From the Philippines to Armenia, this year’s list of the best budget travel destinations has something for every kind of traveler.
Whether you want to relax in Zanzibar or sample the cuisine of Malaysia, budget travel in 2019 is all about cheap destinations that offer an outsized experience.
I’ve been doing this list for Forbes for five years now and in the spirit of keeping things fresh, I switched up the format and asked all my travel experts to name two places: a destination with a nostalgic draw and somewhere they visited recently that they are telling all their friends about.
The goal is to highlight budget travel destinations that are a bit off-the-beaten path. They don’t necessarily have to be cheap destinations but they should be places where you can vacation without breaking the bank. That could be a country where Americans have strong purchasing power or a place that is far away but offers a good value in terms of experience.
So, without further ado, here is the official list of best budget travel destinations for 2019 from some of my favorite travel experts. All responses are in their own words.*
1. San Antonio, Texas, the United States of America
Whether you’re craving Tex-Mex or authentic Mexican food, San Antonio has it. Before my family could afford international destinations, we’d road trip from Houston to San Antonio for the weekend. From strolling along the San Antonio River Walk to chasing thrills at Six Flags Fiesta Texas, we always had a blast. There are also plenty of historic sites that you can visit like the San Fernando Cathedral, which hosts nightly light shows at no cost.
If you find yourself visiting San Antonio during the weekend, be sure to wander through the farmer’s market at the Pearl Brewery. After graduating from college, I spent two years living in San Antonio and the Pearl Brewery was the first stop for my out-of-town visitors.
2. Puebla, Mexico
I spent a month traveling throughout Mexico last January and I found Puebla to be a pleasant surprise. The city is a UNESCO heritage site and it’s easy to see why. Architecture lovers could spend days exploring the historical center and marveling at what seems like an endless amount of churches.
Despite this being Mexico’s fourth largest city, you’ll hardly see any other tourists. It felt like I had the place all to myself. It’s one of those cities where you can just soak in the tranquil atmosphere. The region is known for its Mole sauce, which you can’t miss while visiting.
Ciara Johnson is a blogger, writer, and full-time traveler from Houston, TX. When she’s not on the road, she’s laughing with friends, watching documentaries and eating Chipotle. You can follow her travels on Instagram or at www.heyciara.com.
3. Hawaii, the USA
I go to Hawaii every year. I’ve been going for years and love all of the islands. Flights to Hawaii from the mainland are generally pretty cheap, especially in the past few years. Although it isn’t the most inexpensive when you arrive, it is well worth it because you get the South Pacific feel with the comforts of America… and a shorter plane flight.
I particularly recommend Maui, perhaps my favorite places in the world, and the little visited island of Lanai. For golf lovers I’d recommend the Four Seasons at Lanai.
4. St. Helena
I visited St. Helena earlier this year and it blew my mind. It’s a trek to get there in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean but it’s a relatively cheap destination once you arrive. It’s very off-the-beaten path, but with great hiking, fascinating English mixed with island culture, good food and even the world’s most remote golf course. The airport alone makes it worth a visit as they basically shaved down a mountain to make it possible. St. Helena is probably not on your short list but it should be on your bucket list.
Lee Abbamonte has traveled to every country in the world as well as both the North and South Poles. Dubbed the “Marco Polo of the 21st Century” by Arthur Frommer, he is a multimedia travel expert, national television personality and adventurer. Lee has appeared on CNN, Fox News and the Travel Channel, as well as the New York Times, USA Today and Washington Post. Follow his adventures on Instagram.
5. Province of Laguna, the Philippines
I’ve traveled to 121 countries in the world but I’ll always be proud to say that I grew up here! The Philippines is already popular because of our white sand beaches in Palawan, Cebu or Boracay; the surfing in Siargao, the mountains in the north but Laguna Province is less well-known.
If you have a few days stopover in Manila, I’d recommend a visit to the Province of Laguna. It has hot springs as well as San Pablo City, also known as the City of Seven Lakes. My favorite lakes to visit are Pandin Lake and Yambo Lake. Most of these attractions are easily accessed by car rental or taking the local public transportation called tricycle, which costs less than $10.
I might be biased, but if you live in the Province of Laguna, or even visit, consider yourself blessed! You get to experience and enjoy the fresh air, the wonderful structures, great delicacies and warmth of the people in the province.
6. The Balkan Peninsula
We all think Europe is expensive but I beg to disagree. Traveling around Europe doesn’t need to cost you an arm, a leg and perhaps a kidney. If you want to experience Europe on a budget, I’d recommend exploring the Balkan Peninsula. Croatia is the most popular Balkan country and can be expensive so I’d recommend starting a trip around the Balkan Peninsula in Herceg Novi, Montenegro. From there you can cross the border and travel by bus to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I spent five days in Montenegro last year and I felt like it was never enough. We went on a boat tour to Perast, Porto Montenegro, Our Lady of the Rocks and wrapped up the trip by kayaking and paddle boarding on the beach nearby. Other fun activities include paragliding and diving. The best part is that all of these activities are way cheaper compared to other European cities.
After having travelled the world, Kach Howe is the writer and online entrepreneur behind Two Monkeys Travel and Mr and Mrs Howe, with her husband Jonathan. Together, they’ve visited 80 countries and seven continents (including Antarctica!), but they are in the midst their biggest adventure yet: living and exploring the seas on their 37 foot sailboat, SV Empress. Follow their epic journey on Instagram.
7. Agra, India
Home to the Taj Mahal, Agra is on many traveler’s lists. And although it costs around $43 to enter, the surrounding area is relatively inexpensive.
It is definitely a well-known destination, so if you want your Taj Mahal shot, be sure to go in the morning. Considered to be the jewel of Islamic art in India, it was built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his wife – likely one of the biggest declarations of love in the world.
8. Budapest, Hungary
This Eastern European country is home to many universities and travelers can feel the student atmosphere throughout. The red bricked city offers culture, amazing parks and greenery.
World traveler, chocolate enthusiast and Sikh activist Harjinder Singh Kukreja jets around the globe with his family of four. Follow his delicious adventures on Instagram.
9. Buenos Aires, Argentina
There is no city in the world as intoxicating as Buenos Aires. The streets are lined with grand European-style architecture, cozy cafes and endless parks. The staples of life in this budget friendly city are steak, wine, empanadas and ice cream.
I fell so in love with Buenos Aires on my first visit in 2015 that I came back two months later. In January 2018, I returned to my favorite city for a month to work on my first book project and escape the American winter. Three cheers for the Southern Hemisphere.
10. Gobi Desert, Mongolia
My obsession with the remote corners of the globe led me to Mongolia this year. I spent two glorious weeks bumping around in the back of a blue Russian van named Boris. To cut down the cost of our tour to $50 a day, I asked my guide to find other travelers to join us and made a great group of new friends!
Through the windshield, we watched as paved roads faded into dirt tracks and the scenery transformed from the barren Gobi Desert to lush green forests. We had the place to ourselves a majority of the time even though it was peak tourist season. Mongolia is one of my top five trips of all time and despite the distance, cheaper than a summer trip to Europe.
Anna Mazurek is a freelance photographer and writer based in Austin, Texas. For more about Anna, check out her new book Good With Money: A Guide to Prioritizing Spending, Maximizing Savings and Traveling More and follow her adventures on Instagram, Twitter and on her blog, TravelLikeAnna.com.
11. South Africa
I was blown away by the beauty of South Africa. It’s a very diverse place in terms of its nature, people and activities. One day we were hiking up in the mountain and the next day we were diving with sharks in the Atlantic Ocean.
Coming from Dubai, I was so surprised by the extreme low cost of Uber and transport there. The food is also fairly inexpensive, as well as delicious. If I could, I would visit South Africa every year.
Zanzibar is one of my favorite destinations! I am so in love with the ocean there and the people. Zanzibaris are so much fun and friendly. While there are expensive resorts there, you can still find some inexpensive bed & breakfasts and hostels in Stone Town that allow you to be right next to the Indian Ocean, where all the restaurants and fun is.
Haifa Besseisso is a Palestinian YouTuber based in Dubai. Her viral videos aim to bridge the east and the west, and are scripted in both English and Arabic. Follow her adventures around the world on Instagram and on her YouTube channel, Fly with Haifa.
Set in the Caucasus Mountains, Armenia is a hidden gem that’s still untouched by mass tourism , and yet has so much to offer: rich history, wineries, impressive landscapes, ancient monasteries and breathtaking mountains as far as your eyes can see. The capital, Yerevan, is a lively city with wide avenues, delicious restaurants, museums and street markets selling local handicrafts.
Because of my Armenian heritage, I grew up on delicious Armenian food. Some of my favorite local dishes include dolma, khorovats or barbequed meat, and local cheeses with lavash bread. For wine lovers, Armenia is the perfect place to try wines made from different fruits such as pomegranate (Armenia’s national symbol), blackberries and cherries.
Outside of the capital is picturesque nature. You can pay a visit to the oldest winery in the world in Areni, stop by stunning monasteries, or check out the oldest cathedral in the world in Etchmiadzin.
Serbia is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. It’s one of those places that has such an amazing energy that it leaves you wanting more.
In the bustling city of Belgrade, there is something happening every hour of every day. The streets are filled with amazing restaurants, cute cafes, bars and clubs. The friendly locals are always out and about. You will find people of all ages enjoying the outdoor cafes and drinking rakija (the national drink of Serbia). The restaurants have a great mix of both local and international dishes, and are great for trying new dishes. I’d recommend komplet lepinja, cevapi and karađorđeva šnicla.
The nightlife in Serbia is one of a kind. There are floating bars and clubs along the Danube riverbank. Parties go on till the early morning hours.
Asdghik Melkonian comes from a diverse multi-cultural background, which got her jet setting from a very young age. After working in the corporate world for years, she quit her job to follow her passion for travel. Her blog, The Jetsetter Diaries, is a travel and lifestyle blog featuring luxurious getaways, adventure trips and stylish travel tips. She currently travels full-time and runs her blog as her business from different parts of the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.
15. Transylvania, Romania
Home to myths and some of the world’s most hospitable locals, Transylvania is a budget traveler’s dream destination. The stunning Carpathian mountains offer the perfect backdrop to one of Europe’s often overlooked regions.
Transylvania was the first real “culture shock” trip for me. While the military prepared me for war zones, I wasn’t prepared for roaming packs of sheep, beautifully preserved castles, the hospitality of the Roma peoples and some of the strongest spirits I’ve ever had. It was cultural immersion at its finest.
Being relegated to the stuff of legends has allowed Transylvania to develop a unique and authentic culture. Guests can experience Romania’s roots free of the mass commercialization, and the high prices, that we see in more popular European destinations. From sampling local dishes like ciorbă, mici and palinka, to skiing in Sinai, you’ll have a wide range of budget-friendly activities to keep you entertained. The country is a yearly destination for me and part of the reason might just be the food.
16. George Town, Penang, Malaysia
George Town is one of those cities that took me completely by surprise. A last-minute itinerary change brought me to George Town for what I planned to be a two-day stopover. It quickly turned into 2 weeks.
A mixture of cultures, cuisines and architecture come together to create an atmosphere that on paper shouldn’t work but somehow does. Chinese, Indian, Malay and British influences can be seen at every turn you make in this Penang Island UNESCO World Heritage Site. What makes George Town stand out are the quarters that make up the city, each one boasting a distinct community and history, all linked together by the beautiful street art found throughout.
With a diverse population, beautiful culture and amazing food, George Town is a perfect addition to anyone’s travel bucket list.
Erick Prince is a travel journalist and photographer on a quest to be the first African American to visit every country in the world. A military veteran, Prince believes in the power of travel to change lives. Follow his journey on Instagram or on his blog, Minority Nomad.
17. Moscow, Russia
I visited Moscow twice for the World Cup and their supposedly inflated prices for the competition still didn’t warrant it being expensive. The city offers plenty to see. A must-visit is Lenin’s Mausoleum, the former Soviet Leaders resting place. Throw in the city’s cover photo (Saint Basil’s Cathedral), and the famous Kremlin and you’ve already got a full day covered.
Moscow, like the rest of Russia, has a stereotype of being a bitterly cold destination. That is true during the winter months, with temperatures reaching well below zero degrees Celsius. Yet, a winter break is one of the best times to visit, thanks to the fairytale setting that the laying snow creates. During the summer, you can expect steady sunshine and clear skies so put on your shades, grab a bliny and wander around the Red Square with ease.
18. Taipei, Taiwan
The capital of Taiwan is growing in popularity in East Asia but often goes un-noticed by the masses. In comparison to Hong Kong or Tokyo, Japan, think of Taipei as the quieter kid on the block. With some of the best food markets in the whole of Asia, buzzing shopping districts like Xiamen and the stunning nearby Yangminshan National Park, Taipei offers something for everyone.
Pro tip: Taipei won’t break the bank but don’t expect this to be as cheap as Vietnam.
*For a few of my contributors, English is a second language and their responses were edited accordingly.
If you want additional #travelinspiration, here are lists from other years. Happy exploring!