Las Vegas, USA
Whether or not Las Vegas is an affordable destination really depends on how much self-control you possess. If you’re the type of person who can sit in front of a slot machine until your eyes turn to cherries, read no further. If you’re not, here’s what you should know: Hotels in Vegas charge ridiculously low rates in order to lure you to their glitzy cash cows: the casinos. Keep your hands in your pockets and your eyes in the sky and you’ll find that this microcosm of American audacity doesn’t have to eat your wallet. After all, one trip to the buffet could fill you up for the whole day, and there’s an astonishing array of free entertainment, from nightly street theater and chocolate factory tours to dancing fountains and erupting volcanoes.
Taipei may have breached ECA International’s list of the 10 most expensive Asian cities this year, but unlike Hong Kong or Macau, the Taiwanese capital is still very affordable. Steeped in history, yet racing toward the future, prices haven’t kept toe-to-toe with modernization. The emerging city thrives on its contrasts, and the greater island of Taiwan is a living safe house of Chinese culture with its glittery shrines and temples. Taipei also makes a good steppingstone for a trip to the mainland.
You don’t have to travel to Asia to get high quality at low costs. Europe has its share of affordable enclaves, too, with Budapest right at the top of the list. According to TripAdvisor’s latest TripIndex survey, Budapest is the most affordable major city in Europe, where you can wine and dine and sleep in four-star comfort all for under $200 a night. This often-overlooked Hungarian capital is widely regarded as the most beautiful city in central Europe, and its baroque, neoclassical and art nouveau buildings add a touch of elegance to the edge of the Danube. With deliciously cheap food, surprisingly tasty Hungarian wine, and gorgeous riverside paths, Budapest is the perfect escape for budget-minded romantics.
You probably already know that Cancun is affordable, but with three-star hotels averaging under $40 a night and 7-day all-inclusive getaways available for under $1,000 (flights from North America included), Cancun is suspiciously cheap. This bastion of beer-chugging beach bums rose from the jungle in the 1970s to become the destination for spring breakers everywhere. While its party-hard reputation remains and kitsch is still king, Cancun has evolved over time with plenty of luxurious hideaways for those who prefer a sip of wine to a shot of tequila. And with hundreds of flights from Europe and the Americas, you’ll have no trouble getting in and out.
Priceoftravel.com calls Sofia the cheapest major metropolis in Europe, adding that it’s “a lovely city with European amenities and great nightlife mixed with prices so low that you’d have to go to Southeast Asia to beat them.” While the prices are nowhere near those of Laos or Cambodia, this easily walkable “large small town” is certainly affordable and the perfect jumping off point for the great outdoors just outside city limits. In the wintertime, travelers flock to Mt. Vitosha to ski and snowboard, while in the summertime, the hills are abuzz with hikers and bikers. While many blitz right through Sofia for the mountains beyond, its museums, theaters and art galleries could easily entertain for days.
Maybe you’ve caught on to a trend by now: Central and Eastern Europe equal high culture and low cost. Warsaw is a particularly good choice for luxurious accommodations at bargain-basement prices. In fact, Hotels.com named it the cheapest place in the world to sleep in five-star extravagance in its latest Hotel Price Index, with rooms costing, on average, $130 per night in 2011. Though the Polish capital was flattened in WWII, a building boom that began in the late 1980s has reenergized the city and put it back on the map for travelers who’ve traditionally preferred the pastels of Krakow and port charms of Gdansk.
New Orleans, USA
Easily the United States’ most distinctive city, New Orleans seems to belong more to the Caribbean than the American South. It’s a city known for funky brass, moody blues and sweet soul, and for Creole cooking and bead-throwing bonanzas. But what you may not know is this: It’s also one of the cheapest cities in America. TripAdvisor found that a one-night stay at a four-star hotel, two-course dinner with bottle of wine, and two cocktails and roundtrip taxi would cost just $283 in the Big Easy. With those kinds of prices, you can easily live by the city’s creed: laissez les bons temps rouler ("Let the good times roll").
Mark Johanson is the travel editor at the International Business Times. He has traveled to and written about more than 30 nations and territories on every continent except...