Having traveled the world full-time for the past decade, I’ve been lucky enough to have seen some incredible destinations. I’ve also learned a thing or two about how to make the most of my budget while visiting them.
Budget travel isn’t about always seeking the cheapest option. For me, it’s more about getting the most for my money, whether that be accommodation, activities, or an evening out. Some destinations are downright cheap, while others provide unbeatable value for the kind of unique experience you can have there.
When it comes to getting a good deal, timing counts for a lot, as prices in most popular destinations fluctuate wildly depending on what time of year you visit. Even though summer can be the worst time financially to visit most places, for others, it’s going to provide you with the best opportunity to keep your costs down. Here are my favorite budget summer destinations for 2018. (See also: 5 of the Safest Countries to Visit in 2018)
Out of the 10 years that I’ve been traveling the world, two of them have been spent living in Grenada. Somehow I keep being pulled back to this tiny island in the West Indies. It’s a hugely popular destination for cruise ships stopping to tour some of the nearby islands, but there’s far more here to discover than could possibly be achieved in a few hours. From the stunning beaches and lush green landscapes, to the delicious food and lively nightlife, I can’t get enough of this place. It’s amazing that, despite its small size (the island is just 21 miles long), there are so many things to do in Grenada.
As with the rest of the Caribbean, late summer is actually a slow period with very few visitors due to it being the wet season. However, a little known secret is that Grenada lies just outside of the hurricane belt, meaning it tends not to get hit directly by the worst category five storms. You can expect around an hour of torrential rain each day, but other than that, it’s blue skies and sunshine all the way. The only difference is, you have fewer tourists to share it with.
The Caribbean isn’t your quintessential budget destination, and Grenada doesn’t necessarily buck the trend in that respect, with some activities and daily costs on the expensive side. But it is possible to visit without draining your bank account by eating at locally run food outlets, and staying away from high-end resorts. I’ve found listings for rooms in mid-range hotels available for as little as $100 per night. (See also: 9 Simple Ways to Save on Hotel Stays)
Just the mention of name Colombia strikes fear into the hearts of many people, thanks to its long association with the brutal drug trafficking cartels and guerrilla insurgencies that once brought the country to its knees. But Colombia has been working hard over the last couple of decades to shed that image, and it’s finally beginning to see the results of all of that effort. In general, Colombia is now an extremely safe place to visit and it’s cleaned up its act on multiple fronts, from toppling the most powerful drug cartels, to signing a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2016. (See also: 4 Affordable Destinations That Are Safer Than You Think)
I recently fell in love with this country. Highlights include the many beautiful landscapes that encompass modern cities like Medellin and Bogota, the Caribbean coastline in popular destinations such as the colorful Cartagena, and swathes of untouched rainforest including a section of the Amazon.
The climate varies throughout Colombia depending on where you are, but it’s always possible to enjoy sunshine and reasonable temperatures regardless of the time of year. Visiting outside of the peak months (between December and February) will mean cheaper prices and fewer crowds. If you can, skip the wet season in May, June, and July, and head there in late summer.
Round-trip flights to Medellin are available for around $300–$400 in the summer months with Miami, Orlando, and Fort Lauderdale being the cheapest departure destinations. For less than $70 per night I’ve found mid-range rooms on Booking.com, with high-end rooms available for a little over $100 per night. (See also: 10 Flight Booking Hacks to Save You Hundreds)
Thailand’s tourist numbers have continued to soar as it has advanced from being a backpacker’s haven into a full-blown behemoth of a tourist destination. In 2017, it attracted over 35 million travelers, and one of the reasons behind this success is that it caters to everyone, from those wanting five-star luxury to the more budget-conscious. It’s one of only a few places that I’ve visited on numerous occasions, and somewhere I love each time I go, knowing I can live extremely well without spending a fortune.
July to October isn’t the most popular time to visit because it’s the rainy season, but coming at this time of year actually has its advantages. It’s relatively easy to plan around the rain, and temperatures are still warm and welcoming. The lower visitor numbers also enable you to find cheaper prices on everything from hotel rooms to meals out, and there are far fewer crowds at even the biggest attractions.
In many ways, Thailand is the ultimate budget destination because basic living costs are extremely low, and even luxurious touches like spa days or cocktails in rooftop bars remain cheap. You can even enjoy a three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant for $20, so good living is guaranteed even on a budget.
Flights to Thailand’s capital Bangkok from Los Angeles with a stop are around $500 in summer. A room in a mid-level hotel will set you back around $60 per night with plenty of options available on Booking.com. (See also: 7 Countries Where You Can Travel on $30 a Day or Less)
When the rest of Europe is flooded with tourists and hotel prices begin to soar during the summer months, Bulgaria remains delightfully affordable. This is still the country’s busiest season; hotels and tours do book up, so it’s worth planning ahead. But Bulgaria offers such excellent value that even in peak season you can travel on less than $50 a day. (See also: 5 European Cities You Can Visit for $50 a Day)
The ancient city of Sofia has plenty to offer visitors. The city’s relics give visitors a glimpse at over 2,000 years of history, and the 1.2 million residents provide a thriving metropolis complete with a thumping nightlife, a great restaurant scene, and plenty of accommodation options.
For a bit of nature, head out to the Seven Rila Lakes area where there are countless hiking trails. The best time to visit this part of Bulgaria is in the middle of summer (July and August), when high temperatures hover around 75 degrees.
No trip to Bulgaria would be complete without a visit to Plovdiv, the nation’s second largest city and arguably its most charming. Here you can head out to the stunning vineyards that pepper the surrounding landscapes, enjoy summertime wine festivals and concerts, and get lost in the labyrinth of ancient cobblestone streets. There are so many things to do in Plovdiv that you may find yourself extending your visit.
5. South Africa
South Africa is enjoyable at any time of the year. And while flights there are not cheap (round-trip airfare between New York and Cape Town starts at around $1,200 in July), once you get there, it’s one of the cheapest destinations to visit thanks to a strong U.S. dollar.
Peak tourist season in this southern hemisphere nation tends to be during the summer months of December to March. June through August in South Africa is the dry season and winter. Prices are slightly lower during this period, but there’s no shortage of things to do.
My wife and I visited in June and July, and while the Southern Cape region was a bit chilly, we had spectacular weather. June is the start of the whale watching season along the Cape south coast. This is when southern right whales can be best viewed by land from Hermanus as they come close to the rocky shorelines to give birth. When we were there, we were just a few hundred feet away from dozens of breaching whales and baby calves.
The drier climate means that July and August are the best months for viewing wildlife in South Africa’s many national parks as they tend to congregate around diminishing waterholes.
September is the start of spring in South Africa. This is the time when flowers start to bloom across the Western and Northern Cape. And Namaqualand in the Northern Cape becomes carpeted in colorful flowers.
I recommend renting a car in South Africa and driving up and down the coast. There’s really no better way to explore this naturally blessed nation!