Somewhere new
January 21, 2009 7:42 AM   Subscribe

I would like to travel more this year. Where should I go to best balance cost and experience?

The NYTimes published an article recently about the 44 best places to travel this year. I became discouraged after reading the article because most of those places were expensive. $400 (US) a night for a hotel room is way outside of my budget.

Assuming that transportation to get there is free, what would be the best low-cost travel destinations this year?

I'm up for anything, but I particularly enjoy
* Art
* Culture
* New experiences
* Options to meet and converse with new people
* Nature
* Time for reflection

More info: I don't travel much outside of the USA, but I would like to. My two favorite cities in the USA are NYC and San Diego, but I'd like to consider places with less population, as well.
posted by brandnew to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
$400 (US) a night for a hotel room is way outside of my budget.

In case this isn't obvious, the NYT travel section is not aimed at the budget traveler. You can spend a lot less than $400/night in even the most expensive cities.

That said, I would put Barcelona high on your list. Aside from nature (unless you count the beach), its got everything that you list, and is totally fabulous to boot.
posted by googly at 7:52 AM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Without actually looking up the latest numbers for cost, I'd think about the Caribbean islands, provided you get out of the most touristy bits. Close to home, which keeps travel costs low, but about as much of a cultural shift as you can get without spending a lot more on transportation.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:54 AM on January 21, 2009

I loved Budapest. Tons of art and gothic architecture all over the city and the Hungarian country side is beautiful as well. I believe they're on the Euro now, but would look into the conversion rate isn't your friend now I'm afraid.
posted by DrDreidel at 7:56 AM on January 21, 2009

FWIW, also, googly is very correct. The dollar:euro ratio's not our friend right now, but there are budget options anywhere, and in particular if you avoid the biggest most obvious cities and go for smaller ones. If you're looking for Big Famous History that's hard, but if you're hunting for culture and nature, it's a piece of cake.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:57 AM on January 21, 2009

Response by poster: Also, I speak English obviously, but I can get by with some Spanish as well. I'm adventurous enough to try a place with few English speakers, but I wouldn't want to annoy the locals. When traveling, I try not to annoy locals as much as possible.
posted by brandnew at 7:59 AM on January 21, 2009

Brandnew -

If you want to make it out of the USA, I don't think there is any place hotter (more popular) than South America right now. The tourist paths are built well and you are relatively safe anywhere you go. I spent 9 months in South America on the trip of a lifetime, and I spent no more than $1000/month. Traveling through a continent and it's cheaper than rent? Yup.. totally doable.

I went Peru -> Bolivia -> Chile -> Argentina -> Uruguay -> Brazil.

I'm not sure where in the USA you are, but I got a 1 way ticket from LA to Lima, Peru for $400 (I'm thinking you can get a round-trip ticket for $800 if you're flexible).

The most I paid for a night in S. America was $30 in Brazil ($1/night in Bolivia). There are literally thousands of things to do down there for the cultural experience of a lifetime (and for very, very little money). If you would like some details, or some tourist destinations based on certain budgets, let me know.
posted by namewithhe1d at 7:59 AM on January 21, 2009 [7 favorites]

What is your budget? You can get to Europe for about $650 Canadian (I imagine you could get better deals in the Sates) round trip if you pick the right time to travel and buy, and you can stay for about $50/night pretty comfortably in Western Europe (and for less than that in in Eastern Europe). Any major city you land in well have a surplus of art, culture, and interesting people.
posted by sid at 7:59 AM on January 21, 2009

I'm going with namewithhe1d. I did a two-month trip through Peru/Bolivia and it was awesome. Even if you only wanted to do a two-week trip, you could still fly into Lima, make the trek to Cusco, spend a few days there, then do the Inca Trail/Machu Picchu thing. Granted, if you have limited time, say less than two weeks, then I don't think it makes sense to make the trip to South America, dart around to a bunch of cities without really absorbing anything, then head home. I have heard that Puerto Rico is great, and very cheap. Also, Belize is supposed to be wonderful and the added benefit there is that they speak English. Good luck and have fun wherever you go!
posted by billysumday at 8:07 AM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

PS - From the trip

Most beautiful City I've ever seen - Rio De Janeiro
Most fun city I've ever been to - Buenos Aires
Most fascinating tour - Salt Flats, Bolivia
Most incredible cultural location - Machu Picchu
Most breathtaking nature - Patagonia, Argentina
Nicest people - Peru
Most beautiful people - Argentina (Sorry Brazil, you lost)
Easiest language - Peru
Most unsafe - Rio
Most cultural city - Buenos Aires
Largest, most impressive structure(s) - Perito Moreno Glacier / Iguazu Falls (Argentina)
Best camping - Torres Del Paine, Patagonia

I could go on, and on.
posted by namewithhe1d at 8:08 AM on January 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I have about $12,000 saved, but I'd like to spend as little of that as possible.

I don't have a definite time span in mind, but I'm considering durations of between two weeks and 3 months, possibly split across several trips.

I'm hoping travel will help change my perspectives on a lot of things, open my mind, expose me to some new experiences and cultures.
posted by brandnew at 8:08 AM on January 21, 2009

I'm a big fan of Southern Mexico. It's easy to fly to Mexico City, the hostels are cheap ($12-16 per night), the food is great, and there is plenty of inexpensive bus transportation. And it's not very touristy.
posted by smackfu at 8:12 AM on January 21, 2009

On a less ambitious scale, you might try Quebec. It's beautiful, it's got some of the oldest architecture in North America, lots of outdoor activities, tons of art and culture activities -- it's a totally different experience from the rest of North America, IMHO. You will do fine with only English in the touristy bits of Quebec City and in Montreal.
posted by girlpublisher at 8:12 AM on January 21, 2009

Prague seemed pretty cheap to me when I was there in 2007. (have they gone on the Euro yet?) Unfortunately I was only there a day, and feel cheated for not having stayed longer. I also went to Budejovice (I'm sure I spelled that wrong.) and had a wonderful time. Rick Steves did a show about smaller towns in the Czech Republic, and that made me want to go back more!
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:17 AM on January 21, 2009

If you're going to do 3 months, then I would strongly advocate for South America. Seriously. You can really stretch your money there more than if you went to Europe. Sounds like namewithhe1d has some really good suggestions, you should pick his/her mind a little more to get a good itinerary. But you could do a Peru to Bolivia to Brazil to Argentina to Chile and then back to Peru trip in 3 months and it would be totally awesome and I would be totally jealous.
posted by billysumday at 8:19 AM on January 21, 2009

Oh, and I flew into Lima knowing about 6 phrases in Spanish. It took me about 2 weeks struggling with the language to get up to speed, but once you hit a certain threshold of understanding, it's like, "hey! I'm speaking Spanish and people understand me and I understand them!" It happens really quickly. And it's really satisfying to learn and converse in another language like that. After three months of speaking Spanish, you'll be a pro.
posted by billysumday at 8:21 AM on January 21, 2009

India, dude! It'll blow your mind, and is--mostly--very cheap. You can easily spend three months there, but if you want to branch out, you can get a cheap flight to Thailand and do that whole area.

Good luck, and have fun!
posted by AwkwardPause at 8:22 AM on January 21, 2009

S. America Trip durations

Peru = Lima, Arequipa, Cuzco (Machu Picchu) - Can be done in 3 weeks with the most adventure
Peru = Lima, Paracas, Nazca, Arequipa, Cuzco, Puno/Lake Titicaca - 1 month
Peru = All of the above and the jungle - 5 weeks

Peru AND Bolivia (including La Paz and Salt Flats) - 1.5 months though 2 months preferred

Brazil = Rio, Sao Paulo, Iguazu Falls - Can be done in 3 weeks but is substantially more expensive
Brazil = Rio, Sao Paulo, Florianopolis, Iguazu - 1 month

Argentina = Buenos Aires, Rosario, Iguazu Falls - 3 weeks
Argentina = Bs As, Patagonia, Bariloche, Mendoza - 1.5 months
Argentina = 2 Months for whole country including Salta, Jujuy and the major cities in Patagonia

Argentina / Chile = Hit all the main spots in 1 month

For longer durations, I would need to help you customize it a bit more..

I'm jealous just thinking about it again.. Good luck
posted by namewithhe1d at 8:36 AM on January 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm going to suggest a completely differnet part of the world: Africa, and more specifically, Kenya (Lamu, Kenya).

Cost (food, places to stay, activities) also did not exceed $30/day, although the places we stayed would definitely not be categorized as hotels. This was in 1992, but I'd bet cost is still the same.

Some of the interesting activities that meet your critieria:
-Paid to go out on a boat for the day and snorkeled in coral reefs/very colorful fish.
-Went out on a boat on another day and explored old ruins/mosque.
-Lamu is very different - there are no cars but only pedestrians and donkeys that carry goods. You could hear the call to prayer from mosques throughout the morning.

If you like art/culture, Europe is a phenomenal destination. If you are young (and it doesn't drive you crazy), youth hostels outside major cities are affordable. Just buy bread, fruit, and yogurt (food should not be more than $5 a day)

If you stand in a place like Venice, Prague, Florence, or London -- there are places in the city that everything around you is art (it is not confined to a museum). I don't know if I can really put words to it, but a month or two in Europe would probably meet your art/culture needs far beyond what you imagine, especially if you haven't been there before.

You can get nature in Europe, too. I still remember hiking between some fishing villages in Italy (Cinque Terre) or hiking in hillsides near a little town (Assissi) to find the monastery of St Francis of Assissi.
posted by Wolfster at 9:13 AM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

A general budgeting tip:

Youth hostels. Seriously. I'm nearly 39, and I live and die by them -- and price is only the SECOND reason I choose to stay in hostels. You have to give up a slight degree of comfort, but hostels are just all-around incredibly funky and cool places, with guests all being very, very prone to striking up conversations with each other about travels here and at home. I've had fascinating conversations with London cabbies, mathemeticians from Belfast, and Norwegian geographers. In Chicago I bonded over the Boston Red Sox with a third-grade teacher from Rhode Island. I got diagnosed with the early stages of heatstroke by a pre-med student when I was first visiting Louisiana, and then later that same trip I ended up going on a quest for Jambalaya with an Australian secretary and a Swiss chemistry student. A somewhat wild-eyed Englishman buttonholed me and made me read his (flat-out terrible) film treatment in the middle of Yosemite, and we ended up having a friendly argument about guerilla marketing. On another trip I had a Polish student wax rhapsodic to me about a band named "Burlap Cashmere." Not all of these conversations were flat-out scintilating, but damn, they all made for great stories. And that kind of thing just naturally happens in hostels.

The price also can't be beat, though -- I'm going to be in New Orleans during Mardi Gras this year, and I'll be staying there for $30 a night. I've also stayed in places for only $20 a night, or $16, and once a long time ago I slept somewhere for only six bucks a night. You do not necessarily need to be registered with the youth hostel movement to be able to stay there (check at the individual hostels, but you often don't), and you also don't necessarily need to be a youth. (I will be turning 39 IN that New Orleans hostel, and n one seems to mind).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:04 AM on January 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

As a general rule, the more expensive it is the fly somewhere, the cheaper it to stay.

If you are going to stay for the 3 months, I will recommend India. Hotels stays are less than 6$ a night, restaurant diners are around 1$ each, and a 2000 km train ride from one end of the country to the other will cost you less than 100$. It's just incredible are cheap things are here.
posted by gmarceau at 10:37 AM on January 21, 2009

Ethiopia. Assuming you've got the expensive airfare covered it has an amazing history, wonderful art in the North and interesting tribal culture in the Southwest. There's even hiking, animal watching etc. all around too. I traveled it on a shoestring taking public buses and staying at places that were $5/night or less but you could fly between the tourist destinations. There's not much English spoken outside of the capital but it's not so hard to figure things out.

Tibet & Nepal. Great scenery, great hiking (Nepal's easier for that), interesting culture and wonderful Buddhist art & architecture. Again, it's the airfare that's the killer. You also have to make sure you're going at a good time of year if you want to hike.
posted by Bunglegirl at 10:39 AM on January 21, 2009

If you can do the backpacker style travel then you're set, they're nearly everywhere, particularly south and central America and Asia. Seconding EmpressCallipygos: when I was in Costa Rica I stayed in a youth hostel for maybe $15 a night and a hotel for maybe $50. The youth hostel was by my favorite place to stay. Within an hour of being there people had come back from their activities and given us the up-to-the-minute lowdown on what to do. Personally since I have a little more money and less time to spend it than the college kids I like to do 50/50 hostels vs cheap hotels (or 75/25.) A couple nice private showers a week works well with the hostels with might not have the ideal bathroom facilities. Some hostels will have nicer bathrooms of course. In Spain I stayed in pensiones for cheap and they all had private bathrooms. I almost can't see why hotels exist, I'm certainly not interested in the quality of the TV in my room when I'm traveling and I don't spend much time in the room anyway. (Maybe someday I'll try getting pampered but I hope I don't get hooked.)
posted by Wood at 10:50 AM on January 21, 2009

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