The Best International Vacations If You're On A Budget

If you're on a budget, international travel can often feel out of reach. But going to another country doesn't have to be just a daydream. Low-cost international vacation is possible, it just requires some planning and research. Picking an affordable destination is key. Your goal is to find a place that is appealing to you but also has a great exchange rate and cheap flight. Timing is also important — avoid going during peak tourist season or traveling on a weekend, if you can (via TIME). With an open mind and some flexibility, you can plan the ultimate international getaway.

When it comes to accommodation, don't forget to check Airbnb as well as hotels for price comparisons. If a hotel is a must for you, try to pick one that has a lot of included amenities, like breakfast and a hot tub, to get the most bang for your buck. And if you're up for it, hostels generally have the cheapest prices and some even have private room options. For the adventurous types, you can sleep on locals' couches for free through Couchsurfing, a website that vets hosts and travelers; or check out Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms — WWOOF for short — an organization that links volunteers to farms worldwide for a work exchange. Let's explore some of the most popular international travel destinations that won't break the bank.

Go to Cambodia

This Southeast Asian country is home to beautiful beaches, spectacular temple ruins, and so much more. You could easily enjoy your time here by spending under $25 per day, and that's including lodging. Many hostels charge only $3-$10 per night and some even come with breakfast (via Be My Travel Muse). Eating out at a restaurant is about $5-10, but you could also get full off a street meal for $2-3 (via Cambodia Travel). For transportation, consider renting a motorbike, which can be a fun way to sightsee and get around for only $6-15 a day. You can also buy an intercity bus ticket or take Tuk Tuks, the area's version of taxi cabs — but if you opt for the latter, you'll want to brush up on your haggling skills, since Tuk Tuk drivers are known for overcharging tourists. Wherever you go, don't skimp on the tips; Cambodia is heavy with poverty and locals are still recovering from the massive genocide by Khmer Rouge that ended in 1979 (via Matador Network).

One of the most expensive things to do in Cambodia is a trip to Angkor Wat, the most iconic temple ruins in the area. Ticket prices range from $37-$103 depending on the number of days you wish to go and if you buy them in person or online (via Wander-Lust). Visiting Angkor Wat is at the top of most tourists' bucket lists and, if you do decide to go, you won't regret doing it. 

Check out Thailand

If you love Thai food, a trip to Thailand is an absolute must. A neighbor to Cambodia, this country also boasts majestic ancient ruins, stunning tropical beaches, and rich culture. While the beaches and islands in the south are picturesque places straight out of a calendar, they are also more expensive to visit — sometimes more than double the price of northern Thailand destinations. Thailand's capital, Bangkok, falls somewhere in between expensive and mid-range; you can expect to spend about $60 a day there (via Budget Your Trip). 

However, northern Thailand is both economical and exciting to visit — it's also less touristy, meaning a more authentic and culturally immersive experience. In sought-out cities like Chiang Mai and Pai, you can plan on spending about $5-15 on food and $5-10 a night for hostels (per Be My Travel Muse). Chiang Mai also has many no-cost attractions, from ladyboy cabarets to the Sunday Night Market, which is free to stroll but hard to walk away from empty handed (via Be My Travel Muse). The city also has over 300 Buddhist temples that can be visited for a far cheaper price than Angkor Wat. Nearby Pai offers waterfalls, canyons, and hot springs, all of which are free or inexpensive experiences.

Visit Indonesia

Exploring Indonesia can be inexpensive, depending on how you travel. According to Britannica, this Southeast Asian country is made up of 17,500 islands and 40% of them are undeveloped and unpopulated. Island hopping and traveling between cities isn't cheap, so the trick to a cost-effective Indonesian vacation is to pick one region and really dive deep. Out of all the well-known destinations, Bali seems to be the most popular, as it offers a little bit of something for everyone, from waterfalls and white sand beaches to rice terraces and ancient temple ruins. Bali is even home to some unique black sand beaches. 

Hiking Bali's natural wonders and lounging on the beach are technically free, you'll just need to pay for transportation. Your cheapest options are renting a bicycle or taking the local public microbus called Bemo, according to Trip Savvy. Renting a motorcycle or scooter is only $4-10 a day, but the roads can be quite harrowing, so be wary of that option. You can find hostels for $5-10 per night here and spend a total of $5-$15 on meals each day (via Be My Travel Muse). And depending on your haggling skills, you might be able to land a fair price on scuba diving or a surfboard rental. 

Explore Greece

While not an obvious choice, visiting Greece can be inexpensive. For this country, timing is everything. The summer is the most popular season for tourists, so opt out of going in July or August and instead, shoot for an off-season spring or fall trip (via Be My Travel Muse). Some restaurants can be quite expensive, so rather than eating out for every meal, plan to buy some groceries and have picnic lunches. Plus, you can find cheap street food on every corner and you can't go to Greece without eating a gyro (per Trip Zilla). You can find hostels for $10-15 a night here and, depending on how many people are in your group, you can also track down some affordable Airbnb options. There are free walking tours everywhere, so you can cover all your must-see spots at no price. And if you want to visit the nearby islands, be sure to book an overnight ferry in advance at a cheaper price, which also means you'll be saving money on accommodation for that evening.

Travel Mexico

Mexico has amazing culture, great food, charming cities, and beautiful nature getaways. Most cities have street tacos everywhere that are less than $1 a piece. You can easily get away with spending anywhere from $8-15 per day on food and the same per night for a hostel (per Be My Travel Muse). However, Mexico is a huge country, so the key to traveling here on a budget is to pick one region and stay there. Transportation between cities can be very expensive and time consuming. One of the most popular cultural cities to visit is Mexico City, where you can find cheap Airbnbs and even affordable luxury hotels (via Buzz Feed). 

If you're craving more of a beach vacation, the Yucatan Peninsula is the place to be. Just stick to staying in hostels and traveling by bus to keep it economical (per Buzz Feed). Not only does the Yucatan Peninsula offer iconic white sand beaches, ancient Mayan ruins, and delicious authentic Mexican food, but it's home to the cenotes, which are underwater caves boasting beautiful aquamarine colors and aquatic life. While diving or snorkeling around them is a bit more pricey, you can pay just $3 to visit one to go swimming for the day (via Be My Travel Muse).  

Go to Guatemala

Nestled in Central America, Guatemala is an underrated and often overlooked gem. Stunning nature backdrops, friendly locals, and Mayan temples make this destination unforgettable. Street food is abundant and inexpensive, and you can grab a drink at a bar for under $5. Hostel rooms range from $10-20 and affordable Airbnb options abound. Your accommodation will be even cheaper if you enjoy camping and have space in your luggage for a tent since plenty of hostels have camping areas. Some places even offer hammock rentals and a spot to sling it up for just $5 a night (via Lonely Planet). If you don't mind the rain, visiting in the off-season between May and October provides fewer crowds and better deals. Popular destinations in Guatemala include the Mayan temples of Tikal, Lake Atitlan and its surrounding hippie villages, and the jungle vibes and river of Semuc Champey (via Indie Traveller). 

Transportation may be your biggest expense in Guatemala; if you're feeling adventurous, go for a ride in a chicken bus, which is a retired school bus that is now used for public transit. Getting from Antigua to Lake Atitlan on a chicken bus can cost as little as $8. While the loud music and flashy designs on the bus may seem like a party, beware that passengers are packed in tight and the standing room is shoulder-to-shoulder. Theft is also quite common on chicken buses, so be sure to keep your wallet and phone tucked away (per Lonely Planet). 

Vacation in Columbia

Columbia gets a bad reputation for being a dangerous country, but in fact, the locals are quite friendly and welcoming to tourists. While there are still some places you should try to avoid, overall a trip to Columbia can be both compelling and affordable. The country is large and has a wide variety of attractions, from breathtaking beaches and countless national parks to bustling cities with street art and jaw-dropping architecture. The exchange rate between the U.S. Dollar and the Colombian Peso is strong — you can have a great budget-friendly experience with only $30 a day or enjoy a more luxurious vacation on a mid-range budget by spending just $50 per day (via Indie Traveller). 

To cater an economical trip in Colombia, opt for street food, hostels or cheap Airbnbs, free walking city tours, public transportation, and avoid touristy areas (via Nomadic Matt). If you want to visit some of the phenomenal nature destinations, keep in mind that most of the national parks charge an entrance fee. For example, a visit to the Caribbean coastline of Tayrona National Park is about $10, but you can sleep in a tent or hammock right on the beach for pretty cheap — just make sure to book it ahead of time (via Destinationless Travel). However, visiting the iconic Cocora Valley is only about $1 and is a bucket list trip for many, with its seemingly mile-high wax palm trees and green glowing valleys (via Laidback Trip).

Visit Nepal

One of the most affordable tourist destinations in Asia, Nepal offers astonishing mountain views, cheap food, and lodging, as well as economical public transportation. Depending on your activity of choice, you can expect to spend anywhere from $20-40 a day here (via Indie Traveller). Backpacking through the Himalayas is considered inexpensive compared to other mountain trekking destinations and you can do it for less than $20 per day, so long as you don't go through a guide, which can often be overpriced. For better deals, avoid the busy season in October and November and shoot for the off-season during the spring, winter, or monsoon months (via Lonely Planet). Also, don't be afraid to haggle, even on room rates. To save money on food, seek out the local "bhojanalayas," basic food spots offering simple but delicious eats. Nepal also has cheap street food, and your trip wouldn't be complete without trying samosas, dumplings, and of course, local tea. 

Explore South Africa

This country is sometimes on the expensive-to-travel list, but lately, South Africa has become a low-cost destination due to the great exchange rate (via Globetrotter Girls). Hostels remain the cheapest accommodation choice at just $10-15 per night (per BuzzFeed). However, camping is also an option and you may be able to find economical hotels and Airbnb options due to the exchange rate. 

To save money on meals, you'll want to factor in lodging with a kitchen, that way you can cook some meals on your own instead of always eating out. Saving money on food and lodging will allow you to splurge on a fancy meal every now and then or even budget for your dream safari trip. For transportation, Globetrotter Girls recommends renting a car or opting for public transport like buses. Just be sure to check rental car prices across different companies like Priceline, Expedia, and Autoslash to get the best deals.  

Take a trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina

When planning a low-cost international trip, Europe generally isn't the first place that comes to mind, however, Eastern Europe is much more affordable than its western neighbors. Bosnia-Herzegovina is one of the most economical Eastern European countries and you can easily get by spending just $30 a day here, or about $50 per day on a mid-range budget (via Indie Traveller). Some popular destinations in the country include the capital Sarajevo, for its impressive architecture, and Mostar, a quaint Medieval town. Hostel rooms range from $15-20 per night and you might be able to find an Airbnb for about $20, but hotels will be more pricey. The Culture Trip recommends booking your first night or two ahead of time, then doing some legwork once you get there to find better lodging deals by asking locals. Most meals are a bargain — you can get cevapi, a type of grilled sausage, and Bosnian coffee for just a couple of bucks. A full meal, complete with several beers, can easily cost you under $15.  

Adventure in Peru

Peru is known as one of the most affordable countries to vacation in South America. It's on many people's bucket lists thanks to Machu Picchu, ancient ruins that are considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World (via Money Under 30). While the entrance fee is costly — it's currently set at $45 — it is attainable with a little budget planning. There are other beautiful landscapes to visit in Peru that don't have such a pricey entrance fee, like Lake Titicaca, the Andes, and the Amazon rainforest. 

Aim to save money on food by avoiding touristy spots and following the cliche of "eating where the locals go." Also, try to DIY your sightseeing instead of paying for a tour. You can also find budget-friendly hostels and hotel rooms in Peru. In addition, be on the lookout for scams: Always count your change when you get it back, remember tipping is not customary here, and if you take a taxi, settle on a price before taking off to avoid being overcharged (per Trip Savvy). 

Check out Vietnam

Vietnam neighbors Cambodia and Thailand in Southeast Asia, so it's no wonder that this country is also a low-cost international travel destination. Vietnam has plenty to offer, from limestone mountains and temples to majestic caves and cultural cities. Meals are just a few bucks each and if you fancy a beer, it's only about 20 cents. You can even find hotel rooms for $10 a night without skimping on comfort (via Indie Traveller). Most people can spend a day exploring Vietnam and only spend $20-25 in total. To avoid spending more than you budget for, Backpackers Wanderlust recommends booking lodging with free breakfast and water included, as well as sharing transportation with other people to split costs and opting for Uber if they exist in the area you're visiting to avoid being scammed by taxi drivers. If you do take a taxi, make sure to agree on a price before leaving. 

Vacation in Cuba

Cuba is a romantic and colorful travel destination that can be affordable, depending on how you go about it. On a low-cost budget, you can expect to spend about $45 per day in Cuba, or $65 on a mid-range budget (via Indie Traveller). The key is to avoid staying in expensive luxury tourist hotels and instead, look for locally-owned and family-operated "casas particulares." These may cost anywhere from $20 in small towns to about $45 in the more popular tourist cities. Most casas particulares also serve food at cheaper prices than many nearby restaurants. Avoid visiting during the peak season between November and March and shoot for the off-season months of May, June, September, and October (per Lonely Planet). Instead of paying for museums and art galleries, seek out street art, parks with sculptures, or places with free entry. Plus, you can buy a cocktail or beer for under five dollars, as long as you avoid the touristy bars.

Visit China

An affordable international vacation list wouldn't be complete without mentioning China. Visiting the cities of China, you can land a $20 hostel room, a meal for under five bucks, and a bus ticket that won't cost more than one dollar (via Nomadic Matt). However, if you can make it to the countryside, you'll spend even less. If your ideal trip to China involves indulging in some beers every now and then, along with entrance fees to a few of your must-sees, you can still get by with spending around $50 a day here (via Thrifty Nomads). The country is vast, so if you want to see a few different places, your best bet is to travel by high-speed train or find a low-cost airline ticket — these are the most efficient and cost-effective options. The good news: Most Chinese food is affordable and the cheapest food is still delicious.