It may not officially be one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but that doesn't make Cambodia’s Angkor Wat – a UNESCO World Heritage site – any less wondrous. With soaring temples, intricate carvings, and miles of symbolic friezes depicting daily life in the Khmer Empire, Angkor Wat is an architectural splendor and spiritual gem. Built for the Hindu god Vishnu, the temple's sprawling grounds are situated next to the city of Siem Reap, also known as the Gateway to Angkor Wat, which was rated one of the Southeast Asia's most underrated food destinations.
Entry to Angkor Wat: $20 per day, $40 for 3 days, $60 for one week
Food: $25 to $35 per day for two
Lodging: $30 to $150 per night and up
Budget Travel Times: September, October
Travel Tip #1: Cashing In
If Southeast Asia makes your travel list this year, it might be time to consider cashing in those frequent flier points, says Tim Leffel, travel writer and author of The World’s Cheapest Destinations: 21 Countries Where Your Money is Worth a Fortune.
If you're not part of a frequent flier program, shop around on sites like CreditCards.com
, which can help users easily compare offers. Some cards offer huge sign-up bonuses that may get you halfway to your destination. "And if you spend strategically after that, you'll build up a lot of miles in a hurry," says Leffel. "Don't waste your miles flying to Dallas, save them up for something that's going to cost you a lot."
For some, Africa means one thing: Going on safari. While it may be the experience of a lifetime, safaris are costly ventures that can take you clear across the African plains. If you're looking for the cultural and architectural side of Africa, but don't necessarily need to come face to face with a heard of impala, Morocco might be a great option, suggests Leffel. While it may not be the most budget-friendly option on this list (along with Paris), Morocco’s bustling markets, fragrant spices, and proximity to the Sahara Desert make it a great destination for adventurous travelers.
Food: $50 to $100 per day for two
Lodging: $100 to $200 per night and up
Budget Travel Times: Late March to Late May
Travel Tip #2: Public Transportation
If you prefer relying on public transportation to get around rather than renting a car or taking cabs—or that country’s cab equivalent—consider traveling to a city rather than a remote countryside. Many international cities, like Bangkok and, in some respects, Buenos Aires, have reliable public transportation options, provided you do your research beforehand and take all recommended safety precautions.
Lost City of the Incas
The Lost City of the Incas isn’t exactly lost anymore. In fact, so many people are traveling to the ancient mountain ruins that the country of Peru has capped the number of visitors at 2,500 per day. That doesn’t mean you’re out of luck; it just means that you’ll need to buy your tickets in advance. That said, Leffel recommends visiting Machu Picchu during the rainy season, which is a slow time that will not only save you money, but also afford you the opportunity to experience the splendor of the Incas without a horde of people. If you’re concerned about hiking the Inca Trail (a 4-day trek to Machu Picchu through the Andean mountains), there are less physically demanding options, like taking a scenic train ride.
Food: $50 to $100 per day for two
Lodging: $75 to $150 per night and up
Budget Travel Times: May to September
Travel Tip #3: Riding the Rails
If you plan to travel throughout several countries rather than just one, Leffel recommends looking into railway passes, particularly if you’re in Europe. While budget flights between European countries appear cheap, there are strict luggage-weight restrictions, which can add up quickly. “The advantage of trains is that you can carry on a normal-sized suitcase and not worry if you’re a pound over,” says Leffel. “Plus, it’s a more pleasant way to travel.”
For the best bang for your buck, Leffel recommends utilizing Rick Steves’ rail pass guide
to calculate what kind of pass you should get, which varies depending on number and length of trips.
Climb the Pyramids
You don't have to go to Cairo to experience what it feels like to stand in the shadow of a colossal pyramid. The Central Americas have their very own Mayan Pyramids, which means cheaper flights and relatively inexpensive lodging depending on where you stay.
Situated next to the crystal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula offers boutique hotels at fair prices, particularly in the small seaside town of Tulum, which is south of its rowdier cousin, Cancun. As breathtaking as the Tulum Ruins are—due in large part to their cliffside locale overlooking the Caribbean—day trips to more major archaeological sites, like Chichén Itzá, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, or the less excavated Coba Ruins, are recommended for those who want to see more of the ancient Mayan civilization.
Plus, if you're a history and a foodie, rest-assured that Mexico—along with Peru and Argentina—have become the clear leaders in the food world, provided you like beef, noted Leffel.
Entrance to Ruins: $3 to $10
Food: $50 to $100 per day for two
Lodging: $70 to $150 per night and up
Budget Travel Times: May, June
Travel Tip #4: Accommodating Accommodations
Many cities across the world today are home to some of our most-recognized hotel chains. If you want to experience a little bit of home even while abroad, you should certainly look into those options, which are still cheaper than what you would expect to be in the United States. However, if you're feeling adventurous, independent hotels are really where you can save, says Leffel. Just do your research and read candid reviews on sites like TripAdvisor.com
, and more often than not, you'll get just what you're looking for, savings and all.
Multigenerational travel has also become a huge trend, said Leffel, who suggests looking into renting a private home or apartment on sites like AirBnb.com
. “As opposed to a hotel with connecting rooms, you’ll be able to have more space, save more money, and have a more sane vacation,” he said.
City of Lights
Paris may still be considered the crème de la crème for many travelers, but it's often not the most affordable option. However, by booking travel in the shoulder seasons—spring or fall—you can still experience great weather, less-crowded attractions, and a little more bang for your buck. What's more, consider spending only one or two nights in Paris and then traveling through the French countryside. You'll not only have a more well-traveled and holistic view of French life, but you'll also be able to make those dollars stretch.
Food: $100 to $200 per day
Lodging: $126 to $274 per night and up
Budget Travel Time: Spring, Fall
Travel Tip #5: Travel Outside the Box
Take your trip on the road and research walking or biking tours that pique your interests. "There are even tours that are geared toward a unique culinary experience," says Leffel. "Bike tours are great for that. You can bike through smaller villages, eat homegrown food and meet local chefs. Plus, you can eat and then work it all off."
While Western Europe's crown jewels—France, Spain, and Italy—continue to beckon travelers of all ages, Europe's central and eastern countries, like Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and even Albania, are starting to experience a Renaissance of their own.
Albania, in particular, is off the radar, yet has an unexpectedly beautiful and well-preserved countryside that will leave any traveler marveling, "It's a mixture of different cultures with a lot of history, beautiful virgin forests, and a farm-table-dining mentality," says Leffel. What's more, since Albania and its Eastern brethren haven't made it to most travelers' bucket lists, they're nearly half—and in some cases three-quarters—cheaper than their more popular European cousins.
Food: $25 to $50 per day
Lodging: $25 to $150 per night and up
Budget Travel Time: May to June, September to October
Travel Tip #6: Take the Road(s) Less Traveled
It seems the citizens of the world are traveling more than ever, which means famous places are getting even more crowded, says Leffel. Whenever possible, look for alternatives to high-trafficked tourist locations. For example, if you need to see the Coliseum, go to Rome for a day but then decamp for the Italian countryside. You'll learn more about Italian culture and save money while you're at it.