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World's cheapest cities for budget travelers in 2018 - Price of Travel

February 29, 2012 at 10:51 am
Adam, Thanks for the comments, and I know exactly what you mean. In the cases you mentioned, it’s because Phnom Penh has cheap hostel beds and Kuta doesn’t, so the accommodation cost in Kuta was higher. Also, hostels in Vientiane are weirdly expensive, quite a bit more per bed than in KL. All other costs are cheaper in Vientiane than in KL, but the idea behind this index is to judge things in a rigid way and show the results, rather than just going with my gut and moving them around freely. The list with all items broken down is available by clicking on the Asia Backpacker Index, linked at the top of every page.
Another thing I hope people realize is that the value of this Backpacker Index is really in knowing that Hanoi is half the price of Bangkok, which is half the price of Singapore, which is half the price of Tokyo, more or less. For the cities that are bunched close together in prices you can just figure they’ll be about the same, even if one is 4 places down the list from another. Then there’s the phenomenon where most of us splurge in the cheap cities and not in the pricey ones. For example, in Siem Reap where beers are US$0.50, I’d have 8 pints a day, and in Bangkok where they are US$3 each, I’d usually have none. -Roger
March 14, 2013 at 4:24 am
Pasi, my goal wasto list the most popular tourist destinations around the world, with multiple cities listed for the more popular countries. I might add Jakarta in the future, but it receives a fraction of the tourists that Bali does.
Daniel, same answer really. Most cities I list are the only (and most popular with tourists) city in that country, and almost all of them are the most expensive in the country as well. This is mainly a tool to help people get an idea of how much each region costs compared to other regions. -Roger
June 5, 2013 at 2:09 pm
Scott, thanks for your detailed thoughts, and I mostly agree with you. The hostel prices are exact rather than estimates, and the information for each one is right there in the main article. So San Francisco actually does have cheaper hostel beds than Chicago, surprisingly enough.
With the food and drink estimates, they are the best ranges I could come up with, and they are fairly consistent through every city in the world in that Zurich is more expensive than London which is more expensive than Madrid which is more expensive than Naples and so forth. But yes, they could be adjusted by a dollar in either direction and they’d still look about right.
I really do appreciate feedback like this and also that you are seeing that the most useful thing about this data is that you can see that some cities literally cost 4 or 5 times more than others when you look at them together. If each is 10% off by some peoples’ judgement, which I’d find reasonable, the big picture doesn’t change much. -Roger
July 11, 2013 at 6:37 am
Thanks for the suggestion and I’ve thought about such a thing, but there are a few other sites doing similar things and all of them have very incomplete data. The problem is that it’s very difficult to motivate enough people to participate. And after that, most people have wildly differing opinions on these things. For example, how much is a pint of beer in your home town? Some might say US$3 and others might report US$6 and they’d both be right. That’s why I’ve decided to do it editorially and with ranges. I appreciate the kind words and your interest though. -Roger
August 26, 2013 at 5:13 pm
The Backpacker Index includes certain things in each city, but not everything. It includes a hostel bed, meals, 2 public transportation rides (not trolley rides, which are an attraction), and a few beers. Many cities on the list are too small to consider an all-day transport pass, and quite a few are totally walkable, so it’s hard to compare them all. That’s why we stuck with the group of items we did, even though most visitors will end up spending more on a typical visit. Thanks for the feedback though. -Roger
August 26, 2013 at 5:09 pm
It’s true that even budget travelers spend their money in different ways, but these prices are mostly derived from the cost of hostel beds, attractions, and public transportation and such. Hostels in Amsterdam have gotten very expensive in the past few years, so it’s moved way down the list. If you read the comments on the Ibiza section you’d understand why it is where it is, and why it’s even on the list.
Also, from my own experience I’ve seen that it can depend on which part of each city you stay in. You might have stayed in the touristy part of Montreal but a less expensive part of Vancouver, though the hostel price research is always for well rated hostels in the tourist district. But overall I really appreciate your remarks and I’ll try to keep making this more accurate as we go. -Roger
March 9, 2014 at 4:49 pm
I appreciate your interest in this data and your comments as well. The thing about the Backpacker Index is that it’s made up of a set group of components, and all of those prices are listed on the main regional pages (Europe, Asia, etc.). So you could say that the daily food allowance or the beer prices for a particular city are off, and those are at least a little debatable. But the other components are hostel beds, attraction prices, and public transport prices, and those are fixed based on a standard criteria. Does this particular index show what every traveler will spend in one city compared to another? Nope, but it does compare the basic costs for a backpacker visit pretty well. In other words, it’s not trying to say that everything in Santiago is cheaper than everything in Kuala Lumpur, it’s saying that a set group of basic backpacker expenses are cheaper.
Another thing that happens to pretty much all travelers is that we tend to “normalize” our expenses between cheap and expensive places. We splurge in cheap places and look harder for bargains in expensive places. I visited Kuala Lumpur several times last year and I can assure you that public transportation and hostel beds are quite cheap. And I can show you where to get a big glass of beer for US$3 (during happy hour). And I’m sure you are aware of all the street-side Chinese and Indian places where you can get a full meal for US$4 if you are on a backpacker budget. It’s true that KL has more and more posh places and expensive hotels, but that doesn’t always effect the backpacker scene.
Anyway, I’m open to adjusting things if you have specific corrections on the individual numbers, but there would probably be people who would claim they are less accurate by their own experiences. I’m trying my best, and I appreciate the feedback and help, so thanks for spreading the word. -Roger
March 26, 2014 at 3:20 pm
Chris V.
Thanks for your comments. The most expensive cities part of the list is a little bit controversial, especially as everyone agrees that Oslo is more expensive than Stockholm (and maybe Zurich) for general expenses, especially for those who live there. But it sounds like you realize that this is based on a set criteria for budget travelers, and it just so happens that hostel beds and a few other things are actually more expensive in some than in others. And yes, as you suspect, the food (and drink) totals are for a backpacker who is trying to keep expenses low. So breakfasts and lunches are generally assumed to be fast food or street food. -Roger
September 1, 2014 at 2:16 pm
Most things in Myanmar are quite cheap, although there aren’t as many budget hotels in the country yet compared to Cambodia or Thailand. You should be able to get a good idea by looking at our Yangon prices page. Two backpackers sharing a room should be able to get by on maybe US$50 per day, as long as you mainly eat street food and keep transport expenses low. But if you prefer to eat in sit-down restaurants with English-language menus, and drink in bars, then costs can go up quite a bit. -Roger
September 9, 2014 at 1:57 pm
Thank you for the kind and flattering words. It’s too much pressure to say that where I suggest is where you’ll go, so let’s do this in a couple of stages. Your budget should be no problem starting in the Middle East, since there are cheap flights to all over Asia and Europe from the UAE and Qatar.
I notice you left a shorter version of this on a post about Asia, and I think that might be your best bet, depending on your goals. However, you mention wanting a “cold climate” or beaches, so I’m not sure which to suggest as they are more or less mutually exclusive. And when you say “cold climate”, what temperatures do you have in mind? I used to live in the desert of Arizona so going to a place where they have winter was nice. Are you looking for a place that isn’t as insanely hot as where you live, or a place that actually gets snow or at least real cold weather?
And when you say you want to have “lots of fun,” that could mean quite a few things. My first guess is that drinking cheap alcohol might be part of it, but for other people it could mean anywhere from renting Jet-skis to drug-friendly places or places with plenty of young girl travelers or places with “working” girls. Depending on what you are after, I can make recommendations for any of it. And is staying halal important because that can done as well if it is?
This sounds like a very interesting challenge and I’m looking forward to hearing more specifics. If you prefer to ask more privately, send an email to [email protected] and I’ll answer. -Roger
November 25, 2014 at 3:29 pm
That’s very nice of you to say, and I appreciate the kind words. But I also appreciate the constructive criticism from anyone who is trying to help, and I also understand that some of the critics are people who didn’t read what the list is based on, so they don’t even know what they are talking about.
I’ve been updating and honing the city information on the site, and we’ve been adding many new cities this year as well. So in January, 2015, this list will be longer and also at least a bit more accurate. Best of luck on your 2-year upcoming trip with your family. -Roger
April 16, 2015 at 4:13 pm
I agree that the Numbeo data is some of the best when it comes to living expenses for expats, but of course my data is primarily focused on different kinds of short-term travelers and there are many notable differences. And I totally agree that generally speaking, the capital or largest city in any country will be its most expensive, although there are exceptions (Zurich and Venice are more expensive than the capitals, and Berlin is cheaper than many others).
When it comes to combining this information with flight data, I have no real choice but to let the reader sort that out. Slightly more than half the readers of this site are Americans, but even within the US there are huge differences in flight costs for different destinations.
As for where to go in winter for the best deal, that’s also complicated. The cheapest countries in the Caribbean region are Mexico and the Dominican Republic, but of course each of those has expensive resort areas and shabby small towns that are cheap and with nothing interesting to see or do. If you can speak Spanish then some of the smaller towns in those two countries could work, but if you don’t it could be challenging.
The Maldives is quite expensive, by the way. And I don’t think you’ll find a place in the Western Hemisphere that is as cheap as Goa, although the accommodation standards don’t go as low as they do in Goa either. Best of luck with this. -Roger
As for Ukraine one year ago, it sounds like you were there shortly before their currency collapsed and inflation set in (on some things). If you go right now it will be MUCH cheaper than when you were there.
April 23, 2015 at 3:59 pm
Thank you. I’m not sure specifically what you are suggesting regarding a deviation factor. My hope is that people who want more specific information about any given destination will click on the “city page,” which provides many details including price ranges for hostels, hotels, food, and drinks. Everyone has their own travel style, so I think that people can check the Index total for a city they are familiar with, and then compare it to cities they plan to visit. That should also help people figure out a reasonable budget based on their own preferences. -Roger
May 20, 2015 at 12:24 pm
Thanks for your helpful feedback. I debated whether or not to include non-backpacker destinations like Phuket on these lists because there is always the fear that someone is going to look at the big number at the bottom and fail to read the explanation, which is what you did. But I decided to include many of these resort towns because many backpackers visit as part of longer trips to the area. The Phuket numbers are for Phuket Town, which is far cheaper than the beaches, but you’d have to read the little paragraph to know that. I’d hope that even if you don’t read it before using the data, that you’d read it before commenting, but I’m not surprised that some people don’t do that either.
Not that it’s too important, but I’ve spent a lot of time in Phuket in recent years and even on the beaches I can easily find things that are good bargains. Either you went to a 5-star resort or you went to the heart of the Patong entertainment district and didn’t pay attention to prices before ordering. Honestly, there are 70 baht bottles of beer out there if you avoid the super touristy places. Most of Patong is a rip-off, so value-conscious visitors avoid it after the first day.
All of that said, I’m sorry that you had to pay so much for everything and I’m going to try to figure out a way to make it even more obvious what this data is, even though most people won’t bother to read it. -Roger
May 31, 2015 at 7:05 pm
I had thought about leaving the earlier versions of this list online, but I chose not to because most of the changes along the way have been tweaks and revisions to make it all more accurate, rather than major swings in prices between places. The currency has obviously shifted a lot in the last 5 years. However, core inflation is pretty much zero for most of the world, except for places like Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, India, and a few others. Mostly, things that were listed at US$1 five years ago are still mostly listed at US$1 today. Public transport costs have crept up slowly in most places, as have museum prices. But hostels have gone down in some cases, often after some new competitors open up nearby. In other words, it’s hard to actually find meaningful trends even with this data. I will continue to thing about how I can archive some of it though. Thanks again for asking about it. -Roger
August 13, 2015 at 7:34 pm
Yes, Ukraine is very cheap by any standards right now, but you may also be aware of the rampant inflation and currency devaluations that have continued through the first half of 2015, so it’s a moving target. One of my designers lives in Ukraine and he says prices have gone up by maybe 50% in the first half of 2015 on food and some other things, but not on everything. So long story short, the Backpacker Index for Kiev could be off by maybe 30% at any given moment. Fortunately for us, inflation around the world is almost nonexistent outside of a few places like this one and Argentina, Brazil, Russia, and a bit in India. -Roger
September 13, 2015 at 6:16 pm
Thank you. Actually, for the Backpacker Index, it is priced per person because it’s based on staying in dorm beds at hostels. If two people stay in the same hostel, they’ll have to pay for two dorm beds, so the total is twice as much. The other calculations are for meals, transportation, attraction, and drinks, and all of those would obviously be double for two people compared to one.
However, if you go to the homepage of this site you’ll see some articles labeled “3-star Traveler Index” for Europe and Asia. Those are also priced for one person, but they are based on double occupancy at a 3-star hotel. So if you are more of a hotel person than a hostel person, those totals should be more useful. And if you are staying in 2-star hotels or private double rooms in hostels, the totals could be a bit lower. I hope this helps. -Roger
January 5, 2016 at 5:47 pm
I’m sure you are right about that, and Moscow in particular is notoriously the most expensive city in Russia. That same fact is true from nearly every city on the list, as the largest cities and capitals are generally the most expensive cities in each country. But those are also the cities that people tend to visit on these trips, so those are the ones I list. If I were to list every city that someone might possibly visit then the cheapest 30 or 40 would all be villages in Nepal, and that isn’t too helpful or interesting. Thanks for reading and commenting. -Roger
April 12, 2016 at 5:25 pm
Thank you for the nice words, and I appreciate your comment. As I’ve mentioned before, I’d like to list cities in Pakistan and other places that are often considered “global hot spots” but I’ve personally visited very few of them and only tiny numbers of tourists are going to these places under the current conditions. So as interesting as they’d be to me and at least some of the website’s audience, I’d also run the risk of overloading visitors who are trying to decide among the currently popular destinations.
In other words, if the list included one or more city from each of the 200 or so official countries in the world, and multiple cities from the most popular countries like France, Italy, and the US, then the list would contain at least 400 entries and most people would glaze over near the beginning of the list. Still, in the future, I hope to be able to add at least some of these places. -Roger
April 16, 2016 at 6:41 am
The prices listed in this Backpacker Index aren’t the minimums needed for each city, but rather a more typical average. Did you include your hostel bed in the 100 for a whole weekend in Edinburgh? The Castle alone costs 16.50 and hostels in the central area start at around 25 per night. Anyway, the index prices here are for a full set of typical expenses for each city, and if you usually spend less in one city, you are likely to spend less in the others. This is just a way to compare so you’ll have an idea what to expect.
I read an early edition of the book you mention about 12 years ago, and I now count its author – Tim Leffel – as a friend. I agree that he does a great job with those books and his websites.
As for Asia, there are 36 cities listed in the list above, including nearly every popular city and country that travelers to Asia visit. If you are going to a place that isn’t listed above, please let me know and maybe I’ll add it in the next update. Thank you. -Roger
April 30, 2016 at 7:52 am
Thank you for your comments and it sounds like you know your stuff for the most part. Although I’m a bit puzzled as to why you’d bother to comment that the “Backpacker Index” might not have value for non-backpackers. That’s why it’s called the Backpacker Index.
Also, you might be surprised at how the rankings are similar when calculated for a 3-star traveler. You might be interested in the sub-lists that this master list is based on. Since you mentioned Asia, here is the far more detailed Asia Backpacker Index .
If you look at the order on that one, you can compare it to the order to our Asia 3-Star Traveler Index (soon to be updated).
The rankings are very similar, although the cheapest ones are bunched up in price, just as you pointed out and you can see on the global version.
Lastly, it’s true that KL is much more expensive than its neighbors in some ways (which is why it’s so far down the list), but it’s only alcohol and Western restaurants that are expensive. I was just there again about 2 months ago and I stayed in an excellent large room in a new 4-star hotel in the Bukit Bintang area for US$75 per night. In fact, I think KL is one of Asia’s best bargains for high-end hotels. And I was eating hearty bowls of laksa a few blocks away for about US$3. Taxis are very cheap there, as are museums and most other attractions. Aside from alcohol in bars, I’m curious what you find to be so expensive in KL? -Roger
July 22, 2016 at 11:18 am
Thank you for the pleasant comment. As you can see, most people only take the time to comment when they have a shot to take at me, which I don’t mind and sometimes they are helpful.
I’ve been doing this website full-time since early 2010, and most of that time has been spent traveling around doing the research. Where I get frustrated with some of those other lists or services you mention is that they often focus on “living expenses for an executive with a family at a multinational corporation, including a 3-bedroom house, support staff, and private school for the kids.” Those lists massively distort real travel and living costs for places like Moscow or Hong Kong. -Roger
December 20, 2016 at 5:56 pm
I’m always happy to hear that people find this information and my advice useful. I think I understand your situation. As far as cities to avoid during July and August, it’s not as obvious as it might seem. Strangely enough, Paris is an example of a city that is partly empty those months (especially August) because half the citizens head to the beaches and countryside.
The ones that get insanely crowded in July and August are London, Edinburgh, Venice, Florence, Rome, Prague, Budapest, and Amsterdam. Stockholm gets kind of crowded then, but not too bad and those are by far the best weather months. On the other hand, the southern cities along the Med are all sizzling hot that time of year, so it’s better to avoid them anyway.
Unfortunately, most of those non-Schengen countries are also low on worthwhile sights. Romania has a lot to see, and Bosnia has major highlights in Sarajevo and Mostar. I lived in Nis, Serbia for almost 5 months and there just isn’t much to see in the whole country, compared to its neighbors. With the British Pound so low these days, you should consider spending more time in Britain, which is also outside Schengen. London is still very expensive, but most everywhere else can be pretty reasonable at these exchange rates. Smaller towns often have cheap bed & breakfasts and restaurants, and still a lot of charm. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
December 21, 2016 at 6:56 pm
London and Edinburgh are very crowded in July and even worse in August. I highly recommend visiting in June if you can, as it will also save you a bit of money.
As far as where else to visit, that’s a pretty open question. After London and Edinburgh, the most popular towns for tourists are Bath and York. Both are very worth a visit. Bath is quite expensive, but you can stay in Bristol, which is a 15-minute train ride away, and Bristol is an interesting and nice city on its own. Another one to consider is Inverness up in Scotland. It’s the gateway to the Scottish Highlands, and it’s a really nice town by itself. Oxford and Cambridge are also really nice small towns, both about an hour outside of London, and cheaper than you might expect. You could also pick any random town in the Yorkshire Dales for a few nights. Most of them have a few charming pubs and bed & breakfasts that can be quite cheap.
Getting around Britain by bus is usually the cheapest, and you can sometimes get those really cheap 1 fares if you book in advance. But the train is usually the fastest and most pleasant, and if you book a week or more in advance the fares can be cheap as well. I’ve not done the car-sharing thing, but that might be good as well. Let me know if you have any other questions. I’ve spent a lot of time in Britain and it’s one of my favorite places and subjects. -Roger
August 16, 2017 at 4:10 pm
The methodology is explained near the top of the list. Oslo used to be more expensive than Stockholm until the Norwegian currency came way down again. For those super-cheap cities the order largely comes down to which one has the cheaper hostel beds. The numbers are all there for you to look at on the Europe Backpacker Index . Also, the cheap ones are all bunched up and some people don’t notice that part.
Also, the Ukraine currency has moved quite a bit in recent years, so if you were there when it was particularly low you might think that it would always be the cheapest. Thanks for the helpful comment. -Roger
October 4, 2017 at 3:45 pm
Thanks for comment. I really wish you had actually read the top of the article so you could have saved all of us the time. I normally don’t respond to trolls, but in this case it just seems like you thought you were helping with a correction and didn’t bother reading about the list. This is a “Backpacker Index” and the largest thing that goes into it is a dorm bed in a centrally located hostel. It also contains things like public transportation and attraction prices. Also, I’m from Los Angeles and I would love to know which neighborhood a “typical motel” is only US$50. -Roger