According to USA Today, the Better Business Bureau files well over 1,000 complaints in a single year from victims of “free” cruise scams. Other “too good to be true” deals may not be actual scams, but may require you to participate in a sales presentation, commonly for a time-share. Be alert, be skeptical, and be willing to put in the time to verify anything that doesn’t feel right.
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.
How cheap is it? Mexico’s huge, it’s right next door, and each of its 31 states has something to offer. You’re gonna take your best cheap shot? Aim for the mezcal and gastronomy capital: Oaxaca, in the south. In the capital, Oaxaca de Juarez, feast on the regional specialty: tlayudas, an oversized crisp tortilla heated on a grill, topped with lard, beans, veggies, salsa, and meat, (think combination of pizza and taco in the best possible way). It is to be eaten from a street vendor in the early hours after a night of drinking, and will set you back all of $4. For daytime noshing the markets are stacked with small vendors who serve sublime homemade moles that cost around $8 for a full portion including rice and soup. Lodging is cheaper than a movie ticket in the States; Hostel Don Nino alongside Parque Llano charges $14 per night, which includes Wi-Fi, a computer station, filtered water, clean showers, and breakfast. For free activities, there are plenty of colorful markets to stroll and art galleries to wander. The ruins of Monte Albán and the ancient Tule Tree cost around $20 for round-trip transportation plus entrance.
Just how cheap is it? Poland’s economy is swinging upward, but the price of traveling here is still indulgently cheap compared to other EU countries (that could change, though, so don’t dally). In its bigger cities -- Warsaw, Kraków, Wrocław -- you can get a centrally located, one bedroom Airbnb for $30 all to your lonesome. Polish food is notoriously cheap and filling, especially if you’re dining on pierogi and goulash in no-frills milk bars (cafeteria-like relics of Communist times). In Warsaw, you could ball out on craft cocktails at bijou bars (or just drink $1 Polish beers and vodka shots for that matter). Or treat yourself to a two Michelin star meal at Atelier Amaro, where the six-course meal is a reasonable $70.
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.
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