I’ve struck a balance between tight budgets and bucket lists experiences, telling you where to go and how much it costs to get there. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, the travel ban, and some more problems. So I’ve considered all this in making a list and selected countries that are safe, accessible, and where your tourist dollars can make a difference.
Peru is already on everyone’s bucket list. Machu Picchu, a jewel of humanity’s heritage and a mandatory selfie stop for pretty much everybody and the crowds at Machu Picchu are insane. But Peru makes our list for everything beyond Machu Picchu.
Peruvian cuisine has taken its rightful place as one of the best cuisines in the world: a fusion of Andean, European, and Asian cuisines that has made the capital Lima one of the best foodie destinations in the world and the only city to host two of the world’s top ten best restaurants. So if you’re into good food, Lima is the city for you.
Then there’s Cusco, the Rome of the Americas, the ancient capital of the Inca where you can soak up history before catching a ride to Machu Picchu on one of the world’s most luxurious trains. If you have any plan for Peru then go deeper- surf trips up in Peru’s unspoiled coastline, eating our way through colonial Arequipa and heading over to the Peruvian Amazonia to spot wildlife in one of the world’s most biodiverse regions.
If you’re dead set on Machu Picchu, you might want to go in May. This is when the weather is still good enough to hike the Inca Trail, which must be booked months in advance, but the crowds are not yet insane in Machu Picchu.
If your idea of a hike is more like a pub crawl, then you should go to Belgrade, the capital of Serbia and home to some of the world’s best nightlife. In recent years, everybody has been talking about Croatia and with Game of Thrones being filmed there, the crowds are getting pretty intense. Serbia is right next door, and although it doesn’t have Croatia’s beaches, it doesn’t have Croatia’s crowds, either.
Belgrade the capital combines old-world charm with the edgy vibes of the Savamala neighborhood where local artists have covered abandoned buildings in street art, converted warehouses into clubs, and started bars and restaurants. All these things make this one of the funnest and cheapest destinations in Europe.
No one ever needs an excuse to visit New Orleans. It’s the birthplace of jazz, of Mardi Gras, of Creole cooking, and the food alone is worth the trip. But this year is extra special because New Orleans turns 300 years old. And, if there’s any city in the world that knows how to throw a birthday party, it’s New Orleans. So, I recommend that you skip the drunken crowds at Mardi Gras and enjoy yourself at the birthday party.
If crowds aren’t your vibe, then think about visiting Namibia’s Skeleton Coast where the world’s oldest desert meets over 1,000 miles of unspoiled, undeveloped coastline. I’ve been to Namibia, and it was one of the most incredible travel experiences of my life. But getting there is not easy, especially the northern part of the Skeleton Coast National Park where only 800 visitors are allowed to visit each year. It’s called the Skeleton Coast because of the shipwrecks and whale bones that litter the beaches.
There’s plenty of wildlife, but the most elusive locals are from the Himba tribe, meaning you should get Namibia’s epic waves pretty much to yourself if you can figure out where the secret spots are.
For something more accessible, but no less fascinating, I recommend Morocco in North Africa. Just 15 kilometers across the Mediterranean from Spain, Morocco is where European, Arab, and African cultures intersect in a heady blend that is uniquely Moroccan.
Check out Essaouira, once home to Portuguese traders and Jimi Hendrix. If you’re a surfer, go south to Agadir. Fashionistas will love Yves Saint Laurent museum, the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech, and everyone can fill their stomachs with delicious Moroccan tagines, get Instagram gold in a Riyadh. Bring home some ‘Boho Chic home vibe inspiration’ from Morocco’s many markets.
Georgia is fascinating. It’s located at the intersection of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. This cultural melting pot has been influenced by everyone from the Persians, the Arabs, the Byzantines, the Ottoman Turks, and Soviet Russia. The capital of Tbilisi, famous for its old quarter, its thermal baths and over 2,000 years of history.
Outside the capital, make your way to Ushguli, the highest village in Europe. Then sip your way through the vineyards that have been in cultivation since the Stone Age over 8000 years ago. Top it off with a legendary Georgian feast known as a “Supra”.
Oaxaca has long been considered one of the most vibrant corners of Mexico and it’s beautiful. It is a colonial town with tons of colored houses, cobblestone streets, and some of the best restaurants in the world. It has killer moles and tons of great restaurants. Also, it’s the birthplace of mezcal that little liquor that’s been slipping its way into cocktails all around the world at the trendiest bars. You can go easily to visit artisan distilleries where it’s made by hand, and you bring back bottles are not for sale in your home country.
From the city, you can go down the coast. I really love Zipolite. It’s a blissed-out little hippie heaven and it’s a very chilled area. There’s also Porto Escondido. This is the home of big wave surfing in Mexico. And then the entire coastline down to Selena Cruz is full of unspoiled surf breaks and beaches where you’ll find no other foreigners.
Not to mention, Oaxaca is one of the best places in all of Latin America for textiles. So if you’re into rugs, they have really cool and affordable rugs you can bring back for your house, as well. So go to Oaxaca, get yourself some mezcal, buy a rug, and enjoy your time because it’s a great place.
The Dominican Republic
It is one of the most affordable destinations in the Caribbean. Most travelers stick to the resorts around Punta Cana But we’re encouraging you to get off the beaten path and explore the southwestern area near Barahona. This is where the mountains meet the sea on the scenic coastal highway from Barahona to Pedernales passing by the Bahia de las Aguilas, which has stunning scenery but very few tourists.
Taos, New Mexico
It is the quintessential western town, both naturally beautiful and culturally rich, it has a combination of Spanish, indigenous and cowboy cultures. It has long been a home to artists and more recently this southwestern aesthetic has influenced designers around the world from fashion to furniture. Not least Hopper Goods, a store founded by the daughter of longtime Taos resident Dennis Hopper. So whether you’re looking for a cool hat or an outfit for Coachella, Taos is the source of style for your search.
Ghana is a peaceful, stable, affordable English-speaking country that is a great choice for West Africa. The coastal capital Accra, which juxtaposes urban sophistication with informal chop bars, traditional markets with young globally minded entrepreneurs. African surf vibes and the fishing village turned cultural hotspot of Jamestown.
Down the coast, places like the Cape Coast Castle offer sobering reminders of the horrors of the slave trade and the colonial legacy that left Ghana with more fortresses than any nation in Africa. Inland you hike to waterfalls in the mountains of the eastern region, spot elephants up north at Mole National Park or do a canopy walk through the tropical rainforests of Cockrum National Park.
It is truly one of the world’s most fascinating destinations and hands down one of the cheapest places to travel on the planet. I just got back from filming a VR film and vlog series in Rajasthan, one of the most colorful corners of India. Rajasthan was amazing. Udaipur, which is known as the Venice of India because it has a lake with a floating palace. Jodhpur, the Blue City, which is equally fascinating.
I went to Pushkar, a holy pilgrimage site with a camel fair, and it was excellent and went on a motorcycle trip to the Himalayan region of Ladakh. Also, explore more of southern India particularly Tamil Nadu as well as the former Portuguese colony of Goa. No matter which region you choose, all of India is incredible.
Portugal is the sleeper favorite of Western Europe. Long overlooked by Spain, France, and Italy, travelers are finally starting to catch on to Portugal, which has everything at much lower prices.
Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, is the obvious place to start with its seven hills, cable cars, and colorful winding streets. Swap Lisbon for Porto, Portugal’s overlooked northern city. Skip the crowds of Algarve for the fishing villages, vineyards, and empty coastlines of Alentejo right next door or maybe just forget the mainland entirely and check out the Azores or Maeda, beautiful Portuguese islands off the coast of Africa.
Zanzibar is a tropical archipelago off the coast of Tanzania, also known as the Spice Islands, and it combines gorgeous coral sand beaches, incredible diving and a fascinating blend of Arab, African, and European cultures. The capital, Stone Town, a warren of alleyways bustling with spice markets, street food, and history.
Stop at a spice plantation before making your way up to Nungwi where you can plan dive trips to the offshore islands. Zanzibar might not be the closest destination nor the cheapest, but we definitely feel that it’s worth the trek.
Patagonia is an eternal destination, a vast expanse of open wilderness at the tip of South America, stretching from the glaciers of the Andes through the fjords of southern Chile and the tip of Tierra del Fuego in Argentina. It’s one of the last great wild places on earth. Whether it’s wildlife spotting at Torres del Paine, island hopping in the fjords of the ice in Patagonia or living the gaucho life at an estancia. With so much open space, it’s ideal to spend some time in silence and solitude. But it’s also vital to preserve this place, and there are plenty of organizations such as the Tompkins Conservation where you can volunteer to help preserve Patagonia for future generations. If you want to see a cool new movie from Patagonia, check out “El Faro de las Orcas”, or “the Lighthouse of the Whales”.
It is an incredible destination, but Indonesia is huge, and there are over seventeen thousand five hundred and seven islands to explore. So, I am encouraging you to go to Indonesia, but go beyond Bali. For instance, on the nearby island of Java, you have the largest Buddhist temple in the world as well as Jomblang, the Cave of Heavenly Light. Not to mention Komodo dragons on Padar Island, scuba diving the reefs of Raja Ampat and the world’s top hotel the Nehe on Sunda Island.
Tallinn in Estonia, a great budget alternative to its more expensive neighbors in the Nordics. The heart of Tallinn is the immaculately preserved UNESCO World Heritage Site Old Town, a walled city complete with a Hanseatic themed restaurant that takes you back to the Middle Ages. But it’s the neighborhood of Cala Maya that enticed us to stick around for longer.
Just outside the city walls, the former fisherman’s quarter is where you’ll find factories converted into art spaces, craft breweries, and restaurants that are putting an Estonian twist on the New Nordic cuisine of their neighbors. Tallinn is great in the summertime, but it’s also beautiful in the winter, and its Christmas markets are some of the best in Europe.
It is the mystery island. Every single corner of the island is a different microclimate, and culturally, it’s got this blend of Melanesian, French, Arab, and Vietnamese influences. We recommend skipping the capital and doing a road trip around the island to see all the different microclimates. The most popular area is the Isle de Pines, the Pine Island, which unfortunately we were not able to visit. Our favorite area was to drive along the northeastern coast where tropical mountains go straight down into crystal blue waters, and there’s just a narrow two-lane highway connecting all these small villages with the rest of the world.
I spent a couple of nights at the Culles Nouveau Village, which was good quality, affordable and still relatively undiscovered by tourists. That’s partly because New Caledonia is not really close to anything except for Australia. So it can be expensive to get to. But if you’re looking for a place to really get away from it all, New Caledonia is for you.
Bhutan, an idyllic Himalayan mountain kingdom where the government restricts tourism and measures its GDP by the gross national happiness of its citizens. I haven’t been to Bhutan yet because it’s expensive and also It’s far away. Flights to Bhutan from India are limited, and there’s a mandatory visa for all foreigners that cost hundreds of dollars a day. It’s designed to keep tourism low and avoid the negative repercussions of over tourism that affected Nepal.
However, we recently learned that the visa covers an all-inclusive tour of the country. So when you add it all up, a peaceful Buddhist monastery in the Himalaya sounds like the perfect place, whatever the price.