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.
By placing an item in your cart, the company can tell that you’re in the market. This makes you an incredibly valuable potential customer, and it doesn’t want to miss out on your business. If you entered an email address, watch your email over the next couple of days to see if the company has taken the bait. And don’t forget to either follow through with the purchase or clear your cart after a few days so you don’t make an accidental purchase down the road.
Why: You’ve heard of the French Polynesian islands of Bora Bora and Tahiti, but there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Mo’orea. Why? Well, it’s known as “The World’s Most Beautiful Island You’ve Never Heard Of.” And that is great for the wallet! You can find great deals on Airbnb starting at $40 a night and five-star hotels at $200. For example, the InterContinental in Bora Bora averages at $1000 a night, while the Intercontinental Mo’orea is around $250. The water is warm and crystal clear, providing you with a lot of free fun. If you want to do more organized tours, Tahiti Legends and Tahiti.com offer many at $50 per person. Like most French Polynesian islands, food is expensive, but there are many grocery stores on the island that sell sandwiches for as low as $3. If you want to splurge on a romantic dinner, many restaurants offer free shuttle service to and from hotels. The best part? Mo’orea is really easy to get to from the U.S. It’s a quick 30-minute ($15) ferry ride from Papeete, Tahiti, whose airport offers direct flights from many cities in the U.S.
Why: Moab, Utah is a great place to travel to if you are looking to explore the outdoors. There are two national parks in this town — Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park, along with state parks and lots of recreational land all over. You can camp for free in many different areas around town, or there are also hotels and Airbnbs. If you like to camp, then like I said, you can camp for free in a beautiful place with a mountain or canyon view. An affordable way to see Moab is to stay in one of its many cabins. For example, you can stay at Archview RV Park in a basic Camping Cabin with two beds for just $78 a night. In Moab, there is an endless amount of activities. You can go rock climbing, rafting, kayaking, explore the national parks, skydive, off-road (you can rent Jeeps and go off roading if you don't have your own), camp and more. My favorite tour is the river raft trip with Canyon Voyages.
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.
Just how cheap is it? Bulgaria’s capital Sofia is the girls’ getaway paradise you never knew existed, where full-body waxes run about $20 and the full-meal deal of manis, pedis, and haircuts are much cheaper (because Bulgarian women like looking on fleek). A three-course dinner plus vino also shouldn’t cost more than $20 (and the local cuisine here is known to be hearty). Despite its post-Communist exterior, Sofia is also incredibly modern, and you’ll be able to find international bites from tapas to sushi.
Why: Oaxaca de Juarez is one of the most beautiful destinations to travel to in Mexico. Colorful markets, charming architecture, cobblestone streets, fun festivals and delicious food are just part of the attraction. Stroll through Oaxaca’s main square, the Zócalo, and relax at a café, people watch and be entertained by dancers and singers in the evenings. Just a few minutes walk from the square is the Mercado Benito Juárez, where you’ll find embroidered goods and straw baskets. Continue walking the pedestrian street called Calle Macedonio, where you’ll find art galleries, cafes, shops and boutique hotels. Visit the Santo Domingo de Guzmán church and monastery that dates back to 1555. Don’t Miss the Museum of Oaxacan Cultures, where you can see the treasures found on Mont Alban — the skull covered in turquoise, carved jaguar bones, gold jewelry and ornaments for a nominal fee. Hungry? Stop by at the food market 20 de Noviembre, where you’ll find piles of fried grasshoppers (chapulines) and Oaxaca cheeses, tamales, meat-filled tortillas, tlayudas, chocolates, coffees and seven types of mole. Get a taste of local dishes at food stalls for under $5 or free Mezcal tastings at Mezcaloteca. It’s easy to find your way around this town, but if you prefer to join a guided walking tour, contact Enjoy Oaxaca — they offer several tours from city tours to day trips to see Mont Alban, Mitla Ruins, Hierve el Agua bubbling springs and the petrified waterfall, as well as cooking classes and many festival tours including the Day of the Dead. Where to Stay? There are several boutique hotels and quaint B&B’s in town. You can reserve a room at Parador San Miguel Oaxaca for as low as $86 per night.
Why: The second largest city in Morocco, Fez has an enchanting souk, lively markets, fascinating leather tanneries (which you can sniff out before you see) and quaint cafes serving Moroccan mint tea and local pastries. Fez is also filled to the brim with palatial riads, Moroccan homes built around a central courtyard or garden, which feature cozy rooms and rooftop terraces where you can relax after a walk through the bustling labyrinth of alleyways right outside your front door. Prices for a double room in a riad can be as low as 550 dirhams ($60), while a tangine dinner is around 50 dirhams ($6). Step inside a medersa, a theological college, to marvel at the splendid architecture and tilework and get a scrub at a hammam for a fraction of the cost of a spa in the U.S.