It’s not exactly a newsflash that international travel is expensive — prohibitively expensive, in fact, if you do it wrong.
(Or right, as the case may be. I mean, just look at some of these outrageous destinations.)
But we penny-hoarding travelers are privy to certain secrets that unlock globe-trotting for those of us a little less well-heeled than ScarJo.
Sure, if you want to go on a luxurious, weeks-long tour of the major European capital cities — or, you know, to Bora Bora — you’re gonna need to cough up some serious dough.
But the best way to see the world on the cheap? Pick destinations where the exchange rate is in your favor.
I can’t tell you what a great feeling it is to go into the bank to exchange your money — and to get back more than you went in with! Even though it’s technically the same amount, it feels like you just magically multiplied your cash.
And you did multiply your buying power.
Want Cheap Travel? Follow the Strength of the Dollar
GOBankingRates recently conducted a survey of 42 countries to discover where the U.S. dollar had the most buying power — and how best to spend it.
Analysts included each local currency’s exchange rate as well as helpful pragmatic details, like the average cost of a three-course dinner for two at a mid-range restaurant and expected tipping etiquette.
You’re not going to believe how cheaply you can have a nice meal in some of these countries — and how far your dollars will get you in your other adventures there, too.
To get you brainstorming about achievable destinations, we pulled out six countries where a date-night level dinner for two will cost you less than $20 total, according to numbers pulled from Numbeo last month.
Your mileage will vary, of course, depending on the city you’re in and the exact restaurant you choose… but considering Numbeo’s average for this category of meal in the U.S is $50, it seems like a fairly accurate guideline.
And some of them are way cheaper than we’d expected. Check it out:
Countries Where Dinner for Two is Less than $20
Exchange rate: 1 Indian Rupee = US$0.015
Cost of a meal for two: $9.05
Dream of visiting the Taj Mahal or strolling along the legendary Ganges?
Good news: You’ll save enough on your restaurant budget to live it up in India, where you and your sweetheart can dine out for less than $10 altogether.
(Or even less, if you’re like me — I’m not big on curry, but I could live on naan bread, which is probably the cheapest part.)
Exchange rate: 1 Malaysian Ringgit = US$0.25
Cost of a meal for two: $12.97
And with an exchange rate like that, you won’t have to spend a whole lot to do it.
Exchange rate: 1 Vietnamese Dong = US$0.000045
Cost of a meal for two: $13.46
Although Vietnam is so distant your flight could take a day or more, unraveling its mysteries is sure to be the adventure of a lifetime.
And you won’t have to spend very much to try its cuisine — which, by the way, is so delicious and unique, it’s one of Anthony Bourdain’s favorite countries. While eating bun bo hue at Hue’s Dong Ba market, he remarked: “People are put on earth for various purposes; I was put on earth to do this. Eat noodles right here.”
Exchange rate: fixed currency; 1 Cuban Convertible Peso = US$1
Cost of a meal for two: $15
Now that you can travel to Cuba, there’s a decent argument you should.
The Penny Hoarder’s own senior writer Susan Shain recently made the trip, and says it’s “a fascinating destination with a complex history and rich culture. For a tiny island, it packs a lot in: beautiful beaches, bustling cities and mountain escapes.”
But even though a restaurant meal won’t cost you much, Shain’s insider tip for those eager to get some Cuban flavor will take you a little closer to home.
“You’ll find the BEST food by staying with Cuban families in ‘casa particulares,’” she says. “I recommend eating nearly all of your meals with your hosts — I promise it will be divine.”
Exchange rate: 1 Thai Baht = US$0.028
Cost of a meal for two: $17.15
I don’t know about you, but dancing the (entire) night away at a Full Moon Party is definitely on my bucket list. Although now that I’m firmly in my late 20s, I should probably get on it — staying up past midnight is already a lot more difficult than it was at 21.
Even if a beach rager isn’t your style, Thailand’s got a lot to offer. Explore beautiful, modern, metropolitan Bangkok, or head north to Chiang Rai, where ornate temples will make you gasp almost as much as the mountains behind them.
Did I mention a three-star hotel averages $20-$30 a night? And also that there are baby elephants?
Exchange rate: 1 Chinese Yuan = US$0.15
Cost of a meal for two: $18.57
Chinese food — especially dim sum — is my absolute favorite, so I’m stoked to know I won’t have to spend a lot of cash to get my hands on some when I make it over there.
Plus, who doesn’t want to see the Great Wall before they die?
Even though a meal will cost a few more bucks in these destinations, they’re still great, affordable options with a ton to see and do.
Exchange rate: 1 Mexican Peso = US$0.055
Cost of a meal for two: $20.21
Head on down to Mexico and learn what a real taco tastes like. You’ll never hit that drive-through again.
Bonus: Since there’s probably not an ocean separating you from this destination, you could conceivably drive in, which would almost certainly be cheaper (and more adventuresome)!
Exchange rate: 1 Peruvian Nuevo Sol = US$0.30
Cost of a meal for two: $21.41
Use the money you save on dining to take a guided tour of Machu Picchu — but definitely splurge on ceviche in Lima, even if it’s more than $20!
Exchange rate: fixed currency; 1 Belizean Dollar = US$0.50
Cost of a meal for two: $25
All that scenic snorkeling and scuba diving is sure to work up an appetite. Good thing you don’t have to pay up to eat up.
Exchange rate: 1 South African Rand = US$0.064
Cost of a meal for two: $27.20
According to Consumer Reports, the average cost of a flight to South Africa “has dropped 25% since last year… and if a safari is on your to-do list, it won’t be so costly—the rand has declined about 30% since 2014.”
And with that exchange rate, you’re sure to find tons of affordable food and fun while you’re there.
Bonus: Bet you didn’t know South Africa produces some lovely wine! Try some Steen while you’re there and let me know what you think.
Exchange rate: 1 Costa Rican Colon = US$0.0019
Cost of a meal for two: $33.63
No matter what you’re into — nightlife, culture or outdoorsy pursuits — Costa Rica’s got you covered.
And since it’s not so far away, a flight is unlikely to run you more than $500 roundtrip.
Exchange rate: 1 Danish Krone = US$0.15
Cost of a meal for two: $91.87
You may wonder why this one’s on the list at all, considering the whopping cost of chowing down in Denmark.
But according to Hopper’s chief scientist, Patrick Surry, there are other reasons Denmark’s a more frugal destination than usual this year — so long as you pack some snacks.
“The price of a round-trip flight has dropped by more than 25% since 2014 to an average of $673, according to Hopper,” he says.
“And once you’re there, your U.S. dollars will go further than they have in years… because the Danish krone has declined 21 percent against the U.S. dollar since March 2014.”
How to Travel Cheaply, No Matter Where You Go
Even if you pick a spot with cheap eats, there’s still the question of the rest of your travel expenses — which can really add up, especially when a long flight’s involved.
But luckily, we’ve got lots of ways around all that, and you can use them no matter where you choose to go.
To get you started, here’s a general guide on great ways to save on travel this year.
Save a ton by skipping the hotel and try one of these 10 smart accommodation options instead.
If you’re not collecting frequent flyer miles, you’re basically wasting free money. Here’s how to get started.
And in case your destination’s restaurants aren’t quite so easy on the wallet, here are eight ways to save on food while traveling.
And no matter where your travels take you, be sure to check GOBankingRate’s spending guide. It’ll give you all the insider tips on, well, tipping — and other must-know money secrets.
Bon voyage — and take lots of pictures!
Your Turn: Where would you go on your international dream-trip?
Jamie Cattanach is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder and person who travels often. Her writing has also been featured at Word Riot, DMQ Review, Hinchas de Poesia and elsewhere. Find @JamieCattanach on Twitter to wave hello.