5 Expensive Destinations Done On A Budget (And 5 Destinations That Are Outright Steals)


Travelers come in many forms, from luxurious honeymooners to spring breakers to broke backpackers. Every destination offers a different style for various types of travelers. Accommodations range from hostels to overwater bungalows. However, there are some destinations that seem financially unreachable and borderline impossible for those traveling on a budget. Don’t scratch off a bucket list destination out of financial fear. Though some places make it more difficult, with a little creativity, almost anywhere in the world can be seen on a budget. This list first includes 5 typically expensive destinations and tips to do them on a budget, followed by 5 destinations that are just outright steals.

10 Expensive: Santorini, Greece

Taking in Oia, Greece via Kaitlyn Rosati

Santorini is at the top of every prospective Greece tourist’s bucket list, and for good reason. The beautiful white houses of Oia paired with the deep blue water backgrounds of the Aegean Sea are a sight unlike anything else in this world (though Tunisia is also a good contender). Despite Greece being an overall affordable destination, especially in comparison to other Euro-hotspots, Santorini is amongst the most expensive Greek islands due to its sheer popularity.

A few ways to cut costs in Santorini are by relying on public transportation instead of renting a quad or a car. Buses around Santorini might not sound glamorous, but getting from one end of the island via bus is quite seamless, and only an average of 2 euros (2 USD) a ticket. Do you want to see those famous white houses of Oía, but can’t afford to spend 200 euros a night to stay in the area? Have no fear. Try Perissa Beach instead, a volcanic black stone beach on the opposite end of the island as Oía. Hotel rooms run as low as $71/night at Memento Perissa. Stretch your dollar even further by opting to stay in Youth Hostel Anna for a mixed-room dormitory at $19/night. From Perissa Beach, you can still see those beautiful white houses of Oía in just 45 short minutes by taking the bus without breaking the bank. There are many other tips to visiting Santorini on a budget, such as getting free wine tastings at a winery, purchasing breakfast on the beach, granting you all-day access to a lounge chair, and more.

9 Expensive: The Maldives

Swing on Maafushi Island, Maldives via Kaitlyn Rosati

The Maldives is notoriously one of the most expensive and, consequently, expensive destinations on this planet. Overwater bungalows often run around $1000/night, and even rooms without the addition of the sought-out overwater vibe will still likely cost at a minimum of $300/night. Budget travelers might be deterred from visiting the land of beautiful atolls, but there is indeed a way to visit the Maldives on a budget.

Instead of staying on one of the private islands, which will also add in the extra cost of a roundtrip seaplane from Male International Airport, try Maafushi, a local island that’s reachable from Male via a 30-minute boat ride. Hotels in Maafushi run as low as $29/night at Nala Island Village, with free breakfast included. Though you might find it silly to visit The Maldives and not be able to stay in an overwater bungalow (after all, isn’t that part of the appeal?), you can still visit a fancy island resort by purchasing a day pass. Prices vary, but for example. Samudra Maldives offers a pass for $150. On Maafushi, you’ll find plenty of options to fill your time; from scuba diving to tour offices to taking a boat out to a “party boat,” since no alcohol is allowed on the island of Maafushi since it’s local. Maldives is an Islamic nation and the consumption of alcohol on local islands is forbidden.

Related: 13 Best Islands In The Maldives For Travelers On A Budget

8 Expensive: French Polynesia

Poisson Cru out of a coconut in Mo'orea via Kaitlyn Rosati

French Polynesia is right up there, with the Maldives as a notoriously expensive destination. Overwater bungalows in Bora Bora are attractive to honeymooners and people with a lot of money to blow on a proper getaway. Not everyone is so financially capable of having such a vacation, and so budget travelers opt for other island destinations such as Thailand or Borneo. But, French Polynesia, though a little tricky, can indeed be done for cheaper.

Head to Mo’orea for some of the clearest waters in the world. Though Mo’orea has luxury options, there are also several guest houses dotted throughout the island, offering affordable accommodation. Fare Om, a guest house located 1 mile from the beach, has rooms as low as $29/night. The only real way to get around the island of Mo’orea is by vehicle, either a car or a motorized scooter bike. Car rentals and scooters can be costly, but a common way for budget travelers to get around is by hitchhiking. It’s not as scary as it sounds! The locals of French Polynesia are used to backpackers visiting their land, and hitchhiking, though not for everyone, is a free way to get around the island, saving you at least $50/day in car rentals. Head to a local market to be met with an array of fresh produce, French wine, baguettes, and even pre-cooked meals with a Polynesian influence, all for a fraction of the cost of a piña colada and fresh tuna filet at one of the island’s many overpriced restaurants. One thing is for certain when it comes to the culinary game in French Polynesia: cost aside, it’s worth the splurge to try Poisson cru, the local dish of the island, at least once while in French Polynesia.

Related: 10 Amazing Things Worth Buying in Tokyo

7 Expensive: New Zealand

New Zealand feels like it might as well be Mars. It’s on the other end of the world for most travelers (unless you’re local to Australia) and takes literal days to get there. With the time difference, it feels like losing three days of travel by the time passengers finally arrive. But New Zealand is worth the trek. If you’re looking for some stunning outdoor scenery, a land where there are more sheep than people, endless hiking options, and lakes with a bright blue hue due to glacial waters, look no further than New Zealand. Despite being a little more on the high-end of destinations cost-wise, it is possible to cut costs while exploring this stunning nation.

First and foremost, renting a car in New Zealand is crucial. It’s fairly impossible to get around without a vehicle unless you only plan to stay in a large city and not explore much else, which is not advisable. Through Jucy, campervan rentals start at $142/day. Though this certainly can add up over time, you’ll have everything you need right there in the van. Jucy rentals come fully stocked with a kitchen, a water pump, and blankets and pillows, meaning you can cook in it, sleep in it, and it’ll obviously be used to get you from Point A to Point B. Stop by the local grocery store to purchase coffee, wine, and whatever food you’ll want to consume throughout your time in New Zealand. The USD is stronger than the NZD, and with such a favorable exchange rate, groceries for an entire week can easily be purchased for $30. Sure, eating out at fancy restaurants is cool, but how many people can say they cooked coffee-rubbed lamb steaks in a red wine sauce out of a campervan in New Zealand?

6 Expensive: Japan

Exploring Omoide Yokocho in Tokyo, Japan via Kaitlyn Rosati

Japan is a land like no other, from its kawaii culture to some of the world’s freshest seafood to the nonexistent shortage of friendly people. Japan is on many travelers’ bucket lists, but it’s not the cheapest destination by any means. Its capital, Tokyo, can be done on a budget if you’re willing to make a few sacrifices.

Hotels in Tokyo are surprisingly not too expensive. Hotels can be found for as low as $60/night, but if you want to get even more bang for your buck, try an Airbnb for $25/night. It’ll certainly add to your experience of staying in a Japanese apartment. Tokyo apartments are tiny. According to the Japanese government in a 2019 survey, the floor space of a Tokyo apartment is an average of 65.9 square miles. Japanese culinary game is not to be missed: Tokyo is the city holding the most Michelin-star restaurants in the entire world, but just because a place doesn’t have a Michelin star does not mean you’re bound for a bad meal. Head to Takeshita Dori in Harajuku for some street food. The options range from rainbow ice cream to crepes to hotdogs on a stick to “extra long French fries,” and even a chocolate ice cream meant to replicate the poop emoji, with eyes and all. Try an all-you-can-eat sushi bar, where a conveyor belt will hold different colored plates with the best sushi you’ll eat in your life, each plate representing a different price point. There’s so much to see in Tokyo just by walking around or even taking public transit. It’s a city where almost every turn of the corner is photogenic, whether it’s in the electric neighborhood of Akihabara, the world’s busiest crosswalk at Shibuya, or around the confines of the Tokyo Tower in Minato. Tokyo has a cure for any hungry traveler’s appetite and, with a little sacrifice, can be enjoyed on a budget.

5 A Steal: Bulgaria

Now, onto our “outright steals” segment of this list. Let’s start with the off-the-beaten-path nation of Bulgaria. Eastern Europe has so many hidden gems, and Bulgaria is one of them. Enjoy hearty meals, like kebapche, karnache, Bulgarian yogurt, grilled vegetables, moussaka, mishmash, and more, for $3-$6 on average. A pint of beer in Western Europe will easily run you $4 or more, but not in Bulgaria! Beers are often as low as $1 and don’t forget to try Rakia, a fruit brandy popular in the Balkans. Hostels in Bulgaria go as low as $9/night, and even budget hotels can be found in the heart of the capital, Sofia, for $27/night. The beauty of traveling in Eastern Europe is how easy it is to get from one country to the next. FlixBus offers routes from country to country for as low as $5 a route and all of Eastern Europe is much more affordable in comparison to Western Europe.

A great free thing to do in Sofia, Bulgaria, is to take a free walking tour. Learn about the communist past, enjoy the city’s freshwater fountains, each alleged to provide different healing powers, and stand on a corner where you’ll see a mosque, an orthodox church, a synagogue, a Catholic cathedral, and more. No trip to Sofia is complete without a visit to St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral. Its gold and teal hues might trick you into thinking you’re in St. Petersburg, Russia.

4 A Steal: The Philippines

Though all of the Philippines provides a good bang for your buck, Coron is one of the cheapest and best places to go diving in the entire world. 3 Dives in Coron can cost as low as $50. Explore some WWII Japanese shipwrecks, and swim alongside turtles, manta rays, and plenty of colorful fish. Meals in the Philippines are a steal. Grab some Lechon, a crispy pork dish that crackles in your mouth, enjoy adobo, and definitely don’t skip out on the mystery concoction of halo-halo. You’re likely never going to pay more than $1-$2 for food on the go and $3-5 for meals in a restaurant. And don’t forget to try Jollibee, the beloved fast-food chain of the Philippines, offering up dishes like chickenjoy and banana ketchup spaghetti (hey, don’t knock it ’til you try it).

Hostels in the Philippines are as low as $3/night, and even a nice budget hotel in the capital of Manila will only cost $25/night. A big pointer to traveling to the Philippines is to bring cash! Take out more than you think you’ll need, seldom do places accept cards, and despite how cheap it is, you don’t want to destroy your budget on ATM fees. Getting around the Philippines is easy with a motorbike rental. For an entire day, you can rent a motorbike for $5. Just be careful and drive slowly, and always wear a helmet.

RELATED: Most Budget Friendly Places to Visit in The Philippines

3 A Steal: Malaysia

Batu Caves via Kaitlyn Rosati

Most travelers that head to the Southeast Asian region skip Malaysia and choose Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in its place. But why? Head to this overlooked hidden gem of Southeast Asia to get an incredible bang for your buck. Malaysia offers some of the best cuisines on this planet. Street food in Kuala Lumpur runs plentifully and cheaply. Grab some curry mee, a spicy noodle dish topped with anchovies, peanuts, fried potato leaves, and a signature intensely spicy chili sauce. Explore the Batu Caves, a free colorful Hindu temple with colorful signature steps that have surely flooded your Instagram feed. By the entrance of the Batu Caves, you can grab some Indian cuisine, such as masala dosas and chai tea, for less than $1.

Shopping in Malaysia also is a steal. Street sunglasses, fashionable dresses, souvenirs, and handbags can be purchased for a fraction of their marketed value. Bring an extra suitcase, or even better, travel with compression bags to ensure you have enough space to carry home all of your new goodies.

Perhaps the best part about traveling to Malaysia is that not only is it cheap, but you can be a baller on a budget. Luxury high-rise hotels with rooftop infinity pools looking over the Petronas Towers can be found for as low as $26/night. Live like a true queen or king without breaking the bank.

2 A Steal: Vietnam

Are you looking for pure and utter chaos? Are you ready to risk your life just by crossing the street? In a place where stoplights are merely a suggestion, head to Hanoi, Vietnam. If you’re up for a true adventure, Vietnam has it all. Due to its long stretch of land across the South China Sea, Vietnam offers up fun bustling cities, pristine green landscapes, and even surfer-vibe beach towns. You can walk down the lantern-lined streets of UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hoi An, where you can get custom-made outfits for under $30. Explore one of the world’s natural wonders of Ha Long Bay, and for just a little bit of a splurge, you can sleep overnight on a boat on the bay itself for $125, including round-trip transportation to and from Hanoi, with all meals included.

If you spend time directly in Hanoi, you’ll be rewarded with meals such as fresh Bahn mis, bun cha, and pho for breakfast (a lesson that should be taken by the rest of the world), all for less than $2 a pop. Try the famous Vietnamese egg coffee, a coffee concoction made with egg yolk, first created during the French War in 1946 due to a milk shortage. It has a sweet, thick, custardy taste and, though extremely rich, is not bad. If you want to treat yourself to a spa day, many salons in Hanoi offer gel manicures for $4. If you need some assistance in getting from point A to point B and want to join the chaotic lifestyle of the locals, rent a motorbike for $4/day. Motorbike aside, you can take a 12-hour sleeper bus down the coast from Hanoi to Da Nang for $15-17 a ticket.

1 A Steal: India

Taj Mahal, Agra, India via Kaitlyn Rosati

The number one steal spot must go to India. India is a country where it is actually a challenge to spend money. Hostels in Agra, near the Taj Mahal, go for as low as $1/night. Meals are often less than $1, and they’re hearty, flavorful, and delicious. An overnight sleeper bus to get from one city to the next, an experience in itself, averages around $4. Grab a coffee or a cup of chai for 30 cents. India is a magical, vivid, and sometimes beautifully chaotic country. Visiting is a guaranteed overwhelming experience for the senses. Ranking as the second most populated country in the world after China, with 1.4 billion residents, you’re bound to meet a lot of different people. India is certainly not for the faint of heart, but it will be a memorable experience nonetheless.

Of course, what trip to India is complete without a visit to one of the world’s seven new wonders, The Taj Mahal? With an entry price of around $15, you can explore this majestic marbled palace, and if you get there early enough, you can have the place to yourself. Though the Taj Mahal is advertised as opening at 6 am, if you arrive at 5 am with a pre-purchased ticket, they’ll grant you entry. Keep in mind not to bring a tripod and that they’re closed on Fridays. Most hotels in Agra are under $50/night, many of which offer rooftop views of this new world wonder. If you play your cards right, you can easily spend two weeks in India and spend less than $200, minus the flight.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here