12 Cheap Alternatives to Expensive Vacation Destinations

See recent posts by Kevin Brouillard

The saying “you get what you pay for” doesn’t always apply when it comes to traveling the globe. Sure, many bucket list destinations are worth their eye-popping price tags, but there are plenty of affordable — and arguably cooler — alternatives to these well-trodden, budget-busting destinations. Below, we listed the most expensive spots in the world and offered an alternative where you can save or stretch your dollars.

Additional reporting by Megan Johnson

1. Skip Switzerland and Visit Slovenia

Tower on island on Lake Bled in Slovenia

Famous for its alpine skiing and storybook villages, Switzerland is a far cry from a budget-friendly destination. Mid-range and upscale hotel rooms cost between $200 and $500, with cities like Zurich and Geneva on the higher end. Lift day passes hover between $40 and $70, depending on location, and après-ski activities and dinner are often much steeper. 

Instead, hop over northeastern Italy to Slovenia, where hotels, ski passes, and delectable cuisine can be had for a fraction of the cost. Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana, is home to a vibrant array of cultural attractions. Come summer, bustling cafes overflow into the cobblestoned streets, while Christmas market stalls line the riverside during winter. Ljubljana is one of central Europe’s most affordable capitals, with plenty of mid-range options well under $100. 

To the northwest, Lake Bled rivals the tranquility of Switzerland’s Lake Lucerne. Stunning views over the emerald water can be had from Bled Castle. The short, but steep, hike is well worth the effort to admire the nearby Julian Alps and explore the castle walls, museum, and medieval frescos. Just to the west, Triglav National Park encompasses much of Slovenia’s alpine terrain, including extensive hiking trails and the country’s premier ski resorts. Though these mountains can be easily reached in two to three hours from Ljubljana, consider hitting the slopes at Krvavec, if you’re short on time. The mountain includes 18 miles of ski runs and is a mere six miles from the capital. 

Slovenia Hotel Pick: City Hotel Ljubljana

2. Skip Singapore and Visit Malaysia

Skyline of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia at sunset

Singapore offers a dynamic mix of cultures in an extraordinarily modern setting. Unless you’re booking a hostel or an out-of-the-way guesthouse, expect to dish out between $150 and $300 for mid-range and boutique properties. A lively street food scene keeps dining costs down, but a night on the town can be costly compared to nearby cities, such as Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh. 

Separated by the narrow Johore Strait, neighboring Malaysia is an often-overlooked destination with a capital that rivals Singapore’s multiculturalism and modernity without the hefty price tag. Comfortable accommodations can be had for $50 to $75, while $100 or more will fetch a plush room with a view of the Petronas Towers. Kuala Lumpur has emerged from its humble origins as a remote tin-mining community. Today, mosque minarets and colonial buildings mix with skyscrapers and monorail tracks. The city maintains its blend of Malay, Chinese, and Indian influences, which is very apparent in its assortment of street-side cuisine, architecture, and art museums. Outside the city, Malaysia’s landscape unfolds into hillside tea plantations, lush jungles, and beautiful beaches. To the north, the temperate Cameron Highlands make for a perfect escape from the city, if you wish to rejuvenate on locally grown tea and leisurely hikes. Off the western coast, George Town on Penang island boasts vibrant street art and cozy cafes housed in a labyrinth of colonial-era buildings. Wildlife and nature enthusiasts should head to Malaysian Borneo to spot wild orangutans and elephants, go scuba diving, and trek through dense rainforests. Malaysia’s tallest mountain — Mount Kinabalu — is located here and can be summited in a demanding two days. 

Malaysia Hotel Pick: Traders Hotel, Kuala Lumpur

RELATED: The Best Beach Towns in Jamaica

3. Skip Japan and Visit Taiwan

Skyline of Taipei, Taiwan at sunset

East Asia’s most expensive destination sits atop many travel bucket lists. Japan’s popularity is well-warranted, thanks to its blend of traditional and modern culture, renowned and innovative cuisine, stunning mountain scenery, and exceptionally easy transportation. However, it’s far from budget-friendly. Mid-range hotels will set you back $200 or more, while luxury accommodations can exceed $1,000 per night. The famed train system may be convenient, but a one-way trip from Tokyo to Kyoto costs around $120. 

Farther south, the compact island of Taiwan delivers comparable attractions — a buzzing, modern capital, an excellent food scene, and striking natural beauty — all for a fraction of the cost. Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, may lack the glitz of Tokyo on the surface, but dive a bit deeper and discover dozens of night markets, world-class museums, grand monuments, and a lively LGBTQ nightlife scene. For starters, head to Shilin Night Market to dine like the locals. This massive indoor food court houses over 500 stalls and draws thousands to feast on oyster omelets, dim sum, and stinky tofu. Heading south from Taipei, the island is divided by imposing mountains, making it difficult to cross from the populated western coast to the rugged, eastern shorelines. On the east side, Taroko National Park attracts visitors with its deep gorge formed by the rushing Liwu River. A network of trails leads up into the high mountains, across suspension bridges, and past gushing waterfalls. On the west coast, urban centers, such as Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung offer a wide array of lesser-known regional delicacies, temples, botanical gardens, and more. 

Taiwan Hotel Pick: Palais de Chine Hotel

4. Skip the United Arab Emirates and Visit Oman

Aerial view of a market in Oman

The United Arab Emirates has become an increasingly popular destination, especially in futuristic Dubai and cosmopolitan Abu Dhabi. Though these cities possess unique attractions, such as the Louvre, elite private island enclaves, and the towering Burj Khalifa, they are incredibly expensive. Dubai’s most budget-friendly hotels hover between $150 and $250, while luxury options creep above $500 a night. 

Meanwhile, farther east on the Arabian Peninsula, Oman’s understated capital and extraordinary landscapes can be explored without breaking the bank. Muscat, Oman’s capital, operates at a slow pace, which stands in stark contrast to the style and glamour of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. That said, Muscat’s streets, forts, and mosques are immaculately maintained. Climb the steps up Mutrah Fort, which is perched on a cliff overlooking the harbor and corniche. The corniche is ideal for walking and people-watching from outdoor cafes. The adjacent Mutrah Souq adds to the bustle, with hundreds of vendors selling traditional handicrafts, local cuisine, spices, and more. Muscat is the most expensive part of Oman, but mid-range hotels can still be found for under $100 per night.

Oman’s splendor resides in its remote corners, which encompass seemingly endless sand dunes, dramatic coastlines, high mountains, and deep canyons. These canyons, known as wadis in Arabic, are the collecting point for Oman’s limited rainfall. Millennia of erosion have created striking rock formations and winding channels in the sandstone. Several of these wadis, such as Wadi Shab and Wadi Bani Khalid, serve as refreshing swimming holes from the intense desert heat. Be sure to go to the end of Wadi Shab, where you’ll swim 40 feet through a narrow gap in the rock face to reach the waterfall and cavern behind. It’s advisable to rent your own wheels to visit Oman’s interior. The Jebel Sham mountain range, known as the “Grand Canyon of Arabia,” features excellent hiking trails and abandoned stone villages. A car will also come in handy for traversing the dunes at Wahiba Sands, which can reach as high as 300 feet. The local Bani Wahiba tribe operates a handful of camping and glamping-style accommodations.

Oman Hotel Pick: Juweira Boutique Hotel

5. Skip the Maldives and Visit Mauritius

Image half above and half below the water, showing a woman scuba diving in the waters of Mauritus

Scattered across thousands of islands in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is undeniably a gorgeous destination. Most resorts occupy their own private islands, with luxury cabanas dotting the white-sand beaches or stilted above the tantalizing blue water. There has been a slight shift in affordability now that locals are permitted to build and operate their own accommodations. However, the Maldives’ remoteness requires that the majority of food and supplies be imported, keeping prices high. Furthermore, luxury still reigns supreme here, with boutique properties still charging around $200 per night and luxury prices soaring into the thousands. 

The Indian Ocean has no shortage of idyllic islands, so stretch your travel budget further and head to Mauritius instead. Though you won’t have the island to yourself, there are plenty of beaches and lagoons to enjoy in tranquility. Most beachfront hotels offer a variety of water-centric activities, such as kayaking, submarine safaris, glass-bottom boat trips, and snorkeling. Mauritius is surrounded by barrier reefs, providing calm water and excellent diving opportunities. It’s worth heading off your property to explore the island’s 100 miles of beaches and mingle with the locals. Flic en Flac and Grand Baie are ideal choices for swimming and water sports. 

On the island’s southern end, Le Morne’s public beach is perfect for beachcombing, watching kitesurfers, and admiring the Le Morne Brabant mountain. If you can manage to pull yourself away from the beach, Black River Gorges National Park is a worthwhile day trip. Here, you can splash under waterfalls and enjoy shaded hikes through dense forests. Be sure to keep an eye out for the elusive flying fox. Mauritius isn’t exactly cheap, but all-inclusive resorts can be booked for around $200 per night, which is an immense value compared to the Maldives. 

Mauritius Hotel Pick: Tropical Attitude

RELATED: The 6 Most Amazing, Surprisingly Affordable Beach Destinations

6. Skip Paris and Visit Montreal 

Aerial view of Montreal, Canada on a clear day

The romance of Paris may be enticing, but your wallet may have other things to say about it. Montreal offers just as much as Paris, at a much more affordable price. Flights to Paris can be expensive, and not only are flights to Montreal cheaper, but it is also a very drivable destination from many parts of the U.S. as well. 

 While the cities share a language, that is not their only similarity. Montreal is swimming with french restaurants like Brasserie Le Pois Penché an authentic Parisian brasserie, and Henri Brasserie Française, which is located in a historical building with decor that makes you feel you have been brought back to 19th-century Paris. 

To really feel like you are in a European city, head to Old Montreal. The cobblestone streets, quaint buildings, and gorgeous cathedral will make you believe you are across the Atlantic. 

Montreal has its share of museums, including the Contemporary Art Museum of Montreal, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux-Arts) Pointe-à-Callière – Museum of Archaeology and History, and the Space for Life which is the largest natural sciences museum complex in Canada. 

The music scene in Montreal is also hopping, with venues like the Place des ArtsL’Olympia and Rialto Theatre, not to mention festivals like Osheaga and the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal

Hotels are cheaper in Montreal than in Paris. A one-night stay at a luxury hotel in Montreal is around $500, and a similar hotel in Paris will cost you over $2000 a night. Average hotels are similarly priced at around $150/night, with Montreal hotels having a slight edge on affordability.

Mauritius Hotel Pick: Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth

7. Skip the French Riveria and go to Cinque Terre

Panoramic view of picturesque village Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy.
Nancy Pauwels | Adobe Stock

The French Riveria is gorgeous; with stunning scenery comes high costs and overcrowding. So, while it’s a great place to visit, it’s best for luxury travelers. Luckily, Cinque Terre is just as beautiful and much less expensive, and it’s in Italy. Cinque Terre, meaning “Five Lands” in Italian, is a string of five villages that cling to the cliffs along the Italian Riviera. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, and for good reason. 

The villages are picture-perfect (you’ve probably seen them on Instagram), with brightly colored houses cascading down the cliffsides to meet the turquoise Mediterranean Sea. The trails between the villages offer stunning views of the coastline and the vineyards that cling to the hillsides. The most famous trail is the Sentiero Azzurro, or the Blue Path, which connects all five villages and is perfect for avid hikers. 

Cinque Terre has a rich history and culture. Visit spots like Castello di Riomaggiore, a medieval castle overlooking the Mediterranean Sea; the Church of San Giovanni Battista in Manarol, built in 1340, is the oldest church in Cinque Terre; the Oratory of Santa Marta; and the Sanctuary of Nostra Signora della Salute

While both locations can be pricey regarding accommodations, Cinque Terre has the edge. The average price per night for a hotel in Cinque Terre is $171, while in the French Riviera, it’s $215

Cinque Terre Hotel Pick: Hotel Porto Roca

8. Skip Spain and go to Portugal

Fort in Berlenga island - Portugal
Nikolai Sorokin | Adobe Stock

Portugal and Spain are both Iberian countries with rich cultures, stunning landscapes, and delicious food. Portugal tends to be cheaper than Spain, especially when it comes to accommodation and dining. It also receives fewer tourists than Spain, making popular landmarks easier to visit. 

The pastel-colored buildings and azulejo tilework offer a visual experience much different from Spain’s. In Lisbon, you can explore the colorful “Pink Street,” Rua Nova do Carvalho, which features the iconic pink street, colorful buildings, and a hopping nightlife.  While in Porto, places like the cathedral, Sao Bento Station and Capela Das Almas show off the stunning azulejo tilework. 

While the beaches are absolutely stunning in both spots, those in Portugal are less crowded and will offer a more peaceful experience and plenty of space to set up for the day. Portinho Beach, nestled within the Serra da Arrábida Natural Park and is less than an hour from Lisbon features fine white sand and crystal clear turquoise waters. The Algarve region is known for its beaches and resorts, and is the perfect place for a Portuguese beach vacation. 

Hotels are similar in price, with the average cost in Spain $110/night, and in Portugal $99. 

Portugal Hotel Pick: Villa Vita Parc

RELATED: What a Week-Long All-Inclusive Trip Costs in The Caribbean

9. Skip Cancun and go to Playa Del Carmen

Playa del Carmen beach palm trees Mexico
lunamarina | Adobe Stock

Cancun is known for its large, all-inclusive resorts, which come with cost and crowds. Playa Del Carmen retains a more local vibe, where you’ll find a wider variety of locally owned restaurants, shops, and bars, allowing you to experience Mexican culture more directly. 

Playa del Carmen offers more accommodation options that go beyond large, all-inclusive resorts. You can find boutique hotels, guesthouses, vacation rentals, and hostels catering to different budgets and travel styles. Stay at an upscale resort like the Viceroy Riviera Maya, or in a condo at the Maya Villa Condo Hotel & Beach Club.

Suppose you don’t want to be stuck at your resort your entire trip. In that case, Playa del Carmen is closer to the Mayan ruins of Tulum, Coba, and Chichen Itza and the Yucatan Peninsula’s cenotes (natural swimming holes), making them easier to access. 

Playa del Carmen is generally considered slightly cheaper for food than Cancun, especially if you want to avoid the tourist traps. There are more local options for food, with Playa del Carmen’s large town center, which has local spots with lower prices. You’ll have to join the masses and get a taco at the famous El Fogon.  There is also a thriving street food scene in Playa del Carmen, with fresh fruit, tacos, and marquesitas- all much more affordable than the food you will find in Cancun. You can even take a tour that brings you to some of the best street food in Playa del Carmen. 

Playa del Carmen has Cancun beat as far as hotel affordability goes. The average price per night for a hotel in Playa del Carmen is $81 while in Cancun it is $145, a pretty significant difference. 

Our Playa del Carmen Hotel Pick: Royal Hideaway Playacar

10. Skip Prague and go to Budapest 

Budapest skyline - Buda castle and Danube river
Arcady | Adobe Stock

While Prague is known for its Instagrammable fairy-tale architecture, Budapest has grand Parliament buildings and Buda Castle.  Budapest, however, is called the “City of Baths” due to its abundance of historic thermal baths that date back centuries, some housed in beautiful Ottoman-era architecture. It’s a truly unique cultural experience you won’t find in Prague. Generally, Budapest tends to be cheaper than Prague in terms of food, accommodation, and activities. It boasts a vibrant nightlife scene, particularly with its famous ruin bars – repurposed abandoned buildings transformed into trendy bars.

Besides the baths, Budapest has distinctive attractions that set it apart from Prague. Buda Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, boasts medieval walls and cobblestone alleys, all with breathtaking views of the Danube. Explore the Hospital in the Rock beneath the castle, a fascinating network of caves that served as a hospital during World War II. Explore the tunnels, chambers, and exhibits to learn about this historical site. 

Try traditional Hungarian food at some of the trendiest restaurants in Hungary, like Mazel Tov, the upscale ruin bar, or eat goulash at the traditional Gettó Gulyás

Hotels are similar in cost, although Budapest has more to offer. 

Our Budapest Hotel Pick: Estilo Fashion Hotel

11. Skip Dublin and go to Galway

Kylemore Abbey, beautiful white castle with blurred reflection in lake. Benedictine monastery founded in 1920, Connemara, Galway, Ireland
Dawid | Adobe Stock

Dublin may have the Guinness Storehouse, the Jameson Distillery, and EPIC, the emigration museum, but tourist powerhouses like those bring crowds, which you won’t find in Galway. Plus, you are close to some of Ireland’s most stunning landscapes, like the Aran Islands, Connemara National Park,  and the Cliffs of Moher. 

While Dublin has become more tourist-friendly, Galway offers a more traditional Irish city vibe. Galway is home to the Claddagh Ring, and you can visit the Claddagh Ring Museum. Galway Cathedral and Galway City Museum offer a glimpse into the city’s history. 

Galway also has a hopping restaurant scene, including more modern picks like the Michelin-rated Aniar, wine bar Éan, and the unique Pullman Restaurant, comprised of two original carriages from the Orient Express. Galway is also brimming with pubs, most of which are much less crowded than Dublin’s pubs. 

You’ll find the hotels are cheaper in Dublin, with top-rated hotels costing around $185 a night in Dublin, and just $155 per night in Galway. 

Our Galway Hotel Pick: Glenlo Abbey Hotel

12. Skip Napa and go to Fredericksburg, TX

Sunrise Over Red Corn Poppy Fields in Texas
dfikar | Adobe Stock

Napa and Fredericksburg have many similarities: both are brimming with wineries and vineyards, quaint restaurants, and shopping—all popular with tourists. Fredericksburg has one advantage over Napa: it’s much cheaper. 

Located about an hour north of San Antonio, and an hour and forty minutes west of Austin, Fredericksburg is a surprising, top-notch wine destination. With over sixty wineries in the area, it may pale compared to the nearly 500 you find in Napa Valley, but sixty is plenty for a fulfilling wine-filled trip. 

Drink award-winning wine from Augusta Vin Winery, Ab Astris, Perissos Vineyards and Winery and Meierstone.  There are several wine tours you can take during your stay, so you don’t have to worry about bringing along a designated driver.  For something a little different, try the Wine Trolley

Downtown Fredericksburg is a hotbed of restaurants and shops, perfect for downtime between wineries or exploring after a day of wine tasting.

Accommodations are plentiful. Fredericksburg is known for its vacation rentals rather than hotels, although there are plenty of traditional hotels as well. 

You Might Also Like:

Hotel Face-Off: Excellence Punta Cana vs. Excellence El Carmen
13 Incredible Overwater Bungalows in the Maldives
What a Week-Long All-Inclusive Vacation Costs in Top Destinations
13 Amazing All-Inclusive Resorts for Honeymoons
25 Things To Know Before Traveling to Japan

All products are independently selected by our writers and editors. If you buy something through our links, Oyster may earn an affiliate commission.