17 Destinations for Backpacking on a Budget in 2020
Summer’s a time to get out and see new things while the weather is warm in most of the world. With summer comes high season in a lot of destinations, and with high season comes higher prices. Minding your money is a challenge within itself, so why make it harder by going places that are expensive?
The question remains, though: How can you avoid peak season costs, get a bang for your buck and also have a great time? Read on, and you’ll see our top ideas for where’s best to take a trip while hacking your budget.
Let your budget take you far in Myanmar
We wished we could have traveled for longer all over Myanmar. This is a country where a budget of USD 35 per day (*on average) got us private spacious rooms with big beds in hostels like Baobabed Inle Lake, cocktails on rooftop bars in Yangon and private tuk-tuk tours in the temples of Bagan.
Scenery in Myanmar is truly stunning, and we didn’t see the half of it because the country is so big. We stuck to the triangle of major traveler destinations and found lots of safety, comfort and friendliness from locals.
Learn about our logic for exchanging or withdrawing at local ATMs with our travel money tips and tricks guide.
Go backpacking in Medellin and Guatape, Colombia
Medellin is known as having ‘eternal spring,’ meaning it’s slightly cooler in Northern Hemisphere winter time, and a bit warmer in summer. As for rainfall, it’s slightly “lower” in fall (September - December), but, as it rains mostly every day anyway, every month of the year is a fair time to visit Medellin and the surrounding region.
Despite what you may have heard, Medellin is an awesome place to be as a traveller, from heaps of types of accommodation for every budget, to delicious food options ranging from Colombian to other types of South American for every taste bud. You can eat great early, late and for inexpensive prices. One of our favorite things to do is to try Colombian coffee at some of our favorite cafes near El Poblado and take the free city walking tour.
As for the rest of the region and to get out of the city, two of our favorite weekend or two-day breaks are Guatape and Santa Fe de Antioquia. Guatape is easy to get to from Medellin and even if you don’t speak Spanish, people will help you navigate the bus station.
Santa Fe de Antioquia is also a simple bus ride away, and we recommend staying in a hostel with a pool so that you can cool off from the year-round heat and sun!
Search for your Latin soul in Argentina
It happens to be an interesting time to visit Argentina, as the currency recently became favorable to holders of the US Dollar. Argentina’s peso has fallen very sadly and incredibly against the USD, giving Americans lots of unexpected buying power in this otherwise slightly-pricey country for travelers.
Among some chilled-out things we have done in Argentina are exploring the cafe scene in Buenos Aires and walking for miles soaking in lots of the free sights of the downtown areas and cool neighborhoods.
If you venture westward toward Cordoba and the Sierra region, you’ll find that Cordoba, Argentina’s “second city,” has some unique things to do that travelers often overlook, and you can rent a car to road trip to small towns with scenic views.
Watch summer sunsets in Porto, Portugal
We found Porto to be an absolutely wonderful place to be in summer, with late sunsets, great weather (most of the time) and friendly locals. In summer, it’s a great time to picnic in Porto and watch the sunset near Gaia, or walk for hours seeing the different neighborhoods and beautiful tiled buildings.
For us, the highlights of Porto were all the places to see architecture, the trendy cafes, the views from Dom Luís I Bridge and the hilly streets of Ribeira. Oh, and don’t forget the national artistic treasures all over the São Bento Train Station.
We loved Porto and wished we had more time during summer to explore the nature not too far away. We continued on to the capital city of Lisbon, just a train ride away (book in advance for sure!).
Experience island life in Tenerife, Canary Islands
In going back to Spain, we had no idea what to expect from Tenerife, a volcanic island famed for Carnival and the highest point in all of Spain, El Teide. Summer is a great time to go, as rainfall is typically lowest during summer months, and this will be a pretty great time to travel there and enjoy the nature!
To get there, we had a layover and quick stop in Madrid that got our rusty Spanish back for the next few days we’d have in the Canary Islands. In Tenerife, we spent some time in the absolutely lovely and relaxing town of La Orotava, working our legs on the hilly streets.
Tenerife has its own culture that’s similar yet different to that of mainland Spain. There are interesting outside influences (like an accent influenced by Cubans) and local cuisine as well.
For a coliving experience, if you’re traveling while working remotely or looking to stay in a house among some experienced travelers with a professional mindset, check out Nine Coliving, which was by far the best thing that happened to us in Tenerife!
With more time, you can island hop to Gran Canaria, which is worth a visit to see some awesome sand dunes in the south and the spectacular views along the roads in the southwest.
Explore Peru (and skip Machu Picchu - wait, really?)
Peru is an affordable destination for travel if you skip the hyped super-touristy path that has now become a mainstay in ‘wonders of the world’ and bucket lists. Peru is much more than Machu Picchu, which has come to be such a bucket-list item that you’ll find long lines, strict rules and crowds.
So, what to do in Peru, and why should you go there? Peru is massive, and for that reason, it can’t possibly be all touristy. Get out to places like Arequipa, Iquitos, Mancora, Huaraz and Puno, if you want to skip Cusco, with its higher prices geared toward foreign tourists.
In Lima alone you can see authentic Peruvian-Chinese culture, a city park with rainbow fountains and heaps of other things to do in Lima on a modest budget like trying ceviche, ice cream made from local fruits and beer bars in Miraflores.
Enjoy the long summer days in Tallinn, Estonia
All of Tallinn, Estonia, was like a big surprise for us. This charming city seems best to enjoy during summer, when the sun sets as late as 10:45 pm! (And you better have blackout curtains, because it rises at 4 am in July!).
Around the summer solstice, Estonians (and other cultures in the region, from Finland to Latvia) celebrate the Midsummer Festival, which means people take off from work, go to spend some time in the countryside and party all night (which is very short, because of how little darkness there is).
In Tallinn, walking around the compact Old Town is a great way to see architecture, history and lots of food, pubs and cafes. We stayed at Tallinn’s most musical hostel and found the city’s best cafes for digital nomads.
What we also liked about the Baltic region, especially in summer, is that it was easy (and picturesque!) to get from Estonia to Latvia. With the stops along the way, we saw all the greens and other colors of Estonia (and the north of Latvia) that we had yet to see because we hadn’t left the Tallinn metro area.
Get adventurous in all of Sri Lanka
All of Sri Lanka is affordable as a destination and all of Sri Lanka is good for all-year travel. We went in the middle of July, expecting rain showers or monsoons, but we got lucky, and you can, too! There are a few things to know about Sri Lanka, so it pays to see if this is a good place for you and your travel style.
Sri Lanka is an island near India and it’s a fascinating country where the people are peaceful and kind. It has lots of sub-climates, so it’s hot all year round on the coasts, and pretty moderate, to even chilly, in the center where the altitudes get higher. Because of Sri Lanka’s location, it has two rainy seasons - at one point in the year, the East has rain, and at one point, the West does.
Again, summer was a fine time to go to Sri Lanka (and winter is as well). During July, we experienced rain no more than twice, which was a miracle, and could happen randomly whenever.
We were amazed at how budget-friendly Sri Lanka is, from guesthouses to meals in restaurants to admission fees at cultural sights like temples and Buddhas. We did awesome things that taught us all about the country. We loved our visit to the Mackwoods Tea Plantation, which in summer, had a rather temperate climate (I needed a sweater as the sun got lower).
We also spent a half day in Galle Fort, which has a fascinating mix of cultures, from colonial influences to several religious groups all calling this place home.
Eat your way through Taipei, Taiwan
Taipei is one of our favorite new destinations, and although summer is high (and hot and humid) season, what’s interesting is that Taipei gets rain all year round. It can rain any day and sometimes unexpectedly, throughout the year, so considering summertime is a fine thing to do.
In the rest of Taiwan, you can find different climates as altitudes change, and what many tourists fail to do is to go hiking in the center of the country. This region is tons less touristed, and you could find yourself alone with nature.
As for Taipei, there’s so much culture to see, and we liked learning more about a history we had never been exposed to. For when you need a break from sun and humidity, there are lots of large shopping malls with huge food courts that have an array of Asian foods from all over the region. You can have Taiwanese cuisine, Mongolian BBQ, Japanese sushi and Korean kimbap, all in the same spot.
In Taipei, there are lots and lots of things you can do for free. We went to night markets (free entrance), famous memorials and their plazas like Chiang-Kai Shek Memorial and even the changing of the guard ceremony that happens daily and the many hikes that exist within the city (all free). To cool off, try Taipei’s best cafes with WiFi.
See indigenous Bolivian Culture in La Paz, Sucre and Potosi
Bolivia is one of my favorite countries because it represents Old World South America. It is one of the South American countries with the highest percentage of indigenous people, and it makes it a rich cultural experience to visit.
In La Paz, take the city free walking tour and learn about the city prison (I won’t spoil the details), the witches market and why Bolivian women wear Italian bowl hats. Don’t forget to try the local treats and stay in any of the awesome hostels that provide nightlife for backpackers in La Paz, like Wild Rover or Loki.
In Sucre, see the White City, all for not too much money at all! A dorm bed in Bolivian hostels will be between USD 7 and 12, and all have great security. Sucre has a laid-back atmosphere and lots of local life.
In the middle of your trip, savor the experience of the once-in-a-lifetime trip to the high-altitude Uyuni salt flats. Any tour operator will take you to the highlights on a sunset one-day trip or a three-day trip, during which you’ll stay in a salt hotel (bundle up!).
In Potosi, a mining town, see local markets, local Bolivian street life and a history of silver mining.
Best of all, it’s pretty safe to take night buses in Bolivia, which helps with saving money and traveling sustainably, at the same time! You can even try to haggle for a two-person deal if you are traveling as a couple.
Explore tacos, museums and mezcal in Mexico City, Mexico
We couldn’t find anything that we did not love about Mexico City, and for anyone who lives in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s never too long of a flight.
With heaps of things to do Mexico City for every type of traveler, Mexico City is an incredible place to try lots of new foods with a food tour, see the local markets, try a margarita (or three) at a variety of bars (some on rooftops) and cool off with a cold brew at any of the popular specialty cafes.
Let your budget take you far, anywhere in Vietnam
Vietnam is incredibly affordable, even as prices might rise in summer (high season). If you can book advance, you’ll probably do fine, as most major Vietnamese holidays fall in January-February, when prices go up and have surcharges due to the new year festivals.
Vietnam is where your Dollar (or Euro) will for sure go further, from eating out to accomodation at great value. For example, it’s hard to get bored in the capital city of Hanoi, with all these things to do.
While summer is known as being wetter, with rainfall on average surpassing that of summer months in Vietnam, this is when places like the Sapa rice terraces will be vividly green, making for an incredible sight to see. In winter, the same region of rolling hills is dry and brown because of lack of rainfall. Summer brings back the brilliance and the fresh crops.
Our secret: eat whatever’s on the street in cities in Vietnam. You can usually have a meal for 2 USD.
Find free things to do in New York City, USA
Now, we know what you’re thinking - isn’t NYC incredibly expensive? The short answer is yes, but the long answer is no.
If you know what to do in NYC, you can have a fantastic time on a low budget. If you’re okay with skipping the “must-see” tourist attractions that every book says you have to do, such as the viewing platform at the Empire State Building, the Top of the Rock, the MoMA and any type of entertainment (save it for another time), you can have a budget in NYC of around USD 50 per day (if you travel with a buddy) or if you stay in hostel dorms.
If you’re a traveling digital nomad, check out our favorite laptop-friendly NYC cafes where you can spend time in cafes with WiFi and sometimes even a backyard or two, and if you’re a coffee fanatic, we’ve already listed our favorite cafes in Brooklyn, which make for a great way to venture into different areas … for coffee!
A few hacks for traveling in NYC and not breaking the bank are our favorite tips:
- Stay in a hostel-hotel like The Local, which books up fast, but plan ahead! They’ve got coworking space, rooftop views, a cool cafe-bar with friendly staff and clean, quiet shared rooms and privates.
- Skip the paid attractions and opt for walking endlessly through NYC’s many neighborhoods like the gorgeous and walkable Brooklyn Heights and ethnic enclaves. Check out Coney Island, Jackson Heights, Flushing Chinatown and Little Italy of the Bronx (Arthur Avenue) and ‘pass’ on those lists of hot restaurants that ‘every visitor to NYC must visit.’
- Take the subway and buses, always. This is the best way to get around New York, and if you opt for an unlimited weekly subway card, it’ll pay for itself in only a few days.
- If you don’t want to hostel, Airbnb in one of Brooklyn or Queens’ outlying neighborhoods and get a feel what it is like to stay outside Manhattan (the center of it all, of course!). You’ll find the most affordable Airbnb options in Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy, Ditmas and Forest Hills.
Climb volcanoes and visit colonial towns in Nicaragua
Nicaragua is a place that’s great for travel at any time of year and you can be sure that your budget will take you far. From eating in markets for prices comparable to $2 for a vegan meal of rice, beans and avocado, to taking 2-day treks for around $70 with all-included guides, transport and camping for a night with Quetzaltrekkers, you can do everything you ever dreamed of in this Central American nation.
For beaches, don’t miss San Juan del Sur, the center of all backpacker life on the coast. Take chicken buses, the quintessential Central American transport on old yellow school buses that have new lives in countries like Nicaragua, and sit next to locals, plants and sometimes… chickens. This is the way to get around for around a dollar or less.
Enjoy high-altitude livin’ in Ecuador
Ecuador might be a country you skip over in your mind. Did you know that its name means Equator in Spanish? Now you know why this country was named after its location, with the Equator running right through its middle.
What’s there to do in Ecuador? You can explore Cuenca, a beautiful colonial city, by foot, and see the birthplace of the Panama hat (yep, a bit of a mis-nomer).
For beaches, there’s Montanita, the hippie-dippie backpacker hub of the Pacific coast. For museums, there’s the culture of Quito, the hilly capital, where you can climb a cathedral and look out at a rolling expanse of scenery before climbing down and exploring colonial architecture in the old quarter.
Lastly, get lost in Parque Nacional Cajas, named for ‘boxes,’ which will remind you of mossy scenes from Scotland. Ecuador will give you highs and lows, from high-altitude cities where you really have to watch your health and how your body handles altitude high up, to the coast – Guayaquil and the lowlands. There’s something for everyone, and the prices will not set you back much at all.
Travel in less-visited Lithuania
If we told you we wished we had more time in Lithuania, would you believe us? We were lucky enough to have a whirlwild tour if Lithuania’s top sights by traveling from Riga, Latvia, to Vilnius, Lithuania with Traveller Tours.
What we liked best was the mythical Trakai castle, the pastel walls of Vilnius’s Old Town, the bizarre Hill of Crosses and beautiful and medieval Kaunas. Had we had a week to spend, we would’ve loved to see all of Lithuania’s historic and cultural sights, including more about its Jewish history, by renting a car and going around.
What’s more is that Lithuania is the most affordable of the three Baltic countries – we stayed at a hostel on Airbnb for under $30.
Wondering how we decide where to stay? Check out our comparison of Airbnb vs Hostels vs Hotels.
Live it up in Laos on a tiny budget
Laos is a diverse and often forgotten-about country bordering Thailand, China, Vietnam and Cambodia. Why go here?
Laos is interesting because it’s landlocked, and so many travelers arrive by land via China, Thailand, or Vietnam. Well, what’s there to do?
The fact that tourism is newer in Laos than it is in Thailand makes Laos a bit less discovered, much like Myanmar. See Buddhist culture at its finest in Luang Prbang, where you can also explore exquisite waterfalls and nature. See the stars and give night photography a try at night in places like Vang Vieng, and explore a city through its cafes in Vientiane.
For the adventurous, there’s the Plain of Jars (it’s weird) and Phonsavan with its temple ruins. If you’re not afraid to get off the beaten path, while not spending a lot of your savings, try some time in Laos and you could be surprised at what this modest country has to offer its visitors.
You can stay in hostels in Laos at prices as low as USD 4 per night for a dorm bed, depending on the city or town. Can you beat that?