Who doesn’t love a bargain? Startup guru Susan Ho and food expert Leiti Hsu are cofounders of Journy, a digitally-driven travel agency for the modern traveler. “Travelers constantly ask us where they can go to get the biggest bang for their buck,” says Ho.
Unlike a traditional travel agency, the Journy team helps with the most important part — what to do when you get there. “Instead of just helping a traveler figure out which places have the cheapest flights or hotel stays, we’re also considering the spend on dining, an artisan cup of coffee, a craft cocktail and so much more,” says Ho.
One smart way to save: by choosing a destination where the dollar goes far or further than it has in recent years. Take Japan, for instance: “In the past few years, we’ve seen interest in Japan travel go WAY up. It’s our number-one most popular destination today,” says Ho. “Just five years ago, $1 only translated to 80 yen, whereas today $1 gets you about 110 yen — a whopping 37.5% more. That means that a 15,000 yen sushi omakase meal now costs $136 instead of $187, which is a huge difference.”
Hungry for more? I got Ho to share 13 places on her radar with a favorable exchange rate. This is where you should go next.
Where: Budapest, Hungary
Exchange rate: $1 = 274.46 Hungarian forints
Why: For just 450 forints (about $2), you’ll be able to get a top-notch beer at the city’s famed ruin bar Szimpla Kert (think a garage crossed with a club). Budapest is a worthy journey for more than just bargain beers: For under $20, you can spend the afternoon relaxing in a spa. The outdoor Széchenyi Baths are located in a park a short metro ride from the city center. Or head to the Gellert Baths & Spa inside the Hotel Gellert, built in 1934 — it’s a beautiful way to combine history and relaxation. (Tip: spring for a red wine bath for two for $55.) You can also book a tour of the city’s neo-gothic Parliament for about $20, a cheaper alternative than visiting the Houses of Parliament in London, which it was designed to resemble.
Budget-friendly hotel pick:
It’s easy to live in luxury and not spend a fortune in Budapest. For just $125 a night in peak summer season, you can stay at the Pest Buda Hotel, a boutique 10-room property in the Old Buda area of the city.
Where: Sicily, Italy
Exchange rate: $1 = 0.89 euro
Why: Italy rarely makes lists of budget destinations, but the slackening euro means this perennial favorite is well within the reach of price-conscious travelers. Skip the pricey tourist centers and go south — way south — to Sicily. For $100, you can get there in a private cabin on the overnight train from Milan, which includes a free trip across the turquoise Strait of Messina (there’s no bridge from the mainland to Sicily, so trains must board a boat to get across). A nice meal can be had in Palermo for about 30€ per person. Or head to the top of Rinascente department store for stunning views and an 8€ aperitivo that doubles as dinner. Bonus: If you’re a wine lover, you’ve probably noticed Sicilian wines popping up on wine lists lately. (Our picks are from the Frank Cornelissen estate and the Mount Etna region.) This is your chance to enjoy them straight from the source at a much more reasonable price.
Budget-friendly hotel pick: Even in peak season, the Hotel Principe Di Villafranca has rooms for solo travelers for just $96 a night (doubles for $114). It’s in a quieter residential part of Palermo, away from the hustle and bustle.
Where: Montréal, Canada
Exchange rate: $1 = 1.34 Canadian dollars
Why: If you’re looking for a dose of French flair without the cost of an airline ticket to Paris, head to Montréal. The city has an impressive food scene, and you should book a table at Joe Beef or splurge at Au Pied de Cochon (Anthony Bourdain called it “simply one of my favorite restaurants on the planet”). With the U.S. dollar’s current strength, you’ll have enough money for a meal out, a trip to the Musée des Beaux-Arts and a vintage ‘90s T-shirt from independent clothing store Annex Vintage. The city also has an enviable art scene and it won’t cost you anything to enjoy the vibrant murals along the trendy Saint Laurent Boulevard. Bonus: You can take a train ride there from NYC for a mere $69. It’s a long ride, but there’s WiFi to get some work done and beautiful scenery along the way. Plus, you’ll arrive in time for a nice dinner.
Budget-friendly hotel pick: Summer rates in Montreal are much higher, so we recommend waiting until the fall, when rooms at the Hotel 10 — a contemporary boutique property between the Old Port and the hip Mile End — will set you back about $175 a night. The striking interior features an original spiral staircase from 1914.
Where: Cape Town, South Africa
Exchange rate: $1 = 12.83 South African rand
Why: Cape Town punches above its weight in terms of natural beauty, culinary adventures and outdoor exploits. Swing by Chefs Warehouse for a $50 three-course shared-plates dinner — be sure to arrive early as the popular restaurant doesn’t take reservations. After dinner, walk over to Unframed Ice Cream on Kloof Street for the city’s top artisanal ice cream in flavors such as dirty sea salt caramel or vegan turmeric latte. Of course, some of the city’s best sights are free, like the beaches and the unmissable views from Table Mountain.
Budget-friendly hotel picks: You can find centrally located boutique hotels like Hippo Boutique Hotel for as low as $100 a night, or opt for a bit more luxury at Cape Cadogan for about $150 a night, depending on the season.
Where: Mexico City, Mexico
Exchange rate: $1 = 18.2 Mexican pesos
Why: With a moderate year-round climate, Mexico City is a no brainer. It’s a short flight from most major cities in the U.S. and has become one of the food capitals of the world. While there’s plenty of reasonably priced fine dining at spots like Pujol (approximately $93 for seven courses), Biko (approximately $60 for seven courses), Quintonil (approximately $65 for 10 courses) and Maximo Bistrot (mains between $10-20), there’s also an endless supply of incredible street food. If you’re pressed for time, head to El Huequito to feast on tacos al pastor, where you’ll pay less than $1 per serving. Plus, it’s a city where there’s enough to do to easily fill an itinerary for 10 days or more. Visit the Teotihuacan pyramids, see Diego Rivera’s murals, visit Frida Kahlo’s house, cruise down ancient Mayan canals and step into the colorful Luis Barragan house.
Budget-friendly hotel pick: Unwind in one of Hotel Villa Condesa’s minimal but colorful rooms for roughly $150 a night (plus a free beer on arrival).
Where: Barcelona, Spain
Exchange rate: $1 = 0.89 euro
Why: Barcelona has everything you could ask for in a destination — there’s a beach, incredible architecture, parks, food, shopping and more. There’s also plenty of inexpensive accommodation (I was just there a few weeks ago and stayed at a four-star property in the city center for $130 a night). And for a gastronome like myself, it’s simply paradise. An expertly made cup of coffee at Satan’s Coffee in El Born is 1.50€. A glass of wine can be had almost anywhere for 2-3€, with a finer riserva usually available for 1€ more. You can eat your fill of pintxos, Basque tapas served on toothpicks that you grab from the bar for less than 2€ a piece. Barcelona resident Matt Goulding, who has co-authored books and traveled through Spain with Anthony Bourdain, shared his favorite local tapas spots in Barcelona with us. All of this is why I’ve found myself in Barcelona every year for the last three years.
Budget-friendly hotel pick: Barcelona has an endless number of reasonably priced hotel options. In the upscale Eixample neighborhood, Granados 83 is close to major attractions (Casa Mila, Casa Batllo, shopping on Passeig de Gracia) and offers rooms for solo travelers starting at $175 a night, even in peak season.
Where: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Exchange rate: $1 = 4,076.47 Cambodian riels
Why: You’ll be able to use the U.S. dollar at most places in Cambodia, but even if you had to pay an exchange fee, prices would still be cheap. For lunch, feast on local favorite fish amok for $6 at Romdeng, a restaurant set in a stunning colonial villa. If you want to see more of the country, bus tickets throughout the country rarely stretch past $18. The most expensive part of your trip might be that can’t-miss trip to Angkor Wat, which charges around $40 for entry.
Budget-friendly hotel pick: Hotels stretch from the luxurious to the relatively inexpensive. We recommend something in the middle like La Maison d’Ambre, a French-inspired boutique hotel that is centrally located and costs approximately $75 per night.
Where: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Exchange rate: $1 = 3.3 Brazilian reals
Why: It’s a good thing the dollar is strong against the real, because you’ll want to take some time to explore the fifth largest city in the world. The city boasts a vibrant street life, which doesn’t cost any money to enjoy as you wander through the regal botanic gardens or revel in its enviable music scene in Lapa. Experience the city’s world famous beaches at Ipanema or Copacabana, or rent a car to avoid the crowds at the secluded Grumari beach. But there’s more to the city beyond its picturesque beaches — experience Rio’s dizzying heights with a ride on one of the cable cars, which climb 396 meters from Baía de Guanabara in Rio’s zona sul to the top of Pão de Açúcar. Save more by skipping the high season (December to March), when Northern hemisphere residents head south to escape winter and check out the city’s famed Carnival celebrations.
Budget-friendly hotel pick: The hip Mama Shelter Rio de Janeiro offers rooms starting at $73 a night, including breakfast for two. The property, which also has branches from L.A. to Paris, is meant for a young boutique crowd, complete with quirky decor, a buzzy bar and an outdoor patio.
Where: Lima, Peru
Exchange rate: $1 = 3.28 Peruvian sol
Why: If you go to Lima, make food a priority. The city has 16,000-plus affordable cevicherias, but we recommend stopping by Cevecheria Bam Bam. For about $5 you’ll get a plate of spice-heavy, northern-style ceviche, which is cited as a favorite by many locals. And be sure to splurge on a meal at Central, the Michelin-starred, world-ranked restaurant from chef Virgilio Martinez, which celebrates indigenous ingredients. In between meals, take in the city’s striking architecture, which ranges from opulent colonial facades to striking modern high rises. You should also visit fashion photographer Mario Testino’s MATE museum, which showcases his most iconic photos. And because no trip is complete without getting that one-of-a-kind souvenir, head to Alessandra Petersen’s studio for locally-made fashion using indigenous techniques or stop by Las Pallas, which boasts an impressive selection of Peruvian folk art.
Budget-friendly hotel pick: Try the boutique Hotel Arawi, centrally located in Miraflores. A standard double room costs about $100 a night.
Where: Tokyo, Japan
Exchange rate: $1 = 111 yen
Why: Ask any chef where they want to travel to eat and chances are, half will tell you Spain, and the other half will say Japan. While still nowhere near “cheap,” the recent exchange rate has put Tokyo well within in the “reasonable” category. Plus, there’s no tipping in Japan and taxes are included, so the price is the price. I’m not at all exaggerating when I say that everything in Japan is just better, whether it’s cocktails (try Gen Yamamoto‘s “omakase” flight of four expertly prepared drinks made with hand-pressed seasonal fruit that will set you back 4,500 yen ($40) or even pizza. Yes, pizza. Da Isa chef Hisanori Yamamoto won the World’s Pizza Championship in Napoli three years in a row, and Tsubasa Tamaki makes an even better one using local Japanese basil and garlic at Seirinkan for 1,500 yen or $13.46 a pie. In between gluttonous sushi, yakitori, soba and ramen meals, you can explore the contemporary art at the Mori Art Museum, with its stunning views from the 53rd floor, for 1,800 yen ($16), see crazy Japanese fashions at Shibuya 109 or drive around Tokyo in a Mario Cart from Maricar. Tokyo is also a place where planning in advance can save you money. Check out Journy’s guide to Tokyo and pick up essentials like a JR Rail Pass, a Suica card and a pocket WiFi before you go.
Where: Viti Levu, Fiji
Exchange rate: $1 = 2.07 Fijian dollars
Why: Want an island vacation without eye-popping resort prices? Go to Fiji, where you’ll pay less than you would in the Caribbean and have more to see. The country is comprised of over 900 islands, but for the best bargain stay in Viti Levu, the largest island. It offers a taste of all the things that distinguish a trip to Fiji, from exploring traditional thatched huts in the mountain village of Navala to sunbathing on the glistening sands of the Coral Coast. If you’d prefer something more secluded, opt for one of the smaller islands — though be aware costs increase as you move away from the main islands. If you want to escape it all, a great pick is the isolated Naukacuvu Island, where you can expect to pay around $200 a night for a hotel.
Budget-friendly hotel picks: We love the small and secluded Crusoe’s Retreat, where you can get your own private cabin for about $100 a night.
Where: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Exchange rate: $1 = 4.26 Malaysian ringgit
Why: With the futuristic Petronas twin towers teetering above the city, Kuala Lumpur’s skyline is instantly recognizable. It won’t cost much to get a photo of this iconic view, nor will it cost much to immerse yourself in the city’s diverse food scene or admire the Taoist temples. Feast on everything from stir-fried noodles in dark soy sauce to a crisp-chewy oyster omelet at Lot 10 Hutong, Kuala Lumpur’s answer to a modern food hall. Cool off in the city’s jaw-dropping Pavilion mall — but skip the overpriced international brands and head straight for affordable local favorites like British India and Padini Concept Store.
Budget-friendly hotel picks: You could opt for a relatively reasonably priced luxury hotel (Kuala Lumpur’s Mandarin Oriental costs roughly $150 per night, compared to $745 in NYC), but we like the city’s smaller hotels as well. Try Bagasta, a boutique hotel that mixes modern decor with antique touches to give you a kampung (village) experience in the middle of the city.
Where: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Exchange rate: $1 = 15.94 Argentinian pesos
Why: The recent political turbulence in Argentina has meant the dollar is stronger than it has been in recent years. But we’d dream about a Buenos Aires escape no matter the price. That’s because Argentina’s capital offers stunning baroque architecture, stimulating shopping and can’t-stop-drinking wines. A stay in a mid-priced hotel will cost you $120 and an afternoon at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is free (including an English-language tour). While you could spend your evening taking in a tango show with dinner costs about $40, I recommend steering clear and immersing yourself in the city’s enviable nightlife scene instead. Whether you want to put on your finest and party with the city’s elite at the exclusive Jet Lounge or feel sophisticated with a jazz night at La Biblioteca Cafe in Recoleta, you’re sure to find something to keep you up all night.
Budget-friendly hotel picks: We recommend staying in the Palermo neighborhood for its hip cafes, local designers, and elegant bars. Vain Boutique Hotel, with just 15 rooms, is in the heart of Palermo Soho with rooms starting at $110 a night. Or try the 10 room L’Hotel Palermo starting at $140 a night, which features a cozy hidden garden, outdoor pool and an artsy crowd.