7 budget destinations that should be on your 2019 bucket list

written by Marie-France Roy November 2, 2018
budget travel destinations Cambodia

As a solo traveller and blogger who focuses on affordable travel for the 40+ crowd, choosing interesting destinations where my money goes a long way is essential.

After visiting over 60 countries, I like finding places that are a little off-the-beaten-path, while still safe for solo females. Though if you are travelling with others, you can trim costs further by sharing accommodation and meals.

Here are my top 7 places for a fascinating budget trip, some of which may surprise you. If you have other good-value suggestions, leave them in the comments.

(All prices below are in US dollars unless otherwise noted.)

7. Bosnia and Herzegovina

budget travel destinations Bosnia


Although you will still find physical reminders of the war, Bosnia is a peaceful and stunningly beautiful country of green mountains, turquoise rivers, vineyards and waterfalls, complemented by a mixture of Eastern and Western influences. And for a European country, it’s surprisingly affordable.

Even in Mostar and Sarajevo, the most visited cities, you can find simple but perfectly adequate guesthouses with rooms under $30. The food is meat-based and hearty, and ridiculously cheap for the size of the portions you get. A $5-10 main dish will be big enough for two at many tourist restaurants. So bring a friend to share! I felt bad wasting so much food.

As for sightseeing on the cheap, both Mostar and Sarajevo offer free (tip-based) walking tours. Museums and historical buildings cost only a few dollars to visit, while most mosques and churches are free. War-related sights such as the Tunnel Museum and the Galerija 11/07/95 are pricier but still affordable at 5 and 6 euros respectively.

Travel there on a budget: Intrepid Travel’s 10-day Budapest & The Balkans trip.
Read more about it: Why Sarajevo is the must-visit city in the Balkans.

6. Portugal

budget travel destinations Portugal

Intrepid travellers in Lisbon

Surprised to see a western European country on this list? Portugal has been a (fairly) well-kept secret for a long time. What makes it so affordable is a combination of good-value lodgings, large servings of cheap food, and short distances covered by a reasonably-priced network of trains and buses.

From port wine to seafood dishes, fado music to Manueline architecture, surf beaches to golden sand coves, cozy Portugal has something for everyone.

Less well-known than Lisbon and Porto, Coimbra is a very pleasant university town where you can still find double rooms for $70. If you go, don’t miss the nightly fado show at À Capella, a converted 14th century chapel. It’s one of my best memories of Portugal.

In Nazaré, on the Atlantic coast, little old ladies meet travellers at the bus station to offer well-priced private rooms and apartments. Here you can also find good and cheap seafood restaurants.

As mentioned earlier, food portions are large in Portugal, and you can often order a “meia dose” (half portion) if you don’t have anyone to share with. And talking of food, make sure to try a pastel de nata at Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon!

Travel there on a budget: Intrepid Travel’s 8-day Portugal Real Food Adventure.
Read more about it: The ultimate guide to 7 days in Portugal.

5. Colombia

budget travel destinations Colombia

Tayrona National Park

Mountain ranges, colonial towns, green valleys carpeted in coffee bushes, ancient ruins, beaches and jungles, Colombia feels like several countries rolled into one. While not as cheap as other Andean nations, Colombia is more developed and is safe to visit – so don’t miss the cities of Cartagena, Bogotá, and Medellín.

You can get a single room with bathroom for about $23 in the (trendy) El Poblado district of Medellín, but be warned that hotels at the budget end may not always have hot water. Small towns like colonial Villa de Leyva, and the coffee town of Salento are even better value.

Like in the rest of Latin America, “menús del día” (set lunches) offered on weekdays are only a few dollars. Meals of local food shouldn’t cost more than $5 in any case. European restaurants (Spanish, French Italian) in the larger cities serve tasty meals for only $10-15. In hot and humid Cartagena, you’ll pay more in restaurants with air conditioning.

Delicious fruit juices (guanabana is my favorite), coffee, and street snacks like arepas and empanadas cost between $1 and $2.

You can visit many interesting museums, either for free or very cheap. Admission to the Gold Museum in Bogota is less than $1.50 for example. Transportation costs are also very reasonable, with public transit tickets costing less than $1 and comfy intercity buses being around $2.50 per hour of travel.

Travel there on a budget: Intrepid Travel’s 10-day Explore Colombia trip.
Read more about it: Why to consider solo travel in Colombia (and what it’s like).

4. Romania

budget travel destinations Romania


I haven’t been to Romania yet, but I really want to visit after reading about its medieval towns, bucolic countryside villages, forests where bears and wolves still roam, and delicious food. And let’s not forget the historical towns and castles of Transylvania. I did a bit of research and was happily surprised by my discoveries.

Double rooms in mid-range hotels can be had for $30-35 while an AirBnB apartment, or a homestay in the countryside including all meals, will be about the same.

Food is generally inexpensive, especially if you choose the daily menu in restaurants (around $5) or self-cater by shopping at discount supermarkets like Profi or Lidl. A bottle of local beer is less than $2 while a glass of local wine is less than $4.

Train travel is the cheapest mode of transportation (albeit slow), costing from $8 to $20 for 200 kilometers, depending on the type of train. Ridesharing with BlaBlaCar is also a popular option in Romania.

Finally, sightseeing is not pricey, with most major cities offering free (tip-based) guided tours, and most museums charging only a few dollars.

Travel there on a budget: Intrepid Travel’s 10-day Budapest to Bucharest trip.
Read more about it: Amazing things to do in Romania (that aren’t vampire-related!).

3. Guatemala

budget travel destinations Guatemala


Often overlooked, Guatemala is not only one of the cheapest countries in Central America, but is also endowed with stunning scenery and friendly locals. Women wear colorful traditional garments, and the country is heaven for handicraft shoppers (so spare some money for the gorgeous textiles!).

Prices for accommodation, food, public transportation, and activities are very reasonable. Of course, heavily visited places like Flores (gateway to the ruins of Tikal) and the popular town of Antigua are a little pricier. Admission to Tikal is now $20, while Antigua charges a $5.50 fee to visit many of its churches and convents.

You can study Spanish in Antigua for $200–$310/week (private tuition including room and board) at one of the best schools, and even less in Quetzaltenango. These are some of the cheapest prices in the world.

The cost of your room will often include breakfast. Eating out at budget and mid-range restaurants, including snacks and fresh fruit shakes, should set you back around $20 a day. If you eat from markets and street stands, costs will be much less.

Travel there on a budget: Intrepid Travel’s 9-day Guatemala & Beyond trip.
Read more about it: 5 reasons why Antigua is the highlight of any Guatemala trip.

2. Cambodia

budget travel destinations Cambodia

Intrepid travellers at Angkor Wat

With the temples of Angkor Wat as its centerpiece, and beaches (like Koh Rong) that have been compared to Thailand’s 25 years ago, Cambodia is an enticing country that won’t break the bank. Everything is cheap here, from hotel rooms to food and massages!

Even the main cities of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are good value, with en-suite double rooms for US$25, and even less in smaller towns like Kampot and Kratie.

A main dish of Khmer food at an average tourist restaurant is around $5, a mug of local beer $1, and a one-hour massage only $10. Happy hours are very popular in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, so grab a friend or three and enjoy two drinks for the price of one!

Cambodian cities do not have subways or metros, but you can go anywhere you want in a moto-remorque or tuk-tuk for a couple of dollars.

Your biggest expense in Cambodia will likely be the Angkor Pass. It is now $37/$62/$72 for one/three/seven days. I recommend the 3-day pass. Angkor is a huge site with dozens of temples, and three days give you enough time to see both the popular temples and some lesser-known ones. (Essential Angkor Wat guide here.)

Travel there on a budget: Intrepid Travel’s 6-day Classic Cambodia trip.
Read more about it: 4 must-have experiences in Cambodia (that aren’t Angkor Wat!).

1. Sri Lanka

budget travel destinations Sri Lanka

The train to Nuwara Eliya

The small island country of Sri Lanka provides a mixture of mountain landscapes, tea plantations, beaches, temples, and archaeological sites. It used to be really off-the-beaten-path, but is now becoming increasingly popular (it’s just been named no.1 on Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel list). Accommodation, food, and transportation are still very cheap though.

You will find beer and fruit juices for $1, while street food stands and local restaurants provide meals for only $1-3. A splurge at an upscale restaurant will cost anywhere between $6 and $21. (Expect set meals at the lower end.) If you’re staying in a homestay or guesthouse with a meal plan, you may get treated to a gigantic buffet of Sri Lankan foods!

Trains and buses cost only a few dollars, but be prepared for crowds and standing room only on the buses.

Your highest expense will likely be activities. Beaches are free, but day tours, diving, and snorkeling trips with a local guide cost $20-30 per day (lunch included). Entrance to Sigiriya (palace and fortress complex) will set you back $30.

What you will need more than money in Sri Lanka is patience and flexibility. I once waited over three hours for my bus. But I also followed a tout and discovered a wonderful guesthouse. They don’t call it the “Island of Serendipity” for nothing.

Travel there on a budget: Intrepid Travel’s 8-day Simply Sri Lanka trip.
Read more about it: How to budget for your trip to Sri Lanka.

Ready to make 2019 the year you see the world? Check out Intrepid’s range of top trips in over 100 countries.

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