From Louisiana to Thailand, your buck can take you further than you think.
Are you dreaming of a desert getaway in the Lost City of Petra? Or a foodie-focused frolic through Vancouver? There’s good news for travelers looking to save: these 13 destinations can be experienced with only $500 in your pocket (not including the airfare) for five days. You don’t have to travel alone either. Priced for two travelers and packed full of free immersive travel experiences, budget-friendly tours, and incredible food—you’ll forget these are “budget-friendly” vacations.
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New Orleans, Louisiana
Where to Stay: Madame Isabelle’s House
Despite the alligator-filled bayou surrounding the city, NOLA’s historic streets ooze extravagance and over-indulgence. But we’re focusing on New Orleans’s local food scene and the plethora of free attractions it offers.
Day one in NOLA: the Historic French Quarter open-air markets. Home of deep-fried catfish at Toast, decadent powder-sugar-coated beignets at Cafe du Monde, and the original Muffalutta sandwich at Central Grocery. Day two, shift your focus to NOLA’s rich musical history with a Free Tours by Foot walking tour. Then nourish your soul with spicy jambalaya and fried shrimp po’boys at Parkway Bakery + Tavern, a long-standing NOLA staple. Cap off the evening with a quick walkthrough of Lafayette Cemetery to see the impressive above-ground gravesites.
On day three, you’ll explore the swamps. Not by expensive fan-boat tour, but on foot in Bayou Sauvage or Barataria Preserve. Then choose between a leisurely afternoon stroll at City Park, the Garden District, or window shop along Royal Street. This will help you work up an appetite for a famous buttery crawfish boil at Schaefer Seafood. Your final two days in the city can be spent entirely in the French Quarter and Frenchmen Street people-watching, visiting Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop + Bar, and nursing the incredible hangover that’s bound to ensue.
INSIDER TIPStock up on cheap beers at Central Grocery to drink in the streets like a NOLA local.
Total Trip Cost: $493
Cost Breakdown: Restaurants: $90, Accommodations: $168, Transportation: $35, Extras: $200 for food + a night on Bourbon street.
Where to Stay: Oporto Sky Hostel
Unlike the over-touristed and expensive Lisbon, Porto is a small Portuguese town easily managed in five days. First stop, the blue-tiled azulejos of The Chapel of Souls and Igreja do Carmo. At golden hour, cross the Luis 1 bridge to enjoy the sunset at Jardim do Morro. Don’t skip hiking up Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar while you’re at it. The views are even more spectacular.
On day two, you’ll eat Porto. Beginning with the famous pastel de nata at Manteigaria and ending with the behemoth Francesinha sandwich smothered in melted cheese at Cafe Santiago. Fill in your day with a 5 Euro port tasting at Bar Soares and a visit to the top of Clerigos Tower. Burn off yesterday’s calories with a day trip via bike ($15) to Senhor de Pedra. Before reaching the seaside church, you’ll meander through scenic fishing towns like Sao Pedro da Afurada and enjoy the stunning coastal views.
On day four, the sands of Matosinhos Beach are only a 40-minute metro away. After a full morning spent on the sand, indulge in the fresh seafood specialties of Tito 2 and the Matosinhos-Foz coastal walk for sunset before returning to town. For your final day in Porto, enjoy the city’s quirky sights. The Sao Bento Train station, known as the most beautiful in the world, Porto Cathedral ($3), scenic river Duoro 6 bridges cruise ($15), sunset at Jardins do Palacio, or visit the cobblestone-covered neighborhood of Ribeira.
Total Trip Cost: $361
Cost Breakdown: Attractions: $36, Restaurants: $40, Accommodations: $184, Transportation: $36, Extras: $65 for other restaurants and food.
Where to Stay: Airbnb Camper Van for Icelandic Road Trip
Thanks to the global popularity of van life, you can spend five days traversing the breathtaking landscapes of Southwestern Iceland and its seaside capital of Reykjavik. Spend day one in Reykjavik, walking the coastline to the Sun Voyager, enjoying the vibrant street murals, the angular facade of the Hallgrimskirkja Church, and the Phallological Museum ($16) on Main Street. A hot bun from Braud & Co, vinegar-soaked Reykjavik Fish & Chips, and a tray full of Baejarins Beztu Pylsur hot dogs should keep you well fed. Savor it because, for the rest of the trip, you’ll rely on grocery store goods to stay on budget.
Begin day two early and drive through the dramatic landscapes of the Golden Circle to Thingvellir National Park and Geysir Hot Spring.
On day three, head South along Iceland’s Ring Road. You’ll pass the powerful sprays of both Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. Then depending on the weather, you can take a long beach hike to the Sólheimasandur plane wreck or soak in the wild Seljavallalaug hot springs. After reaching the black sand beaches of Vik, you’ll spend day four driving back past Reykjavik to the Snaefellsnell Peninsula for your final day in Iceland. Here you can walk the cliffs at Arnarstapi in search of puffins before returning to Reykjavik in the afternoon.
INSIDER TIPThe camper is $70 during high season. To score the $55 nightly campervan price, time your visit during Iceland’s shoulder season.
Total Trip Cost: $500
Cost Breakdown: Attractions: $32, Restaurants: $45, Accommodations: $275, Gas: $60, Extras: $88 for groceries.
This cross-country itinerary is a whirlwind adventure to Jordan’s most impressive sights. Upon arrival, nab an airport shuttle to eat stuffed falafel and the world’s best hummus at Hashem’s Restaurant in Amman. Spend your day visiting the Roman Coliseum, Al-Quds falafel sandwich shop, Rainbow Street, eat warm kunefe at Habibas Sweets, and finish with sunset at the Amman Citadel Hill. Rise early to catch the bus to Wadi Musa and savor an evening sampling local wine inside a 2,000-year-old Cave Bar.
Day three begins with an early morning hike through the sand-blasted canyons into Petra. Channel your inner Indiana Jones by experiencing the famous facades of the Treasury and Monastery and hiking to the panoramic cliffside viewpoints. One more night at Petra Cabin Inn will leave you refreshed to trade one desert for another. Spend night four at the Arabian Nights camp in a traditional woven tent under the stars. Join a half-day Wadi Rum tour with your fellow desert-dwellers on day five.
INSIDER TIPBuy the Jordan Pass. This counts as both your entry visa and an all-access pass to the sights in Jordan.
Total Trip Cost: $500
Cost Breakdown: Jordan Passes: $198, Restaurants: $40, Accommodations: $102, Desert Tour: $70, Transport: $65, Extras: $25 for street food.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Where to Stay: A Sunny Suite Up Main Airbnb
When it comes to exceptional international cuisine, there’s no city quite like Vancouver. Fortunately, there are also enough lush green spaces, seaside parks, and breweries to fill the time between bites. After checking into your Airbnb downtown, hit the House of Dosa for their dinner specials. Day two begins with rosemary and rock salt bagels from Seigals Bakery and a long walk around Stanley Park. Chinatown in the evening offers interesting walking streets and the best meal in town–butter beef at Phnom Pehn.
On days three and four, you can hike the Grouse Grind Trail, relax on the gondola back to town, people-watch on Davie Street, and chill out with views of the Pacific at English Bay Beach. Asian-influenced cuisine at Ramen Danbo, Hawker’s Delight, Legendary Noodle, and the traditional Japanese Izakaya Guu with Garlic are all within the area. Spend your final day in Vancouver outdoors. And eating, of course. Strip to your birthday suit at Wreck Beach, hike at Lynn Canyon, or grab a few brews at Storm Brewing, the gritty local favorite. On your way out of town, stop at Lamajoun for one last meal, a family-run Armenian restaurant with excellent pide.
INSIDER TIPIf you’re visiting Vancouver on a road trip, you can spend one day driving toward Whistler along the sea-to-sky highway and hiking the ethereal Joffre Lakes Trail.
Total Trip Cost: $405
Cost Breakdown: Restaurants: $190, Accommodations: $160, Transport: $35, Gondola: $20
Where to Stay: Hush Hostel
Spilling over the Bosphorus strait onto both the Asian and European continents, Istanbul is a cultural juxtaposition. As you peruse the Grand Bazaar, mounds of fragrant spices sit alongside solid gold necklaces and $10,000 rugs. Dinner is shawarma and yogurt at Dönerci Sahin Usta before you walk to the Galata Tower ($9) for sunset. Arrive early to beat the line. Following a traditional Turkish breakfast at Kuff, you’ll return to the European side to knock out all the historical and religious sights on day two.
Hagia Sophia Mosque, the Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace ($18) all rim the same lovely park. Snack on simit from the street carts and walk to Sehzade Cag Kebap for meaty afternoon lunch. A coffee from Peyte’s Coffee will perk you up before you ride the ferry at sunset for the most impressive views. Spend day three getting to know the trendy Kadiköy and Moda neighborhoods on foot by window shopping and cafe-hopping. Manifesto Cafe for breakfast, Damla Kebap Pide for lunch, and the legendary Ciya Sofrasi for dinner from the top floor at sunset. On day four, you’ll return to the European side for the last time. Cafe Jupiter has the best coffee in Istanbul, followed by the best Turkish breakfast at Yigit Sofram Gozleme ve Kahvalti.
Wander Taksim street and sample local sweets, window shop, and pet the cats until you’re hungry enough for a plate of rice and beans at Tarihi Kalkanoglu Pilavcisi. Dinner will be on your side of the water, at Kebapsi Iskender–the birthplace of the thinly-sliced kebap laid over bread and doused with butter. On your final day in Istanbul, hit the street markets. Explore neighborhoods that intrigue you. Eat a lahmacun at Borsam Tasfirin Bahariye, try Turkish ice cream at Brussel’s Waffles + Ice Cream, and a coffee at Koffe.
Total Trip Cost: $316
Cost Breakdown: Restaurants: $150, Accommodations: $92, Transport: $20, Entrance Fees: $54
Where to Stay: Sunset Residence Pinklao
The quintessential backpacker destination famed for street food but also luxury malls, extravagant temples, and high-end sky bars. To get a full taste of both worlds, start with a self-guided tour of Bangkok’s Buddhist temples: Wat Saket, Wat Pho, and Wat Ratchanatdaram. Arrive at Wat Arun near sunset to watch the sky blaze red over the Chao Phraya River. Finish off the day with one of Bangkok’s night markets. On day two, you can live the luxurious life. Start with a visit to the Grand Palace ($16) and then window shop the world-class malls: Siam Center, Icon Siam, MBK, Siam Paragon, and Central World.
Watch the sun sink beyond the skyscrapers at Red Sky Bar with a cocktail in hand. Dinner is a crab omelet from the Netflix famous Jay Fai. Just be prepared to wait. Day three is for market-hopping. The best in Bangkok are Train Market, Chatuchak Weekend Market, and Taling Chan Floating Market. If it’s not a weekend, you’ll find other markets popping up all over the city to sprinkle in between street food stops. Tomorrow explores the ruins of ancient Siam on a day trip to Ayuthaya. Take the open-air train to catch glimpses of the green Thai countryside. On your final day in Bangkok, you should savor the fresh air in Lumphini Park, walk the flower market of Pak Klong Talad, head to a Muay Tai fight at MBK, and eat your heart out in Chinatown.
INSIDER TIPThere are few restaurants included in this itinerary because the caliber of food in Bangkok is so high, it truly doesn’t matter where you go. It’s all worth eating.
Total Trip Cost: $306.36
Cost Breakdown: Restaurants: $40 for Jay Fai, Accommodations: $84, Transport: $30, Entrance Fees: $72.36, Rooftop Cocktails: $20, Extras: $60 for street food
Where to Stay: CapsulePod@aljunied
Clean, green, and futuristic. Singapore is the perfect combination of Indian, Malaysian, and Chinese influences. Even its street food is Michelin-starred. Spend your first day in Little India, the most budget-friendly neighborhood. Colorful murals brighten the streets, and open-air markets crowd alleyways. Both Sri Mariamman and Sri Veeramakaliaman temples are worth visiting, as is the Green Leaf Cafe’s tasty vegan fare. On day two, soak in some of Singapore’s eco-friendly green spaces with a stroll through the Gardens by the Bay in the shadow of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel before visiting Chinatown for lunch and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Return to the Gardens by the Bay at sunset for a spectacular free light show.
Day three is when you get serious about eating. Kampong Glam is heavily influenced by Islam and brimming with good food and extravagant architecture. The Sultan Mosque and Haji Lane are must-sees. Lunch and dinner can be eaten inside the Tekka center, filled with hawker stalls enjoyed by Michelin tasters and Anthony Bourdain. Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken and Rice is the favorite. A quick metro ride outside the city on day four deposits you at the MacRitchie Reservoir. A densely forested jungle filled with wildlife and panoramic views along the treetop walk. It’s an all-day endeavor, so bring snacks. Treat yourself on day five. Sip a Singapore Sling where it was first created–the Raffle’s Bar. Then walk off the buzz on the riverside “coastal” walk to Clarke Quay past the famous Merlion statue, a symbol of the city. This is where the best nightlife in Singapore hides. It’s also a great place to get Singapore’s signature dish–chili crab. If you can afford its $80 price tag.
Total Trip Cost: $432
Cost Breakdown: Restaurants: $162, Accomodation: $144, Transport: $6, Singapore Sling: $40, Chili Crab to share: $80
Where to Stay: Holy Sheet Hostel
Travelers might be tempted to cram the extravagant temples of Luxor into a five-day itinerary, but Cairo deserves your attention. Among thousands of breath-taking mosques in the city, Sultan Hassan & Sultan Rifay Mosque, Muhammad Ali Mosque, and Al Ahzur Mosque are good places to start. Then wade through Cairo’s oldest street to the Bab Zuwayla Minaret. Here you can climb high above the city for panoramic views. On day two, continue your religious history lesson in the Islamic quarter before catching the metro to Coptic Cairo and the Hanging Church. When the final call to prayer echoes through the city, head to the Khan el Khalil Market. It’s touristy but a spectacle to behold nonetheless.
On day three, you should get out of the city. The White Desert is in close proximity, and you can see rolling Sahara dunes and alien rock formations on a day trip. An entire day should be devoted to visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza, Saqqara, and the Sphinx. This gives you ample time to experience the tombs and perfectly preserved hieroglyphics painted along the walls. Your final day in Cairo will be a busy one. Now that you’ve experienced the pyramids in person, you can visit both Egyptian Museums to see artifacts and mummified remains. Koshary at Abo Tarek, beef shawarma at Kazaz, and Abd desserts are must-eats in Cairo.
Total Trip Cost: $404
Cost Breakdown: Restaurants: $90, Accommodations: $120, Transport: $10, Entrance Fees: $84, Overnight Desert Tour: $200
Where to Stay: Rustic Flat in Laureles
Once the bloody headquarters of Pablo Escobar’s cartel, Medellin has undergone a complete revival. On your first day in the ultra-modern digital nomad epicenter of South America, you should take a free walking tour with Real City Tours. Once you have the lay of the land, spend the afternoon riding the gondola to Parque Arvi at the highest point in Medellin for unrivaled views of the city. On day two, you can savor the slow life in Laurales. A trendy neighborhood with exceptional eats like Naan, Jugosa, Los Chamos Venezuelan Arepas, and Cafe Revolution.
On your third day, venture to the outskirts and climb the colorful stairs to Comuna 13. Once a dangerous area, it’s now a bustling tourist attraction covered in some of the world’s best street art and performers of all kinds. El Poblado is a nightlife neighborhood, and thanks to a slew of newly developed upscale restaurants in the area, it’s a great place for dinner. Plan to visit the colorful pueblo of Guatape on your fourth day. Before dinner, you can wander the Crayola-colored streets and climb the Piedra del Penol. The inflated sculptures of Plaza Botero, the sprawling botanical gardens, and a somber visit to Casa de la Memoria make for a well-rounded last day in Medellin.
Total Trip Cost: $382
Cost Breakdown: Restaurants: $137, Accommodations: $200, Transport: $45
Where to Sleep: Traditional Style Ketut
Filling five days in Bali is easy enough, rimmed with sandy shores and lush rice paddies strewn about the island. But you might be surprised to find that you can have the meditative, bamboo-decorated, beachy vacation of your dreams for under $500. Check into your traditionally decorated villa in the Balinese jungle before taking an afternoon stroll through Ubud’s Monkey Forest. Rise early on day two to wander the Ubud market brimming with flowers and exotic fruits. Mid-day, every day, is reserved for beaches. Lounge at Seminyak Beach, interrupted only by a few cocktails at Potato Head Beach Club before a famous Balinese sunset.
Catch some gnarly waves at Canguu Beach and enjoy the tasty beach warungs. Walk from Padang Bai to the rough but beautiful shores of White Sand Beach and Black Sand Beach. Pair your beaches on days two, three, and four with small day trips like a visit to Uluwatu Temple for a sunset Kecak fire dance or a dip in the Tegenungan Falls outside Ubud. Day five depends on you. If you’re looking for something adventurous, a sunrise hike up Mount Batur is best. But for those looking to savor their last moments on the sand, a day trip to Nusa Penida or Nusa Ceningan is the way to go.
Total Trip Cost: $454
Cost Breakdown: Restaurants: $147, Accommodations: $132, Transport: $150, Entrance Fees: $25
Where to Stay: La Bo’m Creperie + Hostel
The steep cobblestone streets of Cusco provide the perfect home base for a quick trip through the Inca’s Sacred Valley of Peru. Day one, let the nearly 11,000-foot altitude sink in. Walk to Plaza de Armas and enjoy a coffee in one of the balcony cafes, window shop San Pedro Market, and wander the photogenic city. Tomorrow, hop on the first local bus to Agua Calientes. A short walk from Machu Picchu, where you can spend your entire day ogling Incan sites and endless Andes peaks. On your way back to Cusco, ride the scenic train to Ollantaytambo. Specifically, to see the hillside ruins and Pinkuylluna.
On day three, you’ll return to the Sacred Valley, but this time to the town of Pisac. More ruins await you. In the afternoon, hire a driver to take you to the natural salt mines of Maras and Incan farms of Moray. Tonight, treat yourself to a luxurious meal at Morena, complete with a Chica Morado Pisco Sour. You’ll see your last ruins on day four at Sacsayhuaman and Tambomachay as you walk back to Cusco through lovely neighborhoods. If you’re fully acclimatized, your final day should include a day trip to Rainbow Mountain. This iconic Peruvian hike is short but reaches 17,000 feet. Make a point to eat at Todos Chicken, WACHAFOS Peruvian Street Food, Green Falafel, Garwhal, Jack’s Cafe, and Green Point during your stay.
Total Trip Cost: $500
Cost Breakdown: Restaurants: $68, Accommodations: $96, Transport: $160, Machu Picchu: $80 , Entrance Fees: $36, Rainbow Mountain Day Trip: $60
Where to Stay: Airbnb in Colaba
With a budget of $500, you can stay in the posh neighborhood of Colaba. The city of Mumbai is massive, so for each of your five days, try and tackle a different neighborhood. Day one: Colaba. Stroll along the coast to the Gateway of India, learn about Gandhi’s life at Mani Bhavan, photograph Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, see the art in Khala Goda, and watch the sunset at Mumbai Chowpatty Beach. Day two: Juhu Beach. Here you’ll find a market on the sand and some of the best street food in the city. Be sure to try the sweet Kulfi Falooda Rabri.
On day three, you’ll wander Bandra. This part of town is always brimming with markets. Take in the view at Sea Link Viewpoint, see the Thieves Market of Chor Bazaar, and the floating mosque Haji Ali Dargah, on your way back to Colaba. The views of Dobi Ghat and an ethical walking tour of Dharavi to see the street art and support the local businesses will take most of day four. On your final day, head North to Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Still, within Mumbai, you can spot incredible wildlife like leopards if you’re lucky. Otherwise, the views of Mumbai and green walking paths are a welcome break from the chaotic streets.
Total Trip Cost: $327
Cost Breakdown: Restaurants: $100, Accommodations: $202, Transport: $20, Entrance Fees: $5