With the arrival of the new year comes the question on every wanderluster's mind – where to next? For the savvy traveller, a place where their dollar will stretch far is a likely contender. Once again we've done the research for you in our annual round-up. We've considered factors like currency drops, new budget airline routes, value for money, and more. Here are the 10 best budget travel destinations for 2019!
Thrifty tip: Although these destinations are cheap, flights are usually the biggest expense of any trip. Cut your costs by signing up for a travel rewards credit card with a massive points bonus (as much as $625 in points towards your flight), keep your eyes peeled for error and mistake fares, and use a broad flight search engine like Skyscanner. Check out all our top tips for booking cheap flights here!
1. Sri Lanka
This island nation is packed with surprises, from wildlife safaris and mountain climbing, to glistening beaches and eclectically coloured temples. Don't leave here without sampling the country's budget eats, including crunchy samosas and tongue-tingling curries. While not as cheap as neighbouring India, your dollars will still stretch remarkably far here, with far less tourists too. For more in-depth planning, check out our travel guide, written by a Sri Lankan native.
Food: Street eats $1.50+, beer $2-$3
Accommodation: Hostels $10+USD, hotels $20+ USD. Check Airbnb and HotelsCombined to see your options across all major booking sites.
Getting around: Bus and train are the two easiest ways to get around the country. Tuk tuks and local driving apps like Uber and PickMe are efficient for urban transport.
Top attractions: The towering Lion's Rock is a famous sight to behold. Lesser known is the abundant wildlife viewing & safaris across the country (Kumana National Park and Gal Oya National Park are both great options for this). Some of the world's best kitesurfing can also be had at Kalpitiya Peninsula and Mannar.
Getting there: Most flights from the U.S. require a layover before arriving in Colombo (CMB), and are served by airlines such as Emirates and Qatar Airways. Search Skyscanner and choose “entire month” for your dates to see the cheapest days for flying.
Though not cheap by default, if there ever were a year to visit Iceland, 2019 seems to be it. The Icelandic Krona has dropped 6% against the Euro and continues to descend. Besides being one of the best places to see the Northern Lights, Iceland has volcanoes, glaciers, and long, open roads to be explored.
Thrifty tip: Is a Euro trip on your bucket list? Consider adding a visit to Iceland after entering Europe. Budget airlines like easyJet and Norwegian Air offer flights as low as £29.99 from major European cities like London and Edinburgh.
Update: Unfortunately since publishing, the budget airline WOW Air has declared bankruptcy and ceased operations, ending the staggeringly low airfares that once existed from the U.S. and Canada. However, cheap flights still exist from Europe with easyJet and Norwegian Air, and sales do exist with other airlines from North America. We recommend searching Skyscanner by “entire month” to find the cheapest dates to fly, and setting up price alerts to make sure you know the minute a flight goes on sale.
Food: Budget meals start from $10 USD (check this list for great ideas). Dining out here in general is pricey, bringing your own packaged food and cooking can help.
Accommodation: Hostels $50+ USD, hotels $120+ USD. Check Airbnb and HotelsCombined to see your options across all major booking sites. Consider renting a campervan – starting around $110USD/day – as this combines transport & accommodation.
Getting around: Your own set of wheels is ideal (go with a friend to slash costs!). Group tours are common and can be cheaper and safer (especially if travelling during rainier/snowy seasons).
Top attractions: The milky turquoise Blue Lagoon geothermal baths, the rushing Skógafoss waterfall, Skogar Church, seeing a show at the majestic Harpa Concert and Conference Centre. If your budget allows, take a tour and explore the brilliantly blue ice caves or walk atop a glacier.
Getting there: The Keflavik International Airport (KEF) in Reykjavik is the major point of entry to Iceland. Flights are as cheap as £29.99 from within Europe with airlines like easyJet and Norwegian Air. For all other origins, search Skyscanner and select “entire month” for your dates to see the cheapest time to fly from your city.
Towering pyramids, larger-than-life sphinxes, and ancient tombs abound – Egypt is the stuff of globetrotters' dreams. Better yet, many of its spectacular historic sites cost just a few dollars for entry. Whether you fancy watching a neon sunset over the pyramids, or bobbing peacefully down the nile in the afternoon heat, this thrifty hotspot is sure to please.
Food: $4 for street food, $8+ for simple meal. Beer $2+.
Accommodation: Hostels $15+ USD/night, hotels $36+/night. AirBNB offers competitive pricing and good value for clean, well-located accommodation. Compare all hotel and hostel options with HotelsCombined.
Getting around: Within cities there are taxis and buses. Between cities there are bus and train connections (VIP class recommended).
Top attractions: Be sure to visit Luxor, Cairo, cruise down the Nile River, and of course explore the spectacular pyramids (Giza, Saqqara and Dashur). Add in a visit to one of Egypt's oldest flea markets, Khan El Khalili in Cairo.
Getting there: Cairo is the most popular airport to fly into. Most involve a layover, though EgyptAir offers direct flights from New York City. Search Skyscanner and choose “entire month” for your dates to see the cheapest days to fly from your city.
From the rugged landscapes of Patagonia to the rainbow shades of Buenos Aires' architecture, Argentina scratches nearly every travel itch. Its cities offer an eclectic European vibe, without the exorbitant price tag. Besides urban landscapes, the natural scenery here is some of the most impressive on earth. Neon blue glaciers, endless snow-capped mountains, and staggeringly barren landscapes all await.
Thrifty tip: If your travel plans are open-ended, Argentina (specifically Ushuaia) is one of the cheapest launch points for cruises to Antarctica, where you can book at last minute rates.
Food: Simple meal $4-$6 USD, beer $1.50
Accommodation: Hostels $17+USD/night, AirBNB offers great value here. Compare hotel and hostel options with HotelsCombined.
Getting around: Public transport exists in major cities, though taxis can also be used. Inter-city travel can be done by bus and sometimes plane.
Top attractions: El Calafate glacier, restaurant & bar hopping in Buenos Aires (don't miss the colourful neighbourhood of La Boca), visit the lakes district of Bariloche, and hike in Tierra del Fuego National Park.
Getting there: Argentina's main airport is the Buenos Aires Ezeiza International Airport (EZE). If visiting Patagonia, you can then take a domestic flight (or a very long bus ride) to the city of your choice. Hop on Skyscanner and choose “entire month” for your dates to find the cheapest day to fly.
As it turns out, the top of the world has more than just mountains to see. Nepal is also home to lush tea fields, glacial lakes, bustling towns, and exotic wildlife. Once you've had your fill of high-latitude trekking, take a safari to see wild rhinos, elephants, tigers, and more in Chitwan. Nepal is one of the cheapest destinations on this list and while remote to get to, those who make the venture here certainly won't regret it. For more detailed planning, check our Nepal destination guide.
Food: Street eats 60 cents+, simple meal $1.50+ USD
Accommodation: Hostels & basic rooms $6+ USD/night, private room with ensuite $20-$30 USD. Compare all your options by searching both HotelsCombined and Airbnb.
Getting around: Car, bus, and plane are commonest. Roads are bumpy and winding, so short distances take quite some time to get between.
Top attractions: Strolling the chaos of Kathmandu, mountain hiking (and Everest, of course!), general trekking, safari viewing in Chitwan, a visit to the lakeside town of Pokhara.
Getting there: Nepal has just one international airport, the Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM) close to Kathmandu. Search Skyscanner and choose “entire month” for the departure/return dates in order to see the cheapest time to fly from your city.
Another tiny island country that packs a serious punch – Taiwan is one of the most underrated places on this list. The island's size makes it readily explorable by motorcycle, train, bus, or plane if you so choose. One can peruse ancient temples, hike steaming geothermal landscapes, spot monkeys on rainforest trails, and slurp savoury night market noodles all in a single trip here.
Food: Simple meal $3 USD, beer $1.50
Accommodation: Hostel dorm $10+ USD, hotels $16+ USD. Airbnb offers great value here – comparable against even hostel dorms. Check Chinese booking site Trip.com for cheaper rates than other sites.
Getting around: The country is well connected by bus, train, and plane. Public transport exists in major cities, as well as taxis.
Top attractions: Yushan National Park, the red-lantern filled town of Jiufen (the inspiration for the town in Spirited Away), explore the night markets of Taipei, wander the temples of Kaohsiung, and oodle over waterfalls at Taroko National Park.
Getting there: The two major cities to fly into are Taipei in the north and Kaohsiung in the south, with many direct flights available from both the U.S. and Asia. Search Skyscanner and select “entire month” for your departure/return date to find the cheapest time to fly.
Hungary is home to quintessential European charm, without the enormous price tag. Set foot in medieval villages, centuries old basilicas, and rolling countrysides with far less crowds and a bigger budget to spare. Be sure to sink your teeth into some mouth-watering Hungarian cuisine – from goulash and squishy bread dumplings, to the swirly donut goodness known as chimney cake. If exploring Eastern Europe, don't miss our regional guide, plus our affordable highlights for Budapest here.
Food: $5-$8 USD for simple meal, beer $1-$2
Accommodation: hostels $12+ USD, hotels $20+ USD. Airbnb offers great value here, especially for longer stays. Compare hotel and hostel booking sites with HotelsCombined.
Getting around: Within cities there is public transport and taxis. Inter-city travel can be done via many budget buses (e.g. OrangeWays) and airlines such as RyanAir and Easyjet.
Top attractions: Budapest city (including its famous thermal baths), the astounding Basilica of St. Stephen, the picturesque city of Szeged, and sampling all the Hungarian food you can handle!
Getting there: Budapest is the main point of entry for flying into Hungary. Flying within Europe is very cheap thanks to budget airlines like RyanAir and EasyJet, so if coming from the U.S., consider any cheap flight into Europe (e.g. WOW Air has flights for $99 USD from the U.S. into Germany), then flying to Budapest later as a separate booking. Kiwi.com will mix and match different airlines, including budget, in order to find the cheapest routes, but always compare with Skyscanner to ensure it's the best price.
Home to the snow-capped Andes, slices of colourful Amazon rainforest, and the renowned Galapagos Islands – Ecuador is a nature junkie's paradise. Fortunately, it is one of the cheapest countries in South America and better yet for Americans, the U.S. dollar is the national currency. If the Galapagos is on your wish list (it should be!), check our budget guide and list of cheap and free activities to be had there. It's an absolute dream.
Thrifty tip: If planning to fly around South America, check whether a regional pass might be more affordable or at least make yourself aware of budget airlines (which aren't always listed on normal search engines).
Food: $1-$3 street food and basic meals (higher in tourist-y regions), beer $2-$3
Accommodation: Hostel dorm $4-$8, basic hotel room $10+ USD. Compare hotels and hostels across all major booking sites with HotelsCombined. Airbnb is also good value here.
Getting around: Taxis and buses abound throughout Ecuador and are quite cheap. Major cities are connected by flights as well.
Top attractions: The Galapagos Islands, the Amazon rainforest (located in the Oriente region), the Andes highlands, the perfectly poised Cotopaxi Volcano.
Getting there: The two international airports are in Quito and Guayaquil. If you plan to go the Galapagos, you will need to connect to another flight here. Search Skyscanner by “entire month” in order to see the cheapest times to fly.
Home to the famed Terracotta soldiers, towering neon megacities, and the ever-sprawling ancient Great Wall, China invokes wonder through a mix of old and new. Its flavours – from hot and sour to salty and spicy – are as varied and contrasting as its landscapes. Whilst far vaster than any traveller could ever hope to cover, those who dip their toes here are in for something completely different. To help plan your visit, be sure to review our China travel guide.
Thrifty tip: Try the Chinese booking site Trip.com for better local rates than Western sites. The Great Wall is rampant with tourists, but you can avoid them by visiting the less crowded sections using our guide here.
Food: Street eats $1-$3 USD, more formal meals $5-$15 USD. Beer $1.50.
Accommodation: $18+USD for hostels, $30+USD for hotels – varies widely based on city. Airbnb is plentiful. Try Trip.com for booking hotels that aren't listed on Western sites, and HotelsCombined to compare other booking sites.
Getting around: All major cities have a basic public transport infrastructure. Taxis are abundant (always ensure the metre is on). Inter-city travel can be done via train (check our detailed guide here) and planes.
Top attractions: Both the quintessential & offbeat are worth visiting here, including the Great Wall of China, Xi'an Terracotta soldiers, Shanghai (don't miss the French Quarter), and bike amidst the karsts of Guilin.
Getting there: The most popular cities to fly into China are Beijing and Shanghai. Alternatively, fly into Hong Kong and make your way into China by train. Search Skyscanner by “entire month” in order to see the cheapest dates to fly. It's now possible to stay in China for 144 hours visa-free for residents of 53 qualifying countries if travelling into certain airports (more details here). Otherwise, obtain your visa in advance through VisaHQ, or try your luck at obtaining your visa in Hong Kong.
While not cheap by default, Australia's continually dropping dollar should move this island country higher on your bucket list this year. With a dizzying amount of sights to see – from lush rainforests and sparkling white beaches, to rust-coloured deserts and adorable wildlife – it's impossible to be unimpressed by this spectacularly diverse place.
Thrifty tips: If travelling from North America, it's often cheaper to combine flight bookings through U.S. airlines to/from Hawaii and mainland U.S., and from Hawaii to Australia on its budget airline, Jetstar. Searching Kiwi.com will often reveal these bargains that mix and match different airlines. For accommodation hacks, consider house sitting, $1/day campervan and RV relocations, or working in hostels on your visit.
Food: Fast food snacks & meals $6-$10 USD
Accommodation: $35+ USD hostels, hotels $60+ USD/night (search your options with HotelsCombined). Airbnb is plentiful and often more economical than hostels. Campervans are an affordable way to combine transport and accommodation and last-minute $1 relocations are frequent.
Getting around: Your own set of wheels is ideal for exploring, but once in major cities there is public transport and Uber. Inter-city transport options include buses, though flying is faster and cheap with budget airlines Tiger and Jetstar.
Top attractions: The Great Barrier Reef is incredible, though Western Australia's reef is stunning and far less touristed. A show at the Sydney Opera House or a visit to the rust-coloured outback are equally awe-inspiring. Hit up Tasmania for top notch hiking and the eccentric-beyond-belief MONA. If here in winter, try your luck chasing the Southern Lights.
Getting there: Sydney and Melbourne are the two most popular points of entry to Australia, with many direct flights from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and various destinations around Southeast Asia. However, connecting to other cities is easy thanks to cheap domestic flights from budget airlines. Search Skyscanner and choose “entire month” for your dates to see the cheapest time to fly.