On this blog I mostly write about the cheapest places to travel in the world and where to go in order to make your budget stretch. But some people are hell-bent on going to a specific place, cost be damned, including half the relatives and friends of friends that ask me for advice. They know my beat and my books, but will go, “Yeah, but I’m going to Rome and Florence next July…”
So here are two universal principles that apply even in the most outrageously priced countries.
1) Limit your time in the big capital cities.
Sure, Paris is great, but if you go for a long walk in rural France, you’re going to spend far less on your hotel rooms at night than you will in the capital. A fraction of the amount usually. Hit Oslo for the museums and free attractions, then get out to the countryside where you can camp or find a hostel bed that’s not priced like a two bedroom suite in Bulgaria. Tokyo is great fun, but you’ll sleep and eat for less in Kyushu. Even in the cheap countries this is often true: Mumbai’s hotel rates will make your jaw drop if you arrive there after traveling through almost anywhere else in India. The Czech Republic is a great value…except for Prague.
The same applies to the United States, Canada, and Mexico as well, so you don’t have to go very far to put this advice in action. Good luck finding a nice hotel room with some space in New York City for under $150. Spend that amount in Buffalo or Boise, however, and you’ll be stylin’.
Caveats to this rule: a) Sometimes big cities have a more competitive hostel/cheap hotel scene internationally, so Ho Chi Minh City can have better lodging deals than Sad Town, Vietnam. Also, big cities with great subways can sometimes be cheaper to get around than a spread-out small one with a lousy bus system. This is especially a problem for the car-less in the USA, where most of the cheapie places are motels.
2) Limit your time in the big tourist draws.
“Budget Venice” is an oxymoron. London’s going to cost you a fortune no matter how many free museums you go to. The worst though are the beach resorts, the holiday destinations, the vacation factory places where the average stay is less than a week. Mexico is quite reasonable for budget travelers in the interior. In Cancun or Los Cabos, um, not so much. If you’re on a tourist budget and are just taking a quick break from work, by all means head to the Black Sea Coast, the Turkish Mediterranean, Agadir in Morocco, the Algarve resorts in Portugal, Seminyak in Bali, the Riviera Maya of Mexico, or Florida. There’s nothing wrong with a week of doing nothing if work is wearing you out.
But if you’re on a shoestring budget, your grumpy frown will really stand out among the $300 a day merry makers spending with abandon. Instead go where they’re not: the places that are harder to get to, that aren’t conducive to ordering cocktails while sitting in a lounge chair. The places where there’s no box to tick off or a bucket list item to claim. You’ll notice a rapid drop in prices—and will have some nice surprise discoveries.
Caveats to this rule: places that are big domestic tourism draws in inexpensive countries are not the same thing. Loads of Mexican tourists come to where I live in Guanajuato, but that means most hotels and restaurants are priced for their budget, not the budget of foreigners, as they are in San Miguel de Allende. There are places in many cheap Asian and Latin American countries that are big draws for locals, but hardly any foreign tourists visit. Go join the fun.
Where have you seen this in action in your own travels?