One of the challenges many backpackers face is stretching out their backpacking budget for as long as possible. $1000 in Australia or Canada is not going to last you very long. Whereas $1000 in some of the countries listed below could last you well over a month if you’re backpacking cheaply.
Below, I’ve compiled my top 5 backpacking destinations for each continent that won’t blow your budget. Whether you’re headed to Europe or South America, this list will give you a good idea of where to go.
The continent that I associate most with budget backpacking adventure, Asia is full of fantastic and reasonably priced countries.
India is one of my favourite countries to backpack around. I’ve spent over 3 months in India, travelling to the highest road in the world, the deserts, and the jungles (both real and concrete), and still I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. After all, it is known as a sub-continent. There is just so much to see and do in this country, and the experience is nothing like anywhere I’ve been.
It is also without a doubt the cheapest place I’ve ever been. There isn’t really a limit to how little money you can get away with spending here. Nice, double hotel rooms for $5-10, meals out for under $3. We travelled 11 hours on the train from Jaisalmer to Jaipur for around $10.
I think in 3 months I spent just over $2000, and I could’ve made it cheaper if I wanted to.
The other bonus of India is that it borders my next country, Nepal.
Nepal is one of those unbelievably beautiful and awe-inspiring places. A small country nestled in the Himalayas, it is absolute backpacking heaven.
If you’re fit and healthy, the hike to Everest base camp is pretty incredible, or hey, go all the way up! There’s so many hikes and adventures for you to do here, as well as a lot of beautiful monasteries and temples to visit.
As you might expect from the country where Buddhism began, the Nepalese people are maybe the friendliest people you could ever meet.
When it comes to prices, Nepal is fairly similar to India in that regard. It’s not quite as cheap as it was several decades ago, as there are now more ‘fees’ to enter National Parks etc. But even with this it’s still very reasonably priced. Expect to pay up to $10 for a budget room, and $5 for food.
One potential expense with Nepal is that, due to it’s extreme terrain, there aren’t really any rail routes, so it’ll be bus or plane.
When the average person thinks of backpacking cheaply in Asia, their mind probably goes straight to Thailand. It is synonymous with young travellers enjoying the beautiful scenery, vibrant culture and cheap prices. While I have found Thailand to be slightly more expensive than a couple of its neighbouring countries (below), it still deserves a place on my list.
Depending on where you are in Thailand, you can get away with spending around $5 a day on food (eating out) and $10-15 a day on a budget room. If you’re really looking to save money, go in the rainy season. I promise you, it’s not actually that rainy! The prices drop substantially all over the country.
Thailand is such a fantastic place to travel. The Thai islands have some of the clearest waters I’ve ever seen, and the whole backpacking scene there is really buzzing. I’d also say that if you’ve never been backpacking before, it’s a great place to cut your teeth.
While Thailand makes my list mainly because I love it (and it’s fairly cheap), Cambodia makes the list on the fact that it is definitely cheap to travel!
Cambodia is still not as popular with the tourists compared to it’s famous neighbour, but I’m not sure why that is… For one, it’s an absolutely beautiful country, with lush rainforests, ancient temples and stunning beaches aplenty.
Cambodia has come through an incredibly difficult period in its history, with almost ¼ of the country’s population killed during the atrocities in the 1970’s. Despite this, the people are really nice and friendly, and there is a really positive feeling in the country. It’s still relatively untouched by tourists (compared to Thailand), but that is changing rapidly.
A double room can be had from $5-10 a night, and food for the day will be around $5.
One of the most beautiful tropical countries in the world, Indonesia is a must for anyone backpacking cheaply in Asia. You’ll find stunning beaches with surfing opportunities, lush jungle, waterfalls and so much more.
The island most people end up going to is Bali, and once you go there it’s easy to see why. The island feels like it was built for backpackers! It’s not too big, but not too small.
Bali cost breakdown for backpackers
The ‘classic’ thing to do is hire out a moped while you’re there, and use it to get to all the locations you want to visit on the island. That will cost you around $4-5 a day. Due to it’s small size, Bali’s public transport is not as good as bigger countries like Thailand, and so hiring a moped or even a car is the best option.
Food is reasonably priced here, again around $5 a day if you’re careful. Due to the number of tourists that come to Bali, there are also quite a lot of western food options out here, all really nice as well. These will cost slightly more, but some home comforts are nice every now and then.
Accommodation is where I feel Bali really comes into it’s own if you’re not travelling alone. That’s because for $20 or so you can rent out literally an entire villa with a private pool etc. So if you’re sharing with some friends you can have an awesome time for only $5-10 a night.
Europe – Backpacking Cheaply
There’s no denying that, out of all the major continents, Europe is probably the most expensive. If you’re spending your time in the UK, France, Switzerland and such, you are really going to struggle backpacking cheaply. But not to worry! If you know where to go, there are still plenty of stunning and reasonably priced destinations in Europe.
Greece is like the Caribbean of Europe (no one calls it that, I just came up with it). Beautiful, turquoise waters, loads of unique and interesting islands, and gorgeous food!
I’ve been to both the mainland of Greece and some of the islands, and love all of it. It’s arguably my favourite European country to visit in the summer months.
It’s more expensive than Asia, but that’s to be expected. If you’re careful and strict with your budget (stay in hostels, eat relatively cheaply etc.) you should be able to get away with $30-40 a day. The breakdown is around $10-15 on accommodation and $15-20 on food and activities.
The advantage of it being a European country is that, even on the smaller islands, there is always reliable public transport to get you around.
I’d also advise staying away from the tourist hotspots, as some places in Athens and such can be extremely pricey.
The country that merges both European and Middle Eastern cultures, Turkey is another incredible country for backpacking cheaply. Turkey’s vast and varied landscape means that it’s a country ready-made for backpacking.
From the natural beauty of Cappadocia and the Mediterranean to the culture of Istanbul and Ankara. Because of its size and it’s unique location bridging Europe and Asia, it can feel like almost 2 different countries as you move from West to East.
When it comes to prices, Turkey is one of the more reasonable countries in Europe, not too dissimilar to Greece in that regard. Again, there are areas and resorts that will cost you a fortune, but that is the case anywhere.
Check out this comprehensive guide to travel in Turkey.
A country that has, for a long time, been somewhat overlooked by tourists coming to Europe. There might be several reasons for this, but I doubt it’s going to be that way for too much longer.
There’s actually loads of great places to go here. Beautiful mountains and castles cover the landscape, plus there’s Transylvania, the home of Dracula’s castle, here as well.
It’s no doubt one of, if not THE cheapest locations in Europe at the moment. You can get accommodation for around $10 a night, and food for the day will be $5-10.
Romania joined the EU in 2007 and is working towards adopting the Euro in the future. The tourism industry is on the rise and so I wouldn’t expect it to remain so undiscovered for long.
Albania is perhaps the most underrated country in Europe at the moment in terms of natural beauty.
Here you’ll find a truly beautiful alpine landscape that leads to the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Adriatic and Ionian Sea.
When it comes to prices it’s much cheaper than nearby Italy or Croatia, but it is no less a great place to travel. The country isn’t very big, and by far the best and cheapest way to get around is by bus.
You can get a hostel bed for under $10, or a double room for around $25, that said you can sometimes get cheaper deals if you travel out of summertime.
I’ve noticed a trend over the last decade or so where certain coastal European countries have grown in popularity really fast, and as such the prices have risen considerably. First it was Croatia, currently it is happening in countries such as Montenegro and Slovenia, and I believe that following on from them will be Albania. So get there fast!
Check out Janina’s complete backpackers guide to Albania for more information.
I’ve noticed Bulgaria grow in popularity over the last 10 years or so, and it’s easy to see why. In many aspects Bulgaria is a backpackers’ heaven. It’s affordable, full of variety and things to do, and it’s got some jaw dropping landscapes.
For a relatively average sized country, the variety here is quite unique. You can ski in the winter and sun bathe on the beach in the summer. There’s forests, interesting cities, and a growing backpacking community.
Moving on to price, it’s one of the best countries for backpacking cheaply in Europe. Firstly, it’s very accessible by land or air, with it bordering several countries and being a hub of many cheap flights from all over Europe.
Travelling within the country is fairly cheap too, with a good amount of public transport, with trains being the most affordable. Accommodation is reasonable, with nice hostel rooms at around $10 a night, and budget doubles at $20-30. Food and beer is also very reasonably priced, with the average cost of a pint of beer less than 1 euro!
Americas – Backpacking Cheaply
It’s worth mentioning that for both the Americas and Africa I have placed quite a high relevance on safety levels in making this list. That’s because nearly every country there is cheap to travel for a westerner, but not all are particularly safe for backpackers.
I’ve put ‘Americas’ because we all know that North America is the USA and Canada, neither of which are cheap to travel. So, this is actually a South and Central America list…
The biggest island in the Caribbean, Cuba is a great country for backpacking.
I must admit that a few years ago I would have considered the tourist scene in the Caribbean to be exclusively middle-class families on ‘fly and flop’ holidays. But, after watching the Departures episode of Cuba (if you are into travel, the Canadian TV show ‘departures’ is a must), my opinion was changed.
Cuba is a colourful and beautiful country, full of history and scenery. Havana is one of the most unique cities you can visit, everything from classic old cars to Cuban cigars, it seems a little bit like a city, and a country that’s frozen in time.
In terms of price, backpacking cheaply is fairly easily here. You’re going to want to stay in one of the ‘casas particulares’, which are essentially family run B&B’s that are allowed by the government. These will cost you up to $20 a night. In total, a budget of $30-40 a day will be enough for a great time. You could do it on less if you needed to.
A favourite for backpackers in South America, Peru really does have it all. Rainforest, mountains, beaches and culture, and best of all it’s really cheap!
Maccu Pichu is perhaps the most famous spot, but there’s so much more to see here. From the friendly capital, Lima, to the pastel coloured “rainbow mountains”. Not much of the population will speak English, but don’t let that put you off, the people are generally very welcoming to backpackers.
Prices are very cheap, and you can easily cover food, accommodation and transport for $25 per day.
Located right at the bottom of South America, Argentina is another great country for backpacking cheaply. It’s considered to be one of the safest countries in South America to visit.
Argentina is famous for it’s awe inspiring scenery, making it perfect backpacker territory. Everything from Patagonian mountains and glaciers to the ‘Paris of South America’, Buenos Aires, you will not struggle to find things to do here.
In terms of price, it’s slightly higher than alternative countries in the region, but it’s still very affordable. You can get a budget private room for $10-20, or a dorm bed for $5. Expect to pay $5-10 a day for food, but get ready to enjoy some world class cooking. Argentinian stakes are famous worldwide, and that’s only the start!
If you are after a genuine, untouched adventure, then Bolivia is your best bet in South America. It’s not always a country that you hear people visiting, and it’s one of the poorer countries in South America. The result is that it still feels wild.
You can experience the most unspoilt parts of the Amazon rainforest, trek through the Andes mountains and immerse yourself in the culture in some of their small, historic towns and villages.
Safety is something that you might be concerned about, but it is actually safer than a lot of its neighbours. If you have your wits about you, you should be fine to backpack here. It’s also worth noting that your tourism is helping their local economy, and so you are a positive thing for their country. I would advise you get clued up on what to expect and how to mitigate any risks before going, though.
In terms of price, as you’d expect it’s pretty cheap. If you’re backpacking cheaply, you can eat fantastic food from local markets for very cheap, and accommodation will be $5-20 (dorm to private). One tip I would give is, learn a bit of Spanish before you go. Not many Bolivians speak any English so it will help a lot if you know some Spanish.
5. Costa Rica
One of the safer countries in South America, Costa Rica is a great place for backpacking. It has a lovely coastline, famous for white sand and surf (depending on which side you’re on), as well as lots of rainforest for you to explore. The people are generally friendly and accommodating, although you do still want to be street wise.
Costa Rica is actually not that big, and has a really good bus system in place. As a result, backpacking cheaply here is definitely possible. There are those that will say Costa Rica is more expensive and touristy than other South American countries, but that’s not necessarily the case. It all comes down to what you get up to when you’re there.
For example, if you fall into some of the classic tourist traps and go on loads of pricey rain forest tours etc., then prices will add up. But if you’re smart and committed to backpacking cheaply, you can have a really nice experience on $30 per day all in.
Africa – Backpacking Cheaply
1. Zanzibar, Tanzania
Some of you might be thinking, why is that on the list, I thought Zanzibar was really expensive?
Well, firstly it’s what I consider to be the most beautiful and chilled island in Africa, worthy of any backpacking adventure. Secondly, it is actually much cheaper than people think.
You can honestly travel here for the same price as most cheap destinations. A nice hostel will set you back $10-15 a night. Food is again very reasonably priced, as is transport and activities. The key is to avoid the tourist traps.
The beauty of the island naturally attracts wealthy tourists who stay in one of the many luxury hotels around the island. There are tourist activities aimed at them that will be expensive, but there is also other stuff that is much more affordable! Like anywhere, if your aim is backpacking cheaply then you need to do your research before you go.
A troubled recent history, incredible wildlife and diverse culture makes Rwanda a really interesting and unique place to travel. For me, the highlight is seeing the Gorillas in their natural environment, but learning about Rwanda and how the people are moving forward from the tragic events of 1994 is also very interesting.
The backpacking scene is rather small here still, but it is growing at quite a rate year on year. Prices are similar to the surrounding nations, where backpacking cheaply is very easy. You’ll be looking at the standard rate of $5-10 for a dorm, $10-20 for a room, $5 for food, etc.
In many ways Morocco feels more European than African, and that is understandable given it’s location on the Mediterranean. To give you an idea of how close Morocco is from Europe, I remember standing on the beach in Spain and being able to see Morocco on a clear day.
Morocco feels like an overload to the senses. The sights, sounds and smells are all so intense that it really blows you away (in a good way)! There’s also a lot of variety here, from the markets and streets of Marrakesh to the snow of the Atlas Mountains or the sand of the desert. It’s a brilliant country for backpacking on a budget.
When it comes to prices, it’s really affordable. You can backpack for around $15-25 all in if you want to. That said, there is always an element of negotiating in Morocco, and if you’re not willing to give it a try you will end up paying more than you should.
Dorm beds will be around $5-7, a budget room $10-15 and food for the day you should budget around $5. I would advise taking some more expensive tours while you’re here, though. For example, a desert safari will set you back around $35, but it’s a once in a lifetime thing to do.
Malawi, known as the ‘warm heart of Africa’, is considered by many to have the friendliest people in Africa. On top of that, the country is gifted with an abundance of natural beauty.
The most well-known spot here is perhaps Lake Malawi, but there is there is much more here as well, including 9 national parks and nature reserves.
Backpacking cheaply here is again very easy. It’s one of the cheapest places to travel in the world, and the tourism that you bring really can help the local economy (providing you travel responsibly). You can get hotel rooms for under $10 if you want and you can eat next to nothing. The same goes for activities and transport, it is all very affordable.
Zambia is one of the most popular backpacking destinations in Africa. It’s relatively safe, and bursting with natural wonders to explore.
The highlight for many is Victoria Falls, known as one of the 7 natural wonders of the world for its awe and beauty. It’s the largest waterfall in the world. That would be enough of a reason to visit Zambia, but there is so much more to see and do here as well, notably a safari in one of their national parks. It’s also worth nothing that safari’s are generally pretty expensive, but Zambia is where you are likely to find the most budget friendly options.
Prices for backpacking are slightly higher than some African countries, but still cheap for a western budget. A dorm will set you back up to $10, food budget for the day will be $5-10. Transport is quite good here, and since it is popular with backpackers the people are used to tourists.
Bonus – South Africa
I don’t think any Africa travel list would be complete without South Africa, so I had to squeeze it in even though it isn’t very cheap.
It’s one of those ‘bucket list’ countries, with so much to see and do that it does take your breath away. The country is generally safe for backpacking but you do have to be travel smart. You can get yourself into trouble if you don’t have your wits about you, but generally you should be fine.
Due to the abundance of things to do here, the fact that English is well spoken and the pockets of extreme poverty that do still exist, it is a great place for volunteer work (if that’s something you’re interested in).
The beaches are gorgeous here, with great surfing opportunities, but for me South Africa is about what lies in-land. Kruger National Park, Table Mountain and all make for truly unique and unforgettable experiences.
I will admit, prices for backpacking here are more expensive than the other African countries on this list. But, if you’re smart and organised you can still get around relatively cheaply, especially for a ‘more developed’ country. Dorm beds will set you back $10-15 a night. Restaurants can be pricey, so my advice is to go somewhere where you have access to a kitchen. South Africa has proper supermarkets (unlike a lot of Africa) and so cooking for yourself will save you a lot of money.
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