India has been known as a cheap destination for ages. But what you might not realise is that there is a lot more to India than just Bollywood films, elephant rides and crazy traffic. Forget just checking out the Taj – what about a trip to the north? Go climbing in Ladakh, where the peaks are huge and the air is cool. Or what about surfing in Port Blair – it’s in the middle of the Bay of Bengal and still cheap as chips. This classic shoestring destination is still ripe for adventure.
The home of Mt Everest and the Sherpa people has long been on the radar of the budget traveller. After decades in the limelight Nepal still remains one of the best budget destinations around. The trekking is awesome and the fractional cost of being in the country means that the treks can go on and on. Many a seasoned traveller has Nepal at the top of their best-of list – and the best part is, it won’t cost a fortune to add it to yours.
Indonesia has had a bad run of terrible press over the past few years. Between bombings and other strife it’s fallen off the to-do lists of many tourists. Their loss is our gain: the pristine beaches are still the drawcard and you can experience the same dirt-cheap living that has always been on offer. If you’re keen to surf or lie on the beach you’re all set to have an adventure for peanuts. As long as you steer clear of tourist trap resorts, you’ll struggle to spend more than US$20 a day. Nourish your inner cheapskate and buy souvenirs away from the tourist areas; head to the central market in Denpasar or Ubud’s Pasar Sukowati.
Iran? The same Iran that’s in the ‘Axis of Evil’? Forget that propaganda and get stuck into a country that meets all the requirements. For a start it’s cheap: for US$25 a day you can live it up in a midrange hotel and eat your heart out. What you won’t find is a glut of other travellers and the hindrance of mass tourism. You’ll see the wonders of the ancient world without a tour group in sight. In fact this is a country that is crying out for visitors, and is deserving of them – the locals are unbelievably welcoming to travellers. Arrive in January for the ancient Persian midwinter festival of Sadeh, which celebrates the creation of fire.
Eastern Europe used to be dirt cheap back in the good old days of the Cold War. Now that peace has broken out, costs are on the up. Poland, though, is still at the inexpensive end: a daily budget of US$25 will easily get you around the country. Poland is a nation that’s been run over so many times by invading forces that it’s become bulletproof. Now this EU member is on the rise, so get in quick before the prices go up for good. Rural towns are picturesque and cheap to visit; tiny towns like Krasnystaw in the Lubelskie region are a miser’s wonderland.
Southeast Asia is the promised land of cheap travel – for years Thailand was the de facto destination for the cash poor but these days travellers are looking beyond the old standards for more intrepid el-cheapo places to check out. Enter Laos. It may not have the beaches of Thailand or the notoriety of Vietnam but it’s got what counts. For just US$15 a day you will get all you need, leaving you free to get out among the untouched river valleys and chilled-out microvillages along the Mekong River. The cheapest way to get there is to enter via boat from Chiang Khong, Thailand. The boat ride costs around US$0.50; the visa, payable in Laos, should be around US$30. The best things in life really are free – such as the utterly gorgeous limestone waterfalls at Tat Sae in Laos.
It’s hard to get to, hard to get into and hard to wrap your head around. Sudan is in the news for all the wrong reasons – what people should know about is the locals’ pride in welcoming guests and the amazing things that can be seen around the country. In the north you’ll be treated to pyramids and other marvels of the ancient world, and odds are you’ll have them to yourself. And a falafel will cost less than US$1 and a bed for the night will be less than US$10.
If you’re looking for a scuba-diving destination where you can put your entire budget into going under, Honduras is the place to be. With sleeping budgets as low as US$10 a night and meals available for even less you can really stretch out the funds. Sitting pretty next door to the Caribbean Sea, you’ll have plenty of time to count your pennies as you sun yourself on the golden beaches. The developers haven’t invaded quite yet, but you’d better get in quick, before the good old days slip into the past. After snorkelling and kayaking around Roatan’s West Beach, splurge on a visit to the Unesco-listed Archaeological Park of Copán; entry is US$15.
‘Want to buy a carpet? Come this way, my brother has a shop.’ Yeah, yeah, Morocco is all about the hard sell. But you won’t need much convincing to check it out. It’s overflowing with a distinctive culture and is a great place to see your dollars stretch – it’ll cost around US$40 a day to get by, but the beach and the markets are free. The more local you get, the cheaper it’ll be. From Europe it’s a short hop, so for many even the flight won’t cost that much. Travel between the main cities by (cheap) train.
Most people only know one destination in Jordan – Petra. But what a destination to know. Made famous by the final sequence in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, it’s a Middle Eastern must-do. You don’t have to be an archaeologist to dig up the bargains: a bed for the night will run to a paltry US$5 and a meal will cost half that. It’s a seldom-visited pocket of the Middle East and is easily combined with another cheapie destination, Egypt. Just remember to bring your own fedora and bull whip. The necessary entry visas are issued at the Wadi Araba and Sheikh Hussein Bridge crossings; be aware that visas cannot be issued on arrival at the King Hussein Bridge.