Time to start packing your bags: 2017 is shaping up to be a banner year for budget travel. The dollar is enjoying historic highs — meaning your money goes much further in many destinations around the globe — and according to an American Express Global Business Travel report, airfares are expected to fall in 2017.
So where should you go on your next trip? I interviewed 14 travel experts who make it their business to keep track of the best bargains around. Read on to get their favorite picks for the most affordable destinations to visit in 2017. For more amazing travel spots, check out “The 19 Best Places To Travel In 2019.”
Where: Mazatlan, Mexico
Chosen By: Holly Johnson, founder of Club Thrifty, a website with tips on travel savings whose motto is “Stop spending. Start living”
Why: The current exchange rate ($1 = 20.69 Mexican pesos) makes Mexico one of the most affordable destinations. For the frugal traveler who wants to enjoy more culture than they might in the Riviera Maya, my top pick is Mazatlan. As the shrimp capital of Mexico and a foodie paradise, Mazatlan is teeming with awesome eateries and fresh, interesting dishes. Hotels (including all-inclusive properties) are extremely inexpensive and authentic since most aren’t part of the huge chains. El Cid Marina has awesome pools that are perfect for families, great food and huge rooms. (Rates are as low as $100 for a family of four.) You can also enjoy superb dining at a top-notch restaurant like Casa 46 for less than half what you’d pay in the United States. Side note: Sinaloa (the state where Mazatlan resides) grows the bulk of produce in Mexico, so Mazatlan produce is unbelievably cheap as a result. You see this reflected in top restaurants all the way down to street markets.
Where: South Africa
Chosen By: Michaela Guzy, founder of Oh The People You Meet, a global collaborative of contributors who create content for travelers, foodies and philanthropists seeking authentic local connections.
Why: In South Africa, the exchange rate is in our favor, but so is the fact that it’s a developed tourist destination with a solid infrastructure. In spending a month in Cape Town earlier this year and relying on Uber to get me to and from meetings, activities and lunches, I averaged under $20 in transportation per day — a major win. Hotels are cheaper, too: Take a standard room at Taj Hotels & Resorts in New York, and you are out about $786 a night, whereas in Cape Town, a room at a similar luxury property costs $266. Remember, South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere, so seasons are the opposite: Consider going in low season (our summer) when hotels and safari lodges are even less expensive. Airbnb and private villa rentals are also reliable and cheap options in the major cities. Travelers should also consider booking domestic airfare in advance for the greatest cost savings, since flights on South African Airways can sell out quickly. The best value of all is the wine: Travelers can order a glass of one of the best locally produced varietals for less than the cost of a can of soda. For more information on travel in South Africa, watch “Michaela’s Map: First Timers’ Guide to Southern Africa.”
Where: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Chosen By: Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon, founder of Jet Set Sarah, where travel and shopping meet
Why: The best way to get a deal in the Caribbean is to travel during the low season (end of April through mid-December) to destinations that have direct and frequent fights from your gateway; plenty of hotel inventory; and economies that aren’t euro-based. Puerto Rico fits the bill, and I’m a big fan of San Juan, which I think is seriously underrated as an easy and affordable getaway, especially for visitors from the East Coast of the U.S. Old San Juan oozes charm, and if you stay within the old city’s two-square-mile radius you won’t need a car rental to access great restaurants, sightseeing and shopping. U.S. citizens can save themselves the cost of a passport since it’s not required to visit, and since the U.S. dollar is the legal tender, there’s no money lost on currency exchange. Hotel Casa Blanca and Villa Herencia are two of my favorite high-style/low-cost boutique hotels.
Chosen By: Annie Fitzsimmons, digital editor at Virtuoso and editor-at-large at National Geographic
Why: Europe is on everyone’s list of value-added trips this year and for good reason — the exchange rate is more favorable for American travelers than it has been in years. But the destinations I most dream about and long to return to are in South America, a destination that has long given travelers great value for money. In Chile, I love Santiago for its vibrant food and wine scene — think tucked-away wine bars, delicious tapas and hip hotels in a beautifully chaotic city. For a lesser-known and truly special corner of the world, I love the small lakeside town of Puerto Varas. It is part of the lakes district in Chile and the northern start of Patagonia. It is easy (and cheap!) to rent a car and explore this area. There is a surprising German heritage, so you’ll see signs for “kuchen” (cake). With Puerto Varas as a hub, you can explore great places within a two-hour drive from the city: going to the top of a volcano, exploring waterfalls, finding the best cakes and food. This area sees very few American visitors and everything is CHEAP. It’s one of those places I almost want to keep to myself, but it’s so special that I can’t.
Chosen By: Meagen Collins, co-founder of Food Fun Travel, traveling the world in search of the ultimate foodie vacation experiences and discovering food worth traveling for in 85+ countries and counting
Why: With the U.S. dollar strong against the euro right now and the economic crisis in Greece keeping prices lower than other parts of Europe, it’s the perfect time to visit the beautiful island of Crete. Crete is a foodie dream come true. A place where farm-to-table isn’t a new fad, it’s a way of life. The people here often live to be well over 100 years old so they must be doing something right! With truly stunning natural beauty (like Balos beach) and locals that welcome tourists with open arms, you are bound to have the trip of a lifetime and save a few dollars at the same time. For more, see Fun Food Travel’s “Crete Food.”
Chosen By: Lucie Josma, @missjetsetter, a full-time photographer, content creator and social media manager specializing in travel and tourism.
Why: For many, Morocco is the ultimate dream trip, and yet cost tends to keep most from visiting. But what you might not know is that it’s one of the most affordable African countries, particularly when comparing flight costs. Reaching Marrakech from cities such as Lisbon, Madrid and Paris may only set you back $40 to $100 roundtrip with many budget airlines. And this past Black Friday, flights from New York were a mere $400 roundtrip. Food is by far my main reason for visiting as often as I do, and typical meals can range from $2.50 to $15 for two, which includes appetizers, entree and unlimited mint tea. For vegetarians and vegans, the country is especially great, as veggies are cheaper than meat and fresh fruit smoothies are barely $1. Souvenir shopping can get a bit intense when you realize leather goods such as wallets, handbags and weekenders run from $5 to $60. (A shopaholics dream!) When it comes to accommodations there’s something to fit everyone’s budget, my favorite being Riad Yasmine (only $80-$160 per night). For those looking for Moroccan luxury while still on a budget, my go-to is Riad Kheirredine, which will have you living like a queen without breaking the bank and even provides a cell phone during your stay to ensure guest safety.