5 Cheap, Amazing, and Undiscovered Vacation Destinations

by Brittany Lyte on 28 May 2014 1 comment
Photo: Thinkstock

The world's lesser-known travel destinations have something the Bahamas and central Paris have long lost: authenticity. Luckily, there are still some awe-inspiring locations on the map that have yet to attract the endless lines of tour buses and tacky souvenir peddlers that plague the globe's more popular landing places. (See also: 11 Vacation Destinations That Stretch a Dollar)

Here's a list of five great, off-the-beaten-path vacation destinations that haven't yet lost their local charm. Visit now before these hidden gems go the way of Honolulu and Manhattan — overrun with camera-slugging tourists and jacked-up prices.

1. Bosnia and Herzegovina

Lush green landscapes, sky-piercing mountain peaks, and friendly fishing villages along clear blue waters await the rare traveler who ventures to this Mediterranean treasureland. While perhaps better known for the bloody conflicts that plagued the region, Bosnia and Herzegovina has since become one of southeastern Europe's best kept secrets for sightseers of all stripes.

A trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina is like traveling back in time. The locals here are warm and welcoming. Tourists are scant, which means you can dip in secluded, turquoise swimming holes without the bother of noisy crowds. The region's rural parts are also ideal for crowd-free hiking, complete with drop-dead gorgeous views. And once you've toured the beautiful countryside, there are plenty of urban acres left to explore.

Sarajevo, the capital city, is a place characterized by both its residual battle scars and a jovial, bohemian vibe. The streets are filled with hookah cafes, artisan bazaars, and quirky performance theaters as well as buildings riddled with bullet holes from the '90s civil war. Hearty Bosnian stews, grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice, and homemade Turkish Delight can be had in large portions at low prices. And just about every street corner offers majestic views of the steep mountaintops that played host to the 1984 Winter Olympics.

If you go, be sure to visit Sarajevo's museum dedicated to the partially collapsed wartime tunnel hidden beneath the airport runway. The tunnel, hand-dug by Sarajevans, was once the only link to transport humanitarian aid, war supplies, food, and people in and out of the city during the Bosnian War.

2. St. Petersburg

Nicknamed Venice of the North, this architecturally brilliant Russian city is divided by its 65 rivers and canals into 42 islands, making for a uniquely maritime urban landscape. St. Petersburg is a place of opulence and beauty as well as the all-too-copiously consumed Russian vodka that's a mainstay of just about every meal. Romantic cruises aboard open-air boats complete with lap blankets and candlelit dinners of doughy pelmeni also make this city a perfect escape for lovers.

St. Petersburg's most visited attraction is the State Hermitage Museum, an ornate royal palace filled with some one the most cherished artwork on earth. Here you'll find works by Matisse, Picasso, and da Vinci, to name a few. Another sight not to be missed is the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood. Commonly called the Church of Spilt Blood, this gorgeous building resembling a fairytale castle is where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in 1881 by revolutionaries who bombed his carriage. Another building of note is the Hotel Astoria, where Hitler planned a banquet to celebrate his wrongly assumed World War II victory. (The invitation cards were printed, but, of course, the banquet never took place.) Art and architecture buffs will also appreciate lesser-known features scattered about the city such as the world's only equestrian statue with just two points of support.

Perhaps the best way to enjoy this picturesque metropolis is to simply stroll its riverfront streets and tiny connector bridges. Go ahead, get lost. Along the way you'll discover cozy coffee dens, rooftop garden bars, hidden souvenir shops, and exotic sphinx statues imported straight from Egypt.

3. Tahiti

Floating in the heart of French Polynesia, Tahiti is made of powdery beaches, turquoise surf, raging waterfalls, craggy volcanic peaks, sweet-smelling hibiscus flowers, and delectable fresh fish. Though it is the largest island in this South Pacific island chain, it has well under 200,000 inhabitants and a rustic, laid-back vibe. Above all, Tahiti is a place for exploration and utter relaxation. If you go, be sure to leave your worries at home.

Much of the island's magic can be experienced without plans or reservations. Stroll the long, white beaches. Search for fish hiding in the technicolor coral reef. Drink potent Mai Tais under the moonlight.

But there are certain must-do adventures that are worth a bit of planning and coordination. Trek to the Hitiia lava tubes; strap on a harness and rappel down a waterfall; and shop for artisan treasures, fresh fruit, and natural oils at the 150-year-old Public Market of Papeete.

And if you have the time and means, ferry over to some of the more remote neighboring islands such as Bora Bora — a magnet for honeymooners — and drop-dead gorgeous Moorea. These outer islands are similar to Tahiti, but even more untouched.

4. Cambodia

Golden temples, thick-canopied jungles, rice paddies, and seemingly endless white sand beaches await those who set out to explore this small Southeast Asian country. Cambodia is a perfect destination for the more adventurous traveler. The country is still developing, which means your travel plans might not always run as smoothly as clockwork. The upside is that a trip to Cambodia is incredibly cheap. Comfortable hotel rooms go for about $12 to $22 a night. Dinner will cost you just a few bucks, while most tours and attractions are between $10 and $20 for entry.

Cambodia's mystical floating villages are a must-see. These river houses built on bamboo stilts are otherworldly, and the locals who live there are warm and friendly, happily vending food and artisan goods to tourists.

The world's largest religious monument, Angkor Wat, is also here in Cambodia. Originally a Hindu place of worship, this well-preserved Buddhist temple is one of the most spellbinding sites on the entire continent. Banteay Srei is another temple popular among travelers. This beautifully carved 10th century red sandstone structure was built in honor of the Hindu god Shiva.

If you're looking to spend time at the ocean, Sihanoukville is the most popular beach party town, complete with deserted islands, world-class diving, and a rowdy late-night scene. For those who prefer secluded stretches of white sand, nearby Kep offers the same coastal beauty without the crowds and the noise.

5. Lesser Poland

Poland's more rustic, southern region is home to Krakow — the country's second-largest city, yet one that can been seen on foot in a single day. Quaint cobblestone streets, a Gothic hilltop castle, the largest medieval square in Europe, and the site of the factory that inspired the Hollywood movie "Schindler's List" await the traveler who ventures here. So do plates of sweet and savory dumplings, delicious regional amber ales, and the Polish people — known worldwide for their friendly, outgoing sensibility.

On the city's outskirts are several sights well-worth seeing, including the Wieliczka Salt Mine, which boasts dozens of ornate statues and chapels carved entirely out of salt, and Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, the profoundly sad but important and well-preserved site of the most deadly of all the Nazi death camps.

Pope John Paul II was born in the small city of Wadowice, located an hour south of Krakow. During a highly publicized homecoming from the Vatican in 1999, the pope recalled going to a local bakery after school with friends and pooling together money for slices of his favorite custard cake. Now every bakery there serves the pastry, rebranded the World-Famous Papal Cream Cake.

Even farther south are less known locales with rich history and gorgeous natural views. Not far from the Slovakian border is Bielsko-Biala a destination for locals and tourists alike who come to ski, hike, and pamper themselves at spas in the surrounding mountains. Here there are tiny, whimsical ski towns from where ski jump champions have hailed, expansive spruce forests, and picturesque campsites along rivers teeming with fresh fish.

What's your favorite frugal travel destination? Tell us about it in the comments section.

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Mileage Runner

What exactly qualifies any of these destinations as “cheap”? The airfare to any of these destinations is usually at least $1K for USA departures.

Russia requires a tourist visa which is not easily obtained without showing a letter of invitation, proof of lodging, return ticket, etc. There is a way to get around it but most American’s will not being visiting St. Petersburg via cruise ship to circumvent the need of a visa. The least expensive visa is $140. How is this an “undiscovered” destination? It’s the second largest city in Russia?! Oh, on average flights to LED is $1000 out of JFK.

Tahiti is by no means cheap. Staying with family is an option for me when visiting but the airfare is on avg. $1200 from West Coast departures add in another $300-400 for East Coast. Food and lodging is not affordable even via AirBnB and grocery shopping for most meals. The island hopper flights to get to Bora Bora (I can’t imagine taking the ferry) is around $250 RT. It’s not an “undiscovered” destination. It’s been plagued with French tourists for years and years. Perhaps you just discovered it?

Bosnia and Herzegovina is an interest approach to start out an article. Again, how will Americans get there? Most airfare to large European hubs from USA is around $1K unless we’re jetting out of JFK and can be had for $700ish on a good day to LHR. Then another flight is required to get to Bosnia. Why not suggest Croatia? There’s the great coast line and Roman ruins in Split.

Lesser Poland is yet another interesting pick. It’s not nearly as connected as say Prague which is what I would have picked considering there are direct flights from JFK to PRG. Krakow and the other locales you mentioned are really out of the way and would require several days devoted to visiting each area. Prague has it’s fair share of tourists but so does every major European City especially in summer months.

I saved Cambodia for last because it’s the only destination you bothered to cite average costs of food and accommodation. Unfortunately the cost of airfare doesn’t make this a truly “cheap” destination as the airfare is around $1200 from most USA departures.

Your article might have more relevance if you made a disclaimer about the initial cost of airfare to reach any of the said destinations. As it stands right now it’s worthless advice when there’s nothing to back it up.