Great, cheap places to go this winter
October 15, 2010 7:59 AM   Subscribe

TRAVEL: I am a student living in D.C. Where are the cheapest (warm) countries and cities I can go "backpacking" to this winter break?

When I mean cheap, I'm talking airfare, lodging, food, and travel within the country.

Quick facts:
- I will be traveling alone.
- I am a 20-ish Asian female.
- I don't know any Spanish
- I have never been to Central/South America. I'm assuming that if I want a warm place to go to, those will be my cheapest options...
- My traveling window is from December 26 to January 18
- By "backpacking" I mean staying in hostels and walking around with a huge pack on my back. Not the backpacking into the woods kind of thing.
- I don't like a lot of tourist-y spots b/c of the crowds, the price hikes and gaudy feeling I get
- I'm not into the party/night-life scene.

I have traveled solo to Japan, Thailand, Cambodia and Taiwan before [aka some countries where I cannot speak their language] so I wouldn't be going into this trip completely unawares. Still, even though I would like to go as cheap as possible, safety is always a priority.

I do like outdoorsy stuff (In Thailand, I signed up for a three day, two night trekking group trip that was AMAZING. I signed up with a local hostel and do not remember it being too expensive. I would love to do something like this again), great food, friendly culture/local population, and cities/areas that boast fantastic urban parks, great city transportation and high usage of bikes. (Which makes me think of Ciclovia in Bogota....)

Also, what travel agencies should I call for cheap tickets? I thought Kayak was a good bet, but I'm convinced now that travel agencies are the ones to turn to.

posted by bluelight to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Mexico is wonderful. It's certainly not one of those "everyone speaks English" kind of places (unless you go to Cancun) but I went for four months and spoke no Spanish when I arrived and had only minimal difficulties. I memorized as much as I could of a phrase book and, if you know your directions, your pleasantries, your numbers and "Donde es..." then people always seem pretty willing to help.

Mexico City is amazing, though if you're alone and worried about safety there are some concerns (more pickpocketing and robbery than anything else, but still). But Cuernavaca and the surrounding area is a real gem and much more relaxed. You can get a private room in a hotel or hostel for ~$15 USD a night and there are a ton of galleries and museums and fantastic restaurants, not to mention some of the most beautiful terrain in North America.

Plus, you could do an overnight trip to see the Monarch Butterflies. It will blow your mind.
posted by 256 at 8:21 AM on October 15, 2010

The November issue of Budget Travel has a lot of cheap travel ideas in it, categorized by continent.
posted by ShadePlant at 8:55 AM on October 15, 2010

When I was bouncing around Nicaragua over a summer a few years ago, I met a young Singaporean woman whom I believe did OK for herself despite not knowing's true that a lot of the tourists are of the "live cheap, drink lots" variety, but if you want to strike out on your own it was considered pretty safe for a solo woman (you might want to get info more current on that tip) and there's a lot of natural wonder to experience.
posted by kittyprecious at 9:01 AM on October 15, 2010

I loved Guatemala when I was about your age, at that time of the year. So beautiful and cheap! (Not as cheap as Thailand, but close). Lots of outdoors stuff, although it'll be chilly in the mountains. It's definitely good to know some Spanish, but you can get by with a phrasebook.
posted by wholebroad at 10:21 AM on October 15, 2010

Costa Rica is safe, warm, and just plain lovely. If you head to the Pacific coast by bus to the south of Manuel Antonio Park (via San Isdro del General) you will encounter far fewer tourists and cheaper prices, but still find friendly, easy-going locals.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:34 AM on October 15, 2010

Belize. Cheap, lots of people speak English, and it's beautiful.

And if you're going alone and don't speak any Spanish, please rethink Mexico. It's a very different place for a woman alone, not to scare you, but if you really want to go, get a travel partner.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:15 AM on October 15, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses everyone.

I am now seriously considering Guatemala and/or Belize after having done some research on Thorntree. If you have any suggestions regarding those two places, please let me know!
posted by bluelight at 11:38 AM on October 15, 2010

I've been to Guatemala (in March, not January), and I liked it quite alot. You can get away with minimal Spanish in Antigua and the Lake Panajachel region, but carry a phrasebook just in case. Alternately, you could take a Spanish language course while there, if you want to learn.
posted by cabingirl at 1:24 PM on October 15, 2010

I have traveled solo to Japan, Thailand, Cambodia and Taiwan before [aka some countries where I cannot speak their language] so I wouldn't be going into this trip completely unawares.

Spanish is spoken in the vast majority of the Central/South American countries. You should be able to pick up passable travelers' Spanish with a little practice.

If you do the iTunes thing, check out their free foreign language podcasts. There are quite a few Spanish ones which use different approaches and teach to varying levels.

I was in Peru recently and loved it, unfortunately your timeframe is not the ideal time of year to travel there - it will be the rainy season, when a lot of the popular outdoor activities will be unavailable. However, I cannot say enough how amazing a country it was. And maybe you're the sort who prefers to travel in the low season. It would certainly be cheap and uncrowded.
posted by Sara C. at 3:48 PM on October 15, 2010

I lived in Guatemala for three months as a solo young woman traveler in 2006. I felt safe most of the time. If you don't like being around other tourists, I would avoid Antigua altogether. I liked exploring the area around Antigua on bicycle, though. I also had a great experience in Huehuetenango. And, even though it's expensive and touristy, if you can manage a trip to Tikal, go! It's incredible.
posted by pinetree at 4:31 PM on October 15, 2010

Although you said you are a student living in DC, I'm not concluding you'd actually fly out of DC area.

However, if you are flying out of DC area, definitely look into Spirit Airlines. They have some ridiculously cheap flights to Central and South America (Guatemala included!) from Reagan International. It's a no-frills airline and they've had issues with labor strikes, but it's worth considering to save some $$.

Have a great trip wherever you go!
posted by VT@MU at 3:54 PM on October 16, 2010

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