Pretty much every traveller has experienced the mysterious disappearing bank balance. You do all of your budgeting sums, you save up the amount of money needed for your holiday, you head overseas, and then it just vanishes. Gone. Like it never existed in the first place. What did you even actually do?
Travel is like that. You spend a lot more money than you think you will. You get caught up in the rush, in the excitement, in the “yolo” fever and you throw down far more cash than you’d budgeted for. You discover, too, that destinations are a lot more expensive than you thought they’d be. Food costs more. Accommodation costs more. The little expenses add up.
This is almost an unavoidable reality of travel. That is, until you happen to wind up in one of those rare countries where the opposite is true.
These are the places where your bank balance remains oddly in check. Everything here costs about as much as you thought it would. Sometimes, it costs less. These are the countries that are cheaper than you think. They make a welcome change.
Sadly for travellers, the “Blue Dollar” no longer exists in Argentina. This unofficial exchange rate allowed anyone changing US dollars at dodgy cuevas to get a far better rate than people using regular banks, leading to Argentina’s reputation as one very affordable destination. So with the end of the Blue Dollar, the country would become expensive, right? Well, not really. You can still get a dorm bed at a hostel in Buenos Aires for $15; still book a fancy boutique hotel for about $120 a night. A kick-arse steak will cost about $15. This is still an eminently affordable destination.
It’s reasonable, given most of Europe uses the same currency, to assume that every country involves the same costs. However, that’s not even close to being the case. While countries such as the Netherlands and Germany are pretty pricey for travellers, those nations a little further south can actually be super cheap. Spain is a case in point. You can eat well in Spain for $10-$15. You can get a beer from the supermarket for $1; a glass of wine from a bar for $5. Top attractions like Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia cost just over $20 to enter. Easy.
Though the Australian dollar isn’t quite at the parity level it achieved with the US a few years ago, it’s still sitting around 78 cents, which makes the USA – particularly outside of the large cities – a very affordable place to travel. Getting there in the first place is cheap. We’re talking little more than $1000 for return flights. And costs on the ground – food in basic restaurants, accommodation in motor inns and budget hotels, shops, attractions and experiences – are so low in many places as to be shocking.
Middle Eastern countries aren’t always cheap – you’ll throw down a surprising amount in places such as the UAE, Jordan and Oman. In Iran, meanwhile, a place that has been sadly crippled by economic sanctions that it still hasn’t properly recovered from, travel is cheap. Very, very cheap. You almost need to take a briefcase to carry your cash when you go to exchange Euros for rials. Right now you get 52,000 rials to the Euro. Just a year ago it was about 35,000. That makes everything – great food at restaurants, accommodation in beautiful old hotels, plus all of the attractions – extremely affordable.
Though the South Africa rand has bounced back recently – one Australian dollar buys 9.3 rand right now; two years ago it was over 11 – South Africa is still a place that will surprise you with its affordability. You can camp in Kruger National Park for AUD15 per person per night. You can have the six-course tasting menu at the Shortmarket Club, one of Cape Town’s best restaurants, for AUD85 a head. Drinks are cheap, hotels are cheap, and experiences are cheap. Even the flights over there are far more affordable than many people expect.
As with Spain, Italy is one of those European countries that offers surprising value for travellers who are expecting to be stung with large price tags. Sure, you stand the chance of being ripped off with an $800 lobster if you’re not careful in touristy spots such as Venice. However, the country as a whole is very cheap. A plate of pasta at a kick-arse Roman trattoria will cost about $15. Add $5 for a glass of wine. Coffee is $1.50. Airbnb apartments across the country are shockingly cheap. You can live well on very little in Italy.
You probably don’t even think India is expensive. Even still, it will come as a serious shock to discover just how insanely cheap this country can be, particularly in the south of India, where you’ll easily be able to get by on $15-$20 a day once accommodation has been paid for. A good meal there costs a few bucks. A coffee is less than $1. And even decent hotels won’t set you back much more than about $30 or $40 a night in places such as Kochi.
Japan can be expensive, if you want it to be. If you want to stay in four- or five-star hotels and eat out at the best restaurants and take taxis everywhere, then the costs will blow out to a staggering degree. However, the country doesn’t have to be like that. If you stay in hostels or family-run minshuku (traditional inns), or even Airbnbs; if you eat your meals from modest ramen bars or conveyor-belt sushi joints or even convenience stores; if you buy a Japan Rail pass and limit yourself to one or two attractions a day – if you do all those things, you’ll find Japan very affordable.