When it comes to travel, some people have a very blinkered view. They believe, completely wrongly, that the cost of visiting somewhere is directly correlated to how good it is. Backpackers, however, know better: spending hundreds of pounds on a hotel room doesn’t make for a great time, and eating at the best restaurants doesn’t necessarily mean getting the best food. That’s why backpackers flock to the less expensive cities, as they know that they are also the places with the most to explore – as well as the places that allow you to stay for much longer!
So that you can plan the longest gap year possible, we’ve come up with this list of the best cities for backpackers on a budget. Some you’ll expect, others you won’t. One thing will link them all though: they are all places we’d definitely recommend you visit!
10) Cape Town, South Africa
Starting off our list is Cape Town, the hub of South Africa and many people’s first port of call when wanting to see everything this country has to offer. What’s even better is this: for thrifty travellers, Cape Town can be done for as little as £25 per day. Sure, this might not be the cheapest around, but that’s why it’s at #10, and not #1!
But why is Cape Town such a great place to visit? Well, there’s the fantastic nightlife (this might stretch your budget a bit more), the gorgeous beaches and the fact that the city is constantly buffeted by nature, from zebras through to whales. And all of this is found in the shadow of Table Mountain, making this a city with one of the most spectacular vistas in the world. You probably won’t stay in Cape Town for too long though, as most people on a gap year in South Africa come for one reason: the wildlife and scenery of the remoter areas of the country.
9) Budapest, Hungary
What, a city in Europe that is affordable to visit? That’s right – when you get away from the Western European countries and aim towards Eastern Europe instead, things become much cheaper. What’s more, they are buzzing with travellers and feature tonnes of great things to see and do. Budapest definitely fits this category, and is fast becoming a favourite spot for travellers from all over the world. And how cheap is it? £20 per day will be able to get you a room, food, and a visit to one of the city’s attractions – plus maybe a couple of beers in the evening too!
When in Budapest, you absolutely have to pay visits to, well, everywhere! After all, the whole city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning that there’s something to make your jaw drop around every corner. And once you’ve finished sightseeing? Sit back and relax in some of the best bars in Eastern Europe, before heading to one of the city’s hedonistic nightclubs – our pick would be Trafiq…
8) Marrakech, Morocco
Moving back to Africa now, as the next city on our list is Marrakech, one of Morocco’s most-visited destinations. For just under £20 a day, you can live in relative comfort here, and this includes some huge meals, a nice hostel and a visit to one of the many attractions found in this historic city. Marrakech shows a completely different culture and way of life to most backpackers, and therefore you can spend days just watching people – something that costs absolutely nothing! A walk through one of the boisterous markets will provide you with hours of entertainment.
If you’re looking for things to do in Marrakech, there’s a huge amount to choose from. Museums, monuments, palaces, gardens and tombs are all found here, and make for incredibly interesting visits. As already mentioned though, it’s the free things that will stick in the mind while in Marrakech, as you watch the hustle and bustle of this city as it goes about its day to day business.
7) Beijing, China
Most people would expect the sprawling metropolis of Beijing to be an expensive place to visit, but the fact still remains that Beijing is more than affordable – although how long it stays this way is something that is open to debate. Today, however, a thrifty backpacker can survive in Beijing for just below the £20 per day mark – providing they eat authentic street food and stay in budget hostels. So, that gap year in China might not be as expensive as you first thought…
What makes Beijing even better though is the fact that you’ve got so many options after you’ve finished. South-East Asia, India, Japan, South Korea – they are all within your reach aboard flights that are relatively inexpensive. So, make sure you get to Beijing before you’re priced out of the market!
6) Cusco, Peru
South America features for the first time on this list now, and luckily for all intrepid explorers, it is a city that nearly everyone will want to visit. Cusco is perhaps the most popular place in the whole of Peru for backpackers, and for good reason: it’s the gateway to the Inca Trail and the wonder that is Machu Pichu. The fact that you can stay there for around £15 a day only adds to the attraction.
It’s quite amazing that Cusco has remained so cheap, as it plays host to over 2 million tourists every single year. What most people don’t do is this though: explore the city! There’s loads to experience if you scratch beneath the surface, instead of popping off to Machu Pichu after just a day. After all, Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire, so can you really pass up seeing this city in all its glory? The Plaza de Armas is a real highlight of any stay.
5) Quito, Ecuador
Staying in South America, we come to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. It might not have the same lure as some other cities on the continent, however any adventurous explorer will find plenty to see and do in this sprawling metropolis. If you do decide to visit – and you should – you’ll be able to stay for a while too, as the daily cost of staying in Quito is less than £15. Take it easy while there though, as it’s easy to get tired in the highest capital city in the world!
Fun fact about Quito? The historic centre of Quito was the first placed to be declared a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site, back in 1978 (along with Krakow). This part of the city is a must-visit for anyone – although avoiding it when in Quito is pretty much impossible. Other impressive aspects to this city include the colonial architecture, as well as the great street food. Ecuador is the gateway to the Galapagos as well, so perhaps you can head there afterwards?
4) Bangkok, Thailand
Ahh, the seminal backpacker destination, a city crammed full of everything you’ve heard; a hubbub of noise, chaos and amazing experiences. But why is Bangkok so popular? Because it’s so cheap! Staying in Bangkok, providing you stay in hostels and eat street food, can cost as little as just £12 per day – not bad considering every traveller wants to go there. Try not to spend all your time on Khao San Road though, as there’s much more to see in Bangkok!
If you’re on a gap year in Thailand, there’s no doubting that you’ll probably start off in Bangkok. So, where should you start when you touch down though? Getting a hostel room, that’s where! At the hostel, you’ll meet travellers from all over the world, and you can then explore this insane city with them – after all, experiences are much better when they are shared. Just don’t let them persuade you to spend all your cash on alcohol, because that’s when your time in Bangkok will start to get expensive…
3) Kathmandu, Nepal
Kathmandu might not be as popular as some cities, but it still certainly attracts the crowds, with tourism contributing massively to the city’s economy. It’s easy to see why so many visit though, as Kathmandu has much to offer to every visitor, and we’d strongly urge every backpacker to make a trip there at least once. What’s more, you can get by here on around £11 a day, which is unbelievable! That’s £11 for a bed, food, drink and entertainment – the same amount would get you a beer in London!
So, why should you visit Kathmandu? It’s simple: Kathmandu is a melting pot, ready to overwhelm your senses with smells, sounds and sights you’ll never see anywhere else on earth. You’ll find numerous volunteering schemes here as well, as poverty is still a great problem in this city. Oh, and there’s the small matter of Kathmandu being a starting point for many adventures to the Himalayas…
2) Goa, India
Getting closer to the number one on the list now, but first we’re making a stop in Goa – a magnet for backpackers the world over. With its relaxed atmosphere – sometimes too relaxed – and stunning beaches, it might be the best place in the world to sit back and unwind after a few long months of travelling. And the cost per day? About the same as Kathmandu, meaning £11 per day will see you by nicely. Of course, if you want to stay in fancy hotels and eat the best food, this price can rise steeply though!
And it’s a good job it’s so cheap, as Goa is one of those places that some people never even bother to leave. We’re not saying that you’ll spend the rest of your life in Goa, but you might find yourself staying much longer than you intended. There are loads of other places to visit on a gap year in India though, so try not to stay too long – just think of the amazing adventures you can have in Delhi, Mumbai, Varanasi and the rest, all for pretty much the same cost per day…!
1) Hanoi, Vietnam
So, the number one place to head for if you’re looking for a cheap backpacking destination is Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. For the tiny sum of just £10 per day, you can comfortably spend your time here – which is a ridiculously small amount! When you weigh this tiny outlay up with the huge amount of stuff to see and do, it makes a visit to Hanoi something that every single backpacker should do at some point. When you consider just how easy it is to get here from the South-East Asian backpacking trail, there’s no excuse for not visiting.
Hanoi is certainly not at the top of this list based only on price, as there are some places cheaper – Pokhara, for example – it’s at the top because there’s so much for a backpacker to love about the place. The food is some of the best in the region; the nightlife can be anything from chilled through to completely hedonistic; culture vultures will get more than their fill of amazing history; and the people are some of the friendliest on the planet. So, head to Hanoi in 2015 – your money will definitely be very well spent there!