Many people dream of traveling the world but think they can't afford it. They tend to think of international travel as long, big, expensive trips. But that doesn't have to be the case. You can satiate your wanderlust at an affordable price.
Our list of eight destinations has something for every kind of traveler—and shows how you can have an outsized experience with a small budget. It's time to start planning your budget-friendly getaway to one of these unique destinations.
With its many national parks and stunning islands dotting the coast, Croatia has always been a popular destination for European travelers. But it's just recently started to grow in popularity for Americans. Although it's part of the European Union, Croatia still uses the kuna as its currency, making it cheaper to visit than some other European countries.
Flights: There are no direct flights from North America to Croatia, but once you get to Europe, you can find lots of affordable flights to get between countries. Travel during May and September for less expensive tickets and to avoid the crowds.
Transportation: Once you arrive in Croatia, you'll want to avoid taxis outside of Zagreb. Consider renting a car or traveling by bus to save money. In Croatia, buses are reliable and abundant, and tickets can be bought ahead online. For island hopping, public ferries are common, but don't take your car as it will cost more.
Food & Entertainment: There are plenty of free activities to enjoy in Croatia, from walking through the Old Towns and markets to visiting museums that don't have entrance fees. And while eating at home is usually cheaper in any location, you can find reasonably priced family-owned restaurants, some of which even make their own wine.
Lodging: Many hotels are pricey, especially along the coast, but there are options for camping. Croatia also offers a wide variety of hostels and local rentals, where you'll often have a more unique and affordable experience. Consider using booking.com(opens in a new tab) to find affordable lodging. It's a great resource for traveling anywhere in the world.
From 1960 to 2016, most Americans were prevented from traveling to Cuba because of a trade embargo. But now that the rules have been relaxed, Americans can enjoy a destination that has been popular among other travelers for years.
Just keep in mind that you'll have to choose one of 12 categories designated by the U.S. Department of Treasury. If you want to travel without a group, that category will likely be Support for the Cuban People, which requires you to engage in a full-time schedule of activities that strengthen civil society in the country. It's not as hard as it sounds; just plan your entertainment around supporting local businesses.
Your U.S. credit and debit cards still won't work, so you'll need to budget and bring enough cash. You can travel comfortably on $50 to $100 per day.
Flights: Getting to Cuba is not expensive, and, from Orlando, it's only an hour. You will need a visa to travel to Cuba. Call your airline to find out whether you should purchase online or at the airline gate. Note that when you leave Cuba, there's an exit fee of 25 CUC, so make sure to have this cash handy.
Transportation: There are lots of options for getting around Cuba, and most of them are negotiable (so it pays to know some Spanish). Taxi collectivos, bicycle taxis and coco taxis are the cheapest options for getting around towns. If you want to travel across the country, Viazul buses are a better option than trains or domestic flights.
Food & Entertainment: One option for your Support of the Cuban People itinerary is to buy food at street vendors or inexpensive family-owned restaurants, known as paladares. Keep in mind that tap water isn't drinkable in Cuba, but you can buy a water filter (such as the LifeStraw) before you go.
Lodging: This is another great opportunity to fulfill your obligation to support Cuban people. Hotels are expensive, and many are Cuban military-affiliated, which Americans aren't allowed to patronize. You'll be better off looking at casas particulares (similar to a bed and breakfast), hostels and campismos (which sometimes have cabins). You can find some of these options using Airbnb, or you can often book once you arrive.
Iceland has quickly become a popular destination, but it's one of those unique locations that you need to visit at least once. It can be expensive, but you can save money by planning in advance and traveling in the low season (September to May) to avoid higher prices. It will be colder, but you'll have the opportunity to see the Northern Lights.
Flights: You can buy a roundtrip ticket for around $200 on budget airlines WOW Air and Icelandair. However, they save money by charging extra for checked baggage, not offering higher cost features (such as TVs or reclining seats) and not offering free in-flight items. If you want these extras, getting to Iceland will be more expensive.
Transportation: Renting a car is the best way to experience Iceland, and if you know how to drive a manual transmission, it's an especially affordable option. Just make sure to download a Google map so that you can get around without having data on your phone. Note that gas is expensive, so plan your route before you go.
Food & Entertainment: The best part about Iceland is that the major attractions—national parks, waterfalls and glaciers—are free to visit. You can also tour Reykjavik on foot for free. You'll especially want to save money on entertainment if you want to dine out—it's significantly less expensive to buy groceries or bring food with you.
Lodging: The cheapest way to stay in Iceland is to camp. There are many campsites that you can stay in for $10 to $20 per night, or you can backpack for free. If it's too cold to camp, your next best option is a guesthouse, which you'll find in more remote areas.
Indonesia is the world's largest island country and offers unparalleled views. All of Southeast Asia is affordable once you get there, but some especially beautiful bargain spots in this country are Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands. You can travel comfortably around these areas for $50 per day.
Flights: Your least expensive option is to book a flight into another Southeast Asian country, such as Thailand or Singapore, and then take a budget airline to Bali or Lombok. If you travel during the low season, which is February, March, October and November, you'll find that flights are cheaper. And don't forget to save around $15 for your departure tax when you leave.
Transportation: Do like the locals do and rent a motorbike or take a motorbike taxi. On the Gilis, motorized transport is not allowed, so you'll need to walk, take a horse-drawn cart or rent a bicycle. Travel between Bali, Lombok and the Gilis is less than $4 on public ferries, but if you're in a hurry, domestic flights are a good and affordable option.
Food & Entertainment: In Southeast Asia, use your haggling skills to buy anything from massages to diving sessions. And, of course, there are ample white sand beaches you can enjoy for free. Local food can cost as little as $1, but even restaurants owned by Westerners are cheap in these areas. You'll eat well on a budget of $15 per day.
Lodging: There are lots of great hostels, but if you prefer private accommodations, you can find some villas for as little as $11 a night. During the low season, you'll more easily be able to negotiate a lower price for your stay.
Laos is a great place to enjoy a slower pace, especially if you spend time in smaller villages like Luang Namtha in the north or Thakhek in the south. If you have a few days and a thirst for adventure, try riding a motorbike around the Thakhek Loop. It's a 280-mile journey that ventures into mountains and farmlands.
Flights: High season is from November to February, so consider traveling outside this timeframe for less expensive flights and accommodations. The rainy season between July and October is best. To keep your plane ticket costs to a minimum, you may want to consider flying into Bangkok and taking AirAsia or a train to Laos.
Transportation: When you're in the city, you can walk or rent a bicycle for less than $2 per day. If you want to travel around the country, local buses are the cheapest option, although boats may be the easiest way to get to more remote areas. There are domestic budget airlines, but the timetables are limited and prices are relatively high.
Food & Entertainment: Laos is full of natural beauty, and while the most popular temples, waterfalls and caves have entry fees, hundreds of others are free. For affordable food options, skip the fancy restaurants and look for fresh street food, which can cost less than $5 per day, especially if you're good at negotiating.
Lodging: Hostels are your least expensive option, but to get the best deal, you should ask around once you arrive. If you're male, you can sometimes offer some community service or English lessons in exchange for a room at a monastery.
Norway is an up-and-coming trendy vacation spot, but it's not often considered on a list of budget destinations. While it's one of the most expensive places on this list, it's still one of the cheapest Scandinavian countries, and its outdoor culture can help you avoid busting your vacation budget.
Flights: Flights from major U.S. cities on airlines like Norwegian or Icelandair can make getting to Scandinavia affordable. You'll find better deals in the winter months, but traveling then also means missing out on a lot of outdoor activities. You should weigh your options based on your vacation style.
Transportation: Within the cities, you can easily walk or use buses, and to travel between cities, there are lots of options with domestic flights and trains. Just make sure to buy your tickets in advance to get the best prices. If you want to travel to more remote areas, you'll need to rent a car.
Food & Entertainment: Norway offers a plethora of free outdoor experiences. If you're adventurous, you may want to cycle through the country. To cut food costs while still experiencing Norwegian cuisine, look for local foods at the grocery store and cook for at least some of your meals. If you want to dine out, check out Vippa(opens in a new tab) or Oslo Street Food(opens in a new tab).
Lodging: Hotels in Norway are expensive, so if you want to keep your trip within budget, try to find other lodging. Norwegian laws allow people to camp almost anywhere, and there are many campsites in Norway that offer cabins for an affordable price. Other options include hostels, boarding houses, guesthouses and inns.
Thailand is becoming a more popular location, but you can still travel there cheaply. For a unique experience, get outside Bangkok and beach resorts to relax in the cooler mountainous areas of Pai, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in northern Thailand. You'll be able to vacation comfortably on $50 per day.
Flights: Flights from the U.S. into Bangkok are reasonably priced. From there, you can take an affordable AirAsia flight to northern Thailand. Prices are highest December to February. They'll start to taper later in the season, so look at flights in late January or February. If this isn't possible, travel during the rainy season (June to November).
Transportation: Within the cities, you can easily walk or negotiate with tuk-tuk drivers to get a low price. If you want to travel between cities, buses are an affordable option, but they can be especially torturous on the road to Pai if you get motion sickness. If you feel comfortable driving yourself, renting a motorbike or scooter is a great option.
Food & Entertainment: There are many temples and monuments to see for free or a small fee and night markets with negotiable goods, food and services. This area is beautiful and enjoying nature is usually free, so don't miss out on hiking, waterfalls and hot springs. And make sure to take time to sit and relax. The lifestyle in this area is laidback.
Lodging: You can find hotels in northern Thailand for as little as $30 per night, although there are plenty of more expensive options. There are also lots of hostels in the area that cost as little as $10 per night.
Vietnam is a hidden gem full of culture, history and beauty. You'll likely enter the country through Ho Chi Minh City, and from there, you should work your way up the country through Dalat and Hoi An, an ancient seaport town. It's not as budget-friendly as some other parts of Southeast Asia, but you can still find good deals.
Flights: As with many Asian countries, it's cheaper to fly into a major city, such as Bangkok, and from there switch to a budget airline like AirAsia. To enter Vietnam, you'll need to apply for a visa online. You'll pay $20 and receive the visa once you land in Vietnam, where you'll pay an additional $25.
Transportation: In the cities, you can easily walk or ride a bicycle or motorbike. Taxis are also a good option. To get between cities, you can travel by Vietnam Airlines (this is by far the fastest option), by train or by bus. If you take a plane or train to Hoi An, you'll arrive in Da Nang and need to take a public bus the rest of the way.
Entertainment: There are countless historical and nature sites you can visit, and many of them are free. While in Hoi An, make sure to visit the beaches and markets full of quality clothing and shoes. For food, there are a range of street stands and affordable restaurants. Make sure to grab a bowl of pho and a bahn mi while in Vietnam—in their home country, you can find them for around $1.
Lodging: If you want the least expensive lodging, hostels and guesthouses are an option, but in Vietnam, you can often find hotels for cheaper than hostels in other countries. Look for places outside of tourist areas and book in advance—you're likely to find a place for less than $10 per night.
Bonus: Puerto Rico
Even without a passport, you can enjoy an exotic vacation. Check out the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. It's much closer than a lot of the destinations on this list—you can get there in 2.5 hours from Miami. And because it's part of the U.S., you don't have to worry about exchanging currency or language barriers.
Flights: Travel during the low season (June to November) to get the best deal, and make sure to book in advance. All major U.S. airlines have flights into Puerto Rico, so you'll have lots of options. You can sometimes find flights for less than $100.
Transportation: Public transportation in Puerto Rico isn't always reliable, and taxis can be expensive. Your best bet for touring the country is to rent a car. If you want to visit one of the smaller islands, you can get there on a ferry for about $2.25. And it's worth the trip. Flamenco Beach on Culebra Island has been voted one of the best in the world.
Food & Entertainment: There are many free entertainment options in Puerto Rico, including historical sites, beaches and El Yunque National Forest. If you want to snorkel or scuba dive, you can pack your own gear to save additional money. For food, stay away from tourist restaurants and look for where the locals are eating.
Lodging: For the best prices, avoid chain hotels and resorts. If your budget is really tight, you can find camping options on some of the beaches. But you can also get good prices at Airbnbs or paradores (similar to a bed and breakfast). During the off-season, it's possible to find good deals on some hotels, too.
8 Steps to Simplify Your Finances
Learn eight easy ways to make managing your finances less stressful.
Am I Saving Enough? What Can I Change?
BB&T Financial Foundations Program
See how our on-demand tutorials can help you live your best financial life with personalized tips, action plans and budgeting tools.
The information provided is not intended to be legal, tax, or financial advice. BB&T hopes you find this information useful but we cannot guarantee that it is accurate, up to date, or appropriate for your situation. Financial calculators are provided to assist you in estimating the approximate costs associated with any bank activity. Your actual costs may vary. You should consult with a qualified attorney or financial advisor to understand how the law applies to your particular circumstances or for financial information specific to your personal or business situation.
Branch Banking and Trust Company, Member FDIC.