I spent more than half of my 20s traveling full time. My partner and I moved to a new country every three to nine months, which is just enough time to get to know a place, but rarely enough time to get sick of it. I’ve lived in and traveled through South America, Central America, and East Asia, so I think it’s fair to say that I’m a travel expert at this point. And one thing I’m especially good at is traveling on the cheap.
One question people ask me all the time is what my favorite place to live was. Usually that question is followed by, “If you can even pick one!” And it’s true, I can’t pick one. I have two: Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Antigua, Guatemala. One of the reasons (among many) those places top my list is the fact that you can travel and live there very well for very little money. But I’ll get into more details about them later.
Because I’m always looking for cheap places to live, I’ve generally stayed out of Europe — although flight deals between major U.S. hubs like New York and Los Angeles have definitely tempted me at times. But I’d say if you’re looking for cheap, it’s a good idea to stick either to certain cities within the United States or countries in Central or South America, Asia, or Africa. A great example is travel to Iceland, which has exploded in recent years because of cheap flights on WOW airlines. However, you end up paying for those cheap flights with very high costs in Iceland.
It’s also always a good idea to check on whether conditions during the time period you’re thinking of traveling. Some countries — particularly ones with tropical or semi-tropical climates — have rainy seasons that can range from sprinkles a few times per day to full on torrential downpours on the regular. And something that Americans tend to forget is that the southern hemisphere has opposite seasons to us, so our spring is their fall and our winter is their summer. Close to the equator you’ll find that the difference in seasons isn’t very extreme, but it definitely increases as you go north or south.
So with all of that in mind, here are seven recommendations for cheap trips you can take this spring. Some destinations — generally ones that are closer to the States — are cheap including the price of a flight, while others are worth that heftier price tag to get there because they’re cheap AF when you arrive. Ready to start planning?
Guatemala is my absolute favorite place in the world. You can get there pretty cheaply from most major American hubs (I’ve flown there for around $300 from New York and $400 from San Francisco) and once you arrive, it’s a country of unparalleled beauty.
Land in Guatemala City and don’t bother to stay — head straight to Antigua, which is about an hour away by car or shuttle. (You can arrange transit at the airport or, if you’re more of a planner, this company is good.)
Antigua is not only the best preserved colonial city in Latin America, it’s also a great base for exploring the rest of the country. You can catch tourist shuttle buses from $9 to $25, depending on where you’re going. Don’t miss Lake Atitlan, hiking up Acatenango, and if you’re up for a slightly longer journey, the caves and turquoise pools of Semuc Champey are still some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen — and well worth the long, winding trip to get there.
And FWIW, Guatemala is one of the only places I’ve ever been that is consistently more beautiful than any photo I’ve seen of it.
Nomadic Matt, who runs the popular travel website Nomadic Matt, recommends Nicaragua to people looking for a great, cheap trip this spring. And I’ll second that recommendation, because Nicaragua is awesome. I’ve actually spent two Christmases on Ometepe, the island Nomadic Matt recommends checking out.
Matt’s first recommendation (and one that most people will make) is to skip Managua and head straight to Granada, which is another great colonial Spanish town. Matt recommends eating a pork and cabbage dish called vigorón at one of the local kiosks in the town square for only $2. I recommend taking a boat tour of Las Isletas, which are a series of tiny islands just outside the city where people live and work.
When visiting Nicaragua, you can’t miss Ometepe, which is a volcanic island in the middle of the massive Lago de Nicaragua. While the island is big, options for accommodations are still pretty limited, which makes it a great place to check out of the rat race for a few days. It’s also awesome for outdoor activities like kayaking, hiking, or just renting a motorbike and scooting around to see what you can see.
And because both Guatemala and Nicaragua are relatively small and in the same region, there’s no reason you can’t hit up both in one trip!
Europe hasn’t been on my list as often as other places, for price reasons. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to travel in Europe on the cheap! (In fact, I did a tour when I was 19 that included a lot of hostels and Lonely Planet-recommended cheap eats.) Simone Gozzi, Founder and CEO of day tour operator City Wonders, recommends heading to Rome this spring.
“Spring is one of the best times to visit Rome and with good reason – the weather is beautiful and since it’s just ahead of the peak summer season, there are often deals to be found,” said City Wonders CEO, Simone Gozzi. “But regardless of when you go, Rome remains one of the most popular destinations in the world and with our official Vatican Museums Partnership — visitors can experience exclusive skip-the-line access, a one-of-a-kind experience that transforms tourists into insiders. We are delighted that our unique offerings are being enjoyed by customers globally and remain the most-booked tours in the world.”
If you’re dreaming of Europe but want a cheaper option, head down south — waaaaay down south — to Argentina. While the price of the flight will probably be higher, the cost of housing and food is significantly lower than you’ll find in most European cities.
Buenos Aires is a cosmopolitan city, sometimes called “the Paris of South America” because of its beautiful architecture, focus on theater and art, and robust food culture. Options for housing range from hostels to five star hotels and you can get a steak dinner for two — with wine — for a fraction of what you’d pay in the States. It's the perfect city for romantics, nostalgics, and lovers of great literature.
If you’re interested in checking out the countryside as well, overnight buses are a totally affordable and relatively comfortable way to get around the country. This isn’t Guatemala, though — Argentina is a massive country, so be sure to budget time if you’re traveling by bus. I recommend checking out Mendoza for some of the best wine in the world.
While the other destinations on this list are international, I’m going to include one U.S. city — New Orleans. After years of hearing about this story from friends and family, I finally got to visit this spring when my boyfriend surprised with a trip for my birthday.
As an international traveler, it was really amazing to be in a place that’s within the borders of the United States but feels like you’re in another country. From the unique architecture to the rich history to the food (OMG the food), New Orleans is the perfect cheap spring trip for people who aren’t quite up for leaving the country at the moment.
And as an added bonus, because it’s within the United States, flights are usually pretty cheap!
Bali is super far away, so you might think it’s too expensive to go visit. But, according to TripAdvisor, it’s possible to get tickets as low as $444 round trip from JFK (which is nuts) and the cheapest month to travel to Bali is April, which has about eight percent lower prices than other months.
I actually lived in Bali for a while and can tell you that once you arrive, most everything is very cheap. The food is delicious, inexpensive, and plentiful. You can rent a scooter and travel around the island yourself if you’re brave, or rent a car and tour guide for a bit more (but still not very much) money. And Bali has everything — unique cultures, yoga, beaches, mountains, lakes, exotic wildlife. It’s actually the cheap spring trip my boyfriend is taking this year, while I’m off in Guatemala for the third time!
For those of you looking for a traditional beach vacation, you're in luck. It turns out, late April is the cheapest time to travel to the Caribbean, according to TripAdvisor. They found that you can save as much as 30 percent on all-inclusive resorts and hotels during that time period.
"As much of the Caribbean was unaffected by the fall storms, travelers will find most destinations are open for business now and are ready to welcome travelers for their peak travel season," said Brooke Ferencsik, senior director of communications for TripAdvisor, in a press release. "To help travelers find great prices for an island getaway, the TripAdvisor report shows you can find value in a number of exceptional Caribbean destinations this April.”
So there you have it: seven cheap trips to take this spring. Now go get packing!