Which countries in the world offer the most value? Where can you travel to in 2020 that will allow you to go for longer, enjoy a higher standard, and save more money? The following are 30 destinations around the world that offer the essentials – accommodation, transportation, and food – for less:
1. Laos, $30/day
Back in my budget backpacking days around Southeast Asia, Laos was one of the two destinations where I was able to keep my budget at $30/day, even though accommodation was slightly more expensive than most places in Southeast Asia at that time. Many of the amazing activities you can do in Laos are cheap. I paid $2.50 to see one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world, $7 for a full day tubing experience along the Vang Vieng river, and $6 for an awesome tiger balm massage. You can also rent a motorbike for cheap and venture off to the smaller towns, where everything is even cheaper! With more and more new hostels built to cater to the increasing number of backpackers, you can go for cheaper for longer. However if you have a bit more to spend, you can get a gorgeous room for closer to $35 .
Meals: $3 – $9 per day. Some hostels provide a basic breakfast Accommodation: $5-$10 per night in a hostel Transportation: $6 – $15 for a motorbike for the day (prices may vary depending on the bike condition and your haggling skills), or up to $25 for an intercity bus ticket SIM card with data: $6 for 1.5GB with 30-day validity
2. Vietnam, $30/day
I probably had the healthiest and cheapest street food in Vietnam. Think a soup with rice noodles, cilantro, amazing broth, and a whole shank of pork for $1.50, or a cup of strong, aromatic coffee for $1. As far as transportation goes, if you rent a motorbike, you are all set for the day. However, I understand that not everyone is comfortable riding a motorbike, especially in countries like Vietnam where the road traffic can be overwhelmingly chaotic. The good news is that GrabBike (similar to Uber but on bikes!) is widely available in all major cities, and the cost is as low as $0.50 for a 2km ride! The long distance buses and trains are also affordable and reliable. Accommodation is similarly pleasant and easier to afford than almost anywhere else in the world.
Meals: $5 – $10 per day. Some hostels provide breakfast that consist of a baguette, fruit, and coffee Accommodation: $5-$10 per night in a hostel (here’s a full guide to the best hostels in Vietnam) Transportation: $8-$15 for a motorbike for the day (prices may vary depending on the bike condition and your haggling skills) or for an intercity bus ticket SIM card with data: $2 for 1.5GB with 30-day validity. Yes, it is that cheap!
3. Cambodia, $25/day
I know for sure that if you choose to rough it, you can easily spend a month in Cambodia with just $1000. Dorms are very basic but can be dirt cheap, the same goes for food and alcohol. I also had my haggling skills to thank as I was almost always able to talk my way out of being charged unfairly by the Tuk Tuk drivers. There are some one-off expenses such as the 3-day pass to Angkor Wat, which is currently set at $62, and diving trips that add up, but there will also be days of riding bicycle in a small village and eating cheap and delicious meat skewers, when just a dollar or two could stretch very far.
Another thing is to consider the gorgeous, mostly new boutique hotels on booking.com. They are obviously not as cheap as staying in hostels, but for the price, they are so worth it! I’d definitely splurge on a couple of nights and have some R&R time by the pool.
Meals: $5 – $10 per day. Some hostels provide breakfast Accommodation: $3-$10 per night in a hostel (here’s a guide to the best hostels in Cambodia) Transportation: $6-$15 for a motorbike for the day (prices may vary depending on the bike condition and your haggling skills) or for an intercity bus ticket SIM card with data: $2 for 1.5GB with 30-day validity. Yes, it is that cheap!
4. Northern Thailand, $30/day
The north of Thailand is easy on a tight budget. As one moves south, costs for accommodation start to double, triple, and even quadruple. If you are short on time and budget for your Thailand trip, stay up north! Even in popular places like Chiang Mai and Pai, you can easily find basic dorms for less than $5. If you stick with eating street food (To each her own, but why eat pasta when you can have pad Thai, am I right?), not only will you save yourself some money, the experience will be much more authentic and delicious, too. As far as activities go, you really do not need a lot of money to enjoy your day as most activities such as visiting the White Temple, hiking, or gathering 3 other people from your hostel to rent a car and go on some day trips, are all affordable.
Meals: $5 – $15 per day. Some hostels provide breakfast Accommodation: $5-$10 per night in a hostel Transportation: $6-$10 for a motorbike for the day (prices may vary depending on the bike condition and your haggling skills) or a rental car split between 4 people SIM card with data: $7 for 1.5GB with 30-day validity
5. Indonesia, $30/day
The thing about Indonesia is that it can be really cheap, or it can be quite expensive, depending on one big thing – transportation. Intercity traveling can be very time-consuming and costly, so is traveling from one island to another with a private boat. To save costs, stick with a region or two! There’s a lot to do and see, and spending more time in one place will only allow you to travel deeper and have a more meaningful experience anyway. If you want to travel far and wide on a budget, my biggest tip is to take the local transportation! That’s what I did backpacking in Indonesia a few years back, and sure enough, I ended up with some funny stories.
On the flip side, food and drinks are cheap throughout the country, not to mention absolutely delicious too! Riding a scooter through the mountains costs very little, so does hiking, chasing waterfalls, and slouching in a hammock by the beach all day long. Hostels are plentiful, social and affordable, especially in places like the Gili Islands.
Meals: $5 – $15 per day. Some hostels provide breakfast Accommodation: $5-$10 per night in a hostel Transportation: $8-$15 for a motorbike for the day (prices may vary depending on the bike condition and your haggling skills) SIM card with data: $5 for 2GB with 30-day validity
6. The Philippines, $35/day
The Philippines’s archipelago can cost quite a lot of both money and time to get around, and the hostel options aren’t nearly as abundant as other Southeast Asia countries. While these two factors seem like a big turn off for travelers trying to stretch their budget as far as possible, there are ways to keep your travel cost in the Philippines low. If you choose to travel during shoulder seasons, book your flights and plan your journey way in advance (it is not the country to always wing it!), and try to stick within 1-2 regions, the Philippines can still be affordable. On top of that, the country has some of the most gorgeous islands, beautiful dive sites, and hidden gems that you’d have had to pay so much more to experience in other parts of the world. In that sense, the Philippines is worth every peso you spend.
Meals: $5 – $15 per day. Some hostels provide breakfast Accommodation: $7-$13 per night in a hostel Transportation: $10-$15 for a motorbike for the day (prices may vary depending on the bike condition and your haggling skills) or $15 – $20 for a boat ride from one island to another SIM card with data: $6 for 2GB with 30-day validity
7. Malaysia, $35/day
Being one of the most economically developed Southeast Asian countries, Malaysia is often perceived as expensive. On top of that, when I visited Malaysia for the first time, a few people told me it wasn’t worth staying long. However, I ended up meeting lots of locals, more able to communicate and find more common ground with them than I had in Cambodia or Laos, and had so much fun exploring Cameron Highlands, the jungles of Borneo, and the gorgeous islands. The cherry on top? They were all affordable. An overnight bus from Kuala Lumpur to the Perhentian Islands costs as little as $8, there are so many interesting local neighborhoods and markets that are free to explore, and finally, the Malaysian cuisine is like no other – you can find food from just about any culture and it’s so cheap and delicious – but not necessarily healthy. Malaysia is also one of the cheapest places in the world to get a PADI scuba diving certificate.
The one thing that could make Malaysia expensive to travel in is alcohol, which is highly taxed. However, if you don’t plan on drinking every night, that will not be an issue.
Meals: $5 – $10 per day. Some hostels provide breakfast Accommodation: $5 – $15 per night in a hostel Transportation: $3 – $5 for a full day of train and bus rides, or $8 – $15 for an overnight intercity bus ride SIM card with data: $8 for 2GB with 30-day validity
8. Sri Lanka, $33/day
Like many countries, Sri Lanka can be seen on a backpacker budget, or one can spend a small fortune there. The biggest kicker was the price of activities, such as safaris, and admission into the UNESCO World Heritage sites. With each running about $40-$50 per ticket, this made Sri Lanka more expensive to fully explore. That said, Sri Lanka can be done on closer to $30 per day on the days that you don’t pay for expensive activities. Food, transport, accommodation, and Internet are relatively cheap. One thing to note about transportation is that in some cases, taking a taxi / uber (in major cities) can be cheaper than renting a bike. If you can find people in your hostel to split the cost, hiring a driver for the day can be as low as $5 per person. The cheapest transportation is the train, which is delightful and IMO, the best way to travel through Sri Lanka.
Meals: $5 – $10 per day. Some hostels provide breakfast Accommodation: $8-$15 per night in a hostel Transportation: $10-$15 per person for a private car and driver split between 4 people, or $3-$5 for a second-class cabin train ride between cities SIM card with data: $2 for 1.5GB with 30-day validity. Yes, it is that cheap!
9. Nepal, $28/day ($15/day if trekking)
Nepal is a very cheap country to travel through, with most food, accommodation, and transport running at just a few dollars if you eat, sleep, and travel using local options. For food, while I never seem to get any stomach problems eating street food, the street food in Nepal does not have the best reputation. You can get cheap and delicious home cooked meals in local-run small cafes though. Be very mindful when you book your accommodation online, as big corporations have taken over local homestays and turned them into boutique hotels and resorts. The “local guesthouses” you’ve booked may very well be part of a big hotel chain. I suggest booking the first couple of nights online, and look for accommodation from real local guesthouses when you’ve arrived.
If you end up trekking, as long as you do so independently and avoid Mt. Everest itself, which costs tens of thousands of dollars, you can travel for as cheap as $10 per day on food and accommodation at the lower elevations, and closer to $20 USD at higher elevations on popular routes like the Annapurna Circuit.
Meals: $5 – $10 per day. Some hostels provide breakfast Accommodation: $5-$10 per night in a local guesthouse Transportation: $10-$15 per person for a private car and driver split between 4 people, or a local bus ride between cities SIM card with data: $3 for 1.25GB with 30-day validity. Yes, it is that cheap!
10. Taiwan, $34/day
2 words: street food. For less than $2, you can get a plate of fragrant rice with pork / chicken on top, a large deep fry chicken chop, or a bowl of delicious vermicelli with oysters. Food in Taiwan is delicious and ridiculously cheap. If you are a foodie on a budget, you know where to go! In cities like Taipei and Tainan, you can register for their city bikes, which cost less than $0.50 per hour per ride, and are free for the first 30 minutes. This means you can possibly get around the city all day without spending any money on transportation at all.
That said, high-end food and clothing prices in Taiwan can sometimes be at US’s level. Intercity traveling is either expensive with the High Speed Rail (HSR), or time-consuming with slightly cheaper options. Internet is also not as cheap as the countries above.
Meals: $5 – $10 per day. Some hostels provide breakfast Accommodation: $10 – $20 per night in a hostel (I highly recommend this one in Taipei!) Transportation: $0 – $3 for a full day of bike, bus, and train rides, or $20 – $40 for an HSR ride between cities SIM card with data: $33 for unlimited data with 28-day validity