Choosing the Perfect Destination For Your Budget

In Blog, Money Smarts for Travelers, Travel Tips by Kay1 Comment

This is part of a week-long “Money Smarts for Travelers” series. If you want to see more about planning the trip of a lifetime, please sign up for my newsletter to get monthly emails with exclusive updates, stories and offers. Friends don’t send friends junk mail, so I promise I won’t spam you!

Choosing the Perfect Destination For Your Budget

Now that you’ve learned to cut down on expenses and started seriously saving for your travels, the next thing you should do is buy yourself a cheap beer (or coffee, if that’s more your thing), get on the Internet and start planning your trip. The first step? Choosing where you want to go, and pinpointing which destinations make sense for your budget.

Whether it’s your first trip or your hundredth, deciding where you want to go and how much money you can spend there is an essential aspect of traveling. When choosing a destination, there are a few things you should keep in mind. You have a set amount of money that you can spend, and it’s important to try not to exceed that budget. But, depending on how much it costs to travel in each place, you may have to consider shortening your trip or cutting out certain activities in order to stick to your budget. You should also keep in mind the costs of flights and the exchange rate from wherever you are in the world.

First, you need to figure out what about your travel is most important to you. Is it traveling for a long time or having comfortable accommodations? Is it seeing a more expensive destination on a very tight budget or living a little more liberally in a cheaper place? Is it traveling around a lot or staying in one place? Do you like to do expensive activities, like scuba diving or hang gliding? Or do you like to eat out a lot? These, among many other considerations, are things you need to know before you start narrowing down where you can reasonably go.

Done with that? Okay, great. Now we can move on to the next step – deciding where to go. I can’t tell you where you should choose to jet off to, but I can offer a few general regions within each price range to help get you started with researching and building your itinerary. Keep in mind that people on small budgets can visit expensive regions, and people on large budgets can go to the cheapest areas, all depending on how much time you have to travel and what kinds of conditions (hotels, hostels, fancy dinners, business class flights) that you prefer. There’s no one way to travel, so you have to listen to yourself and choose an area that suits your needs and ignites your cultural curiosity, too. This post is just a grid to help you get started on your search!

The Cheapest Destinations

Where? Southeast Asia, South Asia (India, Nepal, Sri Lanka), China, Central America, Eastern Europe, South America


Going to the world’s most affordable destinations means that you are spending the least money and can stretch your budget the longest. While I was backpacking there I met several young people who had been traveling around the region for six months or more! In Southeast Asia, for example, you can reasonably live off of just $20 a day, including transportation from place to place. Hostels run as low as $3-4 a night, and food in these places is very cheap, often less than $1-2 per meal (and it’s usually very delicious). I’d definitely pay $1 to get a heaping plate of pad thai back here in the States! I ate out for every single meal while traveling in Southeast Asia and it didn’t break the bank, which is AWESOME.

However, many of these destinations, especially in more rural areas, will lack basic amenities (such as Western toilets, drinkable tap water, WiFi, and modern medical facilities) that are readily available in more developed nations. Some of these destinations (Southeast Asia, I’m looking at you) also attract a LOT of backpackers, so be ready to see a handful of areas frequented by drunk twenty-somethings and locals selling cliched souvenirs. Also, the transportation systems in a lot of areas are very outdated and sometimes borderline dangerous. None of these things are deal breakers, but just guidelines to keep in mind if you’re not used to traveling in places that provide a significant culture shock value.

Moderately Priced Destinations

Where? South America (Brazil, Argentina and Chile), East Africa, the Middle East, Central Europe, Spain and Portugal, North Africa/Mediterranean, Northern Asia


Sticking with moderately priced regions can give you the sanity of many of the comforts of home without the sticker shock of the most expensive destinations. If you’re on a tight budget, I would recommend choosing just one country from these places and staying put for as long as you can, rather than trying to explore a bunch of different countries and regions in one trip. Those inter-city flights, bus rides and rail tickets add up! Luckily, this price category spans a wide range of regions around the world, so by looking and budgeting in this tier you open up more options to choose from around the world, even if you only get to visit for a short time.

The downside of some of these destinations is that a few, such as Brazil, Central Europe, and Northern Asia, are much more expensive than some of the neighboring countries. So, if you’re planning on visiting Bolivia (one of the cheapest destinations in South America) and Brazil (arguably the most expensive destination in South America) in one trip, you’ll have to plan for the stark price contrast. Also, the affordability of many of these places depends on the local economy of that country or region — in strong economies, some of these areas may be twice the price as they are during slower times. For example, the US dollar is very strong now, but if it loses steam we could see prices for all of these countries jump in comparison. Depending on where you’re from and what currency you use, you may find that some of these countries belong in the “Expensive” category. That’s why research is important!

Expensive Destinations

Where? Scandinavia, Russia, Western Europe, New Zealand, Australia, the United States and Canada, most major world cities such as Singapore, New York City, London, Paris, etc. skogafoss-sweater-0685 (1)

Ah, the expensive destinations…luxurious, comfortable, and cosmopolitan. And while they come with a pretty penny, many of these places are well worth the costs for their striking landscapes, developed tourism and hospitality industries, and relatively safe environments. Many of these places are easy to travel around and their inter-city transportation is well-updated. However, they do come with significant sticker shock…and if you’re on a very tight budget, it might not be so glamorous.

The main downside is that, on a budget, you just can’t stay in these places for too long. Relative to other regions on our list, food is expensive, beer is expensive, hostel and hotels are expensive…and while it’s definitely possible to visit these places on a small budget (I have), you have to sacrifice a lot. For example, I went to Iceland earlier this year, which is a fairly expensive place to visit once you’re there. However, I camped to save money on accommodation, ate mostly meals at gas stations and brought my own granola bars from the US to eat for snacks. And, for two weeks in Iceland, it still cost me roughly $1500. Ouch!

Choosing the Right Destination For Your Budget

This list is obviously nowhere near comprehensive, it’s just to provide you with a rough sketch of places within each budget range. It’s by no means the end-all-be-all; people backpack on a tight budget around Western Europe all the time and others stay in luxury resort palaces in Southeast Asia. It all depends on your travel style and what’s important to you when you’re on the road.

When you’re looking through the different options of places to go, definitely take into account the price of the flight to and from there. While Southeast Asia may be cheap on the day-to-day, from my home in the United States it’s quite a long haul, and that flight is extremely expensive. Meanwhile, Iceland is one of the more expensive destinations I’ve been to and the flight there is usually less than $600, round trip.  Taking the flights into consideration may change the situation and you may find that visiting a more expensive destination ends up being cheaper in the end. But, in the end, it’s all about finding a place that fits your lifestyle, your budget, and your curiosity.

Do you have a good way of choosing a destination? Did I forget anything on my list? Let me know with a comment!


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