Fewer funds do not equal less fun. That is a truism travellers have known for as long as they have been exploring the world. You may not have a lot of money to spend on your next holiday, but your experience does not have to suffer because of it. Even if you are flush with funds, who doesn’t want to save money when and where you can?
Whatever the state of the fluctuating Australian dollar, some of the world’s greatest destinations and attractions offer extremely good value for money; some of the finest experiences out there cost very little. And as our thoughts begin to turn to travel plans for 2019 it is time to consider where the globe’s bargains will be, because the places you have always considered excellent value won’t always remain so.
The Australian dollar has been losing ground to the world’s major currencies over the past 12 months. Most alarmingly, it has slipped from US80¢ at the beginning of 2018 to around US70¢ and, at one point, below it.
That does not just mean that the US is more expensive. So too are destinations where hotels and attractions tend to charge in US dollars. Some resorts in Bali that do so are now more expensive; high-end safari lodges in southern and east Africa have also gone up; any country where you will need US dollars to exchange for local currency have become slightly more expensive in 2019.
Airfares and hotel prices are also likely to go up across the board this year, according to the latest Global Travel Forecast by the Global Business Association. That report predicts airfares will rise 2.6 per cent globally this year, and hotel prices will be up 3.7 per cent. However, there is good news.
While some destinations will be more expensive, there are also a lot that will either still offer excellent value for money, or become more affordable thanks to several factors. If you are planning a holiday for 2019 and want to get the best for your buck, these are the destinations to consider.
WHY GO South Africa is beautiful, culturally rich and enthralling – and seriously good value for money. Even getting there is relatively inexpensive these days, with return flights to Johannesburg regularly available for about $1500.
HOW YOU SAVE One Australian dollar buys more than 10 South African rand. That means you will be able to afford to decent accommodation in South Africa, eat out at restaurants most nights, and even hire a car to see as much of the country as possible.
GOOD FOR A SPLURGE Nestled in the Cape wine region of Franschhoek, La Residence (www.theroyalportfolio.com) is an absolute stunner of a property, where the service is perfect, the food is fantastic, and the wine is free-flowing. Worth the $1500 a night.
ESSENTIALS South Africa is a year-round destination, with a climate similar to Australia; avoid popular times like Easter and Christmas for the best value. See southafrica.net
WHY GO The UK’s attempt to extricate itself from the European Union may seem a painfully self-destructive one, but the resulting financial uncertainty, particularly in the case of a hard-landing, no-deal Brexit, will potentially make travel in the UK in 2019 more affordable. And why not use that as an excuse to spend time in one of the world’s great destinations?
HOW YOU SAVE An improved exchange rate will mean everything is on sale. To get the best value for money, however, avoid popular destinations such as London and Edinburgh and explore more of the country: hike the Yorkshire Dales; soak up the history of Northern Ireland; drive the west coast of Scotland.
GOOD FOR A SPLURGE Embrace the gastronomic movement under way in the UK with a high-end seafood feast at the two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Nathan Outlaw (nathan-outlaw.com) in Cornwall.
ESSENTIALS Summer in the UK is the most popular time to visit. For the best combination of value and comfort though, visit in autumn or spring. See visitbritain.com
WHY GO Vietnam is perennially popular among budget travellers – in fact, plenty of Australians have already visited. If that is the case for you, it is time to go back in 2019, and dig a little deeper. Head out into the Mekong Delta. Explore the highlands around Dalat. Check out Bong Lai Valley. You won’t be disappointed.
HOW YOU SAVE The best meal of your life, and it will only cost $2. That is what is on offer in Vietnam, not just on one rare occasion, but every time you sit down for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The food here is just so good, and so cheap.
GOOD FOR A SPLURGE Spend a few nights at Hanoi’s Sofitel Legend Metropole (sofitel-legend-metropole-hanoi.com). Former guests at this 117-year-old property include Graham Greene, Jane Fonda and Charlie Chaplin.
ESSENTIALS Best times to visit are February to April and August to October. See vietnamtourism.gov.vn
WHY GO There Is so much to talk about when it comes to travel in India – 29 states that each offer a vastly different experience; 23 official languages to get your head around; seven major religions; vastness and diversity, colour and chaos – that people forget how incredibly affordable this country is.
HOW YOU SAVE Though even touristy hotspots such as Rajasthan and Mumbai are inexpensive, you will find even better value in the likes of Kerala, where a room in a guesthouse goes for about $10, meals in restaurants are $3, and long-distance train rides go for about $8. India is one of the most readily accessible countries on Earth.
GOOD FOR A SPLURGE See a different side of India with a multi-day trek in the Ladakh region: in 2019, World Expeditions is offering the “Journey to Ladakh & Kashmir with Garry Weare”, departing September 14, for $4590 per person.
ESSENTIALS Best time to visit India is winter, from October to March. Avoid festivals such as Diwali (November) and Holi (March) to get the best prices. See incredibleindia.org
WHY GO Now is a great time to visit Turkey. The country’s tourism industry has been hit hard recently by various factors, most of which have been out of its control: isolated terror incidents in major cities; proximity to humanitarian disasters. Turkey is now on the slow road to recovery, which means prices are down, and tourists are welcome.
HOW YOU SAVE There are serious bargains to be had on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, where resorts ranging from the comfortable to the luxurious offer rooms for $100 or less. It is easy to do any part of this country on a budget, however, with high-quality, delicious food being particularly affordable.
GOOD FOR A SPLURGE Istanbul has some fantastic boutique hotels. The A’jia Hotel, set in an Ottoman-era mansion on the banks of the Bosphorus, is a favourite. See ajiahotel.com
ESSENTIALS Turkey is a year-round destination (though check smartraveller.gov.au for up-to-date warnings before you go). May to September is most popular time. See goturkey.com
WHY GO Mexico is a vibrant, culture-soaked country filled with unique experiences. The food here is incredible. The arts scene is great. History, both indigenous and colonial, is everywhere you turn. There is so much more to Mexico than its poor reputation suggests.
HOW YOU SAVE Steer clear of touristy heavy-hitters such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Cabo and instead head to places like Mexico City, Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, San Miguel de Allende and Oaxaca City, where you will be able to grab tacos for 50¢ each, beers for $2, and guesthouse beds for $20 or less.
GOOD FOR A SPLURGE Abercrombie and Kent’s 11-day “Flavours of Mexico” tour is the ideal way to sample one of the world’s great cuisines, while enjoying luxury treatment. See www.abercrombiekent.com.au
ESSENTIALS Avoid major holidays times in the US, particularly “spring break”, as accommodation prices soar in Mexico. See www.visitmexico.com
WHY GO Bolivia is peak South America, a place where indigenous culture still thrives, where you can hang out in cities like La Paz, Cochabamba, Salar de Uyuni and Potosi and feel like you are in another world. The possibilities for adventure here are thrilling and almost endless.
HOW YOU SAVE Bolivia will always appear on lists of affordable, desirable destinations, because it is so amazing, and prices are so low. Getting here isn’t easy – from Australia you will have to fly via Santiago and Lima – but once on the ground you can expect to pay around $30 a night for a hotel room, $3-$5 for a decent local meal, and $1-$2 for a short taxi ride.
WHAT TO SPLURGE ON Spend the night in an Airstream camper – a luxurious caravan – in the middle of the eerily silent Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt pan. See chimuadventures.com
ESSENTIALS At the beginning of dry season, in April and May, prices are still low but the weather is excellent. October and November are also good. See visitbolivia.org
WHY GO Despite suffering several natural disasters in recent years, Indonesia, which isn’t just Bali, is an incredibly large and diverse nation, and much of it is still open and ready for tourism. For real value for money in 2019, as well as an escape from the touristy hordes, focus on Sumbawa, Tanjung Puting, Flores and Sumatra
HOW YOU SAVE Everything is affordable in these places. In the Sumbawa area, on West Nusa Tenggara, you will pick up a room in a high-quality resort for around $40 a night; in Tanjung Putting, in Kalimantan, it is a similar story. Across much of Indonesia you will be able to eat an excellent meal for $2 to $3.
WHAT TO SPLURGE ON At around $350 per night it is not exactly cheap, but the Plataran Komodo Beach Resort (www.plataran.com) in Flores is well worth splashing out on. Sitting on the veranda of your luxurious private villa, staring out at the sea, you won’t regret the expense.
ESSENTIALS Avoid Australian school holidays if you are hoping to pick up a bargain in Indonesia. May to September is the most popular time, though October to April is good value if you don’t mind afternoon downpours. See indonesia.travel
WHY GO Sure, it is a bit obscure compared with the other destinations on our list but Georgia really is the little country that could, a former Soviet stronghold that boasts natural beauty, charming old villages and towns, great wine, high-quality food, and an atmosphere of adventure. In 2019, this fantastic country represents the ideal alternative to pricey western Europe.
HOW YOU SAVE You could get away with a budget of $30 to $40 a day in Georgia. That will get you a comfortable bed, three good meals, and plenty of sightseeing. The secret to enjoying everything Georgia has to offer, and avoid spending much money, is to get there before everyone else does.
GOOD FOR A SPLURGE Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, has a few upmarket hotels – try the Tbilisi Marriott (www.marriott.com) for luxury night or two.
ESSENTIALS Georgia is best in summer, from May to September, when it is still eminently affordable. See gnta.ge
WHY GO It is another least likely choice but this former Eastern Bloc country has plenty of compelling history in its towns and cities, a beautiful coastline, surprisingly good food, and a reliably warm welcome. It is Europe without the European price tag.
HOW YOU SAVE Not only is food, drink and accommodation affordable throughout Bulgaria, but this is also a great place to head in winter if you want to ski without paying astronomical prices: on-mountain accommodation can be found for about $250 for seven nights. That is an absolute steal.
GOOD FOR A SPLURGE There is mountainside luxury in Bulgaria if you are after it. Spend a few nights at the Kempinski Grand Arena in Bansko (www.kempinski.com) and you will feel like you are in Switzerland.
ESSENTIALS If you are hoping to ski you will have to visit December to March; however, Bulgaria is a year-round destination. See bulgariatravel.org
FIVE OF THE WORLD’S BEST-VALUE CITIES
No North American city is going to be as cheap as, say, somewhere in South-East Asia. However, in terms of value for money Montreal is right up there. This is a culture-rich city with an average daily spend for visitors of $210, according to budgetyourtrip.com – as opposed to, say, $340 in New York City. See mtl.org/en
Venice is very expensive. Florence and Milan, similarly so. And let’s not even talk about the Amalfi Coast. If you are looking for value in Italy, go no further than Naples. The capital of Campania is a little rough around the edges, but it has a lot of heart, as well as world-class museums, and incredibly good pizza for about €4 each. See visitnaples.eu/en
SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO
There is plenty of history in Santa Fe – this was a major hub during Spanish colonial times and a one-time capital of Mexico’s territories. These days the city is a hotspot for artists, musicians, and new-age devotees. It is also very affordable, with free festivals and events throughout the year, plus well-priced accommodation. See santafe.org
It seems crazy that a city such as Berlin could exist, that the capital of a country with a famously robust economy could be so affordable; that a tourist hotspot and major European centre could be so accessible. And yet, it is. Berlin’s egalitarian nature extends to its tourism industry, with everything from hotel rooms to attractions priced to appeal. See visitberlin.de/en
Plenty of what makes Bangkok so great can be enjoyed for just a few baht: from the world’s best street food to temple visits to river cruises. However, for real value for money, look to the Thai capital’s five-star hotels: luxurious properties that offer rooms for about $200 a night. See amazingthailand.com.au
FIVE COUNTRIES THAT AREN’T AS EXPENSIVE AS YOU THINK
If you ride the shinkansen and stay in the big cities, eat at upmarket restaurants and reside in luxury hotels, you will spend a lot of money in Japan. However, it doesn’t have to be that way: buy a JR Pass for train travel; venture away from Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto; eat at casual restaurants; stay in traditional inns. Suddenly, Japan becomes affordable. See jnto.org.au
The Australian dollar has been losing ground against the US, but this country still offers great value for money if you know where to look. Steer clear of the major cities and you will find staples like food, drink and accommodation extremely affordable. Shopping, too, is a bargain, particularly in outlet malls. See visitusa.com.au
You would assume a tropical island oozing history and charm would be expensive, but in the case of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania, you would be wrong. There is beachfront accommodation here for around $50 a night. A meal at a local restaurant can be had for $10. Scuba-diving trips cost around $100. Bargain. See tanzaniatourism.go.tz
There is a perception that Malaysia is more expensive than neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Indonesia, and in some cases that is true. Still, it won’t exactly break the bank. Getting to Malaysia can be quite affordable, thanks to Air Asia X, and costs on the ground, such as five-star hotels in Kuala Lumpur, are a fraction of what you would pay back home. See malaysia.travel
Though most European countries use the same currency, they are surprisingly disparate in terms of affordability. The likes of the Netherlands, Germany and Austria can be very expensive. Spain, meanwhile – particularly in the south – offers excellent value for money. See spain.info/en
FIVE EXPENSIVE PLACES THAT CAN BE WORTH THE EXPENSE
This country can sometimes be eye-wateringly expensive. A drink at a bar is astronomical. A meal at a restaurant requires a new mortgage. However, a journey through Switzerland is worth every franc. It is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, the culture is fascinating, and the adventure activities second-to-none. See myswitzerland.com
It is no surprise to find that this playground for the rich and famous is affordable only for those who are rich and famous. The average daily cost for travellers in Monaco, according to budgetyourtrip.com is €169, or about $275. Next door in Italy it is €121. But Monaco is spectacularly beautiful, and there is nowhere else like it. See visitmonaco.com
Scandinavia is expensive: Sweden is pricey, Norway is also up there, and Iceland is off the charts. Restaurant bills look like international phone numbers. Bar tabs are the same. However, cook for yourself and go easy on the booze and this country can still be affordable, and it is well worth shelling out to visit a place like no other. See inspiredbyiceland.com
Ouch. Bermuda is pricey. Much like Monaco, this is a haunt for the cashed-up, and it is priced accordingly. Even getting to Bermuda is expensive for Australians, with flights via LA and New York. Still, Bermuda is the classic island paradise, with turquoise waters, white-sand beaches, and pastel-coloured homes. See gotobermuda.com
It can be hard to commit to a holiday in Australia when there are so many other options, many of which appear better value for money. However, what Australia lacks in affordability it makes up for with unique, world-famous attractions: the likes of the Kimberley, Uluru, the Tasmanian rainforests and the reef. See australia.com