Moon Rock’ and the highest Shiv temple in the world. It was a place where it was possible to travel cheaply, see beautiful mountains and even meet everyday people who came here for the Switzerland-like views. It was surreal to be this close to the stratosphere and experience not only one mountain but thousands of other magical massifs that surrounded me.
Lee Abbamonte has traveled to every country in the world as well as both the North and South Poles. Dubbed the “Marco Polo of the 21st Century” by Arthur Frommer, he is a multimedia travel expert, national television personality and adventurer. Lee has appeared on CNN, Fox News and the Travel Channel, as well as the New York Times, USA Today and Washington Post. Follow his adventures on Instagram.
I just spent time in Peru doing most of the usual sights like Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley and Rainbow Mountain. But then I went to Paracas; which I knew nothing about and was blown away. Paracas itself is a bit of a base camp resort in Peru with excellent hotels like the Hotel Paracas and restaurants. The gorgeous National Reserve is right there to explore. Nearby is the desert oasis of Huacachina, Pismo wineries and the flights over the mysterious Nazca Lines just a few hours from Lima. Obviously most people will go to Cusco but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll love Paracas and the surrounding region with so much to discover that you didn’t know existed.
Turks and Caicos
This beautiful island paradise is the quintessential Caribbean destination. It’s beaches are legendary. The food is the best I’ve had in the Caribbean. The hotels are outstanding like The Shore Club where I stayed. There’s also great golf, friendly people and a sophistication that you don’t find in many Caribbean destinations.
Annette Richmond is an award-winning content creator, writer and advocate. A globe trotter and goal digger, Richmond is the creator of the body positive travel community Fat Girls Traveling. The native Californian got her start in the fashion industry and has used that experience to create a platform that is inspirational and aspirational for people living life in marginalized bodies. As a digital nomad she’s constantly on the move. After three years and over twenty countries, she hopes to continue to inspire people of all sizes to see the world and be seen.
The first international vacation I took with my mother was to Jamaica. Traveling with family can mean an additional amount of stress, but traveling with my mom is no easy feat. Don’t get me wrong, she is an incredible person – but she’s very particular.
In the end, our time in Jamrock brought us closer together. We took a day trip to Dunns River Falls where we laughed so hard we cried! She struggled a bit walking against the current and up the waterfalls, constantly reminding me that it didn’t look this difficult on the Housewives of Atlanta. Ha! Next, we snorkeled in the coral reefs of Ocho Rios, but not before she twerked it out to some reggae on the boat.
Jamaica is an easy getaway for American travelers because the dollar is accepted all over the island. There’s also a slew of all-inclusive resorts for every type of travel style, including adult-only options, family resorts and clothing-optional hotels and private beaches for those who dare to go bare.
Last year I decided to see if Bali was worth all the hype. I was nervous because the island is known for having less-than-stellar WiFi. As a digital nomad, a strong connection is important.
Well, turns out: I loved it. I’m writing this from my hotel room in Kuta, Indonesia and appreciating every bit of Bali’s beauty for the second year in a row.
Bali is an extremely spiritual place. It teaches you the importance of balance in life and nature. It’s also very affordable with hotels and hostels costing from as little as $3 per night to hundreds. You can book a small group tour with your favorite tour company for $75 to $100 a day or book everything on your own and hire a private driver at $40 for ten hours. Some of my favorite experiences included snorkeling on Menjangan Island, Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan, as well as hiking down the beautiful Aling Aling waterfalls. You can do Bali on a budget and have a priceless experience.