The Cheapest Destination Travel Clusters Around the World

cheapest places to travel

Unless you’re a trustafarian or have been saving big bucks from working in law or finance for years, your round-the-world journey is going to have some budget restraints. Long-term travel is drastically cheaper than going on vacation, but Western Europe, Japan, and Australia can be really pricey even if you’re staying in hostels and never eating at nice restaurants.

Fortunately, most of the cheapest places to travel in the world are situated in clusters. So you don’t have to buy some complicated (and expensive) around-the-world ticket that has you bouncing from airport to airport every few weeks. In fact, you could just get a one-way ticket to Bangkok or Guatemala City and be done with it for quite a while. Just pick up the other tickets as you go. Because here is where you should concentrate your travels if you’re on a budget. Nearly all of The World’s Cheapest Destinations fall into one of these budget travel clusters.

Central America

If you’re coming from the USA or Canada and are short on savings, it’s a whole lot cheaper to get to this part of the world than to fly across an ocean. In recent years I have bought a ticket Guatemala for $490 and got a one-way ticket to Belize for around $200. That’s about what I would have had to spend to fly from the east coast to the west domestically. Sometimes you’ll see even better deals if you’re willing to endure flying on Spirit Airlines. (Going on Star Alliance Avianca is a much better bet for a little more money.)

Roatan Island Honduras beach


Nicaragua is the low-cost leader in the region, but the political situation there is dicey these days. Guatemala is quite cheap and Panama isn’t too bad once you get out of the capital. Try to limit your time in much more expensive Costa Rica and Belize.

From Panama you can take a ferry around the Darian Gap and get to Colombia, which leads to…

South America’s Cheap Travel Cluster

Travel costs are widely divergent in South America, with the country taking up the largest part of the map usually being the most expensive. That would be Brazil, though the raw-materials-based economy has been tanking lately and you can get a lot more local currency for your dollars or euros or pounds. For now anyway, it’s only kind of expensive instead of crazy expensive. Same for Chile, whose currency has gone from lofty to reasonable.

Cheap travel clusters South America


Colombia has become a much better deal in recent years and prices in Peru are less than they were five years ago thanks to exchange differences, even though the number of tourists has exploded. Just assume you’re going to spend a fortune for Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. 

The cheapest places to travel are generally Ecuador and Bolivia, so budget travelers usually combine those two with Peru for the bulk of their time. Ecuador uses the greenback though, so you don’t get any benefit from a strong dollar there if you’re American.

Argentina in an on again, off again bargain depending on the inflation rate, but at least now you don’t have to shell out a lot for a visa and there’s no two-tiered system for exchange rates. For the moment it’s a bargain again. Distances are long to do all this overland, but there are plenty of overnight bus options and in some countries (like Bolivia and Colombia), domestic flights aren’t a whole lot more than the best bus.

Southeast Asia Bargain Travel Clusters

cheap travel ThailandThis is where it all started for me and where it has all started for a few hundred thousand backpackers since. You can usually get a semi-reasonable flight to one of the countries in this region—or use miles if you’re good at travel hacking—and then travel overland to visit the rest of them.

Cambodia and Laos battle for the cheapest prices in the region and in those countries Thai baht are considered a hard currency. Dollars are commonly used apart from small transactions. Vietnam is one of the best values in the world when it comes to accommodation and beer, though transportation costs can add up fast in the long and skinny country. Thailand has gotten less expensive the past few years if you avoid the package tour areas, just because of exchange rate differences.

Burma is not the bargain it should be, mostly because demand is so far ahead of supply when it comes to a tourism infrastructure. (Plus it’s still not a government I want to give my money to.) Malaysia is a bit pricier than the others, but there’s a trade-off in that it’s a lot more developed and easy, plus their currency has declined against the dollar and euro the past couple years.

Indonesia is always one of my picks though for the best overall values in the world and that has only increased lately as their currency has dropped. You can travel between all these countries by land and sea, though most people fly from Malaysia, Singapore, or Australia to Indonesia to save days of travel time. There’s a ferry from the west coast of Malaysia to Sumatra that’s not too daunting if you’re headed to that island.

The Philippines is an honorable mention in the upcoming 5th edition of The World’s Cheapest Destinations. It’s an especially good deal for going out drinking and everyone educated speaks English, which makes it much easier for getting around. 

Nepal trekking

Indian Sub-continent

It’s not easy, but you can travel overland all the way from Kathmandu, through India, to Sri Lanka. You can save a lot of time and hassle by flying here and there though, especially with budget fliers like IndiGo Airline in India. Nepal is probably the outright cheapest place in the world if you’re not a mountaineer and the country could really use your tourism bucks. Here’s a detailed look at travel prices in Nepal.

India is quite cheap outside the cities and Sri Lanka offers a chance to visit a beautiful place that was in turmoil for decades. Again, if you can cash in frequent flyer miles to get there, travel will be quite inexpensive all around.

Eastern Europe and The Balkans Travel Clusters

In terms of outright value for money, it’s hard to top the former Iron Curtain countries of Europe. You could get by on the proverbial $50 a day single or $75 for a couple in this region fairly easily if you’re not moving too quickly and you cook for yourself at least one meal a day. Slovakia, the Czech Republic (outside Prague), Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria all offer a lot of interesting sights, hearty food and beer, good wine, and plenty of culture. Bulgaria is on par with parts of Central America and Southeast Asia in terms of costs, despite astounding natural beauty and some cool towns to hang out in for a while.

hiking bulgaria

You could detour down to Turkey, which is a bit more reasonable these days because of exchange rate trends, but it’s far from stable. If you must visit Western Europe, Greece isn’t too pricey if you stay off the most popular islands and Portugal is still a bargain for now.

Cheap travel cluster in Europe - Balkans

A $2.75 lunch in Bosnia

The emerging hotspot in Europe is the Balkan states that were at war with each other a couple decades ago. They still haven’t fully recovered and some are on par with Southeast Asia for meals and drinks. I was really surprised at how many great deals I found when I was traveling through the Balkans independently and on a bike tour. You can find a lot of bargains in Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania, and (to a lesser extent) Serbia. As with the other travel clusters, you can go overland from one to the other and since some are not part of the EU 3-month travel quota, you can stay longer by just hanging out in Albania for a while.

Croatia gets a lot of tourists though, especially Dubrovnik in the summer, and its economy is in better shape, so prices there are not much of a bargain. Limit your time there or just pass through.

Middle East

It’s hard to believe that Syria and Yemen were once backpacker destinations or that Egypt was one of the most popular travel destinations in the world for vacationers. But hey, Iran and Afghanistan were on the “hippy trail” of travelers in the 60s too.

Obviously things can change for the worse, especially when radical Islam is involved. If you’re not easily spooked, Egypt is fairly calm these days and it’s a buyer’s market for hotels and services. Jordan is eternally suffering from having bad neighbors, but it’s a terrific place to visit, especially if you can spend a couple weeks there instead of a quick in and out.

Now, just because these are the cheap travel clusters, it doesn’t mean you have to hit all of them on one trip. Save some for later! A year sounds like a long time, but the more you try to cram in, the more it’ll fly by in a blur of transportation. Stop and smell the baklava and you’ll have a richer experience.

  1. Barry Elwes

    The problem for Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Iran, and Afghanistan was US interference, not “radical Islam”.

  2. Tim

    Yes and no Barry. In many cases the U.S. didn’t get involved until a full-blown war with a neighbor or civil war was already underway. Or in the case of Afghanistan, after we were attacked. The Middle East seems to find plenty of reasons to fight amongst themselves without anyone else around. Often it’s radical islamists stirring up the trouble (or exporting it to somewhere like Sri Lanka), or in the case of Syria, using instability to recruit and expand their base. Bottom line is, you have to keep an eye on the complicated news to travel on a budget in this region.

    • John

      I had a good laugh reading your reply, Tim. You sound like a rather shallow businessman or US politician: nice pat, glib answers of a typical American traveler, but I doubt you know Arabic or Farsi, or much Middle East history in depth. A real howler: ” Or in the case of Afghanistan, after we were attacked. ” It seems you swallow the official gov’t explanation of 911. If so, that is a pathetic level of ignorance.

      “I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar soaked fingers out of the business of these [Third World] nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own. And if unfortunately their revolution must be of the violent type because the “haves” refuse to share with the “have-nots” by any peaceful method, at least what they get will be their own, and not the American style, which they don’t want and above all don’t want crammed down their throats by Americans.” – General David Sharp – Former United States Marine Commandant

      • Tim Leffel

        The “solution of their own” was the Taliban. And ISIS.

        Yes, the U.S. government has plenty to answer for, but the Muslim nations of that region often do a good job of screwing themselves up royally without our involvement too.

        I’m no rah-rah patriot (I don’t even live in the USA anymore), but the pinning of all their problems on foreign interference seems like a tired excuse after all this time. I”ve read more history than most and it’s downright depressing outside of maybe the UAE.

        It’s like if Canada, Mexico, and the USA kept launching wars against each other and blowing up car bombs in public markets that killed children…and we blamed it on Saudi Arabia.

  3. Simon

    The Indian Sub Continent cluster seems quite convenient and easy to explore.
    Loved reading your blog.
    Thanks for sharing.

  4. marcin

    this is really great article thanks for sharing this post.

  5. Paul

    The countries of Eastern Europe have a special charm. Besides the countries mentioned, Romania is just as interesting and suitable for any budget. Thanks for tips.

  6. Markus

    Now this is something I was looking for…loved your blog.
    Thanks for sharing.

  7. Monil Shah

    I am a travel person.. I like to see and admire culture… And by this blog it can help me with my pocket… That’s what I was looking for. Thanks

  8. Avi

    Excellent post.

  9. lee from uk

    fantastic post, good content and read

    The Philippines has to be the top destination for travellers, its cheap, English is spoken everywhere.
    My fav place in Cebu. more in the south where there are outstanding natural Waterfalls such as the Kawasan Falls in Alegria
    and the secret Cambais falls

    I fully recommend travelling in South Cebu for the Budget Traveller, I stayed in a Scuba Diving Resort in Sta. Filomena in Alegria just 5km from Kawasan falls it was great and recommend this place to any backpacker or traveller

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