March 16, 2017

Pack Your Bags: 2017 is The Year for Budget Travel

Yael Morowati

According to AmEx’s annual Global Travel Forecast, travel fares to and from North America will fall between 0.2% and 4.6% this year.  Economy fares should decline by approximately 3% for short haul trips, and around 1.5% for long haul trips. You know what this means?  It’s time to start packing your bags.  The dollar is enjoying historic highs, so your money goes much further in many destinations around the globe.  Here are my top affordable destinations to visit this year.

Bali, Indonesia

You’ve probably heard of Bali, because of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling 2006 memoir Eat, Pray, Love which as of December 2010 spent 199 weeks on the The New York Times Best Seller list, and which was also made into a film by the same name in 2010, starring Julia Roberts.  One of Bali’s hill towns and cultural and tourist centers was the focus of Gilbert’s quest for balance through traditional spirituality and healing that leads to love.  It’s one of my favorites, and I can’t wait to go back. 

So, if you’re looking to book an exotic or romantic trip, Bali offers a ton of high quality experiences for a great price.  The dollar goes a long way, especially now.  You can stay in a private villa with a private pool or in a high-end luxury resort for $50 per night. Spa and transportation costs are low, and you will find amazing and healthy food options.  Fill your trip with culture, nature, art, and spirituality.

Kuta’s spectacular beaches, Ubud’s cultural heart and picturesque terraced rice fields, the northeastern coastal towns and Lombok Island are hidden gems awaiting discovery.  Its west coast is still off the beaten path, with tapering ranges of mountains covered in lush forests, wet rice fields and bountiful vegetation.  Historical sites and buildings, museums, and art galleries are perfect for the curious traveller or honeymooners.  Keep in mind that Bali’s real estate has been rapidly developing in the main tourist areas of Kuta, Legian, Seminyak and Oberoi so if you’re thinking of purchasing a holiday home, look no further. Million dollar villas are being developed along the cliff sides of south Bali, with commanding panoramic ocean views.

Must-see attractions: Waterbom Bali (Kuta), Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary (Ubud), Tanah Lot Temple (Beraban), Sekumpul Waterfalls (Singaraja), Jatiluwih Green Land (Tabanan).

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is ranked right up there with cities like Paris, Prague, Berlin and London as one of the most popular European cities, but it is by far the most affordable and one of my personal favorites.  Low-cost tapas restaurants, bottles of vino, and endless free attractions and affordable things to do will keep you busy. Soak up the rays on the beach or get lost in the markets. Ride the tram for sweeping panoramic views of the city and experience a vintage amusement park and a gorgeous cathedral.

It’s one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, attracting millions upon millions of visitors each year.  It has almost everything any holiday maker would desire. Easy access, favorable weather conditions, attractive beaches and surrounding mountains, a buzzing nightlife, tasty local cuisine and it’s steeped in culture and history. It’s also a sight-seeing wonderland, housing many recognizable monuments.  Barcelona has something for everyone: families, couples and singletons alike.

Must-see attractions: Basilica of the Sagrada Familia, Casa Batllo, Palau de la Musica Orfeo Catala, Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic), Park Guell.

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

With 93% of the nation covered in mountains and a rich history and culture that goes back thousands of years, Kyrgyzstan is one of the most spectacular and underrated countries in the world. The capital city, Bishkek, is an incredible hub for exploring Central Asia, with Silk Road remnants like the Burana Tower just a short drive away and some incredible trekking opportunities in the surrounding mountains. Best of all for a budget traveler, Kyrgyzstan is surprisingly affordable.  Private accommodation in the city can be found for as little as $15 a night and good meals start around $3. Even a traditional yurt stay with 2 meals can be as cheap as $20 per person. I suggest using the Trip to Kyrgyzstan tour agency. They have an amazing team and are extremely personable.  

Must-see attractions: Ala-Archa Gorge, Osh Bazaar, Panfilov Park, State History Museum, Ala-Too Square.

Buenos Aires, Argentina 

One of the world’s most intoxicating cities, Buenos Aires has only grown in popularity and it’s still relatively cheap compared to European and Asian capital cities. There are many green parks, French-inspired architecture, late-night dancing, custom leather shops and fantastic food. Taxis are around $5-8 a ride, but you should also walk for miles in all of the distinct neighborhoods, like Palermo.  Bring a ton of American cash and you’ll get better deals in many places.

Buenos Aires the second most desirable city to visit after Florence.  Visitors have many options such as going to a tango show, an estancia in the Province of Buenos Aires, or enjoying the traditional asado.  The city also plays host to musical festivals, some of the largest of which are Quilmes Rock, Creamfields BA, Ultra Music Festival (Buenos Aires) and the Buenos Aires Jazz Festival.  Due to the existence of gay-friendly sites, the civil union law of 2002, by 2003 Buenos Aires was being called “Latin America’s gay capital.”  LGBT tourism remains a sector in the city, and points to its nightlife, cultural and artistic diversity, and Argentina’s 2010 legalization of same-sex marriage (the first country in Latin America).

Must-see attractions: Teatro Colon, Puerto Madero, Recoleta, Parque 3 de Febrero, Bosques de Palermo, Recoleta Cemetery.


Sofia, Bulgaria

The entire Balkans region is an excellent option for budget travel, and I recommend starting with Bulgaria.  It’s an adventure playground that every budget can afford. In Bulgaria’s wine country you can get a full winery tour with multiple tastings plus bread and cheese for about $5, take a hike through Bulgaria’s famous sandstone pyramids and then sleep in a beautiful authentic style hotel with breakfast included for about $30.

Sofia is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Bulgaria alongside coastal and mountain resorts. Among its highlights is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, one of the symbols of Bulgaria, constructed in the late 19th century.  Sofia holds Bulgaria’s largest museum collections, which attract tourists and students for practical studies. The National Historical Museum in Boyana district has a vast collection of more than 650,000 historical items dating from Prehistory to the modern era, although only 10,000 of them are permanently displayed due to the lack of space.

Vitosha Boulevard is a pedestrian zone with numerous cafés, restaurants, fashion boutiques, and luxury goods stores. Sofia’s geographic location, in the foothills of the weekend retreat Vitosha mountain, further adds to the city’s specific atmosphere.

Must-see attractions: Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski (Sofia), Old Nessebar (Nessebar), Plovdiv Old Town (Plovdiv), Sozopol Old Town (Sozopol), Palace and Botanical Gardens of Balchik (Balchik).


If you’re dreaming of South America, a destination that has long given travelers great value for money, then start with Chile. Santiago has wine bars, delicious tapas and hip hotels.  The small lakeside town of Puerto Varas is part of the lakes district in Chile and the northern start of Patagonia. It’s easy to rent a car and explore this area.  You can explore great places within a two-hour drive from the city: going to the top of a volcano, exploring waterfalls, finding the best cakes and food.  Everything is cheap. 

The main attractions for tourists are places of natural beauty situated in the extreme zones of the country: San Pedro de Atacama, in the north, is very popular with foreign tourists who arrive to admire the Incaic architecture, the altiplano lakes, and the Valley of the Moon.  In Putre, also in the north, there is the Chungará Lake, as well as the Parinacota and the Pomerape volcanoes. National parks are the main tourist sites in the south.  Viña del Mar is popular because of its beaches, casino, and its annual song festival, the most important musical event in Latin America.  Pichilemu is widely known as South America’s best surfing spot.

Must-see attractions: Torres del Paine National Park (Puerto Natales), Ahu Tongariki (Easter Island), Sky Costanera (Santiago), Geyser del Tatio (San Pedro de Atacama), Cerro San Cristobal (Santiago).

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is the one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.  There’s a ton of national parks to explore that only cost a few dollars to enter. Once there, you can then enjoy free self-guided walks that won’t cost you a penny, but will deliver some great encounters with amazing wildlife.  Manuel Antonio and Corcovado National Parks are two of the best. Public transport is also super cheap, with buses generally less than $10, even for an eight-hour ride. This makes traveling between destinations in this compact country very affordable and means you can see a lot in a short amount of time. In addition, budget accommodation in Costa Rica can be as little as $6 per person. And local dishes can be enjoyed anywhere for as little as $2.50.

Must-see attractions: La Fortuna Waterfall (La Fortuna de San Carlos), Pura Aventura (El Guapote), Cahuita National Park (Cahuita), Teatro Nacional Costa Rica (San Jose), La Paz Waterfall Gardens (Vara Blanca).


With the dollar strong against the euro right now and the economic crisis in Greece keeping prices lower than other parts of Europe, it’s the perfect time to visit Crete. Crete is a foodie’s dream come true.  Farm-to-table is a way of life and the people here often live to be well over 100 years old.  Locals welcome tourists with open arms.

Crete is great for those looking to party on a budget, as it offers an array of clubs and restaurants with affordable prices. With idyllic beaches, there are lots of low cost lodging options, making it a steal when compared to the more well-known areas of Athens and Santorini.

Today, the island caters to all tastes, including a very wide range of accommodations; the island’s facilities take in large luxury hotels with their complete facilities, swimming pools, sports and recreation, smaller family-owned apartments, camping facilities and others. Visitors reach the island via two international airports in Heraklion and Chania and a smaller airport in Sitia or by boat to the main ports of Heraklion, Chania, Rethimno, Agios Nikolaos and Sitia.

Must-see attractions: archaeological sites of (Minoan civilization, the Venetian old city and port of Chania), the Venetian castle at Rethymno, the gorge of Samaria, islands (Chrysi, Elafonisi, Gramvousa, and Spinalonga) the Palm Beach of Vai.

Tbilisi, Georgia

Georgia, an ancient European country, has so much to offer — beautiful scenery, unique culture and tradition everywhere you look, and incredible food.  This country lays claim to being the birthplace of wine (winemaking here goes back 8,000 years) and you have the ultimate new travel destination.  You can get a full meal plus copious amounts of wine for two people in a higher end restaurant, with live entertainment and still spend less than $30.  It has a favorable exchange rate, making it surprisingly budget friendly. The country a has gorgeously rich cultural heritage and is perhaps best known for its culture hospitality. That said, the food, wine, dance, and mountains will wow you, too.  Tbilisi has the cheapest Airbnbs in Europe, and also some of the cutest.

In Tbilisi, you’ll see beautifully preserved orthodox churches and medieval style architecture are punctuated by recent modern architectural landmarks. The Georgian food is truly amazing and you will find fresh vegetables and unique flavors.

Must-see attractions: The Bridge of Peace, Narikala Fortress, Aerial Tramway, Tsminda Sameba Cathedral, Rezo Gabriadze Marionette Theater.

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