Jacksonville, known to locals as Jax, has the lowest hotel rates and the youngest population in the state of Florida, but it doesn’t lack in beaches or things to do. There are 22 miles of beaches, which is more shoreline than any other Florida city. There is plenty of fishing, surfing, historic neighborhoods, golfing, art, and live music to enjoy along with America’s largest urban park system. You can see the area by bike, on foot, or by a guided kayak tour. Avoid the crowds of the more popular Florida cities and enjoy a place that claims, “It’s easier here.”
It’s time to step away from the typical Moroccan stop in Marrakesh and check out the affordable Essaouira, which means “little picture” in Arabic and brings in plenty of artists. There are low-cost direct flights from Europe and the UK, and it offers windsurfing, kite surfing, and beaches with a Moroccan flavor. The unique city is walled in by ramparts, a blue and white wall, and stone gates. You can spend hours wandering around the many souks and exploring the colors, scents, sounds, and flavors of Morocco. Fresh seafood is delightfully cheap.
3San Juan, Puerto Rico
San Juan is recovering from last year’s Hurricane Maria, so prices are low because tourists are hesitant to come back, making now the perfect time to visit. There’s no passport needed for American citizens, and you can find flights from the East Coast for under $250. Old San Juan gives you a taste of colonial times with forts, cobblestone streets, and colorful homes. New San Juan offers a modern Caribbean city with all the luxuries and experiences you would expect. Festivals and other events occur in the city throughout the year for an authentic taste of Puerto Rican culture.
4La Paz, Bolivia
This city high in the Andes (nearly 12,000 feet above sea level) offers five-star accommodation for under $150 per night. The longest and highest cable car network in the world, Mi Teleférico, will get you from place to place as you explore the city. Street food is common and cheap. Acclimatize to the altitude while visiting the Mercado de las Brujas (the Witches’ Market), where you can find handcrafted items alongside folk and herbal remedies, then go skiing on one of the highest slopes in the world.
This small Eastern European city was established in the early medieval era and is the capital of Estonia. It is small enough to be easily traveled on foot, saving you transportation fees while you explore this fashionable city where old and new meet beautifully. The sandy beaches on the Baltic Sea offer stunning views year-round. There are budget flights from other places in Europe, and you can find reasonably priced food at the food trucks in Telliskivi Creative City. One of the best free things to do in Tallinn is to take in the views from the roof of the Linnahall.
With hotels averaging less than $50 a night, this Central American colonial town has cobblestone streets, brightly-colored houses with red tile roofs, and views of Lake Nicaragua. It didn’t take long after the Spanish found it for Granda to become a major trading hub. The French, English, Dutch, and some pirates all tried to claim it as their own, so there is plenty of history and culture to explore. For outdoor enthusiasts, there are nearby volcanoes, lakes, lagoons, and cloud forests to explore. Lake Nicaragua is home to hundreds of small islands where a boat or kayak gives you the opportunity to see a variety of wildlife, including monkeys.
Home to the famous Terracotta Warriors, Xi’an is the ancient capital of China. Hotels are cheaper here than Shanghai, and the population is somewhat less dense than other cities in China, making for a more pleasant experience. The former endpoint of the Silk Road, Xi’an has an amazing blend of cultures, and ancient history blends with 21st-century life seamlessly. You can make your own terracotta warriors, bike along the city wall, go on one of the most dangerous hikes in China up Mt. Huashan, and visit Yuanjia Village, which is a replica of how an ancient Chinese town would have looked.
To have the best experience in Mexico, skip the cruise ship ports and head to Mérida on the Yucatan peninsula. Home to the Mayans, then colonialized by the Spanish, Mérida is one of the oldest continually occupied cities in the Americas. History, art, archeology, and nature all combine for a place to entertain every member of your travel party. Be sure to visit one of the cenotes (freshwater sinkholes) in the area for a unique way to cool down, maybe after visiting the Reserva de la Biósfera Ría Celestún wildlife reserve or Mayan ruins like Chichen Itza.
If you want to visit French Polynesia without paying the exorbitant prices of Tahiti and Bora Bora, you need to visit Mo’orea. A room that would cost $1000 per night in Bora Bora runs around $250 in Mo’orea. If you aren’t interested in just laying around all week, there’s plenty to do: snorkeling and ray feeding, whale watching (seasonally), Jet Skiing, motu picnics, obstacle courses, zip lines, and hikes for people of all ability levels are just a few examples.
Gaziantep has much of the same history and culture as Istanbul for a lower cost; plus it’s a UNESCO Creative Gastronomy City, and nearly half the businesses are dedicated to food in some way. If you like pistachios, it’s also the pistachio capital of Turkey. Here, you can experience a traditional Turkish Hamman (bath) and see a castle, mosques, bazaars, and plenty of interesting architecture.
You can find an Airbnb for as low as $40 here, and a ferry from mainland Tanzania only costs $35. Zanzibar offers beautiful white sand beaches, colorful coral reefs, and a variety of cultures, and your dollar will go far once you’re there. This East African island offers luxury at an affordable price. Check out historical Stone Town or go scuba diving, snorkeling, deep sea fishing, kayaking, windsurfing, waterskiing, or sailing a traditional boat, called a dhow.
12Manaus, Amazon, Brazil
Manaus is the gateway to the Amazon and is surrounded by 2 million square miles of jungle. Comfortable hotels start at only $63. On top of the vast array of options for seeing wildlife, you get a more authentic view into the lives of Brazilians than you might find in Rio since fewer tourists venture the 1500 miles away from Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo. No matter how you want to see the wildlife of the Amazon ecosystem, you’ll find it, but you won’t be bored in the city, either. Manaus sprang up after a rubber boom in the 1800s, and rubber barons had money to throw around at projects like building the opulent Teatro Amazonas, a European-style opera house that is still in use and offers daily tours.
13Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
This melting pot of cultures is cheaper than you can imagine, with five-star hotels as low as $42 a night and round-trip flights to Thailand for only $24. You can visit the Bantu Caves, National Mosque, and a Chinese temple all in one day, with chicken tikka masala for lunch and noodles in China Town for dinner. The Petronas Twin Towers are the highest twin towers in the world, and Kuala Lumpur is also famed for its array of enormous shopping malls. There is also a vibrant nightlife for those who like to party.