Frugal, Amazing, and Easy-to-Navigate: The 10 Best International Cities to Visit
If you've got a dose of wanderlust but are battling a restrictive budget and maybe a few travel fears, this list is for you. These 10 international cities are easy to get to with lots of flights, buses, and trains arriving regularly, they're easy to get around in and enjoy, and it's easy to save money with lots of frugal options.
Don't just take it from me; I've polled the frequent traveling community to get their votes on the best international cities to travel and be frugal in. You may even be surprised by some of the cities on this list!
(See also: Our pick for best travel rewards credit card is the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard - 20,000 mile signup bonus and no annual fee. Click here for more details.)
1. Bucharest, Romania
Although Bucharest lacks the "wow-factor" that attracts hoards of tourists, it's a place that can get under your skin.
Earl Baron has been traveling full-time since 1999 — working, volunteering, and living around the world. Among other things, he leads small group tours and runs his blog Wandering Earl. Earl spent many months living in Bucharest, and cites it as an extremely affordable destination, conveniently located (less than an hour's flight time to Istanbul), and a place where it's easy to meet people. "This is a city where you can eat well, party well, participate in endless activities, stay in great accommodation, and all for a fraction of what it would cost in Western Europe." (See also: 25 Secrets From the World's Most Frugal Frequent Travelers)
2. Kathmandu, Nepal
Getting to Kathmandu might cost you a few dollars (that is, if you're not flying with frequent flyer miles), but once you're there, your money will go a long way.
Kathmandu is very tourist-friendly (tourism is known as the "third religion" in Nepal) and the Nepalese are always eager to make your stay memorable. You can stay at a local guesthouse for as little as $5 a night, and eat gorgeous, filling local cuisine for as little as a $1. It's a great hub from which you can go trekking (from $7-$30/day), and if you stay in town, a tuk-tuk ride to the city's many temples and attractions costs next to nothing. Don't forget to visit the many markets to get some unique handicrafts, as well as (fake brand name) trekking gear and clothing at massively discounted prices.
3. Mexico City, Mexico
"Although Mexico city is pricier than some other destinations in Mexico, as an international city it is vastly underrated as a culturally rich tourist destination," says Dalene Heck, who has been traveling the world since 2009 with her husband, chronicling their journey at HeckticTravels. With the second busiest airport in Latin America there are lots of reasonably-priced flights, and once you're there the Metro only costs $0.40 per ride, so it's easy to get around.
Dalene isn't the only traveler to extol the virtues of Mexico City; Tamara and Chris set out on a "Leap Year" sabbatical to explore Latin America with two backpacks and their 15 year-old dog, and Mexico City is tops on their list of places where it's easy to be frugal. "Food, usually your biggest expense, is cheap when you eat the delicious street food (try a tlacoyo), pick up pan dulce at a corner bakery, or grocery shop in neighborhood mercados. Transportation and attractions are inexpensive too: we took a day trip to the pyramids in Teotihuacan for US$20."
4. Berlin, Germany
Berlin is the cheapest capital city in Western Europe, and full of culture, art, and good food. I was in Berlin for just a few days, but could easily have stayed for longer, with so much to do. It's easy to get to and from as it's an international hub with flights, trains, and buses arriving from all over Europe and the world.
Barry and Simone (of The Track and Off It) have lived and traveled all over Europe. Barry is a fan of the public transport for being easy to navigate. "With the famed German efficiency, directions are well signposted and all of them are in English. German people are incredibly helpful as well if you need to ask."
And keeping costs low once you're there is easy. "Food portions are enormous, especially the 'tag menu' (menu of the day) and could easily be shared (but avoid the multi-Asian cuisine places)," says Barry. He recommends the free walking tours, and also suggests that it's cheap to rent a bicycle for the day to cover more territory in this big city with wide bike-friendly streets.
5. Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon is also one of the cheaper cities to visit in Europe with cheap food, drink, local transportation, and lodging. Michael Hodson of Go See Write is a former lawyer from the States who took off at the end of 2008 to circle the globe without using a single airplane; he's still on the road. He and I met for the first time in Lisbon in 2011 before embarking on the Ultimate Train Challenge together. "Lisbon is one of my favorite cities in Europe and the first one I mention to people that are on a low budget. Lisbon has more luxury hotels than any other city in the world and before you turn away at the word "hostel" realize two things: first, these hostels are the top of the top. Secondly, you can get a private room in almost any of them, if you think hostel always means a dorm room."
6. Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok is another hub where your money goes further, with two international airports and flights arriving as low as $30 dollars. Jeff McAllister is a traveler, cyclist, and blogger of Keyboard & Compass with a special interest in human rights and science journalism. He says Bangkok is customizable to any budget. For the very frugal, you can get by for about $20/day, "less if you take advantage of the city's amazing Couchsurfing community. Shack up near an MRT or BTS station, eat from the thousands of street stands, and enjoy some cost-free people watching, temple hopping, or stroll through solace of Lumpini park." And if you've got a bit more to spend, even luxury options are cheaper than most other international cities.
7. Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam
I adored my visit to Saigon a couple of years ago — especially how budget friendly (and friendly overall) it was. I gorged on street food spending no more than a few dollars for a whole day, the hotel was cheap and cheerful, taxis were easy to use, and the tours were great.
I'm not the only one with a love of Saigon. Jodi Ettenberg (a former lawyer turned traveler, of Legal Nomads) spends a few months in Saigon each winter, and gets the shakes if she goes too long without sticky rice. "My rent is approx US$250-$350 a month depending on where I live, which includes Wi-Fi, hot water, cleaning, and laundry. Most street meals are $1-$2. There are quality Western meals available for $5-$8 a meal as well." She says it's both affordable and interesting, "with nonstop motion, wonderfully chaotic markets, quieter restaurants and cafes when you want to step away from the noise, and an incredible street food scene."
8. Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is one of the cultural centers of Europe, hosting many cultural events and boasting more than 10 major museums and a variety of attractions. It's also beautiful, having been spared much of the damage that World War II inflicted on many other parts of Europe. With large numbers of expats and tourists, English is widely spoken in Prague, so it's easy to get around and communicate. And with a favorable exchange rate, the cost of living is very reasonable. Accommodation ranges from hostels for $12 a night to four star hotels for $150 a night.
9. Cusco, Peru
Just a quick flight from Peru's capital city of Lima, Cusco is the epicenter of the Incan culture and ruins. There are a dizzying number of things to do such as trekking to Machu Picchu, shopping at the many artisan markets, and simply soaking in the friendly Peruvian culture.
Lainie and her son Miro are American travelers who have called Cusco their home for the last two years. "History buffs marvel at the multiple ages of stone construction hidden throughout the city. Food lovers can sample the most interesting of local fare in the markets and surrounding restaurants for under $1.50 a meal. Outside of the tourist zones, travelers have the chance to meet the local artisans and buy their crafts at a fraction of the cost. Cusco is a large city that has a small town feel outside of the tourist zones, always offering a slice of local life, local prices and many warm smiles."
This dynamic mother-son duo are setting up a one of a kind, teen oriented world-learning retreat in Peru's Sacred Valley called Project World School, and they blog about their experiences at Raising Miro.
10. Los Angeles, USA
Los Angeles is a seriously out-of-the-box suggestion for a city where it's easy to travel and be frugal. But Chris Guillebeau visited every country in the world (193 in total) before his 35th birthday, in addition to visiting every state and province while promoting his New York Times bestseller The $100 Startup. So he's got a great frame of reference.
He says if you're shopping for mansions or designer clothes, of course Los Angeles isn't cheap. "But as a visitor in an authentic neighborhood, you'll be surprised at the average prices of ethnic restaurants. Public transport may not be as easy as the Bangkok SkyTrain, but once you get the hang of the route map, buses and the metro are cheap. There are plenty of hostels, and if staying in hotels, you'll be pleasantly surprised to see that rates are much lower than in San Francisco and other west coast cities."
Bonus City: London, England
Most people (myself included) blow the budget in London, but not everybody does. "London has a reputation as an expensive city but I think it offers exceptional value. No where else will you find more phenomenal free museums and galleries. Everyone knows someone who knows someone's cousin in London — odds are high you can snag a free bed for a few days. Plus London is a walker's paradise, the cheap eats food scene has greatly improved, and the British Pound is at a favorable exchange rate," says Vanessa Chiasson of TurnipseedTravel. On her site she features a series called the $200 challenge where two people travel for two days for $200 or less, and she recently took her $200 challenge to London.
What hotspots did we miss? Is there an international city where it's easy to travel and be frugal in that you've visited? Tell us in the comments!