The Cheapest Places to Travel – What Has Changed?

The World’s Cheapest Destinations was written at the end of 2002, so I’ve started to do research for a second edition. I also recently completed a chapter for a book called Cheap Stingy Bastard, which will be edited by the inimitable Jen Leo for Travelers’ Tales. So I’ve been getting a reality check on prices for local transportation, food, and lodging.

What has changed in the past few years? Turns out, not all that much. In terms of changes in how cheap the cheap are, and how expensive the expensive are, I’ve got one word for you–Europe.

If you’re coming from Western Europe and going almost anywhere, life is good. When the opposite is true, it’s ugly. The dollar’s decline and the rise of the pound and euro have made pricey places like London, Paris, and Rome downright ridiculous. But hey, they haven’t been a bargain for decades anyway, so forget about going there unless you have friends to crash with or you’ve got a sizable budget to work with.

Here are the overall changes that I will be working into the next edition.

Eastern Europe
Once was dirt cheap, then was sorta cheap, now is cheap with an asterisk. Still a better deal than its neighbors to the west, but not in the capital cities. Prague, Budapest, and Krakow are bobbing on a strong wave of popularity and riding the coattails of a rising Euro. They’re full of tourists on a short vacation and it shows. It’s not that you can’t travel very well on a budget in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland, but you need to get into smaller towns and away from the tour buses. Romania and Bulgaria aren’t as popular and therefore haven’t seen as much of a spike. Turkey is still the best deal of all in Europe (even though only part of it is technically in the continent.)

Argentina tour

Latin America
A good value has gotten even more attractive for Americans and Canadians since most currencies in this region are tied to the dollar. (Europeans can have a heyday.)

The key change here is Argentina, which is still recovering from a currency crisis; Buenos Aires is perhaps the best city value in the world right now, then you can scoot off to the wine region and Patagonia for far less than in the past. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, Peru is getting pricier in the Cusco region–for good reasons (conservation) and bad (Lima cashing in on the golden tourism goose). I featured Venezuela in the first version but probably won’t this time. Tourism has plummeted in light of Chavez’s anti-western stance and rising oil revenues have led to rising prices as well.

Still a screaming bargain, with few changes that matter. China’s getting easier, including a rise in budget airlines, which at least warrants an honorable mention. Fanatical Muslims are being their low-life selves here and there, but it’s pretty hard to get away from that anywhere there’s a call to prayer these days. The real cautionary tale is Nepal, which could implode at any time. Too bad–it’s one of my favorite places in the world.

I’ve had a few suggestions to add the East Africa backpacker route, which I may. The problem is that for all the hassles and comfort sacrifices you make there, it’s not all that cheap if you actually do things. A safari here, a hike there, an internal flight there–then you’re out a few grand despite seeing unending poverty all around. We shall see…

Egypt just had another bomb blast, though curiously it was targeted at a hotel full of Egyptians. Go there now and you’ll have your pick of rooms on the cheap. Same goes for Jordan and Morocco, by association.

  1. Kathy Niebuhr

    Am interested in travel as seniors.

    What is there that is new and interesting and when are the best times to go for the best value

  2. charles

    venezuela? wtf? it’s been one of the most expensive places since they found oil in like… 1910!

    • tim

      Just because a country has oil doesn’t mean it’s expensive to travel there. The few travelers still going to Venezuela I’ve met say it’s far cheaper than, say, Costa Rica or Chile. Margarita Island is certainly cheaper than nearby Aruba. What did you find when you were there?

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