After a tumultuous few years and a pandemic that just refuses to end, it’s no wonder that people are experiencing work and life fatigue. We need a break. We need a vacation. We need piña coladas on white-sand beaches.
A new report from Tripadvisor found that about 70% of Americans plan to travel for leisure in 2022—and many will be spending more this year than they did pre-pandemic. Indeed, a national survey by Expedia revealed that adults in the United States are going to shell out $2,353 on average for their next trip.
If you just balked at that number, don’t worry. Travel doesn’t have to be that expensive, and it’s possible to vacation within any budget.
Generally, your dollars will go farther in countries with a lower cost of living than your U.S. hometown. If you value luxury, consider a shorter trip—perhaps a long weekend—that will allow you to spend your budget in style. If you’re more of a hostel-hopping-backpacking-type of traveler, you can stretch your budget into a much longer adventure.
Most of us will fall somewhere in the middle, which is why we’ve compiled a list of the top five places to go if your budget is less than $1,000 for one week (not including airfare).
This Central American paradise is one of the best vacation destinations in the world—with pristine beaches, active volcanoes, biodiverse wildlife, world-class resorts, delicious food and more than 29 national parks—and it’s extremely affordable.
The average cost of living in this tropical country is about $2,000 a month, so everyday costs—on things like food, alcohol, lodging and transportation—are pretty low. Eating out at a mid-range restaurant, for example, could cost you about $50 for two people. At a cheaper restaurant? Only $15.
There are plenty of budget-friendly activities to enjoy solo, with your partner or with the entire family. You can zipline in Monteverde Cloud Forest (about $50–$90 depending which company you book with); bathe in hot springs near Arenal Volcano (for as low as $12 for all-day access); explore Tortuguero National Park ($15 entrance fee) and see the diverse and endangered turtles the area is known for; rent a surfboard (about $10–$30 per day) and drink locally brewed Imperial beer (less than $9 for a six pack) at Jaco Beach; hire a local guide to point out the sloths, monkeys and macaws in Manuel Antonio Beach Park (about $65 for several hours, though if you’re solo you may be able to join a group for less, or just pay the park entrance fee of $18 and traverse on your own).
Whether you prefer Airbnbs, hostels or hotels, there are so many great places to stay throughout Costa Rica that won’t threaten your budget. If you’re in Tamarindo—an amazing beach town with a wild nightlife—check out Tamarindo Backpackers ($15+/night for shared dorms and $35+/night for private rooms), a boutique surf hostel right next to a national park with a pool, private surf instructor and bilingual reception staff. If you’re in Puerto Viejo, one of the more romantic Costa Rican areas, consider a deluxe villa at Villas la Paz for less than $600 for the week. And if you visit Monteverde, try a unique Airbnb with stunning views, like the Kapetsowa Container Loft ($115/night).
Want to explore archaeological sites and museums in the South American birthplace of Shakira? I mean, who wouldn’t? With a cost of living that is, on average, 60% lower than in the United States, your $1,000 will have you vacationing like a queen.
From the urban centers and quaint villages to the gorgeous parks and beaches, Colombia is one of the most diverse countries to visit. You can tour UNESCO-designated sites in the port city of Cartagena ($12+ for a guided tour); paraglide over Medellín, “the city of eternal spring” (from $48); experience the Gold Museum ($1) and free-to-all Botero Art Museum in Bogotá; take salsa lessons in Cali, the salsa capital of the world (from just $2.30, depending where you go); and taste organic coffee ($1) and admire the UNESCO archaeological park (less than $15) in the mountain town of San Agustín.
So where should you stay? If you end up in Medellín (known for its music, trendy bars and world-class food), check out the Epic Boutique Hotel starting at $60 per night. If you’re seeing the historic sites in Cartagena, you’ll love the colonial vibes at the Republica Hostel Cartagena, which is walking distance to everything and will cost you less than $200 for the entire week when sharing the room.
Known for its cultural wonders and natural diversity, Peru offers endless things to do and see—and not just Machu Picchu.
From the Andes to the Amazon, you can buy traditional crafts from the Shipibo artisans in the jungle town of Iquitos (you can catch a short, $50 or so round-trip flight there from Lima) or roam through the highest tropical mountains and enjoy the glacial lakes in Huascarán National Park (about $10 for park admission), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can also relax in the hot springs around Colca Canyon (a few dollars to enter) or marvel at the Cat Park (free) and relish a culinary tour (Haku! has one for $68 and the Food Tour Lima has one for $49) in Lima, the gastronomic capital of Latin America.
Peru is one of the least expensive countries in South America, so use that grand in your pocket to splurge. Most people prefer to stay in Cusco (it’s the most touristy) and you can find budget-friendly, amazing Airbnbs, hostels—we’ve heard good things about Kokopelli—and hotels for less than $100 per night. If you’re in the nation’s capital, Lima, where your plane will likely land, consider Tierra Viva Miraflores Mendiburu Hotel, which is a 3-star establishment in a great location (less than $500 for seven nights).
Situated between Spain and the Atlantic is a relatively small country packed with culture, adventure, history and—my favorite—delicious cuisine. You can enjoy free historical walking tours by day and various parties by night along the Atlantic coastline in Lisbon (and you won’t want to miss a live fado performance at Parreirinha de Alfama or Adega Machado); visit romantic palaces and castles in the enchanting town of Sintra ($8+ for entrance fees); admire scenic cliffs and sunbathe and surf on the beaches of the Algarve; ride colorful boats, known as Moliceiros, in the canals of Aveiro (about $9–$15) and indulge in traditional sweets like the wafer-encased ovos moles; taste sweet port wine in the river city of Porto; and see beautiful waterfalls in Peneda-Gerês National Park (free). Oh, and if you’re there in February or March, dress up for Carnaval, the Portuguese version of Mardi Gras.
From boutique bed and breakfasts in the countryside and eco-pods with infinity pools to cottages on vineyards and lakeside retreats, it will be hard for you to choose just one place to stay while in Portugal.
If you’re in Algarve, Farmhouse of the Palms is a gorgeous, though slightly pricier, option (about $170/night)—with private suites on a nearly 300-year-old estate with sweeping views, gardens and terraces—but breakfast is included, and a three-course dinner of traditional Algarve cuisine is served twice a week, so you’ll at least save some money on food. If you’re checking out the beaches between Comporta and the northern side of Costa Vincentina, stay in one of the domes or safari tents at Reserva Alecrim (about $200 per night, depending on the season). For more options, I recommend this list by journalist Audrey Gillan.
While the cost of living in Spain is only about a quarter lower than in the United States, your money will still go a long way in this top-visited European nation—for example, you can get a three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two people for less than $50. Not bad at all!
Stroll around monuments and gardens in Madrid’s UNESCO Retiro Park (free); admire the modern architecture at the City of Arts and Sciences in the port city of Valencia ($8–$43 entrance fee, depending on the package you choose); indulge in tapas and paella on a food tour in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona (about $125) or get lost in Sagrada Familia (about $28 for an audio-only tour); visit the Picasso Museum in the resort city of Málaga (less than $15, but they have free hours every Sunday); and catch a flamenco show in the charming city of Seville (about $18 at Tablao Álvarez Quintero).
If you’re in Madrid, the popular capital city (with tons of sites, activities and festivities), there are dozens of inexpensive, hip hostels to stay in—such as Ok Hostel Madrid in the heart of the Lavapiés neighborhood (you can get a private room, with a private bathroom, for about $105/night)—and budget-friendly hotels like Hotel Europa (about $100/night). If you’re in Barcelona, the most popular tourist destination in Spain, consider eco-friendly Hotel Catalonia Born (for $80+/night) in El Born, known for its nightlife and artsy vibes.
Millie content is licensed from Meredith Corporation, publisher of Millie, Real Simple, InStyle and more.
Katie Perry is a travel blogger based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She has spent more than ten years abroad and has lived long-term in Portugal, Brazil, Peru and Costa Rica.