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After a year with no travel, you’re probably eager to get planning even more trips for 2021 to satisfy your wanderlust.
Well, I’ve updated my list of the top destinations for budget backpackers to give you some inspiration. Plus, I asked some other travel bloggers to chip in with their recommendations too.
Note: We live in strange times, please don’t travel unless it’s safe to do so and keep an eye on the latest travel advice!
1. Ella, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka really is one of the cheapest Asian countries I have ever travelled to. One of my favourite places here was Ella. The reason was because there is so much to do here that is totally free!
My favourite free activity here was hiking up Little Adam’s Peak at sunrise, followed by a walk along Nine Aches Bridge on the way back to Ella Town. Then, if you enjoy hiking, Ella’s Rock is a longer and more strenuous hike you can do here, also free!
Ella is also home to one of Sri Lanka’s largest waterfalls, Diyaluma Falls. It is possible to reach this waterfall alone, but I would recommend a guide, which only cost us a few dollars each.
We stayed at Hangover hostel and paid around £8 ($10) a night for a bed in a 6-bed dormitory. Food here was also very cheap, prices were about 5 Dollars maximum for a meal. I would say to budget about maximum £20 ($25) a day here.
2. Yerevan, Armenia
My husband and I often talk about going to off the beaten path locations where the crowds don’t exist and the cost of living is cheap. But also, where we still have certain comforts we know and love. Somewhere with European flair, but South-East Asia prices. You may think that places like this don’t exist, but they do! And one of our favourites is Armenia, specifically, its capital of Yerevan.
Yerevan offers a ton of free activities to do. From free walking tours, and free museums to music shows and celebrations.
Accommodation in Yerevan is quite affordable with budget guesthouses starting at £12 ($15) per night and hostel dorms between £2 – £12 ($3 – $15) per bed. If you choose to eat out, Armenian pizza (Lahmajoun) will set you back about £2 ($2 – $3). While, on average, restaurants will charge about £4 – £8 ($5 – $10) a meal.
Yerevan has it all, from cheap but comfortable accommodation, delicious food, tons of things to do and see, and some of the sweetest people you’ve met!
Carine and Derek are two fun-loving Canadians who want to inspire others to follow their dreams and live in a sustainable, eco-friendly life. Their blog, We Did It Our Way, focuses on travel, sustainable living, and content creation.
3. Chiang Mai, Thailand
Thailands ‘Rose of the North‘ has every activity on your Thai bucket list, from cooking classes and massages to Muay Thai fights and water parks. This is why Chiang Mai was my favourite destination on my backpacking trip around South East Asia, planning a trip there for the end of 2021 is definitely a good idea.
Chiang Mai also has plenty of day trips including a number of ethical elephant sanctuaries and easy access to spend a day or two with the hill tribes.
Outside the city is one Thailands highest mountains, Mount Suthep, home to the famous Wat Doi Suthep temple which has become a common pilgrimage trail for Buddhists visiting or living in the area.
Chiang Mai is super affordable, an average dorm room will set you back around £5 ($6) and meals in the range of £1.50 ($2). The activities are generally a little more expensive with cooking classes and Muay Thai fights in the region of £16 ($20) and a Thai massage around £5 ($6). In total it’s possible to live comfortably for less than £30 ($36).
4. Belgrade, Serbia
One of the best budget destinations in Europe has to be Belgrade, Serbia. Although Serbia is often overlooked, this city is full of fantastic cafes, cool boats where you can dance all night, and reasonable hotels/hostels! It would be easy to stay under £40 ($50) per day.
I paid £9 ($11) per night at a female-run hostel in the heart of Belgrade. Meals were typically between £2.50 – £7 ($3 – $9) with nicer restaurants costing more. I paid £0.90 ($1.10) per beer roughly for great craft beer. Attractions were typically less than £4.50 ($5.50) and I ended up taking the “free” walking tour, which includes being able to tip what you want at the end.
After being closed for a number of years, the National Museum of Belgrade is finally open again. Here, you can learn much about Serbia’s history and enjoy masterpieces! For those interested in architecture, you can enjoy Serbia’s brutalist architecture in New Belgrade although I loved Belgrade’s fortress!
5. Baku, Azerbaijan
Baku is the most cosmopolitan city in the Caucasus, but that doesn’t mean it is expensive. Baku can be as expensive as you like it to be. You can make it into a luxurious city trip or travel as a backpacker and stay in hostels. As a budget traveller it is very well possible to spend around £25 ($30) per day.
Baku was due to host a few of the Euro games last year before it was postponed, so look out for these starting up again in 2021 and maybe you can catch a match on your trip.
Besides these events there are the usual things to do in Baku like exploring its futuristic architecture or to visit the ancient palaces and mosques in the old town.
Baku is a city that is developing quickly, but that is also proud of its historical and cultural heritage as a major trade city on the silk road with huge gas and oil reserves. There are exciting day trips to mud volcanoes, burning hills, ancient firetemples and petroglyphs. Public transport is still very cheap so it is easy to travel around.
Ellis is a cultural anthropologist from the Netherlands who has travelled for more than 20 years to over 50 countries along the ancient Silk Road. This geeky and introvert travel blogger is a lover of good food, mountains, nature, wildlife and everything that lightens up the night sky. Follow Ellis on Instagram or Pinterest.
6. Antigua, Guatemala
Antigua is a beautiful colonial city located only an hour away from the busy Guatemala City. Year after year, Guatemala has been getting more and more tourism (with the exception of 2020 obviously) thanks to it’s beautiful colonial buildings, beautiful nature surrounded by volcanoes (some active), and authentic Guatemalan food.
Everyone used to think Guatemala is very dangerous and wouldn’t travel there but that myth is gone now. Antigua is an extremely safe city in Guatemala. The city is extremely tourist-friendly, the streets are walkable, and there is just so much culture packed in this little city.
Some of the top things to do in Antigua include hiking a volcano and seeing it erupt, trying the native coffee, and much more. The best thing is? All of this is can be done for less than £40 ($50) a day, perfect for a backpacker’s budget. Come to Antigua and find out more yourself!
7. Skopje, Macedonia
Macedonia is the hidden gem of the Balkans. With its lively culture, delicious food, picturesque villages and rich history, it’s a destination that will please any traveller who loves visiting off the beaten track destinations.
The capital Skopje, was controversially redesigned in 2014. The government spent €500m remodelling the city and erecting countless statues. However if you look beyond the modern facade and visit Matka Canyon you will get more of a feel for the country. Matka is a hotspot for hikers, and those who love watersports, and this tropical area feels more like Vietnam or Mexico than Eastern Europe!
Expect dorm rooms to cost about £9 ($11) per night or £27 ($33) for a hotel room. If you decide to eat out, a decent meal can be found for around £3 ($4). In total, expect your stay to cost around £25-£40 ($30-$50) per day.
8. Lahore, Pakistan
When considering comfortable budget travel destinations, Pakistan probably doesn’t spring to mind. But the city of Lahore offers incredible value for anyone interested in history, culture, hospitality, and food.
Housing incredible Mughal and Colonial architecture, and home to some of the friendliest people in the world, Lahore is a cacophony of sounds and sights and times. Wandering the Walled City of Lahore means marvelling at centuries-old havelis (old mansions), shrines, mosques, markets, and everything in between.
And then there is the food… oh, the food! Lahore’s culinary scene is passionate and ubiquitous, ranging from cheap but deliciously spiced local street eats to upmarket rooftop restaurants and cafes dishing out Western food.
And the best part? Lahore is cheap. Like, really cheap. Like, you-can-travel-for-$10-a-day cheap. Adventurous travellers can try out Couchsurfing, but even if that’s not your cup of chai, you can find a cheap hostel to stay for roughly £6 ($7). Mid-range hotels will set you back £25-£40 ($30-50).
Most of Lahore’s sights are free, but the ones you do have to pay for usually don’t charge more than £3 ($4) for entry. And cheap street food starts at £0.80 ($1)… or even less, as the hospitable people of Lahore tend to stuff you till you pop, and can be stubborn when it comes to paying the bill.
9. Hoi An, Vietnam
A stroll through the centre of Hoi An will leave you thinking you’ve stepped back in time. The centre of the city, known as the ancient town, is a UNESCO protected site which has helped it retain alot of it’s original charm.
Hoi An is known as the ‘city of lanterns‘ with hand crafted lanterns hanging from every doorway and across the streets. Specialist vendors can be found in the markets and a festival every full moon see’s lanterns lit and placed on the river.
Each night you’ll find a street market where more than 50 vendors of food, clothes and souvenirs line Nguyen Hoang Street in the centre of town. The landscapes outside the city are beautiful, best experienced by cycling through the countryside where you’ll see locals tending to their vegetables and paddy fields.
A dorm room in an average hostel in Hoi An will cost about £4 ($5) and a restaurant meal will set you back in the region of £3 ($3-4). If you’re looking to stretch your money, street food delicacies such as Bánh mì (meat baguette) or Bánh Ướt Thịt Nướng (grilled meat in a spring roll) can be picked up for as little as £0.70 ($0.90). In total, expect to spend no more than £20 ($25) per day whilst living comfortably in Hoi An.
10. La Paz, Bolivia
La Paz, Bolivia has not always been a popular travel destination. However, the now thriving and bustling city of La Paz has everything a backpacker could ever wish for. Great nightlife, fascinating culture, stunning scenery and the ability to live on a shoestring makes this one place you shouldn’t miss!
Solo travellers can easily live for under £40 ($50) a day in the city, with a dorm bed costing just £6.50 ($8) on average and a private room coming in at around £16 ($20). Cheap but filling lunches can be purchased inside the main city market for just a few dollars each.
The standard almuerzo offering usually consists of a soup, a main dish and a juice. Choice is limited but all of the food is fresh and easy on the purse strings. Street food is available in the evenings and although not a healthy choice, most definitely a budget-friendly option. Beer is a cheap luxury in Bolivia and public transport is also highly affordable. The gondola which is the main transportation system throughout the city offers one-way trips for just £0.40 ($0.50)!
Sheree is the awkward British traveller behind Winging the World, a travel blog designed to inspire courage in even the most nervous of backpackers! You can usually find her accidentally peeing down her leg, running away from stray dogs or quietly sipping a beer trying to forget the embarrassment of the day. Find her on Facebook or Twitter.
11. Kotor, Montenegro
It was previously Hungary and the Czech Republic that attracted backpackers, but as these have become more expensive, the Balkan countries such as Montenegro have become a more budget-friendly destinatiopn.
It was our curiosity and search of beauty that made us travel to Montenegro, a small country in the Balkans filled with stunning nature and beautiful architecture. Once we saw some truly jaw-dropping photos of Montenegro, we were quick to book our trip.
Considering Montenegro is a country filled with all types of gems for travel lovers: from impressive National Parks, to beautiful beaches, cities that seem straight of a fairytale, and delicious fresh food, it’s hard to believe how affordable it still is.
We used Kotor as a base, arguably the most expensive part of the country, and still paid less than £22 ($27) a night per person for a fully equipped apartment located in the Old Town (during the Summer!).
A nice meal out can range from £5-£18 ($6-$22), but sometimes we spent even less by buying food from the supermarkets. Many attractions are free, and even private tours are affordable.
12. Salalah, Oman
Salalah in Oman is one of the top budget destinations among the middle eastern countries. An ancient city in the southern part of Oman is home to many medieval time monuments and UNESCO World Heritage sites.
It offers more natural sight-seeing than materialistic stuff and perhaps this is the reason for Salalah being a budget destination to visit. Some of the most beautiful beaches in the region belong to Salalah, presenting ideal outdoor picnic places.
The best time to visit this city is during the months of June-August when Salalah turns lush, green and hosts an autumn festival which attracts thousands of visitors from neighbouring countries. Salalah presents some spectacular mountainous views too which become more attractive during the autumn festival season.
Unlike rest of the middle east, there are many activities and sight-seeing in Salalah to be done for free. Daily accommodation can be secured for £20 ($25) in Salalah whereas, with all other expenses of food and transport, one can easily enjoy the city for £32 ($40).
13. Pulau Weh, Indonesia
Pulau Weh island near Sumatra, Indonesia is a beautiful off the beaten track tropical island perfect for travelling on a backpacking budget. The island has great diving and a very relaxed vibe far away from tourist crowds, big hotels, nightlife and party.
The best beaches to stay at are Gapang and Iboih, both are small with white sand, clear turquoise water and beautiful coral reefs nearby. Hotels and hostels are located right at the beach you get out of your place and can go swimming and snorkelling right there.
Diving from Pulau Weh is fantastic, the island is surrounded by beautiful coral reefs, warm clear water with a staggering diversity of marine life covering the reefs. Rent a scooter to explore small hidden beaches, visit the volcano or hike in the rainforest.
Pulau Weh is a budget beach destination, you can travel here for less than £25 ($30) per day. Everything from accommodation to food and activities cost significantly less than in more popular beach destinations in Indonesia.
Stingy Nomads, Campbell and Alya, met travelling in the Philippines 7 years ago, today, married, they are still travelling exploring the best mountain and reefs around the world.
14. Meghalaya, India
Meghalaya in northeast India is an incredible destination for backpackers. Tucked away in the hills of eastern Himalayas, Meghalaya is blessed with striking natural beauty.
Meghalaya literally means the “abode of clouds” and true to its name, the wettest place on earth, Mawsynram is located in Meghalaya. Not only that, Meghalaya is known for its cascading waterfalls, virgin forests, crystal clear rivers and friendly people.
Travelling in Meghalaya is easy and quite cheap. You will find accommodation starting as low as £12 ($15) per night. Eating at budget places will cost you around £8 ($10) per day!
Travelling around is also easy. You can rent a bike for around £11 ($14) per day along with petrol and can roam around as you like. Local transport is cheaper as well. For a trip to Meghalaya, a daily budget of £32 ($40) is enough.
We have travelled for even lesser budget. So what are you thinking about? In 2021, make Meghalaya one of your destinations. Believe us, it will be a delight for the backpacker and traveller in you.
15. Bariloche, Argentina
Bariloche is located in the Patagonia region of Argentina. Between its lakes and ski mountains, it is a budget-friendly travel destination year-round. Bariloche is known for its trekking (ie: hiking) so exploring the numerous trails is a great way to stay active and experience budget travel. There are also several viewpoints that offer spectacular views of the region.
The Argentine peso currently has a very favourable rate against the pound and the dollar so 2021 is the perfect time to travel to Bariloche.
Top rated hostel dorms will set you back less than £8 ($10) per night and the local supermarkets, such as La Anonima or Todo, are perfect for stocking up on cheap food and snacks.
Splurging on a meal out won’t cost too much based on the current value of the peso, so you can budget for about £8 ($10) per meal. Most restaurants and bars offer happy hour pricing from 6:00-8:00 pm with 2 for 1 pricing on alcoholic beverages.
Andrea is a wife, mom, and full-time HR professional who somehow finds time to travel the world (economically, as insisted by her accountant husband!) and share her wisdom and hard-earned tips on her travel blog, One Savvy Wanderer.
16. Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Although Playa del Carmen is known as an all-inclusive resort town in the Mayan Riviera, this Mexican city is also quite affordable for budget travellers. Playa del Carmen is considered to be a digital nomad hub and it’s not surprising as it’s so affordable.
If you’re looking for those gorgeous turquoise blues of the Caribbean, you can stay in expensive hostel dorm rooms for less than £16 ($20), or get a small airbnb for slightly more.
The best Playa del Carmen restaurants offer authentic Mexican food and lunch can be a bargain for just a few dollars for a set menu including a fresh juice. Street food is always a great deal, and freshly made tacos are £0.80 ($1) or splurge on a large torta sandwich for under £1.60 ($2).
If you’re looking to get off the beach and explore, collectivo buses cost a few dollars to go visit local Mayan ruins and the famous Mayan Riviera cenotes where you can swim in underground caves.
17. Istanbul, Turkey
The tourism capital of Turkey, Istanbul is a great place to travel on a budget. Lying on the intersection of Asia and Europe, the city has plenty of cultural, religious and natural sites to visit.
However, despite being a tourist hub for many years now, Istanbul is still pretty much affordable by a backpacker. The main tourist streets in the city, which include Sultanahemet, Karokay, Emininu and Sisane have many backpacker hostels costing £8-£12 ($10-15) per night.
In my opinion, the food scene in Istanbul is great as you can get a filling Turkish Doner Kebab, Shawarma or a huge plate of Pite (Turkish Pizza) just under £4 ($5).
For getting around the city, Istanbul Metro is the best option. The city is well connected by train, trams and ferries, therefore, it makes it much easier and cheaper to move around. The Istanbul Kart – transport card of Istanbul can be purchased for £1.20 ($1.50) and top up on the go.
Rahma Khan is the blogger behind ‘The Sane Adventurer’, a blog aimed at safe travels and adventures in off the beaten tracks around the world. Her love for travelling across all the continents is slowly but passionately taking her to new places. Follow the adventure on her Facebook or Instagram feed.
18. Pokhara, Nepal
Pokhara is a popular destination for tourists coming to Nepal for many reasons, affordability being the cherry on top. Pokhara is the gateway to some of the most famous treks in Nepal: the Annapurna Circuit, Mardi Himal, Poon Hill, and several more.
There are several amazing local Nepali and international restaurants and bakeries in “Lakeside Pokhara“, the part of town that’s most popular with trekkers and expats.
Find a luxurious meal here for £3-£5 ($4-6), or eat local for as little as £0.80 ($1). Dorm beds in hostels cost £3 ($3.50) per night with breakfast included, and private rooms in beautiful guesthouses are as little as £6 ($7) per night.
Cheap things to do include renting kayaks or a paddle boat to take out to Phewa lake or renting a scooter to ride around the windy mountain streets. For as little as £13 ($15) per day, you can live comfortably in Pokhara.
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