I never imagined I’d get to travel as much as I did in 2015. In fact, I was able to spend the majority of the year backpacking through Asia, Africa and Europe, and on the way I found some places so special, that they shouldn’t be missed. Here are the top 10 best budget travel destinations for 2016:
Many backpackers and travelers arrive in Morocco from Europe. The port of Tangier is a mere 20 miles from the beach of Southern Spain, so getting here is cheap. But in some ways Morocco is a world away. Prices of food, transportation and hotels are a fraction of those in Western Europe.
The Rif Mountains, particularly the town of Chefchaouen is my favorite part of Morocco. Most of Chefchaouen is an old walled in city, and it’s beautifully maintained (almost everything is painted sky blue). Great fresh food is available, plus the locals are friendly and the views are stunning. Hiking trails lie within walking distance of the old walled-in medina. Chefchaouen hotels are clean and cheap by European standards.
When you visit Taiwan you’ll sometimes wonder where all the other backpackers are. Taiwan gets far fewer visitors than most regions in East Asia, but this green island is a fantastic destination and it’s a huge bargain. The Taiwanese people are even friendlier than people in Thailand, which makes this a very easy place to get around.
Taipei is full of trendy coffee shops, restaurants and bars most of which are a great value. Restaurant meals (even sushi) can be as cheap as $2-$3. Plus this modern city is mixed in with green hills and mountains so it’s easy to escape the concrete jungle of Taipei and get some fresh air and some great views.
Taiwan is absolutely a top place to visit in 2016.
In my opinion, the heart of South-East Asian cuisine lies just off the coast of peninsular Malaysia, on the island of Penang. On one side of this large island is the busy colonial-era city, George Town, and on the other side are nice beaches and forest. But everywhere on this diverse island you’ll find some of the best noodle dishes anywhere on earth. It’s worth a trip to Penang just for a plate of char kway teow or Wonon Mee.
AirAsia, Tigerair, Jetstar Asia, Malindo, Firefly and other budget airlines offer great service to Penang. The cheapest flights to Penang usually leave from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. Although flights from Penang to Langkawi island can be as low as $10 or so on AirAsia.
Zanzibar in particular is a fantastic and exotic hangout with some of the best beaches in the Indian Ocean. It’s surprisingly un-crowded (sometimes nearly vacant) and can be a good value if you don’t spend too much on drinks. Bwejuu village in Zanzibar is the place to go for relaxation and hanging out on the beach in a very chill setting. Nungwi and Kendwa are known as the big party beaches.
Zanzibar is more developed than most of East Africa, so getting here is not difficult. I strongly recommend flying directly into Zanzibar as the ferries serving the island have been known to sink frequently. I flew Precision Air from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar and found them to be good, although the ticket prices are higher than they should be.
Oman is hardly ever in the news, but this small Middle-eastern country has all the ingredients for an adventure tourism hot-spot. There are canyons, oasis, white-sand beaches, mountains and even a sub-tropical region that comes to life during summer monsoon. Fuel and food are cheap. Other things, like hotels can be pricey, but camping on the beach is a popular and surprisingly easy (and free) option.
A classic tour of Oman would start in the capital Muscat. Renting a car is by far your best option. After a day or two, drive down to Tiwi, and Sur. Then continue on along the coast and make your way to Salalah, in the sub-tropical Dhofar region. Leave plenty of time for exploring along the way.
Muscat is a short and inexpensive flight away from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, and Bahrain where some of the world’s top airlines are based. If you can work in a stopover in the Middle East, book a flight to Muscat and discover why Oman is easily one of my favorite countries in the world.
6. South Korea
If you’re looking for an easy, clean, and fun place to travel within Asia then look no further. Most travelers don’t need to arrange for a visa ahead of time making it a great for a stopover or short trip (if you don’t have time for a longer stay – which would be awesome too). The restaurant and street food is fantastic and you’ll get to use the best chopsticks in all of Asia (they’re thin, flat, and most of the time made of stainless steal). Seoul – the capital city – is easy to move around in and transportation from the big and beautiful Incheon airport is simple.
If that wasn’t enough then rest assured as you’ll be surrounded by some of the most beautiful and well-dressed people in all of Asia! (For better or worse a good portion of Koreans have been “fine-tuned” under the knife by their local plastic surgeon – or so I’ve been told.) The Koreans know how to party and can drink with the best of them so get ready.
One downside of South Korea is that getting a SIM card for your phone can be a real pain in the ass (I literally went to 7 shops within 3 days and still couldn’t get a SIM card). No worries though, just buy a Wi-Fi pass and you’ll be all set, since public Wi-Fi – provided by the telecom companies – is readily available (at least in the cities).
It’s no secret that Thailand is a must-visit destination in Southeast Asia, but given the recent political turmoil in the country, it’s worth repeating that this is actually a great time to visit Thailand. Even though millions of tourists arrive in Thailand every year, the country still manages to deliver the great cheap food, Thai massages, amazing beaches and everything else you’re hoping for.
Prices are going up in Thailand, but it’s still a bargain. One of my favorite restaurants in Chiang Mai continues to offer their excellent Pad Kee Mao Gai for around $1.10 USD. I suggest getting here quickly, before the rapidly increasing number of Chinese holidaymakers begins to overwhelm the tourism infrastructure in the country.
Finding cheap flights to Thailand from North America can be tough. For these more expensive tickets I suggest using a cheap flight search tool like Airfareninja.com to see if they can get an unpublished fare for you. You don’t have to pay for the service unless they find you a better fare than what you’ve found on, say, orbitz.com.
China is such a big country that it wouldn’t be fair to pass judgment based on my time in just one city. For this reason I will speak about the place I went to: Shanghai.
As most people living there will tell you, Shanghai is not REAL China. It’s one of the most modern and most populated cities you will find in Asia.
If you like to party hard, are a tech nerd, are single, an entrepreneur, a risk-taker, this is the place to be in 2014.
If you have a family or are above 40, you will find the city life to be too stressful and taking a toll on your health (the pollution is getting almost as bad as in Beijing, one of the most polluted places in Asia).
Spanish people tend to have a bad outlook on their economy, but they still know how to enjoy life. I have been to Spain more times than any other country (five times so far) and I always appreciate the warmth of the people, the fantastic food, the great weather and to top it off, Spain is cheaper than other countries in Western Europe. Airbnb.com is an easy way to score a great deal on accommodation.
The Southwest and Northwest are my favorite regions, although Barcelona is a fantastic city that should not be missed. The Baleric islands (including Ibiza) and Spanish North Africa (Ceuta) are also well worth visiting, but for totally different reasons.
At first it feels like the last frontier of Southeast Asia, but once you notice how many Europeans live in Laos, it begins to feel more like home. It’s easy to get used to life here. French restaurants and pastry shops sit next to Lao restaurants that dish out great Southeast Asian food. The local people have the kind of friendly charm that once made Thailand famous.
Getting to Laos can be tricky, but check out this post on the cheapest way to fly to Laos. It’s well worth the cost of getting here, as this country easily offers what so many tourists seek every year in North Thailand.