As the vaccine rollout continues and we begin to see the light at the end of the COVID tunnel, more and more people are starting to plan travel abroad. After a year in lockdown, there is a huge pent-up demand for international travel. People are chomping at the bit to get back out there and explore the world after visiting nowhere but their own living rooms for months on end.
I’m eager to get back on the road myself and, thankfully, there’s plenty of countries and budget travel destinations to explore that are accepting tourists right now.
To help you plan your next trip abroad, here’s a list of 10 must-visit budget travel destinations that are currently open to US travelers (and how much you can expect to spend per day):
I’ve never been to Albania, but it’s high on my list! In fact, I’m planning to head there this year after my current US road trip this fall. Albania and the rest of the Balkans are some of the most affordable, least-visited countries in Europe. With uncrowded UNESCO World Heritage Sites, untouched wilderness, and pristine beaches along its own Riviera, Albania is only going to get more popular as the years pass. Visit now while it’s still super cheap and unspoiled by mass tourism.
On a backpacker budget, you can get by in Albania for $45-50 USD per day.
While it’s not the cheapest country in Central America, Belize is quite laid back and easy to travel in. Plus, the official language is English, making it easy to navigate. There’s world-class diving and snorkeling (don’t miss the Great Blue Hole, a giant marine sinkhole), jungle-trekking, and island-hopping (Caye Caulker is a popular backpacker getaway if you want to lounge away the days). The second-largest barrier reef in the world is here too, and there are also tours to go see manatees in the wild. It’s the nature lover’s paradise of budget travel destinations!
On a backpacker budget, you can travel Belize on $50-60 USD per day.
I loved my time in Colombia. I spent six weeks traveling around the country, and it surpassed my expectations. Also, I realized that six weeks was hardly enough to scratch the surface. There’s a lot to see! Don’t miss Tayrona National Park, with its long stretches of golden beaches; the Lost City (La Ciudad Perdida), which was built over 1,200 years ago; and the Cocora Valley, home to Colombia’s national tree, the wax palm, and where you can do a stunning five-hour hike through the valley and surrounding jungle. Even though I was mugged in Colombia, I would absolutely go back. That’s how amazing it is!
On a backpacker budget, you can travel Colombia on $40-50 USD per day.
4. Costa Rica
Costa Rica was the first country I visited as an adult. It kick-started my wanderlust and set me on the path to becoming Nomadic Matt. Like Belize, it’s not as cheap as its neighbors, but it’s safe, and there is a lot to see and do. You can get up close to volcanoes (don’t skip Arenal, the most iconic in the country), chill out in small surf towns on the Caribbean, visit coffee plantations, and take part in adventure sports like zip-lining. There is really something here for every interest — it’s popular with young travelers and retired ex-pats alike — which is why I keep going back!
On a backpacker budget, you can travel Costa Rica on $50-55 USD per day.
Croatia has become wildly popular in recent years. It’s now both a cruise hub and a Game of Thrones tour hotspot. However, outside of touristy Dubrovnik, it’s incredibly easy to escape the crowds. And compared to Western Europe, it’s still quite affordable. Island-hop along the Dalmatian Coast, road-trip between national parks (don’t miss Plitvice Lakes and Krka National Parks), or party the nights away in Split. Croatia boasts over 3,600 miles of coastline, so there’s lots of diving and snorkeling, as well as plenty of sailing tours and charters too. For a unique experience, stay at an Airbnb overlooking the ocean. They’re super affordable if you can book in advance!
On a backpacker budget, you can travel Croatia on $45-$50 USD per day.
Georgia has become a backpacker hub in recent years and popular with digital nomads looking for a new hangout. I can absolutely see why. The food is cheap, there is ample history and hiking, and the budding art scene in Tbilisi gives the city a laid-back, progressive vibe. There is very affordable skiing in the winter, and the country also has many vineyards you can explore (the wine is good as well as cheap!). Georgia is going to become mainstream sooner rather than later, so get there before the prices jump!
On a backpacker budget, you can travel Georgia on $45-50 USD per day.
I recently fell in love with Mexico. Once you get beyond the bland resorts and actually explore the country, you’ll find there is so much variety, vibrancy, and adventure to be had. With many Mayan ruins (including Chichén Itzá, Palenque, Calakmul, and Tulum), incredible beaches, unlimited tasty tacos, and charming colonial architecture, Mexico is underrated and all too often passed over by US travelers who look further afield. Be sure to visit Oaxaca, Mérida, Sayulita, and the dozens of amazing cenotes around the Yucatán Peninsula (a great place to rent a car and explore).
On a backpacker budget, you can travel Mexico on $50-55 USD per day.
Like Albania, Serbia is a Balkan gem I’ve yet to explore – but it’s high on my list. In Belgrade, the country’s capital, every day is Friday, so you’re never far from a party, bar, or club. And since beer is under $2 USD, you can really have fun here without breaking the bank. On my ideal itinerary is Golubac Fortress, a 14th century castle on the Danube; Uvac Canyon, home to scenic hills and hikes; and Skull Tower, a monument of over 900 skulls that dates back to the Ottoman Empire. The country has had a turbulent past, so there is a lot of history and culture to discover, beyond just partying the nights away.
On a backpacker budget, you can get by here for around $45-50 USD per day.
9. Sri Lanka
I’ll be honest: I didn’t have a lot of expectations when I visited Sri Lanka. But after spending a few weeks traveling around the island nation, I was absolutely blown away. The landscapes are stunning, the people are incredibly friendly, and the food was delicious. What more could you want in a destination? Don’t miss the ancient ruins art Anuradhapura and Sigiriya, the hiking treks near Kandy, and Yala National Park (which has elephants and leopards). And be sure to take the iconic (and Insta-famous) train ride from Kandy to Ella. It’s gorgeous and there’s no question of how it made it to my top budget travel destinations!
On a backpacker budget, you can travel Sri Lanka on $40-45 USD per day.
Thailand is one of my favorite countries. With laid-back islands and a bustling capital, amazing food, postcard-perfect beaches, and so many things to see and do, it’s a budget backpacker’s paradise. I’ve visited countless times over the years and even lived here for a while teaching English. I never get tired of the food, the people, or the weather. Top it all off with the fact that you can travel Thailand on $30 USD a day (sometimes less) and you’ve got yourself a perfect budget travel locale! If you’re new to budget travel, this is the best place for you to start if you ask me. Be sure to spend time on Koh Tao (for diving), Koh Lipe (for chilling out), and Koh Pha-ngan (for the Full Moon Party).
If you’ve started travel hacking, Thailand is great for cashing in those points, as flights from the US can be pricey. There are also quite a few luxurious hotels and resorts where you can use those points if you feel like splurging!
While much of the world is still battling COVID, there is light at the end of the tunnel. As more and more countries vaccinate their populations, borders will slowly reopen. It will take time for everything to return to normal, but there are still plenty of safe, fun, and budget-friendly destinations to visit. Even if you’ve never learned how to travel on a budget, these make it easy to travel cheaply. With stunning beaches, amazing food, cheap accommodation, and perfect weather, every place on this list has something memorable to offer.
But don’t take my word for it — get out there and see them for yourself. You won’t be disappointed these top 10 must-visit budget travel destinations!