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.
Oahu, known as "The Gathering Place," is the most populated area in the island chain. It's also home to some of the most recognizable landmarks in the world like Diamond Head, the world-famous Waikiki Beach, and Pearl Harbor. Most people think of Honolulu, Oahu's largest city and state capitol, as a metropolitan with global flavor, but just a few miles outside of the city limits, quieter getaways can be found. Read more about Oahu
Why: This small island nation is easy on the wallet and big on experiences. I came here on a three-week tour expecting to be a beach bum, but instead, found so much more: delicious (albeit spicy) food, stunning ancient rock formations in Sigiriya, surfing at Arugam Bay, and some of the most physically rewarding hikes I’ve ever done. Climbing to the top of Adam’s Peak and (barely) surviving the 5,500 steep stairs that make up this pilgrimage, with the help of a friend and a monk, taught me some inner lessons about strength and power. Don’t miss a chance to visit Ella, a small mountain town with a laid-back hippy vibe, accessible via a scenic train ride from Kandy that will cost you less than $10 and bring you past stunning tea plantations. The real magic of the country is outside of Colombo, but since your flight will always begin/end here, I strongly recommend starting your trip with a stay at Penthouse Above Sea ($100 a night). The amazing woman who runs this property can help you plan your time in the country.
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.
While hotel prices might be cheaper in underrated locales, you do need to be aware that flight prices might be more expensive – and possibly at less convenient times with more stops – if it’s not a common route. For example, an August flight from Minneapolis to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil might cost around $857, but a flight at the same time from Minneapolis to La Paz, Bolivia costs $1,177. The distance is nearly identical, though most flights to La Paz require at least two (and, in many cases, three) stops, whereas there are flights available from Minneapolis to Rio de Janeiro with only one stop.
Up in Tennessee, “Music City” is calling your name, and you can’t help but listen! This country music city feels like a small town—and its siren call resonates with those looking for simpler times and Johnny Cash cover bands. You can spend your Nashville vacation taking in performance after performance at the Grand Ole Opry, but leave time for the art collection at the Parthenon at Centennial Park.
Why: Okay, you may be thinking, “Isn’t Saint Martin/Sint Maarten destroyed?” Yes, this unique Caribbean island, which is half French (Saint Martin) and half Dutch (Sint Maarten), was devastated by Hurricane Irma. But now it’s on the mend. Saint Martin’s famed Princess Juliana International Airport has been open since late October 2017. The majority of the island’s electricity has been restored, and many beaches, bars, restaurants and businesses have reopened their doors. Because tourists are still wary, many hotels have discounted rates (like Hotel Mercure for $169 night) as well as gorgeous Airbnb properties starting at $50 a night. It’s a win-win. Not only will you save money, but your money will be spent on businesses and people who really need our help.
Why: With its East-meets-West charm, this remnant of the Ottoman Empire in the heart of Europe embodies a truly authentic experience. If you are looking to get away from all things commercial and eat some organic/non-GMO (and delicious) foods, you’ve come to the right place. The stunning old town is made of winding streets paved with cobblestones and is known for its medieval arched bridge (Star Most) that towers across the crystal cool waters of the Neretva River.
Vacation rental prices vary as much as hotel prices. Case in point: A search of one-bedroom vacation rentals in Manhattan during September results in options ranging from $60 per night to $2,800 per night. Vacation rentals are ideal for longer stays (seven nights or more). Many vacation rentals require minimum stays, so if you’re hoping for a weekend getaway, you may have to look elsewhere.
Why: Traveling through Central Asia is, in many ways, the ultimate adventure. The infrastructure, though slowly modernizing, isn’t quite there yet, but the scenery and culture are unmatched. I loved every minute of Uzbekistan—the blend of Persian and Soviet influence, the culture, the food, the magnificently preserved religious sites in Samarkand and Bukhara, sleeping in a yurt camp under the stars — it all made for an experience I’ll never forget. Uzbekistan is also fantastically affordable, after you’ve paid the visa fee ($160 for United States citizens). Most hotel stays are under $100, save for the brand-new Hyatt Regency Tashkent (roughly $240 a night), which is worth the splurge. I highly recommend using a company like Kalpak Travel to help you book your trip, as independent travel can be a bit tricky in Uzbekistan and they’re experts in this region.
Package vacations are a great choice for effortless traveling, as they are quick and easy to book and ensure that everything will be taken care of for you. For example, if your flight is canceled, it’s the travel provider’s job to find a new flight for you. You can rest easy knowing that your vacation will be stress-free and you are protected in case of changes to your itinerary.