If cabin fever has you itching to flee from the cold, now is the perfect time to plan a spring trip. And if affordability is the first concern that comes to mind, you’re in luck. This time of year is an off-season for many destinations, and if you steer clear of typically expensive vacay spots — say, Bermuda, France, or Bora Bora — and opt for one of a few stunning yet cheap cities to visit, you’ll definitely get more bang for your buck.
Matt Kepnes, founder of the travel blog Nomadic Matt, has made a living giving expert advice to those who want to see the world on a shoestring. “If you’re looking to travel in the spring, go south,” he suggests. “Central and South America will offer warm temperatures to defrost you after a winter in the USA. Look to Panama, Costa Rica, Peru, and Colombia for some great spring getaways that will be easy on the wallet.”
But perhaps Old World charm is more your style, and if this is the case, you’ll be glad to know that it’s possible to head to Europe on a budget. “If you’re looking to spend some time traveling in Europe this spring, go east!” Kepnes says. “Budapest, Sofia, Kiev, Bucharest, Vilnius — each of these cities have as much charm and history as your classic Western European destinations, but for a fraction of the cost. And if you go in May, you’ll get decent weather without any of the crowds.”
Ahead, check out Kepnes’ picks for six of the most affordable international cities to visit this spring. From beachy getaways to cities rich in history and culture, visiting these less-sought-after locales will give you the escape you need without draining all your funds.
Once tainted by drugs, violence, and Pablo Escobar’s influence, Medellín has dramatically improved in safety and reputation. And thanks to its tropical climate, mountain views, colorful culture, and — let’s face it — intriguing history, its popularity as a tourist destination (as well as an expat settling spot) is on the rise. Heck, you might want to go while it’s still affordable.
In his Colombia Travel Guide, Kepnes says you can grab a set lunch for under $10, tour a coffee plantation for as little as $15, and visit lots of museums for free on Sundays. While you’re there, you can also take a go paragliding and take salsa lessons. Check out The Ultimate List Of Things To Do In Medellín for more.
Bocas del Toro, Panama
If white sandy beaches and clear blue waters are what you’re after, forget the Bahamas and head to Panama, instead. In his Panama Travel Guide, Kepnes points out that while Bocas del Toro is one of the country’s tourism hot spots, it won’t blow your budget like a trip to Barbados or the Bahamas.
Here, you can cut costs by dining at food stalls ($2 to $5 “will get you chicken, rice, and beans,” Kepnes explains) or buying your own groceries and making your own meals. Plus, surfing, snorkeling, and sailing are also affordable in this exotic paradise.
Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
For a seaside escape that’s a bit more off the beaten path, check out Puerto Viejo and enjoy amazing water sports plus an exciting night life. Other must-see experiences include a visit to Cahuita National Park (about an hour north of the city), and the Jaguar Rescue Center.
Kepnes adds that you can score cheap accommodations at this lesser-known spot. In his Port Viejo Travel Guide, he notes that there are only a few Airbnb options nearby, however budget hotel accommodations can start at around $30 a night.
This European country may be small, but it’s full of history. Visit Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, for some cultural magic, plus welcoming locals, cheap eats, and affordable accommodations. To stretch your cash, Kepnes suggests looking at budget hotel rooms between $23 and $32 a night, and grabbing most of your daily bites from local eateries and bakeries; you can get a piece of pizza, hot dog, or sandwich for under $2. One thing you have to try: a katma, which is “a big pancake filled with cheese, ham, jelly, or chocolate.”
In his Sofia Travel Guide, Kepnes says that there’s no shortage of walking tours (many are free), churches, museums, and baths to visit. But despite its centuries-old roots, the city is modernized and has a thriving night life, too.
Romania may be home of Dracula, but Kepnes says there’s so much more to this beautiful country than creepy folklore. Rather, there’s gorgeous green mountain views, medieval architecture, and a rich, cultured history.
You can do tons of exploring for free in the local fortresses and churches, as well as the scenic countryside. Better yet, the food is cheap, too. “Romanian meals can be very hearty, containing potatoes, meats, cabbage, and spices,” he says in his Romania Travel Guide. “[It] also has pretty good coffee and pastries.” He mentions that a lot of the local activities are free, and those that do cost money are often between $5 and $10. What’s more, if you’re brave enough, he says it’s relatively safe to hitchhike for rides in Romania.
Those who enjoy the hustle and bustle of big cities will fall in love with Kiev, Ukraine. Full of historic architecture and cobblestone streets, one of the best parts about thisbig city is how affordable it is to visit.
However, Kepnes gives a small disclaimer in his Ukraine Travel Guide: This city isn’t exactly tourist-friendly, as it’s tricky to get around and few people speak English. But adventurous travelers up for visiting less conventional destinations will be rewarded with a budget-friendly trip. Kepnes says you can get a restaurant meal between $3 to $12, a private hostel room for $18 a night, and tickets for activities for well under $10.
More Money-Saving Travel Tips
In general, Kepnes recommends using sharing economy sites like Airbnb, Lyft, and BlaBlaCar (whenever they’re available) to cut costs while traveling. But before you even leave your house, scoring cheap flights can make or break your budget. That’s why one of his biggest hacks is using a travel credit card to snag airline tickets for a fraction of the cost, or even for free.
Of course, the trick here is to be responsible and to find a card that best fits your lifestyle. Sites like Nerdwallet and The Points Guy rank and compare certain cards. And if traveling with a buddy is your priority, check out the Chase + Southwest card. Not only does their current offer allow new signers to quickly earn 30,000 points (worth about $450 toward airfare), you’ll qualify for Companion Pass, which gets you an extra ticket to bring a buddy along.