International travel often seems maddeningly out of reach. Friends seem to be constantly posting on social media about magnificent tropical vacations spent at lush island resorts. If you’ve even wondered (or fumed) how it was possible, there’s a secret you’re probably not aware of just yet. International travel need not be prohibitively expensive. With the right combination of airfare hunting and budget-friendly destinations, you too can have an incredible time abroad. We’ve done some of the heavy lifting for you and profiled these 20 international destinations we think offer great experiences without the corresponding risk you’ll need to refinance your home to afford them. These are our recommendations for the best international travel destinations for those on a budget.
Located a few hours south of Mexico City, Puebla is a wonderful town with strong colonial-era ties. In addition to being a renowned destination for mole (a sauce dish unique to the city), Puebla features incredible architecture and beautiful scenery. Start in the Zócalo de Puebla, here you will find a vibrant public square featuring fountains and benches that are surrounded by delicious restaurants. Visit the Cathedral de Puebla just opposite the Zócalo. This Roman Catholic cathedral contains a fascinating octagonal alter. It’s easy to get from there to Puebla’s commercial district where you can browse for bargains or hunt for a souvenir. The Museo Amparo has an impressive collection of Mexican art set in a unique gallery space. Biblioteca Palafoxiana is arguably one of Mexico’s finest libraries and well-worth a visit for its tasteful interior design. With strong ties to Spain and lots of great attractions, Puebla is a great cost-effective travel destination.
Transylvania is a place more associated with vampire novels than budget travel. Historically part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, modern Transylvania is located within the borders of Romania. From the capital Bucharest, travel first to Brașov, a lovely town with cobblestone streets and baroque buildings surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains. Spend a day here getting acquainted with the region and snapping some lovely photos. Next travel onwards to the nearby village of Bran. Though not the inspiration for the castle in Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic horror masterpiece, Dracula, Bran Castle has nevertheless become intimately associated with the Dracula legend. Today, the castle houses a museum with exhibits on the art and furniture collected by Romania’s late Queen Marie. Despite having a reputation that strikes fear into many people’s hearts, Transylvania is an impressive and downright beautiful place. As with much of Eastern Europe, this is an excellent destination for price-conscious travellers.
Cape Town, South Africa
Though he hailed from Johannesburg, Cape Town is intricately linked to the life of South Africa’s most famous citizen, Nelson Mandela. Mandela’s leadership in the struggle against Apartheid resulted in his long imprisonment on the notorious Robben Island. Visitors can tour the island and see where Mandela and other prominent ANC comrades endured years of isolation. Cape Town is not far from the famed Cape of Good Hope, the geographic point sailors marked when they began travelling more eastward than southward on their long journey from Europe to Asia. The region’s geology is nothing less than stunning. Venture out to the Cape Peninsula for some lovely hiking trails. Also pay a visit to Table Mountain National Park, which offers stunning views over Cape Town itself. Visit the Iziko South African Museum located downtown and stroll through the neighboring Company's Garden. This beautiful destination is full of warm welcomes and amazing culture. Best of all, it won’t cost you a fortune to visit.
Marrakesh has long fascinated travellers. Its narrow alleyways and distinctive red stone architecture are a delight for shutterbugs. Though somewhat less well-known than Casablanca, Marrakesh is no less important. The city’s main plaza, the Jemaa el-Fna, is among the busiest in all Africa. Likewise, the old quarter, known as the Medina of Marrakech, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Given Marrakesh’s history as a cultural crossroads, there are numerous museums in addition to a rich artistic tradition. The Ali Ben Youssef Madrasa showcases some of the city’s Islamic influences. Visit the intricately designed Bahia Palace and the nearby Dar Si Said museum. English-speaking guided tours are not hard to find and these can be great way to discover the city. Central Marrakesh is a tangle of tight streets so it’s advisable to have a guide. With lots to discover you should allow for a least a few days. Fortunately however, this won’t drain your bank account.
The Land Down Under is a vast continent full of rich biodiversity, incredible culture, and untamed wilderness. The Australian Outback is the stuff of legend. Running along the country’s eastern coast is the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef system. Brisbane, capital of Queensland, is a place to enjoy lots of Australian experiences without overloading your wallet. Start in Central Brisbane at the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens. Enjoy a walk in the lovely park set long the banks of the Brisbane River. Cross Goodwill Bridge and visit the Queensland Maritime Museum. Grab something to eat at one of the cafes and restaurants along the river before dropping by Streets Beach for some fun and relaxation. Many people enjoy travelling out to St Helena Island National Park in Moreton Bay. The former penal island is lovely for a bit of bird watching. If you ask us, Brisbane is without a doubt a great budget-friendly travel destination.
India’s incredible heritage and dizzying pace make it a wonderful destination. Immense and diverse, it can be hard to know where to go or what to see. If you’re a budget-minded traveller looking to maximise your excitement and adventure, we recommend heading for the northern city of Agra. Located in India’s most-populous state, Uttar Pradesh, Agra is where you will find that most recognisable Indian landmark, the Taj Mahal. Tour Agra Fort, the former residence for emperors during the Mughal Dynasty. Be sure to visit the monumental Delhi Gate before walking through Taj Garden and Mumtaz Park on your way to the Taj Mahal. The temple’s outer gardens are great places for pictures. With its long history and rich cultural treasures, Agra is a fantastic place to simply wander around. This is one of the many reasons Agra a great destination for budget-conscious travellers.
Hungary’s capital is a beautiful Eastern European city set along the River Danube. Start your tour at Buda Castle and explore the former residence of Hungarian kings. Today, the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum are housed there. Walk to Matthias Church and then to Fisherman’s Bastion, a great place to snap photos of the Hungarian Parliament Building on the other side of the river. Parliament’s iconic architecture is easily one of the most recognisable sights in all Hungary. Cross the river and tour Parliament. Head east from the museum to Hero’s Square and explore the fairytale Vajdahunyad Castle. The Museum of Fine Arts is a great stop if you like Renaissance and 19th century European paintings. Finally, enjoy a bit of relaxation at one of Budapest’s famous thermal spas. Some occasionally host raucous rave parties catering to a younger crowd. Budapest is an absolutely fabulous city where you can enjoy the best of Eastern Europe without spending an arm and a leg.
Kathmandu remains the gateway to the Nepalese Himalayas and is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Start at Kathmandu Durbar Square where you will find a collection of beautiful Hindu temples and sites. Not far away is the famous Swayambhunath Stupa, also known as the monkey temple. The National Museum of Nepal and the National Military Museum are two fun stops if you like museums. Eventually make your way across town to Boudha Stupa, one of the largest stupas in South Asia and an important focal point for Nepal’s Tibetan Buddhist community. The National Museum of Nepal features many exhibits on the history and significance of Nepalese culture. Take a trip to the outskirts of town and see Bhaktapur Durbar Square with its ornate palace complex. Nepal is a welcoming destination and Kathmandu is the country’s vibrant centre. Come discover all the wonders it has to offer.
Lombok Island, Indonesia
Neighbouring Bali is often considered a tropical resort destination par excellence. However, international attention has made Bali something of a victim of its own success. Overpriced and often overcrowded, it’s one destination budget-minded travellers best avoid. Fortunately, you don’t have to go far for a great Indonesian resort experience. Lombok Island is just to the east and offers may of the same great attractions. Visit Indonesia’s second-highest volcano, Mount Rinjani and hike up to the beautiful a crater lake. Multi-day treks are popular with backpackers and are an excellent way to explore some rugged landscapes. You can also visit the island’s many popular waterfalls including Tiu Teja, Tiu Kelep, and Sendang Gile. Lombok is a great place to do some island hopping. To the northwest are the three famous Gili islands: Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air. These are worth a visit if you have the time. The best part is you don’t need much more than a strong sense of adventure.
White sand beaches, great dive spots, fresh-from-the-ocean seafood, and a rapidly growing casino scene make Cambodia’s premier beach town of Sihanoukville a fantastic budget destination. Known locally as “Kampong Som,” this southern coastal city is the capital of Sihanoukville Province. Surrounded on three sides by the Gulf of Thailand, it has a long coastline with a series of beautiful beaches that are winning over tourists from around the world. Otres Beach, often highlighted as the number one beach in Sihanoukville, is known for its relaxing environment and clear waters. Stretching some 4.5 km and divided into several sections, Otres is exceedingly popular with Western tourists. Cambodia’s Buddhist heritage are also on rich display in Sihanoukville. Venture to Wat Leu Temple, situated on a hilltop 1.5 km northwest of the city centre. At night checkout the nightlife near nightlife options are concentrated along Occheuteal and Serendipity beaches and you enjoy a fantastic resort vacation on the cheap!
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Argentina’s capital and largest city is a great destination for budget-minded travellers looking to enjoy South American culture with a dash of European flavour. For a fascinating and inexpensive tour, start outside the central train station where you can see the Torre Monumental, a large clock tower commemorating Argentina’s independence. Wander through General San Martin Plaza and visit the Monument to the Fallen in Malvinas. Nearby you’ll find Basílica Santísimo Sacramento, a large Catholic church with elaborate décor. Make your way west towards Recoleta Cemetery while exploring central Buenos Aires. Take some time to see the statues and mausoleums while enjoying the cemetery’s peaceful atmosphere. Head into the National Museum of Fine Arts where you can enjoy one of Latin America’s largest public art collections. At night, check out the city’s San Telmo neighborhood. We’re sure you’ll agree, Buenos Aires has a lot going for it, not least the fact that it’s a great budget-friendly travel destination.
Mongolia is a land where the vast Eurasian Steppe unfurls before as endless grassland and gorgeous rivers. With a backpack and some camping gear you can wander to your heart’s content. Most visitors will arrive in the capital Ulaanbaatar, which for several years has been one of the world’s fastest growing cities. A budding tourism industry is expanding to cater to foreign visitors. Start at Sukhbaatar Square and visit the State History Museum of Mongolia. Enjoy a traditional meal and visit some of the many temples and monasteries. Later travel to Gorkhi Terelj National Park, located about 37 km from downtown. See some Mongolian grasslands, explore traditional yurt accommodations, and sample authentic stone barbecue. Depending on your schedule, consider visiting a few other places around the countryside to get yourself out of Ulaanbaatar. Mongolia has for years now sought to attract travellers from abroad and it remains a fantastic budget-friendly travel destination.
Bulgaria continues to remake itself. Once trapped under Soviet domination, the country is now a full member of the European Union. In the capital Sofia, start at Cathedral Saint Aleksandar Nevski and explore the fantastic Bulgarian Orthodox church with its Neo-Byzantine architecture. Neighboring St. Sofia Church was built in the 6th century and features an underground crypt. From there you can easily walk to the National Art Gallery, National Ethnology Museum, and National Archaeological Museum. These three institutions are clustered together and make for a lovely few hours exploring Bulgaria’s history, arts, and culture. Afterwards spend time wandering Central Sophia where you can enjoy numerous restaurants, bars, and cafes. Southeast of downtown is Borisova gradina, the city’s oldest and best-known public park. Sophia’s many attractions are easily within reach of even the most price conscious budget traveller.
Ipoh is a former mining town located about two hours north of Kuala Lumpur. The tranquil atmosphere in the city’s Old Town makes it difficult to imagine that 70 years ago the region was one of the world’s largest producers of tin. In the early 1900s Ipoh was dubbed the “millionaires’ city” thanks to the number of fortunes made from mining-related activities. If you are a café lover, you will love Ipoh. Numerous boutique shops with peculiar designs have sprung up and are breathing new life into the city. Ipoh is also home to some of the most picturesque cave temples in Malaysia. The Gunung Rapat area contains two such temples. Sam Poh Tong temple is a Chinese Buddhist Temple discovered in 1912. It sits within a natural limestone cave and is the oldest and most famous cave temple in Ipoh. Climb the 246 steps to the cave opening and enjoy the magnificent view of Ipoh and its surroundings.
When the Berlin Wall came down young people flooded east. In districts abutting the wall like Kreuzberg, a vibrant arts and culture scene sprung up. Start your Berlin tour at the famed Brandenburg Gate. Notice the small stone markers in the street indicating where the Berlin Wall used to stand. Make your way to the historic Reichstag Building and take the tour. See graffiti left by Soviet soldiers when they took Berlin in May, 1945 to end the Second World War in Europe. Visit the solemn Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and allow yourself to get lost as the monument’s undulating design evokes a world where nothing is stable. Spend your afternoon touring Museum Island before venturing to either Kreuzberg or Kurfürstendamm for some evening entertainment and a great meal. There’s a lot to do in Berlin so give yourself a few days in order to really get to know one of the most affordable cities in Europe.
Cappadocia, located in central Turkey, is world famous for its geological formations called hoodoos. Also known as “fairy chimneys,” these rock structures resemble thin smokestacks. The thing to do is take a hot air balloon ride so you can see the otherworldly landscapes during the magic hours at dawn or dusk. Plan to stay a day or two and book a room in one of the famous cave hotels. These accommodations are often built right into the fairy chimneys and are a great place to meet fellow travelers. Be sure to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Göreme National Park and explore Derinkuyu underground city, the largest excavated underground city in Turkey. The natural landscapes in the area are truly remarkable and you can spend hours wandering around snapping photos. With so much to see outdoors, it doesn’t cost a lot to have a great time here. If you’re aiming to see Turkey on a shoestring budget, do yourself a favor and visit Cappadocia.
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, the island nation in the Indian Ocean located off the southeastern tip of India, combines a world of wonder with growing travel amenities. Sri Lanka’s capital and largest city is a hive of activity. As the country’s entertainment, commercial, and financial centre, there is always something happening. Viharamahadevi Park is a convenient place to start your tour. Wander through the green space and see the Golden Buddha statue. Visit the nearby National Museum as well as the National Theatre. Enjoy a walk along the beach at Galle Face. The seaside park is popular with locals and is certainly one of the best things to see in Colombo. Stop in for a cocktail at the Galle Face Hotel before eventually working your way to Colombo Central. See the iconic Red Masjid, a famed mosque constructed in the early 20th century and known for its distinctive candy cane appearance. At night enjoy a lavish meal while you delight in the rhythms of this eminently fascinating (and budget-friendly) city.
Located off Tanzania’s Indian Ocean Coast is tiny Zanzibar. This semi-autonomous region has positioned itself in recent decades as a world-class travel destination. Economic incentives designed to spur development have succeeded in helping Zanzibar blossom into one of the best resort islands in Africa, if not the entire Indian Ocean region. Commonly referred to as the “spice islands,” Zanzibar produces significant quantities of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper. Walk the narrow alleyways in the historic Stone Town neighborhood. Visit the Old Fort and explore the history at Old Slave Market. Find yourself some decent accommodations outside the main city where you can enjoy Zanzibar’s famous beaches and pristine waters. There are numerous small towns running up and down the island’s east coast. Zanzibar is a place where you can enjoy both the pace of urban life and a far more relaxing atmosphere. Best of all it won’t cost you a fortune.
Despite its reputation as a playground for Russian billionaires, Moscow remains a relatively inexpensive place to visit. At the heart of the city is the famous Moscow Kremlin, the figurative and literal epicentre of Russian power. Take the tour and visit the impressive cathedrals there. Afterwards, wander around Red Square where you can see the famous Kremlin Wall, Lenin’s Mausoleum, and the tombs of other Russian dignitaries. Opposite the Kremlin across Red Square is the GUM Department Store. Head in there for some shopping and souvenir hunting. Next wander down to the iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral, recognised as the world’s finest example of Russian architecture. From there make your way to Gorky Park, a large central park along the Moscow River. At night, nearby Arabat District is a great place for food, drinks, and more shopping. Enjoy the Russian high life without spending a fortune is what makes this such a great place to visit.
Montreal has an unmistakable French character. Start with a visit to Old Montreal. Wander the cobblestone streets and visit Notre-Dame Basilica, a stunning gothic revival cathedral inspired by its namesake in Paris. Pay a visit to the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History then explore the Centre d'histoire de Montréal, a nice local history museum housed in a former fire station. The city’s Chinatown neighborhood is where you’ll find the MAC Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, a wonderful contemporary arts museum highlighting local and international artists. For some scenic time, head up to Mont Royal where you can enjoy the many tree-covered paths and overlooks providing excellent vantage points for photos of the Montreal skyline. At night, return to Old Montreal and explore the diverse selection of restaurants and cafes. The music and entertainment here are some of the best around. Montreal offers a sense of Europe for far less than a ticket to Paris.
These 20 budget-friendly destinations are sure to inspire the adventurer in you. Take a little time to consider what you’d most like to see and then hunt for that great bargain airfare. We’ve given you a lot to work with, but the rest is up to you!