He Said/She Said: Best Budget Destinations

He Said/She Said: Best Budget Destinations


Having been to all seven continents and kept our spending low enough to keep traveling for almost three years we have sought out budget destinations.  We each share our favorite low cost stops in the world.


Give me a plane ticket and $1000 and I know where I’d be heading: China or Sri Lanka.  There is nowhere where you get more for your money, be it high-quality lodging, delicious foods, or comfortable transport for less.  Not only that, but these countries have substantially less of the tourist hassle and gringo invasion of popular “low-cost” destinations such as Thailand and India.  Here’s why budget travelers should go to China or Sri Lanka above all else.

China.  Being a massive country there is something for everyone.  That said, it may take people a while to find their part of the country where the food, people and activities match their interests, but once you do…watch out wallet, you just won’t get the attention you’re used to.  We traveled over 10,000 miles in the world-class trains, ate to our hearts content and finished off each evening with at least half a dozen beers before retiring to comfortable beds for under $50/day for the both of us.  In places such as Shanghai we lived first world luxury, in Southern China we explored the villages, and in the North we took in some of the world’s best Buddhist artClick here to read why to travel China over India.

Sri Lanka is the cheapest country we’ve visited.  Spending a whopping $33/day for two people.  We weren’t even scrimping…we lived it up, eating the best foods we could find, and splurging for fancy private rooms with fantastic views.  We still don’t understand why, but Sri Lanka was cheap, yet clean, safe, and friendly.  From it’s beautiful beaches to it’s must-eats, it surpassed all our expectations.

These were two favorites for me, but if you want to see head-to-head comparasions of budget destinations, see our 2011 cost summary for a year in Asia or our 2012 summary for costs from Australia through the Middle East.


When we set out on this adventure our goal was to do the “hard travel” that we might not be as keen to do later in life.  We wanted to visit developing countries and off the beaten track travel destinations.  This criteria made most of our stops pretty affordable, third world travel is what we were seeking and the price point in these locations has kept us on the road for years.  But, if you don’t have years to explore these countries here are my favorite budget destinations:

India tops the list for me and while thinkCHUA claims he will never return I can’t think of a better place to visit on a tight budget.  You can eat lunch for free in Amritsar, you can enjoy the Buddhist highlights in Leh without paying the high costs of a tour to Tibet and you can live on less than $10 a day if you choose.  I will say that Indian travel, especially on a budget is not for the faint of heart, but it will be an experience you won’t soon forget.

The reflection of the Himalayas in a tea house window in Nepal

Nepal, if neighboring India offers more difficult travel than you are looking for I would recommend laid back Nepal to the North.  And if you are into hiking at all this is the best budget destination for you.  The people are friendly, the scenery is incredible and tea house trekking through the Himalayas can be done for less than $10 a day per person.

Bolivia is the budget destination in South America that seemingly has it all.  The food is cheap, you can visit the jungle, climb mountains or explore colonial cities for half the price you could in any of the neighboring countries.

While budget is not always the determining factor for picking your next travel destinations, the above recommendations are sure to give you more bang for your buck.

Share your favorite budget destination is in the comments.

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» Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) :
May 22, 2013

Of your choices, we have only made it to one: China! And I’d have to say that we would decidedly NOT put it on a list of places in Asia to travel that are good value for money. I think that since your own visit the prices in China have skyrocketed; more and more travelers we have encountered on the road (including those that have been living in China) have all said the same thing: China isn’t cheap any more. When we were there in Sept 2012, we found it very difficult to spend less than $70/day, particularly when we were traveling and doing any kind of sightseeing.

On the other hand, I would say Vietnam is probably the best value destination we have hit thus far. We had a few splurges that bumped our daily average up to around $50US/day, but most days we were easily spending less than $30US per day for the 2 of us!
Read Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)’s awesome post Port Barton: The Town that Tourism Left Behind

thinkCHUA Reply:

Vietnam is definitely a must-visit budget travel destination. In fact, it was our cheapest country we visited in East Asia. That said it doesn’t have the variety that a huge country like China has, that’s why I chose the latter (it would be like comparing New Zealand to the USA, New Zealand is certainly awesome, but doesn’t have as much as the USA).

I looked into prices of hostels and trains in China, they appear to be exactly what we paid. I’m not sure where the price increase you’re mentioning occurred. We did all the typical budget traveler tricks there: sleeping only in dorms, eating only street/fast food, and took a total of two tours in more than five months there. I loved that Chinese sights were almost all served by cheap public transport (including the Terracotta Warriors) and self-guiding was easy. Our costs would have spiraled out of control if we had taken tours or eaten in restaurants which are super pricey. Maybe it’s a travel style difference?

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About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.


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