Savour every centimetre of that shoestring with these budget-friendly boltholes, perfect for an economic downturn-busting break. This article is an excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2013.
If you’ve an unfulfilled plan to visit Rio de Janeiro’s beaches and iconic landmarks then this may be the year to do it. After 2013 the big events come thick and fast – the football World Cup in 2014 (also taking place in cities around Brazil), then the Olympic Games in 2016. One thing’s for sure: big-name events bring fresh development, a boost to infrastructure and, in many cases, higher prices for visitors. Come now to see a city in the process of gearing up to welcome the world, but before the costs of doing so rise. Indeed, if you visit during June you can be among the first to check out the recently upgraded Estádio do Maracanã, the world-famous venue that is slated to host not only the World Cup Final in 2014 but also the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics and Paralympics.
There’s good value in Sweden if you know where to look. That said, if you don’t, even popping out for a pizza and beer can make for a pricey night by the standards of your home town. Unless, that is, you’re from Norway. Either way, the savvy traveller makes tracks for Gothenburg. Away from the glitzy main drag Kungsportsavenyn (referred to as Avenyn by everyone) are characterful neighbourhoods (hello, Haga and, a little outside town, Kvarnbyn), cheap eats and some great attractions, including edgy art space Röda Sten and picnic-friendly city views in Keillers Park. If that wasn’t enough, ferries trundling round the beautiful, car-free southern archipelago are a tram ride from the city centre. In short, this is as much Scandinavia as you can get for your money.
Namibia beckons those in search of a good deal. While neighbouring Botswana courts the big-budget traveller, the desert state to the west welcomes all, and offers a spectacular set of attractions to boot. True, you need your own wheels or must join a tour to see some of the wonders on offer like Etosha National Park and the Skeleton Coast, but Namibia’s big-ticket draws remain affordable for budget and midrange visitors via locally arranged tours or self-drive car hire. Towns and cities, many offering keenly priced hostels and campsites, are linked by inexpensive buses and minivans. Some of the most fun things you can do here – sandboarding around Swakopmund and hiking Fish River Canyon, for instance – are also some of the best-value outdoor pursuits in Southern Africa.
While perhaps not the whoops-of-delight-inducing bargain it was a decade ago, Cambodia is still a great deal. This means that despite the boom in the number of midrange hotels in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in particular, a huge amount of budget accommodation remains at much lower prices. The imaginative visitor to the country exploring less-well-visited parts will find it easy to afford that extra Angkor beer or three. A budget of US$15 is tight but achievable, provided you forgo a room with air-con and don’t dwell for too long in the headline destinations.
South America’s best-value option continues to delight travellers. With public transport as cheap as anywhere on the continent, filling street food (another empanada? Don’t mind if I do!), and good-for-the-money excursions, this country is more than a bridge between the east and west coasts, it is an essential journey in itself. True, things are a little more expensive in La Paz and must-visit Uyuni, but away from here set-menu meals will rarely tip over US$5, budget rooms are not much more than double that and, should those chilly Altiplano nights require a higher standard of accommodation, you may find that you still leave for a pricier neighbour with a smile on your face.
Portland, Oregon, USA
Travel writers speak with one voice when asked to nominate their fave US cheapie: Portland, OR. Cheap food! Free things to do! Forty breweries (and counting) with pints of perfectly crafted beer often costing US$4! Yes, budget-conscious but still fashionably minded travellers may have reached the promised land in Portland, Oregon. The city has been thrust into the limelight by the Portlandia TV series, but was hardly unknown before, offering as it does a progressive take on urban life in a part of the Pacific Northwest that’s best appreciated slowly.
Spain has been getting much friendlier for budget travellers in the past few years, as currency fluctuations and falling costs for many items have combined to make what was once Europe’s best bet for a cheap break a contender once again for many international travellers. Presumably if you’re reading this you’re not really the fly-and-flop type, but the wonders of Spain’s cities, wilder north coast and fabulous national parks are more affordable now than for the past few years. Anywhere in Spain, to make your money go as far as possible live without a pool, go easy on the wine and extra courses when eating out and visit outside peak season, when price hikes remain a fact of life.
It’s tempting to leave this as one sentence: Slovenia is as picture-perfect as Switzerland or other Alpine areas to the north, but much smaller and easier on the wallet. Yes, there’s devil in the detail – the adoption of the Euro and popularity of Ljubljana, Bled and coastal areas in summer can push prices up – but that’s hardly the point. Small distances keep travel costs down, and buses radiating out of Ljubljana are plentiful and inexpensive. Private rooms offer affordable accommodation and anyone arriving from Austria or Italy will notice the difference in hotel prices at all budgets. If you’re keen on trekking, skiing, rafting or simply taking in the scenery of one of Europe’s most attractive countries then Slovenia will not disappoint.
With visitor numbers steadily rising, Nepal remains a tremendous option for budget travellers. After all, the number of countries where you can live on the price of a Starbucks latte or two are diminishing rapidly. Sure, to do that you’ll need to stay in budget accommodation somewhere other than Kathmandu and resolutely stick to simple local food, but many consider this a price worth paying for paying a low price. Though costs rise once you enter national parks, if you’re up for trekking on your own and staying in teahouses, Nepal is not only the best-value spot for Himalayan hiking, it must be a contender for offering the most astonishing rewards for the least upfront investment of anywhere in the world. In fact, this remains true even if you factor in a porter and guide and opt for an organised trek.
Georgia is, like its Caucasian neighbours, little known to most travellers. Those who do go come back raving about a beautiful, friendly country that offers excellent, inexpensive (though potentially waist-expanding) cuisine, typified by the near-universal khachapuri (cheese pie). In recent years the country has been speeding up its tourism development, resulting in a growing number of good-value hostels and homestays, which are great ways to meet locals as well as keep costs down. Look out for August if you’re hitting Batumi or elsewhere on the Black Sea coast, but otherwise anytime is a good time to visit this up-and-coming destination where even a bus, train or marshrustka minibus ride will give jaw-dropping views worth far more than the meagre fare you’re likely to be charged.