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To travel cheaply, go where it’s cheap

by Michael on February 9, 2012

Cheap travel is often a challenge, but how would you like to live in a land of 35 cent hoagies, $25 gourmet meals for two and beers for a buck? A place where the dollar stretches so far it could cover the entire country. That’s daily life for visitors to Southeast Asia. In expensive places like Europe it’s difficult to budget a vacation at a reasonable cost. In Southeast Asia it’s difficult not to.

We’ve learned that to travel cheaply, go where it’s cheap. That advice seems obvious but is often ignored. We picked it up from Tim Leffel in The World’s Cheapest Destinations. We read the book before embarking on our journey and were a bit skeptical about his stories of $25 hotel rooms and $5 restaurant meals. But we’ve been in this part of the world for three months now and have become true believers.

The picture below is of our $22 hotel room in Hue, Vietnam. The price included a buffet breakfast, Wifi and taxes. It also had a large flat-screen TV, comfortable bed and great shower. It was as nice as any Marriott Courtyard we’ve stayed. We were not giving up anything in the way of amenities that we would have at a Western hotel.

Vietnam hotel room

All yours for $22 per night, including breakfast and WiFi.

We polished off a delicious gourmet meal at Confetti, a high-end restaurant in Hue. Larissa had the full five-course spread, which included barbecued duck, while Michael settled on a mere three courses. Add in two glasses of wine and a bottle of water and we were stunned that the tab, including tax and tip, came to only $26. We were actually embarrassed.

But not as much as we were at lunchtime when we bought two Banh Mi, the Vietnamese equivalent of a hoagie, and paid 35 cents each. (As a point of comparison, in pricey Australia a packet of ketchup at a sandwich shop costs 50 cents.) A few weeks later Michael got a $1.50 haircut in Bangkok. He hasn’t paid so little since he was in short pants.

Vietnamese Banh Mi

Banh Mi, a Vietnamese hoagie on a French baguette, were only 35 cents each.

The biggest challenge  is finding out that others got a better deal. We were pretty smug about scoring a $35 room at a resort in Siem Reap, Cambodia; that is until our friends Doz and Amanda told us they were staying up the street for $16.

For cash-strapped Americans whose currency is weak, locales that value the dollar are great tourist destinations. There is one glitch though: getting there. But we looked up round-trip flights from New York to Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur (cheap hubs for travel throughout Asia) for April and found some for about $1,100; only a few hundred dollars more than flying to Paris. You’ll more than make up the difference once you get to Asia.

However a location shouldn’t be judged only on price. The old adage that you get what you pay for is always ringing in the back of our heads. But that just hasn’t been the case here. Paying 1960s prices for 2012 amenities, beautiful countryside, dynamic cities and meeting gracious people seems like a winning combination. We highly recommend placing Southeast Asia on your “To Go” list.

Mark February 9, 2012 at 11:42 am

Long before the days of the internet, we had to make all kinds of phone call just to make any kind of travel plans. Now you can just search the internet and find all the information in a matter of minutes. Now there are even websites that will compare prices for everything from hotels to airline tickets. It only takes a matter of minutes just to find the cheapest ways to travel. Everything including the purchase of tickets can be done from the comfort of your own home. The modern age of technology has definitely helped the consumer save money on travel expenses. It is amazing how much work we had to do in the old days just to get tickets.

Us February 9, 2012 at 8:56 pm

You are so right. The type of trip we are taking would have been so much harder just 10 years ago. Now when we look at a potential apartment rental we can Google Earth the street to see what it looks like.

Doz & Amanda February 11, 2012 at 6:17 am

We totally agree. We are so glad that we planned our trip to end up in south east Asia. With funds running low we can still enjoy everything that we want to.
Don’t forget the tourist attractions too. For sight-seeing hotspots that would cost you £15 to get into in the UK, you can easily walk into for less that £2 here. Makes having the whole experience of food and culture much easier 🙂

Us February 11, 2012 at 8:19 am

We are eagerly awaiting the “AmanDoz Guide to Cheap Travel in Southeast Asia”. . .

Tony February 14, 2012 at 7:44 am

We cannot wait to get to SEA! South America is more expensive than we thought, but still worth it. We’re just holding out hope that SEA will rightsize our budget!

Hearing stories about what you can buy for a few bucks definitely inspires me to get my butt over there!

Us February 14, 2012 at 7:52 am

It really is cheap here in SEA. The stories are all true. We’re heading to Argentina at some point. Is it not cheap anymore?

Matt February 28, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Hello guys!

Love the blog your running here! My wife and I are leaving for 6 months in July and can’t wait – your blog is getting us well excited 🙂

Thanks for some top content – and see you on the road maybe!

Us February 29, 2012 at 12:19 am

Do you know where you’ll be going on the trip? Don’t plan too far in advance. We have found that it’s better to be flexible along the way.

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