Visiting certain corners of the world often feels like a rite of passage for the young traveler. These spots have a universal allure that transcends time. They’re well-trod yet still hold a mysticism that cannot be denied. They’re the places you’ve read about again and again, romanticized, and dreamed of seeing for yourself … one day.
Our advice? Don’t wait too long. Sure, saving is important but so is actually. doing. cool. sh*t.
With that aim, we’ve compiled a list of places that every traveler has to hit in their 20s. These are the destinations that scream “Bring me your young, your restless, your reckless, your “single-and-not-ready-to-be-tied-down-because-this-is-a-wild-party-and-it’s-fun-to-flirt-y’know?” Of course, this is a short list of only ten prime destinations. There are literally thousands more. But, let’s face it, our time on this mortal coil is finite and we have to start somewhere.
As an extra wrinkle, we’ve compiled this list specifically to bust the idea that travel is expensive. These are places that are usually cheaper than home. The places where a month of meals out will still cost less than your phone bill back in the states. Some of them may cost a little extra to get to but, now, with budget airlines connecting every continent, it’s cheaper than ever.
So, let these ten spots around the globe entice your wanderlust. They’re perfect for a first solo trip. They’re cheap. And they’re waiting for you.
PHANG NGA BAY, THAILAND
Phang Nga Bay is a prime spot in a country full of them: Thailand. Around this bay, you’ll find two great spots to post up: Krabi and Phuket. It’s paradise on earth. The food is amazing. The drinks flow. The beaches are postcard perfect. And it’s one of the cheapest corners of the planet. This is the place to start your vagabonding days.
Get there: Phuket has a big international airport. So that’s probably where you’ll fly in. There are flights to Krabi on the east side, but they’re more regional. If you fly into Bangkok or Singapore, you can easily score a super cheap flight to both Phuket and Karbi for less than $20 each way.
Get around: Tuk-tuks, shared trucks and vans, and long-range buses are the best way to get around the area. Tuk-tuks are three-wheeled mini-taxis that’ll take everywhere in the immediate area (think all around Phuket Island, but not off the island). They’re all negotiable but shouldn’t cost more than a couple bucks. In most centers, there will be a hub for shared trucks and vehicles that’ll take you all the way from Phuket to Krabi for a no more than $20. Our advice is to pick a sweet spot and stay there.
Accommodation: Guesthouses are going to be your best bet here. If you’re on the east side in the Krabi area, you can snag a really dope place for about $20 a night. If you’re on the west side around Phuket, you’ll pay almost the same price and maybe a little cheaper. You can always rock up to a guesthouse and negotiate a longterm price too, so don’t just rely on Airbnb or other online resources. Make a connection.
Food: There are almost endless options of food in this part of the world. Street food reigns supreme. Around sunset, vendors will fill the streets with delicious delights. A plate of pad thai will set you back about 25 baht, or less than a dollar. You can live off the street food in Thailand for a while, just make sure you always see your meal coming off the flame and made fresh for you. Beer and Thai whiskey are also super cheap. Hit up a 7-Eleven for the best prices and bags of ice.
Exchange: $1 = 30 Thai Baht
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India is a mesmerizing and dizzying place. One of the coolest corners is high above the tea plantations on the eastern reaches of the Himalayas. Darjeeling is a mountain retreat straight out of the pages of an old National Geographic. There are few places more unique than this spot and few better places to cut those travel teeth.
Get there: This is one of those spots that’ll cost you to get to, but you’ll spend barely anything when you’re there. Basically, you need to fly into Kolkatta or Delhi and connect up to Siliguri (Bagdogra Airport) where you need to catch a jeep or mini train (not recommended) up to Darjeeling. If you can find a flight from the US to India for under $1,000, go for it. The jeep up the mountain and through the tea fields to Darjeeling will cost about $10 and will leave as soon as all the seats are filled.
Get around: You can only really get around on foot here. So, get ready to climb a lot of stairs.
Accommodation: There are a lot of great guesthouses in Darjeeling for about $15 a night plus a meal. You can find them all on Airbnb these days. But, again, talk to people when you get there. You may be able to score a better, long-term deal.
Food: There’s a lot of street food in Darjeeling. Little carts will set up and sell chana masala with bannock bread or bowls of Tibetian soup. There is also great momo (Tibetan dumpling) bars all over the place. And don’t sleep on Keventer’s bacon, eggs, and tea — especially the morning of a big trek. Expect to pay anywhere from 25 cents to two or three dollars for a meal.
Exchange: $1 = 65 Indian Rupee
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Indonesia is a massive country that’s comprised of over 20,000 islands. So picking just one is almost a fool’s errand. Still, if you do pick just one, Sumatra is a strong choice. It’s not as over-populated by tourists as Bali and it’s a lot wilder than Java. You can balance on ridiculous rope bridges over raging rivers, see orangutans, and surf some of the most deserted beaches on earth with some of the biggest waves you’ll ever see.
Get there: You’ll likely have to connect through Singapore or Jakarta to Medan in the north of the island. Flights from Jakarta can be as cheap as $5-$10. Flights from Singapore will be closer to $20-$50 each way. Our advice is to find a super cheap flight to Singapore on Scoot Airlines and go from there.
Get around: Sumatra is a huge place. You can rent a car for about $10-$20 a day. Or, if you’re staying a while, you can try and buy a motorbike. You’ll need an international driver’s license and a local. Used bikes can be a few hundred bucks (at the most). You can get anywhere on a bike and gas is crazy cheap. There are buses between the main cities and you can also hire a driver/shared bus between major points of interest. It’s super cheap, but can be pretty rough riding.
Accommodation: Hotels are cheap. Guesthouses are cheaper. The nicest hotels in Medan and around Lake Toba are going to top out at $50 a night with meals. Rooms in the countryside, in places like Bukit Lawang, are going to be closer to $10 a night, maybe even $5. Use Airbnb to find places and then talk to locals when you get there.
Food: Street food is all over Indonesia in general. Fresh fruit carts roam every morning and sell fruit for less than ten cents a piece. By lunch, there are fried rice carts, soup carts, and more. You’ll also find roadside kitchens behind big flags showing all the food they cook there. Expect to pay between 25 and 50 cents for a full meal. If you go into a restaurant expect to pay a dollar, maybe two for a big meal at a sit-down joint. Northern Sumatra is also known for copious amounts of cannabis and magic mushrooms. If you’re driving around the north, just look for the signs.
Exchange: $1 = 13,760 Indonesian Rupiah
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
Prague is a European right of passage. The city has gone through some real changes in the last twenty years but has somehow maintained its old world charm. The beer is cheap, the nights are epic, and the memories will last forever.
Get there: Prague has a good-sized airport with daily flights from all over the world. From the US, expect to pay in the area of $400-$500 round trip, though $300 is not out of the question. Prague is also a big rail hub and you can get there from pretty much anywhere in Europe. Train tickets between Prague and Berlin, for instance, are about $40 each way.
Get around: Prague has a great tram, metro, and bus system. Though for the central city, you’ll only need to worry about the trams and metro and the rest is very walkable. A tram and metro ticket is about $1.50 a ride. Taxis in Prague will rip you off, hard. Avoid. This goes for Uber too.
Accommodation: Hotels are fairly cheap in Prague. You can get a simple room for around $20 to $50 a night. Airbnb is your best bet here. An entire apartment can be as cheap as $15 a night. That’s crazy cheap. Hostels are also a great option with dorm beds going for as little as $7 per night. Just remember, you’re getting what you pay for.
Food: Overall, Prague is fairly cheap. Fries, sausages, and fried cheese sandwiches on the street will set you back a dollar or two. In a pub, expect to pay around 100 Koruna ($5) for a simple meal. Beer is about $2 a half-liter these days though it can definitely be three or four times that in the tourist center.
Exchange: $1 = 20 Czech Koruna
Berlin has a long history of great figures calling the city home for a very long time. Josephine Baker, Lou Reed, David Bowie and Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, and U2 have all lived and thrived there. It’s also one of the last cheap cities in Europe with an insane nightlife, great food, and an art scene second to none.
Get there: This is a bit of a pain in the ass. Berlin has two small airports and there aren’t that many direct flights to the United States. You’ll most likely have to connect in Reykjavik, Amsterdam, London, etc. There are super cheap flights on Norwegian and Wowair that’ll get you to Berlin for as little as $150 each way. Berlin is also a huge rail hub and easily accessible from everywhere in Europe.
Get around: Berlin has one of the best and cheapest public transportation systems in the world. Between Friday and Monday all trams, buses, underground, and commuter trains run 24 hours a day. Over the week, night buses run 24/7 to every corner of the city and suburbs. A ticket costs €2.70 for any single trip of any distance. You can also rent a bike for as little as $10 a day and ride everywhere in the city in dedicated bike lanes. Taxis are ubiquitous, but not cheap. Download the MyTaxi app (an Uber-like app) for officially registered taxis in the city.
Accommodation: Berlin has a very long list of inexpensive hotels (around €50-€80 a night) and hostels (around €10 a night). Airbnb is technically illegal in Berlin for anything more than a bed. So use caution on that front. But, you can score a legit hotel in the city for 50 a night… in Europe. That’s crazy cheap.
Food: You can get a schwarma, kebab, or currywurst (with fries) on the streets of Berlin for €2.50. That’s a meal right there. There are way too many spots for those eats to ever list here. But you can’t miss the kiosks, carts, and corner shops selling these foods. A pizza will set you back about $5, sometimes less, sometimes more. And if you wanna splash out at a restaurant, expect to pay anywhere from €6-€20 a plate. Protip: grocery stores are dirt cheap. You can snag great bottles of wine for $5 and a great beer for about a dollar a bottle.
Exchange: $1 = €0.80
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RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL
Where to start with Rio? The beaches? The fantastic food? The great drinking and partying culture? The chilled out people and way of life? Go to Rio. Eat. Drink. Live. Love.
Get there: Rio has two airports, GIG is the main international hub and most likely where you’ll fly in and out of. Rio is a long way from North America and Europe, so don’t expect prices to be crazy cheap. If you do see a flight on Secret Flying or somewhere else for under $500, buy it. Rio’s regional airport is SDU and will likely be the airport you use for flights around Brazil.
Get around: Rio has a decent metro network, trams, and buses that’ll get you pretty much everywhere you need to go. Tickets cost around a dollar per ride. Taxis are also abundant. Look for the yellow cabs with blue stripes. They’ll have meters and you won’t (generally) have to negotiate a price. Though beware, traffic in Rio can be a headache.
Accommodation: Hotels near the beaches are going to be spendy, think $100 a night at least. You can easily score a bed in a guesthouse or an entire Airbnb home for really cheap though. Expect to pay between $10-$20 a night depending on where you are in relation to the beaches. Lapa and Santa Teresa are great options for artful digs away from the hustle and bustle of the beaches.
Food: There’s not a huge amount of what we’d call classic street food in Rio. There are, however, a lot of cafeterias and corner spots. A lunch at a corner restaurant is your best bet for cheap eats. A steak, rice, black beans, fries, a little salad, and farofa can be as cheap as 15 Reals per person. That’s less than five bucks. Beer and coffee will set you back less than a dollar a pop. A good rule of thumb for Rio, if you’re near a beach, expect to pay more (but even then it won’t be that expensive).
Exchange: $1 = 3.30 Brazilian Real
Mexico is close to home and so completely different. And right now, the city is going through a renaissance — as the food and art scenes explode with life. Don’t worry if you’re chill on getting cultured, you can still spend the day downing Pacificos and endless tacos. Though you should use this trip as a chance to expand your food horizons.
It’s the best of all worlds, to be honest.
Get there: There are a lot of flights from the US down to Guadalajara. Your best bets are Alaska, Volaria, VivaAeroMexico, and maybe AeroMexico. Expect to pay between $130 and $350 roundtrip.
Get around: Guadalajara is sprawling. There are buses that’ll take you all over the city for less than 50 cents a ride. There’s a small subway system that can get you through the city for 6 pesos a ride. Taxis are ubiquitous and cost around 50 pesos a ride within the city. Make sure to set your price first. And, let’s face it, knowing Spanish will greatly help your ability to negotiate a fair price.
Accommodation: There are a lot of boutique hotels popping up around Guadalajara that will charge higher prices. In those same neighborhoods, you can find rooms and houses on Airbnb for as little as $10 per night. So you can hang out at the hip bar at the boutique hotel, but sleep at a cozy little hideaway around the corner for a tenth the price.
Food: Guadalajara has some amazing street food — they have all the tacos, yo — and great hidden away family-run restaurants throughout the city. A taco plate will set you back 40-50 pesos tops (less than $3). You can also score a decent meal in a restaurant for around $5 or less.
Exchange: $1 = 18 Mexican Peso
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
South Africa is a strong choice for a solo trip. Though most would probably say, ‘go to Cape Town first,’ we’re throwing our weight behind Jo’burg. It’s a little rougher around the edges, but not so much that you can’t handle it. It’s a great place to push your comfort zone out a bit and see if you have the stomach for some bigger adventures.
Get there: Johannesburg is a huge hub for air traffic. It’s also very far away. So prices are not going to be crazy cheap like other parts of the world. You’ll have to shop airfares on this one to find the best deal. We’d say, if you can find something for under $700 roundtrip from the US, you’ll be getting a deal.
Get around: The Gautrain is your best bet to get safely from the airport into the city. There are some sketchier parts of the city that are dangerous. So do your research before you set off on foot. The city is huge and very much built for car traffic. Metros and various buses will take you all around for very cheap. If you’re staying for an extended period of time, it might be worth spending a grand on an old car and beating around the city and countryside in that.
Accommodation: Homestays and guesthouses are the cheapest options by far — hotels are generally the same as any major US city. You can snag beds for about $10 or entire homes for $20 on Airbnb. Really, you’re not going to find much cheaper than that.
Food: Wine is so cheap in South Africa. Expect to pay $3-$5 for a great bottle of local red, white, or rose. A beer will set you back a buck, maybe two. Street food is your best bet for cheap meals with a lot of meat at the center of it all. Expect to pay around $2-$5 on the streets depending where you are in the city. A meal in a restaurant will be closer to $10 a pop, again depending on where you find yourself.
Exchange: $1 = 11.50 South African Rand
Tangier has been at the crossroads of humanity for a very long time. It’s a city full of super strong and minty tea, clouds of sweet hash, and streets where you can literally rock the Kasbah. Tangier grips you tightly. You may never want to leave. Consider yourself warned.
Get there: There are several budget airlines with regular flights to Tangier from all over Europe. If you’re coming from the US, it’s probably best to fly through Madrid. Flights from Europe to Tangier are often as low as $20 each way. You can also get in by ferry from Tarifa, Spain. It’s about 50 minutes from dock to dock and costs around $60 roundtrip.
Get around: Foot. You can take taxis which are reliable. But, really, if you’re just exploring the Kasbah and waterfront, your feet are your best bet and they’re free. If you do take a taxi, set the price first. Be firm and know how much to pay to get around otherwise you will get ripped off. When you book your accommodation, make sure to ask your host how much to pay for a taxi from your entry point to their place.
Accommodation: Hotels are going to set you back pretty steep prices in Tangier. The best bet is a small guesthouse or Airbnb. A room in an awesome old manor in the Kasbah will only cost ten bucks a night and usually include breakfast and an old Tangier transplant standing at the front desk to spin yarns about the old days.
Food: Super strong mint tea with lots of sugar, hash, and tagines are the order of the day in Tangier. Stroll the Kasbah and follow your nose. Prices will vary depending on how many tourists are around. On the back streets, don’t expect to pay more than three to five dollars for a meal. A plate of fries with spicy mayo will set you back about a buck. Tea is about 30 cents a cup. And hash prices are negotiable (though 50 Dirham a gram is normal for tourists).
Exchange: $1 = 9 Moroccan Dirham
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA
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Addis Ababa, Ethiopia “Many travelers fly into Addis Ababa and then head straight out,” says Tom Marchant, the cofounder and owner of Black Tomato. “They’re missing out on all the vibrancy of this stunning African city.” Home to more than 80 nationalities, it’s a cultural epicenter and gateway to an ancient world. “Skipping out on the capital is akin to skipping out on the very fabric of Ethiopia.” The fascinating Ethnological Museum is one of Africa’s top museums, but the real hidden highlight of Addis is its late-night scene, which is hosted in atmospheric underground jazz clubs. “Close an evening with Ethio-jazz and discover a fusion of traditional music, Afro-funk and jazz.”
Addis Ababa is a big city that has a lot of mysticism around it. There’s a whole country of amazing sites to explore throughout the city. Inside, you’ll find a city with amazingly unique food and a coffee culture you can get lost in. There’s ancient Christain churches to explore, markets to wander, and a world of new experiences just waiting for you.
Get there: Flights on Turkish Airlines, via Istanbul, are going to be your best bet although most major carriers have flights to Addis. Price will vary widely. Best bet is to get a cheap flight to Amsterdam, Paris, or Istanbul and then fly down on whatever cheapest itinerary you can find.
Get around: There are two main options to get around the city: Tram and Minibus. The tram runs two lines — one north to south, one east to west and vice versa. They’re also fairly new, efficient, and really cheap. The most expensive ticket on the tram is six Birr or about 22 cents. Minibusses dart all over the city. You’ll have to tell the driver where you’re going and kinda know where to get off. It’s an adventure after all. The cost is tiny. Most rides are a couple Birr, or literally five to ten cents.
Accommodation: Hotels are set to western prices. So expect to pay around $100 per night. To save serious cash, you’ll want to stay in Guesthouse. You can find a lot of them on Airbnb these days and prices will be as low as $8 for a bed and meal.
Food: Street food will be less than $3 a meal. Coffee is less than a dollar. And a beer will cost around $1. A meal in a restaurant will be closer to $8 per person. Check out the Merkato for lunch.
Exchange: $1 = 27.50 Ethiopian Birr
EDITOR’S PICK: SAN JUAN DEL SUR, NICARAGUA
There are about a dozen backpacker haunts along the Central American Pacific Coast where people A) learn to surf, B) party like the world is burning, and C) do their best to learn Spanish while hungover. San Juan del Sur and Bocas del Toro in Panama are in a neck and neck race for the best of the bunch. What makes San Juan (as it’s called quite often, but also be careful not to get confused with the smaller, more remote San Juan del Norte) so special is that it’s the perfect access point for other beaches nearby.
Playa Maderas, Yankee Beach, and Playas Colorado are all worth a day of your basking and surfing time. At night, it’s nice to go back to the city — where there’s sure to be a buzzing pub, bubbling hostel, or raging club, depending on your tastes. In the daytime, surfing is default activity, but we weren’t joking about learning Spanish. Classes are affordable, superbly run, and very flexible.
Get there: This is a flight and bus combo that’s likely to be part of a multi-week trip through Nica or even a multi-month trip along Central America. If you see a flight from the US for $500, snatch it. Even $700 is a win. From the capital of Managua, you’ll be taking a bus or sharing rides as you head south — expect to spend just a few dollars.
Get around: This is a tiny town, just bring a skateboard or walk. At night, cabs are cheap and easy but should cost you virtually nothing. Hitching is common on the country roads (the road from Maderas to San Juan in particular). If you’re trying to get to a beach away from the crowds, most hostels send out day trips on the daily.
Accommodation: Hotels are dirt cheap — $10 for a bed or less. Homestays are $15 and nicer, but you might feel rude coming home late. Best to get into town and talk to people as new hostels seem to appear out of the ether. If you want to ball out, there are great places in that $70 range on AirBnB or you can nab a cheap hotel for $25-50.
Food: Expect lots of rice and beans with a few plantain chips for a fiver. Steak might be a buck or two more. Seafood at a restaurant will be a little more expensive but you can score a hell of a meal for $12.
Coffee is less than a dollar. And a Toñas will cost around $1.50.
Exchange: $1 = 31 Nicaraguan cordobas