A world of wonder - it's as cheap as trips
Beachfront living from $40 a night ... Samoa. Photo: Getty Images
From beachside bliss in Nicaragua to free walking tours of Berlin, 2013 offers great opportunities for the budget-conscious, writes Ben Groundwater.
A tight budget doesn't mean you can't find the perfect overseas destination this year - there are plenty of affordable places to choose from. After a post on Fairfax Media's weekly Backpacker blog provoked a flood of recommendations from readers, we've decided to extend our list of 2013's best destinations for the budget-conscious - including great tips from you.
Best for adventure
Wallet friendly ... a rock church in Lalibela, Ethiopia Photo: AFP
Adventurous travellers have never struggled to find budget-friendly destinations close to home to slake their thirst for adrenalin, but what about casting your eye further afield? Ethiopia is one of Africa's most fascinating countries - a place with a long history, beautiful landscapes and a rich culture. Plus, it's a bargain.
Entry to the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela - easily the equal of the far better known examples in Petra, Jordan - costs about $40 (Petra is $130). A traditional meal of injera bread and various stews in Addis Ababa is worth about $3. This is a country to explore, from the monasteries of Bahir Dar to the Rastafarian settlements of Shashamane.
The south-east Asian country of Laos is perfect for adventurous travellers trying to get away from the banana pancake trail in Thailand. Laos has plenty of pockets that are still virtually unexplored by Western tourists, and it costs next to nothing. Even in tourist-heavy towns, such as Luang Prabang, you can stay in a five-star hotel for the price of a hostel in western Europe.
Colombia is now a mecca for adventurers, particularly around the city of Pereira, deep in the country's coffee-growing region, where zip-lining through the treetops or galloping about on a horse are within the budget of every traveller.
Best for food
Despite many people's love of a late-night curry, India seems bizarrely underrated as a foodie destination. Our advice: get to southern India now, and pack some loose-fitting pants. It's not the desserts that'll get you, although you could easily live on 20-cent servings of super-sweet gulab jamun from bustling Tamil cities such as Madurai. The real kicker is the thali, the all-you-can-eat lunches that every state in southern India does so well.
In Mysore, you can get a plate loaded with three curries, yoghurt, steamed rice, a portion of biryani, fried bread called puri, pappadums and a dessert, all for about $1.50. And then there are cups of spiced coffee for 20¢, fried potato cakes for 30¢ and silver-embossed sweets for 10¢.
Away from India, Vietnam is another gastronome's delight, where the food is amazing and the prices are small. You could spend an entire holiday travelling up and down the country sampling the different versions of pho, the famed noodle soup, which costs a dollar or two. Or grab a banh mi, the sandwich that fuses French and Asian cuisine, from a market. The best bargain of all, however, might be bia hoi, the local home-brewed beer that's sold on the street for 15¢ a cup.
Best for Europe
Western Europe has plenty to offer travellers, but budget-friendly destinations aren't usually top of the list. Capital cities in particular have a reputation for destroying your wallet, but that needn't be the case. The best example is Berlin, the German capital, which doesn't really feel like it's part of Germany at all. The streets are shabby and graffiti-laden, and the surrounding facades crumbling, but this is a city with real history and soul, and it doesn't take much time - or money - to discover it.
Try an "alternative walking tour" (alternativeberlin.com), a trek through trendy neighbourhoods, artists' squats and little-known local highlights. The cost? Nothing. It's free. Or stroll past remnants of the Berlin Wall. Free, as well. Or do karaoke in a park (bearpitkaraoke.com). Free. Or, if you really have to part with some cash, head to Konnopke's Imbiss for the city's best currywurst and a beer for $3.
While northern Spanish cities such as Barcelona are easily the monetary match of their costly northern cousins, in the south of the country, you can find some real bargains.
The ancient Moorish city of Seville is surprisingly affordable, from the moderately priced accommodation to plates of the region's culinary specialty, jamon Iberico, for a couple of euros. This is a city that loves its beer and if you find yourself in Plaza del Salvador on a sunny Saturday afternoon sipping $1.50 glasses of Cruzcampo, you'll have absolutely no cause to wonder why.
Best for shopping
All hail the Aussie dollar. It used to be that the "Pacific peso" wouldn't get you very far in the United States, but how things have changed. It's not just affordable in the US now, it's properly cheap, particularly for those looking to fill a few extra suitcases.
There's little need to go beyond California if you want to get your shop on, from the outlet malls on city outskirts to vintage shops on Melrose and fancy boutiques in San Francisco. Serious shoppers, however, should think about Orlando, the city in Florida that boasts 500 outlet stores.
If you have a thing for antiques, you'll want to head south - far south - to Buenos Aires. In the Argentinian capital, the Sunday antique market in San Telmo is a huge drawcard, plus the suburb of Palermo is full of cool little stores stocking unique items both old and new.
Morocco is another great destination for antiques - vast stores, such as Labyrinthe du Sud in Ouarzazate, stock vintage rugs, wooden furniture and Arabian art.
Just make sure you haggle hard.
Of course, no mention of bargain shopping would be complete without a nod to China, where cities such as Guangzhou and Shenzhen offer malls with seemingly endless selections of pretty much everything that carries that famous "Made in China" tag.
Best for sunshine
While the country is still in clean-up mode after the devastation of cyclone Evan, Samoa is certainly worth considering as a budget destination for those wanting to catch a few rays.
The island offers an extensive network of fales - thatched beach huts - that are extremely affordable. We're talking $40 a night for beachfront living, with all the snorkelling, diving, hiking and golfing you choose to fit in between those stressful sessions lying on the sand.
Fiji, too, has some budget-friendly options, from backpacker hostels on Viti Levu to stripped-back eco-resorts on its outer islands.
An up-and-coming hot spot for travellers looking further afield is Central America, particularly Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
The former country is awash with affordable beachside stays, particularly in the rainforested Caribbean coastline around Puerto Viejo. At Cabinas Yemanya (cabinasyemanya.com), for instance, a stay in this mix of jungle and sand will cost about $40 a night.
Nicaragua, too, has a growing network of affordable eco-resorts. The coastal area around San Juan del Sur is stunningly beautiful and has accommodation, from the dirt cheap to the top end, to fit the budget of most travellers.
Best for stays
So you want a fancy hotel but you don't want to pay a lot? Never fear - there's hope, and it comes in the form of Las Vegas. Sin City's gigantic casino hotels are surprisingly affordable, most likely because the owners expect the difference to be made up on the gambling floor. But if you steer clear of pokies, you can stay in five-star accommodation for a fraction of what it would cost in other major cities. We're talking as little as $100 a night.
Those after a more boutique stay should head to Istanbul, a city whose art and design focus comes across in its hotels. (Turkey has also joined the Eurail network, making it even more attractive for bargain hunters.)
Beautifully designed and decorated guesthouse and hotel rooms start from about $120 a night, which is a pittance for five stars in Europe. For the best prices, steer clear of the touristy Sultanahmet area.
Best for journeys
One of the world's truly great journeys is also an eminently affordable one: the Trans-Siberian railway. The greatest cost will be in getting there and home. Aboard the train, however, life is good.
You can buy a second-class fare from Moscow to Beijing (the Trans-Mongolian route) for about $800. That's six nights' accommodation plus a journey of 7621 kilometres through three fascinating countries. The on-board costs are minimal, particularly if you grab local food at the various stations and stock up on vodka before leaving Moscow. Do this and trust us, you'll save money, plus make friends very quickly.
Another fantastic part of the world for epic journeys on the cheap is South America, where extensive bus routes and generally well-kept roads make for excellent overland adventuring.
If you have the time, it's possible to keep the costs down and still make it all the way from Ushuaia in the south of Argentina to Cartagena in the north of Colombia without going anywhere near an airport.
Another affordable classic with a shorter time frame is the journey from La Paz in Bolivia to Lima in Peru, via Cusco and Machu Picchu.
The best bargains of 2012
Our writer chooses a few of his favourite budget-friendly finds of the past 12 months.
Riad Louna, Fez ($75 a night) After wandering around the Fez medina, I stumbled on this place, a former palace, and scored a beautiful old room with a couple of antique couches and a four-poster bed at a discounted rate. riadlouna.com.
Craft Hotel, Buenos Aires ($100 a night) This boutique hotel in the suburb of Palermo has a quirky design and prices that will suit most travellers looking for something fancy. crafthotel.com.
Shrimp tacos, Todos los Santos, Mexico ($1) A little street stall in this Baja coastal village sells the best fried-shrimp tacos around. You'll be having more than one.
AirBnb stay, Berlin ($100 a night) The short-term rental website AirBnb has some great deals, particularly in Berlin. I stayed with friends in a one-bedroom penthouse apartment in Prenzlauer Berg for $30 a night a person. airbnb.com.
Museum and gallery hopping in London (free) It's an oldie but a goodie, taking in famed sites such as the Tate Modern, the Portrait Gallery and the Natural History Museum. visitlondon.com.
Lobster, Nova Scotia, Canada ($30) In Nova Scotia, kids take lobster sandwiches to school. I ate a whole "lobster supper" (chowder, mussels, bread, salad, dessert and a whole lobster) for $30 in the town of Baddeck. novascotia.com.
Ferry ride, Istanbul, Turkey ($1) Catch the local ferry from the European side of Istanbul to Kadikoy. It's basically a much cheaper version of a sightseeing cruise, plus, you finish up in another continent. goturkey.com.
Your tips ...
Readers of Fairfax's Backpacker blog provide their tips on cheap destinations.
"Turkish Riviera - it's very well priced, has loads of culture and ancient history; beautiful beaches; great, affordable yacht cruises; and the summer climate is spectacular. Can't wait to go back." — Jill
"Java, Indonesia is absolute bliss for someone on a budget who loves food, culture, comfy digs and very inexpensive shopping. It's a lot friendlier than Bali, it's a lot less visited, and it's not set up for tourists, yet it's still so easy and inexpensive to get around." — Dromomaniac
"Was lucky enough to spend three days in Krakow, Poland. Would be back there in a hot minute. Mediaeval and Renaissance art and architecture, welcoming people and an unbelievable exchange rate." — Mike
"I found Italy really cheap. Longnecks of Peroni at the supermarket cost only 90¢ and the most delicious cheeses you could ever imagine — cheeses that would cost upwards of $15 in Australia — — were only $2. Cities such as Perugia and Genoa are both stunning and reasonable." — Stealthpooch
"Nepal was and is by far the best value-for-money destination in the world, bar none. We are talking about the biggest mountains in the world, and while you're on your way to see them, you're eating for $2 and sleeping for $5. It's ridiculous." — Jimbob
"Turkey is an amazing place to backpack around — inexpensive, amazing history and culture, heaps of diversity, fantastic food, efficient and cheap transport and beautiful weather. Couldn't recommend it more highly." — Salsal
"Guatemala is an absolute gem. Jungle, spectacular Mayan cities, colonial towns, inland lakes, and it's extremely cheap. The people are warm, gentle and friendly." — Ramon