Dreaming of a far-flung vacation? This year, those out-of-reach destinations may be surprisingly affordable. Last year, we covered six places you never thought you could afford. This year, we've compiled another six hot spots, with a twist—while these locales may be expensive to get to, the in-country costs make the vacation budget easy. In fact, we've even compared these far-flung locales with more traditional vacation destinations to show you just how budget-friendly globe trotting can be. Read on to start planning this year's vacation of a lifetime.
Notre Dame Cathedral backside, Ho Chi Minh (Sai Gon)
Editor's Note: All price comparisons feature round-trip airfare, including taxes and fees. Hotel prices reflect the room's base price, are based on double occupancy, and do not include taxes and fees.
History, food and wine, art, and nightlife—there may be no better value-packed destination this year than Buenos Aires. Nicknamed the "Paris of South America", Buenos Aires can give you a cultural experience with both Latin American and European influences. And with the country celebrating its bicentennial in May, it's an ideal time to visit.
The country, still recovering from the peso crisis of 2001, offers a great value for overseas travelers, particularly Americans. At press time, $1 US gets you 3.86 Argentina pesos (see USATODAY.com's currency converter for current exchange rates), so your money goes far in-country. Frommer's notes that while the Argentinian economy has been steadily recovering, a Buenos Aires vacation still typically costs about 30% less than popular destinations in North America or Europe.
Airfare from New York City starts around $700 round-trip, taxes included, for travel in April and May; three-star downtown hotels can be found from $56, and one-bedroom downtown apartment rentals start at $250 per week. For two people traveling together, you can ballpark about $1,650 to $1,800 for airfare-and-accommodations for a seven-night vacation this spring.
Let's compare that price tag to a week in Paris during the same time period. Airfare from New York starts around $650 in April and May, a three-star hotel near the Champs-Elysees/Belle Epoque district costs $109 per night, and a one-bedroom Montmartre apartment can be rented for $436 per week. All told, a seven-night Parisian vacation starts between $1,750 and $2,100 for airfare and accommodations for two people traveling together. In this case, the base price for the Buenos Aires vacation cost about $100 to $300 less than Paris.
The real sticking point in Paris, however, is the currency exchange rate. At press time, $1 is worth just 0.73 euros. According to Parislogue, daily food expenses can cost up to $109 per person per day for three meals. Of course, that's budgeting on the high end, but already-pricey city costs and an unforgiving exchange rate can really add up.
Keep your per-day costs in mind when comparing destinations for your upcoming vacation—especially if you're the type of traveler that likes fine dining, shopping for souvenirs, and patronizing attractions with admission fees. In this case, you may find the far-flung destination is a lot more budget-friendly.
Ho Chi Minh City
A vacation to Southeast Asia is a bargain hunter's paradise, once you get past the airfare prices. Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City can provide travelers with worldwide cuisine, tailor-made shopping deals, and bustling nightlife, all on the cheap.
The U.S. dollar will get you about 18,685 Vietnamese dong (as of press time), and many travelers can comfortably get by on less than the equivalent of $50 per person per day. The region's countless options for affordable food, accommodations, transportation, and tours make sticking to a budget easy. The city's infamous street food carts offer delicious options for all three meals, but there are also plenty of higher-end establishments if you want to splurge.
Airfare from Los Angeles starts around $900 in April and May, and I found a three-star District 1 downtown hotel from $49 per night. For two people traveling together, base prices start at $2,143 for a week's vacation.
Let's compare prices to New York City, another major metropolis, commercial center, and major entry point for overseas travelers. Flights from Los Angeles start at $230 in April and May, and I found a three-star hotel in the Financial District from $175 per night. For two people traveling together, the base price comes to $1,685 for a week's vacation.
At first glance, Ho Chi Minh City seems more expensive—$458 more, to be exact. But let's take a closer look at your per-day costs. Realistically, travelers in Vietnam can expect to spend about $50 per day for food, attractions, and transportation. In New York City, that daily budget may be tricky (if not near impossible) to stick to. Consider that the average cost of a meal in the city is roughly $42; you're already planning for an inflated per-day budget. And back in 2007, the average price of a cocktail was $10. Going out for dinner and drinks could quickly cost you upwards of $100. Of course, there are ways to find cheaper eats, attractions, and transportation deals, but you've got your work cut out for you. That extra $458 in New York City may only go as far as a few meals, museum fees, drinks, and cab rides.
Consider, too, that Ho Chi Minh City provides the chance to travel halfway across the world for not much more money, as well as the opportunity to experience a different culture up close. Leaving your comfort zone and seeing a new country firsthand offers a whole host of benefits that can't be replicated stateside.
Once again, look at your travel habits critically when comparing possibilities. Do your tastes and activities tend to inflate your budget? How far will your money go once you're at your destination? Comparing average costs is a smart way to get the true value of your chosen location.
Krakow, in southern Poland, offers an affordable alternative to other European capital cities. Teeming with art and architecture, historical artifacts, fine food, and nightlife, Krakow rewards its visitors with a value-packed experience. Tour an authentic castle and its dragon's lair, feast on pierogies and bigos, and visit ancient churches and synagogues, among other countless options in the greater metropolitan area.
Poland is still on the zloty, which is good news for American travelers wary of the euro. At press time, $1 USD gets you 2.80 zloty, which goes a long way in day-to-day expenses such as meals and transportation. Spring airfares from New York City start at $615, and a three-star downtown hotel can be booked from $59 per night. A week's vacation (airfare and accommodations) would cost $1,643 for two people traveling together.
Let's compare a Krakow vacation with a trip to Florence, another major European city known for art, architecture, and culinary delights. Flights from New York to Florence start at $820 in spring, and a three-star downtown hotel starts at $92 per night. Two people taking a week's vacation could expect to pay $2,284 for airfare and accommodations—about $640 more than a comparable Krakow trip.
Then, consider how far the dollar goes in Poland compared to Italy (which is on the euro), and Krakow becomes an even more desirable destination. Meals in Krakow can be had for just a few dollars per day. In 2007, my friend and I often went out for dinner and typically spent in the range of $30 total for a multi-course meal, including drinks and gratuity. Pub food and more modest options can be purchased for even less. Additionally, the Krakow Tourist Card offers transportation and attraction admission on the cheap. Choose a two- or three-day pass for 45 zloty or 65 zloty ($15 or $23), respectively, and get unlimited travel on city buses and trams and free admission at up to 32 Krakow museums. If you didn't already consider Krakow a bargain, the tourist card adds even greater value.
Frommer's describes Panama as "deliciously free of crowds"—and what better endorsement do you need? Even if you're based in Panama City, a range of outdoorsy activities including watersports in both the Caribbean and Pacific, bird watching, and hiking, can fill a vacation. Mountains, rainforests, and beaches are plentiful, creating a spectacular setting for vacationers, regardless if you want to break a sweat or just relax by the waves.
The country's currency, the balboa, is interchangeable with the U.S. dollar. Additionally, the dollar is accepted nationwide, so no worries about exchange rates or inflated prices here. Better yet, food and transportation are very affordable, and Lonely Planet estimates travelers can get by quite comfortably on $60 per day. Penny-pinching travelers should have no difficulty budgeting even less. Regardless of whether you want to scrimp or splurge, the possibilities are affordable.
Flights from New York start at $355 in spring and I found a three-star Panama City hotel from $60 per day. A seven-day vacation for two comes in at $1,130.
Let's compare a week in Panama City to a week in Miami. While at first this comparison may seem to be a contrast between outdoorsy adventure and city nightlife, both destinations offer easy beach access, rich Latin culture, and a laid-back atmosphere. Flights from New York start at $162 in April and May, and I found a three-star hotel in Miami Beach from $114 per night. A seven-night vacation for two would cost $1,122—just eight dollars less than a comparable Panama trip.
That paltry savings, however, would be blown by Miami's high food and entertainment prices. It's not unusual for cocktails to cost $10 and up, and many clubs will have a cover charge for you just to walk through the door. Unless you want a vacation full of deli and fast-food options, most restaurants will have an average cost of $25 per person. And in this glitzy city, the sky's the limit for boutique shopping and other entertainment options. At least the beach is free... but compared to Panama, in this case you'll be spending a lot more to stay stateside. With a trip to Panama City, you'll be paying a comparable base price for a chance to experience the unfamiliar, and expanding your horizons by immersing yourself in a new culture.
Auckland, New Zealand
It may take awhile to get to Auckland, but this Middle-Earth-esque, adventure-packed destination offers rewards for those willing to make the trek. Hike, surf, bungee jump, or stargaze; taste local wines and cheeses; or take a glass-bottom boat ride to see nature up close. Most amazing of all, perhaps, is that this far-flung adventure can be cheaper than a trip to Europe.
The value is in the currency. At press time, $1 USD buys you $1.40 New Zealand dollars, which goes a long way toward containing your in-country costs. Round-trip flights from Los Angeles cost $765 for spring travel, and I found a three-star hotel from $78 per night. A one-week spring vacation for two would cost $2,076.
I then took a look at a spring vacation in Hamburg, Germany, a strategic alliance city to Auckland and one also known for an artsy, creative culture; an active sporting scene; and fine dining. Round-trip airfares from Los Angeles came in at $807 in May, and a three-star hotel in the city center cost $115 per night. Based on these prices, a one-week vacation would cost $2,419 for two people traveling together.
While Hamburg is already more than $300 pricier than the New Zealand trip, the major sticker shock is the daily expenditures under the euro. As discussed in previous European comparisons, the dollar is still weaker than the euro, and inflated prices for food and transportation can add up fast. According to the TEFL Professional Network, a fast-food meal in Hamburg can cost 7 euros (about $9.50) and a beer 4 euros (approximately $5.40). It's not unusual for two- or three-star hotel rooms around town to go for 140 euros ($189 U.S.). Add in a few non-fast-food meals, museum admissions, some upscale cocktails, and you see where the budget is going.
Once known as Bombay, Mumbai offers the full range of emotions to travelers willing to take a thrilling, eye-opening ride. Expect a vacation filled with highs and lows—the best restaurants, the sleekest hotels, and pulsing nightlife, side by side with unavoidable poverty, hot climate, and crowds. Your visit will be what you make of it. But while you're here, the one thing you won't be is bored.
Airfare from New York starts at $855 for travel in April and May, and I found a three-star hotel from $88. A week's stay comes in at $2,326 for two. Once in Mumbai, $1 USD gets you 45 India rupees, and it's not unusual to pay $12 or $13 for a mid-range restaurant meal for two. Bargain for one-of-a-kind finds at one of the city's many bazaars, or take in the city's colonial and art deco architecture with a self-guided walking tour.
Let's then compare a Mumbai trip to a London vacation. Both are the gateway cities to their respective countries, serve as important commercial and tourism centers, and have thriving arts scenes and fashionable nightlife. Airfare from New York starts at $523 in spring, and I found a three-star hotel from $140 per night. All told, the base price for a week's vacation for two is $2,026, about $300 cheaper than Mumbai (on first glance).
The currency, once again, is what will make costs add up. The U.S. dollar is only worth about 0.66 pounds, and considering London is widely known as one of the most expensive cities worldwide, we budget-conscious travelers have our work cut out for us. Lonely Planet notes that a "good meal for two with wine" usually costs 80 to 100 pounds ($121 to $151), movie tickets are 10 pounds ($15), and transportation can add up without pre-ordered discounts (such as an Oyster card). The one silver lining is that all public museums are free, so your per-day costs could be kept down provided you stick to those establishments. Additionally, too, London features exorbitant airport taxes, which may increase your overall airfare and the base price of your trip. Any way you cut it, though, that $300 base price savings (compared to Mumbai) will quickly be eroded once you try to enjoy all London has to offer.