8 Exotic Destinations for Budget-Conscious Travelers
Looking for an incredible travel destination without draining your bank account? From ancient cities to Patagonia’s peaks, options abound for frugal food, low-cost lodging and unforgettable experiences. AAA can help set your compass.
Many destinations offer unforgettable experiences at cost-efficient prices. If you’re looking for an “exotic” adventure, you’re doubly in luck — several such locales won’t drain your wallet as much as tourist havens like Paris, Tokyo or Rome. Here are eight places that can sate your wanderlust while offering tremendous value.
Prague, Czech Republic
Exotic doesn’t have to mean tropical, and Prague certainly has an exotic air all its own. While being a modern city in its own right, the Czech Republic’s capital doesn’t feel divorced from its traditional roots. The spires of stately Prague Castle, the city’s most iconic sight, rise over the Vltava river, the massive structure watching over the city like a medieval Bohemian count.
The modern skyline is clustered and feels kept to itself, letting Prague’s vibrant historic aesthetic of burnt orange rooftops and stonework bridges define the feel of the city.
While Prague’s traveler affordability has been dinged by tourists drawn by its reputation of late as a budget destination, it still offers enough to live up to the image. Many of the city’s attractions remain easy on the wallet, and walking the cobbled streets of Old Town to enjoy the elegant architecture doesn’t cost a cent.
Like Prague, Costa Rica’s reputation as a budget-friendly travel destination has raised the costs of a vacation in recent years. But while visiting Costa Rica might be a touch more expensive than in a few of its Central American neighbors, the country is still exceptionally affordable for vacationers who are conscious of their pocketbooks.
Costa Rica’s thriving tourism industry supports all manner of travelers, from luxury trippers to thrifty backpackers. Take the food, for instance. Family restaurants (called sodas) are the best places to enjoy authentic Costa Rican food. You can get heaping helpings of beef, beans, fried plantains, cassava and chileras for around $5, and you’ll truly be eating like a local. And while many of the country’s parks and forests offer guided tours, you can save some money by hiking on your own.
Bali’s lush jungles and pristine beaches are an adventurer’s dream, but not economically out of reach. Hotels and resorts with high ratings in Bali can be had for only $50 a night, and villas on rental sites like Airbnb can be had for around $25 per evening. Mouthwatering local meals cost as little as $1.
Keep an eye out for the word warung or waroeng, which is what small mom-and-pop restaurants often call themselves to indicate that they serve fresh, authentic Indonesian cuisine. Local artisans ply their wares at local markets, like Pasar Seni Ubud, and many of them sell their merchandise at affordable prices. Maybe best of all, you can use the money you save on lodging, food and shopping at one of the island’s many resort spas.
One of the most stable, tourist-friendly countries in the Middle East, Jordan may strike some seasoned travelers as an odd inclusion in this list. Jordan’s dinar, after all, is strong (a Jordanian dinar is equivalent to about $1.40), the country requires a visa to enter and attractions can be expensive. The world-famous archaeological city of Petra, for example, costs 50 dinars just to visit. But cost-conscious vacationers can enjoy Jordan on a budget by getting creative.
You can find a guesthouse — basic, but not Spartan — in the hills near Petra for about $18 a night. And the Jordan Pass, which you can purchase upon entry, bundles the cost of more than 40 attractions (including Petra) for 70 dinars while waiving your visa fees. Lastly, look to Club Adventures by AAA for savings on a travel package. The Treasures of Jordan package, replete with deserts, ruins and Jordanian cuisine, is one of our most budget friendly.
Known as the Pink City, Jaipur is the capital of the Indian state of Rajasthan. It’s notable for the Hawa Mahal (“Palace of the Winds”), made of carnation pink sandstone that dominates the center city. More architecture abounds in Jaipur. Forts and temples are everywhere in the city, featuring eye-catching statues, facades and colonnades.
Foreign tourists can enter many of these attractions for just over a dollar each, some for even cheaper. And Jaipur’s rainbow-tinged bazaars are a destination all their own for shoppers looking for souvenirs like handicrafts and quilts, many of which can be had for veritable bargains by American standards.
Sri Lanka, off the southern tip of India, is one of the world’s best kept secrets. It’s a paradise for fans of exotic wildlife, as a Sri Lankan safari offers sights of elephants, monkeys, leopards, hawks and tropical birds. Cultural travelers should be sure to stop in Kandy to check out Sri Dalada Maligawa, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, said to house a tooth of the Buddha himself. It’s Sri Lanka’s most revered temple, surrounded by the royal palace complex of the former kingdom of Kandy. And beachgoers won’t be disappointed by the bright azure waters lapping against Sri Lankan sands.
Don’t expect prices that rival neighboring India’s, as entrance fees to tourist attractions can be higher than similar “budget” destinations. But where Sri Lanka shines is in the relative cost of many vacation packages. Club Adventures by AAA’s Uncover Sri Lanka package is one of the most affordable on the menu. Note that some areas of Sri Lanka may be unsafe, so be sure to follow the State Department recommendations in terms of exercising caution.
Western Europe is dotted with tourist destinations, so you’d certainly be forgiven for losing Lisbon in the crowd of cities such as London, Paris, Amsterdam and Barcelona. But missing out on Portugal’s capital would be a budget traveler’s mistake. Lisbon is built on hilly landscape — some rolling, others daringly steep — so just riding around on its scenic tramway network, funiculars and elevadores (elevators) can provide breathtaking views of the city.
The best part? A Lisboa Card, the city’s official tourist pass, costs just 19 euros and grants unlimited free travel on the entire public network. The card also gives discounts and free entry into Lisbon’s many historic museums and buildings, like the once-fortified Belém Tower and the World Heritage-listed Jerónimos Monastery.
Exchange rates are your friend in the second-largest country in South America, where the dollar hit a 15-year high against the Argentine peso in 2018. In 2010, an American dollar was worth about 4 Argentine pesos; today, it’s worth nearly 40. While that’s due to unfortunate economic issues in the country, that doesn’t detract from Argentina’s wealth of experiences for budget-conscious tourists or backpackers.
The nation’s vast area covers northern rain forests, central deserts and the Patagonian peaks in the south, so there’s something for every outdoor-minded traveler. If it’s something more cosmopolitan you’re after, look to Buenos Aires. Argentina’s capital city boasts streets of stately 19th- and early 20th-century architectural gems.
–Written by Arnie Aurellano, last updated in November 2022