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How cheap is it? Very. Its largest city -- helpfully named Panama City -- is the world's third-cheapest major city. And it is major! Panama has the fastest growing economy in Latin America, with abundant new restaurants and luxury hotels; it's pretty much the most (and arguably only) truly global/metropolitan city in the region. And still a bunk in a cheap but well-reviewed and centrally located hostel will set you back only $14 per night, while those seeking luxury accommodations can stay at the damn Waldorf Astoria for $149 per. Which is stupid cheap, all things being relative. A public bus ride in the city is just 25 cents. You can eat on the cheap for under $20/day for all three squares if you hit up cafés for breakfast, the beach fish markets for lunch, and restaurants without English menus for dinner. Beers will cost you anywhere from $1.25 to $3 a pop. All in all, you're getting huge bang for your buck -- oh also literally your buck, as US currency is interchangeable with the Panamanian balboa.
Why: When it comes to cheap destinations, you can not beat Thailand. Phuket is a beautiful beach spot that is famously known for nice people, affordable hotels and amazing food. Low season is in the spring and winter. (Don't go during summer because it will rain everyday.) Once in Phuket, head to Patong beach at night: The nightlife is something to see, with loud music and constant entertainment. The next day you should head to Phuket Town. With its colorful buildings, Phuket Town looks like you stepped into Portugal. Stay at Andakira Hotel Patong for under $50 a night. Before you leave Phuket, make sure you take a ferry for around $30 roundtrip to the Phi Phi islands: It's a two-hour boat ride, but so worth it.
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Why: For an affordable and sun-soaked vacation, southern Portugal’s Algarve region should be hot on your radar. The city of Albufeira boasts a beautiful climate, fabulous beaches, inexpensive apartment-style hotels and a central location within the Algarve. There are over 100 different restaurants, bars and nightclubs, and Albufeira even has a charming Old Town with traditional Portuguese streets and plazas within the city center. The prices for both food and wine are extremely reasonable; be sure to sample the wines of Portugal. While summer remains the busiest and most popular time to visit, I love visiting in late spring — the weather is pleasant and sunny, there are fewer tourists and hotel rates are very affordable. Albufeira also offers easy access to nearby towns such as Loulé, with its famous market and an authentic slice of Portuguese culture. Rent a car to see the church of São Lourenço in Almancil, famous for its exquisite blue tile. Head north of Lagos to see Ponta da Piedade, with its towering red rock formations against the sea. Play a round of golf in one of the many beautiful courses in the Algarve. The place to stay: the Epic Sana Algarve overlooking Praia da Falésia, where you can bask in the sun at one of its five outdoor pools and indulge at the beautiful spa.
Just how cheap is it? Here $20 can last a day or even two if you’re feeling tapped. Your dream beach vacay awaits for lunch-money prices: In Goa, comfy waterfront bungalows go for around $30, but if you forgo housekeeping and some space, basic huts can be had for $15 (often, with breakfast). If you don’t mind skewing rustic, the beach town Gokarna, a two-hour train ride away, is even more budget-friendly. Rooms go for around $5 (a little run-down but clean), and you can shop flowy pants, dresses, and trinkets for $3 a pop, assuming your haggling is on-point.
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